Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More 'Innovative' Shit

Checking through my Facebook news feed this morning, I came across a story on All About Beer concerning Stone Brewing's latest 'innovative' offering as part of their Stochasticity Project, an 8.8% Imperial Golden Stout.

My immediate thought was 'great, more marketing driven bullshit', though perhaps not for the reasons you think.

I have no problem with the concept of a golden stout, for the simple reason that my understanding of beer and its history stretches back beyond the 1970s and the 'craft beer revolution'. You see, the word 'stout' as pertains to beer originally meant 'strong', it didn't necessary mean 'dark, Irish, with nasty nitro cream head'. As such, you could drink stout ales that were pale in the 17th Century, and while they may not have been as pale as we understand them, they were sufficiently pale so as not to be dark.

I noticed in some of the comments on the Facebook post a claim that the term 'imperial stout' was itself a tautology, and again I lament to myself that the word 'imperial', much like the word 'India', has been co-opted to mean something that it didn't originally mean in the context of beer. Imperial stout was those strong dark beers shipped to the Russian Imperial court by English brewers, imperial didn't mean 'strong', stout did.

On the All About Beer story itself, is the following line, which is the one that really got my goat:
One of the great things about American brewers is their willingness to experiment. This is a perfect example of that ingenuity and determination.
A more accurate version of that would be:
One of the great things about American brewers is their willingness to take old forgotten styles, tweak slightly, and flog at a premium price. This is a perfect example of that.
Sure it might be a tasty beer, but let's not imagine that it is actually innovative, or anything new, or that adding cocoa and coffee to a strong pale ale makes it in any way a stout as we understand them today.

If you want a proper Stout Pale Ale, you should try Durham Brewery's White Stout, which I drank in the UK over the summer, it was delicious.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Crafting A Double Standard

In a piece of news strangely reminiscent of last week's, Green Flash Brewing have purchased a small brewery called Alpine Beer.

The press release punches all the right buzz phrase necessities, respecting culture, values, integrity of the beer, blah, blah, blah.

What we have here is a successful business buying another successful business because they think it will benefit their business.

Thus has it ever been, thus will it ever be.

The reaction though among the beer drinking and commenting masses? Crickets, other than a few comments about looking forward to being able to get Alpine Beer outside their heartland market.

Now, if someone could explain to me the difference, in anything other than scale, between Green Flash's purchase of Alpine and A-B's buying out 10 Barrel, or even Duvel Moortgat buying Boulevard Brewing, without resorting to stock in craft trade phraseology (you know the kind of thing, they are buying it because they are passionate about beer, or some such vacuous tripe), I would be seriously impressed.

What we are now seeing is the consolidation of the brewing market, as Big Craft cherry pick small breweries, and industrial scale brewers do likewise with regional brewers. As such, can we please get past the romantic notions and simply accept that the brewing business is exactly that, a business, and businesses will do what is best for them to survive and thrive.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Session 93 - Of Trips and Travels


One of my rare incursions into the world of The Session today, this month hosted by The Roaming Pint, on the theme of beer tourism.

If you take a quick look at my label list, down there to the bottom of this page, you'll notice that 'trips' is the 7th most commonly used on Fuggled, totalling 52 posts, well 53 now I guess. It would therefore be thoroughly reasonable to assume that I go on plenty of 'beer trips'. However, looks can be deceiving, and deceived you would be if you thought that beer trips were something I engage in regularly. I simply do not travel for beer. Heck, I don't even go pubs in Charlottesville just because they happen to have the latest, greatest, imperial black IPA randalised on gorilla snot.

A dig into those other 52 posts would reveal stories about the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, parts of the Czech Republic, and other places that escape my recall at the moment. Practically none of those trips were taken with beer as the driving factor.


Mrs V and I went to Ireland in 2008 because I had always wanted to visit the country, and Mrs V is good friends with Tale of the Ale Reuben's wife (this trip was in his pre-Tale days). We drank excellent beers, in excellent pubs, but beer wasn't the aim of the trip. There are still some of my friends who find it inconceivable that we didn't go to St James' Gate while in Dublin.

When Mrs V and I travel it is to discover a place, and yes that often involves pubs and beer, but they are not the focus. I can't think of any brewery I am interested in visiting, when you work in one and give tours of the stainless steel, you get to point where a mash tun is a mash tun, and a kettle a kettle. Meeting the people that make the beer is a different question altogether, I would love to meet the guys at Kout for example.


Next year Mrs V and I are hoping to get to Prague for the Christmas holidays, which nicely coincides with my turning some daft age. I look forward to sitting around tables in pubs with my friends, the likes of Evan, Max, and Rob, and drinking lots of good local beer. But one thing that will be very unlikely is my having a session on a Czech made American style IPA, simply because I can have that style of beer any time I want, and what is the point of travelling across the globe to drink the stuff I can find in my own back yard? One thing for sure though, that first mouthful of proper Czech pale lager will be worth the cost of the air tickets alone.

Travel for beer? Nah, never going to happen. Enjoying local beer on my travels, yup, all the time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Revolution Will Be Purchased

According to news coming out of the Pacific Northwest, Bend's 10 Barrel Brewing has been purchased by Anheuser-Busch.

Now, don't worry, this won't be some hand wringing diatribe on a brewery selling out to the evil corporations. Neither yet is it a lament about another well respected, award winning, brewery going from craft to crafty in the ledgers of the Brewers Association. You see, it really isn't all that important, unless of course you buy into the faux-revolutionary bollocks which is much of craft beer marketing. What we have here is a very successful business buying another successful business because they think it will benefit their business.

Thus has it ever been, and thus will it ever be.

A couple of things though that stood out to me in the press release included the following statement from the CEO, Craft, at Anheuser-Busch, who said:
"10 Barrel, its brewers, and their high-quality beers are an exciting addition to our high-end portfolio"
In that one sentence you have the perception of much of the 'craft beer world', upmarket, high-end, aspirational.

The other was 10 Barrel being excited to benefit from the 'operational and distribution expertise of Anheuser-Busch'. Essentially saying that they are looking forward benefitting from AB's expertise in quality control processes and getting consistently quality beer into the hands of drinkers, which can only be good for drinkers in the long run.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Session Fizz

When I was home in the summer I drank almost exclusively cask conditioned ales, as well as a fair few bottled conditioned ales. If I recall correctly, I may have had fewer non-real ales than I have digits on my hands. I am utterly biased I admit, but cask conditioned ale is, for me, one of the heights of the brewer's, and cellarman's, craft.


When we landed back in Philadelphia after our holiday, we grabbed a couple of seats at a bar and ordered food and beer. My beer was Yard's Philadelphia Pale Ale, a beer that I actually quite enjoy, but after 3 weeks of Happy Chappy, Skye Black, and Kelburn Dark Moor, it was just too fizzy for me.


On Sunday afternoon some friends of mine came into the bar at Starr Hill, having just returned from a few weeks touring round the south of England. Taking in the delights of London, the New Forest, and the Cotswolds, and reveling in the pleasures of....cask conditioned ales in the pub. As we chatted, my friend commented on how much more beer she drank while in the UK than she would normally, and while part of that is likely to have been a result of the lower gravity of many of the beers, she also said that the lack of excessive fizz meant she didn't feel bloated after a few pints, which got me wondering about session beer.


I love session beers, as pretty much anyone that knows me will tell you. I can think of no better way to while away several hours than being sat in the pub, drinking low alcohol, flavoursome beers. For me though, a session starts after the fourth pint, which can be tricky when the beer is north of 6% and much fizzier than something properly cask conditioned, and no, putting still fermenting beer in a firkin with a slew of weird shit doesn't count, you could call it 'casky' in juxtaposition to the real thing.


My thought then is this, are cask conditioned ales more conducive a session, because they don't fill you up with excessive CO2 to burp and fart out along the way? Perhaps an extra, admittedly optional, criteria is required for the definition of session beer? Less fizzy than standard beers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Hand Made Tale

One of the most common marketing memes amongst brewing companies is that their beers are 'handmade', 'handcrafted', 'made by hand', or some such term, often phrased in juxtaposition to something along the lines of 'not by machines'. This zythophilic ludditism plays very well with people looking for a more 'authentic' or even folksy view of beer, but it really doesn't fit very well with the everyday realities of working life in many a brewery.

Beer is, by its very nature, an industrial product, something that would never occur in nature, and the processes that go into making your pint, whether that pint comes from SABMiller or your local microbrewery, are heavily mechanised.


Let's start at the beginning. The mill, which crushes the malt so that the sugars and enzymes can do their thing in the mash tun, is a machine. I don't know of any brewery, regardless of size, out there that has its brewers use a pestle and mortar to crush their malt. Perhaps there are nanobreweries using the hand cranked barley crushers that many a homebrewer would use, but they still just hand cranking a machine.

Let's head then to the mash tun, where the grain will sit in warm water while alpha and beta amalayse do their thing to the starches in the grain. Here again machines come to the aid of the brewer in the form of mash rakes, which admittedly not all brewers have the luxury of. With mashing done, it's time to lauter and sparge the grains, pumping more water over the grains to extract more wort from the mash, pumps being machines.


I think you see my point, and I don't need to go through the entire brewing process pointing out where mechanisation is part and parcel of modern brewing. Ultimately the use of machines is an every day reality is the vast majority of breweries. Sure some may have more advanced systems involving hop chargers to automatically dose the boiling wort, but these tools don't impact whether or not the beer is actually worth drinking.

If transparency is really all that important in beer marketing then there are plenty in the craft segment of the industry whose marketing is guilty of deceiving the consumer. Claims that their beer is 'handmade/handcrafted' ring hollow when the truth is they use many of the same machines and technologies as industrial scale breweries.

I don't believe that the use of machines in a brewery impacts the flavour of a beer as much as the choice of ingredients, recipe, quality control processes, or the skill of the brewers themselves, but they do make a lovely straw man as a replacement for faceless corporations.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Homebrew for Hunger

Once again this year, our local homebrew shop, Fifth Season, is hosting a charity event called Homebrew for Hunger, which raises money for our local food bank. This year's event will be bigger than last year's, with 40 local homebrewers participating, as well as several of the local breweries.


Along with a healthy clutch of brewers from the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale, I'll be pouring a couple of my beers.
  • Genius 1883
  • Red Coat East India Porter
Genius 1883 is basically the recipe for Guinness Extra Stout that is in Ron Pattinson's magnificent book of historical recipes scaled for homebrewers. My version ended up being 7.5% abv, a deep inky black (obviously), and if the sample was anything to go by dangerously moreish, I think I will have to brew this one again for my own consumption over the winter.

Red Coat East India Porter is a variation on a beer I brewed a few years ago, just when Black IPA was starting to become all the rage. Basically it was a snarky project where I took the grain bill from Widmer's W-10, as it appeared in Brew Your Own magazine, and ditched the American hops for British ones to get the same numbers of IBUs at each addition. I then entered said beer in a homebrew competition and it took gold in the robust porter category, scoring 42/50 in the process. This time the hops are slightly different, gone is the Admiral, and in come Fuggles and First Gold, to play with the East Kent Goldings. This beer is a bit lighter than the Genius 1883 at 7.3%, but is just as dark. In terms of calculated IBUs it sits at around 67, and most of the hop flavour and aroma will be coming from the First Gold and Goldings.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a slew of brewers from CAMRA taking part including Jamey with a couple of variants of his Foreign Extra Stout and Kölsch available. Tom will be there with a chocolate milk stout, Patrick with a cocoa, chipotle milk stout and Double IPA, and Noelle, who brewed the fabulous Raucous IPA, with a breakfast stout and an IPA, as well as several other brewers, and the club's resident cidermaker, Kevin.

As you can see from the banner above, the even takes place on Sunday October 26th, and runs from 1pm to 5pm. Tickets are still available either online or at the shop itself. So, if you're in the Charlottesville area that Sunday, I would encourage you to come along, support the food bank, and drink some good homebrew beer!