Great scientific discoveries attributable to beer (part 1 of ?)

Did you know that James Prescott Joule, who gave his name to the SI unit for energy, was a brewer?

James Joule, image in public domain courtesy of WikipediaWe didn’t until watching an excellent BBC4 documentary, “Absolute Zero” (in turn based on a book called “Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold” by Tom Schachtman). Apparently this documentary is scheduled for broadcast in the US on PBS, whatever that is…

Anyway, the story goes that he (like other nineteenth-century industrialists) was interested in the relationship between heat and “work done”, which had very practical applications – how could you get the most “work” out of the least heat? He set about measuring the effects of this. Apparently, because brewers were unique in having highly sensitive thermometers, he was able to get very precise results from his experiments and was a key player in the development of modern day thermodynamics, influencing William Thomson, a.k.a Lord Kelvin.

There’s possibly some dramatic licence here (the Wikipedia article on Mr Joule downplays the brewery angle) but we liked it anyway.


Fictional Breweries

queenvic_pillar_large.jpgA minor fascination of mine is how dramas supposedly set in the real world routinely invent London Boroughs (Walford, Sunhill) or whole towns up north (Weatherfield, Wetherton). But, of course, I’m always particularly interested in fictional breweries.

Coronation Street has Newton and Ridley, while, in Eastenders’ Queen Victoria you’ll only ever get a pint of Luxford and Copley. In reality, the Queen Vic would be a Wetherspoons.

The amount of detail that producers devise for these breweries and the pubs they supposedly own or supply is astounding. There’s a web page here which seems to be on its last legs, but where, for the moment, you can see some of the care that goes into the Eastenders set. Luxford and Copley’s ales are, you’ll all be pleased to note, cask conditioned…

The weirdest of them all, though, is Emmerdale, whose fictional brewery “Ephraim Monk” seem to have missed out on the license to brew the soap’s official beer. Instead, it’s produced by Black Sheep.


Lithuanian Lager Face Off Part 2: the face offening


A few weeks ago, we had a “taste off” between two lithuanian lagers – Utenos and Kalnapilis.

We weren’t blown away by either, but slightly preferred Utenos. This time, though, we went back to our old favourite for comparison – Svyturys.

They’re very proud of Svyturys in Lithuania, and it was one of the first Lithuanian beers to be imported to the UK. They have several varieties. Tonight, we tested Ekstra Draught (unpasteurised), Gintarinis (with a gold label) and Svyturio (with a red label).

Gintarinis is supposedly a pilsner (“Pilsner my arse” – Boak) but is not especially hoppy or “dry”. It’s really a slightly more hoppy version of a helles.

Ekstra (unpasteurised) is the poshest beer in their range, and a Dortmuner type. Its bottle is very swanky – no label except at the neck, with a big logo embossed in the glass. The beer is very nice, and very much “true to style”. It’s hard to say if the “draught” status makes much difference, but its nice to see this kind of thing happening.

They don’t say what type of beer Svyturio is supposed to be – only that it’s a cross between Gintarinis and Ekstra. But it tastes quite different. Guilty admission – we actually did a Pepsi-style blind taste test, and we were only able to identify “red” as different from the other two. It’s much thinner, despite being stronger, and pleasantly bland. It’s also a little lighter in colour.

Gintarinus initially won in the blind test, but as the beers warmed up, it started to smell a bit off. This could have just been an off bottle though.

We can’t quite work out whether Svyturys is a force for good or evil in the beer world. On the one hand, their website boasts such delights as Svyturys Extra Cold, and the tempting promise of “even lighter beers” to come (urgh…). On the other hand, we always enjoy a bottle of it, and even Roger Protz rates it (in “300 Beers to try before you die”).

We’re now going to try and track down the rarer treats in the Svyturys range – Degintas (a baltic porter type), Baltas (a wheat beer) and the most enticing, Baltijos, which according to the website is “distinguished for its hard scum”. Yummmmm.

Boak and Bailey


Light Lithuanian Lagers – face-off round 1

We’ve enjoyed Svyturys a lot in the past, and were wondering whether any of the other Lithuanian lagers that are often available in London cornershops would prove equally enjoyable.

utenos.jpgSo we popped into our local store and picked up some Kalnapilis (Original) and some Utenos. These were both ostensibly “Muenchner Hell” types, i.e. light lagers. (NB – both these breweries do pilsners and, more interestingly, baltic porters, but these are less readily available. Will do a taste test one day).

Kalnapilis had the prouder boasts (“finest Saaz hops”) etc but it was Utenos that won the day – quite a hoppy taste for a light lager, and very smooth and easy to drink. The Kalnapilis, if it tasted of anything at all, was rather sweet.

The websites for these beers do not fill the real ale / craft beer lover with joy – both are proudly boasting their “Ice” brand – boasting an even milder version of their current products. And I’m sorry, but counting the tinned version of your brew as a different product from the bottle (when both are pasteurised) just doesn’t convince…

Next round – Svyturys v Utenos… then we can move away from light lagers and tackle the heavy stuff.


P.S. the Lithuanian word for beer is “alus”. Presumably some sign of the old Indo-European roots of our word “ale”?