Saturday 31 May 2008

Did Porter become Mild?

One final post for Mild month. Some writers maintain that, rather than disappearing, Porter was transformed into Dark Mild. Is this true? Is there any evidence to support the theory?

I'll lay my cards on the table at the start. The theory is bollocks. OK, I guess you'll need a little more than just that simple assertion to convince you. Here goes.

What did "mild" mean?
In the 19th century "mild" meant young or unaged. It was used in subtly different ways and I believe this is responsible for some of the confusion over the relationship between Mild Ale and Porter.

In 19th century texts "mild" is used in two different senses. The first is to refer to a specific type of beer, Mild Ale. The second is to just young beer in general. So if you read a sentence like "Most of the new trade is for mild." it doesn't mean specifically Mild Ale was the greater part of new trade, but young beer. It's an important distinction.

Towards the middle of the 19th century there was a switch in public taste away from Entire (aged Porter) to Ale and mild. Not necessarily to Mild Ale. Increasingly, Porter was sold mild, that is unaged. Simultaneously Ale was becoming more popular. Specifically X-Ales. These were usually sold young as Mild Ales, though Old Ale existed, too.

Did Porter and Mild merge?
I can say this with certainty: not in the London brewers' logs I've looked at.

Let's look at Barclay Perkins. For a couple of decades at the beginning of the 1800's they only brewed Porter and Stout. No Ales of any description. Around 1850-ish they reintroduced Ales and built a new brewhouse to produce them. The brewery was divided into "Porter side" and "Ale side". They operated independently of each other and had separate brewing logs. It's hard to imagine a greater distinction than that between their Mild Ale and Porter.

For reasons I've still not worked out, Barclay Perkin's Porter was always called TT within the brewery. Their Mild Ales had the inspiring names of X, XX and XXX. My last sighting of TT in their logs was in 1937, when it was a poor shadow of it's former self with an on OG of just 1027. In that same year, they were brewing two Mild Ales, X and XX at 1035 and 1043 respectively. I can see no merging there.

What about the grists? In the 19th century the Barclay Perkins Milds were 100% pale malt. Their Porter was pale malt, brown malt and black malt. Not much similarity there. As their X Ale grew darker it started to include amber malt, dark sugar and caramel. But no brown malt (with the exception of during WW I), the defining element of London Porter. These are the malts used in the late 1930's:

Porter: Oats, amber malt, brown malt, crystal malt, roast barley, mild malt.
X: Amber malt, crystal malt, mild malt, pale malt.

To conclude
Dark Mild and Porter existed alongside each other for decades and were brewed from very different grists. I think that torpedoes the Porter becomes Dark Mild theory and send it to a watery grave. (Which is coincidentally what Porter had, a watery end.)

My first taste of Belgium

Me and my brother used to volunteer to work at the GBBF every year, when it was held in Alexandra Palace. For those of you born later than 1960, I'll tell you that was in the late 1970's. It was my summer holiday.

It was hard work, but great fun. Being voluntary, the pay was zero, but they fed you, let you drink just about as much beer as you wanted and gave you a bed. I say bed, some years it was just a space on the stage in the hall itself.

We did the whole week. The first couple of days was setting up. Building the scoffolding for the bars and rolling the barrels into place. A day of hard physical work, rounded of with a couple of hours boozing.

When the festival opened to the public, the first few sessions weren't too bad. Friday and Saturday were something else. They'd be three or four deep around the bar. It was often hard to remember when you came back with the drinks who had ordered them. One of the reasons I've never considered running a pub is the huge amount of work. Serving at the festival gave me a good idea of just what hard graft it is. For a week, it's fun. Fifty-two weeks a year would be a living hell. I have nothing but admiration for landlords and their staff. That's why I try to be polite, patient and helpful (I always take my empty glass back to the bar).

During opening hours, each of the bars had a nominated "staff beer". This was free for all volunteers. You didn't have to limit yourself to the bar you were working at, you could fetch a staff beer from any bar. After the public had been kicked and the place tidied up, there'd be a staff session at one of the bars and you could have any beer you wanted from that bar.

After the final session, everything was staff beer. That's how I came to have my first taste of Belgium. This is long before the days of a whole foreign beer bar at the GBBF. But they did sometimes have a couple of foreign beers. One year they had Lambiek and Faro in little plastic containers. It had been quite expensive, so I hadn't tried it while the festival was on. I headed straight for it was the festival was over. Great - there was still some left. One of the staff from the bar was still there and he poured me a half of Lambiek. I took a sip. "Euuugh. It's off." "No, it's supposed to taste like that." "Surely not. It's sour." "I know, horrible, isn't it?" My first Belgian beer and I couldn't finish it. I threw most of it away.

I had some great times at Ally Pally. Even the year when it burned down a few weeks before the festival was due to start and it was held in tents in the grounds. If you're good, I may one day tell you of the special version of "I'm forever blowing bubbles" we sang one year. Perhaps.

Friday 30 May 2008

The DDR with Matt

I first visited the DDR in, I believe, 1984 [11.04.1984 according to the visa stamp]. With Matt. We'd forgotten about the unsavoury incident in St Sebastian station (the closest I've come to a fight in my adult life) and were travelling together again.

The trip was quite complicated. We first went by train to Prague and then continued on to Dresden and Leipzig. I'd already visited Prague and had a good idea what to expect there. The DDR was virgin territory.

It was no surprise to discover that much of Dresden city centre had been rebuilt after the war. War criminal Bomber Harris's fault. The firebombing of Dresden was one of the most senseless and inexcusable acts of the British military during WW II. Harris deserved to be in the dock with Göring in Nuremberg. We were staying in an Interhotel on the main drag, a street almost as soulless as the centre of Frankfurt. It was a tall, concrete box with all the charm of Swindon bus station.

Our first task was to find somewhere to have a drink. I didn't expect it to be quite as a difficult as it turned out. My only experience with the Eastern block was Prague. Finding a pub in Prague (or anywhere else in Czechoslovakia) wasn't exactly a challenge. They were on almost every street corner. Dresden was very different. Perhaps the chief planner had been a teetotaller. There seemed to be zero pubs. We resorted to asking passersby "Wo ist eine Kneipe?". We got plenty of weird looks, but no directions.

Eventually we found somewhere promising: a large cellar beerhall. We had to stand and wait in a queue at the entrance because, in typical DDR fashion, there were no free seats. There were plenty of empty seats, but they were all at tables decorated with a "reserved" sign. They hadn't been reserved, of course. These were just the tables the staff couldn't be arsed to serve. Matt insisted on going straight to the bogs for a shit. While he was doing his unspeakable business, some people who had come in after us were given seats. When Matt finally emerged we had a good deal more waiting to do.

It looked very promising. I could see them serving a lovely-looking dark lager. Brilliant. I was staring to get a real thirst. That first pint was going to be so sweet. After quite a bit more waiting, we were shown to a table. My order was easy: "Zwei Bier, bitte". "What do you want, Matt?" (I could have said "Do you want a beer, Matt?" Despite knowing him for more than 30 years, I still find that funny.) My joy was short-lived. The waiter informed us that they stopped serving beer at 14:00. It was 14:05. Triple bugger.

Rather ungallantly, I blamed Matt and his shit for missing out on a memorable beer experience. Come to think of it, my resentment is still simmering just below the surface. Why else would I remember the incident so well after all this time?

More frustrating exploration confirmed the city centre as a disaster zone, pub-wise. Time for plan B. We decided to try the outskirts. Jumping on the first tram we saw, we frantically scanned the passing streets for a boozer. "Gaststätte - that means pub, doesn't it?" We jumped off and took a closer look. It certainly looked like a pub from the outside. We entered. It looked like a pub inside, too. It wasn't even that crowded. (Getting a seat immediately in a DDR pub was a rare event.) A half-litre of a beer-like substance was soon sitting on the table in front of me. I relaxed for the first time that day.

That evening, we took the easy option and drank in the hotel bar. Bottled Pilsner Urquell or Wernesgrüner. After one of the latter, I stuck with the Czech beer. Wernesgrüner never impressed me, even though it was supposedly better-quality than most other DDR beers. I always preferred either Thüringian beer - Mühlhausener Pilsator was a great beer - or Berlin beer. Sternquell in Plauen brewed a good Pilsator, too. (Pilsator was a style specific to the DDR. Brewed from better quality ingredients than the standard Pils and actually - unlike 99.99999% of Pilsners - quite similar to Pilsner Urquell in flavour profile.

Type OG FG app. attenuation
ABW hop gm/hlcolour EBC CO2

Deutsches Pilsator 12.5° -13.3° 2.75° (max) min. 78% 3.8 - 4.5% 300 max 12.2 0.40%

[At this point, in my speedily-written original (no time to check anything too technical) it said ******* ADD SOME TECHNICAL STUFF ABOUT PILSATOR. *********. The table above is that information. The columns don't line up. I know that. I'm not stupid. But to fix it would take too long. The kids want psycho slasher game. It shouldn't be too much of a challenge to your intelligence to work it out. A pencil and paper should suffice.]

The next day we tried our luck across the Elbe in Dresden-Neustadt. This part of town mostly survived the war. It wasn't much more heavily-pubbed than the other side of the river. We did, however, find a kiosk with a few outdoor standing tables clustered around it. Here we drank bottled beer and looked out over the Elbe. I'll tell you what reminds me of it very much. Have you ever seen Tatort? The episodes set In Cologne feature a similar kiosk with a view over the Rhine to the Dom. The two detectives go there and drink Kölsch a several times every episode. Sadly, it isn't real. The kiosk is only there for filming. Shame. I wonder what happened to the one in Dresden?

After two nights in Dresden, we took the train to Leipzig, hoping it would be better for pubs. Well, I was hoping that. Who knows what goes on in Matt's mind. I gave up wondering about that years ago. We were staying in another charmless Interhotel. That must have been their mission statement: to provide non-socialist foreigners with adequate acomodation in an ugly building at a slightly unreasonable price.

Leipzig wasn't quite as severely rearranged by the RAF as Dresden, though there were still plenty of ugly holes in the city centre. My mind is a strange place. I couldn't tell you what I ate for breakfast the day before yesterday, yet I could lead you to the Leipzig pubs we drank in. At least their locations. I don't think they're all still pubs.

The first place was a pub/restaurant behind the Town Hall. As usual, we had to queue for a seat. We'd been travelling for 6 or 7 days by then and Matt's conversation was even more sparse than usual. So I started reading the book I'd brought with me. After about three pages the waitress came past, spotted my book and told me to stop reading. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe she'd been taught as a child that it was impolite to read at the dining table. Or perhaps whe was just being weird. Or power-crazed. You didn't argue with the staff in Eastern Europe if you wanted to drink another beer sometime in the next week. I put my book away.

The next day, we stumbled on a pub not far from the station. "Since 1982" a sign proudly proclaimed. See, things were getting better. Once we'd got our beers, Matt decided he wanted to buy a momento of the DDR and disappeared into the department store opposite. I wish I could remember what he bought. It was bound to have been something weird, pointless, tacky or all three. I was happy enough just having a seat and a beer. No way I was going to move, short of nuclear war.

That was it for my first visit to the DDR. I've returned to Leipzig several times, but never to Dresden. Surely there must be more pubs there now? (This pub guide seems to confirm that. I hope the author knows what he's talking about.)

Gordon Ramsay brews

It's a major event when beer makes it onto TV in Britain. Unless it's lager being swilled by tattooed hooligans. So I was intrigued when Gordon Ramsay announced on his f word programme this week that he was going to brew his own beer.

First he had to decide what would go best with the meal it was meant to accompany. There he was, in a pub with a beer and food matching expert and a row of bottles. I was pathetically excited when I spotted Cooper's Sparkling Ale amongst them. Maybe this wasn't going to be as crap as I feared. I was soon disinvested of my illusions.

After the first sip of the first beer he said: "I want something something that doesn't have a strong aftertaste. You can't eat with a bitter taste in your mouth." Timothy Taylor's Landlord he virtually spat out. Anchor Steam - "Initially it's nice, creamy, light. But then there's an aftertaste". He liked Meantime IPA more, but complained of the aftertaste. When he drank Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, it looked like he'd been poisoned. He nearly vomited. Finally he found one he liked. Even before he'd given his opinion, I'd said to Andrew: "I bet he likes this one. It's the worst beer he's tried." Sure enough, he loved the Innis & Gunn barrel-aged bollocks "brewed in Scotland" as he said. Is it brewed in Scotland? Aren't they a bit coy about where the brewing takes place? "This one has no aftertaste." he said triumphantly "It's perfect."

It sounded very much like what the purveyors of macro-swill say "Our beer has no nasty aftertaste." When what they mean is "Our beer has no beer flavour." Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the whole point of quality drinks was to have an aftertaste. That's one way of judging the quality of a wine, the length of the aftertaste.

He decided then and there that he wanted to brew a beer like Innis & Gunn. Or did he? The speed and ease with which he arranged to have someone from the "brewery" come and help him brew in his back garden is suspicious [I now realise the brewer in question wasn't from Innis & Gunn, but the owner of the brewing kit]. Had he already decided he wanted to make a barrel-aged beer before the tasting?

To be fair, he did brew it properly and used whole hops. He had a Bourbon barrel on hand, too. But what signal is it sending out when a renowned chef effectively says that a bitter aftertaste in beer is a fault and disqualifies it from accompanying a meal?

To see who everyone was involved in the project, look at Tandleman's post.

Thursday 29 May 2008

Belgian beer

You want to hear something funny? Even though I drink it all the time, I'm remarkably ignorant about Belgian beer. Why is this? I'm not totally sure.

Look at my almost-comprehensive European Beer Guide. Can you see which major brewing nations aren't covered? I'll give you a few minutes to take a look.

In the meantime, I'll continue. The answer will follow shortly.

When a conversation gets heavy about Belgian styles I try to keep my mouth shut. You can't be an expert on everything (or anything, in many cases). Knowing the limits of your expertise is particularly important if you're a smart-arse know-it-all like me. Exposing your ignorance on one topic tends to devalue your opinion on all others. So when the topic of "What's the origin of Dubbel and Tripel?" comes up, I keep shtum. Oud Bruin? Not the foggiest. It appears to be pretty ancient, but appearances can be deceptive. I've not seen the name crop up in the medieval/renaissance period. There it's all Keut (however you spell it), Jopen and the like.

Britain and Belgium. That's the answer to the question above. The only part of the UK I cover is Northern Ireland. For Belgium I just have a short Antwerp pub guide and a very incomplete brewery guide. The brewery guide is really there to complement my Dutch pub guide pages. So many draught beers in Dutch pubs are from Belgium that it really was necessary.

Why haven't I bothered with those two countries? Because I didn't need to. Someone else had already done the work for me. I'm sure I'm boring you with this, but I'll say it again in case there are any newcomers. My website has been created for my own convenience. The UK is so well covered by The Good Beer guide that, living outside the country, I could never hope to come anywhere near matching it. And the GBG fulfills my needs when visiting Britain. The same is true for Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide to Belgium. I see no point in producing an inferior version of his work.

Because I've never needed to research it, I lack decent sources about Belgian beer. I've no old brewing manuals, with the exception of a handful of magazines. No archive documents. Nothing. Just Michael Jackson's "Great beers of Belgium". Not much point lecturing you on the basis of that.

St. Bernardus Abt. That's the Belgian beer I drink most. Very few others, truth be told. La Chouffe sometimes when I'm out. Westmalle Tripel in pubs with a very limited choice. Not very adventurous, am I? Adventures - they're for kids and pirates. And spacemen. I'm keeping my feet on the ground.

So if I start pontificating about Belgian beer, remind me I don't know what the feck I'm talking about.

Encounters with foreign beer

Map by Andrew.

When I was a young man, you didn't see foreign beer in Britain. Apart from the odd dull lager, but even those with Germanic names were usually brewed in the UK.

I'd read of Belgian beer in Michael Jackson. It sounded very exotic and different. When would I ever get to taste it? I suppose when I finally visited Belgium.

After finishing university my mate Pete and his American girlfriend Justine went to live in Bordeaux. I was still living in Leeds working at the WYPTE garage on Kirkstall Road. It's where they repaired and refurbished buses. My role was vital - sweeping up the crap the craftsmen made and brewing tea. It was a former tram garage and there were still tracks inside the building. After getting paid on a Friday everyone used to go over the road to the Highland Laddie (Cavendish Street, Leeds LS3 1LY) for a couple of pints. It was a cosy, odd-shaped pub, hidden away next to the RSPCA kennels. My workmates were quite shocked at how quickly I knocked back the Tetley's Mild in our half hour dinner break.

I had a temporary contract for just three months. Matt suggested that when I'd finished, we went out to France to stay with Pete. It was a very vague plan. Very much like Matt. I think he'd been living back in Sevenoaks with his parents. Job finished, I left Leeds for Balderton to wait at Mum's for my tax refund to turn up. Then we'd be off.

View Larger Map
Map by Andrew.
It didn't quite work out like that. My tax refund still hadn't turned up after a few weeks. Matt proposed that we leave anyway, using his money. I didn't need asking twice.

This was early 1979. I'd never left Britain. Getting the boat train to Paris was pretty exciting. The plan was simple: a couple of days looking around Paris then hitch down to Bordeaux. Some of it worked out.

We stayed in a hostel. I've no idea where, but it was reasonably central. It was good enough for us. We were used to student houses. Not exactly posh residences. As soon as we got out of Gare du Nord, I'd noticed brewery signs on cafés: Kanterbrau, Mutzig, Jupiler. Jupiler? wasn't that Belgian? This was thrilling - foreign pubs with genuine foreign beer. I was eager to get into one.

I didn't have to wait too long. We were soon inside a pub close to the hostel. It was a fairly typical Parisian café, with a zinc bar counter and tall, delicately curved fonts. Jupiler Pils was on draught. Just that. I'd actually heard of it and knew it was brewed in Belgium. "Bound to be good" I thought. We ordered two. Well I probably did. What with my A-level French and all. Matt didn't speak any foreign language at the time. He didn't even speak that much English. There were often long silences in his conversation, gaps that I gladly filled. Maybe that's why we got on.

There it was in front of me. My first glass of Belgian beer*. Jupiler Pils. I really didn't know what to expect, though I understood it was a rather prosaic example of Belgian brewing. I took a sip.

At this point, it's very tempting to invent, or reinvent, history. To tell you this or that about my first taste of Jupuiler. It was almost 30 years ago. Many of you (I'm looking at you Stonch) haven't even lived that long. I can't remember how it tasted or what I thought about it. (Now I think about it, that makes for a rather dull story, doesn't it? Should I think up something more exciting for you, or stick with the boring old truth? I've always thought that an interesting lie trumps a boring truth any day of the week.)

It can't have impressed me that much, because I remember asking what other beer they sold. They had just one other: Pelforth Brune. That'll do. Something dark. Sweet, but sort of OK. I tried mixing it with Jupiler, too. That sort of implies I wasn't that enthusiastic about the Jupiler. At least I hope so. I would hate to have enjoyed it.

After those first few beers, we didn't drink much more beer in Paris. Cafés were far too expensive for our modest budget. The cheapest plonk from a supermarket became our drink of first resort (second and third, too).

So far, so good. Now for the hitchhiking part. We took the metro to the outskirts of Paris and stood by the side of the road. We did quite a bit of standing with our thumbs out. Some walking, too. Then some more standing. It didn't go great. Eventually we did get a lift. But nothing like as far as we had hoped. Bordeaux is a long way from Paris. By late afternoon, it was clear that we weren't going to make it. We gave up and took a train.

It was late evening when we arrived in Bordeaux. The station isn't very central and Pete was living in an old part of town, just off Cours Victor Hugo. It was a fair walk. When we knocked on his door, it was even later.

Something Matt and I hadn't done before leaving was to tell Pete we were coming. He was pretty surprised to open his door and find us there. I'm not 100% sure it was a pleasant surprise. Not more than 70% pleasant, at most. With hindsight, his reaction was predictable. But in them days, I didn't used to think very far ahead.

Pete's flat was small, just two rooms. Far too small for four people. If Pete had been less than 100% welcoming, Justine was openly hostile. What a socially aware being would expect. Just a shame Matt and I were trainee sociopaths. But we were in luck.

An English friend of Pete's was in the process of moving. He'd moved out of his old flat but still had a little of the lease left to run. Me and Matt could use that. It was on the top floor of an old stone house, right in the centre of Bordeaux, on Rue du Pas St. George. There wasn't much in it apart from the kitchen. That didn't matter. We weren't used to luxury. There was a record player and a set of Sex Pistols singles. What else did we need?

We had somewhere to live, now we just needed a source of income. Matt's money was running out and there was still no sign of my tax refund. Pete did something at the university. I can't remember what. It was through him that Matt and I were able to get a few English conversation classes for mature students.

The lunches were the best. Students on intensive courses weren't even given a rest during lunch. A few native English-speakers were taken along to make sure they didn't revert to speaking French over their meal. This really was money for old rope. We got a few francs and a free meal with wine. All we had to do was speak English. On reflection, it's one of the better jobs I've had. It was no effort and I could get half-cut while doing it. Getting more than my fair share of wine was easy. The students were being worked so hard, they didn't dare drink more than a glass. Me and Matt always polished off whatever wine they left on the table.

A proper meal was a welcome relief. Our normal diet consisted of bread, potatoes, onions and cheap red wine. If we were feeling really rich, we'd buy a sausage and share it. Sometimes we'd have beer. Kanterbrau or something equally cheap in a litre screwtop bottle. Not particularly inspiring and worse value for money than plonk wine. We borrowed English-language books from the university and sat reading and drinking wine for most of the day. It was much like being a student, except with far less money.

Pete lent us his camera to take some snaps of the stunning view from our borrowed flat. After takin a couple of naps, Matt suggested we photograph each other naked, to give Pete a shock when he developed the film. They were very tasteful. I wonder whatever happened to them? (I have almost no photos of myself before the age of 30. Pete took a few at university and in Bordeaux. Maybe I should ask if he still has them.)

We often shopped at the Prisunic supermarket on Cours Alsace-Lorraine. I say shopped. We didn't buy a great deal. We did a lot more drooling at products that we couldn't afford. Like beer. Prisunic had a surprisingly good beer selection. It included a French beer Michael Jackson had mentioned, Jenlain, and some Belgians. Chimay Blue and Gouden Carolus were amongst the latter.

When my tax refund finally arrived, we went crazy apeshit. A whole packet of sausages and a bottle of Gouden Carolus. I didn't know what to make of it. This sudden intake of protein. The Gouden Carolus was difficult to fathom, too. Not quite like anything I'd had before. Spicily fruity in a way British beer just wasn't. There's was nothing I could compare it to. We got a bottle of Jenlain as well. That fitted into my mental framework of beers much better. Not that dissimialr from the beers back home.

Bordeaux was way in advance of Britain when it came to Belgian beer. In addition to Prisunic, there was also a café selling a dozen or so Belgian beers. Not that I ever drank in there. It was way too expensive. Two beers would have blown half my week's budget.

Feeling flush with my tax money, Matt and I decided to hitch to Spain for a few days. It's not that far from Bordeaux, after all. The first day didn't go too badly. We had one decent lift and got as far as Toulouse. It's a city I'd love to revisit. With it's red-tiled roofs it looked completely different to Bordeaux. We stayed in a hostel and were in pretty good spirits the next day. Onwards to Spain.

It didn't work out as well as we'd hoped. We made bugger all progress and ended up in some little town in the middle of nowhere pretty damn late. There was nowhere for us to stay. Brilliant. What the hell were we going to do? Somehow - don't ask me how - we stumbled across a half-built house and dossed down in that. Definitely better than being without shelter, but not great. Would we be woken by angry builders at 6 A.M.? We were too knackered to care.

Either the builders started unusually late or they'd left this job unfinished while they worked elsewhere (judging by Matt's later experiences in France, a distinct possibility). Our sleep was undisturbed. But our attempts at hitching were no more successful. We decided to take the train the rest of the way to Barcelona.

*I've just remembered that I had tried Belgian beer once before. But that story will be in another post.

Map by Andrew.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

I have a dream

I'm always dreaming. The other night, it was that the floor had collapsed under the weight of my beer books. Not beyond imagination, certainly. But it's not that sort of dream I'm talking about. A future aspiration. That type of dream, I mean.

It's a modest dream. Not demanding at all. I dream that one day every pub will sell one decent beer. Shouldn't be too difficult, should it? Not like I'm asking for world peace or international socialism. Have I asked for enough? Maybe I should have gone for one naturally-conditioned beer being universally available. Still not unreasonable, is it? Britain used to manage it until pretty recently with bottled Guinness.

What's your dream? Beer-related dream, to be more specific. Beer on the rates? Handpulled Imperial Stout across Germany? Oude Gueuze in Dublin corner locals? Dark Mild the most popular beer in California? Heineken launching an unfiltered Kulmbacher? Triple IPA flowing through the streets of Glasgow? Carlsberg replacing their huge factories with dozens of local breweries? Broyhan being brewed once more in Hannover?

As you can see from my suggestions, it doesn't have to be a realistic dream. Anything is possible in a dream. Unlike boring old reality. I'd happily live in my dreams. OK, I might often get tracked across continents by psychopathic killers, but at least the architecture is good. And I don't have to work. That's two up on the real world.


"When are you going to write a book?" I'm always being asked that question. It's another for which I have no answer, other than a vague "sometime".

Ideas have never been a problem for me. The opposite is true. I have too many ideas. Far too many. Despite doing my best to ignore most of them, I still get entangled in more projects than I can cope with. The result is a pile of unfinished work. One considerably taller than the finished pile.

I did once start writing a history of Porter. Once I realised how inadequate my understanding was, I stopped. One day I might pick it up again. One day. Not anytime in the near future. Somewhere I have a sheaf of handwritten sheets expounding my theory of beer style evolution. I wonder if, should I be able to lay my hands on it, I'd still be able to decypher it? As I often struggle to read the start of a sentence before I've written the end, I doubt it.

If you think my desk is an unholy mess, you should see how I store my older notes. I rarely throw anything away. That doesn't mean I can ever find it again. I prefer the pile-in-a-corner-somewhere filing system. It may sound inefficient, but in fact it's totally useless. I can never find anything. When I try, the attempt is accompanied by a great deal of shouting and swearing. My patience is notoriously short. I accompany most tasks with shouting and swearing: fixing the front door, installing software on my computer, planting potatoes, washing up. That's why Dolores is so reluctant to ask me to do anything. She can't bear the noise.

The biggest problem is deciding on a title. For my putative book. "A History of British Beer Styles 1700 - 1973: their origin, development and transformation with a special focus on the rise and fall of Porter." Pretty snappy, eh? I've drawn my inspiration from 19th century titles. Or do you think I should be less specific? What if I removed alternate words? "A of Beer 1700-: their development transformation a focus the rise fall Porter." Is that more concise?

Seriously, a history of British beer is what I'm trying to research. Mostly for my own benefit, but the thought of a book is somewhere there in the back of my head. That I've written so much about German, Dutch, Czech and Swedish beer says much about my powers of concentration. Eclecticism is all very well, but it don't pay no bills.

(A quick question here. Does anyone know if any Czech or Swedish brewing records survive in archives? See how easily I'm distracted?)

Even staying well focused (love that word), I'll probably be well throbbled before my research is done. Unless someone wants to pay me to do it. Is there an Institute of Pisshead Studies somewhere? I reckon I need another two or three years just to look at the London brewery archives properly, working part-time.

I have made proposals to publishers before. Mostly to CAMRA books. A Good Beer Guide to the Czech Republic (Evan Rail had beaten me to it by a few months). A Good Beer Guide to the Netherlands (never heard back). It's sort of dispiriting. Maybe I just don't have the perseverance to become a published author.

What would my assembled writings look like in book form? The Encyclopedia Brittanica, most likely. There's an awful lot. It's a rare day when I write nothing, even on holiday. (You might be surprised to learn how many of the descriptions in my guides were written while sat in the pub.)

Are you a publisher? Do you think "That Ron Pattinson has a nifty turn of phrase and a sharp wit"? Why aren't you offering me a contract then, you bastard?

Tuesday 27 May 2008

The triumph of Lager

It's been far too long since I last thrilled you with statistics. You must be so fed up with all the boring travel reports and dull articles about Mild. Yawnarooney. Time for some hard facts. Facts whose gaze you would avoid if they walked into your local. Facts that hammer in nails with the palm of their hands. Facts that open beer bottles with their teeth and shave with a blowtorch. That hard.

I've got a thing about the Gründerzeit. That's the period between 1870 and 1914. Modern Germany was forged at this time. An era of massive change and rapid population growth. When Germany was transformed into an industrial giant. The brewing industry was transformed, too.

"Brewing Tax Area" is the English translation. Though united under the Emperor, Germany was by no means a unified, centralised country. Amongst the many rights some some states retained, was that to tax beer. Northern Germany, much of which had already been under Prussian control before 1870, was subject to a single system of beer taxation. The Brausteuer. This covered all of the German Empire, with the exception of Bavaria, Baden, Württenberg, Alsace-Lorraine and Luxemburg. Beer mving between any of these states and the Brausteuergebiet was subject to customs duties.

The differing legal framework in the Brausteuergebiet can make and the other states makes old German brewing statistics complex. You rarely see any figures that cover the whole of Germany.

The information that follows only covers the Brausteuergebiet.

The decline in top-fermentation
In 1873, there was already more bottom- than top-fermenting beer produced, though not that much. Top-fermenting beer still accounted for 43% of production. Yet a good indication of how much of this was still produced in small, old-fashioned plants, is shown by the fact that 75% of the breweries brewed top-fermenting beer. There's a big difference in the average annual output per brewery: bottom-fermenting 3,313 hl, top-fermenting 828 hl. This gap grew even greater over time. By 1905 it was 14,744 hl and 1,897 hl respectively. We can deduce that lager brewers were operating ever larger and more modern plants, while change amongst the top-fermenting brewers was slower and more limited.

In the first few years while top-fermenting beer's share of sales declined, in absolute terms its production remained stable: in 1873 8,422,107 hl, in 1890 8,327,202 hl. However, over the same period, production of bottom-fermenting beer more than doubled from 11.2 million hl to almost 24 million hl. All the new trade generated by the expansion of the economy and population was for bottom-fermented beer. The split was now 75% to 25% in favour of bottom-fermented.

Between 1890 and 1905 the top-fermenting trade went into absolute decline, dropping from 8.3 million hl to 6.2 million hl. It was still boomtime for lager. Output increased from around 24 million hl to 40 million hl. In just over 30 years, production of lager had almost quadrupled.

I have to admit that there was a slight cockup with the figures for this post. After typing in a couple of hundred numbers, the file now appears unreadable. Great. Thankfully Andrew was on hand to quickly draw up two charts for me. Thanks Andrew. To reward him, please go and look at his blog.

Source of data: "Jahrbuch der Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei in Berlin. 1907", page 750.

Monday 26 May 2008


I arrive in Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof at around midday. It's only a short walk to my hotel, but the maze of pedestrian tunnels between the station and the old town make it take much longer than it should. They could try putting up some signs. At the fourth attempt I find the right exit.

There were two reasons I chose to stay in the Deutscher Kaiser: it's close to the station; it's an Andechs tied house. I check in. "Do you want a smoking or no smoking room?" I definitely don't want a smoking room. It might burst into flames.

I take the lift up to the fourth floor. It makes some worrying clunking noises on the way. My room door lacks a no smoking sign. This isn't good. Inside, it smells like an ashtray. There was a time when I would have let this slide and just taken the room. But I really don't fancy sleeping in this stink.

I take the lift back down to reception. It does a good deal more clunking. The receptionist apologises and gives me another room on the first floor. This one really is no smoking. See - it's worth sticking up for yourself.

Next I return to the station to buy a ticket for my return journey to Amsterdam. I'll take a train at 14:00. Enough time for some dinner and a couple of beers. I feel much better once I've got my ticket and made my seat reservations. Look at me - taking care of myself. What a hero I am.

On the way to the station I noticed a Paulaner pub. Seems like a good spot for lunch.

Paulaner Im Pillhofer
Königstrasse 78,
90402 Nürnberg.
Tel +49.911.21.45.60

One of the reasons I'm staying a night in Nürnberg is to gather information for my Nürnberg Pub Guide. I've never visited most of the pubs in it. This is a good opportunity to put that right. My plan for the afternoon is to crawl around everywhere I have listed in the city centre, taking photographs and drinking the odd beer. Or two.

Paulaner isn't the most exciting beer, but their tied houses are usually pretty nice places. The food is good, too. I have one particular food in mind. One of my Bavarian favourites that you don't see much in Franconia: Weisswürst. Sure enough, it's on the menu. Disappointingly, my waitress isn't wearing a dirndl. It looks like she has the figure for it, but the way she's dressed she looks more like a lesbian lumberjack. A shame.

On the wall there's a picture showing two building with a pile of rubble between them. I think this is the pile of rubble. Looks like it sustained a direct hit in WW II. They've done done a bad job of rebuilding it. The pub is cosy, in a very Bavarian way. For a Paulaner house, it's very small: only about the same size as a normal pub. The other's I've been in were all enormous.

Let's see if you can guess which beer I order. Dunkles, that's right. Goes nicely with Weisswurst. I'll have to add that to my list of beer and food pairings. Guinness FES with curry, Paulaner Dunkles with Weisswurst. It's not a very long list.

Paulaner Dunkles: mid brown colour, sweetish taste, toffee, caramel and pepper flavours. Bland compared to Franconian Dunkles, but it'll do while I'm eating my Weisswurst. Just 40 out of 100.

Stomach full and the required minimum alcohol level in my blood, it's time to explore. How exciting. I haven't really done any research on the trip, except in Prague. I'm not planning on stopping in the first couple of places. They're Tucher outlets. Not my favourite beer. I'll use up the number of beers I can drink today on something more rewarding.

As soon as I set off, I notice how the tour has knocked the stuffing out of me. I'm knackered. I feel even more knackered when I remember that I need to climb the hill at the far side of town. That'll be fun. At least it's a nice day.

Tucher-Bräu am Opernhaus
Am Kartäusertor 1,
90402 Nürnberg.
Tel. 0911 - 204649

Just a photography stop.

Zum Gulden Stern
Zirkelschmiedsgasse 26,
90402 Nürnberg.
Tel: 0911 - 205 928

Another photo only visit. Very brothers Grimm, but for some reason it doesn't appeal.

I'm tempted by a pub with a sign from a brewery I've not heard of. There's just the barmaid and one customer who's eating his dinner. I order an Export. The beer fizzes like crazy. Then I notice why: the bottom isn't very clean. It didn't taste very nice even before I realised. Wonderful. The pub has a typically soulless 1960's or 70's interrior. I hurry to finish off as much of my pint as I can stomach. I told you that I hate wasting even horrible beer.

Steichele Hotel Restaurant Weinhaus
Knorrstrasse 2-8,
Tel. 0911 - 202 280

My next photo opportunity is at Steichele. It looks quite pleasant and I need something to wash the nasty taste of that last Export out of my mouth. Inside it's a jumble of small rooms with long pine-topped tables. I call this brewhouse style, because that's the type of furniture the homebrew houses in Cologne and Duesseldorf. I sit at a table. A waitress rushing past points to the reserved sign on it. I select another table. The rather bossy middle-aged waitress comes back for my order. She gives me a disdainful look when I order a small beer and repeats my order for confirmation "You want a SMALL beer?" Yes, I do want a small one. I'm not some raving alcoholic. I've another six pubs to get around this afternoon. She is wearing a dirndl but doesn't have the figure for it. Sometimes it's disturbing how sexy grannies can look in a dirndl. Is that just me? My waitress is about the least sexy thing I've ever seen in a dirndl. That's quite an achievement.

Gräfenberger Landbier: amber colour, pepper, grass and caramel flavours. I'm starting to realise how spoiled I've been the last few days this is OK, but nowt special. We passed through the town of Gräfenberg yesterday and it looked lovely. Wonder what the beer's like there? 52 out of 100.

This place is pretty nice. The windows have wonderful leaded glass designs. I like the one with the fat bloke and a beer barrel so much that I photograph it. But I'm not staying long. Loads more pubs to photograph.

I leave through a different entrance and notice that a large, ugly modern hotel part has been tacked on the side. It's a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde place: cosy and traditional; modern and bland bordering on hideous. I'm glad I didn't approach it from the new side. I probably wouldn't have bothered going in.

My destination is the Schwarzer Bauer brewpub, but, as I have to photograph some other pubs, my route is rather tortuous. The streets in Nürnberg's old town aren't very straight in any case.

I spot Landwehr. From its exterior, I doubt I would have bothered dropping in for a drink, even if it had been open. Looks pretty dismal.

I cross the river. Very scenic. Some parts of Nürnberg are very pretty. Henry, a schoolfriend, lived here while he was working at a US air base. He was here for more than a year, yet never made it to Bamberg. I've never let him forget that.

I'm now at the bottom of the hill at whose summit is the castle. Knackered as I'm feeling, I don't relish the prospect of walking up it. This seems to be the tourist end of town, as opposed to the town end of town where I'm staying. Loads of Albrecht Durer stuff. The older buildings, built from flushed pink stone and with ornamental bay windows on the upper floors, are quite charming. I snap a few of them. I'm always photographing buildings. Almost none of my photos have people in them. At least not if I can help it. Quite often some bastard walks past just as the shutter is opening.

Oh look - there's a second-hand bookshop. I wonder if they have any old brewing manuals? Let's have a look. I search the shelves but can't find a beer or brewing section. I ask the lass on the till if they anything about beer. She calls an older bloke, who I assume is the owner. He disappears for a couple of seconds and comes back with three books. Only one was on display. I decide to puchase two - "Besteuerung des Hausbrauwesens in Bayern" and "Die Behandlung und Pflege des Bieres". 20 and 18 euros respectively. What a bargain. The first is full of statistics. The perfect sort of light reading for a train journey.

I'm about half way up the hill. Not much further to go. I've been meaning to visit Alt Stadt Hof, or Schwarzer Bauer (as the pub is really called) for many, many years. I hope it isn't shut. That would be a bummer. Especially after dragging myself up this bloody hill.

Schwarzer Bauer
Bergstr. 19,
90403 Nürnberg.
Tel. 0911 - 227 217

My fears prove unfounded and Schwarzer Bauer is indeed open. It's not as big as I expected, just a single, small, square toom that a bar counter bites a big chunk out of. It's in brewhouse style. There that relieves me of any more furniture descriptions. I sit at a table by the window, after checking for a reserved sign. There isn't one. The Barmaid isn't wearing a dirndl either.

I'm not a great fan of new German brewpubs. Most brew the dullest beers imaginable: Helles, Dunkles and Weizen. The Helles and Dunkles are almost always sold way too green. Don't they understand the word lager? Altstatdhof Hof is one of the few with a good reputation. Let's see if they deserve it.

Dunkles: can't see the colour (it's in a steinkrug), sweet taste with roast, dates, cream and toffee flavours. Rather nice. I think I'll have another. 72 out of 100.

I order a second and take a look at the local paper. There's an article about "Smokers' Clubs" Apparently 200+ of 1500 pubs have taken this option. It's such an obvious fiddle that the authorities are considering tightening up the law. Bloody right! They aren't really members only clubs, as my experience earlier in the day at Hebendanz proved.

I carry on a bit further up the hill. I have another two pubs close by that I need to photograph. The first, Albrecht Dürer (Bergstr. 25), looks pretty crappy. Why exactly is that in my guide? Aaah, they have a house beer. Looking at it, I'm quite surprised. Is this really the right place? Further on, opposite a section of city wall is the next. This looks more like it - a traditional pub and beer garden.

Photos taken, I look around the little square. One building has a pretty cool statue of George and the Dragon sticking out of the first floor. Further along, there's a Franconia fan shop. They have a great slogan on many articles: "Frei Statt Bayern". I'm so proud that I actually get this German pun. Watching all those episodes of Tatort has finally borne fruit. (Freistaat Bayern - Free State of Bavaria - is the offical name of Bavaria. Frei Statt Bayern means "Free instead of Bavarian". Franconia was given by Napoleon to Bavaria, which was one of France's most loyal allies in the Napoleonic Wars. Many Franconians still don't consider themselves Bavarian.)

Burgstrasse 19,
Tel: 0911 - 201 9881

My next stop, Hütt'n is only a few metres down the hill on my route back into town. Outside, it's a typical Nürnberg building. That's a good sign. Unlike the bloody road sign that gets in the way and prevents me from taking the photo I want to. Bad sign. I go in.

This isn't what I had expected. What the hell is all this timber framing about? Does it have a purpose, other than to make the interior look shit? The staff are eating their lunch. One still serves me. Thanks mate. There are no other customers. I really can pick them. Being a misanthrope, I have no problem with drinking alone. I prefer it that way. At home, I'm never alone. I appreciate the opportunity for some peace and quiet.

Neder Braunbier: too knackered to write tasting notes. Sorry.

I suppose it's worth coming by for the selection of Franconian beer which, though small by Belgian or Dutch standard, is broad for Germany. I don't linger. Things to do, places to sleep. That's what I feel like doing. My hotel is right the way across the other side of the old town. At least in this direction it's all downhill.

The walk takes me through the main shopping district. How exciting. Is there anything I need to buy? A complete new wardrobe might be an idea. But I'm not allowed to purchase clothes without Dolores along. There aren't any pubs worth investigating that I pass. Mostly it's just shops.

Until I'm almost done. I notice that the tower house whose photo adorns my pub guide now has a restaurant in the cellar. It sells Nürnberger Bratwurst and St Gerorgen Kellerbier. I call that a winning combination. I was wondering where I was going to eat tomorrow. Problem solved. Andrew will be gutted when I tell him. He loves Nürnberger Bratwurst.

I get back to my hotel. My room is on the first floor, so I use the stairs. Walking along the corridor I notice that the lift doors are open and a couple of workmen are fiddling with it using heavy duty tools. It's stuck between two floors. That must be what all the clunking was about earlier.

My plans for this evening are modest. I've done enough walking for today. I'll eat in the pub in the ground floor of the hotel. But first time for some hardcore dozing in front of the telly.

The workmen are still tinkering with the lift when I go to eat.

Kloster Andechs - Das Wirtshaus
Königstrasse 55,
90402 Nürnberg.
Tel: 0911 - 236 9844

There used to be a chain of Andechs pubs, but most have changed name and stopped selling Andechs beer. This is the one exception.

It's a long, narrow beerhally-type place (after a week on the road my descriptive powers have been severly impaired). The effect is only spoiled by industrial-strength silver ducting hanging from the ceiling. Lovely. I take a seat close to the entrance after checking carefully for any reserved signs. I don't want another telling off.

When the waitress comes she voices no criticism of my behavious. She's dressed in rather dull all black. No more dirndls today. I order a Dunkles.

I don't understand quite why Andechs is so highly-rated by many beer-lovers. Their beers are OK, but I can think of loads that are much better. Probably the fact that they're available in the States. They have the full set on draught here.

Andechser Dunkles: even more watery than the Paulaner. The menu describes it as a "light version of our Doppelbock". I'll have to remember that, Light Doppelbock.

The menu is surprisingly short. I choose lamb shank. Should be good. And it comes with a Klose. I haven't had one of those for a couple of days. I like to get dumplinged up while in Germany. Though why is a bit of a mystery. Dolores is perferctly capable of cooking them.

The meal turns out to be about the worst I've had this trip. It wasn't horrible or anything, just a bit flat and dull.

I don't stay out late. There's a long train ride tomorrow. I don't want to be knacked before I start. I notice that the lift is still bust as I go back to my room.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Berliner Weissbier - DDR style

This description of how to brew Berliner Weisse comes from "Leitfaden für den Brauer und Mälzer" by Rudolf Dickscheit, published in Leipzig in 1953, pages 161 to 163.

Much is very similar to the description in "Die Herstellung Obergährige Biere" published 50 years earlier.

In the DDR Berliner Weissbier is the most important top-fermenting beer, not just for the home market but also for export.

As already stated, Berliner Weissbier is a lactic acid beer. As a result of its high CO2 and lactic acid content it has a good thirst-quenching effect.

The method of production is mostly brewery-specific, which means to say that each firm has its own experience in production, which is handed on from generation to generation. The proportion of wheat to barley can vary greatly, from 1:1 to 4:1. Weissbier is only lightly hopped; it's generally brewed to an original gravity of between 8 and 9º; but sometimes to 12º and more. The mashing scheme is the infusion method.

The wort mostly wasn't boiled, but recently that has been done in order to avoid infection.

The mashing scheme can look like this:

Einmaischen 50º C 10 minutes
warm slowly to 69º C
Saccharification rest 69º C 30 minutes
draw off a third of the mash and boil with hops
Auf- und Abmaischen 76º C
Rest 76º C 30 minutes

After the rest in the Lauterbottich the wort is abgeläuteret and usually boiled for 15 to 30 minutes to strerilise it. Afterwards the wort is drawn off and left in the cool ship for 20 minutes. It's cooled to20-22º C and immediately pitched with yeast. About 0.5 of dickbreiige yeast is used per hectolitre of wort.

Also in this method pitching in a pitching tun is preferred.

To have a guarantee the the yeast begins working immediately after pitching, it's mostly pitched into a barrel with Vorderwürze. At the warm temperatures which are normal for top fermentation, it starts to work quickly. Only when it is fully working are the tuns pitched with this wort-yeast mixture.

The primary fermentation of Berliner Weissbier is conducted at around 18º to 20º C. About two to eight hours after pitching a thick head appears on the surface of the wort. To be able to harvest clean yeast, this head must be removed. This process starts about 6 hours after piching and continues until a clean, fatty-shining yeast layer appears.The harvesting of top-fermenting yeast occurs on the surface of the young beer. As soon as the clean yeast layer appears, harvesting begins and continues until no more yeast is produced.

The beer must be cooled during primary fermentation, but care must be taken not to scare off the yeast. Top-fermenting yeast is sensitive to large drops in temperature and once stopped through great cooling, only restarts working very slowly.

After 30 to 48 hours, depending on the temperature, the primary fermentation is complete. During primary fermentation as much extract as possible is fermented, that is every attempt is made to achieve the highest possible degree of attenuation.

As soon as primary fermentation is complete, the young beer is mixed with about 15% Kräusen and immediately filled into bottles or barrels.

Weissbier filled into transport barrels is delivered to Niederlagen and pubs to be filled into bottles.

Bier filled into bottles in the brewery is lagered there.

Lagering of Weissbier takes place at a cellar temperature of 15º C. If the cellar temperature is lower than 15º C, then secondary conditioning progresses too slowly, as does clarification. When the wort has been sterilised in the brewhouse, then lagering can be conducted at 20º C. The risk of infection isn't as great as with an unsterilised wort.

Weissbier yeast is a mixture, living in symbiosis, of top-fermenting beer yeast and lactic acid bacteria, which multiply greatly during the fermentation process, so that the proportion is about 1:1. The bacteria die during storage also relatively more quickly. The ratio of yeast to lactic acid bacteria changes then to around 4:1. Weissbier yeast cannot be watered or washed because the lactic acid bacteria can be too easily washed away.

The lactic acid bacteria in Berliner Weissbier yeast is not a single strain, but many strains which coexist.

Berliner Weissbier contains about 2 to 3% alcohol and 0.25% lactic acid. The lactic acid content can, however, vary greatly. The colder the primary fermentation, the worse the lactic acid bacteria develop and the less lactic acid in the beer.

As already mentioned, it was attempted to produce a Berliner Weissbier yeast in which top-fermenting beer yeast and delbrücki bacteria were brought together. However, this yeast-lactic acid bacteria mixture did not produce the characteristic Berliner Weissbier aroma. It is also very difficult to accustiom the two types of organism to a symbiosis.

Care must be taken during the production of Berliner Weissbier to prevent an acetic acid bacteria infection. Acetic acid bacteria produce an unpleasant tasting, scratchy sourness. The quality of the beer is through this considerably damaged.

Another unpleasant effect as a result of the infection is ropiness which appears because the beer becomes as viscous as oil on account of of the slimy shell around the bacteria, caused by pediococcus viscosus. Because Berliner Weissbier is usually stored relatively long, this characteristic disappears agaian. The slime dissolves or is broken down by enzymes. However, if it appears in summer, when Weissbier after a relatively shorter storage is packaged, then the cost price is considerably higher, because it's necessary to wait with packaging until the ropiness has disappeared.

Old hands assert that Berliner Weissbier acquires, after it has gone through ropiness, a pleasant, wine-fruity flavour.

In Berlin Berliner Weissbier is also partially stored in tanks. Unlike by bottle-conditioning, the Jungbier does not have 15% but 20 to 25% kräusen added. The tanks are under 2 atmospheres of pressure.

The level of sourness must be continally monitored. Practical brewers measure the amount of sourness by taste alone; in "Stups-Weißen", as Weissbier stored in tanks is called, it is 0.30 to 0.35%. When the lactic acid bacteria have created enough sourness, the tank is cooled to 0º C.

Should you want to give Weissbier an unlimited shelflife, the protein must be removed. Deglutan is usually used for this purpose.

For tank-stored beer, filling is performed using a high-pressure filler. Despite this, the eber must be cold to prevent CO2 coming out of solution and to prevent the beer from becoming wild.

Pasteurisation is out of the question for Berliner Weissbier as pasteurisation gives it a flavour that makes it unenjoyable.

Looking back

I've been writing this blog for exactly 11 months. A suitable moment for quiet reflection. . . . . .

That's enough silence. Now for some noise.

Looking back is one of the things I do best. I'm staring so resolutely backwards that I often stumble. Looking where you're going is sometimes not just appropriate but necessary.

When I laid out my manifesto all those months back, I had a very clear concept of what my blog would be about: the history of beer, my research into the history of beer, what bollocks others have written about the history of beer and a diary of my beer-related experiences. Not forgetting the essential quota of crap jokes and stuff about my kids.

How faithful have I been to those initial intentions? (Why do I keep asking myself such difficult questions? Do you have any idea?) I feel I've stuck exactly to the concept I had in my head. Whether or not I managed to articulate that in my manifesto, I'm not so certain. I still haven't managed to tidy up my desk (see above)

History of beer
There have been plenty of posts on the history of beer. Probably far too many for most of you. I could imagine snores coming from my monitor when I wrote about the history of early Swedish lager or in minute details about Berliner Weisse.

It doesn't really bother me if my posts entertain anyone. I keep repeating this, but I'm uncertain how much I'm believed: everything I write is for me. To crystalise my thoughts or record information I might otherwise misplace. And to give the kids some idea of what their dad was like, what he thought and what he did. It's all just me, me, me.

My research
I've served up plenty of undigested chunks of research. Raw data without much in the way of commentary or explanation. This has been partly through intent and partly lack of time. There's much information I've collected that I still haven't properly processed.

I wanted to make clear the process of research - which sources I use and what is to be found in them. Making the information available to others is equally important. It would be hypocritical to slag off others of not having the facts and then keeping them to myself.

The bollocks of others
This has mostly been limited to the odd attack on the BJCP. Kicking the BJCP is one of my hobbies. I've tried not to overdo it. Being perpetually negative is so unappealing. It would be easy to spend much of my time having ago at everyone I think talks bollocks about beer. But what would be the point?

Beer-related diary
A wide range of activities fall under this heading. Foreign travel, getting my beers brewed, dragging the kids around pubs, personal reminiscences. This is the stuff that Mike thinks is off-topic. Well, not all of it, but the travelogue bits. I especially enjoy writing the travel reports. There's no way I'll be dropping those. Sorry, Mike.

I estimate that I have about 100 regular readers. If you're one, comment on this post. That might give me more realistic idea of the true number. Especially those of you without a blog of your own.

I'm looking forward to providing more of the same over the next 11 months. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll put your fist through your screen. On second thought, best skip that last one. It might hurt.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Against my better judgement

I did threaten this. Making you listen to my music. Well you don't have to. I can't make you.

Against my better judgement, here's Hoppy Head.

Apart from the title, it has absolutely nothing to do with beer. Not much to do with music, either.

Thirteen and a half years

That's how long I've got until retirement. Assuming the bastards don't raise the retirement age. I wouldn't put it past them. Or I drop dead. Also not beyond the bounds of possibility.

I'm already planning for life after work. I started soon after I started working. As a teenager, my ambition was to be on the dole. For the whole of my life. Well, at least until I retired. My noble principles soon lost out to greed. At the tender age of just 22, I already had a job. Apart from a few brief, happy interludes of unemployment, I've been working ever since.

I have all the things I never imagined I would - children, a mortgage, my very own shed. What would my younger self think of mortgage-paying, shed-owning father me? "You've sold out, man". We all spoke in pseudo-hippy speak when I was an university. It was easy for Tym. Coming from the Northeast, it was natural to stick "man" on the end of every sentence. What do I think of the younger me? "Take a bath you smelly, longhaired hippy." I think we're even.

There are definitine advantages in marrying a German. For a start, beer-drinking is a natural part of life to Dolores. Everyone drinks beer in Germany. Even her granny did. There are others. Give me a few minutes and I'll remember them.

. . . .

. . . .

She knows how to make Klose, that's one. And Yorkshire puddings. Hang on, that's not a German attribute. You're just going to have to believe me. Being maried to a German is great. It should give me someone to practise my German on, but Dolores refuses to speak it to me. She says it feels weird. I spoke no German when we met and we've always communicated in English. Did I mention that I didn't understand my wedding ceremony? I did catch the word "Sozialistische" a couple of times, but that was it. The official could have been sending me to a socialist gulag for all I knew. "Do you want to spend the rest of your life banged up in a socialist concentration camp?" "Ja". Dolores had taught me that word, "ja". When it was time to say it, she gave me a discrete kick.

Our wedding was fun. A photographer that we hadn't ordered turned up and took photos of all the guests. Very considerate of the authorities, making sure the event was recorded for posterity. A group of my family and friends came over and stopped at Dolores's mum's house for the best part of a week. She laid on a barrel of Eisenacher Pils for them. Her stepdad was worried it wouldn't all get drunk. He hadn't met many English people before, or he would have known better. A second barrel had to be bought before we'd even got married. That ran out a couple of hours into the post-reception party. We went over to the local pub to get some bottles but they'd none left. Instead we had the landlord fill a bucket with draught beer.

But I'm supposed to be telling you of my retirement plans, not my wedding. There's an advantage to Dolores being German. Especially coming from Thuringia. Not because it's a beautiful part of the world (which it is, by the way). But because of where it is. Just above Bavaria. It has much in common with Bavaria. The half-timbered villages look just the same. Even during the Happy Time (DDR period to you), it retained many small breweries.

When I suggested retiring to Franconia I'd anticipated some resistance from Dolores. "You just want to spend all day in the pub, Ronald." I expected her to say something like that. She knows me far too well. But she didn't. "That's an idea. I would be much easier to visit my sister. Plauen isn't far, either. I could see Elke." The financial aspects attracted her, too. For our three-bedroomed flat in fashionable Amsterdam Oud-Zuid we should be able to buy a Franconian castle and still have enough left over for me to sit in the pub all day. For me to continue my research, that's what I mean.

Forchheim could be a good choice. It's pretty and cheap. I can picture myself getting up at 08:30 and walking down to Neder for opening time and breakfast. Old me will fit in perfectly with the other customers. The lifestyle would probably have suited young hippy me, too.


Dutch pubs are scheduled to go smoke-free on July 1st. I say scheduled, because some landlords are still trying to fight the decision.

There was an item on the local news last night about the objections from the trade. It was claimed that the new rules would be disastrous for small pubs, of which Amsterdam has hundreds. The location they'd chosen to illustrate the point was the Pilsener Club. Sure enough, it's pretty small. It's also pretty good and quite unusual. There's no bar counter. They sell a few decent beers, including Van Vollenhoven's Stout, and have a good range of jenevers. Now here's the irony. The reason I don't visit it more often is because it's unbearably smoky.

Just how smoky was demonstrated very well. The walls are dark brown, but they moved a picture aside to show the original colour: pale cream. Once smoking has been banned, how are brown cafés going to become brown? Until now they've relied on customer-supplied nicotine staining. Sounds like an opportunity to me for a new "nicotine-brown" shade of paint. Or are we going to have to start calling Amsterdam's traditional pubs cream cafés?

Friday 23 May 2008


Do you recall me mentioning my music? Hoppy Head, one of the tracks is called. I suppose that's beer-related. Not that it has any words. The only words on any of my tracks are "I hate Arsenal. I hate all London teams." What a noble sentiment.

Yesterday evening Dolores had taken Andrew to his chess club and Lexxie was upstairs playing a Star Wars game. It meant I had a window of opportunity to listen to my last CD. I'm not allowed to play it when any other family member is within earshot. It's that good.

I must convert some numbers to MP3 and make them available here. There's a drum solo in Hippy Hop that I'm particularly proud of. Thuck, thick, thucky, thucky, thick, thack. That's how it goes. It's not a long drum solo. That would be pretentious.

Where is all this leading? Who knows. I often start a journey unaware of my final destination. All part of the fun. I remember. Kris.

Finnish Kris is up from Frankfurt. I haven't seen him for ages, not since he moved away from Amsterdam. We used to go clubbing together, what seems like several lifetimes ago. Mazzo was where we usually went. So often, that I became a member. The music wasn't great. Way too thumpy-thumpy for my taste. But it was a pretty cool place, so I could forgive them that. After the fire, when they temporarily relocated from Rosengracht to the Ouderzijds Voorburgwal, Lucas used to DJ in the chillout room. He played pretty good stuff. Lots of dub and ambulance music. Unfortunately, there wasn't the space for a chillout room in Mazzo's permanent home.

Rather susprisingly, Mazzo wasn't a total beer disaster. It sold Duvel. Just what you need when you're all sweaty from dancing: a strong, highly-carbonated beer. Occasionally they had a more interesting draught beer. One Easter they had Tuborg Kylle, Kylle. Not the world's greatest, but quite an unexpected choice for a club.

Sadly, Mazzo has closed forever. I hadn't been for years, but it was reassuring to know it was still there, should I ever need it. Other things - kids, a mountain of beer books - now demand my attention. There's no time for dancing.

Thursday 22 May 2008

I didn't bother listening to your argument

Apologies for bothering you more with this. What am I saying? No apologies. I don't apologise!

RateBeer. Wankers. German Ale. You know what I mean.

There was one bloke who got particularly unpleasant and nasty. I had a suspicion that he hadn't been listening to what my argument was, so I asked him this : what did you think the point was I was trying to make?

This is his reply to my mail:

"If I had to reduce your initial posts to a single argument, then I’d say you argued that kolsch was categorically a lager beer. In terms of modern codefied brewing science, this is technically different from saying it’s a lagered beer."

Right. I'd actually been arguing that calling all top-fermented beer Ale wasn't a great idea. He obviously wasn't listening.

His arguments follow. I'll make a couple of observations first :

  • he doesn't seem to have bothered to understand what I was trying to say
  • he uses the swamp-your-opponent-with-technical-detail that you hope he doesn't understand approach. That's it's all irrelevant to the argument that I was proposing seems to have passed him by.
  • when all else fails he resorts to insults

" Wow. This has got to be one of the biggest collections of misinformation I’ve seen in a while regarding Kolsch.

Let me start by stating the following:

Saccharomyces cerevisiae = ale yeast, which is top fermenting.
Saccharomyces pastorianus (aka s. carlbergensis) = lager yeast, which is bottom fermenting.

These are two separate subspecies of yeast and are discrete biological designations. Ale yeasts can ferment cold, but usually perform best warm, about 65-70 deg F on average. On the same note, lager yeasts can ferment warm, but usually perform best at 50-55 deg F on average.

The term lager can be taken to mean the beer was fermented with a lager yeast strain, but in the more general sense, it means the beer went through an extended period of cold conditioning before being served. This period can be from several weeks to several months and varies depending on the style and the brewers preferences.

Kolsch, like altbier is traditionally fermented with an ale strain (s. cerevisiae), but often at lower temps for an ale (60-62 deg F). This reduces the production of esters by the yeast, which is why kolsch usually has just a subtle fruitiness. The long period of cold conditioning post fermentation (lagering) gives the yeast time to settle out and reabsorb may by products of fermentation, leading to a clean flavor profile.

I have been a brewer for over 10 years and kolsch is a style I am very familiar with. The kolsch ale yeasts that are available to most brewers in the US from both White Labs and Wyeast are ALE yeasts. And all the professional kolsch brewers I’ve spoken to from Cologne refer to their house yeast strains as ale strains.

In the colloquial sense, kolsch (and altbier and steam beer) are often referred to as "hybrid" beers because they are fermented outside the typical temperature range for the yeasts used.

There were so many off-base ignorant post in this thread that the world’s supply of kolsch would run out in the time it’d take to address them all. Have any of you bothered to read the BJCP, AHA, GABF, or WBC guidelines for kolsch? Have any of you read "Principles of Brewing Science" by George Fix, Ph.D? Many of the issues that have been brought up in this thread aren’t really debatable - they’re clearly defined scientific/biological terms. If you think otherwise, you might as well start calling it the "theory of gravity.""

"So let me summarize: kolsches use ale yeasts and are fermented on the cooler end of what the yeast will readily tolerate. This leads to reduced ester formation during fermentation, which results in a beer with a mild fruitiness. It is then lagered (cold conditioned) for an extended period (a few weeks to a few months). This allows the yeast time to reabsorb many biproducts of fermentation, adding additional "flavor clarity" to the beer."

"Yes, the top fermenting vs. bottom fermenting thing can be misleading if you don’t have a full understanding of how yeast(s) perform during fermentation. In reality, when yeast are fermenting, they are in suspension, evenly distributed throughout the wort.

When yeast are done fermenting, they all eventually settle out of suspension to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, regardless of whether they’re ale or lager strains. Some yeast strains are quicker to do this than others. But before this settling occurs, ale yeasts generally flocculate at the upper surface of the beer, whereas lager yeasts tend to flocculate in the lower levels in the fermentation vessel. Even with ales, after the yeast flocculates, these dense clumps will settle out of suspension to the bottom of the fermentation vessel.

Grain bills have nothing to do with whether a beer is categorically and ale or lager, neither do serving temperatures. It’s irrelevant how MJ might have colloquially used the term "ale." Scientifically it has a specific meaning. I thought my argument on this was clear.

Are you a brewer?"
Great insult at the end there to one of the best beer writers.
"Apologies? A challenge to "conventional" thinking? C’mon, there’s no contrition in this statement. Only more condescension. You’ve made a lot of bold claims in your posts that would purport a technical understanding of beer and brewing science, but are in fact way off base.

A few examples:

1) "Kölsch is top-fermented, but it isn’t an ale because it’s a German beer."

- So a beer can’t be an ale if it’s of German origin. Wow. Do you want me to tell you about the rabbits? WTF are hefes, roggenbiers, and weizenbock, to name a few?

2) "Not even all British top-fermenting styles are ales"

- Thanks for the hot tip. I never would have guessed that Harp Lager was actually a lager.

3) "And exactly what is an Ale? Just any top-fermenting beer? That’s a very Anglo-centric view. "

- WTF are you talking about here? You just wanted to say "Anglo-centric," which by the way is not hyphenated. Your use of the term is nauseating.

4) "Saaccharomyces Cerevisiae does not = Ale yeast."

- Try telling that to a biologist. S. Cerevisiae is necessarily an ale yeast. This is a specific scientific appellation that is not subject to debate.

5) "I’m such an ignorant twat. "

- I wholeheartedly agree.

6) "Why bother reading original source material when modern American homebrewers know so much better."

- I’d be willing to be there are a lot of accomplished homebrewers who do know better.

7) "Yeah, I really need to educate myself. "

- Yes - on how to get laid.

It never helps when people are full of boastful arrogant crap, especially when it has no technical merit. Better "check yo-self before you wreck yo-self.""

Total wanker.

Mild Ale (according to a German)

Here's a special treat for Mild Month. Schönfeld's description of Mild Alefrom "Die Herstellung Obergähriger Bier".

The book has a big section on British Ales (as opposed to German Ales - you must be getting well fed up of me banging on about this - don't worry, I'll be continuing for several more years). I hadn't looked at it until today. On the positive site, the author seems to quite like Mild. Pale Ale he absolutely hates and writes it's impossible for a German to drink more than two glasses of it.

I was interested in his description of the colour of Mild. Remember that the book was published in 1902. It's sometimes difficult to know what an author means with colour descriptions, but "deep gold" does not mean dark in my book.

Apologies for the translation. The sentence structure in the original is almost as bad as Marcel Proust. Sentences that fill a whole paragraph. You can't accuse me of that.

"In the group Ales, there's another beer, which in contrast to the heavily-hopped, light Pale Ale is characterised by a mild and very malty flavour and a darker, deep gold to brownish-yellow colour, called Mild Ale and forms a special type of beer, which as a result of the low degree of attenuation, the soft, sweet taste, the low level of hopping and a colour resembling our Lagerbier, forms an intermediary step between Pale Ales and Stouts. It is a draught beer and is especially well brewed in London.

It doesn't keep anything like as well as Pale and Bitter Ales, since it does not have a high degree of attenuation, nor is heavily hopped, nor dry-hopped it doesn't have such a good protection against bacterial infection as these, which are stored for months in unpressurised barrels without falling prey to light bacterial sicknesses and also can be stored long, in some circumstances months longer, in bottles, where in the beginning they also sit for quite a long time without the protection of CO2, but are still so resistant to bacterial infections that they can be kept for an unusually long time."