Tuesday 30 July 2019

Peak Murky?

We started off, quite a while ago now, with the odd opaque pint being presented to drinkers. These were usually from new breweries in London and the south, following the then American tradition of cask conditioned beers being presented with what was termed "opalescence". As explained to me by a brewing friend of some substance, Jaime Jurado, this was how American brewers and the American public, back in these relatively uninformed days, perceived as the way that sort of beer was meant to be.  (You could probably take the meaning to be a sort of milky/hazy sheen.)  Then though - and I'm talking early noughties, most American beer was presented in the usual crystal clear way. West Coast IPA was a clear beer then as were most American "craft" beers.

I think it was Robbie Pickering who first coined the term "London Murky" and then it was rather unusual to see deliberately hazy beers, championed by a few and regarded with a mixture of indifference and horror by most of us "traditionalists", but the beer itself was well enough brewed, with my main objection being that it - pun intended - muddied the cask conditioned waters and undermined the convention built up over many years, that a problem pint was identified by sight first of all, if it was presented as less than clear.  There was more or less a nationwide acceptance on both sides of the bar that this was a starting point about a case to answer on a beer's saleability. In short the increase in hazy beers eroded the customer's position and allowed barstaff to say something that had largely been eliminated; "It's meant to be like that."  My own view was that this was the thin end of the wedge and that sooner or later there would be no line that could confidently be drawn.

Fast forward a few years. Small breweries have multiplied and tastes and fashions in beer have changed. Craft has pushed the perception envelope to the extent that anything goes, with some beers being indistinguishable from fruit juice in appearance.  Indeed many have fruit juice added to them.  This was always going to be a problem in so much as experimental beers are chucked out to trade and nobody has any real idea of what they really were drinking in terms of what the beer should actually taste like. This is of course very convenient to the brewer, but not for the customer, who often has to pay a premium price for something that may not be to his or her liking, or, more importantly one that he or she suspects is faulty. Now there is little recourse to changing such a beer for something more acceptable. The answer is likely to be "It's meant to be like that!"

Yesterday this was raised on Twitter by a peeved customer, Seth Bradley, who had received over the bar the samples shown in the photo.  I leave them to speak for themselves.  Follow up tweets  such as this illustrate my point:

Are these really well designed, properly brewed beers with a profile and recipe that is planned and brewed for?  You'd kind of doubt it wouldn't you?

What's the answer to these colloidal solutions when the rule book has been thrown away? I don't know for you, but for me? Avoid them like the plague.

You can read Jaime's credentials here.

I once asked Charlie Bamforth about cases less bad than this. He said the line has to be drawn before a beer looks like chicken soup. Too late.

Friday 12 July 2019

Unexpected Pub in the Caucasus Area

Shortly before our tour of the Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia, our guide pointed out a Russian Army base a mere 400 metres from the main Tbilisi - Black Sea highway.  It was a reminder that beyond that short distance, lies the occupied lands of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It seems too that the war which officially ended in 2007, is still in small ways going on, as the Russians have the rather annoying habit of moving the barbed wire fences overnight, swallowing up a little more of Georgia each time. Georgian citizens are not allowed within 200 metres of the occupied area for fear of being kidnapped. This dread of Russia consumes every Georgian and explains in part the riots that took place when we were there. Oddly though, Russian tourists abound and are treated very well. The argument is truly state to state.

Sadly we didn't have time in Gori for a beer, but I rather liked the fact that Stalin had the bright idea of having a museum to himself built in his home town. His colleagues apparently agreed this was a splendid plan.  Very wise of them.  It was full of (retouched) photos and paintings of the local lad made good bad.

On the way up the mountain road to our destination, I caught a glimpse of a very Germanic looking building, but it was forgotten as we visited one of the oldest churches in Georgia, some 7000 feet up and a mere 14 kilometres from the border with the Russian Federation. We stopped for a beer in the frontier town of Kazbegi, where fortunately the sun shone. We leaped ahead of the assorted crumblies that were our companions, ordered and paid for our beers which gave us the chance to avoid the tension that "comfort" stops brings when 48 people all try and get served at once within a half hour.  At this stop we were advised that we'd be stopping for lunch a half hour back down the road to Tbilisi. Great stuff.

Back down the mountain we went and pulled up at the Germanic looking building - our lunch stop. To my astonishment this was a little piece of Bavaria in the Caucasus. It was Hofbräuhaus Gadauri.  Yes a pub restaurant, German inside in every way and a part (one assumes) of the Hofbräuhaus Group of Munich.  We filed inside and were taken upstairs to a huge wooden panelled dining room, which could have been upstairs in the Munich Bier Hall.  Downstairs was a large, but empty bar, very much in the Bavarian style.

Now on these capers you usually get a set lunch and so it came to pass. Time was short and by the time we were served and had eaten, it was time to go. I did though manage a look at the menu, and HB Helles, Hefeweizen and Munich Dark were all available. A party of Japanese tourists were getting stuck into some.  Lucky people.

Alas the tale ends here. No beer for me. Time ran out. But it existed. Honest.

These guided tours are mixed blessings. You see a lot, but there is little time for a beer break in the exotic destination, which is a disadvantage-  to this old soak at least. 

The photo of the beer shows the most common beer we came across. It wasn't at all bad really.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Georgian Craft Beer

 The main road through Tbilisi is Rustavelli Avenue, named after a famous Georgian poet and hero.  This is a mighty six lane highway with never ending maniacal driving at speed the rule, not the exception. A bit like Wacky Races for real people. The only way to cross it is by underpass. Any attempt to do so on foot would be certain death. We used the underpasses, spooky though they were.

On one side of Rustavelli Avenue were dotted, all the way down to Liberation Square, a number of little restaurants with seats outside. You could grab one and watch the passers by as you supped a very reasonably priced beer. Think about a pound or less for a half litre. The quality of these beers, all uniformly golden, ranged from pretty tasteless, to not too bad at all.  The quality of the people watching though more than made up for the lack of quality in the beer, with very attractive young people enjoying strolling up and down in groups, as well as many other interesting characters. It was all rather pleasant despite the roar of the traffic and the somewhat sticky 35C heat.

On our second night there we found less traditional cafe near the Parliament. The menu was uninformative, so we just ordered two beers. Now as an aside, everywhere we went - more or less- the serving staff, usually with little English were exceptionally nice. This was more throw it at you and disappear.  Also it was in a .4 glass; the cheater's half litre. We looked at the beer which was a lot more brown than we'd come across. Hmm. E took a sip and grimaced. I did the same. Crikey. What was this? The beer tasted sharp and unpleasant with a yeasty taste. It was bright though. As clear as could be and tasting pretty strong.  Beside us was a raised grass verge. E without hesitation tipped her whole glass into it. I struggled on through half of mine before giving up and calling for the bill.

Our waitress, cheered up by the thought of our imminent departure promptly appeared and on receipt of payment enquired if we'd enjoyed the beer. I said we hadn't. She looked shocked. 'But', she spluttered, 'it is craft beer.'

Further up the road there was a rather upmarket resturant. Outside were several bottles with IPA on them, but we passed, unsure if, at peak evening meal time, a table would be forthcomimg for beer only. Sadly I never saw that beer again. 

This wasn't my only craft though. Black Lion was a standard but tasty lager and was very good. I believe there was more craft to be found, but we didn't go looking.

Thursday 4 July 2019

Bee Off with Them

An interesting little tweet today inspired me to get off my lazy arse and write a blog. I've been busy/uninspired/whatever for a while, but here we are - inspiration. It's what we all need. In addition to lovely clear, cool, cask conditioned beer of course.

Joseph Holt, a well known Manchester Brewer, has come up with a beer glass which turns itself into the famous Manchester Bee.  Well it doesn't exactly metamorphose itself, but a nice sleeve glass has had the addition of some black stripes and if you add a pale, yellow beer, Hey Presto, you have a bee like appearance. Magic. Now I see one or two problems here. The famous Holt's Bitter is a sort of deep brown colour and the delicious Mild is, slightly, well black.  Hmm. These won't achieve the desired effect will they? Awards winning Holt's lager it is then.  I wonder if the glass is nucleated?

Holt's has also come up with the whizzy idea of buy five pints, get a card stamped and you'll get your glass free. Fine. A top tip from me. You can simply buy five pints of mild, eschew the lack of bee effect pro tem and thus gain your glass at minimum outlay.  The bee effect can then be achieved in the comfort of your own home with whatever cheap (or dear) yellow pong that floats your boat.

There is of course another way of gaining this coveted glass. If you aren't sure about what it is, contact Cooking Lager. He'll tell you.

The Manchester Bee of course was the logo of Boddingtons Brewery. Remember them? Their golden nectar would have done the job nicely.

Full details of the scheme are here in  I LoveManchester.Com