6 Feb 2012

Sod labels

It's likely that here, in a village near Prague, CZ, I'm not getting the significance of all this very British "cask vs. keg" thing, so I hope my insular friends and readers will forgive me if what I'm about to say turns out to be utter bollocks. I find this so heated debate quite amusing, really, mostly because the solution to it is very simple.

Get people from each side of the fence and give them, respectively, a pint of top of the range, dog's bollocks cask ale and a pint of top of the range, dog's bollocks keg beer. Anyone who refuses to drink it solely based on the way it was dispensed is a moron and we all know there is no point in arguing with morons. The rest will sure find common ground and will agree that both beers are good and that is only thing that really matters.

After all, cask, keg, craft, industrial, innovative, traditional do not guarantee good beer any more than a pretty label, funny ad, witty slogan do. We all know that, I assume, and yet it seems we are fascinated by this "emptyties".

If you don't believe me, look at what happened the other day in Zak Avery's blog. Zak wanted to speak about what makes a beer great using as example one Ampleforth Abbey Double, which seems to be damn fine "regardless of" what the label says. In the comments someone started asking about the "Abbeyness" of the brewery. A legitimate question, mind you, but one that felt a bit out of place in this context and one that shows our obsession with emptyties.

Meanwhile, not few brewers are still banging their chests with their craft beer credentials (I wish I had made that up), shouting to the four winds that their beers are "hand crafted", that they are "natural" (really, beer is as natural as a cup of latte macchiato), brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, that they don't do it for money but for passion and because they want to change the world one pint at a time, all while they proudly show us their new labels, plan their latest marketing gimmick and, of course, throw shit at the evil "industrials", knowing full well that we will all play their game.

Isn't it about time we demanded they talked about what really makes their beers so good? (if they are so).

I don't give a flying fuck about what the inspiration for a recipe was, or about the origin of the name, I want to know what ingredients were used and where they came from. I don't want to read of the umpteenth time the history of a style copied from Wikipedia, I want to know processes and how much time the beer was given and the quality controls it went through. I want to know why that beer turned out to be good.

Yes, there are some brewers who talk about all this, at least to some extent, but I get the impression that either they are not enough or we are not paying them enough attention, we should correct that.

Na Zdraví!

Choose a Hotel in Prague in the city centre.

11 comments:

  1. I recently had the opportunity to try Sierra Nevada Torpedo side by side from cask and keg and while both were excellent, I preferred the cask by quite some distance.

    While it is true I would rather drink cask conditioned ales, if I were stupid about it I'd rarely drink anything in this country.

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  2. As you say, it's the extremes on either side that are most confusing. It's fine to have a preference, especially if it's based on experience -- we will, in most but not all cases, prefer the cask version of a beer also available in keg. That's not 'on the fence', it's just not black-and-white.

    I don't think it's wrong to take into account intent and passion, but it has to be backed up practice, as in "because we are passionate and believe X and Y, we use the following ingredients in the following way".

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    1. "I don't think it's wrong to take into account intent and passion, but it has to be backed up". Wise words. The problem I have with "passion" is when they try to sell it as an ingredient of the beer. Moreover, I don't think passion is an essential thing to make good beer (but, as with every other job or business, it helps)

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  3. While it's true that being cask-conditioned is no guarantee of quality - in fact, in the hands of a careless cellarman it's quite the opposite once it's in your glass - I think there's a very good reason why many of us here in the UK are polarised in our support of cask ales. Quite simply all the best beers brewed here are available cask conditioned. British keg beers are a very poor alternative, with maybe a very few exceptions (but none that I'm actually aware of).

    What you write sounds right and perfectly reasonable but I honestly think you'd be hard pressed to find a 'top of the range, dog's bollocks keg beer' brewed here in the UK. Our market just doesn't work like that. And I'm confident that even if you did you'd prefer the cask ale by 'quite some distance' just like Al.

    But that wasn't really what the post was about, was it? Whether or not our breweries are guilty of keeping quiet about their techniques in favour of glitzy promotion I couldn't really say, I'm just not exposed to that kind of information generally. I imagine that there are a few who are proud to talk about this, and loads more who do just as you suggest and obscure the truth with the latest buzzwords.

    I can comment on how we punters relate to one aspect of this: I think we're not really hung up on 'labels' here, especially style labels. Now I'm not going to pretend that I'm any kind of expert, and I may well be wrong, but I guess that the vast majority of our ales are what we call 'Bitter', a category that covers such a huge range in colour, in strength, and in flavour (from the maltiest to the hoppiest), that it's rendered fairly useless. Generally we wouldn't discuss how any brew relates to a conceived standard 'Bitter' - there's no such thing (not any more, anyway).

    Of course there are Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, Milds, Stouts, Porters, Brown Ales (and probably some others I've forgotten), where we might well do just that, so take everything I say with a pinch of salt (preferably on some pork scratchings)!

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    1. Teej, note that I don't mention styles. I almost do, I believe they are mostly "labels", but they do give some information about what's inside, if you see this or that style on the label you will get a more or less approximate idea of what you can expect from the beer based on your experience as a drinker.

      All the rest is stuff that doesn't tell you anything about what you are going to drink.

      And about the cask vs keg thing. According to what most of the people I read and talked about say, a good cask ale is the best thing you can drink (at least when it comes to English beers). Having tasted some Franconian beers gravity dispensed straight from a barrel (and also tankové pivo) I'd say that they have a point, but I can't say for sure because my only experience with a cask ale was awful. Not because cask ale is awful, but because an average beer awfully conditioned (so I reckon).

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    2. And there are indeed now some top-notch english keg beers which (as far as I know) aren't available in cask and might not be improved by it if they were. I'll name one: Magic Rock Human Cannonball, one of our beers of last year, which we couldn't fault.

      Some people will say "it's too cold and too fizzy"; we say that those are both pretty subjective. It's more highly carbonated and generally served colder than cask ale, but those are just two more variables to play with and take into account.

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    3. Thanks for that Bailey - I knew I was on dodgy ground!

      I'd never heard of Magic Rock, so checked them out and I see that they collaborate with Dark Star Brewery. That figures: when I wrote about being hard-pressed to find a top-notch keg beer, in the back of my mind I had a vision of the bar at The Evening Star, in Brighton (the Dark Star Brewery's pub), and the sneaking suspicion that that was exactly where I'd find one!

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    4. The Evening Star is such a great pub. One of our favourites. Must go again sometime.

      Interesting to see what you think of Magic Rock's stuff when you do come across it.

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  4. Perhaps I am alone in this, but there is a solution to the "too cold and fizzy" situation, let it sit for a few minutes to warm up a notch or two, and release some of the carbonation.

    When I am at the Starr Hill tasting room I always pour stouts and the stronger ales out ahead of time to give them a chance to reach the right temperature.

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  5. Too cold and fizzy can also be the keg equivalent of bad cellaring. Could it be that keg beers have a bad reputation in the UK because pubs don't know how to serve them properly?

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  6. Beer is All Personal Opinion.Went Out Saturday, and had a Good Night.But Had Enough. Fat Cat, is well Known for Good Beer,s. One Beer was talked about. Raw, Dark Peak Stout, Reserve, 6 -0 abv. Beer Fans from Bradford, was Divided on the Beer. Been Out Tonight. Had a Good Selection of Beers. This Beer was still on. Best Beer I have had this Year. Some Brewer,s, You can Only Marvel at Their Craft. Just had a Half, Matured for 5 Months, must take your Time to Appreciate it. People Rave about Vintage Wine. But this was Mint !.

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