UK Style Revolution
October 21, 2010

On Monday I went to the British Guild of Beer Writers seminar on Beer Styles.  Billed as a contentious subject, I was relatively new to the controversy, seeing it as mainly internet furor where a fight can be started about anything, even something as innocuous as beer.  Though the potential arguments were not hashed out until the end of the seminar, I did get a sense of what was at stake.

In order to market beer, style becomes essential not only in informing the consumer but also in allowing certain beers to enter competitions such as the ones run by CAMRA at the GBBF.  However, the certain prescriptive and narrow style guidelines really hem in brewers like the head brewer at Meantime, Steve Schmidt, who are trying to brew according to inspiration and sensory goals.  He explained that for him often a beer will begin with an idea of what it should taste and look like rather than what style it might be.

I will not go into styles at all in this post, and that perhaps gives away where my sympathies lie– with the brewers who are asking for this to open up a bit, and for a certain flexibility for hybridity and invention.  I know just enough about styles as a consumer to know what I like and to guess at what a certain beer might taste like, and as an amateur home brewer I would attempt a certain style rather than the more creative approach of a master brewer.  That is enough for me for now.

Alastair Hook, owner of the Meantime Brewing Company, presented a visionary argument about styles and evolution.  His forward looking approach is clear in his beer and his brand, and I have long been a fan of his vision.  The seminar was held in his brew pub, the Powerpoint presentation cast before the gorgeous copper kettles in the main dining room.  On the site, Henry the VIII was born as well as Elizabeth the I, and the site has held a brewery on and off for 300 years, so when Hook says one can’t fake provenance in brewing identity, we can believe him.  He cited many examples of wine advertising and their success– that your average British consumer can tell you the difference between a chardonnay grape and a merlot is evidence that wine marketing has permeated British food culture.  What can breweries learn from their approach?

Hook has branded his wonderful beers with London in mind, this city that was once the brewing capital of the world, with three styles attributed to this place– the porter, stout and I.P.A.  Meantime brews versions of all of these styles, and they are not museum pieces but re-inventions of these beers.  I would argue that Hook’s notion of provenance is prioritised over tradition in the strict sense, to the brewery’s credit.  The history of the core style may inform the beer but it does not dictate the brewing process. (Much of the beer is served in kegs– why this mode of delivery is controversial is beyond me, though there seems to be some worry that keg delivery will somehow endanger the future of cask ale in the UK.  I don’t think keg beer is a threat here but that is fodder for another post.)

Hook also spoke of a brewing renaissance and revolution which originated in the US in the 80s with its “holistic New World approach to beer design.”  I think the UK could also learn a lot not just from this approach to beer design but also to beer marketing.  Last night I went to a gig at the Lexington and you know what young women and men were drinking there?  Blue Moon, Goose Island and Brooklyn Lager beers.  Ok, so it wasn’t real ale but it was craft beer, and it was “hip” to be holding a bottle of the stuff.  And I think this is key– US microbrews are harnessing their claim to authenticity: they are the underdogs, brewing newness with passion.  In a perhaps subliminal way, younger UK drinkers get this.

Though I admire Alastair’s approach and his beautiful beers, I would break from his argument in just this one regard. Of course breweries should learn lessons from successful wine marketing but beer will never be wine.  I would hope that beer and beer culture would never adopt the middle class trappings of wine in the UK.  Beer is so much cooler than wine because it is authentically British, and even the best beer is accessible to all price-wise.  I’d venture those gig-going Londoners in the Lexington weren’t wine drinkers.   The aspirational hegemony of wine will wane, and craft beer is poised to replace it.

But this is going to happen on the ground, in pubs, by employing and training staff about beers, by hiring staff who not only love beer but love customers.  (Even in customer hating London this can be done– just look at the success of the Jolly Butcher in Stoke Newington).    And pubs should offer flights of beers– small tasters presented on a tray in order of palate receptivity, and there should be halves and even third measure glasses available.  Taster plates of tapas sized snacks paired with beer would be a fantastic way to introduce a range of beers to people in a pub context.

I look forward to the rise of the welcoming brewpub that eschews gastro attitudes for casual generosity.  Ultimately, as craft beer variety increases in the UK, the younger UK drinking public will become more daring, expecting more  than just a 3.5% session bitter, which let’s face it, is currently the only alternative offered to the Stella and Guinness at most locals. Though this may already be happening in the US, breweries there are looking to the UK for roots and inspiration and breweries like Brewdog and Meantime are bringing this collaborative attitude to the UK.  Here the revolution is just taking off, and I can’t think of a more exciting time to be a beer drinker in the UK.

Local Lager, Lager, Lager
August 8, 2010

Bud Girl from 1904

A brief googling of “beer and women” turns up a dark parade of lager and misogyny.  It’s hard to separate the two.  Even with the new shiny-retro Stella ads aimed at women, it’s enough to turn a girl off the style.

I don’t expect much from a good lager and to be honest, they don’t expect much of me, either.  They’re like that friend you have that doesn’t mind a bit of dumb fun while crawling around the mall or dancing to 80s music. But the trick is to find someone who’ll do those things but not annoy you. They’re rare.

Munich is the place to find such companionship in a beer garden, in a brewery canteen. But what if you’re not in Munich?  What if you’re in London?

The Bunker brewpub in Covent Garden used to brew a perfectly fun lager but then they changed the recipe, labeling it as Freedom lager and it just wasn’t that good anymore, and now they are no longer.  Though you can still get Freedom lager around, it’s a bit like seeing that friend that used to be fun but then adopted some seriously green middle class lifestyle and lost their sense of humor in the process.

And then there’s shiny Meantime Helles and Pils– both totally drinkable yet I don’t choose to drink them very often because usually wherever you find these beers there’s a wider selection of something that’s just more enticing.

Brodies, an East London brewery that’s brewing some really compelling beers, does a London Lager but I’ve never had it.  They have a brewery tap, King William the IV in Leyton, which seems worth a field trip!

Last night we met some friends at the Regent in Islington, which has the best pizzas in London but the beer selection is a bit lackluster.  Chalkboards around the shabby-chic interior proclaimed a new Cotswold Lager on tap.  I was a bit wary but by the time I had my second half I was won over completely.  This beer was easy to drink and went down well with the pizzas.  The sweet malt character gave it just enough backbone to not be boring, but it was dry enough not be annoying.

That is, I wasn’t annoyed until I read the Cotswold Brewery website’s description of the beer, a complete throwback cliche describing the beer as if it were a woman being offered up for sexual consumption: “If you think lager doesn’t taste of much then it’s time you pressed your lips up against a pint of Premium. She’s a full flavoured seductress who will soon have you head-over-heals with her crisp, dry taste and flirtatious bitter kick. It’s love at first sip.”

Read on with mild horror the description of their Dark Lager: “This one is a dark little number who can really pack a punch. She’s bursting with flavour and lashings of taste, yet retains a smooth finish that will warm even the most frozen of your cockles. She is normally only available during the winter but has proved to be a popular little number so we have kept her on for the summer.”

The wording of the description is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.  Their lager really deserves a better public face.  It’s another example of a good British brewery in dire need of a marketing makeover.

What Survives
December 23, 2009

Near Finsbury Park Station there’s a boarded up old pub, a matte lapis facade festooned with a remnant of London’s disappeared beers: Meux’s Original London Stout.  In every corner of London a mysterious detail hides a story; to note them is to chase ghosts.  Ghosts of the drowned; of the sudden, absurd death.  Even death by beer.

Meux’s was “famous for its black beer” and the great porter vat it was brewed in: 22 feet high and containing enough beer to supply more than a million persons with a pint of beer each.  According to Zythophile the brewery “…once brought a beautiful aroma of malt and hops to delight passengers on the tops of buses at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and New Oxford Street.”  But British Historian Thomas Pennant describes it as exhibiting a magnificence unspeakable.

One day, this vat burst. The London beer flood was immortalized in Peter Pindar’s poem, “The Lamentations of the Porter-vat”

Here—as ’tis said—in days of yore,
(Such days, alas! will come no more),
Resided Sir John Barleycorn,
An ancient Briton, nobly born,
With Mrs. Hop—a well-met pair,
For he was rich, and she was fair.

And yet the pair quarrels, love-locked, waltzing disaster like petty gods.  Are these the genius loci of this Seven Sisters corner, driven from their original perch by the tourists flocking to see We Will Rock You musical playing at the Dominion Theatre which now stands in place of the brewery?  I imagine Meantime’s London Porter to be a fitting ode to these bitter, roasted ghosts.

1814.  It’s that hour when everyone’s at home. You run from a flood of porter, through the crowded tenements surrounding the brewery. The basements of the rookery fill.  Up on the first floor: a mother and daughter at tea and then not, the mother dead on the spot.  The daughter tries to swim and is dashed to pieces.  Running, a tidal wave of the stuff after you. Timber and neighbors, feral cats swept up in it. Drunk on the fumes. The drunk are dying.

There are rumors: in the nearby hospital the doctors minister to the injured who stink so of beer the other patients there demand beer too, almost causing a riot.

And following it all, punters with pots, gleaning from the porter river: knee deep or face first.

You would cup your hands–let nothing go to waste.

Ale Power Posse, Activate!
December 10, 2009

Funnest and most clever: The Beer Nut at the Greenwich Union

Last week Friday there was a truly epic beer crawl with Knut Albertson and The Beer Nut– you really couldn’t ask for two better drinking buddies.  (When Knut laughs you know it’s a party!) I joined them at the Market Porter where there were a bevy of bloggers who I only recognized from tiny 75 pixel icons.  It’s a rather surreal experience, being left to guess who is who. Forgive me if I failed to recognize you or introduce myself, even if I’m a regular reader.

Knut and The Beer Nut were already well into sampling beers– the stage was set when I sampled The Beer Nut’s Pictish Sauvin Blanc, a swoony hop cocktail. It really put my Acorn IPA in its place.  It was entirely drinkable but just not stunning.

And just so, I spent the rest of the day making safe choices and really coveting whatever the Beer Nut was drinking! We moved on quickly to the Rake, a place I haven’t visited since the unpleasantness of last year.  The staff outnumbered patrons when we arrived, and they were ready to welcome “the names of the industry” (their phrase not mine) who were to be arriving that day.  Again, I loved Beer Nut’s Racer 55, bursting with fruits and crazy drinkable at 7%.  This would be the kind of beer I would give to someone who says they aren’t a beer drinker– balanced, fruity and surprising enough that someone who is antibeer might be converted.  I opted for the Cantillon Gueuze on keg which was delicious but perhaps kegging interferred with its mouthfeel the velvety sparkle turned up to a distracting brighness? And it was served a bit too cold (easy to remedy this by waiting..) Knut braved the BrewDog Nanny State, a beer I really found rough going when I tried it at the Equity for Punks launch.  It’s kind of a bitterly metaphorical beer– we all had to agree that any beer that still has a discernible malt character after such brutal hoppage is indeed remarkable, if not drinkable.

Knut drinking Meantime's London Porter

And then we were off to Greenwich, to the Meantime Union.  We were all quite disappointed with the London IPA on cask–  something I adored in the bottle, with its grapefruit intensity.  All that juicy presence was missing in the cask.  Mark Dredge (who joined us later) also tried it in the keg and said it was still missing all the best parts. We were also joined by Mark of Real Ale Reviews, who impressed me with his enthusiasm and perception.  (I will save my thoughts on the New Wave of young UK Beer writers and drinkers for another post.) After sharing part of a big bottle of London Porter my liver was telling me I really had to rethink this whole Beer for Life thing. I was getting tipsy, but I knew everyone had grand plans: there was the Wenlock in Hackney, and then off to see Jeff at the Gunmakers in Clerkenwell, and lastly back to the Pigs Ear Beer Fest back in Hackney. I was never going to make it.

Beering of this magnitude takes planning: I ate a hearty meal before heading out and I stuck with halves and drank water between beers.  Even so, it caught up with me more quickly than I thought.  It’s not that I was crazy drunk, it’s just that I’m aware that getting beyond tipsy while inevitably traveling home alone from an unknown part of London without a planned route is a bad idea. (Edit: The link contains the offensive Cabwise PSA video aimed at rape victims and can be triggering.)  But I digress.

In London Bridge there was some difficulty at the train barriers.  All the guys were waved through but the Gate Keeper had other plans for me–I needed to go upstairs and buy a different ticket (I’d used my oyster on the way in, but it’s not accepted on the way out? Ah the joys of National Rail in London).  Luckily, thanks to an outbreak of fisticuffs on the second floor, I stealthily slipped by.

By the time we got to the Wenlock, I knew that to keep drinking was to just fuel the urban anger that had been stirred by the random officiousness and witnessing the full-on fight at the station wasn’t helping matters.  I had water and tried to regain my bearings.  While walking there I got a text from an old high school friend who was in town.  I invited him to come join us, not knowing that  plans were already in the works to move on.  I realized to keep going would be to keep drinking and eventually I would have to take a brain-addled approach to finding my way home from an unfamiliar part of London.

And besides, I really loved the Wenlock with its ramshackle crowd of local sports fans and myriad grey heads tucking in to their half pints.  There were beers I hadn’t even tried yet, and besides, I knew my friend from high school was going to love this place, with its dingy red carpet and massive cracks in the floor from which mysterious blue light poured forth.  I saw the guys off and went to meet my friend (thanks Beer Nut for the map print-out– I needed it to find my way back).

I can see the Wenlock becoming a a new favourite– people were very friendly– making room for us where there was none, and being generally quite amiable.  We both had Harvey’s Bonfire Boy.  From a distance the pump clip looked vaguely seasonal, like Father Christmas in a pith helmet. I love Harvey’s beers so we stuck with that for the rest of the night. The brewery website says this beer was first brewed in 1996 for the Emergency Services that fought the fire which destroyed the brewery offices.  But while I drank it I thought of it as a winter warmer sort of beer, with a lovely sweet malt presence and vague smoke, perfect for nursing in halves (though my friend was having pints), slowly the glow of it all returned as the two of us, having not seen each other in twenty odd years, caught up with the rapid passing of decades while the locals hollered at the telly and sang what to us, two American midwesterners adrift in London, sounded like shanties run aground.

Extreme Beering
July 5, 2009

usa

When Mr. Malting and I moved across the pond, one of the first things we noticed was the difference in advertising.  In the UK there was a clear absence of images of SUVs driving over small cars on the motorway or dudes chugging yellow soda while snowboarding down a mountain.  In the UK, it’s all fey turtles carrying cans of cola on their backs and Vashti Bunyan singing about her Hebridean cow while hawking a phone plan.

After this weekend’s American Beer Festival at the White Horse in Parson’s Green, one could say that there is a similarly cartoonish contrast in beer.  Many British beers may ask you to be attuned to subtleties all the while courting you with a mild buzz.  American beers are flashy, with big hop-bling and alcohol percentages that will have you arm wrestling strangers before the night is up.

hopdevil_200Forget your 2.5% milds, your quaffable bitters…this weekend’s festival was beer tasting as an extreme sport. Boak had the brilliant idea to meet up at the festival in the afternoon, beating the inevitable evening crowd. I made it there first and chose to start with Victory Hop Devil, a beer I’d never tried before, but I’ve always thought the little hope creature was cute.  Palate pandaemonium!  Was I wise to start with this?  Was my palate f*cked now?  After a few sips of the warming stuff, served in a very nice brandy-shaped half pint, I stopped worrying and just embraced the intensity.

I’d almost finished when both Boak and Pete joined me. If you are going to be tackling these extremes, these are the drinking buddies you want–engaging and passionate about beer, the kind of folks who will sympathize when your half of Hop Wallop goes barn-yardy on you.  We decided we couldn’t detect the oak in the “blind taste test” between the two Arrogant Bastards on offer.  Both were tastier than AB’s I’ve had in the US.  I read that some of the beers had been extra-dry-hopped for the journey. Many were also served American-cold which, while not fridge-cold, is a few degrees colder than what in the UK is cellar temperature (which can vary wildly but sometimes is room temperature).  It might be heresy in some beer circles, but in the summer I like beer to be cold.  Really cold.

Johnny_Cask

Why can't British breweries learn a bit of marketing from the US micros?

Next, Pete suggested we try the fabled Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA, a mixture of IPAs that have been re-fermented in their special “Johnny Cask” with maple syrup, yeast and even more hops.  It was by far my favourite of the evening with loads of tropical fruits and big hops balancing it out. In typical US fashion, the alcohol % is not advertised on the gorgeous pump clip (or anywhere else where the beer is profiled on the web…)

Sometimes alcohol percentages seem like an absurd obsession in the UK (see the controversy over Brew Dog’s 12% Tokyo).  Whereas in the US many brew pubs will serve pints of 6%+ offerings without blinking.  Indeed, the first time I had an Arrogant Bastard (that sentence sounds bad…) the place didn’t serve halves and yet most of the beers on their menu were upwards of 6%.  What would the Daily Mail say?

Luckily, the White Horse does halves, but as the sun came out and the the post-work crowd showed up, I wished they did thirds.  There were so many beers I wouldn’t be able to try because I was already getting goofy.  At one point Pete asked me if I could still taste anything!  Like a boxer you just retire to your corner, drink some water, strategize and get back into things…

Boak went to get us halves of Meantime’s London Porter. Brewer Alistair Hook playfully “[threw] down the gauntlet to the American brewers by giving drinkers a comparative taste of an extremely traditional beer, a six-month old porter vatted in the original London brewing style…”  Indeed, much of what seems new in the US is actually a reinvention of something quite old, and good American brewers know this.  Likewise, exciting UK brewers like Meantime and Brew Dog are having a beery dialogue with the US and this friendly sparring just means better beer for both sides of the pond.

I believe the London porter was Boak’s favourite; she declared it “liquid tiramisu.”  It was indeed deliciously deep– a contrast in sweet, seductive darkness next to the Dogfish Head IPA which had a sun-in-splendor brightness.  At 9.? % it was the thing that made my liver cry uncle.

But, Alastair…you haven’t won yet!  I am considering returning for another round today.

Hotter than a Match Head
July 28, 2008

Market Porter, Borough, SE1, originally uploaded by Ewan-M.

On Saturday night I found myself at one of my favourite London pubs, The Market Porter. When I first saw this pub I was meandering about Borough Market doing some cheese flirting and getting tipsy on dry New Forest cider. There on the corner was a typical looking pub, but somehow it wasn’t. Typical, I mean. Sure, it’s famous and everyone knows about it. Everyone but me and that’s OK– most of London is like that. Discoverable.

There’s something about that area around the Southwark cathedral that’s maze-like and human-scale in a way much of London isn’t. On that day I looked past the City workers in their identical black suits and saw inside the many many taps and little tables where girls with flowers in their hair sat drinking. Being a bit drunk already I made a note to return, which I have done over and over.

What I love about the pub is that despite its City banker clientèle, or the hipster-with-mortgage demographic that visits the place it seems to exist outside of this. So many pubs in London pander to these folk but not this place which is full of freaks and bohemians, tweedy flaneurs. And real ale nutters. I went to the back of the bar, where the balded, bearded real ale gargoyles guard the taps. It’s hard to see past them but I spy Harviestoun “Behind Bars” which I’m willing to try based on my devotion to their Bitter & Twisted. Plus, I like the name. As usual, I’m served immediately despite the crowds. The bar staff is always friendly and attentive.

Meanwhile Mr. Malting is on the futile search for milds. It’s his first time here and he still doesn’t believe me that it’s a decent place because he can’t find a mild. He’s even searching the pump clips displayed on the ceiling as proof this place maybe had a mild on at one time so perhaps it’s ok, but he’s still whinging on about how we could be at the Royal Oak instead drinking Harvey’s Mild.

I prompt him to try the Harvey’s Bitter which is my default choice. (I know people love TT Landlord but I’ve had a couple terrible pints of that stuff. Harvey’s was the first bitter I had that I actually “got”– where I understood why people would like this style of beer.) I admit that at this point I was wishing I had some Harvey’s Bitter because the Behind Bars was more like “Convict Fairy Burst”: metallic, detergent-like. I was happy to have only a half pint to finish.

At one point Mr. Malting and I looked longingly at the new, silver Meantime taps, specifically the Union dark lager. It was the hottest night of the year and I wanted to drink something that didn’t feel like work, something that met me halfway. At £3.50 the pint of Union was quite dear but it was cold and crisp-yet-malty, with a lovely head and bright mouth feel. As I sat there blissed with this continental style beer I thought about summer– how so much of British life is designed for rain and cold that when summer hits, as it has been doing more fervently each year, it seems most of Britain just runs out into the sun to get a bit of colour. But the heat is still on on most of the buses, everyone is still in wool suits, and the beer is still cellar temperature, even if that cellar just isn’t that cold anymore.

I’ve had enough year-long summers in Los Angeles to last me a couple lifetimes. Bring on the rain, the damp chill so I can drink my comforting bitters and stouts happily again.

Greenwich Beer Fest Blues
July 19, 2008

Wednesday was my birthday so I had the grand idea I would hit the Greenwich Beer Festival on its first day to catch everything fresh. It took me forever to get there, as the Docklands Light Railway was severely delayed. When I got there it wasn’t very busy, it being a weekday afternoon. It was on the gorgeous grounds of the Royal Naval College and there was plenty of space to lounge in the grass and there were even chairs and tables available– that’s how uncrowded it was.

The James Evans Giraffe band was on stage doing a kind of Rutles version of New Orleans’ Professor Longhair’s Tipitina. I admit nothing scares me like white-baby-boomer-property-ladder-blues/jazz. (You know, music for the chaps who buy Ron Wood’s paintings for their second homes in the South of France). I was happy that this band dispelled my dread– no bids at authenticity here, just eccentric interpretations.

Beer-wise, I started off with something I thought I knew– Twickenham’s Sundancer. It was pleasant enough for looking over the tasting notes and planning the next few hours of drinking, but it wasn’t the beer I thought it was. Perhaps I had it confused with Sunchaser? Or maybe it was just that subtle difference between casks and contexts.

I looked longingly at the cider line up but knew that it would get me drunk too fast and ruin my palate. I decided I would start with the lighter, hoppier beers and move to stouts. I planned to end on Meantime’s London Porter, having never tried it. I knew I could get it at Waitrose and it would be the same, as it’s not in a cask, but I thought it would be appropriate, being that I was in Greenwich and all that. I never got to try it but I will explain later.

Mr. Malting had a mild masterplan– he was going to try them all. His favourite was the Woodforde’s Mardler’s Mild. I started with Oakleaf’s Hole Hearted, which was lovely– peppery, floral and refreshing. Next was West Berkshire’s Dr. Hexters– I’ve like all the beers I’ve tried with them. It was drinkable but would have been better complimented with food rather than by itself.

Then I went dark– Burton Bridge’s Bramble Stout. Complex and dry juxtaposed against a very sweet nose. I wrote down that cheese & Branston pickle would have gone well with it. I must have been hungry. I particularly liked the copper tang in the middle.

Then followed Nelson’s Blood. I was almost put off by the vegetal stink. It was the first day of the festival– how could it have gone off already? It tasted ok but was hard to get through. Disappointment continued to the Milestone Black Pearl– described as an Irish stout, it had the thinest mouthfeel of any Irish stout I’ve ever tasted. The “burnt toast” description in the tasting notes was more like burnt brisket. Mr. Malting tasted it and we both agreed that the swamp gas aspect couldn’t be gotten past. I poured it out.

My next move was to the Exmoor Beast. It was lovely but I made no tasting notes. As I was drinking I noticed everyone was ordering full pints, many people going back for the same thing over and over. I didn’t see many tickers here at all. Was I the only one taking notes? I wondered how they really managed this– pint after pint after pint. This is not a new revelation though–I’m still in England, where people can put away six pints in a session.

But, you know, sometimes they can’t. I noted an table of old men near me who had been drinking round after round all afternoon. One completely hairless geezer with the leather skin and upmarket casuals of someone who winters in Spain, stood suddenly and countless pints coursed out of him. With zen calm he reached into his mouth in mid-spew to pull out his false teeth. Everyone, including his mates, sat around drinking and eating as if this were not going on right next to them. (Brits are very down on anti-social youth but to be honest much of the bad drinking-related behavior I’ve witnessed has come from men old enough to know better.) I never in my life thought I would say this but you know, shame has its uses. Sometimes shame is good.

I had a half eaten cheese bap in front of me, which I had planned to eat with the London Porter in a kind of happy birthday salute to my chosen home, but I instantly lost all interest in eating or drinking anything more. It could be that old man was just reacting to the Celtic-jazz-fusion act that had just come on stage. Someone behind me snorted, “For fuck’s sake! Anyone play the recorder want to take over?”

Yep, It was time to make the two hour trek home.

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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