The Brewers Project, Chapter 2

Guinness ST JAMES'S GATEPersonal cab, mystery location. Woot! I am still on the Guinness PR agency guest list for The Brewers Project. Regular readers might know that I enjoy the beers but positively gush over the marketing and event organisation from the ‘boys from the black stuff’ and the lovely ladies in their British PR firm.

It’s clearly an abandoned and long closed pub in a dodgy part of the East End. But no, enter and you find it has been cunningly transformed and used by those nice guys from The Disappearing Dining Club who provided the venue for the first launch of the porters. Excited hubbub downstairs as we revisit the porters we tasted last time (and the porter cocktails).

Then upstairs to a carefully lit room filled with the aroma of hops. And Condiment Junkie. These are the guys behind Heston Blumenthal’s Sounds of the Seashore and other sensory ways of changing our perceptions of food. Yes, our heads were going to be messed with.

At this point the cycnical amongst us might have thought this was going to be to mask any lack of substance in the beer itself. Mmm, maybe, but the touch was light and deft, everyone was there to be entertained and have a good time, not to be sold to.

We tasted the beer with selected foods with different sensory elements – green light/low frequency sounds to emphasise the hop bitterness, red light/high frequency sounds to emphasise the sweetness, sounds of the meadow to emphasise the hops (really?), an extremely malty (and lovely) dessert to emphasise the malt in the beer (dominate perhaps). Did it work? Well the green light/bitter thing worked for me but ultimately it was the food pairings that had more effect, as I guess they should. I would have liked to try the food and light combinations the ‘wrong way round’ to check.

Then back downstairs to try a cocktail made using the beer, Canadian rye, some maple syrup and citrus juice, topped with cream and a malty wafer. Sounds horrible doesn’t it? It was gorgeous as a ‘dessert cocktail’.

What was the beer Rich? Did you like it? So, this was the launch of Guinness Golden GUINNESS GOLDEN ALE BOTTLE [HI] halfAle. So far, so bad. I always think of golden ales as being insipid tasteless things designed by cask ale producers to compete with the lager market. So the good news is that this isn’t a golden ale imho. It’s made with ‘specially selected amber malt’ or ‘amber malt’ as the brewer put it. The hops are pelleted Celeia, one of the Styrian family used typically in English ales. A good bittering hop but not an awful lot else.

This isn’t a complex, micro batch, collaboration craft beer so let’s not overcomplicate the tasting notes. It’s malt rather hop led – Guinness sticking to what they know – and as such tastes like a good English pale ale or ‘ordinary’ bitter. Any sweetness seems to come from the malt flavour alone so it is not at all insipid.

Now I’ve had a few bottles at home I’ve decided that I really enjoy this beer on a simple level. Provides a nice balance with most food also. Will I be buying it? If I want a reliable session bottle at home then yes maybe. In a pub, only if they release it on draught.

I’m still slightly puzzled by the choice of Golden Ale though. Is it because Guinness believe this sector has lower competition in terms of both quality and quantity? Well, that is certainly true. Is it because ‘golden’ is a more aspirational word than ‘amber’? Also true.

Here’s a thought, what about an ‘Irish Amber’?

Full disclosure: I had a great free evening out and was given 6 bottles. The above article is unpaid and unsolicited.



CAMRA – Whither or Wither

camraCAMRA have been troubling me for some time. I know there will always be the hardliners who believe that the term real ale is enshrined in stone and should never change but what worried me more was the article in What’s Brewing January by Steve Bury, one of CAMRA’s top 40 campaigners.

Entitled ‘Is Campaign starting to lose its way?’ he fears that CAMRA is starting to send out mixed messages about craft beer. For Steve the word artisan conjures up a picture of a poor French tradesman. Leaving aside the rampant stereotyping, no Steve, an artisan is a skilled tradesman not a mass production factory worker – and exactly who I want to brew my beer.

If my tipple of choice is ‘craft beer’ then perhaps I should be considering whether to be a member of CAMRA at all, I am Steve, I am. The Cyclops system which helps bar staff describe beers is another evil because it includes beers that are not real ale. Perhaps a simpler system would be just to put ‘good beer’ on the handpumps and ‘bad beer’ on the keg lines.

Where we agree is that the lines are blurring. Where we disagree is whether this is a good or bad thing. The definition of real ale is a millstone around CAMRA’s neck completely ignoring the taste of the beer and the care with which it has been made.

Let me take you back…when the founding fathers sat down what was their aim? Was it to prescribe the only method for brewing (ignoring that of the rest of the world) or was it to try to promote good, well made beer? Remember, back then there was no good keg beer and small brewers were predominantly cask ale. The definition of real ale was a neat way to define the good beer, simple as.

And so it remained for another twenty years or so when new brewers, often Americans(!), decided that they could make beer just as well for keg dispense with the added bonuses of consistency and shelf life. And boy, did they add flavour along with the CO2.

I have always liked or disliked beer according to flavour, and yes, carbonation can be too high, just like real ale can be too flat. If I am taking a bottle of beer home with me I don’t want to have to interrogate the vendor as to production method, I want to judge on taste. Surely the founding fathers wouldn’t disagree with that?

Personally I want to support the small, artisanal producer over the big brewer – though I do respect what some of them do. Surely the founding fathers wouldn’t disagree with that?

As Steve Bury suggested, I have been seriously considering resigning from CAMRA on principle. I want to be part of an inclusive group that promotes small over big, flavour over blandness, moves with the times and attracts a demographic I can associate with.

At the risk of rampant stereotyping, ten years ago, aspirational young women were drinking a glass of chardonnay (nothing wrong with that btw), now they are down the Bermondsey beer mile drinking a half of 6% modern IPA from nice glassware and talking to the producer. They are not drinking a pint of 4% session bitter in an old pub and choosing between a windows or sleeve glass. The demographic at CAMRA beer festivals, however interesting and good the beer, is plain depressing.

Wake up CAMRA and smell the new hops!