Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Supermarket Beer Project – 1 of 2

I drink a fair amount of bottled beer, almost all of which I buy from supermarkets along with the weekly shop. The other day I noticed that almost all of the beers under the stairs were of one of two styles, and I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast.

This was an interesting project. What struck me more than anything is that IPA doesn’t mean one thing, even among the new wave hop-merchants. Apart from a few beers which seemed to hark back to old-school IPAs (e.g. White Shield), I could distinguish three different styles. The first lot were tropical fruit salad with a bitter undertone and a clean, bitter finish; the second started with a big hit of aromatic hops, turned citric in mid-mouth and then finished on bitterness; the third had a relatively light start and a citric finish, but were dominated by a long hit of bitter hop aroma in mid-mouth. Generally I preferred the second type, but looking at my notes there’s one high-scorer for each of the three, which is rather gratifying.

Update On a recent supermarket visit I realised there was one notable absentee from the list: a certain widely-available IPA from a certain Scottish brewery. I’ve now rectified this omission. It doesn’t come in the top three.

Here are reviews for the top three and the scores on the doors for the rest (full reviews over the fold).

Harbour IPA (5.2%) 9/10 Presumably this is a craft beer; it certainly tasted of grapefruit. That doesn’t begin to do justice to the flavour, though – a buzz of bitterness on the lips giving way to a rich, floral, fruity bundle of flavours on a bitter ground. Bottle-conditioned, and seemed to reveal more the more I drank; by the end I was detecting banana and mango notes and even some honey (the flavour of honey, the bit that’s not just sweetness).

Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (5.9%) 9/10 Lots of citrus fruitiness and an uncompromising bitterness, but it all hits together, making a genuinely complex (and balanced) blend of flavours. Some surprisingly subtle flavour notes in there, mostly at the bitter end of the spectrum rather than the fruit-salad end: a wisp of tobacco smoke here, a touch of cloves there. Very nice indeed.

Shipyard IPA (5.1%) 9/10 A smoky fog bank of bitterness, with hardly any citrus to cut through it. But what a fog bank. I kept being reminded of expensive soap – the enveloping perfumes (part-floral, part-herbal), the bitter tang on your lips… Lovely stuff. Shipyard have ties with Ringwood; I’m not sure which way the influences run, but an apple certainly hasn’t fallen far from a tree.

Orkney Wayfarer (4.4%) 8/10
Roscoe’s Hop House American India Pale Ale (6.3%) 8/10
St Austell Proper Job (5.5%) 8/10 
BrewDog Punk IPA (5.5%) 7/10
Fuller’s Wild River (4.5%) 7/10 
Maxim American IPA (5.2%) 7/10
Shepherd Neame India Pale Ale (6.1%) 7/10
Brain’s Barry Island IPA (6%) 6/10
Brain’s Boilermaker IPA (6.5%) 6/10
Goose Island India Pale Ale (5.9%) 6/10
Point IPA (5.6%) 6/10
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (7.2%) 6/10 
Worthington White Shield (5.6%) 6/10
Innis and Gunn Oak-Aged IPA (5.6%) 5/10
Worthington Red Shield (4.2%) 4/10

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Beer bad

I was thinking about hangovers the other week – thinking, specifically, that I hadn’t had one in the last four or five years, and reminiscing with a gentle shudder about how horrendous it was the last time. It’s not about the headache, for me. When I look back on the last really bad hangover I had (and it was a belter – it lasted most of the next 24 hours) what I remember more than anything else is the anxiety. They say that Ecstasy basically gives your brain a serotonin binge, so that you use up the next day’s supply of happy-making chemicals all in one go; I don’t know what the comedown from that feels like, but I imagine it’s not a million miles from where I go to with a hangover. There’s endless anxiety – no reason to feel happy or relaxed about anything at all, but no capacity to stop thinking; there’s something like shivers and cold sweats, or rather a feeling that shivering and cold sweat might break out at any moment (they generally don’t, but the feeling that they’re about to can go on for hours); and there’s a weird feeling of being out of phase with the world, as if I’m permanently half an inch ahead of or behind where my body is, straining to catch up.

Yes, I had another one just the other day. Beer bad. Kids, just say… never mind.

What I’m wondering about is what, exactly, brought it on. Here’s my night out in miniature:

8.00  Arrive at The Gaslamp. Pint of Red Willow Heartless chocolate stout, which is 4.9% and costs £3.50.
8.30  No more cask – boo! 500 ml bottle of Brightside Maverick IPA, which is 4.8% and costs £4.50. Ouch. Decide to make ’em last from now on.
9.30  Cask back on – hurrah! Pint of Brightside Dark Side stout, 4.6% and £3.40.
10.30 Maybe just a little one before I go… 330 ml bottle of Ticketybrew Pale Ale, 5.5% and a very ouchy £4.60.
12.00 Home: coffee, toast, pint of water.
1.00  Bed.

I can think of a number of suspects. The hangover could have been brought on by the following, in roughly ascending order of probability:

  1. Sheer, unbridled, physical revulsion at having had to pay £16 for four drinks.
  2. Having what basically amounts to a four-pint session.
  3. The Belgian yeast in the Ticketybrew.
  4. Having a four-pint session on top of a half at lunchtime.
  5. The booze plus a late finish making for a short and unsettled night.
  6. Having a four-pint session on top of three-pint sessions the previous two days.
  7. The two pints of stout.

I think we can rule out the first four. (I include the Belgian yeast because I was sick as a dog once after a work do at Mash and Air, where I’d finished the evening with one of their own ‘abbey-style’ brews – very yeasty, that was. But if that beer did disagree with me it was sorely provoked, by the large rich meal I’d just eaten as well as all the other beers I’d had earlier.)

The last three all seem plausible, but at the moment I’m leaning towards 7. I don’t entirely trust stout (even Toby’s); I find one pint is usually enough, for me at least. But what do you think? Have you got a love-hate relationship with stout, or any other style of beer? Are there any hangover triggers that you’ve learnt to avoid – or at least learnt to regret in the morning?

…I call it

While various confused artists nostalgic for a positive art call themselves situationist, antisituationist art will be the mark of the best artists, those of the Situationist International, since genuinely situationist conditions have as yet not at all been created. Admitting this is the mark of a situationist.

Sorry, are we on? Just thinking about something else. Anyway. Ahem.

Suddenly everyone’s talking about daft beer!

But what is daft beer – what is this new breed of beer which seems to have come out of nowhere to sweep the boards at beer festivals, award ceremonies and really awful retailers’ trade shows alike? Is Blue F***ing Moon just the same as ordinary Blue Moon, or is it made to a different recipe? (Can they even put that on the label?) Is draft daft better than bottled daft – or is it all just equally daft? And, hey, what is daft beer? You’ve done this one already – Ed.

Well, a precise definition of daft beer is not possible – we all know that! But the fact is, a precise definition isn’t necessary, or even desirable – it would be like trying to define ‘true love’ or ‘punk rock’ or ‘real ale’! Let’s face it, we all know a daft beer when we see it. It’s what they call the elephant test – if, when you shut your eyes, you think you’re in an empty room, but if you reach out and grab hold of something you think you’ve got something different from what everyone else thinks they’ve got; and if none of you can stop talking about it, or else none of you wants to start talking about it… well, that’s the elephant test! Don’t worry if you don’t follow all the technicalities, by the way: the thing about the elephant test is, you just have to experience it for yourself! You’re fired – Ed.

But what about those of us who haven’t seen the daft beer elephant yet? For people who like to learn about things by reading words with their brains, infographics are an increasingly popular way of finding things out: a good infographic may have an information density as high as 20-25%, as compared to the amount of information you’d be able to get into the same area using words alone. Of course, even more information could be packed into the same area by using very small type, but there’s a downside – many people find it impossible to read small type without using glasses. (Ever wondered why really clever people wear glasses? Now you know!) Did I mention that you’re fired? – Ed.

Anyhoo (!), infographics represent a good trade-off between the key values of Information Density and Neat Pictures – and let’s face it, we can’t all be glasses-wearing brainiacs. (Don’t forget, statistics show that as many as 50% of all people are of average intelligence!) So I was delighted to see an unsolicited email in my inbox from some American college students, with an infographic telling the full story about daft beer. Here it is:


Wait, I think that’s the wrong file. Here you go:


I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think that’s it either. Is it this one?


No, obviously it’s not that one. Silly idea. Well, this is embarrassing. I know it’s around here somewhere – I’ll have to get back to you.

In the mean time, here’s what the infographic actually said.

We’re all daft drinkers now. 36% of all consumers drink daft beer. 45% of all consumers say they would drink more daft beers if they knew more about them. If you assume that those 45% don’t drink any daft beers (you certainly can’t drink less than none!), that makes 81% of consumers who either drink daft beer or would like to. And since everyone who either eats or drinks anything is a ‘consumer’, that’s a pretty large majority of the population! Beer for everyone – and it’s daft all round!

Well, not quite all. Apparently 45% of ‘Millennials’ (people who believe that the Millennium will shortly be brought about by the Second Coming of Christ) prefer daft beer; a clear majority don’t, which is slightly disappointing. The news is even worse for ‘baby boomers’ (the infantile form of an adult boomer), as only 32% of them prefer daft beer. Then again, giving daft beer to babies of any kind is a bit irresponsible, not to mention a waste of beer. Think again, mummy and daddy boomers!

Daft beer comes in lots of different varieties. You can get daft saisons, wheat beers, pale ales, IPAs, Irish reds (exotic!), brown ales, barley wines and chocolate stouts. It’s not an endless list, though – for example, you can’t get a daft lager, bitter, mild, porter or stout. But how daft would you be if you asked for one of those? Not very!

Daft beer goes well with food. There are lots of daft beer/food matches out there. Saison goes with salad; wheat beer goes with sushi; pale ale goes, specifically, with mushroom ravioli (do check your ravioli beforehand to avoid disappointment). IPA goes, less specifically, with curry; Irish red goes with burgers; brown ale goes with grilled cheese. For afters, barley wine goes with pumpkin pie, and chocolate stout goes with chocolate cake. Some of these recommendations are fairly tightly defined, but it’s not hard to extend them. For instance, espresso stout will go well with coffee cake; damson and vanilla stout almost certainly goes well with damson and vanilla cake; and oatmeal stout has just got to go well with oatcakes. Enjoy!

Daft beer is growing. My, how it’s growing. Hey, wait – I’ve found the infographic! Well, I’ve found a bit of it – not sure where the rest of it’s got to, but never mind. It’s just as well, anyway, because this particular chart really does speak for itself.

Screen shot 2013-11-09 at 16.11.46

From 5.7 billion things in 2007 to 12 billion of the same things in 2012, to x 3 in 2017! You can’t argue with those figures.

Then there’s a picture at the bottom, but I can’t really make it out. It seems to show some sort of fish with a prominent dorsal fin, and a bottle of beer shooting or flying or leaping in some way over its back. What can it all mean?

One thing’s for sure, though – everyone’s talking about daft beer!

Price tag

The mystery’s solved: apparently it is about the money.

Here’s a press release I received recently. It refers to a report produced by the agency which sent it, but since they didn’t send me the report – or a link – I don’t know any more about it than you. This is the complete text of the press release; I haven’t made any changes (or corrections) except to edit out the name of the agency, to spare their blushes.

Redefining ‘Craft’ Beer

The craft beer market is currently undergoing unprecedented growth across America, Europe and Australasia. Despite the hype, there has been a lack of an industry consensus to the ‘craft beer’ definition. A new special focus report by [agency] redefines its meaning.

In the US, the Association of Brewers defines craft brewers as small (annual production of 6 m barrels of beer or less), independent (less than 25% of the brewery owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer), and traditional (a brewer who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour). Whilst this definition has worked well locally, transferring it to other markets can prove problematic. Most consumers would define a brand such as Leffe as a “craft” beer, however, the brand is produced by A-BInBev, and therefore would be excluded. Similarly, when the UK DoomBar brand was acquired by Molson Coors, it would have ceased to be a “craft” beer.

In the absence of an existing global definition, [agency] has sought to define craft beer in its own terms. Following extensive consideration of the segment globally, [agency] presents a definition of “craft” beer as a segment primarily made up of Premium and Superpremium priced speciality beers – excluding flavoured beers, super-strength lagers and Stout. This would include products made by microbreweries, but would also encompass products like the Belgian Abbey & Trappiste Beers; the French Biers de Grade; Premium English Ales; Wheat Beers; and Seasonal Beers.

Kevin Baker, Account Director at [agency], says that “there will inevitably be areas where a subjective judgment is required. This definition does mean that some brands that are not normally considered as Craft Beers are included. However [agency] believes that from a consumer perspective the line between craft and speciality is extremely vague and porous and that it makes sense to include these brands”.

This information is based on findings from the [agency] report ‘The Craft Beer Phenomenon’ published in September 2013. The report is part of a mini-series on added value in the declining beer market, which also includes ‘The Premium Beer Market 2013’ and ‘Sweetening the Pils – The Market for Flavoured Beer and Beer Mixes 2013’.

So there you go: craft beer means speciality beers – not including flavoured beers, super-strength lager, or stout – just as long as they’re sold at “Premium or Superpremium” prices. Leffe is craft; DoomBar [sic] is craft, at least if you pay enough for it; Punk IPA is craft if you pay premium prices to get it on tap, but presumably not if you buy it in a can at the supermarket; and Chimay is craft in Britain but not in Belgium (where it’s slightly cheaper than chips).

All of this tends to confirm my starting position, which is that ‘craft’ can’t be defined in any way that says anything informative about the beer. If it means anything, it means ‘beer that somebody wants to sell as craft’ – and this report tells us why they might want to.