Beer in a Can: Future Days or Soon Over (Babaluma)?

Excuse me for confusing beer and Krautrock, but the beer world is embracing the can to an extent not seen since the heyday of the German rock band Can. There was a time when at least the perception of any right-drinking beer lover was that the can was an indicator of an inferior product. Filtered and pasteurised, tainted by the metal.

In the 70s, cult favourites Can, progenitors of so-called Krautrock, whose album titles I borrowed for my headline, seemed to me and my little brother, the height of freaky rock. We were a little too young to know, perhaps. We were also a little too young for beer. Not too young, however, to notice that beer culture, like music culture was changing. Beer in a can, on the other hand, was normal.

Can albums and FourPure beer can stack with MaltJerry

MaltJerry stands in front of a Fourpure Brewery stack of Pils cans and underneath the sleeve pics for two classic Can albums

From our viewpoint, now, in the actual future, the 70s look retro hip. Everybody drank their beer from dimpled pint glasses and my dad had a hipster moustache. Even in bleak, three-day week Britain, brewers thought cans were so good they put seven pints in them and called it a party. Bottles seemed as old hat as flat caps. Are times changing?

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Part 2 of So, 2012: Was it Maltier?

I don’t do resolutions, and I didn’t in 2012. Charlie Brooker doesn’t think it’s cool and neither do I. In fact I wrote about not doing resolutions in Part 1 of “So, 2012: Was it Maltier?” in which I looked at my post: “Wishes for a Maltier 2012” and checked how true the first three wishes came.

Here are the remaining three wishes, with the original comment indented followed by what became of them:

4. Breweries: tell us what’s in the bottle

“Brewed with the finest malt and choicest hops.” It says on far too many labels. Stop it now! Whisky is hardly better: “The purest water flowing down through the glens.” Rubbish. What if my headlines said: “Written with the most descriptive words and crafted punctuation”? Oh, and while I’m dealing with imprecision, stop this “Brewery Conditioned” nonsense. Beer: is it pasteurised? Filtered? Whisky: is it coloured? Chill-filtered?

Wish fulfilment score: 5/10.
Somewhat improved visibility of methods and ingredients. Or perhaps I’m just not buying the type of beer that caused my ire any more. I think this is pretty much essential for craft kegged beers, so people know it’s not Double Diamond. I haven’t seen that.

5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers

When it comes to malt-based beverages, supermarkets are, on the whole, beige with the odd touch of inspiration. And because their ranges are a bit slow moving, you are way better off buying the beer and whisky you really want to drink by going to specialist online beer and whisky shops…

Wish fulfilment score: 6/10 (but jury still out).
Supermarkets still mostly beige with the occasional pink fleck. But really, buy from specialist shops, online or retail, support your local brewery shop. What I’d really like to know is, did people, did you buy more for independent retailers, people like:

Beer Merchants Buy a mixed case in the Januar sales
Ales By Mail Buy Moor beer
Beer Ritz Buy Wild beer
Master of Malt Buy some whisky samples
The Whisky Shop Buy some whiskies of the world
Royal Mile Whiskies Guide to Burns Night
My Brewery Tap’s Pick-and-mix range
The Whisky Tasting Club

There are loads, so no excuse not to.

6. More food and beer together

Writing and talking about beer with food and cooking is the best way of introducing people to the diverse world of beer styles. I received an honourable mention in the Beer and Food category from the British Beer Writers Guild in December, (2011) and this made clear for me a direction for The Nightjar in 2012. I recommend you go to or give a beer dinner; I certainly will.

Wish fulfilment score: 9/10 for media, 4/10 for me and written media.
Ignoring the blindness of Saturday Kitchen, TV and radio covered more beer and more beer and food together than I can previously remember. Jamie Oliver continues to support beer. Dan Saladino’s piece for BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, which I wrote about in “The Day the BBC went beer”, won a Beer Writers’ award, which recognition was very nice to see.

I gave some beer dinners and will continue to do so, but I didn’t write as much about beer and food for The Nightjar as I’d hoped. Beer and food writing is still very patchy, both in terms of quantity and quality. Either cooks don’t know enough about beer or (with a couple of exceptions) the beer writers don’t have the depth of knowledge of food.

Was 2012 a Maltier year?

Yes! Can we do better in 2013? What do we really want to see (or make happen)? Don’t tell Charlie!

So, 2012: Was it Maltier?

Following Charlie (Guardian scourge of the resolution) Brooker, as I was, at the beginning of 2012, I didn’t make predictions, but rather “6 wishes for a maltier 2012”. What happened?

Here’s the original list:
1. A bigger range of bottled beers in pubs
2. Hike the price of good (craft) beer in pubs
3. Think big, drink small
4. Breweries and distillers: tell us what’s in the bottle
5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers
6. More food and beer together

As we head off into the wild, known-unknown that is 2013, did the wishes come true?
 
1. A bigger range of bottled beers in pubs

(Text from original post indented)

Especially pubs serving food. OK, most of the point of a British pub is to drink the fine draft beers. Increasing the range of bottled beers will allow a pub to serve a much greater diversity of styles to suit the dishes they serve. Take a leaf out of Leeds Brewery/The Midnight Bell collaboration, as seen in my post on Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain programme on Channel 4. And pubs: offer beers you can’t get in the supermarket. You’ll be able to charge more. And while I’m on that subject…

Wish-fulfilment score: 2/10.
Outside of the Euston Taps, Casks, and Crafts of this world, I haven’t seen a great deal of change. With the exception of Fullers pubs, where they have taken to often stocking bottled versions of Black Cab Stout and 1845. The point remaining that a diverse range of bottled beers would suit a pub with a halfway-decent food side. I strongly suspect there is margin to be made, here.

2. Hike the price of good (craft) beer in pubs

What do you mean the Chancellor already did? Leave the ordinary stuff alone. but make good cask and craft keg reassuringly expensive, to recall an old campaign. Well, a bit dearer, anyway. What do you mean people will just stay at home and pay supermarket prices? What do people pay for a bottle of Becks in a pub, £3.50?  That’s like seven quid a pint. For Becks. Don’t even get me started on wine. Stand up for being the premium products they are. I’d much rather more money went to the great small breweries we have in the UK. Excellence should be rewarded.

Wish fulfilment score: Match abandoned.
In the wake of the campaign to abolish the beer duty escalator, and the rate of closure of pubs, this is a hard one to reconcile. I am still persuaded that good, modern beer costs more to make, and therefore should cost more to the customer. The problem being how to attract customers to pubs in the first place what with unfair competition from Supermarkets.

3. Think big, drink small

When it comes to the bigger beers, pints are for wimps. Yes, that’s right; it’s halves that are for the daring. And thirds are for superheroes. Don’t chicken out and have a pint for your man/womanhood. Your brain, liver, and palate will thank you for that half of ESB. You can then “afford” a snifter of Magic Rock Human Cannonball. If only pubs and bars had more third pint glasses…

Wish fulfilment score: 8/10.
I, largely, kept my side of the bargain. But have two-third pint and thirds caught on? Not really. Aside from BrewDog bars, where they are very good at serving measures appropriate to the beer strength and style. I still get into conversations where someone remarks how “strong” a 5.7% beer is. It is if you’re drinking 6 pints! (And I’m not doing that!)

Come back tomorrow for Part 2.

Christmas Day. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Raise a glass

Christmas Day: Fra: Maltjerry Til: Y’all. x%ABV
From: Surrey, England. Type: Double Imperial, non-chill-filtered Christmas Wishes. Source: The Nightjar.

The Christmas Day window is not directly about “Fra:… Til:..” but it is inspired by its name and the gloriously off-kilter brewing that is Mikkeller. Fra, Til. which is Danish for “From, To:..” with the label designed as though on a Christmas gift. This is a dark winter ale, and the first beer I drank in 2012, cracked at midnight.

Mikkeller_fra_til_2011

I didn’t want to single out one beer or whisky for special treatment today; everything I’ve listed during Advent is here because I thought it was brilliant or contributed to a great beer moment or whisky mood.

Just a quick mention for some that didn’t quite make it to the Advent Calendar but which really could have: Compass Box: Spice Tree, Evil Twin Yin (and Yang), Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown (perhaps the best name of the year), Sazerac 18 year-old 2011, Mikkeller Jackie Brown, Shepherd Neame Double Stout, Fullers Brewers Reserve No. 4, Ardbeg Galileo…

Good beer and whisky is even better when sharing the occasion with friends. And on Christmas Day, the magic is that whatever you’re drinking, it doesn’t count to your monthly recommended units*.

Cheers! Malty Christmas and a Hoppy New Year!

* Perhaps

The Great British Beer Festival, girlfriends, and a creeping malaise

Your best mate doesn’t approve of your girlfriend*, you just know it. That’s what being at the Great British Beer Festival made me feel like on my short visit to its old home at Olympia, earlier this month. You perhaps know the feeling: the gig is still enjoyable, but there’s something in the air that gets in the way of full-out, hands-in-the-air fun.

The unease had been festering in me since I mentioned in my pre-GBBF post my disappointment that some of the exciting newer British breweries were absent from the festival’s beer list. Thankfully, as I’d hoped, several did turn out as late additions. But where were the others? I could sense something was up.

Gbbf_2012_drums_med

Drumming makes you fuzzy

I tried to ignore it. I managed to summon up some muted elation in being able to “tick” Greene King 5X – a vintage, oak-aged beer that normally only sees the light of day as part of the blend that makes up Suffolk Old Ale. It wouldn’t go away. I attempted to force it into the cellar at the bottom of my subconscious as I made my acquaintance with the Armagnac cask-matured wonder that was Fullers Brewers Reserve No. 4. Still, this nagging sensation forced its way up through the mental floorboards.

A Cornish marching band almost did the trick, piping and drumming their way around the hall, stopping not so briefly at the table where I was delving into the depths of Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown. I couldn’t hear myself drink, and briefly, I had some respite from the creeping malaise.

But the pipers and drummers eventually marched on, and there it was again, the smell. An oozing, severed rhinoceros head (horn missing) that is The Schism.

Magicrock_carnival_pumpclip_smaple

Sample from Magic Rock pumpclip: Not appearing at GBBF

Now I know a review of an event should be about what was there, rather than what wasn’t, and what I did driink was very good. But I couldn’t get away from the thought that a significant fraction of members of probably the most successful consumer campaign ever (certainly one that has had anything to do with British beer) doesn’t approve of my girlfriend. Yes, that’s right, some real-ale types look down their nose at craft beer. And I’m rather smitten with craft beer.

That some CAMRA bods take the opposite view is nothing new, but it’s not just the cask vs. keg thing, that subject is soooo pre-Olympics, darling. People, whose opinion I respect, regard as keg-hugging heresy any form of deviation from the Dogma of “the only way is cask”.

These very same people are championing the cause of the British pub partly by organising an e-petition to get rid of the nonsensical beer duty escalator, and how can I not support that? I cannot just dump CAMRA wholesale.

Some equally dogmatic champions of the opposite side, the church of craft beer, snootily regard GBBF-types as festival of hundreds of slight variants of brown beer (despite much of it being golden these days, anyway…) That’s not really how it is either. Just have a look at beer sommelier Sophie Atherton’s preview of 10 new British cask ales.

So why should this bother you, this Schism? After all, to the person interested in beer but not moved to write about it, surely all that’s important is to be able to get the fantastic beers you hear about in The Nightjar and elsewhere, isn’t it? And in most cases, that is surely how it is for most people. There is no Schism.

CAMRA can champion whatever their members tell them to. And other organisations can big up craft beer. It’s just I get the feeling a schism, or at least, divided, strongly-held dogmatic views on either side tend to get in the way of celebrating and drinking great beer.

Will we see Magic Rock and the others next year? Maybe not, and if not all over a question of definition, then I wonder how much. But that’s a post for another day. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to go out with whomever I choose.

Links
Stop the beer duty escalator e-petition

Champion Beer of Great Britain 2012: winners list
I’d link to Greene King, but it’s a bit of a dull site.
Magic Rock Brewing, home of great craft beers. Not at GBBF, as far as I know.
Fullers Fine Ale Club. Bookmark this page for when Brewers Reserve No. 4 comes out.

* Obviously, swap genders as you see fit to your preference.
With apologies to my wife of nearly 20 years, MaltCim. It’s just a metaphor, honest!

Boycott called up for Lords as Heineken rules out Hoggard

It’s a storyline straight out of BBC TV’s Olympics spoof “Twenty Twelve”, Dutch brewing giant Heineken’s demands that go with their beer sponsorship of the Games caused a furore amongst English Beer fans. It raises some silly and some serious points.

BBC Comedy “Twenty Twelve” with Hugh Bonneville as “Head of Deliverance”

Brief recap, as could have been spoken by 2012 narrator, David Tennant:

“Dutch brewing giant and Head Of Beer for London 2012, Heineken, caused frothing at the mouth of many British real ale fans by banning Head of England Cricket Beer Sponsorship, Marstons, from Lords, the home of English cricket. This is thought of as a pity by Marstons, even though Lords will be home of archery during the Games.”
The ex-Doctor Who would have intoned, in his role as Head of Narration for Twenty Twelve.

Heineken are said to have paid 10 million quid to Seb Coe’s lot, which gets them the right to be sole purveyors of beer identifiable by a name. And not just at Lords, everywhere. OK, not everywhere, just everywhere to do with the Olympics. Except London Olympia, at which venue, in a delicious irony, CAMRA will be hosting the Great British Beer Festival during the games.

What does this sponsorship buy? As well as getting rid of Marstons, “sole pourers” rights means there will be no other beer except the Heineken-owned John Smith’s Smoothflow, which suffers the indignity of not even being available under its own name. It will be identified as “Bitter”. As I suspect will CAMRA, and two of my inspirations in beer writing, Pete Brown (Head of Beer Wit & Boycotting) and Roger Protz (Head of Good Beer Guide & Apoplexy), who both write about it. Read Roger’s piece here.

On top of all this, portraits of former Head of England Fast Bowling, Matthew Hoggard, will be covered up, because he’s Marstons’ “beer ambassador”.

But for all the outrage, isn’t this all rather silly and self-defeating of Head of Beer, Dutch brewing giant Heineken? It’s like saying “Our beer is not good enough to stand on its own against other names (even from our own “portfolio”), so we’re going to make it look like nothing else exists.” Heineken’s “attitude” amounts to beer brand carpet-bombing. This idea has more holes in it than a target at the end of an Olympic archery competition. Drinking beer should be about much more than brands.

Whinge drinking?
Or is this just a bunch of CAMRA bods whinge-drinking? Real-ale fans going “I don’t like lager”. For the record, I do like lager, and will go on about the subject shortly.

More seriously, Brewing in Britain, for all the progress and excitement is vulnerable; undermined by threats from the beer duty escalator and pub closures. Of course, Pete Brown, Roger Protz and Mike Benner (Head of CAMRA) are correct; 2012 is an opportunity to showcase Britain’s brewers and cask ale – one beer event in which Britain would be guaranteed a gold.

But who in British brewing could have afforded to compete with the whack that Heineken stumped up? Evidently not Marstons, and not Fullers, whose London Pride would have been an appropriate choice. Greene King’s sponsorship budget runs to Crusaders – a Welsh rugby league team (no disrespect intended).

So what can we do to draw attention to great British beer during the Olympics? There are calls for a Boycott of Heinken, but I’d rather see some more positive action. Perhaps we could offer archery watchers Matthew Hoggard masks. I hope somebody gives Matthew Hoggard tickets to Lords to watch the archery. Heineken can hardly cover him up, can they?

Maltjerry, Head of Over-stretched Parodies of British Sitcoms

What you can do to support British beer: