Cask Ale

•September 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I recently returned from a trip to the UK, where I enjoyed a couple of weeks of wonderful British Ale. I don’t think I drank the same beer twice the entire time i was there. Every time I walked in a pub, I drank something different. Not only was I drinking great ales, I only drank cask ale. My last trip was a decade ago, and at that time there were almost no cask ales being sold in Britain. Since that time, CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) has worked hard to re-introduce Britain to the style of beer that was sold for generations; Cask conditioned ale. Modern beers are carbonated via CO2 and pushed with the same gas. Cask ale is beer that is conditioned in the cask, and drawn from said cask with a device known as a beer engine.

A beer engine is a pump that literally draws the cask and pumps it into the glass. To make the thing work, the bartender grabs the handle and pulls. As the handle is drawn back, the beer comes up through the spout into the glass. Served at cellar temperature, the beer is wonderful, fresh, and is how the brewers mean their beer to be drunk. It is occasionally done in the US, but not near often enough. It has come back so strongly in Britain that every single pub I went into, and let me tell you I went into quite a few, had cask ale. There were often more cask ales than CO2 pushed beer. I feel cheated somehow, by not being able to get these wonderful beers here. Of all the beers I tried, I would have to say that Fuller’s Seafarers was probably my favorite, though I didn’t have a bad beer the whole trip.


The Price of Beer

•August 2, 2011 • 2 Comments

The other day I was getting together with a couple of friends to watch a movie on my buddy’s home theater. We were on the phone while he was leaving work, and he was telling me all of the things he had to stop for before he got home. He had to fill his car up, stop and get pizza, then stop and get beer. I told him to skip the beer and I would pick it up and meet him at his house. My friends and I are pretty experienced beer drinkers, having sampled most existing beer styles at one time or another. The last thing he said before we hung up was “Pick up some Rogue Dead Guy”. Well, that sounded good. Rogue is an excellent brewery with wonderful products. Dead Guy is my friends favorite beer, so I dutifully went into the store, picked up a six-pack of Rogue and a six-pack of St. Arnold’s Amber. St. Arnold’s is a great brewery out of Houston Texas. Their products are just great, and their amber, along with Abita Amber, is what I consider a great session beer. In any case, when I got to the register and was checking out, it occurred to me that the Rogue was $14.99 a six-pack. As I stood there paying and waiting while they bagged the beer, I wondered what the average non-craft beer drinker would do if a beer they put on the counter rang up for $15? Rogue is a great beer. I love it, and it is my buddy’s favorite. To me, the $15 was fine. It is what beer costs. To a consumer who may only drink American Domestics, a six-pack is under $4. I was fine with the price because I have been drinking craft beers for many years, and at no time in the last couple of decades has beer cost less than around a dollar per beer. When it was done, I picked up the beer and went to watch the movie. My buddy was a bit taken back by the price, but like he said, it is what he likes. He is ok with it too. My other friend that was there is pretty much the same way. What is important is that we like the product, not so much what the cost is. Can beer be too expensive? Sure. There is a limit, even if I like it, as to how often I will spend that much for anything. What is the real cost of beer? Considering how long it has been since I have been able to palate domestic lager, the cost of beer is whatever it takes to get me something with taste. Once I get to that amount, anything above will just have to depend on my mood and pocket-book at the time.

A Literal Flood Of Beer

•July 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I am going to be in the UK pretty soon, and I was thinking of a story I had heard many years before about a brewing catastrophe. I did a little digging around and am still amazed at the story.

Meux’s Brewery was founded in 1764 in London, and persisted until 1961 when I was liquidated. The company had been brewing for 50 years when in 1814, one of the brewers noted that an iron hoop on one of the wooden vats showed signs of damage. The vats at that time were wooden, and made like barrels. There was a series of iron hoops that held the vat together.

These weren’t ordinary vats in this brewery. This particular vat held 3555 barrels. That is 110,205 gallons of beer. The hoops weighed more than 500 pounds each, and there were around 30 hoops holding the vat together. The explosions was heard over five miles away.

Around 6pm on the evening of the 17th of October, 1814, the damaged hooped suddenly broke. The pressure was such that the vat exploded, shattering two other nearby vats. These combined vats held approximately 396,250 gallons of beer, or more than 12,000 barrels of beer. The beer rushed out into the streets and flooded the nearby housing districts. The was in the Totingham Court Road area, and there were lots of poor housing surrounding the brewery. The wall of beer was said to be 15 feet tall when it left the brewery. In all, nine people were drowned or killed by rubble in the disaster. Due to the poor nature of the area, families of some of the victims were said to have set the bodies up in a house in the area, and were charging people to pass through and get a look at the victims. Too many people were allowed into the house at once and the floor collapsed into the basement, which was still half full of beer from the flood. No one was killed in the incident.

As a side note, the beer was a porter.

Beer is Perception

•June 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A friend of mine, who was new to beer at the time, commented to me that he had found a beer that was the most horrible, nasty tasting substance that he had ever had. The description included words like “motor oil”, and “thick”. I inquired the name of the beer. Now, keep in mind this friend was a beer newbie at the time. American Domestics had been his beer of choice until just prior to this conversation. He told me that the beer was Old No.38. Old No.38 is a beer by North Coast Brewing, a brewery with an impeccable reputation and a knack for brewing some great beers.

Jump forward about two weeks. While hanging out one day, my buddy asked me if I wanted a beer. I told him that I did, and I wanted to try one of his Old No.38. He brought it to me and I poured it into a glass. The color was a deep, dark brown, and the head was a medium tan. There was less nose on the beer than on some I have tried, but it still, a nice, though mild scent came up out of glass. Not a lot of hops, but a bit of coffee and a touch of caramel. The first sip was wonderful. A well balanced beer, it gave a nice roasted flavor that didn’t linger too long on the palate. It was a truly great stout.

My buddy fully thought that I was having him on. He said that there was no way I really liked it, and I was saying I liked it to mess with him. I told him that I was sincere, and that the beer was very good. He was amazed. I, on the other hand, wasn’t. I told him that coming right off of American lagers; this beer was way too big for him.

It is an odd thing, in that I have seen people who have had no real experience with beer, taste their first pint of Guinness and then embark on a life-long love affair with the Black Stuff. That is the exception to the rule. Most people need to expand and grow their palates before making the leap to porters, tripples, and IPAs. My friend simply needed more time and experience before he could appreciate that beer.

He did learn to appreciate Old No.38. A couple of months later, he walked up while I was drinking one and asked me what I was having. I offered him a sip, without explanation. He drank it and commented that it was good. I told him what it was, and he was a little surprised. I say a little surprised because in time he first tried it and when he tried it again, his palate had been through an obstacle course of beer. I had led him down many new roads, and he was fully on his way to appreciating beer. Not “Brand A” or “Brand B”, but beer, as a whole. His palate matured over those many weeks between tastes.

The lesson here is to try beer. Life is short; don’t spend it drinking one thing that you think you love. Get out there and try everything, then decide if your first love was real or not. If you are a novice, try beers that you don’t think you will like. Try everything. You may well not like quite a few, but don’t give up. Keep trying new beers and in a few months, come back to that beer that you really didn’t like. You will be surprised how often you find that it isn’t as bad as that first try. In fact, you might well like some of the beers that you found offensive. Open your mind to the idea of new beers. Remember, beer is perception. If you perceive that a dark beer will taste a certain way, whether it does or not, it will when you taste it. Break through your biases and perceptions and take an adventure. Remember; life is too short. Get out there and get to tasting.

Non-Alcoholic Wheat Beer Boosts Athletes’ Health, Sport Doctors Say

•June 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The full story is at this link

I wonder how you get a job as a lab rat in a study like this?

This is an interesting study that seems to show something in the makeup of the beer that is promoting health. The trend has actually been the opposite. The first studies out on alcohol and health introduced the French Paradox, where you could eat a high fat diet and yet maintain a low population of heart disease. Initially it was thought that something in the red wine caused the improved health, but as time has gone on, more and more researchers are saying that it is simply the alcohol consumption that is the real culprit. Wine had no real benefits over beer, or any other type of alcohol. The real problems come in with excess on any of these drinks. The bad begins to outweigh the good, but in any case, I guess Guinness really is good for you!

Houston Beer Festival

•June 12, 2011 • 2 Comments

I attended the Houston Beer Festival yesterday and have to say it was an interesting experience. It was held downtown, in Hermann Park and started around 2:00 pm. It was hot and crowded, but had a great feel to it. There was live music and a ton of booths. Interestingly, there was far less beer and beer-oriented activities than I would have thought. Lots of food/vendor booths, but most had nothing to do with beer. The layout was a little funny, due to the shape of the park and the crowds were unbelievably large. I suspect that it is something that Houstonians are used to. I was there right at the start and had to wait 45 minutes to get a ticket to get in. The beer selection was decent. Crispin Cider was the winner, in my book. It was cold and refreshing in the heat. Simply delicious.