Here’s all the news and commentary on pubs and beer that grabbed us in the past week, from takeaway beer to brewery-side blending.
First, sigh, some news: pubs, along with other hospitality businesses, have been commanded to close by the Government. The situation will be reviewed every month but even the most optimistic pundits seem to think we can expect them to be shut for three months.
In our view, this is sad, but necessary.
If you’re someone who relies on pubs for your social life, we’d recommend investigating the various virtual meet-up options, from Twitter drinkalongs to video conferencing.
And if you make your livelihood through the pub trade, we hope the various business support measures the Government has introduced will go some way to cushioning the blow.
Nik [Antona] and Tom [Stainer] are quick to point out that a proposal to allow CAMRA beer festivals to include key kegs was supported by the necessary majority and many festivals are now supporting this change.
“A number of festivals have key kegs with explanations that are not dogmatic about the different ways beer can be served. I accept that we’ve poor about explaining this in the past,” Tom says. “We need to represent all pubgoers.”
“We may revisit Revitalisation in a few years,” Nik adds, “but in reality we’re doing it now. Younger people are drinking cask but they want to try different things – they want to drink good beer but not necessarily from casks.”
In all honesty, I have never been tempted to try any beer which strays past the golden and into the brown. I feel that a beer in one of the more masculine shades, for example a coal black stout or a cigarillo coloured bitter, would really be a step too far for a lady. I find that many hostelries now supply a tiny mason jar in front of the pump which displays the colour of the beer, which has been a tremendous help to me. I carry with me in my handbag a Dulux paint chart, which I hold against these tiny jars to make my selection. Once a beer passes Lemon Punch and heads towards Hazelnut Truffle, it’s off the menu!
Pasteur’s work was of tremendous theoretical importance, but had limited practical use. It showed the importance of hygiene, of course, but brewers were already aware of that. Using acid to clean the yeast of bacteria was useful, but often when the yeast turned bad the problem was not bacteria, and Pasteur had no solution to this problem… The main thing Pasteur did for breweries was to show them how they could use the tools and methods of microbiologists to get better control over and understanding of their own brewing. In the years after the publication of ‘Studies on beer’ a number of breweries invested in laboratories with microscopes, swan-neck bottles, and all the other equipment Pasteur used.
We find ourselves using ‘Belgian’ as a shortcut flavour descriptor sometimes and have been thinking about what this means, for various reasons.
First, because we just finished writing an article about Liverpool’s Passageway Brewery. If you’ve read Brew Britannia you’ll have the gist of the story: it emerged in the mid-1990s, run in their spare time by two friends who worked together, and knocked people’s socks off by fermenting British-style cask ales with a then highly exotic Belgian yeast strain.
Secondly, because we’ve also been writing an article about British beer geeks obsessed with Belgian beer, which means we’ve been hanging out with a few of the same. One gently admonished us on this point, suggesting that ‘Belgian’ as used to describe flavour by non-Belgians usually just means ‘spicy yeast’, when of course Belgian beers might be tart, sherry-like, fruity (from actual fruit), literally spicy (as opposed to yeast spicy), hoppy (in various offbeat ways), and so on.
And, finally, there have just been some beers that got us excited — beers that aren’t Belgian, or even fundamentally Belgian in style, but which use Belgian-derived yeast to add a twist. Stone Cali-Belgique, which we found confusing and underwhelming when we paid a fortune for it at The Rake in London years ago, is fast becoming a go-to in its canned Berlin-brewed bargain-price incarnation. Elusive Brewing’s Plan-B — a 3.7% pale ale brewed with UK malt, New World hops and Belgian yeast, was a contender for our Golden Pints bottled beer of 2016. And that Lervig/Magic Rock Farmhouse IPA from a few years back still haunts our palates. In general these days, we’ll pick up any kind of pale ale or IPA made this way — it just floats our boat.
So, yes, when we say something tastes ‘Belgian’, we do mostly mean that it has that faintly funky, abandoned-fruit-bowl, distantly gingery quality. The same character that, in our home-brewing, we’ve managed to get from various supposedly highly divergent Belgian-style yeasts, from dried stuff intended for producing Witbier, to saison and Trappist strains cloned from famous breweries and dispatched in vials.
But maybe sometimes we’re referring to something even broader — a very vague sense of faintly rustic, barely tamed oddness.
If this was flipped and a bunch of Belgian beer geeks were telling us about a beer produced in, say, Ghent that tasted ‘really British’, we think we’d know what they were trying to get across. And noting that a beer tastes ‘quite German’ certainly conveys something, too.
Shortcuts, like ‘proper pub’ or ‘malty’, are fine when used with caution, and don’t always need pinning down at every corner, especially if it stalls the conversation.
Before we get into the links a quick heads-up: Gambrinus Waltz, our short e-book about how lager came to London in the 19th Century, is free this weekend for Amazon Kindle (UK | US | Germany | Canada). At this stage, we just really want people to read it. We’ll be removing it from sale very shortly, too, because we have some other plans for it, so grab it and get stuck in if you haven’t already!
Rob Sands, CEO of alcoholic beverage giant Constellation Brands, came to New York City on Wednesday to talk about Corona beer and Robert Mondavi wine. And before he even took the stage, the company’s stock took an 8% nosedive… That’s because investors are worried about what Donald Trump’s victory could mean for… [the] owner of a Mexican brewer that targets an American customer base that could potentially face deportation.
(Via @agoodbeerblog who also has some additional historical commentary here.)
You wouldn’t think that a small piece of plastic could completely divide opinion between a nation’s beer lovers. You’d be wrong. A sparkler is a small plastic nozzle that attaches to the end of the swan-neck spout on the hand-operated pump that pulls beer from a cask. It nebulizes the naturally occurring CO2 in the beer, aerating the liquid as it’s squeezed through the holes in the nozzle. This produces smaller bubbles and, when poured correctly with the swan neck in the very bottom of the glass as the beer is pulled, will produce a frothy head of tight, creamy foam.
(Matt has received a fair bit of often mean-spirited criticism over the last couple of years but here’s why we like this piece: he heard complaints that UK beer writing is London-centric and got on a train; he has made an effort to explore both trad and trendy; he has included a range of voices and perspectives; and, in a killer last paragraph, has addressed the question of price/value. Not bloody bad for a little over 2,000 words.)
At most, Weaver writes 500 words reviewing a single beer for Rare Beer Club, but most often will write about 50, giving five to 10 minutes for each of the two or three different beers he’ll try each day of work. The catch? He drinks three or four ounces of most bottles or cans that come his way, a blasphemous treason to beer nerds who might decry the lost remnants of Russian River, Funky Buddha, Omnipollo or Other Half beers.
“Our sink is the biggest drinker in the household,” Weaver joked.
Armed with his findings about the inner workings of beer yeast, [Dr Kevin] Verstrepen wondered if he could push the envelope a bit further. For example, Trappist brewers trying to make the traditional, malty toffee taste of a dubbel beer are saddled with the yeast they’ve been using for centuries: Because yeast helps impart flavors that beer drinkers expect, brewers have no choice but to keep using the same strains. They can’t swap in a faster, more efficiently fermenting yeast without sacrificing characteristic, beloved flavors. Verstrepen thinks he might be able to swap the genes instead, and achieve the desired compromise. Enter Frankenbrew.