Tripel-off, Semi-Final: Karmeliet vs. Lost & Grounded

It’s been on for weeks now, the gaps between games are getting longer, and your favourite was knocked out early so who cares? Yes, it’s another Tripel-Off semi-final.

The end is draw­ing near, though, and we’re cer­tain­ly con­tin­u­ing to enjoy the expe­ri­ence.

In the past when we’ve entered into big mul­ti-part tast­ing projects there have been moments when it’s felt like a chore – “We real­ly ought to drink those three saisons we sus­pect are going to be rub­bish, ugh…” – but not this time.

It’s tripel! We love tripel! And none of those we’ve tast­ed this time have been any­thing less than enjoy­able.

We have to admit that we went into this par­tic­u­lar match with the frank expec­ta­tion that plucky Lost & Ground­ed would get ham­mered by the expe­ri­enced vet­er­an on home turf.

In the group match­es Karmeli­et knocked our socks off and we’ve drunk a cou­ple more in the mean­time, so impressed were we by its char­ac­ter. Seri­ous­ly, how can a British-brewed upstart hope to chal­lenge a Bel­gian orig­i­nal? Well…

This time, both Jess and Ray knew which beers were in play, but Ray poured and pre­sent­ed them with­out the bot­tles just in case there was any chance of keep­ing Jess guess­ing.

The con­trast in appear­ance was pro­nounced: Karmeli­et is lager-yel­low with an absurd­ly vig­or­ous foam, while L&G tends to a faint­ly hazy orange with a decent but less sta­ble head. We wouldn’t nor­mal­ly use an out of focus pic­ture but it’s good enough to give the idea:

Two tripels side by side.

(And hap­pens to mim­ic the effect of drink­ing mul­ti­ple tripels in a ses­sion.)

On tast­ing, though, it became appar­ent that Karmeli­et was not going to walk this.

Jess: Well, to my sur­prise, I imme­di­ate­ly pre­fer the Lost & Ground­ed. It’s rougher but just more enjoy­able. It ben­e­fits from being real­ly cold and I sus­pect will get rougher again as it warms up but, for now, yes, that’s my favourite. Karmeli­et seems quite… insipid? It’s smoother but more bland. It’s not doing it for me.

Ray: That’s a good point about tem­per­a­ture. These are cold­er than some of the beers we’ve tast­ed in ear­li­er rounds. I agree that it’s clos­er than I expect­ed, but I do pre­fer Karmeli­et. The L&G seems a bit home­brew-tripel-by-num­bers, though I’d strug­gle to pin down any faults, as such. Maybe a bit of burnt sug­ar that shouldn’t be there? And, yes, Karmeli­et does seem quite lager-like at this tem­per­a­ture, but I like that it’s less heavy going than L&G.

[A few rounds of knit­ting and sev­er­al pages of Mai­gret lat­er.]

Jess: OK, as these warm up, they’ve switched places. The L&G has def­i­nite­ly become a bit less fun, while the com­plex­i­ty we noticed in Karmeli­et is re-emerg­ing.

Ray: Agreed. So the win­ner is…?

Jess: Karmeli­et, but Lost & Ground­ed stood up to it bloody well. It’s a very cred­i­ble tripel. Tell you what, though – I reck­on De Dolle would stamp all over both of these.

Ray: Oh, don’t say that! That means the last round was effec­tive­ly the final.

Jess: I’m lob­by­ing for a third-place play-off.

Ray: Hmm. Maybe.

So, that’s that: the final prop­er is Karmeli­et vs. West­malle, which we’ll try to sched­ule for the next week or so. In the mean­time, if you’ve had chance to try any of these beers side by side, we’d be inter­est­ed to hear your views.

The First British Attempt at German-style Wheat Beer

Vaux Brewery logo

In 1988 a new German-style wheat beer was launched on the British market – the first, its brewers claimed, brewed in the UK.

This post fol­lows on from our con­tri­bu­tion to the Ses­sion back at the start of July in which we were frus­trat­ed in our attempts to pin down when Samuel Smith start­ed brew­ing Ayinger wheat beer under licence.

As it hap­pens, the August 1988 edi­tion of CAMRA’s month­ly news­pa­per What’s Brew­ing con­tains two arti­cles use­ful for pin­ning this down:

  1. A dou­ble-page pro­file of Samuel Smith and its head brew­er by Bri­an Glover.
  2. A back-page splash head­lined FIRST BRITISH WHEAT BEER!

The for­mer lists all of the Ayinger-brand­ed beers then in pro­duc­tion at Smith’s from D Pils to VSL (very strong lager, we think, at about 8% ABV) but does not men­tion a wheat beer.

The lat­ter tells us that Britain’s first Ger­man-style wheat beer was brewed in… Sheffield. It was brand­ed as Vaux Weizen­bier but brewed at a Vaux sub­sidiary, Ward’s.

Vaux beermat.

The oper­a­tions direc­tor at Sun­der­land, Stu­art Wil­son, explained the think­ing behind this remark­able first:

We have not­ed the pop­u­lar­i­ty of wheat beers in West Ger­many and in the USA. Wheat beers are 15% of the Bavar­i­an beer mar­ket. So with the increas­ing inter­est in spe­cial­i­ty beers, we have decid­ed to brew this clas­sic style.

The arti­cle tells us that the beer had an ABV of 5% and was served on draught from “ornate ceram­ic founts” in elab­o­rate brand­ed glass­es, with slices of lemon avail­able “for those who pre­fer to com­plete the Bavar­i­an pic­ture”. Odd­ly, per­haps, it was fil­tered and pre­sent­ed clear – cloudy beer being per­haps a step too far for British drinkers in 1988?

Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jack­son blurbed the new prod­uct: “[It has] a clean, light­ly fruity palate.”

In a fol­low-up piece for The Times on 11 May 1991 Mr Glover was still cred­it­ing Vaux with launch­ing the first UK-brewed Ger­man wheat beer (mean­ing nobody came for­ward to prove oth­er­wise) and stat­ed that there had been no oth­ers since.

But by 1994 Roger Protz was report­ing in the Observ­er (29 May) that Vaux had begun import­ing Spat­en wheat beers, with no men­tion of their own-label prod­uct.

So, there you go: Sam Smith didn’t get into the wheat beer game until the 1990s, and any­one Googling ‘first British wheat beer’ now has a plau­si­ble answer. (Unless any­one out there knows oth­er­wise.)

Timeline

  • 1988 Vaux brews the first British take on Ger­man-style wheat beer
  • 1988 Hoe­gaar­den hits UK mar­ket
  • 1991 Tay­lor Walk­er begins sell­ing Löwen­bräu across its estate
  • 1993 Hoe­gaar­den in Whit­bread pubs
  • 1994 Alas­tair Hook begins import­ing Ger­man wheat beers to the UK
  • 1994 wheat beer fes­ti­val at the White Horse organ­ised by Hook and Mark Dor­ber
  • 1994 con­ti­nen­tal wheat beers in UK super­mar­kets

Crunching the Numbers on British Beer Styles

Rather than relying on interpretations of tasting notes and faulty memories, wouldn’t it be good to know for sure if and how British beer has changed in the past 20 years? Well, there is a way.

In the November/December issue of UK brew­ing indus­try mag­a­zine The Grist Kei­th Thomas pro­vid­ed a tech­ni­cal break­down of the typ­i­cal strength, colour and bit­ter­ness of British beer styles. It is full of fas­ci­nat­ing jew­els of infor­ma­tion but the most inter­est­ing parts are this graph…

A graph showing beers clustered around the same bitterness and colour.

… and this table which shows the mea­sured colour (EBC) and bit­ter­ness (EBU) of a hun­dred beers with the num­bers pre­scribed by CAMRA’s style guide­lines beneath in brack­ets:

Style No. Brands Colour Min-Max Bit­ter­ness Min-Max
Light Mild 5 43
(44)
15–29
(39–47)
23
(21)
15–29
(21–23)
Dark Mild 12 117
(94)
64–223
(39–223)
22
(21)
13–28
(12–28)
Bit­ter 27 25
(27)
15–66
(16–38)
25
(25)
18–39
(9–48)
Best Bit­ter 19 28
(27)
13–71
(13–65)
28
(30)
22–43
(16–52)
Strong Bit­ter 16 33
(33)
16–49
(10–109)
33
(30)
21–37
(20–52)
Porter 6 150
(157)
69–305
(97–249)
30
(36)
21–37
(18–45)
Old Ale 4 64
(95)
48–75
(27–114)
28
(28)
25–31
(18–45)

These offer a fair­ly pre­cise snap­shot of the real­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion in 1995–96 and that is some­what inter­est­ing in its own right, but it becomes a lot more so when you dis­cov­er that Dr Thomas and his col­leagues at BrewLab in Sun­der­land have been check­ing in on these stats ever since.

They pub­lished a detailed report in 2006, sad­ly locked away behind pay­walls (British Food Jour­nal, Vol. 108, in case any­one has access) and have an update in the works. In the mean­time, though, they have released a sort of trail­er in the form of a press release, which states (our empha­sis)…

[The] fea­tures of many styles remained sim­i­lar to the para­me­ters sum­ma­rized in 2006.  How­ev­er, when con­sid­ered over­all some dif­fer­ences are evi­dent.  Aver­age alco­hol lev­els are down by 3% on aver­age.  This did vary by style and was main­ly due to old ales being weak­er.  More exten­sive dif­fer­ences are evi­dent in beer colour and bit­ter­ness.  While bit­ter­ness over­all has increased by 5% colour has decreased by 18%.  This is par­tic­u­lar­ly evi­dent in the dark­er beers – milds, porters and stouts.  In gen­er­al, it appears that beers are becom­ing lighter but more bit­ter.… It was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing to see that stan­dard beers are retain­ing their char­ac­ter but also that dark­er beers appear to be evolv­ing.  The intro­duc­tion of blond and gold­en beers has had an impact on the mar­ket and pos­si­bly influ­enced changes in oth­er styles.

It also comes with a use­ful info­graph­ic (believe it or not such things do exist) from which we’ve snipped these details:

There’s lots of inter­est­ing stuff to chew on there:

  • What’s the dif­fer­ence between porter and stout? Noth­ing, says his­to­ry. About 15 points in colour and 7 points of bit­ter­ness, say these real world obser­va­tions.
  • Dark mild has got more bit­ter since 1995–96… or is it just that the more bit­ter, char­ac­ter­ful exam­ples have proven resilient dur­ing the ongo­ing extinc­tion event?
  • What’s the dif­fer­ence between old ale and bar­ley wine? Not much, says his­to­ry. About 65 points in colour and six or sev­en points of bit­ter­ness, sez this.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 7 July 2018: Marsan, Saison, Vaseline

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from equality initiatives to the specifics of European beer styles.

We’ll start with a flur­ry of acci­den­tal­ly inter­con­nect­ed items about pubs and how wel­com­ing they might or might not seem to dif­fer­ent peo­ple and groups.

British polit­i­cal Twit­ter spent a good chunk of the week talk­ing about pubs after actor Eddie Marsan said that he didn’t like them, asso­ci­at­ing them, based on his own child­hood expe­ri­ences in the East End of Lon­don, with domes­tic vio­lence and macho pos­tur­ing.

Mean­while, two relat­ed schemes have launched with the inten­tion of mak­ing pubs more invit­ing to a wider range of peo­ple. First, with Melis­sa Cole at the helm, there’s the Every­one Wel­come Ini­tia­tive:

The aim of this ini­tia­tive is to pro­vide beer venues and events with a strong state­ment that every­one who walks through the door is wel­come regard­less, of their gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, race, health, reli­gion, age or dis­abil­i­ty… Whilst these forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion are cov­ered under the Equal­i­ty Act 2010, none of us can say that they don’t hap­pen and what this ini­tia­tive is designed to do is give peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to nail their colours to the mast about the kind of venue or event they are run­ning – to shout proud­ly that hate isn’t to be tol­er­at­ed and igno­rance is not an excuse.

The Equal­i­ty in Pubs accred­i­ta­tion scheme, led by Jes­si­ca Mason, launched a few days lat­er:

Pub­li­cans who would like to let vis­i­tors know that their pub has a zero tol­er­ance pol­i­cy on abuse in any of its forms can now sign up to TEPA and, from 2019, gain a win­dow stick­er and a plot on a map on TEPA web­site to let peo­ple know that their pub doesn’t sup­port homo­pho­bia, sex­ism or racism in any of its guis­es from nei­ther its staff or it’s drinkers. Join­ing TEPA means the pub­li­can has a civic duty to act should they recog­nise abuse in their venue.

We’ll fin­ish with a link to some­thing we wrote last year which appeared this week at All About Beer after a long delay, thus seem­ing acci­den­tal­ly top­i­cal:

[If you] find your­self in a pub where you oughtn’t be, it will usu­al­ly be made clear to you, as long as you are rea­son­ably flu­ent in the lan­guage of pas­sive-aggres­sion. It might, for exam­ple, take a long time to get served, if the per­son behind the bar acknowl­edges you at all. You might get asked point blank if you are a police offi­cer, which hap­pens to us not infrequently—something about our flat feet, per­haps. Or the reg­u­lars might start a loud, point­ed con­ver­sa­tion about strangers, or for­eign­ers, or peo­ple wear­ing what­ev­er colour hat you hap­pen to be wear­ing. We once walked into a pub only to be greet­ed by five men in soc­cer shirts, one of whom sim­ply point­ed and said: “No, no—turn round and walk out. Now.” We did so.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 7 July 2018: Marsan, Sai­son, Vase­line”

St Austell Cornish Saison for M&S

Marks & Spencer, the slightly upmarket English supermarket-stroke-department-store, has been doing interesting things with its beer range for a few years now but the idea of a Cornish-brewed Saison really grabbed our interest.

It’s pro­duced for them by St Austell, a brew­ery very much on our trust­ed list, and has evolved from an orig­i­nal small-batch brew designed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with beer writer Melis­sa Cole. It has 5.9% ABV, comes in a cute pur­ple 330ml can, and costs £2. (Or less as part of the cur­rent four-for-the-price-of-three pro­mo­tion.)

But is it a bar­gain, or do we have a Hather­wood sit­u­a­tion on our hands?

Saison in the glass with can nearby.

It is per­fect­ly, almost aston­ish­ing­ly clear in the glass, with a decent head of foam that stops short of Bel­gian volu­mi­nous­ness. (Per­haps it’s hard­er to achieve the nec­es­sary pres­sure in cans.)

On tast­ing, the mod­el is clear: it is an homage to Sai­son Dupont, which is fine by us. There’s the same famil­iar spici­ness from the yeast and the same gold­en colour. It isn’t a slav­ish clone, though: this beer is clean­er, more bit­ter, and seemed to have a lot more orange peel and corian­der char­ac­ter.

In fact by the end of the glass we were won­der­ing if it might not almost be described as a kind of Kristall Wit – that is, an appli­ca­tion of the fil­ter­ing tech­nique used to clar­i­fy cer­tain wheat beers in Ger­many to the spici­er, more cit­rusy Bel­gian equiv­a­lent.

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, very enjoy­able beer that could eas­i­ly pass for some­thing gen­uine­ly Bel­gian. (We know St Austell’s head brew­er, Roger Ryman, is a Bel­gian beer fanat­ic.) So, yes, that means it’s good val­ue, and we’ll cer­tain­ly be buy­ing some more next time we pass a branch of M&S.

In gen­er­al, we do like how M&S pack­ages its own-brand beers these days. Quite apart from the cool and colour­ful graph­ic design they’re (a) clear­ly iden­ti­fied as own-brand but (b) with clear infor­ma­tion about who brews them. That means we can make an informed choice about which to take a chance on (Oakham, Adnams, St Austell) and which to avoid (sor­ry, Hogs Back).