Monday, 31 August 2015

"Fish guts"

Whenever someone calls finings - the things that help cask beer to settle and clear - "fish guts" you know they're protesting too much. The truth is a lot of brewers don't like finings because they introduce a new way in which their beer can fail: fined beer isn't meant to be cloudy at all, so if it is, it's classed as ullage, and back to the brewery it goes for a replacement. A wizard wheeze is to stop using finings and when the beer's murky just say "it's meant to be that way".

In reality cask beer should never be murky, fined or not: if you're served a pint that is, you've been mugged off. Yes, truly pin bright beer is difficult to achieve without finings, but if left to settle no commercial beer should remain opaque (only a slight haze is acceptable, unless it's a wheat beer). Finings don't strip flavour from beer, just sediment in suspension which can only have a negative impact on the palate. The fact some (but not all) finings are made from the dried swim bladder of a fish is neither here nor there. Calling them "fish guts" is like calling Haribo "horse hoof sweets" or, as my pal Jim put it in this tweet, calling sausages "pig arse tubes".

You can consider this post a follow-on from Arthur's The Hollow Taste of Isinglass earlier this month, and my own Don't complain! in February. Oh, and we should be forgiving of the brewer from Kew Brewery: David's a very nice man and, having tasted his test brews before he launched, I can confirm he has much skill. Sadly, he worked at Weird Beard for a while and I think he went native.

UPDATE: There's been a lively discussion on twitter, as well as in the comments below, spawned by this post. It's probably because much of Britain is lashed with rain making for a particularly dismal Bank Holiday Monday. I think these tweets deserve a look:

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Beer of the week

A new regular Sunday feature for the STONCH blog: each week one of the team will write about the best new beer they've had that week. Tinnies and bottles have their place - most notably on trains and sofas - but STONCH is about enjoying pints in pubs, so the beer of the week will always be on tap, and we'll always quote the price (we all need to do our bit to keep pubs - particularly craft beer bars - honest). I'll start the ball rolling.

Cloudwater Summer Lager (5.5% abv)

Three pints at the Holborn Whippet, London (£4.80/pint)

I'd tried Cloudwater's lager from a bottle already, but Tuesday was the first time I'd enjoyed it as nature intended: poured from an authentic Czech tap into a handled mug.

The bitter hop bite doesn't overwhelm a typically well-integrated but distinctive range of flavours, including citrus and pine but also honey and melon. That strangely enjoyable somewhat metallic edge I associate primarily with Czech lagers was present to round things off. Carbonation was smooth but ever-present, just as it should be.

The head was retained as the pint was spent, but I was sinking them pretty quickly - as is one's duty with a great beer like this - so that's not saying much.

Cloudwater's name was particularly appropriate this week, what with the weather we've had in London. The beer certainly helped me while away a rainy afternoon, as I watched the heavens fall on Sicilian Avenue through the Whippet's tall windows.

BREWERY PROFILE AND BEER AVAILABILITY: Cloudwater (website, twitter) launched earlier this year in Manchester. You can book tasting sessions at the brewery - near Piccadilly Station - on Saturday afternoons. Despite the size and youthfulness of the brewery, their product's not too hard to come in craft bars up and down the country. The Summer Lager is, sadly, intended as just a seasonal, as the name suggests. Hopefully they'll come up with something just as good to replace it as the leaves begin to fall.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Drinker's Digest

This post is written by Arthur and the views expressed are his.

It's a long weekend! Balancing your responsibilities (you do have some...right?) with a series of ever severer hangovers, culminating with a real skull-breaker on the day you return to work. Brilliant stuff. Anyway, enough on your depressing future here's a guide to what's been going down in beer town.

The week in "beer communicators"

You might think that EBBC is a channel you'd encounter clicking through your hotel TV, desperately searching for Strictly while holidaying on the continent: plonked next to RTL you're not quite sure of its broadcast origin, and its sole Saturday night offering appears to be a panel based chat show presented by a man in a yellow shirt, that lasts for 3 hours. Well it isn't: it's actually the European Beer Blaggers Conference and it's currently in full swing in Belgium.

"Give me your tired prose, your poor thirsty masses"

Beer blaggers from all over Europe are currently gathered in Brussels where, like foie gras geese, they are force-fed free beer and press releases until their corpulent, docile bodies are released back into the wild at the nearest Eurostar terminal. They are then contractually obliged to write at least two articles on the whole affair. Basically you're going to be hearing a shedload about Belgian beer in the next few weeks. Though with its tradition of brewing by Trappists (monks who following the rules of St Benedict take vows of poverty), Belgium is of course the ideal place to hold a gathering of skint beerheads.

But it's not just free beer and a steady stream of propaganda. The EBBC is also a place to learn new skills and refine existing ones. Sessions include the art of subtweeting, how to claim moral superiority in an argument on social media, learn to pronounce "awesome" in 26 different languages and the best ways to announce you know the brewer when drinking a pint down the pub.

We wish all attendees an enjoyable conference.

The week in STONCH

We've had another busy week with over 11,500 page impressions. Here's the 3 stories you've read the most:

Comment of the week

Think we can all agree with Alistair here.

The week elsewhere

Here's what we enjoyed reading:

Tweet(s) of the week

In the highly unlikely event the brewing is no longer working out for Fuller's John Keeling, he has a great future as some kind of beery new age spiritual leader; a Dalai Bengal Lancer if you will (well you come up with a better pun then).

Please don the Fullers branded tie and/or fleece and prepare to receive the collected wisdom of his week on Twitter.

And that was the week. Enjoy the bank holiday weekend, spend some of it in your local and remember beer is there to be enjoyed.

Arthur Scargill is a beer drinker and currently based in the north west of England. You can follow him on Twitter here and if you have a story for Drinker's Digest contact him here (don't worry about the cost we'll email you straight back)

Friday, 28 August 2015


I went to Brighton on spec to look at (and possibly purchase) a pre-owned, well-priced green bezel Submariner my pal Eddie had spotted there. He was working by the coast yesterday, touring pubs, bars and restaurants and pressing flesh with managers on behalf of the brewery he works for. We'd arranged to meet at the end of his working day.

As it turned out, my late departure from London and a torrential downpour of rain meant all the jewellers shops were closed by the time we met and wandered into the Lanes. Instead, we did a pub crawl. And what a great evening it was. Here are the highlights, written by me in stream of consciousness style, without editing, but with a journey-to-the-centre-of-the-earth hangover and an empty pizza box by the side of my bed.

The Seven Stars

The hipsterised Seven Stars, Brighton.
This boozer right by the side of the Lanes, and almost within sight of the sea, was recently sold by Young's to a local independent pubco (name escapes me, but Indigo Leisure, they operate more than a dozen sites apparently). It's been heavily renovated (and let's face it, hipsterised). It's actually fantastic.

The power points under the bench seating have USB sockets so you can plug your thirsty iPhone straight into the power grid, while you down a pint of Firebird Bohemian Lager straight from the (reasonably sized and therefore fresh) tankova proudly displayed by the front door. Other beers on tap come from Camden, Beavertown and Curious Brew. There really isn't much you wouldn't want to drink at the bar.

There's a Watches of Switzerland branch directly opposite so if you can appear to be interested in a farcically expensive discretionary purchase you'll be able to blag a free glass of champagne straight afterwards. All jolly good stuff.

The Brighton Beer Dispensary

Hardknott Nuclear Sunset.
Better at running pubs than making beer, is the conventional wisdom on Late Knights of South East London. One of their pared down boozers is on a steep hill in Brighton, west of the station. We steamed in just as it had started pissing it down again. Ed chose some buffalo wings and a jar of William Bros lager. I couldn't resist a pint of Hardknott Nuclear Sunset, the Hiroshima tribute beer from zany Cumbrian brewer Dave Bailey. I was surprised to see it in the wild and thought it was time to give it a whirl.

As we sat in a conservatory at the back of the bar, lashed with summer rain, I savoured the second best beer I'd enjoyed in what has turned out to be a very boozy week. Dave might be a certified fruitloop with limited self awareness, but it seems the lad can brew.

Hardknott Nuclear Sunset is a wheat beer for people who don't like beer which also will be thoroughly enjoyed by those who do (have your morning coffee, take a deep breath, and that will make sense). I recall Dave used orange juice in this brew, and you can certainly taste it. Nuclear Sunset might have been backed by some dubious marketing - he should certainly wind his neck in on that front - but I reckon this one's a winner and he should make it a regular.

The Lord Nelson

Magic. Just magic.
I remembered there was a Harvey's pub near the station and, despite Ed's protestations that we hit the Evening Star without delay, insisted we find it. Ducking into an underpass by the station entrance, we made it to the Lord Nelson.

The place was heaving. I think this was definitely the best pub we visited last night, and judging by the crowd the residents of London-on-sea agree with me. A smattering of young folk, old soaks and outright nutters crowded around the bar as two harassed bar staff did an admirable job of watering everyone.

Before long we nabbed two bar stools just by the partition between saloon and public bars. Our two pints each of Sussex Best proved yet again why this is the true champion beer of Britain: this year, and every year.

The Evening Star

The Evening Star's beer board last night.
This pub - the original home of the justifiably praised Dark Star brewery - has only got more popular as the years have gone by. They were ahead of the curve, really. My first visit was in 2006. My then girlfriend's lovely sister (always cherish your girlfriend's sister unless she's utterly ghastly) had man trouble and we took her down to Brighton to take her mind off things. She wasn't a pub person but loved it here.

Ed berated me for choosing a Hastings Pacific Wheat instead of the house ale Hophead, but when I bought him a bag of Mini Cheddars his cheeks flushed and he cheered up. We were sufficiently sauced to move on to deep and meaningful chat at this point, and from our round table at the edge of this busy battlecruiser we took in the atmosphere of a great pub and sunk three more jars.

Train beers

Thank, you M&S. Your beer selections make me smile. Two little bottles of Five Hop Lager from Hogsback and two big'uns of Citra IPA from Oakham made the 80 minute run to Farringdon painless. They also meant we carried out an entire evening of drinking without a single dodgy beer.

And there you have it, a pub crawl in Brighton. Recently I said this wasn't "a fantastic time for drinkers". If every night on the smash was like yesterday's, I'd be ready to revise my opinion. Enjoy Friday and the bank holiday weekend: cherish your friends, enjoy your beers and make merry.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Jeff Alworth, beer writing, Magnolia Brewing and a return to balance

This post is written by Arthur (follow him on Twitter) and the views expressed are his.

I've always had a soft spot for old hippies. An affection that becomes more conceited as I slowly turn into one. Perhaps that's why I was so taken by this article by Jeff Alworth on Dave Mclean and Magnolia, though I'd argue it was a bit more than that.

Dave looks like a great lad (Photo credit Jeff Alworth)
Firstly there's the style of the piece. We read so much dreadful beer writing at the moment it's very easy to get slightly over excited when one encounters something with a bit more worth. Alworth's casual style works well in telling a positive story, encouraging interest, peppered with incidental details, without making it sound like an advertorial. A skill many seem to lack. It also gives me great hope for Jeff's recently published Beer Bible, which should be landing on my doormat soon.

Then there's the subject. Dave Mclean is a Deadhead with a large greying beard and the founder of Magnolia, a brewery and restaurant, who brew cask ale in the centre of San Francisco. Look at this photo of their latest beer menu. They have a 4% beer on called Workingman's Ale. I need no further information, bring me a pint now.

Cask bitter, mild, pale ales. Fantastic stuff.
Then there's this quote from the piece:

Of course, we talked some beer, too, and my sense is that Magnolia is actually on the cutting edge of brewing trends, too, despite its old-school cask orientation. “Sometimes the new is celebrated as the future; it’s supposed to go in this direction. You should be putting cucumbers in your imperial gose. But should you? We’re not traditionalists for the sake of being traditional—there are just some flavors that go great together. That’s just good beer.” As the session beer movement grows, McLean may find himself leading a new generation to tasty, balanced beers.

I'm not one for predictions, I've been suggesting there will be a reggae revival every summer for the past 6 years, but I do hope that Jeff's right here. I'd love to see the current obsession with extreme flavours tempered. A return of balance. For beer to come home.

This recent piece from Phil Cook on the current quality problems in beer writing is well worth a read, as is this post from Alan Mcleod on what sounds like a great idea.