Thursday 28 February 2013

Changing tastes in hops

Having a side line as a hop history bore it is a cause of some amusement for me when I see fellow beer nerds complaining about boring British hops, and wishing British hop breeders could develop something more like awesome American hops. 

Little do they know that for the best part of the 20th century breeding out American*  flavour was one of the aims of the British hop breeding programme. Recently English hop varieties previous rejected for tasting too American have started being revived in the hope they match modern tastes.

From my research into hop history it would seem the two main goals of hop breeding have been growers calling for more disease resistance, and brewers calling for more bitterness without affecting the taste of their beer. This is quite a different attitude from how many modern brewers and drinkers actively seek out new flavours. Descriptions of new varieties used to be accompanied by notes on what percentage of them you could use before the flavour became unacceptable, and I once spoke to a retired Allied brewer who said he was only allowed to use a maximum of 25% Bramling Cross.

Two of the old varieties currently being revived, Keyworth's Early and Keyworth's Midseason, did have widespread planting at one point, having been rushed in because of their wilt resistance. AH Burgess writing in "Hops" (1964) detailed how they originated and how they were received:

"When progressive Verticillium wilt was threatening the hop-growing industry in parts of Kent, Keyworth, at East Malling Research Station, tested all the ordinary commercial varieties and a large number of Salmon's seedling varieties for their susceptibility to the disease. He found all the ordinary commercial varieties susceptible, but some of the seedlings were 'moderately resistant'.

After further tests had been made on cultural characteristics and brewing values for these resistant varieties, he selected two - OJ47, subsequently released by Salmon, in 1949, 'Keyworth's Early' and OR55 'Keyworth's Midseason'. These were both propagated extensively, under the auspices of the Hop Marketing Board, for planting by growers whose gardens were infected with the disease."

They were descended from a New Mexican wild hop that had been fertilised by "open pollination"

Now being grown again as part of Charles Faram's Hop Development Programme I've recently seen their flavour described as follows:

Keyworth's Early: Lemon, grapefruit

Keyworth's Midseason: Citrus, blackcurrant

These are the sort of flavours associated with modern American varieties and popular with many drinkers today.

They were of a different opinion the first time round. Keyworth's Early was unpopular with brewers "on account of its strong, unpleasant aroma" and farmers didn't like it as it had a marked susceptibility to downy mildew and mould. Keyworth's Midseason fared better, cultivation reaching 573 acres in 1954 but "since then other, more acceptable, wilt-tolerant varieties have been introduced and it is now going out of cultivation."

After their rapid appearance a rapid decline followed. It will be interesting to see how they fare this time.

*I've also heard the word "Manitoban" used, after the Canadian province the wild male hop was used to start the British hop breeding programme came from. And of course "Catty" as some of these hops can smell a bit like cat piss.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Alcohol not as harmful as was thought

It seems people under report the amount they drink. Not really surprising, but it does make me think that if that's the case then surely any harmful effects of alcohol are caused by higher doses than previously thought.

I don't suppose that's how the press will see it though, and lurid headlines about drinking being out of control will no doubt start appearing again soon.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Yorkshire! Yorkshire!

I've a feeling I've used that post title before but it seems appropriate as I've had a Yorkshire based drinking weekend, and all without going North of the Thames. 

On Saturday it was the Yorkshire beer festival at the Bricklayers Arms. The pub was full of cottagers so we had to sit outside in the cold. A pint of Naylor's Claret and Amber would have warmed my heart but they didn't have it. The low temperature meant the beer lacked flavour and when we saw snow flakes falling we knew it was time to move on.

Dan in a hood
We ended up in a nearby Young's pub, where the Special seemed surprisingly good, though the fact I didn't have to break the ice on my pint to drink it may have affected my judgment. I would have gone for Winter Warmer if they'd had it, as I certainly needed warming, though the the closest they had was Ram Rod. According to the bar staff this is never drunk on its own but only mixed with Special. I had to pass though as it came from the fridge and I'd had enough of chilled beer.

After this we briefly returned to the Bricklayers and huddled round the pasty cabinet to try and get warm but it didn't really work and we decided it was time to go for some food.

Sunday was a bit different for me, as I was actively trying to watch a football match. It's not the sort of thing I  usually do but as it was quite possibly the most important match since 1911 I made an exception. I even seriously considered going to a keg only pub, as they seem to be the places that have Sky sports on, but in the end decided to stay at  home with some decent beer and listen to the radio. Probably just as well as in a  closely fought contest Bradford were pipped to the post, losing by the narrow margin of five goals to nil.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

White smoke

No sooner have I whinged on about the fact you still can't bleedin' well buy Courage Imperial Russian Stout in Britain than it appear for sale on Amazon (thanks to @Will_Hawkes).

Now for the bad news. But you knew it was coming.

It costs a bleedin' fortune. £6.59 for a 275ml bottle + £6.99 postage. That would be about £27 a pint.

Now I have been waiting a long time, and I am keen to try it, but bollocks to paying that.

I'll have to wait and see how much it is when I finally see it in a shop, I'm bracing myself though.

A bonanza of Brettanomyces based

Bollocks. That's what the lovely Lisa suggested for this post's title. I was going so well on the alliteration but couldn't get it finished. "A bonanza of Brett based...what?" I wondered. "Bollocks" said the lovely Lisa. "You know it will be." So bollocks it is.

As there's not a lot of information out there about this genus of yeast I've been delighted to find some more things about it recently. Showing impressive stamina Brettanomyces guru Chad Yakobson does a talk of about two hours that's on youtube in three parts here, here and here. Sadly you can't see what's on the slide show, but you can't have everything.

There's also an interview online here.

 And as if that wasn't enough there's also a fascinating article in Brewery History 149 from the excellent Ray Anderson on the history of pure yeast cultures in brewing, which contains a good chunk on Brettanomyces. Being based on original articles from 2007 it's a little dated, as brewing with Brettanomyces has now returned to Britain (if only in a minor way), but if you haven't joined the Brewery History Society now there's yet another reason.

Monday 18 February 2013

Black smoke

I had a brief chat with a Wells and Young's brewing bod this evening and he had no idea when we'll be seeing Courage Imperial Russian Stout. He said a thousand cases were held back for the UK, but he doesn't know what's happened with them. The last he heard the marketing department were talking about putting the bottles in a tube.

I wish they'd pull their bleedin' finger out. It's been on sale in the US for ages, and it's even on sale in Ireland now, so quite how they can't manage to sell it in Britain is beyond me.

A definition of stout

One of the books I'm currently reading is Roger Protz's The Story of Brewing in Burton on Trent. It's a fairly light weight book, but it has its moments. I particularly enjoyed this line from when he's talking about the first world war:

"Guinness said it was impossible to brew a stout at anything less than 1.042"

Sadly there's no reference but I'm pretty sure that would mean modern draught Guinness isn't a stout.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Gone for a Burton

I cracked when I was at Fuller's brewery the other week. As the previous two 'Past Masters' beers had ended up at my local Sainsbury's cheaper than they were at the brewery itself I'd been resisting rushing up to Chiswick to buy the latest. But seeing as I was already there I gave in and forked out the premium price that for some strange reason you often have to pay when  you buy direct from the brewery.

Brewed to a 1931 recipe and 7.3% ABV I was expecting something strong and dark, which is what I got, but not everything was as I expected. There wasn't much in the way of aroma, the taste was definitely a touch vinous, though in some ways reminding me of ESB (the beer that replaced Fuller's Burton Ale), with perhaps with a smidge of Prize Old Ale. Which doesn't really say much if you're not familiar with Fuller's beers but I'm afraid that's all you're going to get.

The most surprising thing though, considering the strength, was the lightness of the body. Certainly not how Fuller's beers are nowadays, it got me wondering how much sugar was used in the recipe, and if Charlie Bamforth was right that the importance of yeast strains is over stated.

It's my favourite of the 'Past Masters' so far and if it does arrive in Sainsbury's I'll definitely be stocking up.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Braithwaite based boozing and hill walking heroism

I've just had a cracking week's holiday in the Lakes. It started with the annual "Croyde of the North" trip where a load of my mates meet up in Braithwaite. The main event for the hardier souls was a walk around Coledale. Of the eight that started over half managed to finish, and none died (though some looked like they had).

We were boozing in the Royal Oak that night, which has the core range of Jennings beers, but at prices higher than I usually pay down South which gets a bit painful.

The next day was more relaxed, a stroll round Derwent Water, cunningly avoiding the boring bit by catching the boat,

 followed by a refreshing pint or three in the Dog and Gun.

We managed to shift the venue over to the Middle Ruddings for the evening. Having a mob arrive on a Sunday night initially took the bar staff by surprise, but they rallied well and installed us in their lounge. They serve local beers at more amenable prices, I went for Kirkby Lonsdale Monumental that night, though I also enjoyed Hardknott Continuum later in the week.

The food was good too.

After that it was just myself and the Lovely Lisa for the rest of the week. We started ticking Wainwrights, not because we're massive fans of his books (though they are fun), but because it's good to have a goal to work towards.

We ticked a few smaller peaks, and drank a few celebratory pints, including at the excellent Pheasant Inn.

Fuelled by Tunnocks wafers it seemed like nothing could stop us.

Note the Tunnocks specific rucksack

How cool is that?

 But disaster stuck when attempting the west face of Glaramara.

Only a few hundred meters from the summit worsening conditions caused the Tunnocks to freeze. Unable to eat our wafer based confectionery we had no option but to turn back. The descent was pretty harrowing too, as I nearly lost the sloe gin. And Lisa. But we got down in the end.

We strolled up Binsey the next day but that's probably it for us and hill walking until Easter. Plenty of beer to keep us going till then though, and perhaps a Tunnocks or two.