Back in the Home Country
January 14, 2009

Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena, California, by joedecruyenaere on flickr.

Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena, California, by joedecruyenaere on flickr.

I’m in America for a month, on a bit of a beery safari.  I’m staying with my friend Bob who is an amazing brewer and the person who first turned me on to good beer.   So, when I arrived some fresh, homebrewed Kolsh and a super-grapefruity American Pale Ale welcomed me.

We’d decided that we’d brave the frat-guy atmosphere of the Yard House (a place that serves beer to bone heads in yard-long glasses) because they have an extensive menu of beers on draft.  Our plan was foiled when I got carded!  (To Brits, this means you are asked for ID to prove you are over 21). I was completely out of the habit of carrying ID with me, as I don’t have to do this in London.   All I had with me was my expired California ID which proved I was old enough to be the waitress’ mother, but since it was expired she refused to serve me.  A surreal moment indeed!

So we ended up at Lucky Baldwin’s in Pasadena, an “English” pub which had an array of English beers on draft that would put most pubs in England to shame.  And, unlike most British pubs, we were able to luxuriate outside in the sun in mid January wearing only tee shirts, and as evening came on we ordered another round and the fairy lights came on in the beer garden.

I ended up trying two beers I’ve been curious about, both by the American brewery, Stone.  I started with the Smoked Porter and was impressed with the sneaky smoke note, and the overall drinkabilty.  Next up was the Arrogant Bastard ale, a beer beloved of certain British friends, probably because they like saying the name.  Bob described it as a barley wine.  It did have a malty middle that I associate with a barley wine, but bookended by an oily, resinous hoppiness that coated the mouth completely.  I had a pint of this because they only serve pints here…I had to nurse the damn thing, happy it would be my last beer of the night.  My palate was done for.  It was a reminder that I am now in the US, and things could get mighty hoppy.

In the Meantime
May 14, 2008

While real ale in itself isn’t going to change white, male “boy’s club” feel of beer drinking in the UK, it does have the potential for wider appeal with women and people of color. How is this going to happen?

One possible way is that beer will be marketed to separate race and gender demographics. People will buy it from supermarkets and drink it in front of the telly.

Where is the fun in that? Beer is a social thing, a bonding agent. Beer has the potential to really bring people together joyfully. What if real ale culture harnessed that anew, starting with pubs and festivals radically rethinking their base?

Perhaps the nationalistic, tradition-based advertising approach of many British pubs, festivals and breweries is not ultimately the way forward if real ale is to have more appeal. In the changing landscape of Britain it must have wider appeal to really survive and grow.

Meantime– which doesn’t produce cask-conditioned ale– is an amazing example of British beer adopting international styles and learning from the American microbrewery revolution. Easy-drinking kolsh and Munich styles plus Strawberry cream, blackcurrant porter and raspberry ale are beers that will appeal to women, but they aren’t marketed patronizingly at us. Also the packaging in the grocery store and the pub spoke to me: bottles with a beautiful font and a great name. They were elegant, back to basics and yet full of London magic (Greenwich Mean Time– time begins here–).

The Greenwich Union pub did not disappoint, and echoed the branding effortlessly. Everything was perfect down to the details: the glasses were appropriate to the style and brewery branded, and even carefully sprayed down after pouring by the bar staff so they wouldn’t be sticky. The beer itself was perfect in every way– the kolner seemed quite accurate especially– I suppose it can’t be called a kolsh because you can’t hear the bells of the Dom in Greenwich! The dunkel rivaled my favourite of that style– Andrechs. The raspberry was specially perfect for drinking outside on a summer’s day. The sunny Union garden did remind me of happy times with friends in the beer gardens of Bavaria. It was a Sunday afternoon and there were many more women here drinking– maybe even outnumbering men. Though it was still a predominantly white crowd.

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