Tuesday, 16 March 2021

How many 'styles' can one beer have - and what is Amber Ale anyhow?

Beer styles are a perennial topic for discussion among beer geeks - sorry, I mean 'aficionados'! I was in just such a debate last week, discussing whether a particular brew should be classed as Bitter, Pale Ale or Golden Ale. 

Over on sites such as Ratebeer and Untappd, and among the BCJP beer judges, it's even worse - does this particular Amber/Red Ale meet the specs for Irish Red or would it be better listed as American Amber? Is this Pale Ale - English, Pale Ale - American or Pale Ale - International? And how do we differentiate between Lager - Strong and Bock - Helles?

So when the news came through that Asahi has refreshed* the branding for Fuller's London Pride I was struck not so much by the new imagery - very nice though it is, with an impressively subtle combination of modernity and continuity of tradition - but by the fascinating image they published alongside the news, showing how Pride's branding has changed over time. 

The name's unchanged of course, and the griffin is always there, but just look at how the description changes!

* Distinctive Best Bitter 
* Special Pale Ale
* Outstanding Premium Ale (superlative overload...)
* Original Ale, and now...
* Outstanding Amber Ale

London Pride branding

So one beer has at various times in its history been Best Bitter, Pale Ale, Premium Ale, whatever that is, and today it's Amber Ale. OK, so now tell me what you reckon the difference is between Bitter and Pale Ale? ūü§Ē

It also confirms something I've been saying for a while now: Amber Ale is just another word for Bitter. (And yes, American Amber Ale is just American Bitter!)

It's the same thing that happened with Mild. Marketing types decided that Mild was no longer an attractive word to use, that it didn't describe the beer accurately (and to be fair, they're right - Mild originally meant un-aged, not Mild in flavour) and that it put consumers off. So they renamed it Dark Ale - I'm guessing the marketeers were probably lager drinkers, so weren't aware of pale Milds...

Now it's the turn of Bitter. In recent years more and more brown bitters have been renamed Amber Ale, or in some cases Ruby Ale (although we are crossing into Brown Ale territory here, as well). 

Let me say it again then: 

Amber Ale is just Bitter under a new name.

Dark Ale is just Mild under a new name

Oh, and historically at least, Bitter was synonymous with Pale Ale - and by the look of it, for many brewers it still is. Or am I wrong?? 

*Well, I say 'refreshed', they say 'unveiled a striking new brand identity' ūüėČ

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Drink local

One of the few compensations of lockdown is that, while I really miss the pub, it’s been a chance to connect with local breweries in new ways. In particular, with draught outlets few and far between, many breweries have not just ramped up their “small pack” production – that’s cans and bottles to you and me – but they’ve also found ways to deliver locally, often for free. 

For example, while it’s my closest brewery, the Ealing Brewing taproom in Brentford is shut for now and the only place to get their beer has been click-and-collect at the original brewpub in Northfields. Sadly, that’s not on a regular route of mine any more, so when I heard they were now doing local delivery I got an order straight in. 


I've only a few bottles left – here’s some of the empties – but they’ve all impressed thus far. A couple of Saisons, including spicy Gan Bei, a couple of very nice fruited sours – properly, but not overly, sour – two strong bitters, one of them brewed with Kveik,  a couple of IPAs and a rich and complex Imperial Brown Ale. 

Then there’s Weird Beard up in Hanwell. I’ve placed several orders with them during lockdown, it helps that their minimum order for free delivery is lower for locals – I reckon sometimes the staff deliver them on their way home! Most recently, there’s been two fine Black IPAs and their excellent black barleywine, Gaslight the Electorate. (They don’t just brew black beers, by the way, they also do great IPAs, a nice Pils, and now a great example of a Helles too – although it seems to me to be closer to a Dortmunder than the expected M√ľnchner!)

This is my most recent order with them, it includes Orange & Black which is the beer they did for the BrewDog Collabfest a few months ago. We had this as one of our dozen festival crowlers (canned from the tap in the pub) and it was excellent, so I wanted to try the properly canned version. 

More recently, an opportunity came up to take part in a tasting session with another local brewery, Portobello – well, it’s t’other side of Acton but that’s still only five miles, and they deliver free inside the M25. So now there’s a mixed box from there and also Big Hug, a contract brewer that currently brews at Portobello. I’m looking forward to that little lot! 

So if you’ve not ordered locally yet, have a look around and see what’s available. There’s still time before your local pub's beer garden reopens – if indeed it has one. 

Friday, 1 January 2021

Beerviking's Golden Pints 2020

Watching the beer industry adjust to the reality of 2020 has been a mixture of fascination and horror. Seeing the production of cask beer crash has been terrifying – if there’s one thing I’ve really missed, it’s been good real ales, in a pub – yet on the other hand it feels as if the huge pivot to bottling and even more so to canning (“small pack” as it’s called) has brought increased beery diversity.  

And even as breweries have struggled, and many have closed, others have opened – there’s even a new cask and can-focused micro opened this very month not far from me, which I plan to get to before long. 

Best UK cask beer: without a doubt, it was when one of my locals got not one but three casks of Fuller’s 2020 Vintage Ale, and served them all in those few weeks of semi-freedom from October to November. Rich and malty, with notes of orange and Port, just thinking about it makes me angry again – all those Covid-safe pubs forced to close now, while no one does anything about the nose-bandits and other Covidiots inside supermarkets. 

Best UK keg beer: I’m going to list Fierce’s gorgeous Big Chomp here as it was a crowler – a draught beer canned in a bar, in this case Brewdog Tower Hill. A 9% barrel-aged chocolate & caramel stout, it was one of a case I ordered when Brewdog switched to crowlers to save the 1000 kegs brewed for its Collabfest 2020. Afterwards, I wished I’d ordered the random pales case as well as the random dark – and perhaps two of each, they were that good!

Best UK bottled beer: Beer52 has been a good source for me this year, not monthly but bimonthly or so. I know some snobs don’t like it, but this year it has replaced previous errors such as licence(fake)-brewing an entire monthly case with popular and successful Cyberfest “online festival” cases, containing the likes of Harviestoun’s gorgeously boozy Old Engine Oil Engineer's Reserve, with its notes of toasted plums, chocolate and raisins. 

Best UK canned beer: labelled as a black Barleywine and sporting a label entirely appropriate for the times, it’s Weird Beard’s Gaslight the Electorate. Black and heavy, with notes of liquorice, tar, coffee and berries, and almost enough to help you forget living in a country governed by corrupt idiots and venal liars. 

Best overseas draught: There’s not been so much this year, oddly enough. But back in January we had a rare evening out in Hamburg, ending up at top craft bar Alles Elbe, where they were hosting a “Meet the brewers” for new-wave cuckoo outfits Blech.Brut and Atelier der Brauk√ľnste. It was the former’s Vivid Dreams, a hazy 7.3% IPA, that topped the evening – lightly creamy and warming, and as vividly hoppy as its name might suggest. 

Best overseas bottled: Another one from a Beer52 Cyberfest case, WRCLW Tonka, Vanilla and Chocolate Baltic Porter Nitro from Poland’s Browar Stu Most√≥w was rich and heavy, and stunningly good. 

Best overseas canned: Bottles still dominated in many of the places I get my beer from, notably in Germany, so this was a tougher one to work out. In the end it’s a tie between two hazy Double IPAs, both from central Europe, more or less. One was another Beer52 offering, East Coast DIPA (8%) from Croatia’s The Garden, the other was Test Trace Isolate (9.5%) from Atelier der Brauk√ľnste, which I picked up on a brief but welcome visit to Bamberg.

Best collaboration: Who now remembers the other disasters occupying the headlines a year ago? Back in January, Pressure Drop hosted a fundraiser at its Tottenham brewery for Australian bushfire relief and we went along with the kids. It got pretty rammed as the afternoon went on, but the queues moved along, there was an Aussie barbie and Aussie cakes, and there were donated delicacies such as Pressure Drop / Left Handed Giant Escape Pod, a 10% Imperial milk stout, redolent of toasted coconut, dark chocolate and a fruity bitterness. 

And on that wistful note of remembering “the before times”, I’m going to end. It’s almost midnight and timer to get this posted… Happy New Year, Frohes neues Jahr, godt nyt√•r to you all, and here’s to a better 2021. Cheers!