Extreme Beering

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.

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13 Responses

  1. nice roundup – totally agree re: US Micro marketing of beers.

  2. […] Impy Malting (UK) […]

  3. “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…)”
    A long time ago, the Puritans at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms(they just added Explosives to their list) decided they didn’t want brewers marketing their beverages on strength, so the alcohol % was not allowed to printed on the label. Now, the label is allowed to state the percentage within .1%. Which is probably impossible to figure out without a lab on premises

    • Interesting– what convoluted teetotaler logic. Thanks Ed.

  4. Sounds like a fun evening. The Johnny Cask label is terribly cool. Definitely the english micros could learn a thing or two from the very hip and cool beer labels they get in the states.

    I find stronger beers are great to drink in half pints, I’d like it if you could get 1/3 pints but this will never happen in Ireland.

    • I’ve never seen a 1/3 measure except for the GBBF but really they would have been perfect for this festival. With that said there wasn’t a single beer I tried that I didn’t want MORE of– I actually went back yesterday and had more. I tried the Yeti Imperial Stout which was outstanding but dangerous. I tried to quit before I was regretting anything.

  5. “At 9.? % it was the thing that made my liver cry uncle.”

    I’m not sure what it means, but I love this line! :~)

    Wish I could have been there – sounds much fun (though with that much ABV flying about I would need a chair & some time to process it all)
    cheers
    Mike
    (who once worked at the WH for all of about 3 days)

    • Hi Mike, What was it like working at the WH? It seems like they have a pretty good team of bar staff. “Cry Uncle” is an Americanism, I’m afraid– the equivalent of pleading for mercy. Maybe you already knew this!

  6. The Rake sells draught beer beer in thirds – it’s legal, just most pubs have never bothered.

    Re: marketing, don’t forget that issues like access to markets and the nannying of people like the Portman Group, make the matter of advertising a bit more problematic here. There’s no point putting good money into advertising campaigns to raise awareness of draught craft/micro beer when you can’t go into your local and drink it because the pubco, property company, private equity business or whatever rig their internal market to buy low and sell high, and consequently won’t list the beer or use the distribution because they can’t force rock-bottom terms. Of course, below the line marketing could be a bit more thought through, sometimes…

    • Good marketing ideas don’t have to come at a high price– think of all the young, under-employed design graduates who could use the work! To be honest, I think a lot of dodgy marketing of real ale in the UK comes from a confusion about who real ale drinkers are. There is a stubborn idea prevalent with many ale drinkers that image doesn’t matter, when in fact it does. Making good beer isn’t enough, especially if the older generation of ale drinkers wants to share the delight of ale with people in their 20s. I don’t think we can blame pubcos for this.

  7. Aargh I’m so gutted I couldn’t make this, everything I’ve read and heard makes it sound so cool, especially when I have a serious love affair for big US beers. Next year I’ll be there… 🙂

    The DFH 75 minute sounds amazing. I REALLY hope they are sending something(s) over for the GBBF this year. Will you be there? Trade session? After missing this at the White Horse I doubt I’ll venture away from the US stuff at all!

  8. Being both a Johnny Cash and a beer fan, I think that label is great. Interesting to hear that the pumpclip didn’t have the abv on it-naughty, naughty. Strictly speaking, it should do, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t:)

  9. Hi PurlyGrrrl,
    working at The WH was fun & interesting -I’d done the odd bit of bar-work before, but never anywhere that took good beer anything like as serious.

    Twas an odd time though, I’d moved to “the smoke” for my dream brewing job that didn’t work out, but travelling across London for an albeit fascinating minimum wage job wasn’t the answer either 🙂

    (thanks for explaining “cry Uncle” – despite Yankily friends & a fortnight on the right-hand coast, I’d never heard it)

    All interesting stuff on the marketing side – we need to work on this too – where might we find all these design/marketing folks who want to work for buttons & beer?!
    Cheers
    Mike.

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