Had a great session last week with two Californian brewers, Mitch Steele and Steve Wagner of Stone Brewing in San Diego, who are in the UK researching India Pale Ale for a forthcoming book from the Brewers Association in the US.
Since I’m the man that has annoyed a large swath of the American beer drinking community by insisting that the story that George Hodgson of Bow invented IPA, a tale beer drinkers in the US grew up on, is completely untrue, they wanted to talk to me while they were in the UK. Thus we arranged to meet in the Dove in Hammersmith, which by no coincidence at all was serving Fuller’s new Bengal Lancer IPA.
I’m going to talk about Bengal Lancer in another posting, so I’ll say nothing about it here except that the new beer was evidently a success at the Dove: the barman told us that the pub was getting worried that it was running out, since the pub had a special £10 promotional offer curry night this week which was meant to include a free pint of IPA, and it was looking increasingly likely they wouldn’t have any IPA left by the time curry night came round.
Anyway, I love drinking beer while at the same time talking about beer and its history to an audience so appreciative it’s taking notes, so for close on two hours I talked about researching IPA and its roots to Steve and Mitch in the tiny public bar at the Dove. Great fun for me: not entirely sure it was great fun for them, especially Mitch, who appeared to be in a precarious position perched on the narrow public bar windowsill and scribbling occasionally. No idea what the barman thought, if he was listening.
By what did appear a coincidence, Fergus Fitzgerald, brewmaster at Adnams of Southwold, who had brewed an American IPA in January, was giving a tutored tasting of Adnams beers that night at the brewer’s wine shop in Richmond, just up the Thames from Hammersmith. (Actually, since Ireland were playing England at Twickenham the next day, I don’t think it was any coincidence at all that Fergus happened to be next door in Richmond, but it was a coincidence that Mitch and Steve were nearby.) I had acquired three tickets for the tasting, and we caught a taxi to Richmond, with me pointing out landmarks: the former Sich’s Lamb Brewery next to Fullers, and the former Mortlake brewery (Mitch used to work for Anheuser-Busch, and knew people who had been at Mortlake.)
We were too early for the talk, so took a detour for a meal at the White Cross. Not because the food is outstanding – it isn’t – but because the beer was likely to be good, it was very handy for the Adnams shop, and I thought Mitch and Steve would like the pub. They did – they took pictures – but they particularly appreciated the Young’s Ordinary, turning to each other with looks of great pleasure. In America, they pointed out, you simply won’t find beers like that: masses of flavour, beautifully balanced malt and hops, drinkability, and all at just 3.8 per cent alcohol by volume.
In large part this is because the punters don’t want it: the weakest of Stone’s own beers appears to be 5.6 per cent abv. American drinkers, outside the mass lager market, go for in-your-face, 7 per cent and upwards monsters, for preference. And many of those beers are very fine: I like, and enjoy, extremely hoppy, strong American ales. But because of the beers I grew up with, and the way I like to enjoy beer – over an evening – if suddenly the only beer left in the world was Young’s Ordinary, I could cope with that. I suspect, however, that Steve and Mitch, although they appreciate and enjoy beers in the “ordinary ” class when they come to England (they were off to Middleton after talking to me, to see JW Lees, which brews several beers lower than 3.8 per cent abv, won’t be rushing home to San Diego to make a Young’s Bitter clone, because they wouldn’t be able to sell it.
We got to the Adnams tasting just as they were handing around the Tally Ho, another beer I want to talk about elsewhere. One beer I was particularly pleased to drink was the William Godell, only the second beer brewed with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops that I have (knowingly) tried: its gooseberry fruitiness works very well with pale beers, but I might want to slap someone who tried it in a stout.
After the formalities of the tasting were finished, I warned Fergus that there were a couple of American brewers lurking, and left the trio of brewmasters talking about hop varieties they had tried, were about to try or wanted to try: unfortunately I had promised Mrs Z I wouldn’t be home late, and besides, spending much of my time in a largely “dry” country these days means my beery stamina is much reduced: that’s my excuse.