Tuesday, 17 November 2015

More beer myths that just won't DIE!

"Landing-Bacon" by Henry A. Bacon - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/ff/Panoramic_Boston.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Landing-Bacon.PNG#/media/File:Landing-Bacon.PNG
Uh-oh, the refugees are coming!
This time it's the "sources of fresh water were untrustworthy—often reliably fatal—and scarce. Beer, on the other hand, was always boiled prior to fermentation, making it safe to drink" one, via a chirpy article on Vinepair. I assume the main story is simply lifted from somewhere else, by the way, as Lisa Grimm wrote a much better and significantly corrected version for Serious Eats back in 2012, but presumably checking for accuracy was above the Vinepair author's pay-grade. 

So in summary, there is no evidence the medieval mind considered or knew water to be unhealthy. Bad water was a concern, but people had their own guidelines on how to tell good from bad. If you want more evidence, look at how long it took Dr John Snow to persuade people that cholera was spread via water. That was in the 1800s -- more than two centuries after the Mayflower -- and it was also when they realised that drinking beer was safer than well-water.

Plus, boiling the wort for beer before fermentation seems to have come in some time after the introduction of hops (remembering here that in mediaeval times, ale was unhopped, beer was hopped). Boiling modifies the acids in the hops and is needed to fully activate their bitterness and preservative qualities. Before hops, there was no need to boil.

What you did need was hot water for the mash, as it's how you get the fermentable sugars out of the malted grain. This heating would have been enough to kill most bugs, but was not a boil. Apart from anything else, at a time when a fire meant collecting or buying firewood, unnecessary boiling would have been a waste of expensive and/or scarce fuel.

The truth seems to be that drinking water was not fashionable among the middle classes in 1620 -- it was something that only poor people did, and the religious fanatics aboard the Mayflower were not poor people.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Do Germans really know where their beer comes from?

Brewed right up on Germany's North Sea coast in East Frisia, Jever was formerly renowned as one of the country's most bitter Pilsners. That powerful bitterness – now widely believed to have been moderated somewhat, both to save money and to dumb it down a little – was in former days typical of beers right across the north, or so another brewmaster from the Baltic coast once told me.

So in a country still wedded to its local beers, what was this pride of the north doing way down south in Frankfurt, where it sat on supermarket shelves between beers from local giant Binding and its regional rival Licher?

It was a chance conversation of sorts on the beer-lover's website Untappd that helped me realise why – and in the process to be reminded of the consolidation in the German brewing industry, and how the average drinker probably has no idea who their beer really comes from.

What I'd forgotten was that Jever is now owned by Radeberger Gruppe, a brewing combine so big that it counts as a macro-brewer under the definitions used by the US Brewers Association. Radeberger also owns Binding, which of course has the local distribution business sewn up and can easily get a stablemate or two onto the shelves.

I'm sure this is great for production volumes up at the Jever brewery, but as Radeberger tries to capitalise on the beer's fame to turn it into a national brand, it also explains why the beer's become less bitter, if its target market is now people who'd otherwise drink frankly quite dull Pilsners such as Binding and Licher.

Incidentally, if that doesn't give enough idea of the scale of the hidden consolidation, I'll add that Binding also produces Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen, Clausthaler non-alcoholic beer, and the MAB brands. It's also responsible for BraufactuM, Radeberger's pitch at the craft beer market, which produces some jolly decent but way over-priced hoppy versions of IPA, Brown ale, Kölsch and other less usual beer styles.

Looking up the chain, Radeberger is owned by Dr Oetker – yes, the pizza and baking soda combine – while Licher is owned by another German brewing combine, Bitburger.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Mo' beer for Movember

A silver Spitfire
Movember is here, and for the fifth year in a row this annual grow-a-moustache-for-charity event is being supported by Shepherd Neame. This time, the Kent brewery has signed its well-known Spitfire ale up as a full 'supporting partner' -- Spitfire brand manager Will Upfield said the brewery's raised more than £200,000 for Movember over the last five years.

"For Movember, we're doing a re-brand with moustachioed bottles and pump-clips, and point-of-sale kits with bar-runners and t-shirts," he added. Sheps is also running a competition to invent your own 'Mo-Beer'.

In addition, Sheps is putting its new Spitfire Gold out in bottles this month, which is earlier than planned. It wasn't due for supermarket release until February, once the Yule rush is out of the way, but Will said that Morrisons asked to take it earlier as an exclusive.

Razor clams & angel-hair pasta
To promote both Movember and Spitfire Gold, Sheps organised a moustache-themed dinner featuring such hairy delights as:

· Shaved courgette & goatee cheese parcels
· Razor clams & angel hair pasta
· Hare & Spitfire ale pie with pastry moustaches and tash potatoes
· Sticky stubble pudding

All very silly -- and very, very tasty!

So how's the Spitfire Gold, which has been out in cask form since earlier this year? Well, it's clearly meant as a cross-over beer -- it's a sweet golden ale intended to lure lager drinkers over to ale, and as such is not really my thing. Sure, there's a slight piney note and a hint of bitterness, but overall it's like someone brewed a Eurolager as an ale. Still, I'm told the cask version has been popular with Sheps landlords, as they're keen for a beer of this kind to compete in this growing end of the market.

It seems an odd use of the branding though. Not only is it (as Will acknowledged) completely different from what I'd call 'proper Spitfire', but as far as I know there never were any gold Spitfires. The closest, I guess, would have been the few silver paint and polished aluminium examples, as seen above. (Spot the former plane geek...)

Another beer myth that just won't die

Not one of the IPA ones this time, but Porter. Into my inbox this morning pops a press release from Moorhouse's, announcing that Pendle Porter is back as its monthly seasonal.

OK, it's a very nice beer and they need to keep their name in people's minds. What's annoying though is the reference to "the striking pump clip design, which celebrates the 19th century market porters that found the style so ‘restorative’ they lent their name to the brew" -- and sure enough, there's a cheerful market porter pictured with a pint.

This myth been so thoroughly debunked it's annoying to see it still floating around. The drink was named after the far more numerous London street and river porters, not the minority of market porters. In the 1800s, before vans and bikes, pretty much everything that needed to travel within a city was carried by a porter -- and they needed plenty of nourishing liquid to stay fuelled.

Sadly, its a myth that was perpetuated by Michael Jackson, among others, which means it'll be extra-hard to kill off.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Mapping the price of a pint

The regional cost of beer is doing the rounds this week -- anyone know why? The following intriguing infographic (I guess this means infographics are still über-trendy, then) just turned up in my email.

Its main sources appear to be a seven-week old press release for the Good Pub Guide 2016 (which also appears to be the source of a slightly naff video posted yesterday on the Evening Standard website) and data from PintPrice.com which I'm not wholly convinced by, not least because it has two different prices for Bruges/Brugge and three very different ones for Brussels, which suggests a shortage of editing or moderation.

I'm also unsure why it was published by an apartment rental firm! But as I said at the top it's intriguing, and it is properly referenced. So I offer it here, with caveats, for your interest...

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Rockin' the beer in Boulder

They do like their boulders...

Last week I spent a few days in Boulder, Colorado. I was there on non-beer related business, but these days you can't go to Colorado and not drink beer – even if it isn't exactly the capital of American craft beer, it is certainly a heartland for it.

And Boulder, just a few miles outside Denver, is in turn one of the top places for beer within Colorado – along with Fort Collins up to the north, home to New Belgium Brewing and one of the main Anheuser-Busch breweries, and of course Denver itself. In addition, while Denver is home to the Great American Beer Festival, Boulder is home to the US Brewers Association, which organises GABF – and is also the source for that much argued-over US definition of Craft Beer.

West - very west! - Flanders
So on my trip to Boulder, there was plenty to explore – even after I decided to focus my spare time specifically on brewpubs and brewery taps. I started with Sunday brunch at West Flanders Brewing Company, a brewpub which as its name implies does quite a few Belgian-inspired beers. It's conveniently located on Pearl Street, Boulder's old high street which is now mostly a pedestrianised boutique shopping mall. The pub followed a pattern that became familiar – far deeeper that it is wide, stretching far back from seats on the pavement past serving tanks of beer, the brewery itself and the kitchen.

I was slightly surprised to find myself the only one ordering beer at 10am – it was Sunday, after all! – but was pretty pleased with my breakfast omelette and my tasting flight, which included an excellent Saison, a tasty Wet Hop Pale Ale, a decent Belgian dark ale and an OK abbey Tripel. Plus it's a cool, modern place with lovely staff and a relaxed vibe.

Next, it was off to the other end of Pearl to Mountain Sun where I was meeting a friend via Untappd who'd come up from Denver for the afternoon. Mountain Sun is part of a small group of brewpubs and has a hippyish ambience, with tables packed close enough to be cosy without being crowded. The mixed crowd produced a buzz of conversation.

Colorado Kind Ale
Again, I chose a tasting flight, this time of six beers. Most of these brewpubs will pour you several small measures – typically four to six quarter-pints, so 4oz or 5oz each – of your chosen beers, and charge you not much more than the cost of a pint or a pint and a half. Particularly good here were the Colorado Kind Ale (an excellent interpretation of Fuller's ESB) and the Java Porter.

Our next destination was Twisted Pine Brewing, a little bit out of town. It's probably about 20 minutes walk, but we – like many of the other visitors we found there – drove instead. I'd had a few of its beers on a previous visit to Colorado and was curious to try more, so it was great to see the list of over a dozen regulars and specials on the brewery tap's blackboard.

The brewery tap is mostly natural pine, unsurprisingly enough. It was about half full and there was American football on TV – this is a Sunday afternoon thing in bars, apparently – with a couple of groups cheering fairly raucously.

We did find a couple of duds – a strange watery alleged Grätzer that tasted more like smoky Lemon Barley Water, and a spice-laden murky grey-brown soup of a pumpkin pie spice beer. Guys, I know America is the land of excess, and that this is even more true in craft beer, but trust me: when it comes to spice in beer, less is more!

On the plus side, Eleven Birds – a chewy and hoppy beer in the Belgian brown ale mould – was excellent, as were a Saison called 20 To Life (celebrating the brewery's 20th anniversary) and a powerful 8% Bretted and barrel-aged IPA called Funk In The Trunk.

From here we headed back into town and Walnut Brewery, a spacious and airy brewpub which is part of the same organisation as the extensive Rolling Rock chain. More like a converted warehouse inside, there's huge brand images of its house beers on the walls, and the brewery is visible above and behind the bar on a sort of mezzanine level. All the usual American craft beer styles were on offer and well made – Pale Ale, IPA, brown ale, stout, Irish Red, etc. The IPA, Red and Pale Ales were notably good. The one exception to an otherwise predictable range was a Black Lager that turned out to be a decent interpretation of a Schwarzbier.

My friend had to head home at this point for family dinner. It was still only mid-evening, so after bidding him a safe trip I decided to walk back to West Flanders to try some more from its extensive range. This time I picked from the higher end of the strength and flavour spectrum, where the IPAs live. The star was actually the one non-IPA – Recreational Smoke Porter, rich, dry and complex, though with no dope but lots of woodsmoke. The others were heavily hop-forward, without enough of anything else to carry it really well. The Black IPA and the Imperial IPA were pretty good regardless, but in the 'regular' Third Kingdom IPA it was just too aggressive.

And so to bed, with jetlag still lurking and a case of the munchies! Part 2 coming soon: Public omnibuses? In the land of the car?!?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Death and life of a great British pub

Very long but worthwhile: an absolutely excellent read on the battle to save a classic London pub, including a portrait of an example of the predatory scum seeking to destroy our pubs for pure personal profit.