Friday 31 July 2009

Beers Of The World finito: the end of beerwriting as we know it?

One of the magazines I write (wrote) for — Beers of the World — has ceased publication. It follows other Brit beer mags that went AWOL — The Taste (or in its latter issues it should have been The Lack Of Taste) immediately springs to mind, but I am sure there were others. It’s obvious, that unless you have a captive readership, ie CAMRA’s Beer, magazines devoted to beer in this country have no future. It’s ironic given that the British Guild of Beerwriters celebrates its 21st birthday next week, which makes me think that maybe this is the end of beer-writing as we have known it since the 1970s. We are all beer bloggers now.

Monday 27 July 2009

Tokyo calling (and there’s no one listening)

BrewDog in the news again (click here), this time with Tokyo* being condemned because it’s 18.2% alcohol content and therefore an incentive to all those binge drinkers who are only too ready to eschew the usual case of Stella whatever and pay nearly a tenner for a 330ml bottle of beer that contains jasmine, cranberries and US hops, plus champagne yeast. Of course they are.

As the beer is supposed to contain six units (is that British, American or someone else’s idea of units?), a spokeswoman from the British Liver Trust has said: ‘The notion of binge-drinking is to get drunk quick, so surely this beer will help people on their way?’ Of course, I can just see it, they start off with this, have a Worldwide Stout and finish off with a couple of Utopias before throwing up all over the taxi driver. Meanwhile Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Jack Law says: ‘It is utterly irresponsible to bring out a beer which is so strong at a time when Scotland is facing unprecedented levels of alcohol-related health and social harm.’

I do not doubt that there is a binge drinking problem, but given that the British notoriously drink by price (especially with wine), I cannot see many bottles of Tokyo* being handed around by teenagers, while the quiet drunks who spend the day on the slosh silently and sadly at home would want to get more bang for the their bucks. The flavour profile of this beer will also be challenging — so why the fuss?

There are a lot of people out there on health watchdogs, quangos and other publicly funded bodies whose mind set is: all alcohol, whether beer, wine or whisky, is bad (they have to justify their public money somehow). Is this a long hangover from our Protestant/Puritan past — when Christmas and the Maypole was banned? On the other hand, I suspect BrewDog love the publicity as they Malcolm McLaren themselves some more headlines and wind up the New Puritans.

A warning: when listening to Radio 5 today a woman from some cancer charity came on and warned listeners about the health dangers of iced coffees. So if the Taliban don’t come in the night, or swine flu doesn’t carry away your neighbourhood, or the local death-eaters don’t go barmy on thimbles of Tokyo*, then it will be a cup of frappo-mocha-fremlino-cappo-nappo-creamoid cappos from Starbucks that will do for you.

Friday 24 July 2009

The Canary in CAMRA’s coal mine

In London Drinker I read that the CAMRA branch in Bexley (which is somewhere between the Thames and Brighton I think) is in danger of being wound up because they are not getting people coming through to serve on their committee. I wonder if any branches have actually gone that way? Will Bexley be the first branch to turn out the lights and leave the area to ravaging hordes of WKD-swigging Vandals?

As CAMRA gets more and more successful and bigger, it seems that getting the people on the ground is getting harder. Branches seem to be ageing from my limited knowledge here in the southwest and the same people serve year after year. CAMRA might talk of a change in the public’s attitude to its much mocked image as a sandals-and-sores society, but maybe that is not the perception at a local level. Or are people generally not willing to get involved in anything? Morris Dancing is supposedly on the wane (though not Rapper or clog dancing), while the WI probably has a problem in getting people in to sample their jams and calendars.

The point of this post: is Bexley the canary in CAMRA’s coal mine?

Monday 20 July 2009


Flicking through a copy of The Compleat Imbiber 2, published in 1958, I came across this paragraph in an article entitled Imbibing in Britain: ‘The favourite sherry, during the first half of the nineteenth century, was Old Brown or Old East India — so-called because it had purposely been shipped out to the Indies and back again, the motion of the vessel being held, not without reason, to improve it.’ This begs the question, was this mode of sherry improvement influenced by the success of IPA’s long journey to India?

It seems singularly apt on reading these words a couple of days after getting a bottle of Atlantic IPA, BrewDog’s self-proclaimed sea-aged IPA, which they say is the first commercially available sea-aged IPA in two centuries. It’s not the first sea-aged IPA since the 1800s though, Pete Brown did that for Hops & Glory, but I have to agree that it is the first ‘commercially available’ one. Clever things words.

The Compleat Imbiber was a regularly published hardback of articles on food and drink (mainly wine, though beer does occasionally crop up), with writers such as Elizabeth David, Kingsley Amis and Auberon Waugh contributing — I have a few and they are fantastic to browse through, a world away from celebrity chefs and the ilk. They were edited by Cyril Ray, father of wine writer and British Guild of Beerwriters member Jonathan Ray. You can usually find them in secondhand bookshops for a fiver or so.

Thursday 16 July 2009

The lager challenge

Just a bit of fun; four lagers out of the cellar, different countries, different approaches, old school, new school, no school. Despite spending a lot of writing about cask beer, I love lager and am fascinated by it. Not talking wife-beater or the beer that reaches parts that no decent folk ever dare go, but the lagered beers that have the elegance and grace of a white Burgundy or Gerwurtztraminer. So here we go

Bel Pils is light gold, straw gold even, and 5%. It lies beneath a steady foam, almost like whipped-up egg white; the nose is shy, sweetish, gently toasted grain and, coming in a bit later, a fine trace of lemon-flavoured boiled sweets. Lemony and bittersweet on the palate, a quick finish, before a slight bitterness makes a return. Find this a bit reminiscent of the half decent all-malt lagers you enjoy on holiday but never drink once back home; but when you try Augustiner or St Georgen then it falls by the wayside. I remember being wowed by this at the old Bier Circus in 1996, but many different pilsners on it’s now ok but it does need a bit of rethinking.

BrewDog’s 77 (4.9%) is a lager with taste according to the brewery, but I always thought the whole point of a lagered beer was finesse and subtlety rather than a bash on the nose. This is a darker beast than the Bel, almost orange gold. The head vanished quickly, leaving a thin layer of foam that then takes a hike; as you would expect from BrewDog, it is a bit of a belter on the nose and the palate; caramel and tropical fruit aromatics, as if afraid to leave behind its US craft beer antecedents. It almost reminds me of a golden ale on the palate, fruit, caramel and a hint of diacytel, not necessarily a bad thing in a lager. There’s also a not so pleasant leatheriness at times, which I don’t particularly care for — it’s the only BrewDog beer in which I have found a micro-brewing style rusticity. There is a grainy dryness on the finish, with a high note of bitterness ringing away at the back of the throat. It’s certainly an assertive beer, but I’m not sure about it.

Victory Prima Pils (5.3%) is straw and golden yellow, with a collar of frisky white foam that hangs about like a delinquent on a street corner. Very clean nose with a hint of sherbert; but on the palate there is a spritzy hop playfulness plus a generous bitterness that you don’t find on lagered beers, unless it’s Jever. Bitter finish as well, which dries the palate in time for another swig. Wondering if this is at its best as a quick look at the label shows that it is a couple of weeks past its best by date. Sherbert becomes a bit of a Herbert after a while.

Rothaus Tannen Zäpfle (5.1%) is star-bright clear gold in the glass beneath a clingy and still white foam. The nose is gently toasted grain with a hint of lemon boiled sweets in the background. Good malty body on the palate, hints of lemon and caramel, but clean enough on the palate without vanishing up its own posterior of no taste. A good dry and bittersweet finish. Good body, rounded mouthfeel; appetising. My favourite of the lot.

There you go, I enjoyed that, as my current project — editing the upcoming 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die — seems to have taken over my life; this was a pleasant diversion. Back to wrestling with Rodenbach’s origins.

The picture shows the lagering cellars at the Cieszyn Brewery, where both the peerless Zyweic Porter and the rather delicious Brackie Pilsner are made and matured — no doubt Heineken will see it in their wisdom to close it down.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Rose of Castile

I’ve got a beer you won’t know about says Will, the barman from Barrow who runs my local pub like clockwork can only be run; he bends beneath the bar, on his knees to the chill cabinet, it’s Sunday so he’s allowed a little holiness — in an instance I know he’s not going to fool me. The shape of the bottle, just a glimpse, gives me an edge. From Alsace, I say, conscious of playing to the gallery at the bar at that point when Sunday lunchtime has gone past 2pm and we’re drinking not dining (no roasties today sadly, one of the great traditions of my Sunday local). Champagne yeast, Moussec-like character on the palate, light; Kasteel Kru. Damn says Will; but I’ve got it wrong on one point: it’s a bottle of Kasteel Rose, which I haven’t had and don’t particularly want to try (I don’t use the word abomination that often but it seems to me that it is well called for when thinking about beers like this and those tequila flavoured ones that seem to do so well in France obviously giving their consumers the cachet of a hero from some Spaghetti Westerm filmed in Spain — look mum I haven’t shaved for a few days and I’ve got your poncho on, I’m a loner!). Never mind that though, there’s an interest in beer, beyond a pint for sustenance (t’was Proper Job, HSD and Dartmoor Bitter on the pumps for those who care), there’s a thought that there’s more to beer than the usual pint, even if Kasteel Rose — to me — seems like a crappy, artificial flavoured flute of shite. Let’s put it this way, No way would I recommend it as a beer to drink before you shuffle off the moral coil. Then it’s back to the Proper Job in hand, but I like the way beer is considered of interest in a pub (Woods, Dulverton that has won lots of plaudits for its wine and food but is still not grand enough to turn its back on beer drinkers. Talking of which Will tells me that Paddy the landlord opened his last bottle of Brooklyn Chocolate Stout last night, a case of which I ordered for him last time. Time to hit that online place in Kings Lynn I think.
See Ulysses for the reference to Rose of Castile and yes that’s my local in the background.