Archive for November, 2013

I don’t pretend to be a hipster. I live in south west London because I went to Public School and so I can be close to my mummy. For anyone unfamiliar, there is a plethora of incredible pubs, specialist bars, breweries and brew pubs in spitting distance of ‘upcoming’ locations such as Bethnal Green, London Fields and Hackney.

Some of my favourite beer bars are near here (Well & Bucket, Brew Dog, The Electric Showroom etc). So today I thought I’d push the bar out a little and go further afield. To my surprise, Redchurch Brewery is not on Redchurch street (my bad) so after an extremely bland beer at The Owl and Pussycat, we licked our wounds in the familiar environs of Brew Dog, Shoreditch. Mikkeller Galena IPA for myself and Flying Dog, Horn Dog for @LondonGlutton got us started.

Lesson 1

Not all breweries are open Saturdays. Redchurch is one.

Lesson 2

Don’t go to The White Horse on Great Eastern Street if looking for a friendly pint. Lack of windows should have been a clue.

Hanging my head in shame that I didn’t check the website we made the (decent) stroll from unit 276 AKA Redchurch Brewery, to London Fields Brewery whereupon a winter hideaway awaited us.  Great little spot that feels like Santa’s Grotto for grown ups, serving homemade seasonal beery treats such as Pumpkin Ale and Dopplebocks alongside their usual offering. Friendly, Christmassy and trendy. Nice little window to the brewery where they also run tours through the weekend.  Be sure to book a table!

It would have been rude not to slide into Look Mum No Hands round the corner, to kick back on some school chairs and feel rebellious drinking a beer whilst everyone around you is doing homework. From what I can tell it is a coffee joint where hipsters come for peace and quiet to work on their start-ups. All good e-businesses are born on artisan coffee and craft beer these days.  We enjoyed a Kernel Export India Porter and an Partizan ale. Both lovely and served in flute glasses not coffee mugs thankfully.

Lesson 3

Pressure Drop does not have a brew pub

Lesson 4

Neither does Five Points

The Old Cock, Hackney felt a bit cavernous. Stools were littered everywhere (the seats without the back or arms kind), the service was pretty unfriendly but the number of taps was mind boggling. Beers from Their own brewpub Howling Hops as well as London Fields, Camden Brewery, Pressure Drop among others were prevalent. The Dobbel I had was awful. Sour like soy sauce.  My faith was restored by the Bramble Porter, rich sweet, dark fruits, hint of chocolate as well as good refreshing bitterness. It was very drinkable and a lovely flavoursome porter.

Perhaps we are spoilt in South London for breweries throwing their doors open to the public? (E.g. The Bermondsey breweries, Sambrooks, By The Horns) Maybe there are enough pubs selling quality beer in the East London vicinity to negate the need for breweries to depart from their main vocation of selling beer?

I don’t know the answer but I’m not convinced that a beer pilgrimage out East will lead you to the promise land of London Craft beer, even though much of it is brewed there. Perhaps naively I expected them all to be open on a Saturday. Isn’t the fun part of owning a brewery opening the doors to the public and seeing what assortment of geeks turn up?

Do you agree, have I missed something?

A few eyebrows were raised at the prospect of a 12 beer tasting but the goal for the evening was to highlight the subtle differences between the different worldwide lagers and the fantastic variety of styles and flavours available in British real ale.  When else do you get a chance to test 12 beers side by side and still remember them?

There was some lively debate, some wild swings in scores, interesting descriptions and fruitful language amongst the tasters.  Ultimately the people’s vote was for a LAGER.  But hold the groans… it was in fact a dark lager, Bernard Dark.

You could be forgiven for thinking that after a (slightly biased) intro to the natural and hand made qualities of real ale, that we are still primarily a country of lager drinkers.   However what surprised everyone was the colour, complexity and depth of flavour (coffee, dark fruits, dry bitter hop finish) which the Bernard Dark was able to impart whilst still maintaing the refreshing quality of a lager, served cold.  It truly is a great beer, and has the medals to prove it.

Sharps Brewery’s famous Doom Bar was also voted as the preferred real ale.  This is a fair assessment given the light malty sweetness giving it great session-ability and accessibility to all palates.  There were a few raised eyebrows at the Innis & Gunn whiskey aged beer and some quizzical looks following the spruce hopped Norseman but everyone was able to find something they enjoyed.

If you missed this event and want to keep up to date with future tastings, please subscribe to receive my newsletter on my website.

The match ups were:

Lager: UK, Camden Hells vs Spain, Estrella Damm

Real Ale: Cornwall, Sharps – Doom Bar vs Kent, Shepherd Neame – Blonde Ambition

Lager: South America, Modelo Especial vs Czech Republic, Bernard Dark

Real Ale: Tyneside, Jarrow Brewery – Rivet Catcher vs Yorkshire, Ilkley Brewery – The Norseman

Lager: Czech Republic, Pilsner Urquell vs Germany, Veltins

Real Ale: Yorkshire, Leeds Brewery – Gathering Storm vs Scotland, Innis & Gunn – Original

We beer drinkers can be a grumpy bunch, often vehemently defending our favoured style over the other.  It is a fascinating debate and these two styles have been competing for their right within your pint glass for many years… or so you might think.

Ale, in similar form to how we know if now has been a staple part of the diet in the UK since the 16th and 17th Centuries.  In Victorian times (before Evian) beer was better sanitised and healthier than water and was even supplied as part of a worker’s daily wage.  Surprisingly, lager has only become a popular drink in Britain as recently as the 1960’s stemming from the Bavarian style lager beers of around the 16th Century which have since been emulated worldwide.  Your granddad was a real-ale man for sure.

It took several hundred years for Bavarian style lagers to displace top-fermenting beers in other areas in Germany.  It was the discovery of refrigeration, popular culture, the smooth refreshing taste and big marketing campaigns that ensured lager became the pre-eminent alcoholic beverage worldwide throughout the 20th Century.

Spot the Difference

There are obvious differences between both styles in appearance and taste.  Real ale is predominantly darker, more coppery-amber in colour, fruitier, spicier, earthier to taste with often creamy, smooth characteristics and hop bitterness.  I believe they have more flavor than lager… Ok so now my cards are on the table.

This is an ale.

This is an ale.

Lagers range from very light yellow, to beautiful golden and even light amber hues and we all know the attractiveness of a nicely carbonated lager in the summer.  Refreshment personified!

But to critically understand the differences we need to understand how each style makes it from the farm to pump.

The Basics

‘Real ale’ as defined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is “a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask (container) from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation”.  Real ales are untreated before they reach the pub, there is no filtration or pasteurisation meaning it is a living product and none of the flavour has been killed or washed out.  It takes great skill by the brewer to deliver it in fine condition and from the publican to serve it at the correct time to ensure maximum taste and flavor.  The technique of brewing ale like this was developed to get the ale out of the brewery door and into vessels as quick as possible.  I told you we were a thirsty bunch back then.

Lager uses special yeasts that ferment the beer at the bottom of the fermenter (as opposed to ale yeasts which are top fermenting).  The word “Lager” means to store in German.  The beers were so called because they found the cooler temperatures and the type of yeast allowed the slow fermentation to occur over the summer months in cold Bavarian caves.  This ‘storing’ helped preserve the beer.  Slow fermentation was required as no brewing occurred over the summer (because of problems keeping beer at constant temperature in the heat and the workers were busy tending to the land) and thus the cold fermentation allowed beer to be stored and was readily accessible.  The Czechs and German’s loved their Lager beer so much that they cut huge slabs of ice from the mountains as a primitive substitute to walk-in fridges.

The slower fermentation process means the flavours are cleaner, less complex and are focused at either the malty or hoppy end of the taste spectrum.  The subtle flavour and brilliant bubbles make these beers perfect session beers, very accessible to all drinkers, extremely thirst quenching and an ideal bedfellow to mild food on a warm summer’s day.

Moving Away from Stereotypes

Both styles suffer from lingering negative perceptions depending on the drinker.  Historically ale has been seen as stuffy, ‘too warm’, ‘tasteless’, as an ‘old man’s drink’, which are not altogether outrageous statements.  Encountering a CAMRA member (which I am one), donned in sandals and with fishing tackle bulging out of cargo shorts waxing lyrical about real ale is thankfully no longer such an nuisance on a visit to the pub.   In fact they are doing a lot to modernise the organization and it cannot be underestimated what they have done to rescue real ale from the brink of extinction since it was formed in 1971.  The beauty of the real ale is the brewers’ skill to deliver an exceptionally beautiful, natural, tasty and still-living product to the consumer.  It would be a disaster if real ale was pushed out of pubs in favour of products that have longer shelf lives, are easier to maintain and cheaper to serve (due to additives).  Real ale is also a truly British product.  British breweries have been brewing beer like this for hundreds of years and it is copied but rarely repeated around the world.

It is not just real ale which has suffered.  After 50 years of pale, fizzy, ice cold flavourless American factory lager, the craft beer movement since the 1980’s in the United States was a welcome movement away to tastier beer using less adjuncts (like rice and corn).  A massive consolidation in breweries throughout the world is also pushing people away from ‘factory lagers’ as consumers are rejecting the large international brands in favour of small artisanal hand made products where quality is paramount.  Did anyone say real ale?

So I guess the purpose of this blog is to ask you to think openly and judge critically next time you are ordering at the bar. If you are a lager drinker, do you drink ale? There are some spectacular traditional lagers available which in the pilsner and Bavarian in the traditional styles (Maerzen, Oktoberfest and Vienna Lagers).  You can also find some incredibly tasty real ales that give equal refreshment to many lagers, ask the barman for advice!

Are you a real ale drinker? Do you like the crisp, hoppy, herbal refreshment that a lager delivers or more complex flavours? Has the recent trend for ice cold, mainstream, sugary lagers put you off?

Don’t be grumpy now… to continue the debate and taste the differences for yourself, come down to my next beer tasting on Tuesday 19th, Real Ale vs Lager.

November is here so time to get your diaries out and listen close.

Fanfare please……I’m delighted to announce 2 beer tasting events in November.

Real Ale vs Fine Lagers

http://alevslager-eorg.eventbrite.co.uk

The first tasting event on 19th November, in the lovely upstairs room at The Crown Tavern on Clerkenwell Green, will be a tasting duel pitting real ale vs lager. Designed to be fun, interactive and informative it is perfect for those new to beer and wanting to get an understanding of the different complexities between the two styles, as well as for seasoned quaffers looking to take some time to judge beer in a controlled environment. Using the freshest beer available we are going to judge a selection of hand crafted British real ales against some of the finest continental lagers and pilsners. Which style is superior? Which tap is tastier? You decide!

Speed Beer Tasting – London Craft Beer

http://speedbeertasting-eorg.eventbrite.co.uk

For the second event on Friday 22nd November Indie Ales are partnering with The Hub Westminster for a Speed Beer Tasting to coincide with the festivities for Global Entrepreneurship Week. The 30 minute beer tasting will involve tasting two of London’s craftiest independently brewed beers backed up with a barrel-load of beer facts and advice in how to judge your brew. The event is completely open to the public and will be followed by the Hub’s usual Friday night networking for budding or existing entrepreneurs.