The most expensive beer in any bar in the world?

There might, I suppose, be a bar selling BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin or Sink the Bismark for, what, three times the store-bought retail price, but even that wouldn’t beat it.

And admittedly this is a beer that has spent a year maturing in the caves of Champagne (that’s “cellars”, incidentally, and not, as one English beer book that came out last year claims, “caves”), in 75cl corked bottles, reaching 11.5 per cent alcohol by volume.

It’s also an excellent brew, sharp and subtle, creamy and invigorating, and deserving of the label that the same book put on it, “an ideal wedding beer”.

But I’ve bought bottles of this in an English off-licence for less than £15, and it’s been on sale in good restaurants in London for only (“only”) £35 or so.

However, if you were insane enough to order a bottle of Deus Brut des Flandres, brewed by the Bosteels brewery in Buggenhout, Belgium (best known, probably, for another excellent beer, Kwak) in the Belgian Cafe Bar at the InterContinental Hotel in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, what do you think you might be expected to stump up?

I’ll give you a few facts before revealing the answer: an “ordinary” bottle of Belgian speciality beer here will cost you 40 dirhams, just over £7, though this isn’t much different than you would pay, probably, in a smart hotel bar in London, where a small bottle of Meantime pale ale, £1.50 or so in Waitrose, is £8 in somewhere like the Met Bar in Park Lane.

This is, however, also the country where someone believes there’s a market for chocolates that cost $250 each – yes, £164 for one single two-inch chocolate truffle.

So: you’re having a night out in what is probably the best bar in Abu Dhabi (though this is, to be truthful, like being called “probably the best football team in the Faroes” – there aren’t very many and they’re mostly rubbish), you’ve decided to show off and you’ve asked the friendly Filipino bar staff to pop the cork off a big bottle of Deus. What figure is going to show up on your credit card statement?

Save some of the Deus to steady yourself with, because that one bottle will cost you 700 dirhams, £125 at today’s exchange rate, $190 US (€145 for you Europeans). You could buy the half-bottle, but even that will be 350 dirhams, £62.50. Or you could wait until you get back to Britain and buy 12 gallons of Stella Artois from Tesco for the same sum (they do also sell Stella in the Belgian Cafe Bar, but I’ve never been stupid enough to buy that there, either).

Mercer’s Meat Stout

Here’s a top contender for “vanished beers I wish I’d tasted” – Meat Stout. A mixture of serendipity and synchronicity led me to discover Mercer’s Meat Stout this week, a brew I’d never previously heard of. Serendipity (the art of finding something valuable while looking for some other thing entirely) because I was actually searching for pictures of Ena Sharples in the Rovers Return to illustrate a comment I was making at Alan McLeod’s blog about Imperial Milk Stout. Synchronicity (the occurrence in a short space of time of two random but apparently connected events) because I had been reading just a day or so earlier about the attempt by Stuart Howe of Sharp’s Brewery in Cornwall to brew Offal Ale, containing liver, kidney and heart. (Incidentally, Stuart’s “Real Brewing at the Sharp End” is one of the best brewer’s blogs around: sharp, indeed.)


Revenir, literally, à nos moutons (or similar livestock): Mercer’s was a small brewery in Lower Adlington, near Chorley in Lancashire, that apparently grew out of an own-brew pub called the Plough. Its best-known brand, evidently, was a bottled product called Meat Stout, a “nourishing stout brewed with the addition of specially prepared meat extract – highly recommended for invalids”. When Mercer’s was taken over by Dutton’s of the Salford brewery in Blackburn in 1929, Meat Stout was popular enough for Dutton’s to continue making it under Mercer’s name: the Plough Brewery only closed in 1936, so for seven years, presumably, Meat Stout was still coming out of Adlington.

Dutton’s pushed Mercer’s Meat Stout hard enough to advertise it on the front of its pubs, but at some point it vanished, as did Dutton’s itself, swallowed by the London brewer Whitbread in 1964.

What lay behind the invention of Meat Stout? According to one Blackburn historian, Colin Pritt, “It is rumoured that the natives complained about the gravity or quality of the stout, so the brewer threw a side of beef, or similar, into his next brew and it gave it more ‘body’. They then added some meat product to the brew ever after (probably offal, as it was cheap).”

Continue reading Mercer’s Meat Stout

Budweiser 666: the drink of the beast

Budweiser 666: It'll make you horny

Silly joke: but the fact that even someone with my limited Photoshop skills can knock up an unkind photospoof of AB Inbev’s new “entry level” four per cent alcohol lager for the British market, Bud 66, in 15 minutes suggests the company’s marketing department didn’t think hard enough about the branding. And my apologies to Stuart MacFarlane, AB Inbev’s UK president: his skin’s not really that colour. (The horns, though …)

The most interesting fact about Bud 66 is not the mockable name, however, nor the fact that you and I, dear reader, won’t like it (since the maker describes it as a “lightly carbonated lager” brewed with a “touch of sweetness for a smooth easy taste” and “targeted at the early 20s market”, which translates as “fizzy, over-sugary and bland, and designed for people we think don’t know anything about beer” – if I were in my early 20s I’d be extremely insulted that InBev thinks this is the sort of stuff I’d like to drink.)

Nor is it the way that the company attempts to present blatantly copying Beck’s Vier and Stella Artois 4% as “another example of innovation by AB InBev”. Rather, it’s that InBev feels it has to enter this category with Bud at all, with MacFarlane describing the launch as InBev’s “most important business action in 2010”.

Continue reading Budweiser 666: the drink of the beast

Mr Du Boung the Brewer


Beer and great literature: they’re found together more often than you might think. One of the enormous benefits of the growing power of the internet is that it makes certain sorts of research almost trivially easy. Earlier this year the chaps at Beer Connoisseur magazine asked me to write a piece about breweries in novels. Before the intertubes this would have meant weeks of sitting in a good library surrounded by several small and growing hills of old books by great authors, each with pieces of paper sticking out that marked relevant passages. Today, Project Gutenberg has all the classics digitised, and the excellent Anacleto search engine makes finding key words in old literature simples.

Too simples, in fact: I ended up with more information than I could use. Big lumps had to be left out about some more Championship-level novelists so that we could feature the brewers and breweries that turn up in books by Premier League writers, such as Havisham’s Brewery in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, the Three Mariners, a home-brew pub mentioned in The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, “a house in which the twelve-bushel strength was still religiously adhered to by the landlord in his ale”, and the sly reference to the Kronenbourg brewery in Henry James’s The American (the hero’s friend is mortally wounded in a duel by someone called Stanislas Kapp, “the son and heir of a rich brewer of Strasbourg”: the biggest brewery in Strasbourg, later known as the Kronenbourg brewery, was actually owned for centuries by a family called Hatt. Ho ho, Hank)
Continue reading Mr Du Boung the Brewer

So you think you know what porter tastes like …


I am always alert for any comments about how beers tasted in the past. They don’t appear very often, but they’re fascinating when they do. So I leapt upon a line out of a recent blog by Ron Pattinson, in a description from 1889 of an obscure style called Adambier, which Ron had translated from German: “… the beer was perfectly carbonated and tasted sour, porter-like.”

Now, this is from a German source, the Zeitschrift für Angewandte Chemie (Journal of Applied Chemistry), so its opinion might not hold outside the lands controlled by Kaiser Wilhelm. Did English porter in the 19th century have a sour taste? Well, not sour, I suggest (although one man’s “sour” is another’s “nicely tart”), but the evidence says that for a long time there was a definite acid component to the flavour of 19th century porter.

In 1899 a senior employee in one of the big London breweries, a man called John Kibble, gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry, the Home Office committee on beer materials. During his lengthy and fascinating evidence, Mr Kibble, talking about the porter brewed 36 years earlier, in 1863, said that it was “principally vatted beer, and brewed entirely from English barley, and it had a certain acid character with it.”

To show that Mr Kibble’s memory was good, here’s a quote from Charles Dickens’s magazine All The Year Round, September 19, 1868: “Porter owes much of its tart and astringent flavour to a high, rapid fermentation which carries down the density without diminishing the high flavour drawn from the materials.”

Tart, astringent, acid: these are not words you will find in the descriptions of porter in the latest Brewers Association beer style guidelines. But Dickens was wrong, I believe, in attributing that tartness to “a high, rapid fermentation”. As Mr Kibble said, this was vatted beer, well-aged. Here he is being questioned in 1899 on just that subject:

[Q] “The old beer and the porter in the year 1863, I suppose, had to be kept by the brewers for some considerable time before they were consumed?[A] “It was generally brewed in the winter. The supply for nearly the whole year was brewed in the winter months, and then they brewed more in the summer, up to perhaps about June; they missed July altogether and two weeks of August perhaps, missed six weeks in the summer, and up to that point they would blend the other beer with it. It was really sent out as a blend, a blend of the old beer with some of the new beer.”
[Q] “But there was a good deal of beer and porter kept by the brewer for some weeks, or possibly months was there not?” [A] “Quite so; it would be in his vats six to nine months stock, say.”

There’s a lot in that passage to absorb: no summer brewing, notice, this was still the pre-refrigeration era, when it was too hot to brew safely in July and early August. Mr Kibble was saying that in the 1860s porter was mostly brewed in the winter, kept for between six and nine months, and then generally sent out by the brewers pre-blended with fresher beer, presumably to give it some condition. The porter had a tartness that came, presumably, from being stored for half a year or more in vats. But it wasn’t, it appears, an overwhelming tartness of the sort that characterises certain long-aged Belgian beer styles, or, say, Gale’s Prize Old Ale, another vatted beer, judging by a comment from the Quarterly Review in January 1855: “… the foaming tankard of Meux’s entire … smooth, pleasantly bitter, slightly acid, and bearded with a fine and persistent froth.” Meux, pronounced “mewks”, was one of the “top 10” London porter brewers, and ran the brewery that stood on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and what is now New Oxford Street, where the Dominion Theatre now is.

Continue reading So you think you know what porter tastes like …

Can you drink beer and stare at your navel at the same time?

I did try to promise myself I wouldn’t return to the subject of the Wikio beer blog rankings again. Frankly, there aren’t more than 50 people in the country interested in them. If that. (Of which navel gazing, more later.) But I indicated, I believe, when I raised the subject before that Wikio’s presentation of its rankings as being properly meaningful, rather than simply an artefact of the way it fixes the measurements, is actually harmful to those rated lowly by its methodology, who deserve much better.

Wikio’s methodology statement says

The position of a blog in the Wikio ranking depends on the number and weight of the incoming links from other blogs. These links are dynamic, which means that they are backlinks or links found within articles. Only links found in the RSS feed are included. Blogrolls are not taken into account, and the weight of any given link increases according to how recently it was published. We thus hope to provide a classification that is more representative of the current influence levels of the blogs therein.

But does Wikio’s methodology really reflect blogs’ influence, and blogs’ importance? I have serious doubts. They’ve decided that recent links from other bloggers are far more meaningful than numbers of links or numbers of visitors, without giving, as far as I’m aware, any rigorous justification for this: it’s just their opinion. Which is not necessarily any better than your opinion, or mine. And the result is that the three British beer blogs that Alexa says come one two and three for highest number of visitors come 37, one and 65 in Wikio’s rankings. Now, any system that ranks the blog with the third highest number of hits as only the 65th most important is, you might think, curious. But only if your dictionary defines “curious” as “a crock of shit”.

As you can see from the table below, there are currently at least four beer blogs in the Alexa top 20 that Wikio reckons aren’t in the top 40 and two in Alexa’s top 10 that aren’t even in Wikio’s top 60. Wikio’s top 10 and the Alexa top 10 have just four blogs in common. Blogs such as Beermerchants, BarBlog, Beer Reviews, Lager Frenzy, Real Ale Blog and TTBOOB (and I am going to be SO in trouble for turning Melissa’s “Taking the Beard out of Beer” site into an acronym there) are damaged by Wikio’s rating system, because it makes them look much less popular than they really are. Continue reading Can you drink beer and stare at your navel at the same time?

Young’s brewery: the penultimate trip

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The people that provide my blogging software, WordPress, have just added a slideshow capability, so I though I would try it out with some pictures from what was the second-to-last ever trip round Young’s brewery in Wandsworth, South London, in September 2006. The following week brewing ceased on the Ram Brewery site after, probably, at least 450 years of continuous ale and beer making. Sadly, two days after our trip, John Young, the chairman of Young’s, died of cancer, aged 85.

I am, unfortunately, a rubbish photographer with no particular idea what I’m doing (I remember the “doh!” feeling after my ex-brother-in-law, who, to be fair, is a well-known and award-winning sculptor, took a photograph on my camera that was vastly superior to anything I had ever achieved with it). But there are a few interesting pics here among the vaguely all right ones.

As a bonus, at the very end there’s a photograph from the air of the brewery site in 1930: note the trolleybuses in the bottom right hand corner, going up Garrett Lane (off which I used to live, in the 1980s: you could tell which way the wind was blowing, at that time, by sniffing the air, since the Kenco coffee factory was to the south, a gin distillery stood to the east and Young’s rose to the north, each giving their own distinctive aroma to the Wandsworth funk. All, alas, are now closed.)