Friday 3 July 2009

Taking things to extremes

I've got a problem. "What, only one?" you ask. Well, good point, I've got plenty and most of them I'm not going to share with the reader. However, there is one that is really bothering me. It is my drink problem. It's not that I can't go a day without a drink, really, I can if I want to, I just don't want to most days. Besides, I run a pub, I don't need to go without, so that's not a problem. It's just that I'm getting to find there are more and more really nice beers to try. The more I try the more exciting ones that I find. You're not really understanding how this is a problem, are you?

It's all my own fault of course. I went to Belgium. After that, very shortly afterwards, I went to Oregon. Despite the belief that many American high streets are full of nothing more than homogeneous outlets, I was lead, kicking and screaming of course, to many quality beer retailing businesses. In these places I consumed a healthy amount of various beers, some more tasty than perhaps I wished, but others quite delicious and, to contribute to the word's overuse, complex. Most, of course, were 6% or 7% or 8% or possibly even more.

My problem, then, is that I find regular session ales a little watery, which is fine if I'm thirsty. When it's hot, as it has been, a nice cool 3.8% golden ale with a nice level of hopping is a joy to consume. I am however finding these beers bland and uninteresting after 2 or 3 pints and a chaser of something more complex floats my boat much higher in the water.

This train of thought is provoked by a post written by our favourite Mr Tandleman. He claims to not like extreme beers. Although I do agree that a feta cask matured beer might just be taking things too far. However, the thought that beer cannot be drunk in half pints, because it is stronger, does confuse me.

In the comments, James from BrewDog unfortunately scores home goals through a gallant attempt to make some very valid points. Driving the ball very firmly into the back of his own net by saying that a pint glass is a "terrible and unflattering way to serve any beer" I do wish he had made the word "any" into "stronger". I'd have agreed with him if he'd done that. Good quality session ale at 3.6% is flattered to hell in a pint pot, especially if it has a pint line on it, with room for a head above that line, of course. A stronger beer at say 7% is much better enjoyed in a smaller stemmed glass, much like a wine glass. In this case the complexities, sorry, using that word again, of the aromas, can fully develop.

The reactions though, in general, confuse me. Why can we not drink a beer in a glass that is not a pint? The comments seemed a little along the lines of too much objection from drinkers stuck in a rut. These seem to me to be discerning beer connoisseurs who have yet to be open minded enough to drink less than a pint in a pub.

There is one view that perhaps answers all of this. Tandleman does not drink at home. He likes to drink in the pub and from the sounds of it does it with respectable regularity. Drinking beer is a social thing. How much, really, do we want to be spending our time considering the complexity of the beer we have in the glass sat on our beer mat? How much time would we prefer to be spending sorting out the worlds many other troubles, with the aid of suitable brain annealing fluid? Of course, this would be with the considerable benefit of our peers thoughtful consideration, just to straighten out the irregularities in our world view, or possibly theirs.

Those of us that want to enjoy a beer for it's complexity can sit in a dark corner, wax lyrical to ourselves, or any other sad beer geeks close by, and leave the proper pint drinking to the big boys. Better still, hide away at home, like the sad people we are, where we are hurting nobody.

I'm lucky, I live in a pub, I can do all of these things. Often I enjoy session beer in it's unflattering pint glass, to the line and served with a sparkler, of course. Sometimes I like something stronger, but then, I am in my own home, really.

Well that should have just about upset everybody. Now, I've got some 6.6% complex beer on the handpulls I think.....oh and some stemmed half pint glasses.


Alistair Reece said...

I find myself agreeing with you about the leaving the waxing lyrical to other people, though I am sure I have done my fair share of it. I am getting to the point where I get more pleasure from introducing good beers to my friends than I do sitting in the kitchen with my notepad and camera.

Perhaps that is why I started brewing at home, because I want to make beer for other people to enjoy as much as I do.

Like Tandleman I am not a fan of extreme beers, but in my book that doesn't include by default the big hitters like barleywine, imperial stout and the like. In my world an extreme beer is some highly hopped brew, flavoured with gorilla snot and lavender which really only appeals to the ticker brigade. I would rather be joining you for a couple of halves of something stronger, and a damned good blether at the bar.

Whorst said...

I don't limit myself to anything. I drink it all, if it's quality. Saying you don't like extreme beers is like admitting you enjoy wearing ladies knickers while catching butterflies in a meadow. As far as stemware goes, don't go the route of Avery. That is just ridiculous.

Unknown said...

Velky Al, yes, perhaps it depends on what you call extreme. I've had some that have been so hoppy as to remind me of the taste of vomit - "Arrogant Bastard" I think it was "You probably lack the sophistication to appreciate...bla, bla, bla" - quite clearly I did lack the sophistication.

Drinking beer is about more than the beer itself. It's a social thing.

Sausage, I expected an Avery related response from you on the stemmed glass thing. Thanks for not disappointing me ;-)

I'm not going to start waxing lyrical about beers in particular. I'm more interested in drinking cultures and how it effects pubs and breweries as businesses; How, in return, these businesses effect drinking cultures. This has created an interesting stand-off between BrewDog and the CAMRA devotees. I can sort of see both sides here.

I find it frustrating that I have a 6.6% beer on the bar, which most baulk at, but then they try it, like it, order a pint and then another and then another and then complain I've got them pissed.

Should I tell them that one is only available in halves?

Equally, I expect one man's extreme beer is another man's norm. In that respect I can see the point that some extreme beers do not work.

Tandleman said...

I wouldn't say all extreme beers are a no go area. (I doubt if we'd get any consensus about what constitutes extreme beers anyway.) It's sticking beer in port, whisky etc barrels that isn't for me, but for those that like it - fine. Complex beers are fine too - in fact great but my objection as to the use of "complex" to describe flavours that are just plain wrong.

I do like the odd barley wine too, but hard to find in the pub these days. I used to like Bass No1 quite a bit. I kind of agree with Dave that 3.8% beers can be (not are)a bit watery. I prefer somewhere around 4.2%

While I rarely drink beer at home, I used to do the beer tasting bit - look me up in the Oxford Bottled Beer Database - but I've outgrown that though it's a good thing for those who enjoy it. As for halves and stemware - nothing wrong with that at all. I often drink halves and as we all know I'm very manly!

Whorst said...

We have a different drink culture on this side of the pond. You guys are obsessed with gravity, we're not. Is it a little irresponsible for a brewpub to blow your brains out on 7% abv IPA's? Yes, but there is also a responsibility with the drinker. Ballast Point in San Diego is brewing Even Keel for cask now. It's a luscious hop bomb, but only 3.8% abv. It will be interesting to see if this goes the way of Proper Real Keg and bottles.

Curmudgeon said...

Velky Al wrote: "In my world an extreme beer is some highly hopped brew, flavoured with gorilla snot and lavender which really only appeals to the ticker brigade."

That sums it up, really. It proves it can be done, but it isn't really something you would want to drink more than once, if even that often.

Jukka I said...

First of all, thanks for an interesting blog. I seem to have become a regular follower.

Here in Finland, the so-called extreme beers are relatively well available, especially those coming from American and Danish microbreweries. What bothers me personally is the complete disregard for balance that's to be found in many of them. A lot of breweries seem to think that high ABVs and EBUs are enough to make a "big" beer and give little thought to how the different elements should come together to form a coherent product. That said, I've had a number of strong, very bitter, still balanced beers in the American style, but these seem to be increasingly hard to come across nowadays.

As a result, I find myself going back to the more traditional stuff such as German beers and real ale (to the limited extent that you can get real ale here), while quite a few fellow beer enthusiasts seem to proceed on the extreme route and find pretty much everything under 7% ABV and 80 EBUs watery and bland.

I like big beers when they're well crafted, but this trend towards extreme beers seems - from my limited perspective - to overshadow the well-balanced, quality session beers that people used to enjoy well before the "extreme" trend.

James, BrewDog said...

Driving the ball very firmly into the back of his own net by saying that a pint glass is a "terrible and unflattering way to serve any beer"


I stand unreservedly by this position. For me a pint glass is a terrible way to serve ANY beer.
A pint is far too much for one serving; the temperature, the carbonation, everything is just wrong by the time you finish the glass. It is terrible for getting the aroma and the nuances of the beer. You just can’t control that amount of liquid in a way that enables you to get into it properly.

If I was drinking a session beer I would much rather have it in a smaller glass where I knew it was always fresh and I was able to appreciate all the aromas, nuances and get a proper understanding of the beer.

Indeed, as I type this, I am drinking a Dr Okells IPA at 3.8% out of a wine glass. I even drink our 2.7% mild Edge out of a half pint glass.

The point I made on Tandleman's blog about glassware was a very different point than that I made regarding extreme beers.

Whorst said...

Christ, whatever Avery has is contagious!

Unknown said...


Everything you say is true. Unfortunately your comments alienate the entrenched pint drinker. Hence my feeling that it was a home goal. Like you, I'd like to change the "has to be a pint" culture, but we won't crack it by asking people to drink session beers in wine glasses. It is like using the proverbial sledge hammer to crack a nut.

But why am I telling you this? You've been very successful at marketing extreme beers. Hats off to you.

Unknown said...

Sausage Troll,

Sorry, I sometimes get symptoms too. But then, a good shift in the kitchen and a pint is SO GOOD.

Unknown said...


You know, I'd like to respond to all individually, but I ain't got time. Thanks, It's always good to get comments. Any comments, even from Trolls and especially from those I've never heard from before - (hello Jukka I) are appreciated.

In summary, I think it's exiting that so much is going on in the beer world. BrewDog, Thornbridge and many more are producing great beers. As James has said elsewhere, by snubbing stronger beers per se the drinker is missing so much. I want to be part of this exciting new world and work out how to convince the pub drinker to venture into it too.

Equally, it is important that the brewer makes the beer work. Perhaps also it is important for the drinker to be open minded as to what beer might be.

Curmudgeon said...

No doubt James will have apoplexy in Munich, then ;-)

If you only drank halves you'd have to go to the bar twice as often, which gets too much like hard work.

Sometimes I've been known to buy two pints at once at CAMRA meetings where opportunities to get to the bar may be restricted.

And might those Brewdog beers go better in 500ml bottles?

Rob Sterowski said...

I think the reverse is also true. The 330ml bottle is too much for some extreme beers that would be better in nip bottles (does anyone even still manufacture nip bottles?).

Maybe we should have the sense to serve strong beers in small quantities and weak beers in larger quantities in general. I like a pint, I even like the Nonic glass. I also like Kölsch or Altbier in a 0.2L glass or Pilsener in a stemmed tulip glass. It depends on what suits that particular beer.

What I can't stand is the weird fetishization of the pint glass either positively or negatively.

But I think that the UK weights and measures legislation needs a good shake-up to allow a greater range of measures. A couple of years ago the German-style brewery in Glasgow opened up selling litres and half-litres as is the German way. The council made them start selling pints. A special case maybe, but the number of such special cases is not going to decline in the future.

Rob Sterowski said...

Dave, it's pretty common in my experience for pubs to only sell certain strong beers in half pints. I don't think anyone would take umbrage.

But if everyone starts drinking half pints, your staff will have to wash twice as many glasses.

Anonymous said...

Having tramped up Eskdale and gone up Camspout, Mickeldore to Scafell Pike and back via Lord's Rake, West Wall Traverse, Scafell and Slight Side to the bar of the Woolpack...if anyone suggested I have a half pint I would, if I had the energy, mock them!

A few session beers for me perhaps topped off before closing time with something a bit pokier.

Unknown said...

Mr Anon,

If you did all of that you'd deserve a pint without question. I suspect a 6.6% would be just the ticket. Also, you won't care about the getting the aroma and the nuances of the beer owing to the fact it might not touch the sides.

Lords Rake, BTW, is considered seriously dangerous these days. Rocks the size of houses poised to fall on the unsuspecting, so I'm told.

Tandleman said...

James said "I stand unreservedly by this position. For me a pint glass is a terrible way to serve ANY beer.
A pint is far too much for one serving; the temperature, the carbonation, everything is just wrong by the time you finish the glass. It is terrible for getting the aroma and the nuances of the beer. You just can’t control that amount of liquid in a way that enables you to get into it properly."

Most drinkers aren't concerned with aroma and nuances. Seems to me you'd wish to upturn the way things work here for the benefit of a small minority of geeks. A true case of the tail wagging the dog. I rather doubt if most people want to "control their liquid" - whatever that might mean.

Another point is that if you made all measures (much)smaller like, say, Düsseldorf or Cologne, then you have to change many other things in the pub too. Be a bit busy at the bar, so there would have to be a massive culture shift. Now that might be fine in a craft beer sense, or a tasting session or home drinking,but not for general drinking in the pub. It would raise costs too, but that's another point.

Oh and I've drunk your beer in pints and provided it was looked after properly in the first place, I can assure you that it didn't lack temp or condition and everything was just fine when I got to the bottom of your beer. So much so, last few times, that I've immediately ordered another.