Tag: speciality beer

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British Beer 2.0

In my end of year review I argued that there had been a fundamental shift in the attitudes of brewers – that the likes of Brew Dog and Thornbridge were now spearheading a much wider movement of more experimental and innovative brewing.

This week I expanded on that thought in a feature for The Publican.  I like writing for this magazine.  They keep putting my features on their website so I can link to them.  But don’t let that put you off buying the mag too, there’s loads more good stuff in it.
Am I right?  Or am I making a mountain out of a few speciality beer crown caps?  To continue my music analogy, have I spotted punk or acid house, or am I the sad sack author of Romo or the New Wave of the New Wave? (see Melody Maker in the early 1990s if you don’t know what I’m talking about – yo probably don’t.  And that’s my point.)  

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Beer at All Bar One

Another thing that was keeping me busy over the last couple of months is that I was helping All Bar One launch their new beer range. Each October they do a special push on beers and are trying to create a genuinely exciting collection of beers from around the world, not just the usual selection of overpriced lagers with obscure provenance and interchangeable product delivery.

This year, like last year, I wrote the blurb and tasting notes which is currently sitting in a very attractive booklet on every table in each of All Bar One’s 37 outlets.

OK so it was paid work and I’m bound to be positive, and while ‘the world’s best beers’ might be a bit of an overclaim, they’re doing some really interesting stuff – far more interesting than you’d expect from a chain like this. The highlight this year is the world exclusive launch of Duvel Green on draught. It’s 6.5%, and while it’s still definitely Duvel, it’s a little lighter, a bit more quaffable. Other beers include a keg version of Adnam’s East Green, which is jolly nice, Kasteel Cru Rose (not my cup of tea, but lots of people like it), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Budvar Dark, Worthington White Shield and Meantime Chocolate. You can find out more about the full range with my tasting notes here: http://www.all-bar-one.co.uk/classics/index.htm
The new food menu is also genuinely excellent, and we did a bit of food matching in the back of the booklet. One that didn’t make the cut is Guinness with their melted chocolotae pudding. Truly awesome, and I guess Meantime Chocolate would go even better.
It’s well worth getting down there – several big chains are starting to look more closely at their beer ranges, and while they’re never going to break new ground for the hardened beer aficionado, it’s got to be a good thing worth encouraging.

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Fine Beer?

Working through my backlog of of trade press reading, I came across an interesting article in the Morning Advertiser written by Andrew Jefford a couple of months ago. He talks about the sheer obsession with increasing product quality in the St Emilion wine-growing region, the reverence the producers have for their product, and the excitement that’s generated by a partiularly good vintage.

Then of course he compares this with beer, and discusses how we don’t have great vintages because beer makers focus on consistency of product above all else. He talks about how most people buying beer don’t have a clue what it’s actually made of, and how we lack that reverence. He argues that there’s a category – fine beer -that doesnlt yet exist: superlative beers that people are prepared to pay top dollar for.

I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s an interesting argument and I wondered what beer geeks would think of it.

Of course we can all point to examples of fine beers that do exist – Utopias from Sam Adams, the super-strength speciality beers from Dogfish Head that redefine what beer can be, Deus, a bottle of Thomas Hardy’s Ale from 1968… but I think Andrew would argue that you have to know an awful lot about beer before you’re even aware of their existence, whereas anyone who has ever been to Oddbins will have at least taken a glance at the fine wine section in there.

Should brewers invest in creating more ultra-special beers? Should we be demanding, say, a greater range of 12 month wood-aged stouts that retail at twenty quid?

I would imagine the beer blogging community would instinctively say yes, because they’re the kind of people who are constantly searching out challenging, full-bodied, interesting beer. And Jefford’s argument that the existence of fine wines has a halo effect on the whole wine market, which could be replicated in beer, is a valid one.

I’ve got just one counter-argument, and I’m wondering how it might divide people.

One of the strengths of beer is its unpretentiousness, its accessibility. I don’t agree that beer can only ever be a ‘working class’ beverage – Burton pale ale was the most fashionhable thing you could drink for twenty years or so in Victorian society – but I do think that beer is different from wine, and I occasionally get frustrated with people who want to turn beer into ‘the new wine’.

We all know beer can be more complex, can go better with food etc, but when people start trying to talk about beer as if it was wine, they have a tendency to make it elitist. And when people want wine to totally replace beer, drawing battle lines between grape and grain, I lose patience. Anybody who appreciates the subtleties of flavour in a great craft beer and says they ‘don’t like’ wine is either delusional or a liar, and just as bad as those ignorant people who say they ‘don’t like beer’ after drinking one warm can of Bud when they were nineteen.

Elitism is part of wine’s character, so it’s going to be much easier to build in snobbery, mystique, and a sense of specialness. The frustrating part of this is that people can order a bottle of cheap, industrially produced pinot grigio, drink it super-chilled, and while they’re drinking the wine equivalent of Carling Extra Cold, believe they’re actally superior to someone drinking, say, cask ale.

Beer would lose a lot of its soul if it simply aped the culture and mystique around wine.

So I’m not sure. I’d love to see ‘fine beers’ more commonly on the shelves, but can we have that and keep beer as the democratic, sociable drink it has been for five thousand years? Can beer successfully challenge wine at the top level – I’m talking about popular perception, not just among aficionados – without becoming arsey and pretentious? I hope so, but I’m not sure…