Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Dangerously Foreign Practices.

I really tried hard to bite my lip about this whole thing.

I said nothing when I first read it, because I've managed over the years to stop going off the deep end when I read something on the internet that irritates me. The truth is, if you look hard enough, you can find someone saying something ridiculous at any point on the web.

I said nothing when everyone went mental on Twitter about it - I even ignored this tweet from BrewDogBarJonny, sticking the boot into CAMRA (Wandsworth Beer Festival isn't a CAMRA festival). But that's not my battle to fight - if you look long enough on the web, you'll find all manner of lunacy going on. You might even find members of BrewDog's band of merry pirates saying things like "we took the recipe and BrewDogged it". Fine, I think I understand that, and jolly good luck to you. Hope it all works out.

I didn't say anything when the debate took a craft keg dimension over at Hardknott Dave's blog. I've softened my slightly rabid line on the term "craft beer", even occasionally dropping it into conversation in industry company, and watching to see if anyone flinches, or says "AHA! WAIT! YOU SAID CRAFT BEER!". I understand why people get all passionate and aerated about the debate, and sometimes think that if all that passion was channelled into the business of making great beer, and all of the tedious detail that goes along with it like proper cleaning schedules and quality control checks, the beer world would be a more reliable playground (please note: this isn't directed at anyone in particular, just a general observation based on frequently buying - and being being sent - an apparently endless parade of faulty, poorly-conceived or badly made beers, both in bottle and on draught).

But I've finally cracked. This post over at the ever-excellent Boak & Bailey actually had me LOLing and almost ROFLing. This is a great example of what happens when you take too seriously something that is obviously a ludicrous outpouring of ill-informed nonsense from someone with an ill-formed agenda. If I get this right, the thrust of the argument being taken seriously here is that bland beers are being disguised by giving them flavour. This is clearly buffoonery of the highest order. It's like moaning that some cultures disguise fundamentally bland food - chicken, say - by adding garlic, chilli, cumin and ginger to make something that is a betrayal of its source. That argument is, frankly, bollocks.

I'm starting to think that the idea of "good beer" is fundamentally flawed. There is beer that is well made, and beer that is badly made. And there is beer that I like, and beer I don't like. I tend to like well-made beer across a variety of styles. I can tell if a beer is poorly-conceived but well-made. And I can tell a badly-made beer a mile off (with the exception of the output of Cantillon, where I understand that I am in such a minority that my view is probably fundamentally wrong). But I can tell if the spices in a curry are there to disguise poor quality ingredients, or a lack of skill in the kitchen.

The lack of skill rarely resides in the quality of ingredients, but it can be glaringly obvious in how those ingredients are deployed to produce an end result.


  1. Hey, don't accuse us of taking things seriously! *Commences retaliatory internet hate campaign.*

    1. I very clearly say "ever excellent"!

  2. You heard the man, avoid at all costs. Now get some boring brown bitter or mild down you in a dumpy old mans pub and stop necking all that interesting foreign muck out of wine glasses.

  3. I fully agree. These craft beers which are filtered and fizzy and often full-flavoured are following an American model, in that from the onset of the craft beer revival in the U.S., most beer was sold filtered and with added carbonation. Cask dispense was very little used in the first 20 years although you see more of it today. People just preferred the snap and chill of a brewery-conditioned - but crucially unpasteurized (almost invariably) - pint.

    Why? Probably because before 1977, the light American lager style was served that way. It wasn't an attempt to make real ale more appealing since there was no real ale (cask) in America before about 1980. As for taste, many of those beers were and are all-malt and used hops in quantities similar to what a lot of British beer used in the 1800's. That side of the question is simply old English practice revived excepting that where Cascade hops and its analogues were used that was new since Cascade only was released in about 1972 and is a "new" hop taste. IMO, American Pale Ale or American IPA is not super-hoppy at all by comparison not just to 1800's English IPA but even surviving English bitters like Holt's and Young's. Rather, it is offering a new hop bouquet and so seems "hoppy" only in that light.

    I am a staunch admirer of cask beer well-served and made to traditional methods, and it is probably better than any keg equivalent but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of great keg beer. By the way many people don't like the yeasty snap of some cask ale especially cask ale that is not well-fined - I'd take a good keg beer over that option any day.


  4. Mmmm - but heavily hopped all-malt beers in Britain in the 1800s were aged MASSIVELY longer than American IPAs are (or indeed should be) and were certainly NOT about fresh hop flavours. Note I'm not knocking fresh hop flavours at all: I greatly enjoy a good DIPA. But they ain't nothing like any beer drunk in the 19th century, that I'm pretty sure of.

  5. But lengthy aging for pale ale dropped off considerable as the century moved on except for some export-type beer. And there was plenty of strong mild ale with lotsa hops - unaged - that can be equated to DIPAs - mostly unaged. Fresh hop flavour was certainly present in many Victorian beers due to dry-hopping which was recommended in many manuals. To me the main thing that is different is the citric Cascade taste, there seems no precedent for it in the produce of English soils.


  6. I have to say what you say about beer in your penultimate paragraph chimes very much with my own views. "Is it well made?" and "Do I like it?" are perhaps the key questions for me.

    As you say the stuff in the (non-CAMRA) Festival programme is hilarious tosh. All grit to the mill though for anti-CAMRA ranters like "BrewDogBarJonny" who has form here in any event (and as such can safely be disregarded as a sensible commentator).

  7. Im just shocked you used LOLing and ROLFing in a blog post...

  8. The irony is that there WAS a craft keg on the bar at this festival (Rocky Head - a new Wandsworth Brewery). The (non-Camra)festival itself is excellent - with a a large number of local (and therefore very new) breweries featured. The programme editorial comment (rant)was completely out of keeping and, I guess, mostly not read or ignored by most people there


Sorry about the word verification - the blog was getting spammed to bits.