Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Beer: A Sense of Place

I'm not really one for labelling or cataloging beer, and I'm certainly not a style slave, but when you drink beer, it's nice to get a sense of where it's from, and the ethos behind it.

There was a tweet today from The Reluctant Scooper asking Is Moor JJJ IPA an IPA or a barleywine?. Normally I wouldn't get involved in this line of questioning, but (a) it's a bloody good beer and (b) when I tried it, I was surprised to be disappointed that it tasted like a really great West Coast Double IPA.

Now don't get me wrong, I love that whole USA West Coast IPA thing - it produces some of the most enjoyable beers I've ever had the pleasure to drink. But most of those have been imports, a direct link to the progenitor of a style, from a particular locality. Having a stunningly good DIPA coming from the West Country rather than the West Coast is simultaneously (a) a pleasure and (b) confusing. Yes, I know Justin is not of these isles, but still....

It's in the nature of beer that it can be brewed anywhere. If there's a brewer with enough gumption, they can make almost any style of beer, anywhere they chose. I guess the exception would be the classic Belgian lambics - they have a sense of place, and nothing really comes close to replicating the beers that are so intimately tied, of necessity, to a geographical locality. Actually, plenty of people come close (Russian River, for the win), but even thought the replicas are great, there is still a sense of ersatz rather than echt.

Still, these are the facts: Moor JJJ IPA is a great beer. It seems that no-one can really pin this beer down. I don't think these two points are mutually exclusive, unless someone can convince me otherwise.


  1. Zak
    I know what you mean about place, it is important (drinking Jenlain in a bar 100 metres from the brewery is a good memory) but it shouldn’t get in the way. Drink JJJ blind, and does it matter if it comes from Pitney or San Diego or northern Italy for that matter. The story is good, but don’t let it spoil the fact that it’s a good beer. You, we, all worry too much. Maybe beer has finally discovered post-modernism (a bit late but hey ho)? Or maybe it’s an echo of the CAMRA thing about breweries such as Greene King buying up the likes of Morland and Hardy & Hanson and brewing it all in Bury, which always seems to get the shock troops of the revolution so steamed up? Maybe we’ve all got an inner CAMRA wiseguy working within us, which will take a few more years to rub out. Appellations are better good — ie Kolsch style. Then on the other hand, beer is an international language, West Country DIPAs, American Lambics, Belgian IPAs, get over it.
    And while I’m on the great gods in the sky over St Albans, they insist Green Jack Ripper is a barley wine while the brewery look eastwards to Belgium…

  2. Can't really agree with that, other than on a superficial level. Place IS important, otherwise it just reduces beer to being an alcoholic drink. Place gives you at least a chance to be part of how it was intended to be or should be, before it disappears into a homogenised present. It gives you the feel for it that can never be replaced by replication. It shows you the beer as it was originally intended, as no matter the bastardisation, the locals will cling to the memory of the original. Join them and you join in that collective consciousness.

    You can drink all the fancy beers you like, where you like, but it just isn't the same as being there and the attitude that it doesn't matter speeds up the day when it all becomes, like biscuits or floor polish, just something, rather than something that means something.

    We may get better beer, because, as Zak says, "It's in the nature of beer that it can be brewed anywhere." It just isn't the same though and deep down we know that.

    I'd rather read about someone's beer hunting experiences abroad than someone's account, no matter how well written, of pissing it up in his kitchen. One has soul, place and authenticity, the other is just drinking beer.

  3. Dunno. Not had any and not had the six pints I had when I wrote that above, which isn't that bad considering.

    If you are coming to NWAF, bring me a bottle and I'll maybe tell you. (-;

  4. Tandleman not going I'm afraid also no bottles left til I get round to doing the next run.

  5. Tandleman, I’m not suggesting that we sit in the kitchen boozing it up and jotting down notes — place is important, but if I am drinking a West Country DIPA and it’s good then I’m not concerned that it’s not from San Diego. I had JJJ in the Canalboat in Nottingham last year and felt at one with it, then have drank it at its spiritual home, the Queens Arms, Corton Denham, in the shadow of a steep rounded hill, not far from King Arthur’s supposed Cadbury hq. These places added to the enjoyment of what I was drinking, and the contemplation of. I recall spending an hour with a pint of Morrell’s long gone Graduate years ago, reflecting on it, contemplating it, sitting outside a country pub in the Somerset Levels, miles away from its gleaming spired home. Biscuits it was not.

  6. I like to think that hunting down the best pints of JJJ and Crown IPA involve trips to Somerset and Sheffield, and that to really appreciate Belgian beers requires a tour of monasteries and B&Bs like the one Adrian wrote about recently.

    That said, there's no way I'm going to penalise a beer simply because I'm drinking it somewhere else, or even at home. And I won't stop enjoying great bottled imports because I'm not in California (although I'd sure like to take California 5 to the pub rather than the A653 Dewsbury Road!)

    I wonder if the inhabitants of British India required their beer to be shipped round the Cape because of heritage and place, or was it simply brewing practicalities (or lack of) in the sub-continent? (re-read of Hops & Glory needed!)

    Place is an interesting for Tetley's at the moment too, with the old brewery set to leave Leeds and that a beer steeped in local culture to be brewed miles away, in what some locals probably consider a foreign land! What does that do to the 'place' of Tetley cask? Different water, different meaning, different beer?

  7. Well we are agreed. There is a place for place. As for Tetley's, I reckon that's a tricky one. I thought of it today as I drove past the brewery.

  8. I had mates in college from Bradford who went on and on about Tetley’s as we drank Greene King back in the late 1970s, and when I went up to Heckmondwike to drink it I thought very nice but…though at the time I was switching over to lagers and whatever I could spend my student grant soon to be dole money on so I hardly think I was a proper witness.

  9. We had a chat the other day in the Drysalters - a food/beer/footy pub not too far from Elland Road where the only cask is Tetley's (of course) - and pondered the irony of the situation were Tetley's to taste better brewed elsewhere. Or would your brain ignore that and ensure that you wouldn't enjoy it as much because you knew it had had to be transported up the M1 to get to you rather than simply down the M621?

  10. Adrian - you're right, of course, but I was just a bit nonplussed to have had such a good West Coast DIPA from a UK brewer. It was great, and gave me everything that I want in that style of beer, but there was just a bit of me that was confused by the mismatch between the beer and the locale of origin. Or maybe I was floored by the greatness of the beer?

    Tandleman - I half agree with you. My point was more about being able to tell where a beer comes from by taste alone, and getting a sense of the history behind it. I enjoy that with a good bottle of beer in my home, or a good draught in the pub or bar here or abroad.

    Stuart - Crown IPA is a great beer that I've thoroughly enjoyed twice now. You're the brewer, you tell me where it fits in. Or save it for the video blog about it.....

    The whole thing about Greene King is a good one, and one that I'll be returning to in the next week or so.

  11. I know where I think it fits. Of course your right wait for the video!


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