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Thursday, 27 May 2010

Draft Beer & The Sparkler Debate

A beer sparkler is a device that can be optionally added to the equipment used to serve cask ale. Its function is to act like a shower head, agitating and aerating the beer that passes through it, forcing CO2 out of solution, resulting in a beer with a thicker, creamier head and softer mouthfeel. The reduction in CO2, along with this softer mouth feel, can also promote sweetness in the beer and reduce harsh bitterness.

Broadly speaking the North of England favours the use of a sparkler whilst the South doesn't. The argument against being that the added stress put on the beer during its journey to glass actually serves to force volatile flavour and aroma compounds out of solution, dulling the hop character and masking the inherent texture on the beer.

Being about as Southern as it gets, the recent Twissup to Burton really opened my eyes to the prevalence of sparklers in the North. Instantly beer feels wrong in the mouth, the texture cloaked by a thick slab of silky head, the aroma losing its battle to cling to the liquid ... perhaps.


As a home brewer, the beer I make myself always seems to taste better than it should. The measure by which you evaluate beer seems to lose all sense of baseline and perspective when you were integral to the brewing process. Beers that you'd ordinarily turn your nose up at instantly become delicious! The same is clearly true of the sparkler debate. If you grew up with sparkled beers, there's a good chance you'll have a preference for beers served in that way. This is both understandable and completely reasonable, beer should be about enjoyment and if a sparkled head does it for you, go for it .... perhaps.

The fairest way to asses which method shows off a beer's flavour most effectively would be a straight side by side, sparkled against non-sparkled. BeerReviewsAndy carried out this test in Burton with Worthington White Shield and suggests:

"In the interests of fairness we tried the White Shield, Red Shield and E with and without sparklers, the beer was in such fantastic condition that even without the sparkler it looked and tasted brilliant." (Full blog here).

The Draft House in Clapham are running a whole night dedicated to the experiment (16th June - 7pm), an event which looks like a lot of fun and a rare pub-led focus on the debate.

Personally I think it's important to remember that the brewer knows how he or she wants the beer to be served. A sparkler might suit specific styles of beer more than others, but ultimately that's irrelevant in comparison to the brewer's intention. As the craftsman of your pint, they know how they intended the beer to be served, it's the barman's responsibility to insure that the beer reaches the drinker in that state.

I think that sparkling every beer as a matter of course is the wrong thing to do. Equally though, if the intention was for a thick head and smooth body, under specific instruction, it would be wrong not to apply a sparkler.

Nobody would serve a half in a pint glass and nobody would serve bitter on the rocks, so nobody should use a sparkler without the brewers direction.

Do you just take a beer as it comes or do you specify whether or not you want it sparkled? Have you grown up with one method and switched for some reason, if so ... why? And before anyone points it out, yes Burton is the North!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Wetherspoon's Festival - Take 3

This is a touch out of date now, but for the sake of completeness I thought I'd post it.


A final look at the recent Wetherspoon's festival. Despite my visit being on the last day of the event, there was still plenty of beer to be had.

Roosters Patriot: A golden ale that was pretty much average in just about every way, made more appealing by the glorious sunshine outside. Clean and refreshing, citrus notes and a crisp bitter finish. Serve this cold on a summers day with a barbecued burger and you're on to a winner. Don't go out of your way for it though.

Sharp's Gentle Jane: Described in the festival as "naturally hazy in appearance" but served to me brilliantly bright. I enjoyed this tremendously. The aroma is floral lemons, the palate is slightly sweet at first, dominated by lemony citrus and then moderately bitter in the finish. There's some suggestion of spice from the Belgian yeast strain that's used to ferment the beer, but it serves to accent only and never threatens to dominate and take over like it often can. It's a shame this isn't bottled, I would love to try it with fish and chips back home at the beach, I think it would work perfectly.

Otter Mild: I found this to be a shade lighter than the programmes "dark brown", more a bronze colour really. Not really what you want to be drinking when the spring sun is outside, struggling to make itself known. Nonetheless this was enjoyable and served in excellent condition. The dominant flavour is roasty malt with chocolate behind that. There's a suggestion of berry fruit and a full, very smooth mouth feel. Very enjoyable.

So until next time, that's that. The majority of the beers I've had during this festival have been very enjoyable. They've almost always been served in good condition and at a price that's more than reasonable. I've sample beers from breweries that don't typically service the London area, enjoyed imports and foreign beers brewed in England that seem to do justice to the original.

Looking forward to the next one now. What were your highlights?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Burton Twissup - Lessons Learned


Event: Twissup, Burton upon Trent.
Date: 15th May 2010
Aim: Drink beer, have fun, don't get arrested.

Lessons learned:

1) Some beer is brewed with rice and maize for smaller bubbles. This makes it perfect for consumption with Indian cuisine.

2) "Carling holds 40% of the lager market for a reason. The numbers speak for themselves".

3) Eight year old Queens Ale doesn't taste as good as you might hope.

4) P2 stout with Strawberries and clotted cream is heavenly.

5) Wetherspoon's full English saves lives.

6) Burton on Trent is a curious mix of period architecture and industrial estate. Fully expect to be charmed by small reminders of the town's brewing heritage on every other street corner. Fully expect to have the convenience of a Matalan and a B&Q whenever you might need it.

7) The National Brewery Centre can boast a national treasure. His name is Steve Wellington.

8) Indian restaurants WILL stay open if you attack in numbers.

9) Never fall asleep at a dinner table when BeerReviewsAndy is close by.

10) Carling C2 is still Carling C2 if you drink it out of a brandy snifter.

11) Blue Moon just isn't a very good beer.

12) The hospitality extended to us by Molson Coors was fantastic. Thank you very much!

13) If you put 20 plus beer lovers together, for the day, in beer town, with one beer related activity to do after another, you're on to a good thing.

Thanks very much to all those that were involved in setting up and sorting out the day. I missed Sheffield but had a great time in Burton. Looking forward to the next one.

If you're now thinking "what the hell is a twissup" (and you've managed to read this far), this bit's for you: Twissup is an event for beer enthusiasts from any walk of life, a chance to get together with like minded people, drink good beer and explore a town. Anyone can come and everyone is welcome. The first one was back in January and took place in Sheffield. The second, as you'll realise by now, took place in Burton last weekend. Keep your eyes here and here for the next one.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A couple of Belgians

I was given two beers on the condition that I wrote about them. So, in what looks like (but isn’t!) a tasting-note-based stand of defiance against Pete Brown, that’s what I’m going to do.

Steen Brugge Wit Blanche pours a pale straw colour with a fluffy cloud of white head on top. As you’d expect for the Wit style, there’s also a muddy haze to the beer. The aroma is dominated by Belgian yeast esters. Clove, coriander seed and a slight sulphur hint in the background. There’s a slight sweetness at first and then some boozy, quite raw tasting, alcohol. There’s a big wheaty character that runs throughout this beer; think Shreddies or Wheatabix first thing in the morning. The finish is dry and has a moderate bitterness. In the mouth it’s light and has a prickly carbonation that zips across the tongue, it’s enjoyable but far from great.

Daas Blond is also a hazy straw colour but is much livelier than the first beer. The aroma is ester lead but the alcohol is far more apparent than with the Steen Brugge. Immediately you notice that the taste lacks sweetness, that alcohol powers through and the mouth feel is left feeling thin and slightly watery. There’s something vegetal going on in the background and the whole thing just feels a bit rough around the edges.

A lot of people argue that Duvel, whilst not a bad beer, is just dull and uninteresting. In some ways the same applies to Daas Blond, I just find it difficult to get excited about big blond beers that are dominated by Belgian yeast character.

I realise that this all makes me sound incredibly ungrateful for the free beer, but that really isn’t the case. It’s coincidental that I didn’t love these two, and from a tasting perspective even beer you don’t particularly like can be enjoyable.

Friday, 7 May 2010

World Cup Kills Pubs

I read an article in the paper yesterday about proposed supermarket plans to slash beer prices during the World Cup. It's anticipated that some retailers will discount prices to such an extent that a pint will cost just 48 pence. The article went on to suggest that this is another nail in the coffin for English Pubs, claiming with certainty that the public would shun their local in preference for staying home and drinking supermarket beer.


I can't see it myself.

The World Cup comes around once every four years. It's still some way off, but already colleagues and friends are planning where and how to watch each match. It's an event to look forward to, an excuse to come together with mates and have a bit of a laugh whilst chilling out and supporting your country. England's lack of a settled goal keeper, dodgy referee decisions and unfair penalty shoot outs become the most important things in life and when those handful of England games are on, all other plans go out the window.

Speaking from personal experience, World Cup games are watched in one of two settings.

At the pub. They'll have a big screen TV and it'll be packed. Perfect for the atmosphere that you don't get when sat watching it on your own. People you've never met before become your best mates, as you ride that ninety minute roller coaster together, sucking teeth and erupting in unison as the action unfolds. The fact that beer is a few quid cheaper at Tesco isn't important. It's the World Cup! It's only on every four years! Damn the expense, that's the last thing in mind.

Then there's the party at home. Everyone's invited and the bloke with the biggest TV plays host. If it's sunny there's a BBQ going on outside and everybody brings beer as an entrance fee. You don't quite get the atmosphere of the Pub, but home was chosen for the comfort, the space and for the direct control over food and environment.

Alcohol is sold at a loss to drive footfall, that's a fact that isn't argued against by many. Rightly or wrongly it's being accused of having a devastating impact on Publicans around the country. But to claim that events like the World Cup will provoke a spike in stay-at-home drinking is, to my mind, pretty wide of the mark. People look for reasons to have a good time and big sporting events are the perfect excuse to indulge. Whether it's getting out and down the pub to soak up the atmosphere or inviting people around for a gathering, the prospect of saving a few quid is irrelevant.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Rye and Caraway Ale - Brewday

This one is now in the bottle. I originally wrote about it here; essentially it's a beer inspired by a sandwich, what more could you ask for? The brewday went well ... until my boiler tap blew and I ended up with 80c wort all over the floor. I managed to save the vast majority of the batch though and eventually got it cool enough to pitch the yeast.

I've never used rye malt before but didn't experience any of the reported problems with sticky mashes. The beer took a long time to drop bright in secondary and had some really harsh sulphur smells coming off it early on during fermentation. These points aside everything was fairly normal, I left it in primary for ten days then racked to secondary. Five days after racking to secondary I hit it with the toasted caraway seeds and left them to infuse for a week.
Vital statistics are: OG 1054, IBUs 45, FG 1008, ABV 6.3%, EBCs 23.

Breaking open a test sample, I was pretty happy with the result. The fruity, spicy rye is there in the background but the dominant character is a big hit of the caraway seed. It's unusual and different but I think it works, the bitterness is bold and really helps to clear your palate of the imposing caraway. At 6.3% I think it'll get better with time ... I'm looking forward to trying this again in a couple of weeks. It's odd but I think people will enjoy it.

As an aside: I love the idea of an indigenous yeast being used to make a local beer (in the truest sense). I've been playing around a lot lately trying to capture and cultivate wild yeasts and I've had some success. More about all of this a little later on. Anyway, whilst bottling the rye beer I had some spare wild yeast starter to hand, so for the sake of experimentation I may or may not have seeded a couple of bottles with a London Brett/Lacto mix. Surely the worlds first Brett'd, Soured, Rye and Caraway beer? There's literally only two 33's of it ... so I'll save it for a beer night when a few people can enjoy it.

The picture above is of a blank bottle because I don't have a name for this one yet. I was thinking of something along the lines of "NYD" (New York Deli). If you've got a better idea ... hit me.