Thursday, 26 July 2007


I'm off the Annafest. It's so exciting. Three more days and I'll be there.

Not of much interest to you, I know. I'm not telling you to show off. Just to explain why I won't be posting for a while. Without a computer, it doesn't really work. I considered using carrier pegeons, but they crap everywhere.

See you next week.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007



Bottled Stout in pints.

You want to know what a pint bottle of Reid's Stout cost in 1938, don't you?

Bloody weirdoes.

What the hell are you interested in?


Bottled Stout in pints.

What was its OG in the 1030s?

Funny you should ask that.

Another day looking at blurry photos. Sad, it's true. Since Dolores gave me a magnifying glass my transcriptions have become more accurate. 108%.

There are numbers. Seek them out if you care.


Bottled Stout in pints.

Guinness. I was pleased to find a couple of mentions of their bottled Stout. Still, pre-WW II, a beer considerably stronger than today. Marvel at its power.

Barclay Perkins. Note that they and Whitbread (former bigtime Porter brewers) brewed a Stout to match Guinness in strength.

All these details and so many, many. many, many, many more are available here.

You have been warned. Expect minimal entertainment value. Minimal. Zero, would be more accurate. Expect zero entertainment value.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Are you a Stalinist or a Trotskyist?

Yesterday I touched upon my theory of beer politics. I'll expand upon it today and demonstrate why Leon is your man.

Let's start with an existential question. What is a beer style?

I see it as a consensus between brewer and drinker, a shorthand to describe the essential features of a beer and its relative alcoholic strength. Neither absolute nor immutable, a beer style is in constant flux. At least it should be.

"Give us some examples you loud-mouthed git." OK, I will.

Porter is the perfect test case having the widest distribution (combining both time and geography) of any style. How do we define Porter? Let's start at the beginning.

The first Porter for which we have hard evidence (from Richardson's early experiments with the hydrometer in the 1770's) had an OG of 1071 and was brewed from 100% brown malt. What happened over the next 150 years? I'm glad you asked that. The figures are at my fingertips.

I said that I had the numbers at my fingertips. Not quite all of them. I got confused in the archive over Barclay Perkins "new brewery" documents and consequently have a few decades missing. Next month. Mikey says he'll drive me to London next month. The gaping chasm of 1862 to 1937 will be filled then. (The numbers above are all for Barclay Perkins - who else? - except for 1770.)

Note how the malt bill wanders all over the place. And the hopping rate. Which one is authentic? I plump for 1856. An entry for my Homebrew Challenge matched the 1856 Porter and Imperial Brown Stout. I've tasted two recreations of the 1856 Imperial Brown Stout in the last year. Both were outstanding. Has beer ever been better?

Beer styles, living in the real, unstable and sometimes volatile world, need to adapt to survive. The 19th century is characterised by a rapid change in the ingredients used, especially malt. In the 20th century, strength varied enormously. (I'm talking only of the UK here. Elsewhere, the story differs.)

I've been accused to being a traditionalist because of my opposition to the gulags set up by the BJCP and their like. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Stalinist precision of their style guidelines - like a five-year plan deciding the number of toothbrushes to be produced - stifle natural evolution. That's why I despise them.

Permanent revolution - as Trotsky advocated - is far more applicable. Beer styles change because society, legislation and economic circumstances change. I haven't even started on the effect of geography.

Compiling an all-inclusive, detailed set of style guidelines is a Stalinist fantasy. Every time a brewer successfully jumps over the wire, a new style is born. Pursue that path and you end up with hundreds of beer styles. In 2006 the GABF had 69 categories. Who wants to bet when they will hit 100? Will they stop then? I doubt it.

So what are you - a beer Stalinist or Trotskyist?

I vote for the beard.

Tomorrow I'll explain how Mao fits in.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Today I drank Bavaria

I won't pretend it didn't happen. There were reasons why, but after years of saying nasty things about their beers today I drank Bavaria. Voluntarily. Several glasses.

(In case you're confused, I mean the Dutch brewery based in Lieshout, not the German state Bayern.)

The sacrifices I make for my kids. Drinking Bavaria is one of the greatest I can imagine. I just hope the little git appreciated my pain while he was stuffing chips down his neck.

Holland isn't that bad. You would be surpised how often unlikely places like museum cafeterias or railway station buffets have something decent. I'm rarely forced to drink low-qulaity Pils. Even when out with the kids. Melkhuis (with a large playground attached) in Vondel Park sells Westmalle, Duvel and Guinness Special Export. Maybe I'm just lucky to live in Amsterdam.

I had planned one of my classic Porter/Stout rants for today. But I was out longer with Lexie drinking Bavaria (me drinking, not Lexie, I mean) than I had imagined. Nothing's better than pointing out how misguided eveyone is but me. I'd been looking forward to it for weeks.

I won't be a hyocrite. Without the relevant numbers to back me up, I'll keep stum. They should be done tomorrow. I have some great points about London Stout, Guinness and Milk Stout. It'll blow your socks off. If you're wearing nitroglycerine socks. Otherwise you may be lightly amused or slightly intrigued. That'll do.

German beer classifications
Discussions of beer styles are guaranteed to set my temples throbbing. Below are suggested rules from German brewers for naming beers, as cited in "Almanach für das deutsche Brauwesen 1957" pages 73 and 74.

As a trotskyist when it comes to beer classifications (permanent revolution), I welcome the forbidding the use of Doppel, except in Doppelbock. Nowadays they would need to outlaw Imperial, too.

The rule stipulating that beer brewed in Germany can't be labelled to imply it was brewed abroad is a good one as well. As is that against the misuse of geographical names.

I don't think the German government ever accepted the proposals. A pity. They look pretty reasonable to me. Perhaps they should stipulate Märzen be amber. I might add that.

What do you reckon the impact of similar rules on American brewers would be? Budweiser would be out for a start. As would anything with a name starting with Belgian, British or Bohemian.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Barclay's Lager

Who would ever have thought that I would get so interested in British lager? Certainly not me. But that was before Barclay Perkins arrrived to give meaning to my life.

This is the modest way Barclay Perkins themsleves saw thge importance of their lager: "The gift of a great firm to this generation". The art of hype has a long history.

Even more stuff about lager
What follows are a couple of cuttings from Barclay Perkins houuse magazine, The Anchor. I would transcribe it, but I haven't got time. You'll have to make do with reading the scanned text.

Why the rush? I've a visit to Het Ij planned for this afternoon and I want to ensure I get there by opening time at 15:00. I wouldn't want to waste good drinking time typing out stuff for you bunch of layabouts.

Professional sport
Ok, go on then. I've got 20 minutes before I need to leave. Here's an insight into the way coaching of professional sportsmen has changed.

  • "I believe in beer for fast bowlers," declares Mr. A W Carr former captain of England and Notts.
    Mr. Carr gives away a secret - "a secret," he says, "which perhaps Harold Larwood himself does not know; I made it my business to see that he took to beer."
    : "All really fast bowlers need beer to keep them going. You cannot be a great fast bowler on a bottle of ginger pop or a nice glass of cold water."
    "Your fast bowler is in much the same case as your harvester and your navvy; he uses up an immense amount of physical strength in hard, out-of-doors exercise, and he must have something to give him a kick."
    "When I have particularly wanted to get Larwood's tail up in order to get a quick wicket or two for Notts I have seen to it that he has not wanted for beer."

(Harold Larwood was one of England's top bowlers before WW II. He was renowned for having a pint of beer onfield during drinks breaks.)

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Consuption (3)

Life's full of coincidences. The latest edition of Brauwelt arrived today and guess what it contained? Details of the consumption of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in Germany. As I doubt many of you subscribe to Brauwelt, I thought I would share the information with you.

You should bear in mind that the spirits figure are bulk and not converted to the equivalent amount of 100% alcohol like the UK figures. To compare like with like the German figures need to be divided by 3.

Let's make a comparison with the UK (for the year 2002).

Beer: UK 100.6 litres; Germany 121.9
Wine: UK 19.6 litres, Germany 24.2
Spirits: UK 1.7 litres, Germany 1.9 (adjusted as mentioned above)

See, the British aren't quite as big a bunch of drunks as everyone assumes. I am surprised how close the figures for wine consumption are. I would have guessed a much bigger lead for Germany, a major wine producer.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Thoughts on consumption

No, this post isn't going to be about TB. I think I owe you some comment on the table of consumption of alcoholic beverages in the UK I posted yesterday. I spent the whole day assembling it and had no time left over for analysis.

I'm not going to get into the Standard and Bulk barrel thing too much. Suffice it to say that average gravity before 1914 was around 1053, so there is little difference between Standard and Bulk barrel figures. (The Standard barrel was based on an OG of 1055). For the period where I don't have the Bulk barrel numbers, we can assume they are not significantly different from the Bulk barrel numbers.

Now I've got that dull introduction out of the way we can progress further.

Over the 150 year period covered, beer consumption varies between a low of 75 litres per capita in 1959 and a high of 146 in 1900. Mostly it's hovered between 90 and 120 litres. That's remarkably stable, considering the social and political upheavals that occurred. What does this tell us? The British have always rather liked beer. Now isn't that a surprise?

When it comes to other drinks, they've been far more fickle.

Let's first take a look at spirits. High 3.06 litres in 1900, low 0.44 litres in 1949. The high is 7 times greater than the low, whereas for beer it was less than double. Consumption of spirits has gone up, it's gone down, but it's pretty much back to the level of 1914.

Wine has taken a simpler course: high 19.6 litres in 2002, low 0.41 litres in 1945. The high is a massive 48 times greater than the low. And except for a small blip during WW II (I guess not much French or Italian wine was imported in the 1940s) has risen almost continually in the 20th century.

For me, the biggest surprise is cider. Sadly I have no figures for before 1962. Like wine, the only way has been up: high 10.3 in 1999, low 1.6 in 1962. The high is 6.5 times greater than the low, but the period covered is only 40 years. I would never have guessed that. I can't say that I had noticed a huge jump in cider sales. I must have been asleep, or, more likely, just not paying attention.

Ploughman's Lunch

An entertaining and informative history of the Ploughman's Lunch has appeared on Zythopile's blog. Well worth a look. If only there were more of this quality on the web.

Consumption (2)

On second thoughts, I'll just link to an html page rather than struggle with a large table:

Consumption of alcoholic drinks in the UK 1852 - 2002.

There are details of the consumption per head of beer, wine, spirits and for some years cider, too.

I haven't got time to explain more now. The kids have started fighting again and tea is almost ready. Have a look through yourselves and see if you can spot anything interesting.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Brausteuergebiet (2)

How could I not return to the Brausteuergebiet in 1992-93? It's hard to think of a topic that grabs the attention more. (Just nod when appropriate and think of something else. That's what my family do.)

I would love to regale you with jokes, anecdotes and the usual crap with which I fill this blog. But I'm knackered. I've had a long day in Archeon with the family. Amsterdam has good public transport, but not all Dutch towns are so lucky. No buses run from Alphen station to the only tourist attraction, Archeon. It's a good 30 minutes walk.

Look, I'm not as fit as I was. Once, I could dance all night and still sprint to work. Now I'm glad if I can make it back from the corner shop without panting for air. It will happen to you one day, too.

Drifting off into gloomy thoughts about mortality again. I'll try to keep on topic. The programme about Indian railways on BBC 4 I wanted to watch has just started. I have no time ramble.

Brausteuergebiet - what word stirs the heart more? You have to admit there's a certain magic in the way German nails nouns together. An English equivalent couldn't match its elegance. (If you disagree, submit your suggestions. Impress me and I'll hold one of my special word-eating banquets.)

Damn. Wandering again.

Here are some figures indicating the number of breweries of different sizes in the Brausteuergebiet inn 1892/93. They are ranked by the amount of tax they paid. We'll have to assume that they were honest chaps and that the numbers accurately reflect the quantity of beer brewed.

Note that a huge majority (6,927 or 81,88%) brewed less than 2,500 hl a year (those, based on the total amount of beer brewed and total amount of tax paid, of paying less than 3,000 M a year). A shade under 95% were brewing less than 10,000 hl a year. If you want a comparison, a large brewpub can shift 2,500 hl.

The overwhelming majority of German breweries were still tiny. I'm sure I've got some similar figures for the UK. I must dig them out.The pattern in the UK by then was quite different, I'm sure. Hang on a minute . . . let's have a look . . . Here they are. Whoops. wrong again. Though I've forgotten to imention it, the numbers heading the columns refer to the number of barrels brewed a year. Making a quick calculation, in 1890 there were 12,000 brewers in the UK, of which 9,986 produced less than 1,000 barrels (approx. 1,636 hl). That's 83%. So even worse than the Brausteuergebiet, despite the UK having industrialised earlier.

These are for the amount of tax paid by the biggest paying brewery per Bezirk:

The biggest payer was in Berlin (listed under Brandenburg). A great illustration of how far the process of industrialisation of the brewing industry had progressed in the different regions of North Germany by the 1890's. I'm sure you've been waiting all your life to find that out. I had been.

I was shocked that Rheinland ranked so low, behind East Prussia, Pommerania, Thüringen and Schleswig-Holstein. You tell me what pattern there is to them. I'm buggered if I can see it. I would expect the largest breweries in the most industrialised, populous, beer-thirsty regions. That isn't the case. Answers on a postcard to . . . .

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


I told you I would get to Truman's soon. Today's the day.

The photos of their logs have only been hanging around on my hard drive since March. We'll be looking at examples from 1850, just before they partially converted the brewery to Ale production.

After a century of boom, Porter sales were starting to flag by the mid-1800s. Around 1800, most of the large London brewers had switched to producing just Porter and Stout. But after 1820, the public began to prefer Ales. Not Pale Ales as some would have you believe - these were never more than a niche market in Victorian times - but Mild Ales. Not Mild as we know. These were strong and pale in colour, being brewed from 100% pale malt.

Below is a snapshot of a large Porter brewery, just before the style went into a slow decline that ended in extinction sometime around 1940.

Is that clear? I guessed not. Interesting names they used. Here's my explanation. There were four basic beers: Porter, Stout, Double Stout and Imperial Stout. All would count as strong or very strong by modern British standards. The weakest had an OG of 1057, the strongest 1100.

The first five columns are variations on the basic Porter. "Runner" and "Running" denote beer sold young or "Mild". "Country Runner" (great name, it sounds like sort of athlete) is Mild Porter for sale outside London. "Keeping" refers to be beer that was matured in great tuns for months or even years.

One of the dangers of modern brewers picking up an old recipe and brewing to it is the 19th century habit of using old hops. That's why I've included rows for different ages of hops. You'll note that the cheaper beers have a higher percentage of older hops. In the case of the bog-standard Porter, 80% of the hops were 3 or 4 years old. Only the expensive Stouts and Export beers used all fresh hops.

Also of interest is the lack of black malt or roasted barley in any of the beers. The Running Porter and Stout, with less than 10% brown malt, couldn't have been all that dark. By this time other London brewers, such as Barclay Perkins and the Griffin Brewery had adopted roast barley or patent malt to colour for colouring purposes. Though all London breweries continued to use some brown malt.

Monday, 16 July 2007


When I started this blog I set myself a goal: post every day for a month. It's a lot harder than it sounds. Excuses for the declining quality. I will get back to Mild grists. You can depend on that. But not today. I would promise tomorrow, except I've already done that twice and disappointed you. I'll get back to Mild grists sometime. How about that?

Promises, promises
I'd promised the kids a day at the outdoor swimming pool. But the weather god was having bladder problems. Must be his age. What to do on a crappy summer day in Amsterdam? Let's go to the beach!

Amsterdam has a beach? Yes. Despite the sea being moved several kilometres away in a Dutch poldering rage, Amsterdam does still posess a beach. As much by accident as design (apologies for the lack of a verb in this sentence). I'm losing the thread again. Amsterdam beach, that's it. (Takes a slug of Guinness SES.) I feel revitalised. With an "s". It stands for Stout.

Where are my notes? Oh yes, over there. I'll just fetch them ... . . . . ... . . . ... Damn. I wasn't at my best on Saturday. I would apologise again, but you would start to despise me, not consciously, but deep indside. So, no apologies. Just bear in mind I was having a bad day. (That's an explanation, not an excuse.)

Hey ho, let's go
The flats may be incomplete in Amsterdam's newest borough, but the beach is up and running (in a non diarrhea sense). You expect a description, don't you? Go there yourself and have a look!

That was the angry me. Ignore him. Just don't complain if my mastery of words is insufficient to whatsit, whatsit thingy the thing. I'll come back to that sentence later. I hope. If I forget, fill in the blanks yourself.

Let's return to Restaurant Blijburg. Mr. Pattinson and his family, after a long and arduous journey (the 26 tram) approach . . .

"I'm not going any further."

Andrew eyeballs the loose bulldog next to the approach ramp.

"I'll offer my left leg, if it turns nasty. Come on! Or you'll be eating grass for tea."

You have to know how to talk to kids. I flipflop between extreme lenience and pure fascism. It keeps them alert.

Beer. That's supposed to be the theme. Not "How to confuse your children". Maybe if i just quote my notes I won't wander off-message so much. Here goes:

How would you describe Restaurant Blijburg? That's a good question. You expect an answer, don't you? I'm tempted to just throw questions back and leave the answers till later.

This isn't working too well. Stick to the notes. The notes. The notes . . .

How do you describe Restaurant Blijdurg? Like a hippy squat on the North Jamaican coast. Negril. That's what it's like. Especially with the reggae pounding out of the sound system.

Everything is genuinely ramshackle. The bar counter and the cupboards behind it are all constructed from old crates. Very green. It looks good, too. Great views over Het Ij (the lump of water, not the brewery, sadly).

The sun has come out (thank you benevolent weather god) and the kids are off for a paddle. It's hard to believe I'm still in Amsterdam - sun, reggae, Westmalle Tripel. The last isn't so unusual.

I wonder what it's like out here on a sunny day. It's been threatening to piss it down all day and I still have to wait 30 seconds to get served at the bar. Thank you rain god.

Blijburg is sooooo Amsterdam. Cool, but without pretention. Trendy, yet full of families. And they have Westmalle Dubbel, Tripel and Duvel. I could stay all day.

Finding it
It isn't easy to find Restaurant Blijburg. That could account for much of its charm. Should you make it out there, you deserve to enjoy its unique atmosphere. My wife Dolores said: "Don't mention it in your blog! It will get overrun by tourists." "Naaay." I replied "They won't be able to find it." Let's make it a bit easier. Take the 26 tram to the terminus. Carry on walking. Ignore the sign that says "Strand ->" That just points at a building site.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Pub of the day (part five)

Lemmy's Biercafé

"What do you want?"
"A bacon and egg sandwich."
"A restraining order."
"A pint of Mild."

They didn't have any of these. But the orders did range from the unrealistic to the fantastic.

I'm sitting on a separate table to the kids. It works better that way if I want to write. I would complain of the kids spoiling the day with their antics. In reality, they've given loads of material. What's more important - fun or good material? You know the answer.

You want a description? Alright, brown café, corner location, some sort of music theme. They're playing - and have photos of - early 70's music stars. Is this life on Mars? Musically, yes. Brown wood, board floor. I'm bored. Chairman of the bored. There's a noticeable lack of Iggy here.

"I told you we'd have fun." I always say that. Luckily, today it was true. The kids love the idea of somewhere that invites mess. You're expected to thorw your peanut shells on the floor. It's a big hit. I'm as happy as a porcine animal in excrement. They shut up and are just are revelling in litter. Perfect. Whisky time for dad.

Lemmy's Biercafé
Morsstraat 24,
2312 BM Leiden.
Tel. 071 - 512 6402

Saturday, 14 July 2007


I have lots of books. Literally piles of them. I haven't had time to catalogue them, so I can't give you a precise number. Somewhere around 400 is my best guess. (In case you're wondering, that's just books with beer-related themes. There are boxes full of French and Czech novels, too.)

All the time I put into learning to read a dozen languages finally paid off. My book collection spans many tongues - Dutch, French, Danish, Swedish, Czech, Polish - but the majority are in English or German.

How have I built up my collection? In the dark days before the internet, I had to trawl through secondhand bookshops in the hope of finding something interesting. Mostly, I didn't. Internet shopping has made the process much less time-intensive.

Why am I telling yo all this? Because a book arrived yesterday. A book I had been longing to get hold of: "The Anchor Magazine 150th Year Commemoration 1781-1931". Yes, it's about Barclay Perkins.

I mostly order through ABEbooks. It works very well. I search their database, send off the order and a week or so later the book drops onto my doormat. I've ordered over 100 books this way and it's only ever gone wrong twice.

Some invisible thread binds me to Barclay Perkins. One day I'll work out what it is. The twice my orders went wrong were both for the same book: "The Anchor Magazine 150th Year Commemoration 1781-1931". My first attempt to buy it was back in January. After three months I reconciled myself to its disappearance and ordered a second copy. April 26th. That was the date.

The conditions say 45 business days, but usually it's a week at most between order and delivery. By the end of June I'd given up hope on the second copy, too. Then yesterday it popped through the letterbox. My joy is so unbounded that I had to share it with you.

Back to Mild tomorrow.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Mild grists

Mild, Mild, Mild
You didn't think I would forget my promise to discuss Mild grists, did you? A fascinating subject, I'm sure you'll agree.

Let's start by talking about what Mild is. Fairly simple, really. Mild Ale is a (usually) dark beer, low in gravity and lightly hopped. We can all agree on that. But how long has this definition been true? Not very long, as it turns out. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I was a committed Mild drinker when I lived in the UK. Not committed enough to keep sales up. By the time I left - 1985 - it was getting pretty difficult to find across wide swathes of the country. As usual, I have figures to hand to document its rapid decline.

Source: The Statistical Handbook of the British Peer and Pub Association 2003, p. 21

The history of Mild
Mild is the oldest British style still brewed. That's true. Sort of. Something called Mild has been around since at least the 1700s. But then it wasn't so much a question of a well-defined "style" as of a method of conditioning.

Any style could be sold "Mild" - all the term meant was unmatured beer. Even in the 1860s, William Loftus was still talking of "Mild Porter". Which is probably why some beer writers have come up with the idiotic assertion that dark Mild is a development of Porter. Total crap. The two styles have always been totally distinct. Another demonstration of the care needs to be taken in reading old documents.

Getting back to the term "Mild", I've even seen AK described as "mild Bitter Beer" in one 19th century advert. (Digressing slightly, here's something else that annoys me: using AK as a synonym for Light Mild, presumably based McMullen's AK. Well, I've seen dozens of beers called AK on Victorian price lists and every single one has been called Bitter, Luncheon Ale, Light Bitter Beer, or something similar - not a single Mild. The closest was the aforementioned "mild Bitter Beer". My guess is that McMullen rebadged their AK sometime in the past as Mild, when the style was still extremely popular. When its popularity had plummeted, they switched back to calling it Bitter.)

Barclay Perkins Mild grists
Let's have a look at some specific examples. Barclay Perkins is a good place to start, don't you think?

From the middle of the 19th century, Barclay Perkins had two breweries: the Porter side and the Ale side. There were two main groups of Ales brewed: Mild Ales and Stock Ales. The Milds were distinguished by a number of Xs - X, XX, XXX; the Stock Ales by Ks - KK, KKK, KKKK. The XX and KK and XXX and KKK were the same OG, but the Stock versions had 60-80% more hops.

Here are some more details:

I'm sure you've already noticed, but in case you haven't I'll point it out: all these beers use only pale malt. They weren't dark as we would expect Milds to be. I haven't found any dark malts in Barclay Perkins Mild before . . . . but that would be telling. I'm going to stretch this out for at least two days. I've got so much material (translation: I can't be arsed to go through all my material today).

Check out the gravities, too. The weakest Mild is 1060 (around 6% ABV). Stronger than the standard Porter, which was 1056. And not much less than Pale Ale, which was around 1065 at the time. The XX Mild is, at 1080 consderably stronger.

Where are we then? Pale, quite strong, . . . what about hopping levels? Certainly they were lower than for Pale Ale (that had about 4 pounds per barrel, about the same as the stronger XX). So Mild was realtively lightly-hopped. By the standards of the day. But the British were noted for using loads of hops in the 19th century. Hoppiness was one of the defining features of British beer.

My repetition is deliberate. I wanted to make sure that what I said sank in. Some claim that no-one used more than teaspoonful of hops before American microbrewers began their alchemic experiments. Just observing that the truth is more complex.

Pale, quite strong, relatively lightly-hopped. That's one out of three. Doesn't really sound much like modern Mild, does it? There's a reason for that: Mild has been completely transformed in the last 150 years.

Styles across time
Breweries - especially the ones who can trace their origins back before Methuselah's stag night - love to give the impression that they've been brewing "XXXXX Pils" for centuries. We (beer fans) know this isn't true. Michael Jackson told us that the first pale lager was brewed in 1842, so their claims must be bollocks.

But when it comes to beers with reassuringly similar names - Pale Ale, Bitter, Stout - the assumption that a century and a half ago such beers were roughly similar to their contemporary namesakes is a natural one to make.

I've collected information on many beers, some still brewed today. There are only two that have the same specs (in terms of OG and ABV) now as in 1880. Any ideas what those two beers are? I thought not. Have a think and we'll come back to it later.

Should time machines become available in Tesco, beer tourists popping back to 1880 wouldn't find much they recognised. Guinness drinkers would find Stout a bit of a shock. Not just by a serving temperature above freezing. The brettanomyces character of Old Ale and Stout would be a challenge to everyone except the Belgians. Could modern Bitter drinkers manage the strength and hoppiness of an IPA?

All modern British beer is radically different from its Victorian ancestors. (That's not quite totally true. There are a couple of throwbacks. But we're talking a very small number of beers. Harvey's Imperial Stout is probably the closest.) No surprise, then, that Mild has changed a lot, too. Though the others have mostly stayed the same colour.

Beer colour
Not that long ago, I believed that most British beer had been dark until 1956. In fact, I still believed that an embarrassingly short time ago. Couldn't be further from the truth.

The hydrometer and Napoleon. They are the ones to blame.

In the 18th century, everything was so simple. You had three main types of malt: pale, amber and brown. Usually, just one was used for any particular beer. That's one of the main ways styles were distiguished: by the type of malt used. Hence the terms Pale Ale, Brown Ale and Amber Ale. Pale malt was the most expensive and usually saved for the most expensive beers. Cheap brown malt was used in mass-market beers like Porter.

Then brewers discovered the hydrometer, long used by distillers. For the first time they began measuring the gravity of their worts and calculating the yield from the malt. They noticed something very strange. Despite being considerably more expensive, pale malt was cheaper to brew with, because the yield was so much better.

The effect was dramatic. When Richardson's conducted his first experiments with the hydrometer were in the 1770s, Porter was 100% brown malt. By 1805 (unfortunately the first year I have real information for) it was down to 45% and in 1850 a mere 15%. Even a beer as dark as Porter was brewed principally from pale malt.

Where does Napoleon fit in? British governments always do one thing when they go to war: raise the tax on beer. The Napoleonic wars were very expensive. There were two types of tax on beer: on the raw materials and on the finished product. When the malt tax rocketed, brewers had a big incentive to drive down the quantity of malt they used.

It's been remarked that the term Brown Ale disappeared around 1800 and only reappeared about a century later. This is a clue to what happened. They stopped brewing ales from amber and brown malt. With Porter, as the dark colour was one of the distiguishing features of the style, it was a bit tricky to suddenly make it a pale beer. But why bother brewing Brown Ale when it was cheaper to brew Pale Ale that sold for a higher price and that the customers thought was posher?

For most of the 19th century, with the exception of Porter and Stout, very few dark beers were brewed. At least from what I've seen so far. I could suddenly stumble on thousands of dark ales and look a right twat. I'm not claiming this is absolute truth. Just that I've seen evidence from several breweries, all saying the same thing.

Pilsner Urquell and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. I hadn't forgotten. The two beers with unchanged specs.

I didn't say that much about Mild grists, did I? I got distracted again. More Mild tomorrow. Unless the weather's good. Then I might have to skip a day.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Beer consumption

Nothing much has hapenned in the last 24 hours, so here, as promised, are some beer consumption statistics. It's fascinating stuff. I'll qualify that statement: fascinating for me.

In case you were wondering, the numbers for 1906 to 1954 come from “Almanach für das deutsche Brauwesen 1957” p.72. I would provide evidence of this, but my scanner's on the blink. I need to get Dolores to take a look at it (she maintains our computer systems).

What do they tell us? For the one, of the collapse in the Dutch Brewing industry in the first half of the 20th century. That the Belgians have always had a fondness for beer, but I guess you already knew that. I certainly did. Ireland, Belgium and the UK are the only countries with lower consumption today than pre- WW I. I'm not sure what significance that has. Probably none. But I thought I would mention it anyway.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Summer outing

The kids are on holiday. I've already told you that. Bear with me. We aren't going away, so they'll have to make do with days out.

Today we went to Bodegraven and Leiden.

Lexie has strange ideas about windmills. He thinks they are all breweries. Not without reason. The only two windmills he's been in are both breweries: Het Ij and De Molen. We were in the latter today. All the way back he kept saying "Look dad - there's a brewery." I didn't like to disillusion him.

Holland's microbreweries are of variable quality. (That's the poilite way of saying lots of them are crap.) The good ones can be counted on the fingers of a guillotine operator - three. Lexie wasn't far off with his windmill connection. And there's De Schans, too.

I've never had a bad beer from De Molen. Today did nothing to change that. If anything my opinion went up. The Rasputin slipped down a treat. And only 11%. A real session beer. The brewer showed me his malt store. I felt honouerd and humbled. He even let me chew some of his Special B malt. Very nice. It tasted even better once transformed into beer.

I like variety. I was in two pubs today with three standard-strength pilsners on draught. What's the point in that? Heineken, Amstel and Brand. Here's what they had on in De Molen: Spezial (don't ask me to explain what that is precisely - lager, pale, 5.6% ABV), Bitter, Saison, Stout, Tripel, Imperial Stout. I'll forgive anyone duplication when it comes to Stout. If he'd had a Mild on, I would have offered to bear his children.

I only mention Rasputin (the Imperial Stout) to taunt you. He brews it just once a year in very limited quantities. It's wonderful stuff. You have about two weeks to get to Bodegraven, judging by the depleted shelves, if you want to try the 2007 vintage. Why do I mention a beer most of you have no chance of sampling? Revenge. That simple. You gits over the Atlantic keep teasing me with unobtainable (and thus unverifiable) wonders. This is how it feels.

How good is Rasputin? Hang on, I'll consult my notes . . . . 78 out of 100 . . . powerful, but mellow and complex . . . would be better by the pint . . . So you have some point of reference, here's what I made of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout: "Waaaaay too sweet, like Irish coffee with 6 extra sugarlumps. Not complex enough for the strength and overpowered by the taste of cheap whisky. 56 out of 100."

Since the closure of the former Firkin in Den Haag, De Molen is the only brewer of cask-conditioned beer in the Netherlands.

The brewer was very friendly. Imperial Stout . . . apologies for the draught beer being slightly too cool . . . telling me the yeast used in each beer . . . I was starting to really like this bloke.

Let's consult my notes again. This afternoon:

  • The kids are going crazy so I've taken refuge in the nearest decent-looking pub. How can they be so psychopatheic without psychedelics? No wonder everyone thinks my parenting skills are between Homer Simpson's and Stalin's.

    Lexie just tried eating his glass . . . Excuse me if this review seems hurried. We may be off to casualty soon.

    Brown cafe. Henry VIII pub sign. Views of windmill. Next to a canal.

    "Spit out the crunchy bits." That's my advice to Lexie. Though he's been annoying enough in the last 15 minutes for me to not be [before you start accusing me of sloppy grammar, I'll point out that I don't believe in square-peg-hammered-into-round-hole pseudo-Latin rules like split infinitives] that bothered.

    Why would a pub sell 3 different Pils [what is the plural of Pils? Pilss. With a silent "l"?]? Probably for the same reason that UK piubs sell 4 or 5 Bitters of pretty much the same strength. Why does the world so often choose to be dull rather than interesting?

    When I go out by myself I have to invent the craziness (sometimes). With the kids along, it's always there.

    "The good boys get a bag of chips."
    "I don't need chips, dad." [Andrew]
    "That's OK, you're behaving yourself anyway."

    "Can I get a court order to keep Alexei 5 metres away from me?" [Andrew]

    "Can I drink your beer dad?" [Alexei]

    I'm such a good dad.

Numbers, I've got numbers. I've got numbers, who could ask for anything more? You can't imagine how many. They'll last far longer than your attention. Even I started nodding off compiling them.

Tomorrow it will be beer consumption per capita. Unless something more noteworthy occurs. Or "The Story of Watneys" contains real gems. Or I change my mind. The world is an uncertain place.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

The difference between Porter and Stout

I had a dream
Today is a momentous day. The first outing in this blog of two of my obsessions. Can you guess which two?

I have my faults. Impatience is one. Flatulence is another. No, I meant fatuousness. Jungian slip there. Anger. Aggression. Conceit. Fat belly. I'll stop now, not because I've run out of faults - I have pages more - but because I'm meant to be discussing Porter.

My faults are always on display when Porter is the topic. Too close to my heart, that's the problem. It starts with a dream. Sometime in the 1970s. Reading Michael Jackson in a Porter-free England, his description of the style left a deep impression on me. Not just my conscious mind. Oh no. It went much deeper than that.

When I said a dream, I was talking literally, not metaphorically. I've had many great dreams. The when-you're-asleep-sort-of-thing type, I mean. The Porter dream changed my life.

Most of my beer-related dreams are connected with last orders and my inability to find a decent pub in the 10 minutes left before the bell sounds. A typical anxiety dream, but with a peculiarly British twist. The Porter dream belongs to that much smaller group, where wishes are fulfilled rather than frustrated. I was in a pub with handpulled Porter. And I got to taste it. (I told you it wasn't a frustration dream.) That taste has stayed with me ever since.

I've already admitted to being a hippy. Now I'm going to come across like a right new-age twat. My thinking about the nature of Porter was defined by that dream. Irrational and Illogical? Yes. But it's no worse a starting point that that of many others. And at least I've assembled a few facts to back up my belief.

Porter was one of my early beer obsessions. Followed by Geuze, Gose and Grodziskie. The letter H will have its turn soon.

Porter and Stout
What's the difference between Porter and Stout? It's a question that crops up regularly on beer forums. The (it's hard even to write these four letters, the true mark of the devil, the incarnation of evil itself) BJCP and its imaginative style descriptions have provided little clarification.

Working the wrong way around - looking at modern versions and extrapolating backwards - isn't a very useful technique. The biggest problem is that few breweries made both a Porter and Stout 30 years ago when the first attempts at defining the styles more precisely were made. Take a Porter from Sweden and a Stout from Ireland and compare the two. Simple. Except that this approach inevitably results in complete bollocks.

A more effective method - though one requiring real research - is to look back to the heyday of Porter. That's what I'll be doing today. Specifically, I'll be looking at Whitbread brewing logs for 1805 and 1844.

Like all the London breweries of the day, Whitbread produced a Porter and several Stouts - Single, Double and Triple. Let's take a look at the 1805 recipes first.

Whitbread have the most standardised recipes I've seen. Every brew had exactly the same ingredients - 216 quarters of malt (approximately 66,000 pounds) and 2,250 pounds of hops. For the Porter and Single Stout, the malt bill consisted of 160 quarters of pale malt and 56 quarters of brown malt. Only the Double Stout varied slightly with 136 quarters of pale, and 40 each of amber and brown malt. The only other difference was the quantity of beer produced - 798 barrels of Porter, 720 of Single Stout and 580 barrels of Double Stout.

By 1844 the standardisation had gone even further. Every brew contained 152 quartters of pale malt, 47 quarters of brown malt and 2,280 pounds of hops. From these ingredients 5 beers were brewed - Porter, KP (Keeping Porter), Single Stout, Double Stout and Triple Stout. The Stouts were rarely brewed by themselves, almost always being party-gyled with one of the Porters.

So what was the difference between Porter and Stout for Whitbread? The amount of water used.

Source: documents LMA_4453_D_09_001 and LMA_4453_D_09_38 in the London Metropolitan Archive.

My two obsessions
"What are they?" Bum. I was hoping you had forgotten about that. Like I said at the start, you guess. I'm not here to provide answers, just to be annoying.

OK then, one clue. I define Porter the 1830 way.

Monday, 9 July 2007


My gamble paid off. I call it a gamble, but inattentiveness is more accurate. I didn't scan the whole horizon before leaving home without a coat.

I spotted the risk 200 metres into the tram ride to Centraal Station. Oh fffffuuu .. dear. A very dark cloud covered half the sky. Coincidentally, the half of the sky I hadn't bothered to check before setting out.

My kids have just started their summer holidays. I'm on permanent holiday. I'm trying to provide them with some entertainment. "Do you know where a 'Bridge Too Far' was filmed?" It's the question I asked Andrew, but it will do for you too. (I love the vagaries of the English language. In any other, I would need to commit myself to singular or plural in the second person. English allows to me imagine plural readers, without revealing my conceit.) "Where is home to the team with the craziest name in football, Go Ahead Eagles?"

I should have given this post another title. Not hard to guess the answer, is it - Leeuwaarden.

Leeuwaarden would have been our destination. (Andrew's choice). But engineering works mean part of the journey there is by bus. Bugger that. I've been meaning to go back to Deventer for years. Every time we've passed through on the train, I've bored my family with stories of my first visit to Holland with Harry and Johnny Ash. (If you're wondering when beer will appear in this post, here's an appetiser - on the same trip I had my first taste of Geuze and Düsseldorf's Altstadt. I've never been the same since. Or maybe it was that encounter on the Zeedijk. But I'm not going to tell you about that. You'ld think I was an idiot.)

Though it pissed it down for most of our journey, when we arrived in Leeuwaarden, sorry Deventer, it was dry. It wasn't just nostalgia attracting me to Deventer. My Dutch Pub Guide lists five pubs in the town. Three are on the same square.

You may be shocked to hear that I haven't visited every pub in my guides. I'm not Superman. Or even Plastic Man. I'm a poor, weak human, who can only move at sub-light speeds and has an eight-pint capacity stomach. Oh yes, and I have to work, too (usually). I say this, but I have met people who have visited more than I have. Humbling. And Embarrassing.

Deventer. It's the title and deserves more than a passing mention. It really does. It's an archetypal Dutch town - spiky outline, gabled houses, main square lined with pubs. Quite pretty, too. There's a leaning tower. Punters love that sort of thing. Two of the pubs I dragged the kids into had a great view of it. We were inside in the first one. Dark clouds were gathering overhead. The terrace was out of the question.

Life's unpredictability is what keeps me from sticking a shotgun in my mouth. The impromptu piano lesson given to Alexie in De Waagschaal was definitely unexpected. And all the better for that. Andrew was very keen on the outdoor armchairs of De Buren van Schimmelpenninck. Kids today. Can't they sit up properly? "But what's in it for me?" The proper beer pub Bierencafe de Heks.

I mentioned my holiday with Harry and Johhny Ash earlier. One of our stops was Halle. Then still home to the Vander Linden brewery. They brewed a mix of spontaneously-fermented beer and ale called "Duivel's Bier". I can remember drinking it in Halle. It's recently been revived (though at a greatly different strength and without the sourness I recall the original having). They had it on draught in Bierencafe de Heks. Guess what I ordered ? Correct - Rochefort 10.

If you can remember the start of this twaddle, my gamble really did pay off. I got home dry. All the rain fell while we were safely inside pubs. Thank you supreme consciousness thing.

Sunday, 8 July 2007


I spoil you lot. I really do. I should keep this for myself. Andrew says that: "Dad, keep it to yourself." He actually says: "Dad, shut up." But I know what he really means.

A challenge. I like a challenge. I slip that into every job interview.

My wife, Dolores, is a very intelligent woman. She could have done so much better. "Why do you waste our money? What use are those stupid old books?" Good questions. Too (two) good questions. Why didn't I choose the stupid girl?

Here's my response.

What kept me sane when I lived in Australia.

Today was a family day for me. The kids wanted to go "downtown". Sure enough, they'll be selling stuff and they wanted to shop. I could make this very long, but the kids, despite promising dad an hour of "writing that rubbish", are demanding food. Next they'll be demanding clothes. Occasionally their comments are more useful. Like today in Bierkoning. "Dad, isn't that yellow beer the one you like?" Little angel, he'd remembered my affection for Cooper's Stout. Who says I'm teaching my children nothing?

What is that? A product of German unification (like pig iron and dreadnoughts). It was a complicated thing. Far too complicated for you lot. Or me, for that matter. So let's not get too detailed.

In the early years of the Empire, some states retained many rights, such as taxing beer. In the Brausteuergebiet, beer taxes went to the Imperial government. It covered all of Germany except for Bavaria, Baden , Württemberg, Alsace, Lorraine and Luxemburg. In a word, The North. (Though that's technically two words, not one. I aim for 100% precision.) In two words: The North.

If you want to see where Oldenburg or Westpreussen were, there's a useful map on this page of pre-WW I German regions. It shows the big ones. Use your imagination for the rest.

The table in the image shows various stuff (sorry if I get too technical) about the brewing industry in the Brausteuergebiet in 1892/93. Each row covers a different administrative area. These are the most significant columns:

5 - total number of operational breweries
6 - number of breweries brewing top-fermenting beer
7- number of breweries brewing bottom-fermenting beer
8 - volume of top-fermenting beer brewed (hl)
9 - volume of bottom-fermenting beer brewed (hl)
10 - total volume of beer brewed (hl)
11 - percentage top-fermenting beer
12 - percentage bottom-fermenting beer

Significantly, although 64% of the breweries were top-fermenting, only 23% of the beer produced was. The average annual output for top-fermenting breweries was 1,400 hl, but for bottom-fermenting breweries 8,300 hl. (That's far too many fermentings for one paragraph. Good style dictates no more than two.) Educated guess: the top-fermenting breweries were small and old-fashioned.

Between regions there was considerable variation. In Sachsen, 41% was top-fermented. In Grossherzogtum Hessen none at all.

I can't help fiddling. It's in my nature. Which is why I've added more information to the original table, most importantly, population. (Not the one you see, I'll hasten to add. The one for my use.) It means I can make some other neat calculations, such as number of breweries per head of population. 4,700. Over the whole Brausteuergebiet, there was one brewery for every 4,700 inhabitants. Top region was Hohenzollern, with a brewery for every 300, worst Hamburg with only one for every 21,800.

I've also calculated output per head of population: 83.5 litres. Top region is again Hohenzollern with 185 litres, followed by Thüringen with 176. Worst in Oldenburg with just 37 litres.

Sad isn't it? But if you've got this far, that's one for me.

You expected more jokes, didn't you? Sorry.

Tomorrow: "No-one's interested in that crap."

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Lagering and numbers

Lagering and numbers

Thank you for all your responses to this blog. Their number prevent me from immediately identifying the direction you think I should follow. Not that I would have paid any attention. But it would be nice to know if I were sucking up or pissing off. I'll assume the latter.

"He's not going to get any laughs out of this topic." You're right. I'm not. Life isn't all about fun. It's about hardship, boredom and pain. Expect the latter two from now on.

Oh. Alright. Here's a joke. "Why did the chicken jump off the cliff?" "Because he wondered how trees felt."

I would blame Lexie for that. But it's one of Andrew's. I'm too old to understand.

Hang on. I'll just knock my brain back it to place. Ungh . . .ungh . . . ungh-angh . . . uuungh .. Yep. That's it.

Beer. I'm supposed to be talking about beer, aren't I? Activating autobiographical, abuse and random book scan modes . . . . . Generated text will appear in 3 .. 2 .. 1 .. 0 .. seconds . . .

For someone who has been a CAMRA member since his 18th birthday, I have what might be considered an unhealthy interest in lager. Not the yellow piss-water on sale in British pubs, but the real central European stuff.

Here's what "Brauerhandbuch (Karl Hennies, Nürnberg 1956, pages 282 and 283) has to say on the subject of lagering:

  • Pale beers need to be lagered longer than dark beer. Only after a longer lagering period is the strong hop taste transformed into a noble bitterness. Dark beer on the other hand lose during too long a lagering their fine malt aroma. Stronger beers also demand longer lagering times than those of a lower gravity; also beer has to lager longer in cold cellars than in warm ones. Normally dark beers are lagered for one and a half to two and a half months, pale beers two to six months. Pale export beers which are unpasteurised are lagered for up to a year and very cold, so that as much protein as possible is eliminated. Beer with insufficient secondary conditioning are only lagered briefly, since longer lagering only makes the faults more obvious.

Modern IPA brewers should perhaps pay attention to the purpose of lagering pale beers - smoothing out the rough hop flavour. Here's a hint. If you want to brew an authentic 1842 Burton IPA, try maturing your beer for 4 months not just in wooden barrels, but also in a wooden sailing ship, making sure to vary the temperature between 5 and 50º C and to rock it around a lot. Then you have authentic. And fiddle around with the magnetic field. Maybe that doesn't have any effect. I'd still do it just to be on the safe side.

Breweries by country

Flicking through another of my old German books ("Almanch für das deutsche Brauwesen" Darmstadt, 1957 pages 56 and 57), I noticed a table of the number of breweries per country in 1956. I thought you might find it interesting if I compared it with the situation today (see image). I use the word "interesting" in a very unconventional way. I don't really believe that. People just keep saying it. I thought I should pass it on. In the sake of impartiality.

According to the book, in 1956 there was a total of 6,531 breweries in the world, 5,752 of which were in Europe. You'll be disappoinnted to hear that I can't tell you how many there are now. And I call myself Mr. Serously-unnaturally-interested-in-statistics. Or Suiis for short. Looks sort of Finnish doesn't it? Suiis Baltic Porter - I can just see the reviews on web rating sites. "A delicious black beer, but more Imperial Stout than a Baltic Porter." "Too roasty for a Porter." "Not roasty enough for a Porter." "Perfectly roasty, but too dark for a Porter." "Not dark enough, but too roasty for a Porter." I could go on. I really could.

Bugger. I said no jokes. [straightens face theatrically]

Anyone have any idea how many breweries there are today? I guess not the same.

There a couple of observations I would like to make:

  1. the only countries with fewer breweries in 2006 than in 1956 are the Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden and Luxemburg.
  2. The biggest decreases are: Belgium, 563 to 124; Germany 3,218 to 1,284: Czech Republic/Slovakia, 330 to 114.
  3. The biggest increases are: USA 305 to 1,409; Austria, 98 to 170; UK 404 to 633; Italy, 32 to 168.

That's it. Really. Draw your own conclusions. You try to form that unmalleable clay into .. urm . . pots of .. urm ... something else. You're on your own.

Friday, 6 July 2007

The next custom colour scheme

There's a boy that's not allowed to pick things up off the ground. One day he sees €100 on the pavement. He's not allowed to pick it up. His grandmother falls down. "Can you help me?". "No". "I'm not allowed to pick things off the ground".

Andrew, your English composition is class over. Go on son, pick any colours you want. (Remember the legibility proviso.)

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Pub of the day (part four)

Today I meant to bring you a new Amsterdam pub. A pub harvested on my second Rivierenbuurt expedition. Things didn't quite work out as expected.

For a start the weather was crap. I spent most of the afternoon dodging showers with almost as much skill and effort as I put into avoiding work. The lousy was why I arranged to meet Mike in Dopey's rather than on the street. As things turned out, I'm glad I did. But more of that later.

Using my trusty Amsterdamse Kroegen Encyclopodie as a source I had a map prepared (that's the sort of anal retentive jerk I am) marked with half a dozen propects. Enough for a hard afternoon's researching (or pub-crawling, as my wife calls it).

I've rather negelected Dopey's over the years. I hadn't been there for yonks when it was included in a post-beer-tasting pub crawl. (I've been hosting beer tastings for several years now. Though I'm lucky to average more than one a year. Something is going wrong. I blame the marketing department, run by one R. Pattinson. He never gets me any business, the useless git. I've had no complaints of the tastings I've done. I provide a full-colour booklet packed with the sort of neurotically detailed information users of my website will immediately recognise. Then there's my unscripted lecture. I never need a script. My conversation often resemebles a lecture as my friends, children and long-suffering wife will attest. I can drone away on any beer-realted topic for several hours. Like Hasek's political speeches, the only interruptions are those dictated by toilet requirements. My blog is the same. Only here I'm spared the glazed eyes of my loved ones. And the stares at the suspicious dark patches on my trousers. Where was I? Trying to drum up some bookings for my unforgettable beer tastings. I'm offering a special rate for readers of my blog. Just quote the discount code "frankenland-spending-money" when you book.)

I keep telling people I'm an old-fashioned bloke. I'm writing this the old-fashioned way - on paper - because I'm in a pub. Obviously, there will be a stage where I'm squinting at my scrawl and trying to transcribe it into electronic form, but currently I'm sat in Wildeman wondering. Wondering which Rauchbier to drink. What do you reckon - Hummel or Spezial?" Ah . . they still have Schlenkerla Ur-Bock. No contest.

Pub of the day. That was the subject, wasn't it? I can remember when most suburban Amsterdam pubs still had carpets on the tables and a choice of Pils, Pils or Pils. Those days are long gone in most of the city. But not quite everywhere. Can you guess which neighbourhood the beer fairy has passed by?

(To protect the innocent, I'll be naming no pub names here . . .)

The exterior of the first pub looked so good, Mike refused to enter. Despite the fact that it was raining. In the interests of fair play, I thought I should at least stick my head around the door. Much as it pains me to say this, Mike was right. It wasn't worth the effort. On my scale of 1 to 5 stars, it rated -1. And that's after marking it up one for having a decent jenever, Bols Korenwijn for just €2.40.

We were soon zigzagging between the raindrops again. I've been in lots of pubs. There are few surprises left in décor or design. Our next stop did, however, cause me to raise one eyebrow, Roger Moore-style, ever so slightly. The Amsterdamse Kroegen Encyclopodie warned that the owner runs two antique shops. Maybe they are filled with pub furniture, because the pub is full of antiques. Like an over-stuffed Victorian front room. At least that's what it looked like through the window, because it wasn't open. S we were there bang in the middle of its supposed opening times, I wonder if it still trades.

Maybe we would have better luck on Rijnstraat. Mike needed a strippenkaart. While he was busy with that, rather than stand outside in the rain, I tried another pub. Suddenly, -1 was looking like a good score. To give [name deleted] -4 would do a great disservice to every pub I've rated -3, especially as they tried to pass off Oud Jenever as Korenwijn. Truly dreadful, though the barmaid was friendly enough.

Not to worry. Still two more pubs in Rijnstraat to go. But . . . No. I couldn't do it. They looked so dismal from the outside, my legs refused to take me in.

Mike was ready to go home. I can't say that I blamed him. "There's a reasonable pub just down the road." I said encouragingly. That usually works. I meant it, really I did. I did have vague memories of an OK pub on van Wou Straat. Mike reluctantly tagged along. Great. I could demonstrate my unrivalled knowledge of Amsterdam pubby-things [note: insert real word here]. Rather further away than I recalled we found the "good pub". I did manage to drag Mike inside, even if he couldn't find anything better to drink than tea. I told the barman he was on medication. Finally somewhere with a drinakable beer - Westmalle Dubbel. The chance wasn't going to pass me by.

What a day. Five pubs (excluding Dopey's) ranging from crap to really, really, really crap, a soaking and a disgruntled Mike. A bit of exercise, that was the only positve. But the best was still to come.

Amsterdam is a dynamic, living city, continually sucking in (and sometimes spitting out again) new groups of incomers. Being a foreigner in a city of foreigners somehow makes you feel less of a foreigner. If you see what I mean. Now the antifascist protection barrier is gone, the normal progression of people from East to West has been resumed. That explains the Polish shop (van Wou Straat 182) I stunbled upon on the way to the tram stop from the last disappointing pub. They had beer and sausage, a combination that always gets my juices flowing. No Porter, but well some Kielbasa and other unpronouceables. Five new Polish beers and a bag of sausage for the kids. Not such a bad day after all.

No new pub, but instead an old pub for Pub of the Day. The reliable, negected, faithful Dopey's.

Dopey's Elixer
Lutmastraat 49,
1072 JP Amsterdam.
Tel. 020 - 671 6946

No no no

No. No! No!!

No no no no no no no.

No no no no no no no no no.

No no no.

No no no no, no.

I asked my son Andrew to write today's post and that's the best he could come up with. It does have a certain dadaesque ring, but I couldn't help but feel I was shortchanging you if that's all I could come up with today.

You'll have to make do with a few book scans. Today it's "Almanach für das deutsche Brauwesen 1957". The pages describe top- and bottom-fermenting beer styles. Here's what it has to say about Wiener Typ lagers:

  • There was also a Vienna type, which was between Münchner and Pilsener in colour. This beer was bitter and malty at the same time, which doesn't work. The style has disappeared.

A bit premature with the obituary, but an interesting explanation for why amber lagers might have disappeared. Though it sounds like bollocks to me.

Here's another interesting claim:

  • There are some top-ferementing beers in Germany, in particular Berliner Weisse, which is similar to Leuven Witbier, but clear.

    The list of Belgian styles is surpisingly long: Lambic, Geuze, Leueven witbier, Peetermann, Uytzet, Saison, Oudenaarde Bruin.

I did write a proper post today. On paper. Why on paper? Because I was in a pub. It's very witty and perceptive. Believe me. Maybe tomorrow I'll have the energy to type it all in.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Book of the day

"The Red Barrel", Burford Janes 1963
I apologise for referencing a book about Watney Mann. The history of the Griffin Brewery (bought and closed by Watneys in the 1890s) is what prompted me to buy it. (The Griffin Brewery will feature in later posts. If I keep this up. Enthusiasm. The thing that carries me away. Quite often. Dead often. Like a succession of short sentences. On and on. Until the metaphors run dry. Or something else grabs my attention.) I thought you might like the insight it gives into the development of keg beer - the infamous Red Barrel.

When reading about the big London brewers - Whitbread, Watney, Mann, Truman, Courage - it's hard not to recall the pissiness of their beer and the crappiness of their pubs when I started drinking. I do their 19th century incarnations a disservice. But it's hard not to hold them responsible for their later crimes. What would you feel if you met Hitler as a baby? He couldn't have been evil at 3 months could he? That's how I look at the big London breweries before 1900 - baby Hitlers. You know that you'll hate them one day, but aren't they sweet just now?

"Seventy Rolling Years", Sydney Neville, 1958
I announce "book of the day" then give you two. That's the sort of bloke I am. Innaccurate but generous.

That could be why I obsess over Barclay Perkins. They closed before my first encounters with beer. No keggy afterlife taints my memory. But one of their beers (albeit brewed elsewhere) was still skulking in a few dodgy pubs when I arrived in London - Russian Stout. Courage Russian Stout is how most know it. Barclay's brewed it for 200 years. Courage barely managed 20. Let's credit it to Barclay's.

Watneys weren't the first to try convincing British drinkers that keg was better than cask. Before WW I Worthington, one of the big brewers in Burton, seeing the success of processed ales in the USA, had a try at marketing keg beer. It didn't go down well. Edwardians preferred cask. Good on them. Later generations of Britons, immunised to taste by rationing, white bread and TV advertising, weren't so discerning. I blame Hitler, ITV and Tesco (not necessarily in that order).

Has anyone got the answer to Monday's question?
While we're on the subject of red barrels, one of the last in the universe is close to my house. A few remain on Alpha Centauri, but those guys are well behind the times. Literally light years. You can see the proof in the photo (not of the dreadfully démodé alphacentaurans, but of a barrel that is red and accompanied by the letters W - A - T - N - E - Y - S). I'll be happy to guide any beer archeologists to the site for a mere skinfull.

Stumbling around

I'll own up. I'm not as organised as I should be. On Sunday I wanted to write about rice beer. There was one problem: the marker had fallen out of "Zeitschrift für das gesammte Brauwesen".

I have a very simple system of keeping track of interesting tidbits of information in my books - paper bookmarks. Just pieces fo scrap paper, sometimes colour coded, sometimes with a little text scribbled on them. (I hope I'm not boring you. Skip a couple of paragrapghs. It might get better.)

Just when I needed to look it up, the one marking the article on malt substitutes in the Brausteuer Gebiet had gone walkies. As a result, I spent much of Sunday morning flicking through "Zeitschrift für das gesammte Brauwesen" looking for it. In the process I stumbled across a couple of other things I would like to share with you. Yes, they are numbers. How did you guess?

Austrian beer production
One difficulty when looking at statistics from before WW I is the way national borders have been moved around in the hundred or so years since. Austria is particularly tricky. Which is what makes the production figures on page 210 of the 1894 edition of “Zeitschrift für das gesammte Brauwesen”: they are broken down by state. Much more useful. It means I can (relatively) easily remove what no longer belongs. Let's see: Bosnia, is that part of Austria? No, I don't think so. Bascially all I need to do is strip out the bits that have recently had a civil war and hey presto, modern Austria. Or at least close enough.

While I was about it, I though that I may as well include the figures for the modern Czech Republic (Böhmen and Mähren in the table). It makes for some interesting (odd use of that word yet again) comparisons. You'll see that in in 1893 more than half of the beer produced in Austria came from what is now the Czech Republic. In fact 45% came from Bohemia alone. Secondly, whilst beer production increased 46% in present-day Austria between 1893 and 2005, in the Czech Republic it has gone up by 118%. Fascinating stuff. I could hardly sleep on Sunday night.

Attenuation in British beers in the 1890s
The next one is slightly odd. Why were the Germans so interested in the attenuation of British beers? No idea, though the article had been translated from English.

The tables do give an idea of the characteristics of typical British beers of the 1890s. Note that the Milds are stronger than all the Light Bitters and most of the Bitters. Mild didn't mean meek in those days.

Much has been said about the sweetness of 19th century Mild. I can't see any evidence for it in these figures: there is no appreciable difference in the degree of attenuation between Mild and the Bitters, nor is there a greater proportion of fermentable material left in it. But maybe I'm just looking at it the wrong way. Let me know if you can see something different.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Pub of the day (part three)

De Gouden Reael
Amsterdam is a bit of a flirt. While she shows you some of her charms, much is initially concealed. You have to search for the best bits. I think I'll lose my buxom young woman anology here, as I'm heading into disolute waters.

Despite being a bottle-throw from Centraal Station, the Westelijke Eilanden, isolated from the rest of town by the railway viaduct, are like a different world. I probably shouldn't tell you all this, in case you go and spoil it. Can I trusst you? I didn't think so. But I'm going to tell you anyway.

Delft. It's like having been transported to Delft, a far quieter and more intimate town than Amsterdam. There are some (I hate to use this word) lovely bits, with little gardens and playgrounds lining the canal, in a sport of hippy waterfront regeneration. Very sweet.

Sorry. I'm meant to be describing a pub, aren't I? 17th century building on harbour - split level - paintings of Centraal Station and the Silo (oh happy memories of the death-trap sunken dance floor and the dock of doom) . I'm going for streamlined descriptions. My hand aches if I write everything in full. You have to realise just how lazy I am. Only my overwhelming alcoholic urge gets me out of the house. Not just my notes but also my final writing is governed by my laziness. When I type this in it will most likely be 23:45 and I'll be eager for my bed. I'll not be in the mood for thinking up any new words. The old ones will have to do.

Mike loves Gouden Real because:
  1. very unusual location
  2. well placed as far as water is concerned
  3. the prices are reasonable
  4. the beer list is above average
  5. nice interior
  6. they have a jenever list (well, they sell Filliers 5 year old and Bols Korenwijn)

Thank you Mike. I love a second opinion. We'll have to see if it influences my scoring. I don't want to devalue my high scores. That makes me mean. I'll give it foive, just joking, three.

De Gouden Reael
Zandhoek 14,
1013 KT Amsterdam.
Tel: 020 - 623 3883
Fax: 020 - 625 7317

Wot, no numbers? (Here's a question; complete the following advertising slogan: "What we want is . . . . .") I have some dead good ones, but I'm saving them for tomorrow. Rationing is essential. Without it, I'll never get any research done. A clue: I'll be using a German source. One where the numbers are like a football crowd: great in number, unpredictable and all wearing red. The anology sort of collapsed at the end there. But this is only a blog, so what does it matter?

Numbers, numbers, numbers. Tomorrow.

. . . . . Or the day after, if I change my mind.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Rice Beer

I have a bit of a thing about the Reinheitsgebot. Not in a sexual way, obviously. I'm a happily married man. I'm not going to start running after any pieces of consumer legislation. Oh no. Not me.

Let's start again. I was about to say that I've never cared for the Reinheitsgebot, but that's not true. Much like everyone else, I used to think it was pretty groovy. Until my RHG epiphany. Now I feel the need to proselytise.

I get very annoyed by the wilfull misrepresentation of the law's history by the German brewing industry. Generally, the impression is given that German beer has been all malt since Moses was at school. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before 1900 it was a purely Bavarian regulation.

I know, I know. I'll try and get to the point. Give me a chance. Rice beer. Or more specifically German rice beer. It's generally assumed that the use of rice in lager was an American innovation. Well maybe it wasn't.

Strange taste in reading matter, I said. One of my absolute favourites is "Zeitschrift für das gesammte Brauwesen". The 1894 edition is a cracker - I couldn't put it down. But don't worry. I'm not going to spoil the ending by revealing the killer's name. Absolute highlight is the article "Die Verhältnisse der Bierbrauerei im Deutschen Zollgebiete während des Etatsjahres 1892/93". I've never laughed so much.

Here's an example, discussing the raw materials used for brewing in North Germany:

  • Amongst malt surrogates, rice is gaining in popularity from year to year. It is used as an additive to the grist in the proportion of 1:2 or 3:5; and beers brewed with the addition of rice are renowned for their especially pleasant taste and clear pale colour. Since rice is slightly cheaper than malt and with regard to sugar content is superior (100 kg of rice is equal to 120-130 kg malt in this respect), so its use in beer is financially advantageous.

Rice was more popular even than sugar. In 1892/93 50,767 zentners of rice were used, but only 23,609 zentners of sugar. Those of you who believe in the absolute purity of German beer look away now. They also used potato starch and saccharin.

Who came up with the idea of using rice first, German or American brewers? Given that the flow of knowledge about lager brewing was pretty much one-way during the 19th century - westwards - my money's on the Germans. Why aren't they more proud of their invention?