Saturday 29 May 2021

Nature is healing

Blimey, it was a close run thing this year. Mild is not easy to find in the South East at the best of times, and this is certainly not the best of times. Spending a week in the Scottish Highlands didn't help either. But as I was up in London today I thought a detour to Borough on the way home might work, and after some confusion behind the bar, success!

A pint of mild was mine, my spiritual obligations were fulfilled and my immortal soul was safe. Nature is healing. 

Saturday 15 May 2021

Great beers theory and the Glass Struggle

 Over at Beervana Jeff Alworth has been posting a series of articles on classic beers. This inevitably comes across as more Great Beer theory of history rather than say, the history of all hitherto existing beer is the history of glass struggles. The most recent post, on Jaipur, is also about the most recent beer in the series, which means it's history I've lived through. So I get to go "hang on a minute, that's not how it happened":

Jeff is right that there was a buzz around Jaipur. I can remember a brewer I worked with 13 years ago (who has since gone on to win the Champion Beer of Britain, though with a vanilla stout) raving about it. But despite my best efforts I hardly ever saw it on cask, and still don't today. It may be because I live in the South East of England or it may be because, as is pointed out, it's at the strong end of what's usually seen on cask. It's hard to sell 72 pints of something at 5.9% ABV in three days as people won't be knocking back pints of it all night. Well, not if they plan on doing anything the next day. Jaipur was also certainly not "like nothing the Brits had tasted". We had tasted American hops before.

Which brings me to a cask beer I think was more influential in popularising their taste and has been around longer: Darkstar Hophead. At 3.8% ABV it more suited to cask and I've seen it a lot more often. The lower strength also makes it much more of an American/British hybrid than is claimed for Jaipur, rather tenuously I think, because the malt comes from Maris Otter barley. 

It should also be mentioned that thanks to the late, great, Glenn Payne bottles of grapefruit flavoured American craft beer had been available in a national supermarket chain long before Jaipur came around. 

Then when we get to "Craft Keg and CAMRA's Folly" a narrative is promoted that makes a good story but doesn't fit the facts. CAMRA did not react to the arrival of American-style keg beer as if it was Watney's Red Barrel 2.0. What they in fact did was nothing. That the Campaign for Real Ale also functions as the de facto campaign for good beer meant this caused a lot of frustration for many beer geeks. Eventually it lead to CAMRA's long and lumbering revitalisation process, and CAMRA making their peace with (key) keg beer. 

American-style kegged beer arriving did not cause breweries to open for the first time in decades, the microbrewery boom in Britain started at the same time as it did in America (in fact I think Britain has a valid claim to have started it first). The biggest factor in the rate of brewery growth increasing further was in a tax change with the introduction of Small Brewers Duty Relief. 

I also can't remember anyone ever arguing that "the new craft wasn’t properly British". That it wasn't real ale certainly, but not that it wasn't British. We're told that "Bitters had been the standard pub beer for half a century and hadn’t evolved an inch. The fidelity offered by CAMRA had become a straightjacket" which again is trying to fit a narrative rather than reporting facts. I can remember the rise of Golden Ales, which was a major change to the appearance and taste of beer commonly seen on cask. The reactionary, dogmatic traditionalists of CAMRA reacted to it by...adding a Golden Ale category to their competitions and several times crowning Golden Ales as Champion Beer of Britain, the World's most prestigious brewing award. 

I suspect things read on social media inform the article to a great extent, and though it was common at one point for British crafties to claim CAMRA is only interested in traditional session bitters, something echoed by in the post, this is not and never has been true. Craft beer certainly has expanded greatly the range of beers that you're easily able to find in Britain, but before then CAMRA beer festivals were the best places to find unusual and strong beers on draught. So an ABV of 5.5% is not "quite a bit stronger than English beer". It is stronger than most, but certainly not all English, or even British beers. In fact another post in the series is on Fuller's ESB, which after its strength was reduced slightly is... 5.5% ABV.

That cask ale brewers have taken to using modern American hop varieties seems to me to be part of the continual evolution that saw the growth of hoppy golden ales. I'm sure Jaipur helped push this but to say that in such beers "we see the DNA of Jaipur" is over egging it. The influence of American craft beer has certainly lead to a big increase in the range of beers brewed in Britain but cask beer has always evolved and I'm sure it will continue to do so. 


Saturday 1 May 2021

Faith Of Our Fathers

Since the dark forces have been beaten back enough that pubs have reopened I have of course been going down my local. That Satan and his minions are still able to impose ludicrous restrictions lessens the experience but it is still a valid sacrament. Those of your still only drinking out of tinnies in your living room should be aware that the special dispensation allowing such behaviour has now expired so unless you honour the sabbath by getting down the pub at the weekend you are sinning!

Yes, I know it's bleedin' cold and table service is surely an abomination unto the lord, but god, it's good to be back. Though I'm no theologian I can speak infallibly when I say that pubs are the high point of British culture. Admittedly there's not much competition, but still, they're great, even you have to sit outside and for some stupid reason get waited on. 

Being back down the pub and drinking beer served as god intended nourishes the soul in ways that drinking at home cannot, even if we have to suffer a little at the moment. And lets face it pubs have had a very hard time and need the custom. Get back there.