Friday 18 May 2012

Minimum pricing won't work

Firstly, sorry there hasn't been anything new recently I've been extremely busy with preparation for, and the doing of, my final set of exams at uni. Now to the issue at hand.

The issue of minimum pricing has come up hugely in the media recently. With Scotland recently announcing that the minimum price will be set at 50p a unit. The figure of saving 500 lives a year has been bandied around in the  papers over the last few days. This is a policy based on bad facts, government incompetence and media spin. Minimum pricing won't work. It's that simple; the fact I'm a beer fan has nothing to do with my views on this. It's just a lazy policy. The reasons for this are numerous and lengthy so I'll try and be brief.

1. "Raising the price of alcohol will lower consumption"

I don't dispute this fact. You can't really argue against this. However, while it may lower consumption of "official" alcohol, the illicit, imported and home brewed beer industries will flourish. Home brewed beer already weighs in at nearly a 1/10th price of a pint in a pub. Increasing the price differential will only drive more people to other sources of alcohol. There also has to be a real fear that increasing the price of alcohol will push more and more of the poorest people in Britain into drug use. It's not a far cry for the homeless guy to swap his few cans of Special Brew for harder drugs. This can be seen most commonly across the pond in the US where heroin addiction is an epidemic within the larger cities. The other point here is that I wasn't aware alcohol consumption was rising. The problem is not of consumption as a whole it's about people over indulging and the long term damage of this. Binge drinking and it's related social disorder is an issue upon itself.

2. Minimum pricing disproportionally affects the poorest in society

I'm a student with a reasonable amount of disposable income. I can afford to spend £6 on a bottle of Triple Quad Hopped Imperial IPA. However, for the majority of the population alcohol is becoming significantly more costly. What right does Cameron and his buddies have the right to tell people that their weekly beers on a Friday after a hard week paying off the deficit are too unhealthy, too damaging and too cheap. The minimum pricing will do nothing to reduce the consumption of those who can afford to pay for it. Taxes and price increases on goods disproportionately affect the poor. The increase in price won't change peoples attitudes to drinking it will just mean more money is spent. We've seen the tax on alcohol increase 40% since I've been an adult and binge drinking has never been worse. While consumption is falling the problems are not. We've tried the price increase method and it's been found not to work.

3. Alcohol and cigarettes are an easy target

People don't like smokers; they smell, they poison us "normal", non social lepers of soceity. People also don't like binge drinkers. Smokers and drinkers are easy targets for government taxes. I don't agree with this. Smokers are people too; they're also probably paying for a sizeable part of your NHS. I like smokers; they selflessly pollute their own bodies so we can have public services. It's very easy to vilify people for the lifestyle choices they make but it's a fruitless exercise. Plenty of other things are dangerous and cost the NHS money but I don't see anyone advocating a tax on extreme sports or bungee jumping. Things are unhealthy, get over it. People should have the right to choose how to live their life without government or the media telling them otherwise

Minimum pricing is a lazy policy from a lazy government who have no idea how to solve the alcohol crisis in this country. I think most people are in agreement that lowering the price differential between the on and off trade would go some way to reducing binge drinking. The staggering thing here is that many of the problems of the British nation could be solved by lowering alcohol duty and bringing the price of on trade beer down to off trade levels. The brewing and pub industry is one of the only real manufacturing industries we have left. It employs nearly 1 million people and Cameron is dicing with these peoples livelihoods. If I see one more politician promoting a "policy for growth" and then almost immediately smashing the few remaining industries we have I might cry.

The real solution to the binge drinking problem is proper education of young people about alcohol and a concerted campaign about the benefits of moderate drinking. Alcohol needs to change from being the big bogeyman hidden away that's only allowed out at the weekend to a social activity between friends. People need to stop drinking to get drunk and drink because they enjoy the times they have. There's a very special quality about alcohol that brings people together which isn't replicated in many other settings. But these campaigns and education schemes cost money and the current government are doing all they can to avoid spending a dime at the moment. It's highly ironic that the real solution to the problem is being left out and what we're getting is conveniently also a great tax raising exercise.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Beer Flapjacks

Any one who's ever brewed their own beer will know that after the mash you're left with a large amount of grain which is simply thrown away. As usual this was the case yesterday after brewing some IPA. In this new climate of austerity I decided that to throw away all the grain simply seemed nonsensical. After trying some of the spent grains they still tasted slightly sweet and with nice hints of caramel. Perfect for flapjacks! So I took some of the grain, dried it out in the oven and hey presto I've got a flapjack mix. The recipe can be found below.

Beer Grain Flapjacks

  • 200g Oven Dried Spent Beer Grains (This was a mix of maris otter and carapils)
  • 300g Rolled Oats
  • 300g Butter
  • 10 Tablespoons Golden Syrup
  • ~150ml of suitable beer (I used Meantime Chocolate Stout)
  • Optional: 200g chocolate (to top)

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C
  2. Line a shallow dish with greaseproof paper
  3. Add butter, golden syrup and beer to a pan and heat on a medium heat until butter has fully melted and mixture is smooth
  4. Using a large bowl mix the oats and grain into the liquid mixture until all the grains are sticky and wetted
  5. Pour into a shallow dish and cook in oven for ~20minutes or until golden brown on top. Leave on a wire rack to cool. They will feel soft at this point but they will harden as they cool
  6. After allowing to cool for about an hour start melting the chocolate in the microwave
  7. Layer the molten chocolate over the top surface of the flapjacks and allow to cool (I decorated with some chocolate buttons)
  8. Cut into manageable sizes
  9. Eat and enjoy them!
These flapjacks would be particularly yummy with any kind of rich, chocolaty stout or alternatively a slightly sweet golden ale.

Friday 13 April 2012

Cask Conditioned Lager?

At the Great British Beer Festival last year I was lucky enough to work on the bar which contained the Champion Speciality Beer, Oakleaf's I Can't Believe It's Not Bitter, a 4.9% cask conditioned lager. At the time I wasn't overly convinced by it. I felt that it wasn't quite lagery enough for lager drinkers but yet too lagery for hardened cask ale drinkers. I just found it to be more of a novelty and lacked any real discernible flavour. I didn't find it unpleasant and wouldn't complain if someone bought me a pint of it in a pub but it just lacked something. Despite my reservations it sold well and the reaction to it was a mix of people echoing my sentiments and people loving it. The beer did little to convince me that cask conditioned lager would sweep across the nation revolutionising the beer world. It wasn't a bad beer it just wasn't great. 

I hadn't given cask lagers much thought until recently. When on a trip to the Anglesea Arms in South Kensington, an excellent pub which stocks a great range of cask ales mainly from Sharps and Adnams but often has a few local beers available, I was intrigued when a cask was changed and a pump clip for Sharps Spring Cask Pilsner appeared. The beer is described by Sharps as "a pale straw beer with a herbal lemon aroma" with thyme added during maturation for extra flavour. When I went to order a few pints the barman commented on how good a choice I was making and that he absolutely loved the stuff. It poured a lovely light straw colour with a thick white head and had a great citrus aroma. The aroma was continued into the flavour with a slightly sweet citrus flavour followed by a clean crisp bitterness that was all backed up by just a smidgeon of malt. It was clear it had been cask conditioned as the heavy carbonation and sharp coolness associated with keg lager was lacking. A friend described it as "lager without the fizz", in his eyes a criticism, but I found it to be just the tonic needed on a warm spring evening. It quenched my thirst well and was very drinkable and moreish; the kind of beer you could drink all night. I'm not usually a lager drinker but I have to say that the Sharp's Spring Cask Pilsner is one of the best beers I've had in 2012 so far. If you see it I'd highly recommend trying it for yourself.

After trying these 2 beers I'm starting to become convinced that cask lager is an avenue which brewers should definitely consider. It's a niche market because I struggle to see hardcore lager drinkers change from keg to cask lager but as with most things to do with beer choice is always good. I can really see a place for beers like this in the hot summer months when a crisp refreshing beer is perfect.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

By The Horns Brewery Open Day

When I saw that By The Horns were having another open day at the end of the month it reminded me that I had always intended to write a little review of their beers I tried at their open day in March. By The Horns is the newest brewery to open up in south west London and a visit to London by my parents coincided nicely with their first open day. And so on a lovely sunny Saturday in March we made the short trip over the river to the brewery.
The journey down to the brewery was very striking as it took us past the old Young's brewery. Having lived in this part of London it made my Dad rather reminiscent about all the good beers Young's used to make before the brewery was closed indefinitely in 2006. On arrival at By The Horns we were greeted by a small block in an industrial estate that seems so ubiquitous with microbreweries nowadays. I like this idea though, that 2 young guys with a passion for brewing can set up a microbrewery in what is essentially a big garage and make very good brews. Speaking to the 2 owners they seemed to be very passionate about what they were doing and had big ideas for the expansion of the area to which they sold their beer. It was also nice to see that the clientèle was not made up exclusively of middle aged men with beards and sandals. It always makes me happy to go to these kind of events and see young people getting as excited about beer.

So what were the beers like? The guys had their whole range available in a mixture of casks and bottles. The 3 highlights for me were 2 cask beers; the Doodle APA, a 5.9% pale beer made using bags of american hops, the Lambeth Walk, a silky 5.1% dark porter, and the bottled Bobby on the Wheat, a 4.7% pale wheat beer. I have to say my favourite was probably the Doodle APA. It was just the slightly bitter, citrus flavoured beer that is so perfect for quenching ones thirst on a hot day. While the beers weren't mind blowing they were very nice offerings from one of the newest breweries in London. I bought a few bottles of their beers to take away with me and I've since tried all 3 of them finding them to again be lovely beers. The Doodle in particular was excellent in the bottle with the subtle citrus hop flavours coming through nicely. I also managed to snaffle a pint of the Bobby on the Wheat at the White Horse a few days ago and found that the cask offering was a nice, refreshing and interesting, through the use of the wheat, beer.
Overall the day was good fun and it was nice for my parents to see how the brewing scene in London has changed from when they lived here. I hope the guys at By The Horns are successful in their endeavours as  any brewery which looks to crack Fullers dominance on west and south west London is alright by me! I'm also looking forward to their next open day at the end of April where the new Oat Pale Ale will be launched!

Tuesday 3 April 2012

If you've got nothing nice to say then say nothing at all

When I was little I was always taught that if I didn't have anything nice to say about something I should keep my gob shut. I've always thought this should apply both on my blog as real life. It is for this reason that I do not often outright criticise pubs and breweries when I feel that their offerings have been substandard. When questioned on this by a friend I noted that while good beer served in lovely surroundings inspires me to blog the opposite certainly does not. It is wisely noted that generally customer reviews, not necessarily of pubs, are generally borne out of a feeling of wanting to rant about how bad something is or praise its reputation. However I feel much more inspired to write in praise rather than despair. As I've said before, I drink a lot of average beer in a lot of average pubs. Do I think any of you care about it? No, not really which is why in general when I write I write mainly in praise of breweries and establishments.

But surely bad service, bad beer and bad hospitality should be held to account? Yes, they should. However, my view on this is very similar to my view on CAMRA members actively denigrating other beer styles than clear fined cask conditioned ale (See 1 below). I feel the cause of good pubs and good beer served within them is championed better by celebrating the good rather than criticising the bad. It makes little sense in my opinion to waste time I could use talking about beers I love and enjoy rather than moaning about the ones I don't.

Am I being stupid here? Should I blog about all beer whether I find it good, bad or indifferent?

1. Posts by Hardknott Dave, about SIBA and beer clarity, and Tandleman, about CAMRA's acceptance of "craft beer".

Saturday 31 March 2012

Guest Blog: Beertails by William Hamilton

Editors Note: After a discussion with a common drinking partner of mine we came to the decision that he should do a guest post on here. Below is the results, I would like to emphasize here that the views expressed here are not my own (and nor do I agree with them hugely either).

This entry was inspired by a very pleasant chat with the regular contributor to this blog with whom I frequently discuss topics ranging from beer to politics and invariably end up in a heated antagonism. Therefore, as we sat in the sun outside the White Horse in Fulham, I was not surprised to find myself involved in a lengthy debate about a subject on which I had never considered myself to be a proud and principled champion. The crux of the problem lay in the concept of additions to beer - fruit, chocolate, honey, twigs, leaves and mud.

'Ale drinker', as you will no doubt be aware, is a keen brewer as well as enjoying his beer and was outlining his plans for the next brew. His next project, following a Scotch style ale which I considered to be fairly unpleasant but which he claimed rave reviews for, is destined to be a trio of stouts. So far so good, I am a keen fan of the darker beers and feel that they are a brilliant area for brewers to capitalise upon a dearth in the market. As regular readers will be aware, it is also an area about which Ale drinker has been keen to contribute to and so I was encouraged by the prospect of some experimental brews and the opportunity to sample and hone a fine stout or porter from scratch. It is worth noting at this stage that Ale drinker has not brewed a drop of stout before and, though I have enjoyed and commended a number of his previous projects, I am very apprehensive about the way he is approaching the trio of stouts.

The trio will consist of a chocolate orange, a coffee and a chilli-chocolate stout. The vast majority of these delectable flavours are not created by the hops, malt, liquor or yeasts which make up beer and so are additives. This is not necessarily a problem, many fine brewers have added fruits, minerals and other items to their beer to add flavour. I had enjoyed a chilli-chocolate stout with Ale drinker a few weeks ago and so am not averse to the concept, the stout in particular is a style of beer which can be really enhanced by the intelligent and calculated addition of a rich fruit or other deep flavours.

My opposition lies in the philosophy here. Ale drinker's rationale was that these novelty additions to beer make it 'interesting' and while I am aware that I may appear to be a purist, I feel that the real work should be done on the beer. Good beer lies in the malt and hop combinations rather than throwing in a cheap novelty flavour, it would be a real philistine to throw cassis into a fine vintage champagne because it shouldn't need to be called a kir royale to be enjoyable - hence my opposition to these 'beertails'. I feel this lack of effort is reflected by some larger brewers; in the same way that a gimmicky name or a themed beer can bump up sales, throwing in a novelty item can disguise bad beer and enables it to be sold as 'interesting'. These fruit salads remove some of the impetus behind creative and exciting beer generation.

Heaving a plum into a brew disguises many of the flavours of the actual beer which means that it is hard to learn from, refine and perfect a beer. Because Ale drinker has not brewed a stout before he has not identified the need for a coffee bean in the beer and has no idea of how such a strong flavour would fit in with his malt or hops mix. It is, in essence, a cheap and lazy option to create a novelty beer. 

While these beers may tempt a few new drinkers to experiment with an ale they are, in fact, being sold a beertail in which the flavours of the beer are masked. Good quality, interesting and exciting beers can be created from malts and hops and this is an area with a wealth of opportunity for innovation and creativity. This is part of the value of ales and is where the real work should go in.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Have the words stout and porter become interchangeable?

As you may have read I've recently started a love affair with dark beers. Even the rising temperatures have not been able to tempt me towards light spring beers. One thing I have noticed however is the interchangeable use of the terms stout and porter.

First a little history lesson. Porter was originally named so because it was popular with river and street porters. Stronger variations of the style were known as Stout Porter, Double Porter or Imperial Stout Porters. Eventually the porter was dropped and these stronger beers began simply being known as stouts. 

After reading up on the style I decided to look back through the bottles I'd been drinking and see if there was actually any correlation between the use of the word stout and being of a higher strength. While I didn't find any  meaningful correlation, I found porters ranging from 4-11% and stouts from 5-10.5%, I did notice that the large majority of the "flavoured" beers (chocolate, cherry, raspberry, chilli etc) I'd had were stouts rather than porters. I have to point out here that I thought the Bristol Beer Factory Raspberry Stout was delicious. It was like a black forest gateau in a pint.

Maybe this doesn't mean anything, maybe I'm looking too deeply into something which really has no relevance but hey it kept me entertained for an hour or so.