News, Nuggets and Longreads 06 April 2019: Berlin, Brett, Better Lager

Here’s all the news, commentary and thinking about beer that’s seized our attention in the past week, from Berlin to Peckham, via Huddersfield.

First, some inter­est­ing news: Brew­Dog has acquired the brew­ery Amer­i­can out­fit Stone launched in Berlin a few years ago. Stone says Ger­mans didn’t take to their beer or brand; Brew­Dog, which already has a bar in the city, cites a need for a post-Brex­it con­ti­nen­tal brew­ing baseJeff Alworth offers com­men­tary.

Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

It’s fit­ting that the new lead­er­ship at the Cam­paign for Real Ale should use an inter­view by vet­er­an beer writer Roger Protz as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a state­ment of intent:

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.”

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets and Lon­greads 06 April 2019: Berlin, Brett, Bet­ter Lager”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 9 September 2017: Pasteur, Porter, Pubcos

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in writing about beer and pubs in the last week, from ladylike behaviour to label design.

First up, some­thing fun­ny, in the form of a post from Kirst Walk­er who explains the lim­its with­in which she, a del­i­cate lady, likes beer:

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!

Louis Pasteur
Detail from a pub­lic domain image restored by Nadar, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

Your his­to­ry les­son for today: Lars Mar­ius Garshol has unpicked exact­ly what Louis Pas­teur con­tributed to brew­ing which is, actu­al­ly, not much:

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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 9 Sep­tem­ber 2017: Pas­teur, Porter, Pub­cos”

Is ‘Belgian’ a Flavour?

Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

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.

A bicycle outside a bar in Bruges, 2010.

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.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 12 November 2016: Mexico, Manchester & Mad Science

Detail from the cover of Gambrinus Waltz.

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!

Right. Back to busi­ness as usu­al, or as near as we can get in a week when the whole world seems a bit angry and/or con­fused, on which sub­ject, just to warm up, here’s news of how fear of Don­ald Trump’s Mex­i­co-US bor­der wall has already hit the beer indus­try from John Kell at For­tune:

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.)

Manchester montage.

For Good Beer Hunt­ing Matt Cur­tis pro­vides an out­sider’s eye view of the Man­ches­ter beer scene aimed pri­mar­i­ly at a US audi­ence but prob­a­bly use­ful for any­one who does­n’t know the city:

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.)

Many beers piled up on a table.

Bryan Roth has a pro­file of Ken Weaver who ploughs through two or three dif­fer­ent beers every day writ­ing reviews for All About Beer. (Dis­clo­sure: we sell the odd arti­cle to ABB too.) The descrip­tion of his work­ing prac­tices, though they sound quite rea­son­able to us, might have some gnash­ing their teeth, or at least turn­ing green with envy:

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.

Illustration: mad science.
SOURCE: Pam Wish­bow/Eater.

For Eater Kyle Frischko­rn writes about efforts at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leu­ven in Bel­gium to reverse engi­neer Bel­gian beer yeasts with a view to cre­at­ing bet­ter ones:

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.

Summer Bright Lager with Mango (marketing image).

This is a nice for­mat for review­ing and pon­der­ing upon a beer from Beer Is Your Friend: ‘Five Things About… Sum­mer Bright Lager With Man­go’. This line in par­tic­u­lar rings out like a bell:

I call myself a ‘beer geek’ not a ‘craft beer geek’, which means I have an inter­est in all beer, not just the ones with a hop pro­file.

Final­ly, there’s this, which is just the kind of thing we love hav­ing Tweet­ed at us:

Microscope as Brewer’s Life Blood, 1924

1899 illustration of brewing yeast.

As far as the practical brewer is concerned, complete knowledge of the correct use of the microscope is as necessary as his life blood, for it will save him a host of troubles. Indeed, it passes my comprehension how some prefer to take their chance when you hear them say: ‘I never look at my yeast under the microscope. If it is of a certain solidity and smells all right, and is of a good colour, I never worry further about it!’ This kind of thing may not have led to disaster in former days, when the alcoholic content of beers was such that it was an efficient protection, but to trust to such rough and ready methods in these days must surely court disaster.”

The Train­ing of an Oper­a­tive Brew­er’, B.G.C. Wether­all, Jour­nal of the Oper­a­tive Brew­ers’ Guild, Octo­ber 1924