Friday 27 November 2015

Public omnibuses, in the land of the car? Yes – and A-very fine beer too!

Part 2 of my touring Boulder's breweries and brewpubs, back in October. Part 1 is here.

I think I must have visited Boulder's Avery Brewing Company 10 years ago on a pre-festival breweries tour ahead of the Great American Beer Festival. My memory's a bit vague, but I have a recollection of a typical “microbrewery in an large garage” type of set-up in a generic industrial unit. If I remember rightly, what made it different from the others we visited was it did sour and barrel-aged beers at a time when those were far from fashionable.

An hour or two before the hordes descend...
Anyway, somewhere along the line they got my email address and have been dutifully sending me their monthly newsletter for pretty much an entire decade. I almost unsubscribed a couple of times, but then a few weeks ago I was glad I hadn't done, because they invited me (and presumably a few hundred others) to a launch party and a free pint of this year's 8.3% Old Jubilation winter ale. And for the first time in a decade it was going to be while I was not only on the right continent, but in the right town!

So after a bit of breakfast, it was into town to find the bus station. Yes, pretty much every US city I've been to has a viable public transport system – if you're willing to put in the effort needed to figure out how it works in terms of fares, stops, etc. It helped a little that Boulder comes under the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD), and I'd used Denver buses in the past, but really it wasn't that hard to scope out the routes on Google Maps, check the RTD website for timings, and so on.

So there I was just after lunch, waiting for bus 205 with coins in hand – the ticket machines don't give change. Sure, the bus carried a little age, but it was clean and comfortable, and like many other bus companies they've adopted the system of giving a recorded announcement ahead of each stop. (When London Transport did this, they found it greatly increased travellers' confidence, and no wonder!)

When I got off and headed into the industrial estate that Avery moved back in February this year, I was over an hour early though. That's because in the process of checking the route I'd found a second brewery resident there that I'd never heard of before, and where Avery didn't open until 3pm, this one opened at 2…

Asher Brewing Company's main claim to fame is that when it opened in 2009 it was the first all-organic brewery in Colorado – I presume there's been others since then. Tucked away among workshops and offices, the taproom was cool and bright, with at least half a dozen beers on draught. It was an unusual mix of a clean space with cheerful service and a sense of activist grunge. I liked it, but I can see it wouldn't be to everyone's taste.

The beers were certainly well made, the best being the Green Bullet IPA which had a nice balance of chewy dry-sweet malt and aromatic hoppy bitterness. The others I tried – I had a flight of six tasters, including a properly (but not overly) bitter Kölsch and a chewy Double IPA – were almost as good. The one exception was a slightly insipid and over-gassy brown ale.

From there it was a short walk back to Avery, where there was already a small crowd on the terrace outside the bar. As I walked up, I had to marvel a little at the purpose-built structure in front of me – it combines brewery, packaging plant, barrel ageing stores, restaurant, bar, shop and of course offices, and it's hard to imagine that it had only been in operation for eight months.

My pint of Old Jube
The bar was already getting busy, even though it was the middle of Monday afternoon, but I was able to get a seat at the bar. The gimmick for the Old Jube launch was you had to wear a sweater to claim your pint – it being sunny and pretty warm outside of course – and there were several on view besides mine. I wouldn't normally start an afternoon session with an eight percenter, but hey, needs must… I just had time to enjoy the rich and lightly toasty brew, with its hints of toffee, cola and apple, before heading upstairs to join one of the regular free brewery tours. More on that in the next post in this series….

Tuesday 17 November 2015

More beer myths that just won't DIE!

"Landing-Bacon" by Henry A. Bacon - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -
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.