Tuesday 27 March 2012

Rediscovering Beer as a Drink

Beer is a simple drink isn't it? Well it ought to be surely, but to read some of the concoctions that people boast about drinking you wouldn't think so. Barrel aged in bourbon/whisky/wine casks. Mucked about with and with unlikely sounding ingredients, usually with hugely unwelcoming alcohol content, these are often in my experience, more a test of endurance than a drinking pleasure.

Not that most of us ever get a chance to try some of these experiments, as they are hard to find. While there are beer writers that talk of them a lot, it does seem to be a certain set of  brewers, often young and as they see it, cutting edge, that big them up and set a scene that gullible fan boys are keen to follow. In attempts to outdo each other, even more outlandish stuff can be expected. Some will work, but many won't and just don't. But they will sell. Ex blogger Jeff Bell put it rather well in a tweet this morning in reply to beer writer Pete Brown; "@PeteBrownBeer personally I've never had a barrel-aged beer I've liked. Suspect there's an unclothed Hapsburg at work. 

Talking of Pete Brown. He wrote rather an excellent piece for London Loves Business about the delights of session beer. You can read it here.  He says about strong and unusual beers " I have found myself, whenever I’m given a choice, opting for the adventurous. I have to; it’s what I do."  It is indeed, though most of us aren't in that position, which given the descriptions of some of them, makes me feel rather lucky.  Pete goes on to expound the delights of the session beer. Quite right too, for this is "proper" beer drinking. It is what makes our beers in the UK so splendid. Their sheer drinkability.  Pete continues: "But sometimes you find yourself at a bar where every beer you want, you want it to be the last beer of the night. That’s when you yearn for the session pint – your trusty friend with whom drinking responsibly doesn’t have to mean not drinking enough."   I identify with that. In my recent post about meeting Garrett Oliver and drinking some of these strong exotics, I missed out one thing. When I left, I went to the Angel and ordered a 3.9% pint of something pale and swoopable.  I had a drink of beer rather than an experiment. It was the best drink of the night, though it might not have been the best beer of the night.

There is of course room for both types of drinking and of course there are good "experimental" beers out there and of course a lot depends on personal taste.  The siren call of money isn't far away either in all this. These beers can be lucrative, but I wonder in all the talk we have about CAMRA being old fashioned, if we in CAMRA haven't got the basics right?  Beers you can drink a few of without falling over and beers that you can drink without grimacing at every sip, while, since you've probably forked up a fiver or more for a for it, feeling obliged to  tell everyone how awesome it is. Even if it is giving you the boak.

Maybe some of this snobbery, one upmanship and pretentiousness is helping put CAMRA types off "craft" beer?

Must quote Pete once more: "Tasting Old Engine Oil aged 6 mths in a Grenache barrel on wine lees. Wow. Just wow. Redefining what different drinks are."


John West said...

Strikes me as a bit 'horses for courses', really.

As you point out, to be fair, a lot of these 'experimental' beers are very good. Not everyone agrees, but I think BrewDog's Hardcore IPA is great (incl. the clone-a-like version they do for Tesco). And we'll surely not start moaning about Rochefort 10's alcohol content.

There's a lot of Emperor's New Clothes beers and brewers, sure.

But equally, without the US hop bombs and IPA fad, we'd not have many of the more considered New World-hopped 3.9%-5.0% brews that we have now.

Tandleman said...

I just thing a decent swigging pint gets all too forgotten about by many.

John West said...

We certainly take it for granted - that Pete Brown article you linked to is a good'un.

Sat In A Pub said...

The swigging pint is the backbone that made this country great. Coincidence that its fall from prominence just happens to match Britain's slide down the economic ladder? I think not.

The Beer Nut said...
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The Beer Nut said...

it does seem to be a certain set of brewers, often young and as they see it, cutting edge, that big them up
I'm trying to think of who you mean by this. I associate this sort of beer most with Menno Olivier who very much does not fit the description. Wolly Dave? Hardly. (Sorry Dave, but it's true). The Williams Brothers? I don't know who brews there but they've never struck me as an especially fanboyish company. That well-known goatee'd snowboarder Jean-Pierre Van Roy?

Are we just back to BrewDog again?

(typo fixed)

Tandleman said...
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Tandleman said...

Wise words from our Bury correspondent.

BN: Maybe they aren't young then? If not substitute any age you like. The point remains the same. And no. BD did not occur to me. It was mostly based on Peet Brown's blogging comments and his article. He sits astride both horse. No wonder he walks funny. :-)

Wooly Dave will always be young to me btw.

The Beer Nut said...

Well, it doesn't strike me as a zero-sum game. I've not been to the UK for a while, but I don't recall noticing that session beer was under threat. We have more bottled English session beer coming over here than ever before.

I think you might be drawing a correlation between What People Are Writing About and What People Are Drinking which doesn't really exist.

Can you explain what you mean by the CAMRA bit? Surely CAMRA has no stance on this issue other than the derivation of the CO2. Does CAMRA formally support session beer over other sorts?

Tandleman said...

BN: This wasn't about it being under threat as much as people missing a trick when they latch on to exotics to the exclusion of other things. I do though accept much beer blogging reinforces a contrary impression of what people drink, though clearly there is a substantial following for some of it (exotic beer drinking) at least.

My point about CAMRA was not about CAMRA the organisation, but the members. Same thing? Maybe not. Members, like bloggers, gain impressions from what they read. That will affect ho

Cooking Lager said...

I associate the 10% abv hop bomb that makes you wince with a minority of "enthusiasts" or "geeks". Some of these are quite nice people, some are hopeless snobs and many are somewhere inbetween. All appear to have blogs on the internet. I've tried it. It's not my cup of tea. I have no objection to others doing it.

The sessionable pint as not really about the beer. Many advertisers get it and that is why the beer is not mentioned. It's the blokeishness, camadarie with your mates. CAMRA don't get that, they think its all about a specific type of beer. I like real ale, I like lager. A pint of Fosters, a game of darts, is no worse an evening because the beer is Fosters. If we were French wine and not beer would be the oil in our social machine, and it would be no worse for that, either.

The biggest change of the last generation is simply that our grandfathers drank in dumpy pubs with their mates. My generation likes the company of women and want to spend time with them.

There may be a small market for beer geeks but the wider market is for nice decent places your treacle would like and not dumps. And if your in their with your mates, it's because you are clued up to know the Doris's hang out in nice places and not dumps.

Zak Avery said...

Tandleman - if I buy a beer that makes me want to boak, I leave it on the bar and try something else. I've done this enough times now to know that there are some breweries whose output I don't trust. The lessons that cost you the most are the ones you learn most from.

Cookie - I agree with everything you say, other than your endorsement of Fosters, which is appalling.

Neville Grundy said...

Apart from my preference for beers in the 4% to 5% range, I'm pretty much a session beer drinker, drinking to accompany other activities, such as chatting, playing in a pub singaround or watching a performance. When I'm doing that, I don't (as Meer for Beer nicely put it) want to be slapped in the face by my pint. As for Pete Brown, a drinker who includes Fullers London pride, Marston's Pedigree and Deuchars IPA (all quite good, but nothing wonderful) in his top 50 beers is not someone whose views on beer I can take very seriously.

Tandleman said...

Cookie: You are too old to pick up chicks in pubs. I've met you. You are too old to go in the ones with chicks worth leering at, as you'd get your head kicked in. Just stick to your dear treacle (pun?).

I've an idea our grandfathers liked women a bit too. We are proof after all.

Cooking Lager said...

Our own existence is indeed proof that our grandfathers liked their wives, Tand. But they liked them tied to the kitchen sink while they went out to the pub.

We live in an age where women expect to come out with us, and expect the place to be nice, and expect the toilets to be clean.

Some call it progress.

Ghost Drinker said...

While I'm one to champion the great virtues of the session pint, I've also had a great many of great barrel aged beers, namely first; Harviestoun's Ola Dubh - a beer which may not be 'extravagantly' (IMO) strong but is extravagantly good! As you say though, it's all a matter of personal taste and opinion - and those of a selective taste will be able to tell the difference between a good beer and a bad one.

On that note, I'm off to the pub.

Sat In A Pub said...


I've also had a great many of great barrel aged beers

There is mo such thing as a great barrel aged beer.

Ghost Drinker said...

That is where our opinions will part Tyson.

John Clarke said...

Yes I have to agree with Ghostie here - some barrel aged beers are pretty ropey but I have enough spectacular ones to realise that the concept does work, well for me at any rate. That's the thing isn't it - beer is such a personal thing that it's often unwise to dismiss such and such as rubbish or emeperor's new clothes as someone somewhere is almost certainly bound to have a very different view (although there are of course beers that are such obvious cack that those of a different persuasion wil be in a very tiny minority, says he nicely contradicting himself)

And having said all that, don't get me started on this new minority geek fad for hazy beer ("my dear, clear beer is so 20th century don't you know?"). Jeez.

Bailey said...

It was the best drink of the night, though it might not have been the best beer of the night.

This is a great line and I imagine we'll be quoting it in future. Having said that, I can think of occasions (not too frequent) when the best drink of the night *has* been something strong/exotic/weird. A bottle of US IPA at the Rake after several uninspiring pints of cask ale at the Market Porter springs to mind: it was as if a fog had suddenly cleared.

And water is also good if you need a drink between beers.

Tandleman said...

Water? Ah yes. The stuff I make gallons of tea with.