“Landlord, Landlord”

Landlord_fotorLast night I had two pints of Landlord and a pint of Bass. Less said about the latter the better: a brand pillaged by its owner, put out to seed and now wholly bereft of its nutty, malt loaf character, it has moved from sublime to ridiculous. This was brought into sharper relief in a week where it was announced that Bass’s former owner, and now in an ironic twist the parent of new cask leader Doom Bar, are preparing to expand capacity for that brand by 40%. The Landlord was something else though. This beer has made its long march from its home in Keighley not just in terms of miles, but in years. It seems a stubborn beer, letting the punches from lesser spotted craft IPAs and ‘blond’ ales roll off it as it sticks to its knitting. The only concession to modernity seems to be the dissonant inclusion of a web address on their pint pots, but other than that it’s wheatsheaves and stout, ruddy Yeomans all the way.   What a fine beer this is: a beer for all occasions yet one with real character too. Deftly handled hopping, a strong malt backbone and a lengthy but not pronounced aftertaste that whistles to your taste buds to come back and finish the job. Shame I spoiled it all by asking for, “a pint of Landlord, Landlord”, inexcusably followed by a slight chortle, then an apology, the latter sparing me from being unceremoniously booted out – and rightly so. Next time I will keep such crassness to myself.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014

Double Helix

the session beer blogging fridayFew topics are as divisive amongst brewers as that of balance – something I find quite ironic. Oddly, balance is something conceptually simple – I mean, if I said to you, “tell me what balance is” you’d probably look at me gone out – yet is in reality the opposite – hellishly complex.

Balance implies a pivot point… something on one side countering something on the other to create a sense of equalising forces. But in my experience in foods and drinks it’s more like neutrality – too often, in the pursuit of balance, something is lost not gained. Perhaps neutered is better than neutralised.

And it’s worse in beer. Worse because balance is one of the subjects brewers of mass beer can use to level at craft beer.  A drinkable, everyday pale beer vs a deeply bitter IPA , loaded to the gunwales with whole cone C Hops.  No contest on then as, sure, it may have ‘character’ but it isn’t balanced, it’s not moreish.  Well, whichever way you see the world it’s all erroneous.  Balance just isn’t a two dimensional creature. And there are more than two variables at play, which doesn’t help understanding nor appreciation of beer.

The bitterness scale of International Bitterness Units (IBUs) is the normal ‘measure of beer’.  It’s become a limiting shorthand, aided and abetted by the Nuclear Hop Race and IBU proliferation. Brewers across many continents pushing the boundaries – introducing multiple stages of hopping in the boil, as well, of course as post-fermentation hopping, chiefly through dry hops.  More prosaically,  on my days running Grolsch, those who didn’t agree with the strategy would throw in the cheap shot of bitterness: Grolsch is just too distinctive, too bitter to be an ‘everyday brand’.  But no one mentioned the residual sweetness in the beer that in fact meant it was both a characterful and well balanced lager.   In fact, I hadn’t realised until recently that there is a measure of this particular balance – BU:GU or bitterness units to gravity units; nor had I realised the relatively common old British practise of measuring ‘Pounds of hops per quarter malt’.  A contender for a better shorthand descriptor than just IBUs? Maybe.

Were the world so simple. Bitterness and sweetness are not the only facets that make up beer.  There is saltiness and sourness of course.  If you think beer cannot be salty then try and get hold of some Burtonised brewing liquor and taste that – positively coats the mouth it does. And next time you have a pint of Pedigree just see if you can’t detect it, especially now it’s been pointed out.  Sourness is huge in food at the moment – particularly confectionery, where brands like Haribo Tangfastics, Wham Sourz and the most worryingly pleasingly named, Toxic Waste, represent the growth categories in the UK market.  And in beers it’s not just lambics that offer sourness, some of the new wave brewers are aging on wood and in some case even exposing the beer to controlled oxidisation to give these tastes.  So why not a sour: sweet axis for beer?

Then there’s umami – the mystical 5th taste which is behind many of the most astonishing beer and food pairings, like cheese, oysters, meat pies and the Pint’s Best Friend, scratchings.  Yep, even umami is present in beer – chiefly as a result of the fermentation process.

So if balance is not two dimensional, it’s three, right?  Well, not even that, because then there’s the alchemical effect of visual appearance and cognitive perception.  Visually: the head, the colour, the condensation, the presentation; cognitively – the reputation, the word of mouth.  How many unarguably average beers have a reputation way beyond the sum of their parts due to these?

No, the conclusion I draw is that balance is a red herring.  You may want a balanced beer on occasion; heaven knows a pint of Landlord scores bullseye for me on this measure, yet more often I don’t. As I write this I am positively craving a hoppy IPA. I don’t want balance, I want a full on, in-your-face malty, floral extravaganza.  In the Summer, around the barbecue, I can predict that I’ll be drinking something so cold it will numb the taste buds.  No, balance is like the mystical double helix of DNA. I get it in principle but I’ll be damned if I can make head nor tail of it in everyday life.  Balance is a cul-de-sac I won’t be walking down.

©Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013

Great Beertish Menu: Rogan Josh!

So Simon Rogan came through in the North West heat of Great Beertish Menu. Funny old world isn’t it – he’s running a little restauant in Cartmel in Cumbria…and it just so happens to be one of the top 5 restaurants in Europe. So in fairness, he probably knows a thing or two about cooking.

As promised, here’s his winning menu and a proposed beer to go with each.  Let me know what you think and trump my recommendation please!

Starter: Grilled salad, truffle custard, cheese foam and cobnut crisp.

An interesting combination of textures here – and of course a vegetarian starter. We want something light on the palate which won’t dominate the food yet stand up to the custard.  Let’s go for a Deuchar’s IPA – I think the light body and modest hoppiness will complement well.

Fish Course: lobster with pickled beetroot & sweet apple

IMG_1015Tricky. You can easily wreck the lobster – and given the lengths he went to to reinfuse it with extra lobsteryness that would be a shame; but then there’s the pickled beetroot to consider.  This is a cracking dish to go with a beer though. I’m looking for a more malt accented beer, not too coating and with modest bitterness.  I’m actually going for a classic here. Timmy Taylor’s Landlord.

Main: suckling pig with northern mead, vegetables and artichoke

Right – lots to be getting on with. I’m thinking contrast and some body. The knotty bit is the mead I want something that will sit nicely alongside it but get noticed – bridesmaid not bride. Don’t want to upstage the meal, but I want people to fancy me. So for me, I’m going to go for a Rooster’s Wild Mule.  It’s got the sweetness and the hop attack.  Perhaps not enough alcholic body though.

Pud: poached pears, atsina cress snow; sweet cheese ice cream and rosehip syrup.

Delicate (pear) yet punchy (rosehip) – and then the sweet cheese ice cream which  could be quite mouth coating. I’m going to go left field here and actually go for Cain’s Dark Mild, but served in a wine glass to so volume doesn’t overpower the dish.


Grand. I’m off for pie and chips now.