05 August 2011

Brew Britainnia: Better Late Than Never

British brewing is about 20 years behind the US. In the past few decades, the US has witnessed a thriving and maturing brewing scene. The enthusiasm has been both broad and deep. The canonical brew, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, is what I'd call an APA, an American Pale Ale. But the market has not limited itself to even a narrow range of styles. Everything's been fair game -- from Belgianesque ales to wheat beers to fruit beers to light lagers to all manner of porter and stout. Beers invented in Britain but not brewed here for a long time were revitalized in the US and are finally being picked back up by British brewers (thanks to Will Hawkes for excellent coverage).

Seems to me that cheap lagers have been eating the lunch of the brit bitter brewers. Why so much complacency? Hard to say. I was astonished in the 90s to see so much budweiser in the isles. Would it have killed the breweries to put out some decent lagers, properly chilled? They really only have themselves to blame. And CAMRA needs to share the blame. Cask-conditioned "real" ales are a fine thing and worthy of preservation, but all that enthusiasm so narrowly directed, while opportunity after opportunity passed by ungrasped.... The same enthusiasm in the US translated into support of the whole craft of brewing, even for the "unreal" avenues. The brewers were slow to adapt. The enthusiasts too dogmatic. The decline of the pub has been well-documented, but beermakers were way too slow to respond to competition from bars and slow to push into the home market. Craft brewing sells well in the US. Is this because there's been a craze for "pubs" sweeping the states? Err, no. Not at all.

Fortunately, the long idiotic slumber of the British Brewer seems to be ending. Inspired by their American Cousins, they are churning out new beers, new types, new marketing efforts. And small brewers are popping up! Not regional ones that simply churn out a localized bitter (yawn), but ones showing a bit of wit and creativity. As with the US in the early 90s, it won't all work. Some will be in it for marketing rather than for the craft (long ago famously labelled "markebrewers" as opposed to "microbrewers" by my friend Zim, no shabby homebrewer himself). But many are diving in for love of the craft and it's about time!

First, please bring on the APAs! They are good cold. I hear that refrigeration is sweeping the nation here in the UK, and many homes hope to have these new-fangled devices before too long. Beer is good with food. You can buy beer in bottles, put these in your "fridge", and have them at hour leisure. You don't have to belly up to the pub rail with bearded blokes and tedious dipsticks like James May to enjoy a good beer. Uncap your cold, carbonated ales, pour your ports, let loose your lagers, stock up on your stouts! "Were they the sons of tea-sippers, who won the fields of Cressy and Agincourt, or dyed the Danube's streams with Gallic blood?" Hell no, they were beer drinkers!

Some signs of the change

Sign from a nice little boozer on Goldsmith Row, in Hackney. Not a posh pub, not a posh area, but SNPA! Even more surprising, Brooklyn Brown!! British breweries should be embarrassed.

Brodies -- an East End brewer in Leyton. Their Seven Hop IPA is nearly great. It's hopped to American levels, would make Three Floyds proud, but the big flaw is that it's well over 7%, halfway to a barley wine! Too strong. Keep the hops but dial it down a couple notches and this could be remarkable.

Camden beers are solid. I'm also enjoying Meantime Pale Ale from, you guessed it, a Greenwich brewer that seems to make consistently good beers.

Small brewer from Bermondsey. To be honest, this tasted like a so-so homebrew effort, bit sour and flat but with potential. Happy to support them because London needs more brewers.

Proof that the beerpocalypse is upon us. Yes, an "American Double IPA"... with a TESCO label! Holy mother of hops. I prefer my APA term, but "American Double IPA" works. Or, it would work if this weren't completely undrinkable. It's 9.2%! Seriously, it's undrinkable. Good hops but if you actually make a barleywine you need to round it off a bit. How did they brew this? Or did they just pour vodka into a stolen case of Anchor Liberty Ale and rebottle it? But hey, if this isn't a kick up the backside to the big British brewers, nothing is. Get on with it!


JustJoeP said...

"I hear that refrigeration is sweeping the nation here in the UK"

LOL! you crack me up!

zim said...

according to this, that american double is in range, alcohol-wise.

i reckon they finish it with a champagne yeast to get it up that high.

pyker said...

Egads. Well, imo it's still undrinkable. Hopefully they'll figure out that brewing something other than a bitter doesn't mean you have to turn up every attribute to 11.