Categories
Beer styles

On pastry beers and pastry sours in particular

Opinion: if it’s got ‘pastry’ in the description, it’d better taste like something you might have found on sale at Percy Ingle.

Most weeks, we write a note for Patreon about the most interesting beers we’ve tasted over the course of the weekend. This has had the positive effect of making us buy more unusual beers, just so we’re not always saying “Pilsner Urquell is good.”

We’re fortunate to live fairly near Pat’s News and Booze, a corner shop off-licence with a remarkable range of craft beer in cans.

That’s where we came across Yonder Brewing’s various pastry sours which we’ve been working our way through for a few months. There are lots for us to try yet but based on six or seven so far, opinions about so-called ‘pastry’ beers have begun to form.

As we say above, in our view, it has to taste like a sweet dessert – one with flour, butter, probably vanilla, maybe some spice. It can’t just be a very fruity, super sour or sickly sweet beer.

Obviously this subset of beer is not for everyone. Frankly, it’s not for us most of the time. But every now and then we like something a little silly to get us thinking about how far beer can be pushed – to define the outer limits.

Overall, we’ve probably had more misses than hits and our Patreon round-ups often include phrases such as “alarming” and “hair-raising”.

A few have stood out as particularly successful, though.

Yonder’s Cherry Pie Pastry Sour, for example, absolutely hit the mark. You can taste the pie case – melt-in-the mouth spicy crumby crumbliness – as much as the filling. Being pretty pink probably helps the illusion along.

Weirdly, though, the same brewery’s Blueberry Pie doesn’t repeat the magic. It was just muddy. Perhaps because blueberries don’t really taste of much in their own right.

Weirder again was the truly excellent Pie Saison by Little Earth Project which we drank a couple of years ago. It looked flat and smelt like vinegar from the pickled onion jar, but then, wow, how the flavour developed. Apple, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, buttery biscuit base – real Willy Wonka stuff. How did they do it? It could just be the power of suggestion, we suppose, but are we really so susceptible to Jedi mind tricks?

Proving that you can go beyond the pie was New Bristol Brewery Lemon Drizzle Donut Sour (5.5%) which we had at a mini-beer festival at the Llandoger Trow earlier this summer. Jess tested it blind on Ray, who hadn’t read the title or description, and he said: “It tastes like a Mr Kipling fondant fancy.” It was definitely cake-like with a powerful vanilla character at first, before a citric lemonade fizz kicked in – specifically, the sensation of sucking on an R. White’s ice lolly. Just delightful.

Which other examples strike you as particularly successful? By which we mean, both delicious and convincingly pudding-like.

Categories
Beer styles london

Finding stout and porter in London

“What are the best places to find stout in central London?” asks Stuart via Patreon. It’s a good question.

London is strongly associated, historically, with porter and stout but these days it’s hard to find, apart from Guinness which is, of course, almost everywhere.

Anthony Gladman recently wrote about the resurgence in London porter for Good Beer Hunting. That’s worth a read if you want to understand the broader context. It’s interesting how few examples he was actually able to point too, though.

Some that were around a decade or so ago have all but disappeared, too, such as Meantime and Fuller’s. The latter is a bottle-only product these days – and even so, rarely seen in pubs.

On our recent tour of classic London pubs we didn’t notice much dark beer on offer at all.

The Sutton Arms had a dark lager; The Carpenter’s Arms was all bitter and golden ale; and The Pride of Spitalfields had nothing darker than Fuller’s ESB.

We know that The Pembury Tavern, one of our favourite pubs in London, always seems to have Railway Porter, one of our favourite dark beers, on cask. But it’s hardly central.

Bristol brewery Moor has a very good straight-up cask stout called, uh, Stout, which seems to be regularly available at their London taproom. Bermondsey is a bit easier to get to but still not central, though.

The Royal Oak at Borough, still maybe the best pub in London, full stop, had Harvey’s wonderful porter on cask when we visited a couple of weeks ago. If not that, there are always bottles of Harvey’s wonderfully funky Imperial Stout behind the bar. We think this counts as central, even if it’s not West End.

Samuel Smith pubs, of which there are many in London, have an own-brand Guinness clone that’s we’ve always enjoyed. They may also have bottles of Oatmeal Stout, Taddy Porter and Imperial Stout in the fridge – but at a premium.

Anspach & Hobday also have London Black which they call an “independent nitro porter” with a handy map showing all the pubs that serve it. There are quite a few in central London.

In general, visiting pubs with wider-than-usual beer ranges will probably pay off, especially in autumn and winter. Cask in Pimlico, for example, or The King’s Arms in Bethnal Green. If there’s going to be a guest stout or seasonal porter, this is when and where you’ll find it.

If you know of a London pub that always has porter or stout on offer, let us know in the comments below. ⬇⬇⬇

Does Britain do regional styles?

Stuart also asked a related question: “Can you visit a city and find places that specialise in a particular style of beer? What does this say about the UK if we don’t have the same definable geographic association as German cities?”

What immediately sprang to mind for us was Midlands mild country, highlighted memorably by Robbie Pickering many years ago.

We recently revisited The Great Western at Wolverhampton where there was not only cask mild but also a choice of the hyper-local light golden ale style, from both Batham’s and Holden’s.

And down in the West Country there’s maybe an argument to say heavy, brown, sweetish ales are a thing – Blue Anchor Spingo, St Austell HSD, and a few others.

“London murky” (another Robbie Pickering contribution) almost became something but that now seems universal. It’s certainly the dominant style in Bristol.

But, yes, Stuart’s right: beyond that, it’s hard to say “Oh, you must go to city X which specialises in beer style Y.” Perhaps Britain is just too small to carry it off.

Or maybe we’re wrong. Are there living beer styles you associate strongly with a particular UK town, city or region?

Categories
Beer styles breweries bristol

West Country Weizen

Bristol is good at German-style wheat beer, it turns out – we’ve had three this year that might be beer-of-the-year contenders.

It makes sense, we suppose. When we think of the defining Bristol style, what pops into our heads is slightly hazy, soft-edged, fruity, barely-bitter pale ale.

From there to Weizen is only a short hop.

The first one that grabbed our attention earlier this year was Bristol Beer Factory’s Lost in Munich. You might regard it as a step between the two styles, in fact, being an open homage to Schneider’s Hopfenweisse – Weizen with IPA hopping.

BBF’s version, available in 440ml cans, actually pours stubbornly clear, or at least only faintly hazy. It has vanilla in the aroma and, of course, a bunch of banana. At 5%, it’s not as strong as the Schneider original – or, indeed, as most standard German wheat beers.

We liked it so much we bought a box of 12 to drink at home. Perhaps others don’t share our enthusiasm, though, because it was discounted to £25.60 – about £2 per tin. At present, they don’t have any in stock.

A bigger surprise, perhaps, was Left Handed Giant’s take. We say it’s a surprise because we don’t always click with LHG beers, which often sound and look better than they taste.

LHG Hefeweizen is another 5%-er and, we gather, is regularly available at their colossal, rather impressive brewpub-taproom at Finzel’s Reach, on the site of the old Courage brewery.

We found it on draught at The Swan With Two Necks and Ray (the bigger wheat beer fan of the two of us anyway) loved it so much he stuck on it for the entire session.

Our notes say ‘pretty convincing… less banana, more strawberry’. The point is, though, that it isn’t a ‘twist’ on the style; it doesn’t have fruit, or unusual hops, or breakfast cereal. It’s a straight-up, honest beer.

The same might be said for Good Chemistry’s punningly-named Weiss City, also with an ABV of 5% (was there a memo?), and on draught at their taproom the last couple of times we’ve been.

To underline the point we made at the start of this post, here’s how it looks alongside their session IPA, Kokomo Weekday, which is at the back:

Two similar looking beers, both hazy and golden.

We’re not sure we’d know it wasn’t an authentic German product if we were served it blind, in appropriate glassware.

That is a problem, of course: all the examples above were served in standard UK pint glasses, with little room for the customary meringue-whip head.

Perhaps at some point we’ll re-run the wheat beer taste-off we did a few years ago from which we concluded…

German wheat beer is more subtle than we had realised — an end-of-level-boss technical challenge for brewers. Too much of those characteristic aromas and flavours and it tips over into caricature, or just becomes sickly. Despite looking dirty, it actually needs to be really clean to work: acidity knocks it right off course, and there’s no room for funk or earthiness. The carbonation has to be exactly calibrated, too, or the beer simply flops: bubbles are body.

It feels as if perhaps things have moved along since then. But until we drink these Bristol beers alongside, say, Franziskaner (bang at the centre of the style in our minds) then it’s hard to say for sure.

Categories
Beer styles Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Gaps and opportunities: how trends in beer styles work

It’s obvious, really: you can’t have a revival until the thing you’re reviving has actually died. And mild needed to die to have its apparent comeback this year.

Mild has been dying for decades – from about 40% of the UK beer market in the early 1960s to 4% by 1990 to 0.3% by 2017.

CAMRA has fought to preserve it but with little success because, ultimately, the market dictates the fortunes of beer styles.

One by one, larger breweries have reduced their output of mild, made mild seasonal or stopped making it altogether.

Think of Fuller’s and St Austell, for example, whose milds have expired since this blog began in 2007.

Even those that limp on have invariably been renamed ‘dark ale’ or similar.

There’s not much of a market for mild but, as big players step away, as it slips into the rearview mirror of history, a little space is created.

Smaller breweries have a chance to offer something the nationals and multinationals, with their large minimum production volumes, can’t or won’t.

In other words, mild has become an exotic boutique rarity like Schwarzbier, Rauchbier or Vienna lager.

Well, not exotic. Mild can’t be exotic. Not unless it’s missed the point of its own existence. But you catch our drift.

On the flipside, as bigger breweries move in on hoppy, fruity pale ales and IPAs, that space in the market gets crowded.

Smaller breweries might struggle to compete with Beavertown (Heineken) or Camden (AB-InBev) and so of course they’ll start looking for styles they can own.

For a year or so, that might be mild, until the big operators catch-up and spoil the fun.

This also answers the question about why craft breweries are less likely to brew straightforward bitter or lager: though the market for those is large, it’s also pretty well sewn up.

Whatever happens, if there are a few more milds around, in a few more pubs, for a few more years, we’ll be quite happy.

Categories
Beer styles

Call it anything but bitter

Young’s London Original. Fuller’s London Pride – an outstanding amber ale. And, of course, Boddington’s Pub Ale. All these are ways of talking about bitter without saying bitter.

‘Pub ale’ is a new one to us and cropped up in a recent conversation on Twitter, with reference to the US market:

At least we thought it was new until we remembered that Boddington’s had been using that tag in the American market for decades.

This struck us as especially interesting, though – evidence of why marketing people come up with these tortured and/or twee alternatives:

Some people aren’t happy about all this, though.

Why?

Partly resistance to change, of course, especially when it is driven by, as we suppose they see it, pandering.

But that resistance is also partly down to nostalgia: the word ‘bitter’ speaks of pubs and dads and granddads – of the receding 20th century to which so many of us are clinging with whitened fingertips. Bittersweet memory, as it were.

The funny thing is, it’s not as if ‘bitter’ is exactly an age-old traditional term. In a piece we wrote for Beer Advocate years ago we said:

A widely reprinted 1855 parody of aristocratic politician Charles Greville’s controversial memoirs has Queen Victoria serving the Duke of Wellington “a foaming jug of bitter” and this form, without modifiers, became common in the 20th century. By the 1930s, advertisements for Yorkshire brewery Tetley headlined two types of beer, Mild and Bitter.

So, it’s about as old as ‘wireless’ or ‘cinema’.

If you really want to keep it trad, Dad, then ‘pale ale’ is the phrase you’re after.

In itself, though, the word ‘bitter’ does have a certain appeal.

It is plain and unpretentious to the point of self-deprecation. Two simple syllables you can mutter with only a slight, discreet movement of the mouth. No need to show off or make a fuss.

And, thinking about it, isn’t ‘pub ale’ (still US only, everyone – relax!) close to ‘real ale’, another relatively new term that speaks of good, honest beer?

The good news is, whatever labels breweries apply, there’s nothing to stop us talking about bitter, or writing about it, in as much detail as we like.

And, for that matter, there’s nothing to stop you ordering it in the pub. It’s going to be a long time yet before someone working behind a bar is going to pretend they don’t know what you mean when you ask for a pint of bitter.