Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Where's the Southern Blondes Then?

London is always an enigma to me. It contains some of the best pubs in the country, has some of the most go ahead brewers and new wave bars yet still thinks it is in the Second World War in terms of new inventions like refrigeration.  The problem of warm cask beer is one that I bang on about and will continue to bang on about. London has some of the best pubs - pubs you could happily drink beer in all day - if only the beer wasn't kept so bloody awfully. Even the lager is rarely as cold as it ought to be. London, it seems, likes warm beer.

Funnily enough though this isn't about that. I just like to stick that knife in whenever I can. So what am I banging on about this time?  Well the lack of pale, hoppy beer that's what.  In the North and by this I mean anywhere above Birmingham, it would be an odd situation indeed if, in a free house or even one that isn't, you didn't find something pale and hoppy on the bar.  It is a given Oop North but this just doesn't seem to happen in London and when and if you do come cross something pale, if it isn't Dark Star Hophead, it is likely to be sweet and it is likely to be the only one on the bar that that isn't brown. Going further south, on my recent trip to Broadstairs, there was again a distinct lack of hop forward blonde beers. Why is this I wonder?  Is it a matter of preference or perceived preference? Is it a lack of availability locally and local is big at the moment?  I'm kind of baffled.

Why is this? Any ideas?

The list of Northern Breweries producing a huge range of blonde beers is vast.  Those would be people like Phoenix, Saltaire, Elland, Pictish, Allgates, Wilson Potter, Goose Eye, Mallinsons, Ossett to name but a few.  These can be readily bought through beer distributors.  There is lots more.

And yes, I know some exist down South, but why don't we see them in London is the question.


Matthew Curtis said...

Have you ever thought that you're maybe drinking in the wrong pubs? There's plenty of great pale and hoppy cask ales being both brewed in London and poured at temperature you'd approve of.

Redemption Trinity & Pale Ale, Five Points Pale Ale, Siren Undercurrent, Howling Hops Pale, Brick Brewery Sir Thomas Gardyner, Anspach and Hobday The Pale, Weird Beard Little Things That Kill, By The Horns Hopslinger, Windsor & Eton Knight of the Garter, Sambrooks Pump House Pale, Moncada Notting Hill Blonde, Hackney Brewery American Pale, East London Brewery Orchid. That's just off the top of my head.

I think the trouble with London being the size it is you can't just wander into a pub and expect to find what you're looking for - you have to actively seek it out. This is of course, a crying shame because you SHOULD be able to wander into a pub and find exactly what you're looking for. Hopefully the increasing amount of pubs doing it right will take away enough trade from those that aren't to make them wake up and smell the pale and hoppy beer.

DaveS said...

In Kent, at least, there seems to be a bit of a shortage of anything other than Sheps.

Matt's spot on that there's no shortage of pale and hoppy in London, but it does tend to be firmly in the "craft" camp. Off the top of my head I can't think of many "new traditionalists" who brew good, sub-5% cask ale but aren't afraid to dabble in New World hops. Whereas you don't have to get far North to hit Crouch Vale, Adnams, Oakham...

Maybe it's a specialization thing? All the people in London who want pale and hoppy are drinking Siren in the Craft Beer Co, anyone left in the trad pubs either doesn't hold with these newfangled American hops that taste like cat's pee or is a tourist and doesn't care.

Martin, Cambridge said...

Long Man Blonde seems to pop up in a lot of Beer Guide pubs around its home near Beachy Head. Not very craft, not very good though, compared with Ossets finest.

NB cannot overdo despair at condition of beer in North London with handful of exceptions given 5m + population. Better south of Thames.

Jeffrey Bell said...

Depends what we're talking about in terms of pale and hoppy. Does the beer need to be straw coloured, or will pale enough do it? And how hoppy?

At the Finborough we've had Siren Undercurrent, Burning Sky Plateau, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Portobello VPA and (of course) good old Purity Mad Goose on this week alone. So no shortage in my pub!

Jeffrey Bell said...

Martin, how did you find out about the quality of beer south of the river? You didn't go there, did you?

Matthew Curtis said...

DaveS - Most of the above are sub 5% 'new traditional' cask ales - Trinity and Five Points Pale are go to for me at the moment when I fancy stepping over the the cask side. :)

jesusjohn said...

Jeff mentioned Burning Sky Plateau - this is a real desert island beer.

Generally, I am with Tandleman on cask in London (Jeff's gaff naturally excepted, of course) - flabby, warm, over-vented boring brown* beer is over-represented.

*By "boring brown" I mean "brown beers that are dull/boring", rather than "bitter is boring", to be clear.

DaveS said...

Matt - just read your list more carefully: fair point.

It's just the run-of-the-mill pubs that aren't interested, then.

Martin, Cambridge said...

Jeff - it is safe to go South if you take an armed escort (still not advisable west of the A3). I can dig out the web site if you need it.

Phil said...

Back in 2006, in my first venture into beer blogging, I wrote:

"In south London, where I learned to drink, the bitter is generally tawny and malty. In south Wales and East Anglia, the next two areas where I tried the beer, the bitter is usually both malty and tawny. The types of bitter native to Scotland, Cornwall and Yorkshire, in my experience, have similar characteristics. There are variations – Cambridge beer is flat and tannic; a lot of Scottish beer tastes as if a bag of toffees has been dissolved in it (which in a sense it has); and South Walian beer is the best in the world bar none. But they’re variations within a shared style: in most parts of the country, if you order the local bitter you can safely expect something T and M."

In Manchester, Sheffield and points between they've been drinking hoppy, straw-coloured bitters for absolute yonks. But east Lancs and west Yorks is quite a small part of the country. Perhaps what's going on is that

a) the 'craft' revolution started up here (Sheffield as much as - if not more than - Manchester), and
b) it hasn't reached everywhere yet, but
c) you don't notice this so much when you're up here, because the local style was already pale'n'oppy

T_i_B said...

Depends where you go down south IMHO. I find that Ipswich is surprisingly poor in this regard for instance but other places are good and indeed improving.

Tandleman said...

Matt: Trust me. When I'm in London I almost always think I'm drinking in the wrong pubs.

By missing my point somewhat you kind of prove it. I perhaps should have made it clearer, but I am talking cask here which rules out some of your list and talking of ordinary pubs with multiple handpumps, where blonde hoppy beers are largely absent.

Of course London is big but it is the simple lack of such beers I complain about and which you confirm.

Jeff - straw coloured is better as it indicates an absence of some of the darker and sweeter malts. Glad to see you had Winy Pale, which knocks the likes of Redemption Trinity into a cocked hat.

DaveS That's kind of what I was driving at.

Phil: Spot on. As usual.

Matthew Curtis said...

T - every beer on my list (with the exception of A&H The Pale which I included in error) is a cask beer.

Anyway, those are some beers I reckon you should try - maybe you should join me in the Duke's Head for a couple next time you're in town. Tom keeps an excellent cellar and he's a Northern lad so he knows good beer.

Tandleman said...

Be a pleasure to Matt. I'll let you know when next down. (I have been before actually - went to a do there about Maris Otter Malt.)

Erlangernick said...

We did have a bit of a brown patch on that Sunday in Broadstairs, save the Gadds' Seasider and that spring stuff from Shep. And one or two others. But no, none of it was proper pale & hoppy, IIRC. Looking forward to learning more about why this is the way it is here from others.

I spent 2 weeks in Ramsgate over Xmas, as you know too well, and *did* manage to run into some proper pale & hoppy, the best of which being the Session Pale from Kent Brewery, all of 3.7% and just lucsiously hopped, even if not explicitly citrically so. Fantastic beer that started a long day of (micro-)pub crawling, and it was the beer of that fortnight. And then we ran into it yeasterday in another micropub in Margate:

Again, the beer of this trip, so far. It really would give Windy Pale, Moor Top, or various Mallinsons a run for their money. Much or most of the other pale & hoppy I've had from down here just doesn't seem to have it quite right in some way, though damn me if I can figure out what. The chap at the 39 Steps here is some sort of Northerner, and has Manchester Bitter on even today. I'll have to find out the story.

Hell with sub-5%, give me more sub-4%. I'm old and can't drink as much as I used to.

If we do emigrate, it may have to be to the North instead of the South after all. Improved weather is only worth *so* much.

oldgeezer said...

Before the London breweries explosion a few years ago we regularly got Pheonix,Allgates,Elland,Gooseeye,Ossett and Pictish but they are rarely seen now.Maybe very pale thin hoppy beers are not to Londoners taste.