Friday, 17 February 2012

The worst beer I've ever had

Name the best beer you've ever had, now. Right, what is it? Still thinking aren't you.

I asked myself the same question a while ago predominantly because I could name the worst beer I'd ever had without hesitation. I didn't need to think about it, I knew it. I could still taste the damn thing.

The worst beer I'd ever had was called Macbeth by a Scottish brewery called Deeside and it was at best undrinkable. It was two years ago and I was in a bar called The Grill in Aberdeen on Union St. I had never had a Deeside beer before but I liked the pump clip and it wasn't Duechars, so I ordered a half. I left 9 10th's of it and all I remember is a hideous sugary liquid that should never have been called beer.

I've had a lot of beer since then. I've had plenty of beer I didn't really like but nothing provided a flavour that instantly transported me back to The Grill. Until last Wednesday.

The offending product this time was called Titan and apparently it is an 'Imperial Stout'. It is brewed by a small Scottish brewery called, erm, Deeside.

When I saw that the brewery who had made the worst beer I'd ever had had produced an Imperial Stout (on balance probably my favourite style of beer) I was intrigued. I'd avoided Deeside beers since that first experience but this I had to try. I waited several days for it to come on, and armed with some friends we pottered down. I was genuinely excited. I was excited because an Imperial Stout, whilst not being the easiest style to totally nail is a pretty difficult style to make a complete and utter balls of. How good or bad could it possibly be, it's a big stout! You don't see too many on cask in these parts and at 9% I had visions of Highland's Orkney Porter. I thought I knew what to expect, I was wrong.

Disappointed doesn't come close. It isn't an Imperial Stout, it's sort of ruby red in colour. It had that same repulsive sugary flavour that dominated the Macbeth. No chocolate notes, no roasted bitterness, no viscosity, no depth. Just a fairly thin mess of sugar. It smelt and tasted of burnt strawberries. It was, as one of my friends commented, revolting.

I feel a little bad because may be Deeside make some great beers and I've just been really unlucky. My overwhelming feeling however is that a beer like that should never find it's way in to anyone's bar. The brewer must have tasted it so I can only surmise that one of two things happened. 1. Christ it's bad but we need to sell it, or 2. Christ that's good, let's get selling. I'm not sure which is more worrying.

It has provided myself and my 3 friends with an experience we will never forget. It is by far the worst 'beer' I have ever tasted.

In the interest of balance we shared a Marble Decadence about half an hour later. Divine!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The ignorance and arrogance of the luddites

I've just had a long chat with a good mate regarding unfined beer. He owns a brewery, one of the best and most progressive of the UK micro-breweries in fact and together we waxed lyrical about the accentuated flavours of unfined beer compared to the fined stuff.

We didn't say that beer was 'better' unfined, we just said the flavours were bigger and the mouth feel fuller. Unfined beer is definitely very different to fined beer in terms of taste, flavour, mouth feel and obviously appearance.

One tweet I read today from a CAMRA stalwart was 'unfined beer is an acting clever fad which brings nothing by way of flavour, confuses people and IS for geeks'. Apparently this person knows about beer, which I found quite surprising.

Firstly unfined beer is not a 'fad' in the same way that CAMRA will become very disappointed when they realise that craft keg isn't a fad either. CAMRA will cotton on to this at the same time they realise they have been irrelevant to the current fast moving UK micro scene for a quite some time.

Secondly unfined beer tastes VERY different to fined beer, it gives the beer a much bigger flavour. To say it does nothing in terms of flavour is very wrong. It's not your opinion, it's wrong. It is factually incorrect.

Thirdly, unfined beer does NOT confuse people (nor does unfiltered keg beer either, just to point that out). We have been doing taste tests in the Stockbridge Tap and the staff have been giving the customers all the information they need, including leaving samples of each beer in front of the taps to allow them to see the difference. They explain the differing aspects of the beer, then they allow the customer to taste the beer. The results? The unfined beer has been WAY more popular. If your customers are confused you're giving them no information, and that's the fault of the staff and the venue, not the brewer. That said, if you're a brewer wanting to trial something different, pick the right pub and publican.

Fourthly, unfined beer is NOT for geeks. It's for anyone interested in seeing what the difference between fined and unfined beer is. The beer world is changing and more people than CAMRA would like to hear about are genuinely interested in where their beer comes from, what it's made from and why it's different from another beer. CAMRA can disgree with that all they like, but I sell contemporary beer all day everyday for a living, and I know I'm right. I see daily changes in our industry.

The production of unfined beer is about nothing other than choice, something it seems CAMRA are keen to stamp out. The whole 'craft' movement (I dislike the term, but it provides a useful reference point so I'll use it for this) is based around choice, education, passion, diversity and most importantly great beer in as many formats as possible to anyone who is interested. We're not interested in dictating to drinkers, we simply give them a choice. Why? Because WE want a choice too. WE want to drink great beer and sometimes we want it cold and carbonated, sometimes unfined, sometimes filtered, sometimes not.

CAMRA advocate few if any of those things and actively try to bash forward thinking breweries down. As another tweet said 'There you go ****, all you need to do is educate your customers, or just give them what they want'. That's indicative of the CAMRA attitude, they think they can prescribe what drinkers want, without ever asking them. CAMRA say that beer should be clear and CAMRA say beer needs to be sessionable, and CAMRA say blah blah blah. CAMRA are nothing more than a self serving organisation more interested in their own pointless awards and stuffy predilections than actually asking the beer drinker what they would like.

Another amusing and nonsensical arguement I read was that unfined beer was an excuse for breweries to refuse to take back ullages. I can't remember the last time I had a call asking for beer to be uplifted, our beer is made properly and goes out in the condition any good publican would expect. Every so often you have a production issue, it happens and it's more likely to happen to a small brewer. That's the way of things. However, we're not going to make rubbish beer and then just say it's unfined, how would that benefit us as a producer?  Moreover  we're proud of our beers, and our directors, sales team and head brewer have more passion than to use a cynical ploy to try to punt out sub standard beer. If that is your experience of breweries as a publican, stop using those breweries and use breweries with more integrity.

I despair of CAMRA, the only negative comments about this unfined beer movement have been from CAMRA luddites. I'll tell you all now, you mean absolutely nothing to the majority of breweries who are leading the charge for new and exciting beers. The wild growth of our niche industry is testament to that. You can spout your arrogant ignorant propoganda all you like, but great beer talks a lot louder than an out of touch brigade of irrelevant dinosaurs who just can't accept that their fight is over, the battle is won and the war has moved on. The industry doesn't need CAMRA anymore, we don't care what you say or what you think. We're not interested in your rhetoric.

There is a new animal in our bars these days, an informed, intelligent new wave of interested beer drinker. A drinker who wants new experiences, wants to be amazed, educated, enthralled and engaged. We'll cater for them, because we share the same philosophy.

CAMRA can continue to give them 'what they want' without ever asking them.