What’s Brewing, December – February 2016, Agony Column

Whats Brewing DecFeb16More sound advice for the correspondents to What’s Brewing.

December sees some tedious discussion about gluten free beer. Coeliacs make up about 1% of the population and a further 1% have some gluten intolerance (yet over 20% over the population buy some gluten free products!). So clearly listing all ingredients on a pumpclip ain’t gonna happen. I have sympathy but just do your research and know your beer. NH debunks the myth that CAMRA really is getting through to women and DS of Chelmsford gets a small bite about beer being cloudy, apparently it is a man made product, who’d have known?

New year, new ideas in January 2016! KF of London suggests that people may be pleasantly surprised by the real ale from key kegs at Manchester beer festival. I’m not printing his postcode for fear the hardliners will have put a hit on him. In reply to NH, JS of Chesterfield is worried that positive discrimination of women in CAMRA would be discrimination of men. Yeah, right, CAMRA is really anti-men!

Rather predictably February sees a letter from PJ of Brighouse going against the idea of key keg real ale. He suggests that if the definition of real ale changed one ‘might as well wind up CAMRA’. Now there’s a thought. Mind you, I’ve been winding up CAMRA for years. As well as the previous month there is various Wethie bashing. Get over it, nobody makes you go to pubs with generally well served, low priced, local cask ale.

A Pint of London please!

Brewers spend years perfecting recipes when maybe they should spend years perfecting names. The power of marketing, eh?

Timothy Taylor renamed one of their old beers Boltmaker and immediately it becomes Champion Beer of Britain. Does anyone really believe it is the champion beer of Timothy Taylor even? That sort of thing really degrades the title imho.

London PrideIn London of course, London Pride is well established and it’s a case where the beer popularity has grown in age before super saturated marketing. It’s a good beer, that’s made and sold in London. Any tourist arriving in London won’t be disappointed if they want to try a typical, local, London beer.

Best pubco in London?

Best pubco in London?

London Pride used to be a fixture in the Taylor Walker pubs, part of Spirit Group. Now, for a relatively large pubco, Taylor Walker pubs are some of the best in London. They are proud of their brand and have a great estate of good old fashioned pubs in Central London. This is not a pubco that hides it’s brand, tries to entice customers with promises of real ale and continental lagers (that’ll be Doombar and Heineken then). They also usually have a couple of craft keg lines and the Spirit ‘bible’ includes a number of microbreweries who can deliver direct without selling their soul (and profits) to national distributors. Notwithstanding a few bulk drops and head office deals, the publicans generally like to support local micros and have ‘something different’.

So, Greene King acquire Spirit. Greene King and Fuller’s are competitors.All of a sudden,

Really?

Really?

London Pride is ripped out, London Glory appears (no, don’t, I’m serious) made by Greene King natch. Now, London Pride probably does a few sales from tourists but there are a lot of core Pride drinkers out there. Faced with no London Pride they will go with the next best, established bitter that they know. Isn’t that obvious? Well not to the GK marketing department obviously. But to many wry smiles, the word on the street is that selected Taylor Walker pubs will be ‘trialling’ London Pride soon.

Little Tenderness from my beloved Little Beer Corporation is a great beer. A 5.4% American amber, it’s got a great big malty body lifted by clean, fresh tasting American hops and gentle carbonation. But people try it first because of the name.

Make a good beer yes, but if you want people to try it then get the name right.

Pigs Ear Beer Festival

Jurassic PorkJurassic Pork aka Pigs Ear Beer Festival, what do we think? The jury’s out. Everything that’s good about CAMRA, everything that’s bad about CAMRA, all in one (successful) festival.

Let’s start with the venue. The Round Chapel, or the former Clapton Park United Reformed Church is a magnificent building both inside and out, listed grade II it is now owned and restored by Hackney Historic Buildings Trust. Complete with pulpit, organ and balcony it is quite beautiful, and totally unsuitable for a beer festival in many respects.Pigs Ear2

The beer. This is a broadminded CAMRA branch and the beer is an excellently curated selection of local, rare and regional brewers. Not only that, they had two keg lines and a good selection of international bottles, they even advertised Westvleteren 12 ffs! But trying to find what is on where is a nightmare. On the basis that one cannot get close to trying all the beers I would prefer to see  a smaller range with a greater guarantee of finding the beer I want actually on.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I'm sure.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I’m sure.

The organisation, the crowds. Downstairs is a scrum, the balcony is lovely, the bars are downstairs. The toilets are Portaloos outside. The staff are generally well meaning but inept.

The food. It’s camp catering (Boy Scouts not Larry Grayson). The cheese stall is a good idea but it’s all pre-packed to take way, and not a scotch egg or pork pie in sight. So, buy a sub from one stall, some prepacked cheese from the other, enjoy with plastic knife but no butter or chutney. Picnic on the balcony.

If Heath Robinson did beer festivals this would be it. It’s a must to attend and marvel at but so easy to criticise. No scoring for this one, make your own mind up.

 

Brewdog, losing the plot?

brewdog-logo1Perhaps this is an easy target. I have never been a fan of Brewdog as company or as a brewer, nothing to do with the quality of their beer though. I have always been a tremendous fan of their bars which offer a great selection of good beer and great service. The Shepherds Bush bar is my local and is a lovely, open airy venue with a variety of seating and good pinball machines.

Recently though things have changed. It seems there is much more central buying. Neck Oil, Gamma Ray, Black Betty and Holy Cowbell are all good Beavertown beers but they are hardly cutting craft edge and having all four on at once seems excessive. Did they have to bulk buy to get the Lupuloids series? The remainder is also mainstream – Stone, Magic Rock, Weird Beard, BBNo all good but hey, we can get these anywhere. Camden Hells is the only non-Brewdog lager!

Staff have changed, service is slower, queues now exist at quiet times. More subtle things, I don’t see the manager having laid back team talks, staff aren’t interacting. (As a Chelsea supporter I notice these things.)

It may well be part of the corporate plan, Brewdog are an intensely commercial operation and the UK’s craft behemoth. Have they reached the limit of craft beer enthusiasts and to entice more mainstream customers in they have to offer names they have heard of like Beavertown etc. Become more like a normal pub? A pub for punks obviously.

Discuss.

Le Gothique – Reinvented

le goth 2015Lord Battersea does it again! The Wandsworth Common beer festivals are held at the wonderful Le Gothique inside the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. This building has a rich and varied past, re-inventing itself time and again and always successful. A bit like the Wandsworth Common beer festival.

The self-styled Lord Battersea can divide opinion and doesn’t shy away from controversy, the fact remains that he organises some of the best beer festivals in London. The beers are interesting and individually sourced, it’s not a simple phone call to a regional wholesaler. Always there are new releases and beers brewed especially for the festival.

Having first decried tank beer, then having a disastrous venture into keg beer a couple of years ago (it requires electricity apparently, more than you imagine) he returned this Halloween with the usual well sourced cask beers and a brand new ‘craft wall’. The meter had been well fed and everything ran like clockwork.

(Now we hear that the Clapham Brewmasters event this year (the substitute for Battersea while it the old town hall is going up and down and up) will feature 100 beers on the craft wall.)

The first night is always ‘preview night’, fixed price entry and free beer, definitely the night to be there. We probably didn’t make best use of it having already stopped at the just opened We Brought Beer Clapham (a properly curated offering) and then The Old School House (on a previous visit had Mikeller, now it was a single distributors faux craft, avoid). But this is stuff for another post.

At the Le Gothique my best in show was Strannik, a big Russian Imperial stout from Northern Monk. Low ABV beers were all the rage in the spring, a trifle late but Little Beer Corporation (yes, the one I do a bit of work for) launched Little & Often, a 3.0% crystal rye IPA, spicy and with 65 IBU of bitterness this certainly has a big initial flavour, would be great washing down a curry imho. Wimbledon Brewery were there with their well made but ordinary new beers backed by brewing royalty and city money. As usual Fuller’s had a special version, as usual, to my taste it wasn’t very nice, sour in a bad way. My notes went downhill after the Strannik.

Great venue, properly sourced beer, always moving forward, genial mein host – I like Le Gothique festivals.

Venue:                    8.5/10
Beer selection:       9/10
Beer quality:           8/10
Atmosphere:           8/10
A good night out:    8/10
Total score:            41.5/50, 83%

The Brewers Project, Chapter 3

Hop HouseNo personal cab, no mystery location but nevertheless a nice Christmas present, the latest chapter of the Brewers Project from Guinness, Hop House 13 Lager. The first things that have to be said are that the branding looks great and that this lager is not really aimed at me.

What do they say about it? “This double-hopped lager is the next chapter in that project. It’s decidedly modern and totally different. With more ingredients comes more character. 100% Irish-grown malted barley. The distinctive Guinness yeast. A mixture of Australian and American hops runs as an undercurrent through this incredibly deep beer, which is fresh at the surface and complex at the bottom. Our brewers set out to create something that would stimulate your palate and senses alike. From first sip to the lingering finish, this beer is surprising. Sample Guinness Hop House 13 and you’ll experience a lager made with so much more. More hops. More character. More taste. It’s a lively sip with accents of apricot and peach. The flavour deepens into subtle malt with a medium body. Combining our famous Guinness yeast with Irish-grown barley in a lager brewing process, our brewers changed the game.”

What does Rich say about it? That’s all a bit OTT above. What exactly does double-hopped mean? It has Topaz, Galaxy and Mosaic which is a nice mix of hops but there is no noticeable bitterness. Starts quite sweet and I did get the hint of apricot and peach, then a touch of malt and a slightly drier finish. 22 IBU apparently which doesn’t really add up to a crisp finish. The Guinness yeast, who knows?

Well what did you expect? This is a mass market lager, not a craft offering (lagered for 5 days apparently). It is definitely not different or surprising. I’m willing to believe that a lot of care has gone into this and it is not faulty in any way (and it comes in a brown bottle). It’s way cooler in terms of branding than the hideously outdated Fosters (who does drink this nowadays?)  which I’d guess is one of the closer competitors. I wish it well in its sector.

As a salesman of genuine craft keg though, I plead to publicans to put it on the ‘commercial’ lager lines and not use up one of your precious ‘craft keg’ lines for this. The crafterati will not be fooled.