Monthly Archives: November 2014

Punchy

Last night I went for a run, and, as a beer zealot who recognises the isotonic refuelling benefits and mysto-alchemic properties of beer, decided to have an IPA as my recovery – bottle conditioned, so feisty and full of the effervescent pep that I so badly needed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 14.26.21I reached for a Lagunitas IPA, 6.2%, which had been subconsciously put there earlier. A beer that in their words is, “homicidally hopped”. And boy, did I want to murder it. Levering off the crown – Boof! Hop aroma, oily, resinous, wafting out before I even got close, before I even touched the bottle. I poured and sipped in small measures, teasing out a fulsome head (really, it needed no encouragement), sipping and replenishing, sipping and savouring. Beer enthusiasts will know this beer, so let me be brief: it dates back to 1995 when it was launched as a seasonal (I first drank it in the Napa valley in fact), and comes from the fifth biggest US craft brewer: it is spicy, with a bold citrus edge in the aroma and a well balanced sweetness all the way through; for a beer of such beefy strength, there is little evidence of that unbalancing, almost winey, ethanol. In short, here is a top class American IPA, very much of the style, very much of the quality you’d hope for. And good old Adnams bring it to these shores; doubly whammy.

What struck me as I polished the Lagunitas off was how few UK ‘new wave’ craft brewers deliver pale or India Pale beers with such uumph, such attack, such boldness. Oh sure, we treasure balanced drinkability over here, and of course, we serve in larger quantities, but I didn’t struggle to drink this beer. I wasn’t left with that cloying feeling of ‘Woah, boy! Better go easy’. On the contrary, here was an eminently quaffable beer, high on taste, higher on ‘goes down easy’. And ok, I don’t live in a part of the country that is spilling over with top class craft breweries or more to the point, top class independents retailers – it’s down to the supermarket with a bag full of pennies and a bucket load of hope for me – but even so, the brutal truth is, I haven’t yet had a British pale beer brewed with Lagunitas’ level of chutzpah – full stop. They’re either too tame, too listless – or, at the other end – attempting to be so extreme that they lose their point as a beer – overly hopped, overly malted, forgetting that refreshment, drinkability and intrigue are needed too.

Perhaps where we need to focus is back onto the pale ale & IPA styles that we can do brilliantly, with our ingredients – that feels like an opportunity.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014

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Larndon

Larndon

“It’s truly a 21st Century City now”, John observed. The evening before he’d gone for a walk with his wife down to see the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ – the display of poppies at the Tower, before they were removed. He and his wife had moved to the city from the west country almost 25 years before – not exactly the streets of gold perhaps, but when you’re from Plymouth you know the buildings must have a little more architectural merit than the post war concrete blocks that make up the port’s current urban skyline. And now we sat in a bar at St Pancras station, discussing business, but also reflecting on how this station, unbelievably threatened with demolition 40 or so years before was now a thrumming hive of connectivity and architectural dreaming writ large. A metaphor for the Capital’s transformation over the same few decades?

This same stretch of the Euston Road was certainly something of a journey from me. When I first worked in London, I was part of an itinerant ‘hit squad’ sales team, selling beer to off licenses throughout London from our base at the Posthouse on Carburton Street (I later learnt that it was ‘the’ prostitutes hotel but never saw any evidence to support this. Today it’s a very respectable Holiday Inn). I drive down, through the warren of streets around Swiss Cottage, along by Regents Park and down Albany Street past barracks and then menacing tenement style blocks and boozers to the top of the Euston Road. Although there were some grand buildings, Euston was squalid, St Pancras run down and Kings Cross best avoided. Today, hipsters are moving out to here and to Somers Town. The off licences we called on were nothing to be proud about: hundreds of Unwins, ‘Super’food and Wine (later, when running the London territory, my first sales call on a Monday was at a Superfoods on Shaftesbury Avenue, where there was already a queue formed before opening for the first chilled can of Tennent’s Super of the day). Pubs were either touristy or showy, or – in another sweep of generalisation – brewery tied, unimaginative and typically, pretty ragged. Grand Met and Whitbread carved up the market, the others fought for scraps. Most bars carried one of a couple of ranges of beer dictated by the national brewers. A foreign, imported lager was met with a surge of excitement. God, we even got excited about alcopops.

It may be stating the obvious to point out how much things have changed. But it’s worth underlining that this change is not simply dramatic, it’s revolutionary. Seeing small brewer IPAs or Porters on draught is nowadays nothing new, rotating casks with dizzying frequency. But for the same now to happen with kegs – and with the lager too – has really changed the rules, particularly if you are Carlsberg, Fosters or Carling.

Today, not seeing a Camden beer on the bar would be unusual down here, and the supporting cast is growing – London Fields, Brew By Numbers, Beavertown, a fridge full of Kernel – gosh, you’ll be as familiar with the beers as I am. And sure, not all are to my taste, but at least now I get the chance to try and swoon or gag from a huge and growing range of interesting beers, an option that wasn’t open to me in my 20s.

As an infrequent traveller to Larndon today, I get to see the city changes in stages not as an evolutionary curve but as the steps of change. And I get to keep my eyes open for the growing number of beer shops that would put Superfood to shame and make my memory of 9am super strength lagers a distant, and best forgotten, memory.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014

Fursty Ferret-legging

In my drinking youth, I spent a few years living in the south west.  We’re talking Devon not New Mexico here, as such it was a landscape of verdant rolling hills, cream teas, bleak windswept moors and tors with outstanding free houses, often looked away in a leafy hamlet. The Drewe Arms. The Well House. The Bridge and Lighter at Topsham, the Warren House Inn, The Turf Locks – a tiny but representative sample.  Back home in the North West, the pubs had been industrialised in comparison – owned by the big (or big regional) brewing groups, and for the most part lacking the individual quirks of the pubs down on the peninsular.  It’s the same today, (relatively) economically backward, but much further ahead in terms of freehouses and regional ale choices on offer. Cornwall, in fact, has leapt forward, with more cask and craft breweries than it’s ever had, and Devon is moving that way too.

In the ’90s, the pubs were often better than the beer.  As students, we raved about the Beer Engine at Newton St Cyres but it was a fair old drag to get there and the rewards were often ropey.  Truth was, the big brewers had the most interesting cask choices:  Bass was widespread and consistent, damn fine in Ye Olde Shippe off Exeter’s Cathedral Close and The Bridge; Director’s back then was strong and winey, with a really pronounced floral hop character: the drink of choice in The Jolly Porter (at least if you weren’t on Snakebites) and the Turf, and Flowers Original was good – hoppily so at The Drewe Arms (a Whitbread pub at the time).  Occasionally 6X would crop up, or perhaps Adnams Broadside. The Double Locks, as popular with the horsey set back then as it is today, could still be relied for some interesting local choices, including Otter which had just started up, or Butcombe from over the county line.

Yet ironically, the beers from the local regionals were woeful.  St Austell had a great pub estate but the beers… whsssh. They were all three letter acronyms like ‘PMT’ and ‘WTF’.  These were the days when filling the brewery was more important that what came out.  I seem to recall that brands like ‘Tinner’s Ale’ and ‘Dartmoor Best’ (read: ‘Worst’) were the fruit of their loins at the time and to be avoided.  Nearby Usher’s brewery was uncreatively known as ‘Gushers’, putting the Burton ‘Snatch’ to shame with it’s sulphurous egginess, only that, unlike the Burton beers, it shouldn’t have been there.  And there was Hall & Woodhouse, less common in those parts and awfully tangled up over Tanglefoot, which was pleasant enough when kept well, but otherwise (and generally) a fine gut turner.

IMG_2588Not so today.  These boys have pulled their socks right up.  You’re as likely in Staffordshire today to find St Austell ‘Tribute’ as you are Pedigree (I’m sure the stats won’t bear me out on this, but you get the point).   It’s a fine pale ale, with a hop forward sweetness that is rewarding and potently drinkable.  I seem to recall reading that it was first brewed in celebration of the Solar Eclipse (the one the clouds spoilt) but elsewhere I’d heard that it was actually one of the old three letter acronym (‘TLA’?) beers modified, given a spine, beef upped and generally brewed consistently.  As for Hall & Woodhouse, what a transformation. I briefly worked with their brewer Toby Heasman when he was at Bass and whatever training he got there he’s put to good use.  Of all the beer joints in all the world, a Travelodge would not rate as one you would want to walk into. But there, in Blackpool, did I enjoy a minor revelation.  Faced with a draught beer selection of Stella Fatois, Budwiener and Drossingtons, eyes turned to the fridge.  Perhaps a sneaky Budvar?  Maybe a Leffe wouldn’t be too much to ask?  But lo! Two bottles of Fuller’s London Pride and some Badger ‘Fursty Ferret’ wiped the worried brow.  And, my, it was grand.  Beautifully balanced – albeit on the malty side, with a pronounced citrus aroma and bite; even my granddad would have enjoyed it, proud northerner though he was: ‘It were a graidely pint and you conner say diff’rent’. Ironic that in Lancashire, fabled land of flat caps, whippets and ferret-legging, I should find a ferret of a different kind and a southern beer should have infiltrated these stoically northern climes.

 

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014