Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Shakespeare's Local by Pete Brown

Shakespear's Local, scheduled to the book of the week on Radio 4 and getting separate publication in American, looks set to be Pete Brown's biggest book. But it's my least favourite of his works and I'm not sure if it's his fault or mine.

Having already been to a talk about the book before reading it turned out to be a bit like watching an overly long film trailer that shows all the best bits. Entertaining though the talk was it did take some of the excitement out of the book when I got to bits I'd already heard about.

This book is also noticeably slimmer than his previous work, and whilst Hops and Glory was a fat book that got slimmed down, Shakespeare's Local at times seems like a thin book that's been padded out. The author does have a witty writing style but clearly at times he doesn't have much recorded history to work with and there's only so far you can go inventing imaginary conversations and laughing at overly long historic book titles.

As a dedicated beer nerd I was surprised to see at one point Pete bets his life that Shakespeare drank beer. In Shakespeare's time the distinction between unhopped ale and hopped beer was still quite clear, as was his preference: for Shakespeare, it appears, ale was fit for kings and beer only for fools. I fear the gallows could be calling...

Discussing Shakespeare a bizarre theory from a previous historian of the George Inn that Shakespeare didn't actually exist is mentioned, but as I also have a fascinating for religious schisms, it's disappointing that the ale angle isn't. At one point English Catholics considered the hop to be a Protestant plant, so could Shakespeare's shunning of beer be more evidence of his Catholic sympathies? This fascinating (to me) ale/beer religious split connection is the sort of thing I ponder and I'd have been interested to see what Pete Brown's made of it, but I guess I'll have to settle for the fact that some minority interests are just too minority.

After a lull in the middle I thought the book picked up again as the amount of historical data increased and the author had more material to work with. A long term landlady of the pub is the real star of the book, but I guess her marketing potential can't compete with The Bard's. I did rather surprisingly spot a modern historical error as there's mix up of the Barclay Perkins Anchor brewery at Park Street and the Courage Anchor brewery at Horselydown, but the two do cause a lot of confusion.

Did I like this book less than the others because I'd heard some of it before or because the book just isn't as good as his others? I don't know, and most reviews are glowing, but I'd be interested to hear what other people think of it.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The White Horse 30th Old Ale Festival

Our latest research trip was to the Old Ale Festival at the White Horse on Parsons Green. For once I'd been prepared for a beer festival by printing off the beer list and making a tick list before I got there. So I was a bit miffed to see half the beers I was after weren't on. So it goes.

Black night

They did have a list which showed what beers they were serving at the time, and it showed the prices too. That was a bit of an eye opener as the cask beers started at £4 and went up from there. Those that were foolish enough to drink keg beers were in for even more of a hammering to their wallets. I know it's a posh pub, they don't call it the Sloaney Pony for nothing, but there are plenty of decent pubs in London I can pay considerably less at.

As the Harvey's Mild, one of my desert island beers, wasn't on I had Marston Moor's Matchlock Mild (4% ABV). It reminded me why I'm not often a mild drinker as it was on the dull side. To make up the lack of Harvey's Mild I had their Old Ale (4.3%) next. It certainly had the distinctive Harvey's taste, in fact it had too much of it, making the yeasty flavours overpowering.

So for my third pint I went for a safe bet, the excellent By The Horns Lambeth Porter. The lovely Lisa had already had some of this so I knew it was on form.

Being suitably warmed up at this point it was time to go for a barley wine. A session beer to some, but then some people do talk nonsense, I normally only drink such things in the privacy of my own home. But I figured I'd survive a half drunk slowly and they did have the current Champion Beer of Britain on.

I remember being surprised at the reaction of some of my fellow beer nerds when Coniston No. 9 (8.5% ABV) won. I think they'd been gearing up to be outraged when a mild won again so when a barley wine claimed the top spot there was an air of bemusement. There seemed general agreement that CAMRA had picked the wrong beer yet again but I think they were scraping the barrel trying to muster some outrage on the basis that a beer not brewed very often had won.

I'd had the beer before from bottles and not been overwhelmed, but from cask it was a whole new world. Incredibly fruity, I was frustrated that no matter how hard I strained my brain I couldn't place which fruit. I bet Jilly Goolden never has that  problem. I can confidently say it was dead good though.

At the point I was starting to get peckish for some pork scratchings the newly formed Wild Beer company opened up a stall dishing out samples. They plan to make beers with a difference but the samples they had were clearly works in progress so I won't pronounce on them yet.

Don't buy beer off this man

It was time to go after that. Whilst I was busy getting pissed, the lovely Lisa was getting pissed off as she was refused a taster due to a 'new company policy', though it does seem to depend on who you get served by (this has now been clarified as no tasters during beer festivals). And on top of that a little bit of further research on the pub when I got home suggests the beer prices were specially raised for the festival. I'm not sure if we'll bother going to the next one.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Guinness FES test

Dubious as I am about over priced craft beer I think carefully before parting with my hard earned cash for something over the odds. But as a beer nerd there are some beers I can't resist trying, provided the price isn't too excessive, but once I've tried them will I buy them again?

For strong stouts I usually apply The Guinness FES test. 

As I can buy Guinness Foreign Export Stout in my local supermarket at supermarket prices I ask myself is it worth forking out craft beer prices for this strong stout? It's not often I find a strong stout I don't like but is it that much better I'm prepared to fork out that much more?

Many fine beers have failed this test, beers from Fullers and Kernel amongst them. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout passes, and strangely enough so does Guinness Special Export. Brewed in (or for?) Belgium I can't get it in Sainsbury's so have to pay more for it, but I think it's worth it.

Does anyone else have any benchmark beers?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

I am a Prolific drinker

"So what's new?" I hear you say. As it happens the hop is new, though when I say new I mean old.

Dave at work has brewed up home brew batch using the Prolific hop variety. Thanks to his seasonal work picking hops he was given a small sample of hops from the two Prolific plants grown on the farm he works at.

Dating from 1852, it was once a widely grown varitey, though John Percival wasn't keen on it, describing it as "... of poor quality, coarse in petal, pointed square in section and poor in flavour." As modern tastes have changed we were very interested to see whether or not the flavour would be more appealing nowadays.

As it happened there wasn't actually much flavour. There was a noticeable hop resin aroma to the beer, but the taste was just a very clean bitterness. It made the beer drinkable but also rather unexciting. I don't think the Prolific hop will be making a comeback.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Diminishing returns

I remember reading once some advice about buying jackets for mountaineering. I went something like this:

  • a £100 jacket will be twice as good as a £50 jackets
  • a £200 jacket will be better, but not twice as good as a £100 jacket
  • a £400 jacket* may be better than a £200 jacket but the improvements are getting marginal
This advice keeps coming to mind when I see overpriced** beer on sale in specialist beer bars and shops. 

I'm happy to pay for the extra money it costs me to get bottled not canned beer in the supermarkets because it's better. And I'm happy to pay the extra money that a pint of cask beer will cost me in a pub compared to bottled beer at home because I enjoy it more. I'll even fork out more for rare or interesting beers on occasion, though this can be a bit hit and miss. 

But when I get on to beers at £8 or more a bottle or pint I really think I'm getting in to the realm of diminishing returns. In fact as beer at these prices are often very strong, imported or experimental it may even be a case that I'd be paying more for a beer I'd enjoy less

Am I being a tight git that's missing out or are some people paying silly money for beer?

* Yes, such things exist.
** It's my blog and overpriced is the right term if you ask me.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Grape vs. Grain food pairing night

Keen as I always am to continue my professional development I went to an IBD meeting on Monday. And dedicated beer buff that she is the lovely Lisa came to. The event did happen to be held in a brewpub and included a six course meal which may have influenced her decision.

It was held at The Bull in Highgate, which has a good selection of beers, draught and keg, though as the scotch eggs were reasonably priced it's definitely a pub not a craft beer bar. 

We started with a quick tour of the 2.5 barrel brewery.

The brew house is at one side of the kitchen with the fermenting vessels in the cellar. After the tour we tried one of The Bull's beers in both it's cask and (key) keg form. The kegged version had a bit more aroma but an unpleasant harsh taste that wasn't present in the version served as god intended.

The main even was in an upstairs dining room, where we had a qualified beer sommelier batting for the home team and a press ganged stand in plugging the wine. Both did a great job, though keeping track of the votes got a bit messy as the evening went on.

This was the menu:

Brewers Grain Smoked Salmon, citrus creme fraiche
Beer: Blanche de Namur
Wine: Viognier, Domaine des Terres Rousses

Foie Gras Terrine, sour berries, toast
Beer: Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus
Wine: Syrah Rose, VdeP d'Oc

Smoked Wild Mushroom
Beer: Schlenkerla Rauchbier
Wine: Gruner Veltliner, Weingut Geyerhog

Braised Ox Cheek, celeriac mash, braising jus
Beer: Adnams Broadside
Wine: Malbec, Urban Uco

Apple Pie, vanilla chantilly
Beer: Innis and Gunn Original
Wine: Chablis,  Domaine des Temps Perdus

Black Bomber Cheddar
Beer: Sierra Nevada Torpedo
Wine: Mount Beautiful Pinot Noir

I'm not really one for food and drink pairing, as I prefer to get my dinner in early and then get to the pub, not waste time lingering over food. And there's no real point me going thought my votes as it was beer every time. I very rarely drink wine so it just tastes like wine to me, but as I regularly drink beer I can pick up the subtleties and notice the grapefruit, spice, coffee, liquorish, etc. Others with more rounded palates were more even handed in their voting though, with the final result being a 4:2 win for beer. Wine clearly won the vote for the terrine, and either the ox cheek or the cheese (I not sure which one though but both were close), the rest going to beer.

When matching drinks with food we were told the drink can cut though the food's flavour, complement it or contrast with it. The Cantillon lambic certainly cut through the terrine, though I think it was actually meant to complement the berries. The rauchbier went well with the smoked mushrooms, oddly though as after the mushroom it tasted more like normal beer; and the vanilla flavour of Innis and Gunn went well with the pie and vanilla cream. I guess these two were complementing. I didn't really notice any contrasting going on but spotting three things out of six courses isn't bad going for me. I'd also add the possibility that pairing can be crap as alternating swigs and mouthfuls of the Broadside and ox cheek didn't do anything for either, though maybe if the beer hadn't been too cold it would have gone better.

Despite being a wine philistine and not being one for beer and food pairing I did enjoy this event, maybe it's time for me to give The Brewmaster's Table another go.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Demolished Man

It was Woking beer festival last night, a festival I can walk to and stagger back from. Disturbingly there were bouncers on the door and annoying there were wrist bands to wear. I don't know what's brought that on but I frown upon such practices.

Doomed for demolition

We got down there earlier than usual, which goes some way to explaining the urgent need for fried pork products this morning. The surge in brewery numbers finally seems to have reached Surrey, with a few more local wares on offer.

Tenser, said the Tensor
I made the most of the selection on offer, drinking 50 with my right hand and 50 with my left hand, and I didn't think it too many. Or at least it felt like that. Blond, brown, black, flavoured with ginger I drank them all. The lovely Lisa was more discriminating and though the selection a bit lacking, resorting to Ascot Ales Anastasia Imperial Stout (8% ABV) "to get some flavour". Fortunately she kept control and didn't do a Dan.

I caught up with friends old and new and the festivities seemed to end all too soon, which is a sure sign of a good night, and it was time to weave our way home.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Pete Brown on Shakespeare's Local

The lovely Lisa and I went to see noted beer historian Pete Brown give a talk on Monday night. Though it seems my description of him is no longer accurate, as he's now a noted pub historian too.

The do was at Windsor and Eton brewery, the back drop of shiny fermenters made a good setting, though I'm glad I wore my down jacket at it was bleedin' cold. Someone from the brewery was dishing out cask beer, though as I was driving I couldn't make the most of it. I was pleased to try the last of the W&E Jubilee beers "Canberra". A rich chestnut fruity beer made with Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin hops and maple syrup. W&E seem to have a policy of adding something a bit weird in each of their beers, though I'm beginning to suspect more for craft beer brownie points than any major effect on the flavour. Despite the freely available cask beer Pete Brown was drinking a bottle of Republica lager, a highly rated beer to some, but a sure sign of moral turpitude to me.

Pete Brown with his shiny new ibook

But enough of this nonsense, Pete was talking about his new book, Shakespeare's Local, a history of The George Inn in Borough. Like a good evening's chat at the pub the book touches on a number of important points, and then diverges off wildly when something else interesting crops up. Even the discussion on how old the pub is managed to draw in Trigger from Only Fools and Horses, Ancient Greeks, and The Sugar Babes amongst others. It all made sense at the time. A number of historical figures have drunk in, or at any rate near, the pub including of course Shakespeare, so it seems there's plenty of material.

The talk was very entertaining and some informative history too. I'm now slightly peeved with myself for making the lovely Lisa buy me the book for my birthday, as it means I can't read it yet! Oh well, not long now...

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Goldings Hops: the out takes.

At last here's the final part of series on the history of Goldings hops: the hilarious out-takes. Being the most prized of English hops the term 'Golding' has often been applied to hops that are not in fact true GoldingsThe Hop Marketing Board complicated things further by classifying hops into four classes: Golding, Golding Variety, Fuggle and Other Varieties. The Golding class is for the various different clones of the true Goldings. Golding Variety was the class for hops which weren't actually Goldings but were ranked mid-way between Goldings and Fuggles in quality. There were two hops classified as Goldings Varieties, one of which is still grown today:

Whitbread Golding Variety

"Selected, or raised as a seedling, in 1911 (that auspicious year again) from a commercial variety of the time-reputedly Bate's Brewer-by E.A. White, of Paddock Wood. A small acreage of this variety, identified by the code number 1147, was maintained by E. A. White, and later by Messrs. Whitbread & Co., his successors at Beltring, Paddock Wood. Following the outbreak of progressive Verticillium wilt in the early 1930's, it was found to be largely tolerant to the disease. It was later extensively propagated, under the auspices of the Hop Marketing Board, for planting by growers in gardens affected by this destructive disease, which persists for several years in infected soil." (1)

The hop was originally called White's Golding and was a result of the breeding programme of EA White developed with the great Professor ES Salmon of Wye College. (2) Though the male parent of this hop is unknown there is the possibility that it was of American origin, as male American plants had certainly been imported by then as a way of attempting to raise the alpha acid content of English hops.


"Selected by Gerald Warde, of Tutsham Hall, West Farleight. It is grown in the same districts and requires similar treatments to Cobbs, which it closely resembles.
The cones 'hang' better than those of Cobbs, and the plant is somewhat less susceptible to hop mould." (3)

As far as I'm aware this hop is no longer grown.

Styrian Golding

This hop is not a Golding, and it's not Styrian either. Analysis found that the original Styrian Golding was in fact a Fuggle plant. The different soil and climate give it a distinctly different flavour though. And recently googling by me has found that Styria is a region of Austria, though all the Styrian Goldings I've ever used have come from Slovenia.

The story goes that as the term Fuggle-Golding was used by some for Fuggles the continentals got confused as to which hop they had and though it was a type of Golding. The plot thickens further though as the crafty Slovenians have continued to use the term 'Styrian Golding' for hops from their breeding programme, some of which are entirely unrelated to the Fuggle.

The current labels they use are Savinjski Golding, for the Fuggle plants grown in Slovenia, Styrian Golding B for the hop otherwise known as Bobek which is the offspring of Northdown and a seedling of unknown origin, and Styrian Golding C or Celeia for a hybrid of Aurora (a descendant of Northern Brewer) and a wild male. (4)

I've also found mentions of two hops bred by Professor Salmon which he gave the name Golding to:

Norton Court Golding

This hop came from Canterbury Golding crossed with OB21, a seedling of Brewers Gold and an American male OY1. This is the same parents as Northern Brewer, a hop which has had rather more success. (5, 6, 7)

Wye Field Golding

This hop also had the same parents as Northern Brewer. Northing seems to have come of Norton Court or Wye Field Goldings, but ironically another of Ernest Salmon's hops which he didn't give a Golding name to, Early Choice, is now sold as a Golding. (8)

There are also a number of hops which have a "gold" if not "Golding" worked into their names, Brewers Gold has already been mentioned, a dwarf variety is called First Gold, and Bullion and Nugget have the suggestion of Gold about them, though of these Nugget is the only one with Golding in its ancestry.

  1. Hops. AH Burgess. p43
  2.  The Encircling Hop. M Lawrence. p36
  3. Hops. AH Burgess p41
  6. Hops, AH Burgess. p46

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The cost of living

Or perhaps the cost of dying.

I've heard a few interesting things recently about how the figures commonly bandied around on the costs of alcohol misuse are all bollocks.

For starters one of the major ways it's calculated is the cost to the economy of people losing their jobs due to alcohol problems. It was pointed out that toting up the cost of benefits of people who lost their job is highly dubious, as though it may well be a personal tragedy, the economy won't suffer as for each person made unemployed another will come off benefits when they fill the new vacancy.

Then there's the fact that people dying prematurely may well cost the NHS, but not half as much as people that don't die prematurely and end us needing constant care in their advanced years. Someone who pops their clogs early is really doing the NHS a favour!

Finally in all the talk of alcohol related costs there's no mention of the huge amount of money taxes on alcohol bring in.