Friday, 24 February 2012

Once you go black...

2 years ago my view on dark beers was simple; I didn't drink them. The reasoning for this was twofold. Firstly, in an average pub there is generally very little presence of dark beers and so I was never really exposed to them. At best you might get Guinness and one other darker beer. Secondly, I think that my palette just hadn't developed enough to appreciate them. Now I would have to say that dark beers are now my favourite style. While I still thoroughly enjoy a good, hoppy IPA at this time of year nothing tastes better than a smooth, silky malty beer. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Bricklayer's Arms Yorkshire Beer Festival this week and I was overjoyed upon perusing the beer list to see a good range of stouts and porters available for quaffing.

Despite living in west London for the last 4 years this was the first time I'd attended one of the Bricklayer's Arms beer festivals. Shamefull I know. Even as a solid supporter of Manchester and Lancashire brewing, having grown up there, I have to say I was extremely impressed with the beers from Yorkshire. Which is a good sign as I'll be moving there in 6 months or so. Notable beers were the Thriller in Vanilla from Brown Cow, a 5.1% porter which had been made with real vanilla, and the Saltaire Triple Chocoholic, a 4.8% porter with chocolate malt, real chocolate and chocolate syrup added.
The Triple Chocoholic was a rich, chocolaty beer (unsurprisingly) that is exactly the kind of beer I've grown to love over the last few months. The Thriller in Vanilla was sublime. There were huge flavours of chocolate and coffee with a delicious overtone of vanilla to the whole thing. However special mention does have to go to Wentworth and their Chilli Chocolate Stout which without a doubt was the best beer I had all evening. The beer itself was a lovely rich stout and the addition of the chilli added a whole new dimension to the experience. At 4.8% it wasn't as strong as some stouts, but it was absolutely yummy.
After all this it got me thinking as to the reasons why a lot of pubs, even ones with a reasonable range of ales, don't have any dark beers on regularly. The flavour you can get in the darker beers is amazing and I think a lot of people who don't normally drink ales would be most surprised to realise that you can get such different flavours in beer. I can only assume that the landlords don't think they'll sell or that they in fact don't sell. In that case I think there's a huge case for pubs and staff to educate the drinker into the range of beers available.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The solution to binge drinking?

I came across this article on the BBC today. It bills itself at a radical solution which will solve binge drinking. However what it actually provides is a summing up of the general misconceptions about how binge drinking will be solved. There are some ideas I actually agree with scattered through it for which I do applaud the author. In this post I'll go through each one and provide some brief comments on each one. In the future I may also extend each one to an individual blog post.

1. Subtly make drinks weaker
They use the example of bringing the average strength of lager down from 5.5%. This abhorrent viewpoint has already begun blighting this country as we see a whole raft of new announcement from various multinationals about bringing down strengths of some of their flagship brands. As I've often stated before I'm a huge fan of lower alcohol beers, what I'm not in favour of is "watering down the workers beer". Beer that was designed and the recipes made at a certain ABV should stay at that ABV.

2. Enforce a minimum price of alcohol
Again an awful idea which will have very little effect. I'd quite like to see some statistics on how much booze as a percentage of the total booze sold is actually sold below the 50p limit. I'd imagine it's very small.

3. Get people back into pubs
This actually is a good idea and I've always been an advocate of this policy. When I was 16/17 I, like many others in Britain, often sneaked into a pub for a few crafty pints from time to time. The landlords likely knew we weren't 18 but we didn't cause any trouble and surely this is better than children's first experience of alcohol being 3 litres of White Diamond in a playground. It is also very important that landlords here play a key role in the control of alcohol sold. While it makes little business sense in the short term selling alcohol to clearly drunk people should be actively discouraged in bar staff. I've worked in pubs before and have never been told that I should not serve clearly drunk customers even though it is the law.

4. Raise the legal drinking age
An awful decision for the same reasons as I've stated above. They use the example of the States as a good example of where this is working. How many drunken students need to injure themselves at frat parties before our Atlantic neighbours realise their policy isn't working. And don't even get me started on the problem on drug use amongst American teenagers.

5. Nationalise off-licences
This is one of the only points here that is actually a bit different. As a fundamental free market capitalist I intrinsically distrust all nationalisations. My main concern here is that if nationalised these off-licences could easily be used to push government agenda etc.

6. Discourage rounds
An old WW1 policy that rears it's ugly head again. An awful idea; the Great British Round is here to stay.

7. Ban alcohol marketing
I'm not too sure on this one. While I think this would make a more level playing field for all breweries to compete on I also don't think this would really do anything to change the culture of beer and sport being intrinsically interlinked. It'd also be interesting to see if when a similar ban was placed on smoking advertising if it made any difference. (Does anyone know this?)

8. Target middle-class professionals
This I'm also stuck between 2 points. While I agree that the Rioja brigade may need to sit down and look at their drinking habits, the bottle of wine a night man is clearly not doing his body any good, in between complaining about the poor people getting drunk on cheap tinnies of lager. I think the point that needs to be made here is that there is a whole generation of people (40-60 which is my parents generation) for whom the amount they drink has never really been questioned or discussed. However I think that in comparison to the wider problems of anti-social behaviour, public drunkenness and violence it clearly is not as much of a problem.

9. Not in front of the children
Another absolutely awful idea. Frank Furedi from Paranoid Parenting sums it up quite nicely. The more  the mystique is taken away from alcohol the less children will want to rebel. Again see point 3. If parents don't teach their kids about responsible drinking then who will? The big bad government wolf?

10. Stop exaggerating the problem
Here is the crux of the argument. I can't agree with this more. Alcohol consumption is falling, we already drink less than, but pay a load more tax than, a whole swathe of European countries who don't think it necessary to have this ridiculous alcohol lobby. 

So that's my rant on common alcohol misconceptions over but what solutions am I proposing? Well that's for another time I think.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A night with Arbor!

A desire for a good tasting session led me and a couple of friends to Cask Pub and Kitchen for the Meet the Brewer event with Arbor Ales.
Jon and Paul spoke very passionately about their brewery and the inspiration behind their beers. They spoke of how a lot of the beers they made were inspired by the craft brewing scene from the states and this was clearly evident with the large array of IPA's on offer. I'm always impressed when brewers talk about simply brewing beers they enjoy drinking. In my mind this is the best way to do it. Brew good beers and people will drink them; to many brewers try and predict the market and end up with uninspiring or simple beers. Jon described about how if they had a beer they liked or had an idea for something they'd like to drink but couldn't find it they'd get back to the brewery and make it. This was hugely evident in the huge array of beers on offer; 10 in total.

Highlights of the evening for me included the Nibiru IPA, a lovey citrus 6.3% IPA, and the 7% Yakima Valley IPA which were both big hoppy West Coast style beers. What really impressed me about these 2 beers was the big citrus overtones which weren't the usual lemon and lime flavours but big tastes, and forgive me if this sounds a little poncey, of mango, grapefruit and papaya.  The other thing that really struck me about these 2 beers was the intense hoppy flavours and aromas without the overwhelming bitterness of some West Coast IPA's.
The other hugely impressive beer was the Bullion IPA, a 6.5% beer, that they had chosen to serve through a randall (a container of hops which sits between the cask and the beer engine). I loved the aroma and flavour this imparted in the beer.

I was also very taken with the less heavy session beers like Inferiority Complex, a 3.4% dark session beer, and the Mild West, a 3.6% dark mild, which both packed huge amounts of flavour considering their strength.

Overall it was a great night and, even though I managed to burn a £75 hole in my wallet buying the "sale" bottles of foreign beer, I can't wait for next months edition with Hardknott!