Artyfacts from the Nyneties #5: Sainsbury’s Bière de Garde, 1991

Sainsbury's Biere de Garde.

The image above comes from the Sainsbury’s supermarket in-house magazine for November 1991 and is a great reminder that interesting beer didn’t arrive in Britain in 2010.

Here’s the text that accompanied the product shot under the groansome headline THE BEER WORTH GUARDING:

The new Sainsbury’s Biere de Garde derives its name from the traditional brewing metiiods used at tlie brewery in Benifontaine, in the Nord-pas de Calais region of France. This strong beer, which is made with seven malts, spends six weeks ‘kept’ in special chilled tanks in a locked Garde room while top fermentation takes place. Hence Biere de Garde – ‘kept’ beer.

The design of the bottle, and the label, is a striking blend of the modern and traditional, and the amber beer is, in the words of the buyer: ‘robust, delivering a rich bouquet and an intense full, rounded flavour.’

Biere de Garde is available in 123 stores at £1.79.

Retro Sainsbury’s branding is very cool right now — some of it has aged rather wonderfully — and this Biere de Garde isn’t bad at all.

You can read the whole issue as a PDF via the JS Journal Online pages at the Sainsbury’s Archive, and there’s more on the arrival of ‘world beer’ in Britain in Brew Britannia, especially on pages 106 to 111.

Good Beer in Marseille Pt 2: Big Menu Bars

There are two bars in Marseille with large beer ranges, both out of the centre of the city: La Cane Bière near the Parc Longchamp, and Bar Fietje, in the shadow of the cathedral of Notre-Dame Du Mont.

Fietje (143 rue Sainte) is a relatively new venture that opened (we think) in June this year as a spin-off from a well established bottle shop in La Plaine. It is on a fairly quiet, mostly residential back street and would look more like a shop or showroom than a bar if it was not for the crowd of smokers sipping beer from Teku glasses around the front door. Inside, the decor is ‘craft industrial’ — bare brick, wooden beer crates re-purposed as shelves, stripped boards, wipe clean tiles and steel and, yes, the obligatory Edison lightbulbs.

The beers — around 80 in total — were listed on Perspex boards on the walls, with those on draught also being displayed, with prices per 250ml, above the row of taps on the wall behind the bar.

Fietje taps.

There wasn’t much to excite the hardened ticker other than a couple of local beers that, when pressed, the barman told us he could not wholeheartedly recommend, but we didn’t go short of good stuff to drink, from BrewDog IPAs to Belgian classics. The only beers that were expensive were the British imports — everything else was priced on a par with standard lagers available elsewhere in the city, at €3 to €4 per serving.

The atmosphere was a touch quiet and scholarly — you have to be a real geek to be into beer in Provence, it seems — but certainly friendly enough, and we felt quite comfortable spending a couple of hours revisiting old favourites. We especially enjoyed some of the (relatively speaking) bargain-priced bottles: it’s been a while since we bought Rochefort 10 for anything like €5 (about £3.70), on- or off-premises.

* * *

La Cane Bière’s (32 Boulevard Philippon) name is a bit confusing: La Canebière, some distance away from this bar, is also the name of Marseille’s answer to Oxford Street, famous in the 19th century for its many swanky bars and cafes, and something of a symbol of the city. Though we had intended to visit we actually stumbled across it by mistake, our eyes drawn by the sight of people swigging Saison de Dottignies from the bottle around a table on the pavement outside, and swerved in.

Inside, we found a wall of bottles on shelves, a selection of bottles chilling in a freezer, and a single unlabelled beer on tap that we think was the increasingly ubiquitous La Chouffe. Though we could have enjoyed beers from BrewDog, Thornbridge or Fuller’s, we went for 375ml bottles of Saison Dupont 2015 Dry Hop (6.5%) — a limited edition beer we’ve struggled to get hold of in the UK and which tasted all the better at a mere €3.90 ( £2.90) a pop.

If Fietje was a touch uptight, La Cane Bière was a party waiting to happen: the entirely local crowd on the pavement, especially a tipsy bloke with dreadlocks, made space for us on one of the tiny tables and was generally welcoming. No-one was taking tasting notes or sniffing their pints and most weren’t even bothering with glasses for their Guinness Foreign Extra or saison. At one point, a dog sat on the pavement with its arse in front of a passing tram and there was a collective holding of breath; when the tram passed by within inches of the hapless hound, which barely blinked, we all cheered together. It sounds  a bit silly but it was one of those moments that reminds us of why its nice to get merry with strangers.

* * *

Both bars were quite different even though their ranges overlapped. There is probably room for a few more such bars in a city as big and as cool as Marseille, though it might be nice to see a bit more beer from the area, or at least from France, on offer. But if it’s crap, it’s crap — there’s no point stocking it for the sake of it.

It’s interesting, we think, that both bars were self-service, contributing to a feeling of informality, signalling their difference — the distinctly un-French ‘global’ vibe — and presumably also helps to keep the price of the beer down.

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #2: World Beer Menu, 1993

Front cover of the 1993 Great British Beer Festival Bieres Sans Frontieres menu.
The front cover.
“Welcome to the most exotic bar in the whole festival… This year’s star feature has to be the USA. Thanks to months of work by Jonathan Tuttle… Rick’s American Bar has probably the widest selection of beer and beer styles ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean from West to East.”

From Alistair Boyd’s introduction.

Continue reading “Artyfacts from the Nyneties #2: World Beer Menu, 1993”

Gangs & Cliques in British Beer

Artwork for the Warriors.

We’re always amused by gang warfare in the world of beer, which we observe from up on the fence, refusing to take colours.

This attempt to map the various groups ought to be some kind of Venn diagram, really, but when we tried, it looked a mess, so text will have to do.

1. Extremophiles — only drink the sourest, hoppiest, strongest, rarest beers. Find almost everything bland and boring. Need pain to feel… anything.

They are a small subset of…

2. ‘The Crafterati’ — constantly seek novelty and variety; will try anything once; are easily bored; and hard to please. May come across as wankers.

They are descended from and overlap with both…

[ezcol_1half]3.  The Bières Sans Frontières crowd — started on Düsseldorf Alt beer and Anchor steam in the 70s, but, by the 90s, championed sour Belgian beer and citrusy US IPA in the UK.[/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end]4. The real ale hop-heads — began to grumble about the blandness of regional/family brewery bitter in the 1980s; welcomed beers from Brendan Dobbin and Sean Franklin in the 90s. Not much time for sour or cloudy beer. Fussy.[/ezcol_1half_end]

Both evolved from…

5. Mainstream CAMRA — drink only real ale but abhor anything too ‘flowery’ or that in any way resembles lager (that is, not brown). Might go mad occasionally and drink mild or stout. Can seem rather dogmatic.

They have a lot in common with…

6. Bitter drinkers — not very interested in dispense or politics, know what they like. Drinking bitter is a statement of  identity.

Doesn’t it seem inevitable that those in groups 1-4, to whom variety and intensity of flavour are most important, are bound to disagree more often about which breweries they like?

‘World Beer’ in the UK: a timeline

Pete's Wicked Ale -- label detail.

This is a work in progress which overlaps with an earlier, more general timeline, and we’re still corresponding with a few ‘insiders’ who should be able to help us fill in gaps.

What seems obvious already, however, is how slowly foreign beer made its way into the UK market over the course of decades (you had to like Chimay Rouge or Anchor Steam) and how sudden the rush of the last ten years seems by comparison.

Is all the ‘Urquell and Chimay aren’t what they used to be’ talk partly a result of those beers having been here the longest? Familiarity breeding contempt?

And is Cooper’s Sparkling Ale even remotely as cool now as it was in 2002?

1955 ‘World lagers’ widely available (German, Danish); Pilsner Urquell; Maerzen, bock, Oktoberfestbier in some outlets; strong foreign stouts on order. According to Andrew Campbell in The Book of Beer, Tuborg imperial stout could be ‘got in’ by specialist off-licences such as the Vintage House in Old Compton Street.The Pilsner Urquell company had an office in Mark Lane, London EC3, in 1968.
1968 Becky’s Dive Bar: 200+ bottled beers. Lots of ‘world lager’, but basically anything ‘foreign’ she could get her hands on.
August 1974 World Beer Festival, Olympia, London Mostly ‘international pilsner’, but also EKU strong lager from Germany.
November 1974 Chimay (Rouge?) becomes regular UK import. Through off-licence chain Arthur Rackham.
1975 Cooper’s Sparkling Ale from Australia available. Mentioned by Richard Boston in a list of desert island beers, alongside Chimay.
1977 Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer. We’re still assessing the impact of this book. Thesis: didn’t sell many copies, but everyone who bought one opened a brewery, import company, pub or bar; or became a beer writer themselves.
1979 Anchor Steam, Duvel available at CAMRA Great British Beer Festival. Hugely expensive: £1.65 for ‘third of a pint’ bottle of Anchor Steam, while British ales were at 35p a pint.
1979 and 1980  Cave Direct and James Clay founded. (We’re still assessing the significance of this.)
c.1980 Chimay Rouge in pubs. E.g. The White Horse, Hertford. (Thanks, Des!)
c.1982 Pitfield Beer Shop opens. By 1988 at the latest, selling Liefmann’s Kriek, Samichlaus,
1988 Hoegaarden arrives. Listed by Roger Protz in his pick of the year.
1989 Liefmann’s Frambozen available. 1989 article lists it among speciality beers at Grog Blossom off licence, Notting Hill, West London.
1990 Brooklyn Lager arrives. Available only in Harrods!
1991 Crazy for bottled ‘designer beer’ takes hold. Mostly ‘world lager’, but Daily Mirror lists Chimay Blue, Judas and other Belgian beers. Also, Pinkus Alt.
1992 Belgos opens in London. Tipped by stock pundits as a good investment.
1993 Hoegaarden in Whitbread pubs.Anchor Liberty Ale available.

German wheat beers slated as ‘next big thing’.

Mainstreaming of ‘world beer’? 

Cascade hops start to be talked about.

1994-95 Several lengthy articles in the UK press about the ‘explosion’ of US craft brewing.
1995 Thresher off-licences run full-page newspaper ads for their ‘world beer’ list. Early use of the term ‘world beer’ in this particular way; more ‘mainstreaming’.
1996 Pete’s Wicked Ale (US) in Tesco stores. Big time mainstreaming!
1998 Belgian beer bar craze.Hogshead pubs (Cambridge, Manchester, Aberdeen) offering large ranges of Belgian beer. L’Abbaye, Charterhouse St, London, offering 28 Belgian beers, including Westmalle, Rochefort, Orval.