Archive for the ‘US vs UK’ Category

American Imperial Homesickness Cure All
August 7, 2010

Yesterday I felt a great need to try the Great Divide anniversary IPA, which is a beer I missed during the GBBF.  Following Pete Brown’s tip, I headed to the White Horse in Parsons Green for their American Craft Brewing celebration in the upstairs bar.

I like the White Horse– it’s comfortable yet elegant and the service is always stellar.  Yet, I never know what to eat there as the menu is strictly gastro and full of things like “deep fried lamb’s tongue.” I end up Googling things like “Haslet” only to find out it’s made of pig hearts.  I have heard the food here is very good, and I’m sure it is, but it’s not my kind of thing, and I didn’t try any of the vegetarian dishes.  The veggie options at places like this are usually a gloopy risotto or some salad involving warm goats cheese– an afterthought.

The 7-10% beers are sold in halves or pints instead of the more reasonable third-pint measure, which meant I had to curtail my list a bit.

After drinking so many cask ales over the last five years, I had to re-acclimate to American beers on keg.  The carbonation releases hop oils and really changes the mouthfeel profoundly.  And the serving temperature is much colder, which I love, but it means the real dimension of the beer reveals itself slowly, like a dance of veils, as it warms in your hand.

Great Divide 16th Anniversary Wood-Aged IPA was worth the trek to alien land that is posh greater West London.  There’s definitely a Turkish delight thing going on, heavy on the pineapple and vanilla, but coated in hop bitterness.  Complex and slick with a lively carbonation, after a half of this I was really feeling the alcohol which was very warming, even from the first sip.

Until Mr. Malting showed up, I was drinking alone.  There were only four blokes up there in the bar with me.  They were fresh from the GBBF, all business.   Philosophically, one always gets drunk faster drinking alone and this is not ideal.  I need some London beer drinking buddies and I need them pronto!

Ballast Point Calico Amber was the second beer I tried, as I was trying to scale things back and this was only 5.5%.  It was unfair to line this beer up after the Great Divide IPA, which was the stronger, hoppier beer.  The Amber wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t remarkable.

The standout beer of the evening was Odell’s IPA which has been brewed according to a traditional English recipe  from the 17th century, similar to the style brewed by White Shield for Pete Brown’s Hops and Glory adventure.  It’s in that bold, hoppy-yet-light style but amps it in an American way.  I had never had a beer by this brewery before, but after perusing their website I want to try all their beers now.  The textures and illustrations on their packaging are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen– nostalgic, earthy and slightly magical, the fonts are reminiscent of that old storybook from which your gran used to read you bedtime stories.  The beer itself was perfectly balanced and bright with a nice oily mouthfeel that would stand up really well to a spicy curry. I could have really used a spicy curry at that point in the evening.

Yeti Imperial Stout is my second-favourite in this style, next to Rasputin and BrewDog’s Paradox. It’s complex yet easy to drink.  I convinced Mr. Malting to have this one so I could take sips of it. He said it’s not really his kind of thing, and he only wanted a third and probably would only drink it once a year.  Ok, point taken.

I ended with the Southern Tier Mokah, a combination of their Imperial Stouts, Jahva and Choklat. It contains both coffee and chocolate and was a dessert of a beer.  Deceptively easy to drink and quite comforting, I wish I had bottles of this to give to friends who say they don’t like beer.  Specifically friends who like things like Baileys or even Starbucks specialty coffees (which are weirdly popular with a lot of people I know).  This would be a great gateway beer for that kind of drinker.

Scattered around the bar were excellent Guide to American Craft Beers brochures published by the American Brewers Association.  Well written and clearly laid out, they give the basics of beer ingredients, brewing processes and styles concisely and colorfully.  It is exactly the kind of thing I would have loved to have picked up when I was getting started, as it saves you the embarrassment of asking about the basics.  The tone is enthusiastic, open and friendly, assuming no prior knowledge or expectation on the part of the reader, and yet it’s not patronizing either.  This is something I feel UK beer culture has not yet managed– how to reach out to new beer drinkers or twenty-somethings without sounding like they are passing down some hallowed tradition that must be cared for in very specific ways.  On this front– describing the joys of beer to the uninitiated– the Americans have got it right.

It is difficult to do a proper evening of tasting of beers which are meant to be had in small measures, on their own, paired with food.  If anyone knows a good source for US beers online, please let me know.  I would like to stock up on the Mokah and Odells!

Is Your Lager Phone On?
December 17, 2009

If America is Jackson Pollock then the UK is Rolf Harris.

–Battle of the Craft Brewers: US vs UK

This feature on Dwink argues that the US is currently winning the rounds.  The most compelling aspect of this article is the section on availability of craft beer in the two countries– the UK dismally losing this round. “Penetration within the pub companies, mostly owned by banks not brewers, is constrained by the beer tie while many insist on centralised distribution through one of the big three logistic companies.” This is my frustration– even though the brewer-to-drinker ratio is greater in the UK, the selection of craft beer readily available in the just isn’t as healthy as in the US.  For this to change, we have to get more Brits drinking craft beer.

The other night Mr. Malting was at a metal show and the craft beer on tap was Sierra Nevada.  This is something I’m seeing with more regularity in trendier pubs and venues– American beer is becoming increasingly available. Everyone I talk to in my peer group, and most are almost inconvertable mega-lager drinkers, believe that the image of craft beer in the UK is the one insurmountable obstacle, but I’m sure distribution plays a bigger part.

I realize I long ago turned my lager phone off.  I don’t know how to reach all my lager and wine drinking friends, try as I might suggesting different beers.  The lager drinker who will opt for anything that’s around 4% or the wine drinker who’s not fussed as long as it’s red suddenly become very picky when presented with ale.   I can only conclude the reluctance is not about taste; it’s about image.

It is curious to note that among my friends and peers in the US there is absolutely no stigma to drinking craft beer.  On the contrary, it is cutting edge, hip, authentic.  I wonder if the way forward in converting a younger generation of beer drinkers will be through more American craft beer available here in the UK?

Isn’t that the way lager almost swept out real ale in Britain initially?  The imports were sold to Brits as the shinier, younger option?  In profoundly image-conscious Britain we need to think of a narrative that will resonate with younger Brits the same way the populist, American”Craft Brewer” video spot resonates with Americans’ identity as revolutionaries and independents, Davids to the industry’s Goliath.

To do this we really have to redefine our terms.  “Microbrew” and “real ale” have become problematic and exclusive.  Perhaps a more encompassing approach is to embrace “craft beer”?  We know that cask ale isn’t the only good beer around, despite its vitally defining role in British brewing, but this is a topic for another post.

My friends who went to All Tomorrow’s Parties tell me that Exmoor ales were served at the Butlins venues and the staff were encouraging punters and really offering the beers as locally made and an exciting “new” option.   Perhaps this approach–emphasizing food miles and green thinking, the authenticity of locality and context is the way forward?  I remain skeptical.  Part of me believes that many Brits would opt for a stylish import or a mass brand “no brainer” over something as seemingly unfashionable as real ale.  I would like to be wrong.