Category Archives: Rants

The REAL 20 most influential beers of all time

A beery audience
‘Guys, you’ll never believe this “20 most influential beers” list’

An American website called First We Feast has just announced what it declares are “The 20 most influential beers of all time”, a list put together by a “panel of beer-industry pros – brewers, distributors, publicans, and importers, as well as a few journalists.”

You’ll have some idea of the validity of this list when I tell you that half the beers on it are brewed in the US. I don’t want to diss the panel that chose these beers, but I only recognise one name on it, apart from him there are none of the commentators I turn to for insight into the North American brewing scene, let alone anyone from outside the US, and there doesn’t appear to be a single brewing historian among any of them. Which is presumably why they came up with such a totally crap list, with far, far more misses than hits.

The First We Feast attempt at naming the 20 most influential beers of all time

Gablinger’s diet beer, Rheingold, New York
Blind Pig IPA
Westmalle Tripel
New Albion Ale
Fuller’s London Pride
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Pilsner Urquell
Anchor Steam Beer
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye
Ayinger Celebrator
Generic lager
Cantillon Classic Gueuze
Anchor Old Foghorn
Reissdorf Kölsch
Draught Guinness
Allagash White
Sam Adams Utopias
Saison Dupont
Schneider Aventinus

I mean, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye is more influential in the history of beer than Bass Pale Ale or Barclay Perkins porter? Don’t make me weep. Allagash White trumps Hoegaarden and Schneider Weisse? (You may not like Hoegaarden or Schneider Weisse, but I hope you won’t try to deny their influence.) Gueuze, Saison and Kölsch are such important styles they deserve a representative each in a “most influential beers of all time” list, while IPA and porter are left out? I don’t think so. And the same goes for Schneider Aventinus: where are the hordes of Weissebockalikes? Sam Adams Utopias has influenced who, exactly? “Generic lager”? I see where you’re coming from, in that much of what has happened over the past 40 years in the beer world is a reaction against generic lager, but still … And I love London Pride, but it’s not even the third most influential beer that Fuller’s brews.

Gablinger’s Diet Beer is about the only smart choice on the FWF list, because although it’s pretty obscure now, it was the inspiration for all the “lite” beers that, through big brands such as Miller Lite and Bud Light, came to dominate the US beer scene. Pilsner Urquell is a must: you could argue (and I will, in a moment) over whether there has been a more influential beer, but no “all-time greats” list could ignore the pale lager from Plzen. Westmalle Tripel: Duvel, surely, is more important. Guinness: I really don’t think Guinness is influential: it’s so sui generis, it’s just carried on being itself, without influencing anybody.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale I’m prepared to consider, as the pioneer of “hop forward” American pale ales, and the same consideration may be due to Blind Pig IPA, the first “double” IPA. Anchor Old Foghorn was itself too influenced by other beers, especially the English old ale/Burton Ale tradition, to be on a “most influential” list itself. If Goose Island Bourbon County Stout was, as it appears, the first “aged in barrels used for something else” beer, then for all the brews that has inspired, it deserves a “most influential” mention. But having both New Albion Ale and Anchor Steam on the list is far too California-centric: indeed, if you’re looking for a beer than inspired the boom in American craft brewing, them I’d put on a steel helmet and announce that it’s Samuel Adams Boston Lager: I bet that inspired far more drinkers to try something other than the mainstream than any other early American “craft” beer.

So: what ARE the real 20 most influential beers of all time? Judged purely on the size of the effect they had on subsequent beer history, I reckon they are: Continue reading The REAL 20 most influential beers of all time

Look, could you stop drinking craft beer straight from the bottle. Thank you

Bobby Hill and Andy Renko
‘C’mon, Bobby – time for a beer’

It was a phenomenon I first became aware of while watching the marvellous, multilayered Hill Street Blues in the early 1980s. Officers Bobby Hill and Andy Renko, the “salt and pepper” squad car duo, would repair their spirits after a tough shift dealing with assorted area villainy by repairing to a bar, where they would drink beer straight from the long-necked bottle.

That style of drinking, of course, was a reflection by the show’s writers and producers of authentic working-class US culture. Around the same time, however, doubtless through the medium of American yuppies, who liked to pick up on certain elements of working-class behaviour (eg copying the Mexican workers they saw sticking a slice of lime into the neck of Sol and Corona) in an attempt to look “authentic”, drinking beer straight from the bottle spread from working class bars across the US to middle-class bars in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Soon after, yuppie wannabes across the Atlantic in Britain seemed to have copied the habit from the young American financiers they so admired, adding it to their lusts for striped shirts, red braces, Filofaxes and BMWs. Continue reading Look, could you stop drinking craft beer straight from the bottle. Thank you

More IPA myths that must die on #IPADay

It’s #IPADAY again, and time for some more IPA mythbusting. Despite the best efforts of many, an amazing amount of inaccurate, made-up rubbish continues to be perpetuated about the history and origins of IPA, or India Pale Ale. All the myths below are genuine statements culled in the past few weeks from websites that claim to be experts on beer.

Myth 1 “The original IPAs had strengths close to 8 to 9 per cent alcohol by volume”.

Rubbish: records show early IPAs rarely went much above 6 or 6.5 per cent abv.

Myth 2 “Historians believe that IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savour the beer at full strength.”

Complete cobblers’ awls. No historian has ever believed that. There is NO evidence IPA was ever watered down, and the troops drank porter anyway.

Myth 3 “Porters and stouts were not suitable for the torrid Indian climate.”

More unresearched rubbish. Considerable amounts of porter – far more porter than IPA, probably – were exported to India, from at least the second half of the 18th century right through to the end of the 19th century. The East India Company actually used to ask brewers to tender for suppliers of porter to India.

Myth 4 “North American craft brewers more closely adhere to early IPA specifications than do British brewers who, as a group, do not.”

Not true. North American IPAs – excellent though many of them are – use hop types completely unknown to 18th and 19th century British brewers, and major on floral, citrussy flavours and aromas in their IPAs, which are designed to be drunk comparatively young. Early British IPAs were designed to be drunk aged anything up to nine months or more, and while they were certainly bitter, they would have lost most of any hop aroma that they originally had. In addition it is becoming increasingly clear that early British IPAs would have showed at least some Brettanomyces character, from their long ageing in cask. Apart from both containing lots of hops, and being similar colours (except for the black ones) modern North American IPAs and early British IPAs could not be much more different.

Myth 5 “‘East India Pale Ale’ was first brewed in England last century for the colonies East of India such as New Zealand and Australia.”

If you’re reading this, DB Breweries of New Zealand, perpetrators of this dreadful piece of marketing fackwittery in connection with Tui East India Pale Ale, “the East Indies” was the term for the Indian sub-continent and South-East Asia, including the archipelagos of maritime South-East Asia, a name used to contrast the region with the West Indies. Trading companies that did business in this part of the world included the East India Company of London, and the Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or United East India Company. East India Pale Ale is simply a synonym for India Pale Ale, pale ale brewed for India/the East Indies. It has nothing to do with “East of India”, or Australasia. However, since a year or so back Tui East India Pale Ale won the Brewers Guild of New Zealand award for best New Zealand Draught, an amber lager style, it appears the beer is as accurate in style as the history is as accurate in its facts.

(Addendum: I’ve only just noticed, after several readings of the original quote, that it also says “‘East India Pale Ale’ was first brewed in England last century …”. “Last century” was, of course, the 20th century. They presumably meant the 19th century. Which is wrong anyway, as highly hopped pale ales for India were first sent out from England to India in the 18th century …)

You can read last year’s #IPADAY mythbusting from the Zythophile blog here. Have a good one.

Whingeing smokers

A smoker
This man is a smoker. Do you really want to be associated with HIM?

I hate smokers. Not because of the habit: no, it’s the endless whingeing, the dreadful and utterly unwarranted claims to victimhood, the going on and on, tediously, like 15-year-olds, “’Snot fair! Why can’t we smoke in pubs? ’Snot fair!”, the hysterical over-reactions against anyone who suggests that, actually, pubs (and restaurants, and cinemas, and workplaces) are vastly pleasanter places now that smoking is banned, the constant attempts to use the “slippery slope” fallacy to get drinkers to support the campaign to end or amend the pub smoking ban, the false claims that it’s all the fault of supporters of the smoking ban that so many pubs have been closing.

Let’s deal with the “slippery slope” first. It is claimed that the attack on tobacco, if allowed to be successful, will be followed by an even greater attack on alcohol, and therefore drinkers should support smokers in opposing tobacco bans – “It’ll be you next.” But if a slippery slope going from complete freedom to choose our own risks to complete risk regulation exists, shouldn’t the smokers have been fighting further back up that slope years ago, defending the rights of drivers who didn’t want to wear seatbelts, and, before that, motorcyclists who didn’t want to wear helmets? If, somehow, everyone from moped riders to Harley-Davidson owners was still allowed to ride around the UK with the wind rushing through their hair, the government and safety campaigners having conceded the right of every rider to choose to wear a helmet or not, would that have helped prevent the smoking ban? Of course not.

And if drinkers need to be defending smokers’ “rights” as an important step in defending their own right to consume alcohol, how exactly would that have helped prevent, eg, prohibition in the United States? Was there a smoking ban in the US first, which led inexorably to a drinking ban as well? You’ll not need to look up the answer, I think.

What about the “it’s your fault pubs are closing” argument? Here we have to go into some lengthy historical analysis: stick with me. First, pubs have been closing at greater or lesser rates for the past 120 years. It’s difficult, unfortunately, to give precise figures for pub numbers in the past, in large part, over recent years, because of the problem in deciding what proportion of premises with full on-licences are actually pubs and not, eg, hotels, and partly because commentators do not always make it clear if they are talking about the UK total or the England and Wales one. But looking back, between 1894 and 1904 the number of public houses in England and Wales fell by almost 4,000, from over 105,000 to 99,500, 7.7 closures a week. Between 1904 and 1914, when there was a concerted drive by licensing magistrates to cut back on licensed outlets, the number dropped again to 87,700, a rate of 24 a week.

Continue reading Whingeing smokers

Argh no! Otley and Protz in Burton Ale fail!

This is not going to make me popular in Pontypridd, and it will go down very badly in St Albans. But Otley Brewing Company, the widely admired Welsh brewery, and Roger Protz, doyen of British beer writers, have got together to revive a vanished classic and brewed entirely and utterly the wrong sort of beer.

Yes, I must tell you that the “Burton Ale” the Colonel and Otley have just created under the name O-Roger, and which Roger describes in detail here, isn’t a Burton Ale at all, but an IPA.

This is NOT a Burton Ale

They’ve reproduced a beer that has certainly been called “Burton Ale”, from the mid-1970s, when it was first made under that name at the former Ind Coope brewery in Burton upon Trent. And they went to the trouble of asking two former Ind Coope brewers to tell them about that beer, so they could make their reproduction as accurate as possible. Unfortunately the beer called Burton Ale that those guys brewed at Ind Coope in Burton, which was Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival in 1990, was NOT a Burton Ale in the sense of being in the Burton Ale style, the slightly sweet, not-too-bitter, darkish ale popular right across Britain until the 1950s, but something utterly other.

Continue reading Argh no! Otley and Protz in Burton Ale fail!

New white wine launched for men

A new white wine brand has been launched that is being specifically targeted at men.

The new wine, which is being sold under the name Beemer™, is meant to get away from what marketers say is the too “feminine” image of white wine, and widen the appeal of the drink so that men become white wine consumers too.

Finn Hogsdon, marketing manager for the company behind the new “masculine” white wine, told a press conference yesterday for the launch of Beemer™: “The problem with white wine is that its ‘girly’ image really puts men off drinking it. I mean, look at the name of the most popular white wine grape – Chardonnay. Sounds like a character out of some over-exaggerated soap opera.

“In addition, white wine is associated in men’s minds with girls’ nights out, or a group of women sitting around the kitchen table with a bottle of pinot grigio in front of them, slagging off their male partners and their inadequacies.

“Anyway, we believe wine makers are missing out on a massive potential market because, for too many reasons, men don’t drink white wine, and we are launching Beemer™ with a deliberately masculine spin, to bring in those missing male white wine drinkers and boost what is, currently, a declining category.

Continue reading New white wine launched for men

Stupid scaremongering at the Burton Mail

Really, the Burton Mail should be ashamed of itself. This is the local newspaper in what is, historically, at least, the beer capital of Britain, Burton upon Trent, still the home to two major brewing companies, Coors and Marstons, and it’s running factoid alcohol scare stories designed to pander to the latest moral panic, that we’re all going to hell in a booze-powered handcart.

“Hospital alcohol incidents soar” is the headline in the Burton Mail this week, and the intro declares: “Alcohol-related admissions at Burton’s Queen’s Hospital have rocketed by 808 per cent over the last five years, the Mail can reveal.”

Now, ignoring for a moment the distorting effect of giving us percentages, not actual numbers, we have an important lesson here: if some fact seems, on the face of it, unlikely, that’s probably because we’re not being given the whole picture. Hospital admissions put down to drink rising nine times in just five years? That scarcely seems credible.

Continue reading Stupid scaremongering at the Burton Mail

Why extremophiles are a danger to us all

I was going to ignore the latest claim by Ratebeer to have found “The best 100 beers in the world as rated by tens of thousands of our worldwide tasters” on the grounds that nobody in the real world cares what a bunch of loopy extremophiles drinks or thinks. Especially when there are far more important things going on outside in the streets. Really – a “world’s top beers” in which seven out of the top 10 are imperial stouts? You are having a laugh. As Stephen Beaumont pointed out on his blog, “In the style listing of the top 50 beers, the word ‘imperial’ appears 39 times!” This has nothing at all to do with what most people who enjoy beer actually drink or want to drink. I enjoy a good imperial stout, but it’s just one of a wide range of styles I rate highly, and not even the top one.

However, as I watched Mubarak attempt to save his sorry arse by telling the Egyptians it was all the fault of the people he had appointed, and he was going to appoint another bunch of people instead, a corner of my brain was rolling over the deeply dangerous implications of Ratebeer people’s obsession with the extremities of beer.

Because the first problem is that more normal drinkers, if they see that list, are going to look at it and get an utterly distorted and entirely false idea of what really great beer is all about. It’s like telling people that the best dishes available in restaurants are all vindaloo curries, or the best bands in the world only come from the different varieties of metal. And that won’t encourage them at all to explore the huge variety of other fantastic beers that are available.

It will also encourage journalists who know no better to frame beer enthusiasts as people totally out of touch with the “normal” beer drinker, and only interested in beers with 100 IBUs and abvs of 10 per cent or more.

The second, and perhaps worst problem is, as Stephen Beaumont hints, that this sort of utterly distorted listing encourages brewers to concentrate on “extreme” beers, with more hops, more numbing flavour, more strength, to try to impress the blinkered tasters that seem to form the majority of Ratebeer members, to the detriment of those of use who want nuance, subtlety and depth in our beers.

And if you want a perfect example of how the “enthusiasts” of Ratebeer know absobleedinglutely nothing at all about beer, here’s their “best beers of the British Isles 2011”, in which Guinness Draught Stout, a barely average beer at best, is not only at number 13, but three places ahead of Guinness FES, a world classic.

(Incidentally, when that Ratebeer list first went up, it listed the styles of each beer, so you could speedily see that the top was dominated by imperial stouts. Strangely, after uncomplimentary comments about that aspect of the results, the “styles” column has disappeared. You may think this is an Orwellian attempt to rewrite history: I couldn’t possibly comment.)

So what beers does a seven-star hotel serve?


The Burj Al Arab – the second-tallest hotel in the world, and deliberately designed to be an architectural icon in the same world-class league as the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House – is a spectacular place to take afternoon tea. The arrogant, curving exterior, more than a thousand feet tall, demands that you admit you’ve never seen any building like it. The blingtastic interior is a triumph of money over taste, with 20-feet-high aquaria in the lobby, gold leaf on almost every surface, fancy fountains and waterfalls. Book a table in the Skyview Bar, 27 floors up, just below the helipad, about half an hour before sunset. To the east you’ll see out of the ceiling-to-floor windows the Burj Khalifa, half a mile high from tip to sandal-sole, flare orange-gold as it catches the descending sun’s rays. Look west, and the Palm Jumeirah, a three-mile-wide collection of artificial islands covered in expensive homes and more expensive hotels, is gunmetal dark against the gleaming deep turquoise of the early evening Arabian Gulf.

Afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab

The Burj Al Arab in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, calls itself a “seven-star hotel”, though official designations only go up to five stars. Its labours in attempting to give guests a seven-star experience include having the names of everyone who books afternoon tea (at £70 a head – though to be fair this is only a little more than the Ritz in London charges for the same experience, and a much poorer view) mapped to a specific table, and that map then memorised by the staff, so that even the smiling Filipina who comes to top up your Darjeeling will address you by name. The food was, as it should be, excellent: the slice of pastry-wrapped salmon served before the sandwiches and pastries came up on a Burj Al Arab-shaped cakestand was perhaps the most perfectly cooked fish I have eaten, whipped from the chef’s domain and arriving on my plate at exactly the correct second. I have rarely enjoyed teatime food more: as both a gastronomic experience and hotel theatre, it gave value for every dirham.

But as you politely refuse the last proffered chocolate, lest you do a Mr Creosote, there is the opportunity to finish with a flourish: how about a beer at the bar itself, as the sun’s final gleam disappears from the darkening sky somewhere out over Qatar? The chance to sip something foaming and hoppy on a barstool 660 feet above the sea probably won’t return for a long time. What acme of the brewer’s art does the Burj Al Arab offer its seven-star customers? Continue reading So what beers does a seven-star hotel serve?

Maybe they should have kept to ‘revitalisation’. And dropped the ‘ale’

The biggest mistake that Camra made, I fear, was to change its name in 1973 from the original “Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale” to “Campaign for Real Ale”. The second-biggest mistake was to have ever used the word “ale”, rather than “beer”, in its title.

Am I serious? Surely coining the phrase “real ale” was a superb marketing tactic, enabling the campaign to put across its message simply and effectively: that it supported traditionally brewed and served British beer against the tide of over-carbonated keg ales and lagers that threatened to destroy this country’s drinking heritage. Would an organisation with similar aims, to stop cask beer disappearing, but called, I dunno, “Anti-Big Brewers Alliance” or “Confederation Of British Beer Lovers and Experts” have risen to become what the National Consumer Council declared as early as 1976 to be “the most successful consumer organisation in Europe”?

Maybe. But as the campaign approaches its 40th anniversary next year, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that its name, and the mind-set that name creates, makes Camra today part of the problems facing beer in Britain, as much as it may still be part of the solution.

Continue reading Maybe they should have kept to ‘revitalisation’. And dropped the ‘ale’