Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Warm Beer and Other Beer Fallacies

It was my birthday recently, and like any good Brit, I had a few beers. In fact, I posted photos of them in an album on my Facebook page. A friend of mine (Hi Tina) said in a comment about one of them that she hoped I drank it warm, since I was English. This reminded me that a blog post about the "warm beer fallacy" was long overdue.

British beer is mostly brewed to be drunk at "cellar temperature." Most pubs in Britain have underground cellars, where the kegs of draught beers are kept. The beer is therefore cold, because it is kept underground, but it is not chilled. If UK beer were to be chilled to the degree that American beer usually is, it would lose most of its flavor. One notable exception is Guinness, which is usually a little colder than most other British beers, and is a lot colder in its trendy "Extra Cold" variety.

On the other hand, American beer is brewed to be chilled. Sometimes the heavy "mugs" that are used in bars are actually frozen. You see signs outside bars saying "Coldest Beer in Town" which is meant to be attractive. To me, "Tastiest Beer in Town" would be more likely to get me through the door. If you drank most American beers at "cellar temperature," they would almost certainly taste bad, something like cereal in water.

Having addressed that fallacy, I would like to talk about another one. That is the assumption that American beer is bad. True, the very popular beers such as Budweiser, Coors and Miller are what I like to call "Beer for people who don't like the taste of beer," especially in their "Lite" versions. I was disappointed to hear that President Obama opted for Bud Lite during the recent so-called Beer Summit at The Whitehouse. However, there are many fantastic American-brewed beers. Most come from small independent breweries, often referred to as microbreweries. Some of these are made in the restaurants in which they are served, and others are bottled and distributed in some of the better liquor stores. Major breweries have tried to cash in on the trendiness of microbrews. Blue Moon, a Belgian-style beer that contains orange peel and coriander, is brewed by Coors. Keen to try to keep its microbrewery look and feel, Coors started by putting "Brewed by CBC" (Coors Brewing Company) on the bottle, but that has recently been completely removed, and it is currently advertised as being made by "The Blue Moon Brewing Company."

One beer that I am enjoying these days is Samuel Adams Boston Ale, which is available quite widely. On my birthday, I managed to locate Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, which was wonderfully hoppy to these British taste buds. If you saw my series of blog posts from my recent vacation in San Diego, you'll probably recall that I found some great local beers, including Red Trolley, Stone's Pale Ale and Firehouse American Pale Ale.

I have been helped in my quest for good beer by my recent discovery of the Beer Advocate website. Operated by Beer Advocate magazine, one can join free, and gain access to many reviews of beers and establishments serving beer. One neat feature is that you can enter a beer that you particularly like, and it will suggest some excellent examples of similar beers you might enjoy.

I love talking beer! Please do share some suggestions with me and your fellow readers by posting a comment.


Emma Bruce said...

Have you tried this one?

Pazcual said...

I did knew beers had many variations, but I think I can give a class after this :S However, I'm not a big fan of the beer -better, alcohol-. I'm quite easy to get drunk, so I avoid the troubles and don't drink anything that is related to alcohol.


Graham said...

@Emma Bruce - I'm not familiar with Old Tom. It sounds good, though. I like beers with a hint of sweetness, but I don't like that to be the only flavour. Does it have a bit of bite to it?

@Pazcual - Thanks for your comment, even if you're not a beer fan! I have to say, I can't drink as much as I used to - but then I used to drink much more frequently. And if my Wife were here, she'd probably tell you that's not a bad thing, healthwise, for me!

Graham said...

Posting a link to this blog post on my Facebook page triggered quite a discussion there. I hope my friends don't mind me sharing some of those great comments here, anonymously, of course:

"I drink Lager and Lime, which is seen as an effeminite southern drink in Yorkshire.

I have been refused being served with oneon the grounds "we dont do ccktails", and "this isnt a gaybar" Americans may find our pubs are owned by people who dont like to serve people, In fact find them a nuisance. Chilled beer is daft, what is the point in freezing your tastebuds?"

Graham Gudgin
Lager & Lime is quite a refreshing drink.

As for "unfriendly" pubs, it depends where you go - there are good and bad.

"I miss shandies! (My husband will shudder when he reads that - he's a member of CAMRA, say no more.)"

Graham Gudgin
I drank shandies as a kid! Any member of CAMRA is a friend of mine!

"Camra is the organisation I hate most that isnt actively Nazi. It is so--earnest middle aged, overweight, bearded and flatulent. I want to go somewhere lively with dancing"

Graham Gudgin
Whatever you think of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), you have to give them credit with helping to keep traditional British beers alive. Their Good Beer guide is well worth reading. Yes, I want a friendly pub, but I really want it to have good beer.

"i hate being people who walk past lively pub after lively pub then go to an old peoples home with a bar because it is in the guide. People forget it is a guide, and pubs are to be explored not ignored."

Graham said...

Some more:

"Hey Graham...Finally a blogger who has sparked my interest! I agree with your "BUD MILLER COORS" observation but I will go one step further by saying they taste like P**S (not that I have ever tasted P**S but I have to assume it can't be much worse than BUDMILLERCOORS. I do like a pint of Guinness now and again but usually settle for Heineken most of the time.

I plan to join your blog...that was a very enlightening article. I too believed the "myth" of beers being served room temperature in Britain. Now I can go to a pub armed with the new phrase "cellar temperature" ... Thanks much!"

"I Just want a drink now."

"Hi Graham---why not do a blog on Tadcaster---Sam and John Smith were brothers who hated eachother and opened competing breeeries next door to eachother---it is well worth a visit, and has many old pubs."

Graham Gudgin
on that point, I'm with you. It's a GUIDE to beer, not to pubs.

Thanks for your comments! Yes, I guess I'm being a little charitable towards BUDMILLERCOORS! It's funny you should mention Heineken - here in the US, it's often treated as a bit of an "exotic" beer, but in the UK, cans of Heineken were often kids' first taste of beer - do you agree, Joe?

Glad I was able to "educate" you about British Beer. I don't know how often you get to go out to a bar (I know that I don't do it as often as I used to before I got married), but I recommend trying something different from time to time.

Graham Gudgin
Tadcaster - that's a good idea! As a fan of Theakston's Old Peculier and Black Sheep Ale, I'd love to do something about Paul Theakston one day too.

"Heineken is a lager, and would be served chilled. I grew up on the sweeter cider, and still prefer that, where available. Heineken is probably a lot commoner in England then, Yorkshire ales tend to be darker and weaker, although if you can find a Barnsley bitter you will be happy.

Northern pubs are much more social places than down South---I can actually give all my local politians an ear bashing on my latest gripe, plus it is the focus for music and charity events."

Graham Gudgin
Heineken would be served much colder here in the US - therefore, they would miss out on some of the flavour.

I don't like sweet cider, but love dry cider (Over here, "cider" usually refers to apple juice - alcoholic cider is called "hard cider"). I dearly remember visiting cider farms in Somerset for "scrumpy." Used to get plastic gallon containers full of "rough cider," the driest stuff they have, with plenty of particulate.

I haven't been to many Northern pubs, but I would love to, even at the risk of being bashed as a "southern softy."

Graham said...

And some more:

"You can get Heineken extra cold. It is a completely different atmosphere, quite often you get free snacks, and the bar staff talk to people and remember thier names. We have local "turns" acts that play the pubs----put it this way, the village has four venues which need acts 4 times a week---that is a lot of acts. People do go down the pub a lot more, some daily: however pub goers are aging. Some pubs do free food or snacks at least. Tight Yorkshiremen dont buy rounds either, people tend to buy their own. The working mens clubs still sell beer at a pound a pint."

Graham Gudgin
The best pubs around the country are like this in many ways, but I find the 4 venues/4 acts per week to be extraordinary!

You don't have to go too far North for great "working men's clubs" either. When I go back to England, I often go to a club in Earl's Barton, near Northampton, with a friend who lives nearby.

"All of this talk about beer is making me thirsty (however, I usually drink beer even if I'm not parched). I'm usually in the pubs because we play in many of them. First of all...and you might find this a bit taboo in this discussion, but I have discovered Heineken Light. Sounds like an oxymoron but it is one of the few Light beers that actually great.
From the English, I happen to enjoy a Bass every so often and I think on the American side, Sam Adams makes some really good beers.
Back in 2002, My wife and I went to Bruges in Belgium and tried several of the beers in the restaurants there. I was told that Belgium was "famous" for beer making but I found all of the brews to be very harsh and overly carbonated!"

"Being a trifle conservative, I have never drunk a light beer so cant comment."

Graham Gudgin
Rich - Actually, Amstel Light is not a bad beer. To me, it actually tastes like beer.

Bass used to be quite popular in Britain, but as a halfway decent mass-produced export, it's done quite well in the US.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, finally I've found someone who feels the same way I do about the ridiculous Coors cold-can technology. (I assume you do, that is, since you prefer beer unchilled.) The Coors can turns blue if the can is cold. Gee, I thought you could figure that out by picking it up.

I'm not a big fan of beer, but there's an Austrian white beer I like...although the name escapes me. There's only one place in New Jersey I know to get it--The Old Bay in New Brunswick.

Graham said...

@taralazar - yes, I agree with you. A pretty awful gimmick. But it seems to work. Look at it like this: If the can isn't blue, it isn't drinkable - if it's blue, you won't taste it anyway!

You say you're not really a beer lover - what's your usual poison?

PS Folks - take a look at Tara's Blog. A wonderful read about writing for children.

Pazcual said...

haha rocking wife!

Dorie said...

Graham, Have you been to the Oak Tree Road Liquor store accross from the A&P in South Plainfield? They have a huge selection of specialty beers. Really huge. The owner is extremely knowledgeable about beers. I really like the Abita Turbodog, although the on tap is better than the bottled and hard to find.

Graham said...

@Dorie - I had no idea you were a beer connoisseur!

No, I've never been to that particular liquor store before. I will have to check it out. I do like it when the proprietors of such places are knowledgeable. I like Harvest Wines and Spirits on Woodbridge Ave. in Edison for that reason.

I just looked up your Turbodog on Beer Advocate, and it thinks Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale is a better example of a similar beer. Tried that?

I like the description of Turbodog's sweetness, balanced by the tang of hops. Does sound like my kind of beer.