Michael Jackson: The Daddy of us all

Last Saturday I visited Mondo Brewing in Stockwell. It’s not your usual startup; it was founded last year with a wealth of previous brewing experience and a brand new 27 hectolitre brewing kit. Mondo and its vast range of beers have quickly been subsumed into national circulation. Its tap room has 15 taps of keg beer to choose from. The brewery’s name reflects where the inspiration for its beer comes from: the world.

As the catalyst behind Britain’s craft beer, America is well represented. In bottles and on tap there are takes on American pale ales and IPAs. There have also been steam Lagers and American brown ales. The European brewing culture is strongly evidenced too by Biere de Mars, Patersbier and smoked Helles. I have also had their blackberry Berliner Weisse, Maibock and Belgian dubbel.

The foudres/foedern ageing Rodenbach beer in Roeselare, West Flanders. This image has captivated me for years.

We’re increasingly taking this extensive range for granted but up until recently, countries stuck to their own. Where does this fascination for world beers come from? Not that long ago, IPAs and porters were positively exotic after their long hibernation in this country. Britain was Britain because of its bitters, keg lagers and stout. From this cosy parochial hole, it’s now a beer exhibition.

It’s impossible and misguided to attribute this revolution to one man, but if you could target a prime mover, it would be the beady-eyed, understated and amicable descendant of Lithuanian Jewish stock who, when speaking, reminds me of a drawling Ringo Starr. It’s Michael Jackson.

The great man himself. He would sometimes don a single white glove for a laugh to emulate his more famous namesake

A few things have made me think about him recently. It’s not just the fact my last post was about beer from Belgium and I alluded to him, but it’s also the “death harvest” of 2016. We’re rapidly losing our stars. I discovered Michael Jackson the same year he passed away – 2007. What I can’t recall is whether it was before or after the day he left us.

The first book I ever bought about beer – The Eyewitness Companion to Beer – was edited by him. It presented beer in a way I’d never seen before; a way obvious to Belgians but too deeply rooted in pleasure for us Brits. Though subliminally aware that Belgium and Germany boasted stunning beer glasses, it’s the first time I looked at them with a sense of covetousness. The colour and glow of the beer far outstrip the beauty of a wine glass posing next to a bunch of grapes. So much more character can be expressed through so many different hues, heads, glass shapes and colours!

It’s images like this that have sent folk like me on a quest

I’m reminded of my first taste of Duvel circa 2008. It was because of a photo in that book and it’s fair to say it set me on a quest that I’m still on. At 8.5%, Duvel was the heaviest beer I’d ever had and it felt it. That ABV seems so underwhelming now as beer gradually replaces wine.

He was the Alan Whicker of the beer world. I always end up thumbing through his books to get back to basics. Other volumes and encyclopaedias restate facts but Michael was the original explorer and he had first-hand angles on beer that couldn’t be found in standard literature.

At Mondo, if 19th Century peasants could be beamed into the brewery in their smocks, would they recognise the beer styles attributed to their culture or town? Maybe. Would they recognise the constraints that identify that beer for people of the present day? I’m not so sure.

A lot of the information in these books/guides is now obsolete but it was Michael that helped move things on

Visiting Belgium, Michael was told that there was no such thing as Saison as he hunted them down. Was whoever told him far ahead of their time where a statement like that could maraud as critical analysis? His wanderings in the 1960s originally took in bronze coloured beers. These gave over to blonde. Some that self-identified as Saison were gentle and malty and to be found either side of the French/Belgian border. Some bieres de garde in France, he thought, were too tart and should be Saisons. There was no authority to consult and no need. If that’s what people drank why would they need to align it with beers of that name elsewhere? This gave me pause for thought when I recently compared Saisons and what they are supposed to conform to. Michael’s insight leads me to ask: Do we actually engineer traditional beer styles retrospectively? Up to a point I think we do but at the same time it’s unavoidable.

In Britain, we have enough trouble working out what is and isn’t a mild, telling a porter from a stout (or indeed a strong mild!), separating strong pale ale from India pale ale and modern strong-hopped bitter. However if the beer’s from another place and another time, it’s easier to surround it by definition because in a sense you’re starting from scratch.

Belgian beer is now rightly cherished in Britain and across the world

I love Michael for how he makes me thirsty. Though the photographs in his books compliment the text – they can never rival it. He employs a language that is sumptuous but stays clear of pretension. On Saisons for example, he says this:

“the crisp, cleansing, quenching, top-fermenting Saison”

It’s almost onomatopoeic in it’s delivery and succinct. An even more beautiful sentence gets straight to the heart of Lambics:

“(….) can shock at first sip – and seduce to the point of obsession anyone who truly loves sensory exploration”

Like a haiku – the perfect choice, economy and aim of words. On me, it’s both frustrating and spurring as a budding beer writer. As Clive James once said, “All I can do is turn a phrase until it catches the light”. Michael’s words positively refract. The only thing I never get are his comparisons to Jazz music and its stars – something I can’t be converted to. They soar straight over my head.

His opinion was so valued, that when brewer Ivo Bosteels created a new style of beer with Champagne yeast, he needed it to be served to Michael. Our subject couldn’t make it to Belgium because of work commitments so Ivo drove all the way to Parsons Green in West London for Michael’s appraisal because it just couldn’t wait. It’s that reputation that makes Michael the daddy.

Mr Jackson also helped champion cask ale and wrote about it in a way that causes salivation

Our fortune is in the variety of beer and the technology that makes it. Saison may have been a light beer brewed for farm labourers during the summer months in Heinault – but it’s also a beer brewed across Europe and America at every conceivable strength. Unlike the ephemeral thing that inspired it, it knows it’s Saison because it says it is – it’s written on the clip.

It’s in a large part because of Michael Jackson that when I visit London I see biere de mars, Maibocks, Wits, Alts, Pilsners, Kolsch and Rauchbier and the distortions that arise from each being given the dubbel/tripel treatment. And why not? Let’s just agree that quad is a step too close to the jaws of madness.

In London, these styles will only represent a tiny fraction of the beer consumed but they will dominate in column inches and on social media. This last quote about how a style doesn’t travel far is worth reading; it was about Biere brut – the Champagne beers mentioned above:

“Progress might be slower in the Anglo-Saxon world. Belgian beer does not easily penetrate its Eastern frontier”

The beer in question was Ivo Bosteel’s Deus – a heavenly beer served in a flute glass and the drink I celebrated my 36th birthday with. It stands proudly on the shelves of beer shops across the nation. The frenzied brewing of world beer has taken over our cities. How attitudes have changed and I think it was Michael Jackson that got them to.

Saison International


What was a rural beer from Heinault in Wallonian Belgium has had a huge revival. If it’s possible for a style to change its spiritual home, than Saison has. Not only is the style being recreated in each new brewery in Britain’s cities, but it’s long been a native of America and is to be found there more than in its lands of origin. Its stamp is in the more modern term farmhouse. It also shares custody with Lambic for wild beers, is a bedfellow to cider and can even stare down white wine.

I find  Saisons are usually cask-averse – better from keg or bottle. There have been some notable exceptions, (Erasmus by Red Squirrel and 13 by XT Brewing by my own bias) but they’re notable precisely because they’re exceptions. Saison is better cooler. It was always supposed to refresh – not to be sessioned in pints.

As my control subject I’m nominating Saison Dupont by Brasserie Dupont. It was one of only 12 listed Saisons in Michael Jackson’s 1991 guide to Belgian beer. This Belgian Saison is as rated internationally as it’s possible to be. It’s a hazy straw gold with notes of hay and white wine on the nose. It has a strong carbonation and tastes of Champagne and decaying fruit. It hits the roof of the mouth and dries you out. When I think of the style, I think of this. It’s the high bar I’ll be hoping the following beers reach.

The beers in this tasting come from three countries:

We have a fellow Belgian – St Feuillen Saison 
We then have a Brit – Buxton Brewery’s New world Saison (no link at the time of writing).
We also have Anchor Brewing’s Saison from the USA.

St Feuillen Saison – unfiltered can 6.5 ABV:


It’s custard yellow and quite cloudy with a white hop oil silken head. It smells of wet straw and lemony hops but with a touch of honey too. The honey note is most pronounced when you sniff the can’s opening. This beer’s perfect from the fridge – the carbonated liquid leaps over the palate and cools the roof of the mouth. 
On the taste I get notes of grass, elderflower and chamomile tea. It has a creamy mouthfeel that reminds me of chewing on barley stalks which really pushes the countryside analogy along. It has a medium dry finish a bit like a fruity white wine and even a sweet nutty aftertaste.

Buxton Brewery New World Saison – bottle conditioned 6.3 ABV:


It pours an amber orange. The head top builds up into a proud elastic white cloud which lasts the distance – I’m guessing from the addition of wheat. It has a very tangy aroma; very musty with an Alt-y stickiness and orange peel zest. It’s delicious to inhale. 

It has a charging carbonation but a light mouthfeel – both things that compliment and reinforce each other. I taste caramel too. There’s a bitter spirit estery edge and brandy grapes. There’s a dry mouthfeel and dry finish. It parts on sticky and throaty orange UFO sweets followed by a fruit belch. The head remains down the glass like velvet grouting. It had me on the aroma alone! 

Anchor Brewing Saison – bottle 7.2 ABV:


This third high ABV Saison is made with the addition of lemongrass, lemon peel and ginger. It decants a gorgeous glowing amber and is light-refracting crystal clear with a soft lily lather on top. 
It smells like a really malty beer like Shepherd Neame’s Bishop’s Finger or an ale of that ilk – something I certainly hadn’t expected. Maybe it’s a light dose of ginger coming through like ginger loaf. I get sponge cake – lemon drizzle with a touch of blitzed grass. It has a very subdued carbonation too like a malty cask bitter. This isn’t the first time I’ve picked up British cask beer notes on an American beer. I never expected to find them in a Saison.
On the sip I taste pear drops, malt loaf and orange lockets. It’s tangy on the roof of the mouth. I like this beer but wouldn’t have recognised it as a Saison – especially not like the control subject at the top of the post. There’s no particular dryness. It’s fruity and glucose all the way through. Badger Bitter? Ringwood Old Thumper? I can’t get these old boys out of my head.
My palate has dictated a clear winner in this taste-off:
Anchor’s Saison bewildered me and comes last as I didn’t get the levity, the carbonation, the sourness or frankly the soul associated with Saisons. Its greatest draw was its colour. If it had called itself simply “Spring Ale” which is also on its label, it would’ve made more sense.
St Feuillen’s Saison comes second. It was a delight to the senses too and proves that the style doesn’t suffer any ill effects from the canning process either. It reminded me of the tastes and smells (the pleasant ones) of the farm.
The medal goes to Buxton Brewery with their New World Saison. The only problem is it wasn’t around for long being (appropriately enough) a seasonal as is its counterpart Old World Saison, but I don’t know whether it’ll be brewed again. It proves that new world hops can really compliment a Saison provided you don’t let them take over. It retained its lightness and carbonation and delivered much of its character on the aroma. At 6.3 ABV just be careful swinging that scythe, though.


We love golden harvests, smocks, rosy-cheeked peasants and all things bucolic and wholesome – especially when it’s from a completely imagined past. Whether or not Saison started as a low alcohol summer slaker for farm labourers, or whether there have always been heavier Saisons isn’t certain; something pondered by Michael Jackson in his Great Beers of Belgium. When it was first published in 1991, the author actually had to hunt Saisons down within Belgium. He was partly responsible for making it popular in America, and Britain was in turn influenced by that vogue in the USA. 
Let’s raise a toast to Michael for bringing it to all of us!

Other world beer vertical tastings:

Kölsch
Tea-infused Beers
Strong Black IPAs

Discomfort Zone: Argy Bargy Black Barley Wine

Argy Bargy Black Barley Wine – bottle conditioned 10.4 ABV

Argy Bargy is the lovechild of three breweries but just because this love making involves a trio, does it make the sex any good or are there too many limbs, a lack of co-ordination and nobody’s sure who goes first? Arbor Ales got together with Steel City Brewing and Hopcraft for this fit of passion.



The liquid is impenetrable to the light – opaque, glossy, inky. The self-effacing milky oil of a head is a thin garnish. The more generous head in the photo was departing as I took it.

The aroma is of spirits, black chocolate and liquorice. There’s also neat alcohol lurking with menace and the abandon of subtlety. It verges on unscrewing a bottle of white spirits.

I taste it. It has a milky mouthfeel with a whisky edge and tingles on the roof of the mouth with a spoonful of dark freeze dried coffee. It’s hard to get past the aggression of the aroma – it blots everything else out impairing the sensory process. It leaves the mouth desiccated with a suggestion of nutmeg – something I usually find sickly. I often write about beers belying their strengths but this doesn’t. It’s as heavy as you’d fear it to be. The problem with the spiritous wall is that it blocks everything else. It is however, a new beer for me.

The beer this reminds me of most, bizarrely, lies at the other end of the scale. It’s also often black and I find usually without much depth – a mild. If you were to give a mild steroids and four hours to live, it might taste like this.

It’s hard to describe a beer that teases the place where the senses intersect so you can’t say that it smells or tastes like something in particular. This could be brought about by alcoholic vapours but I’ve had similar chimeric sensations with deep nitrogen injection into beer and with things like Goses. You resort to memories of sucking on rags, salting food, entering a cupboard where a fuse has blown or sensing a metal work shop. What is it? Petroleum? Heated lubricant? Burnt ozone?

Black IPAs aren’t loved by all but they are by me. Some people find the mix of flavour profiles too turgid, others of a sensitive semantic disposition just hate the oxymoronic title. Whether you love them or hate them, you get a balance of sorts – the hoarse scorched malt or coffee at one end, and the parry and cut of sharp hop notes at the other. A black barley wine on the other hand, is more like hitting a cloud bank.



Lasting impression: An echo like the sonorous clang from metal striking metal. Has this been conjured up by an unconscious linking of petroleum jelly?

I’ve looked at other reviews online and it seems mine holds more doubt and negativity which is why people should disagree with me.

The problem beers like this have on the drinker is that you become 90% sure that you don’t like it but it’s the agitated 10% that keeps pestering you to pucker your lips back around the glass. It’s beguiling. It’s always the beers I’m not sure I like or not that do this. I’m not sure whether I don’t like it or whether I’m unaccustomed to it. Any thoughts out there?


For more discomfort, see:

Around the World in Bermondsey


It’s a bizarre phenomenon. Bermondsey and its infamous mile is now a part of the everyday in the tight Neighbourhood Watch close that is the beer community. Although it’s now familiar as are many of the fellow pilgrims I see on it, it hasn’t habitualised itself to me yet. When I tread it – especially the Eastern reaches – it’s still surreal and magical. You cast out away from the pubs & bright lights into the industrial veins of the capital and around the back of a branch of Screwfix in a business park. 

I think the reason there is optimism and wonder is because it smacks of new vitality where there was previously decline and neglect. Also, the breweries/tap rooms are flourishing in crevices that would’ve seemed inhospitable before – a case of life overcoming the odds.


Much has been written about the breweries and the event itself. In this post, I want each beer to act as a shortcut into the land or style that inspired it or else to throw light on something connected. I want to show Bermondsey as a microcosm of the brewing world.

Last Saturday, for the first time this year, I decided to strike out to Fourpure at the easternmost end. The sun came out and we were caressed with the first real warmth of the year – something that definitely influenced my decision to hike the full distance. This weather called for something continental, cool and golden – a 2/3 pint glass of photogenic Pilsner. Fourpure’s pilsner (4.7 %) is a clear glowing vanilla with a delicate body. It’s well carbonated, lemony and dry – the dryness increases down the glass. 


The word Pilsner is derived from the German spelling of the town of Plzeň in the Czech Republic. The town is also famous for the original manufacture of Škoda automobiles founded by Emil Škoda. Coincidentally, that name is both a surname and the Czech word for “shame”. 

There has been much myth-making about the traditions associated with the most famous Pilsner – Pilsner Urquell. Ur-quelle means original source. It’s often cited as the first golden lager but how accurate is that claim? Here Des De Moor shows why he’s one of the U.K’s most celebrated beer writers.
I leave Fourpure and head back towards the sounds of Mill Wall fans arming for war along Bermondsey’s high streets. The next stop is the Eebria Tap Room tucked down Almond Road and I find that all the taps are by another South London brewery – Orbit Beers. The outfit from Kennington – just three minutes away as the pigeon flies – has currently taken over this arch. 

Orbit Beers started out by concentrating on mainly European beer styles and I opt for a third of their Rauch Alt Nico – a 6.2% dark smoked Alt Bier. It’s dark amber with charred red meat on the palate. The body’s of a liquid malt consistency. The beer’s sticky on the lips.


There is a lot of debate over Germany’s purity laws – the Reinheitsgebot. Does it represent an institution that guarantees consistency and quality or is it a dogma that restricts innovation and experimentation. It’s both, but what I wasn’t aware of is that it never covered all of Germany. Here’s a fantastic blog piece by Daft Eejit Brewing:

I’ve so far had three thirds – that’s a full British pint of European beer brewed in Bermondsey and am now walking the two hundred feet that will take me to Belgium. This is the everyday oddness I love.

In the cupboard-like arch of Partizan Brewing, I opt for half a pint of a raspberry and lemon Saison. This 3.8 % Saison is blushing pink with a fluffy candy floss head. It’s both sweet and tart – the lemon gives its wince, the raspberries their juices. It’s completely opaque and has a mineral water carbonation. The taste reminds me a bit of rolls of love hearts sweets.

The beer style (usually unfruited) isn’t just a native of Belgium but hails from across its French border too in places like Nord Pas de Calais. Beer styles aren’t the only things France and Belgium have in common, and seeing as the beer is bright pink, I’ve chosen to shine a light on the surrealist movement.


I leave both Almond Road and continental Europe to make my way straight past Britain to our ancient cousin Eire. I want a beer that contrasts completely to the pink Saison. I want something black, full roasted and dry so a dry Irish stout fits the bill at Brew By Numbers on Enid Street.

The sun’s still out as I sit on a pallet and my mind wonders about the style. The things I can’t get out of my head are recollections of Dave Allen talking about how the Irish treat death. My mind then moves onto Guinness and how it used to be the default beer for many drinkers who would otherwise have gone for cask. I was definitely one of them but aren’t now.


A post by beer blogger Stonch last year demonstrated how much of a raw nerve Guinness still is – I’ve linked to this post for Stonch’s original text but also for the floodgates bursting open in the comments section.

And so to Anspach & Hobday – an innovative brewery even in the context of the Bermondsey Mile. I scan the beers on and choose firstly to be transported to the American/Canadian border with a cream ale and then return home to London and the Thames with their porter.


Cream ale is brewed with both a lager yeast and an ale yeast (though not simultaneously). It often includes sweetcorn in the mash as well as rice – this one just sticks with sweetcorn. You can taste the juices of the sumptuous yellow grain/vegetable/fruit like you were eating it off a cob. It’s another beer that should become more appealing as the summer heats up. 

Prohibition forced brewing out of America last century so beer was smuggled across the Canadian border. How do you suppose two countries with such a shared history and culture decided where the border went? Rivers? Mountain ranges? Other obvious geographical features? Instead it looks like it was a case of British colonial straight line syndrome. Enjoy.


It’s fitting I end on a beer that for me symbolises London. Some of the best examples of the style are brewed right here in Bermondsey. Porter, the ancestor of the dry Irish stout and many others has come back to claim the capital and here, close to Rotherhithe docks, it really feels like it’s come back home. It’s fully roasted, full-bodied, rich and all the other adjectives that mandatorily go with porter. Ansbach & Hobday’s just happens to be better than most. 


One widely believed derivation of the name of this style is that it was the labourers’ – the porters’ staple drink. As a way of celebrating them and to for a link to maritime London and the past coming back to life, I present to you Jack Dash. He was an unofficial union leader and ex-porter and docker who rocked the political world 45 years ago. This footage is totally biased in his favour but regardless of the stripe of your politics, this man (whose name sounds like a super hero’s too) will make you want to jump up out of your seat and salute. Jack Dash – a true demigod and demagogue.
Look out for a couple of the songs sung by the elderly with a glint in their eye – “there ain’t no beer in ‘eaven – I ain’t goin’ up there” and “show me your yoyo tonight” proving London’s old age pensioners have always been partial to a bit of smut.

Pyretic Pokers in Porter and Black Breakfast Braggots

I recently took my father out to The Harp near Covent Garden. Over a pint of Twickenham Dark Mild, he related a memory he had from Essex in the 1960s: He had lived in Tolleshunt D’Arcy where there was a pub called The Thatchers Arms run by Elsie & Sid (originally from the east end of London). The beer at the time was Truman’s Bitter and in the colder months the locals would heat a poker in the fire until it glowed red. They’d then plunge it into their pints of bitter whereupon the ale would broil.

A couple of days later I was looking through my Twitter feed and came across the following:

SirenCraftBrew @SirenCraftBrew Mar 30

One of the specials on show @pubcathope Friday is this brand new, pilot batch Breakfast Braggot. Stout meets Mead

  

For some reason, I’ve put both the account of ales being heated by pokers and the launch of one of the most innovative beer hybrids into the same mental folder. It was a subconscious act but it has to do with the nature of staples, pleasure and technology, but above all culture. The two phenomena are just snapshots from a long evolution of beer and communal drinking – whether that community be in the flesh in The Thatchers Arms or on a social medium (if social media is ever singularised). Let me tease these things apart.

We’ll start from the beery beginnings in this country: Gruit was one of the alcoholic drinks of the British Isles and was the original cocktail. It was a time before yeast had been isolated, where fermentation occurred with fingers firmly crossed and the plants that went into it may have changed from village to village and family to family. It was a time before we’d adopted the preservative and clarifying benefits of hops. Ground ivy would’ve gone in instead or mugwort, yarrow, nettles, sweet gale, horehound, heather or kelp. It would often have been flavoured with the fruits of the hedgerow too. This proto-beer would almost certainly have been cloudy and possibly quite soupy.

Fast forward to the 19th century where buildings had been built with malting floors, hops had been trained into bines, the water had been Burtonised and the yeast isolated into powder form. The temperature could be accurately read and controlled, the boil accurately timed and the alcohol content calculated beforehand and confirmed afterwards. Weights and measures were hotly scrutinised by the government.

Zoom ahead to the 21st century where, apart from cleaning out the spent hops & malt, all the brewery functions can be controlled by computer. Inspiration or competition doesn’t come primarily from the closest brewery but via the internet. A new brew from a small producer in Colorado has motivated you to try and import a new hop variety, mix it with a Scandinavian yeast culture and roast it over peat to up the ante. You’ll be reading and watching reviews of your beer from across the world.

I’ve been told another recollection from a work colleague from east London who recalls the same red hot poker treatment but with pints of porter instead of bitter. He reckons the practice in central London died out because of The Clean Air Act which was applied in 1958 and in effect up until 1964. The act prevented a lot of inner London pubs from putting a fire in the hearth or persuaded them to move onto gas or electricity. In St Albans, every publican and punter I’ve asked over a certain age confirms the practice so it was common at least in the London-centric parts of East Anglia. There is also evidence of folk adding pinches of ginger to heat it.


CGI has become so advanced these days it’s impossible to tell what’s real anymore


I currently work for a central London council and can vouch for the fact I’ve never seen a working fireplace in any dwelling – be it an affluent Mayfair apartment or a one bedroom council flat in Kilburn. The closest I’ve seen them in is zone 2 – some of the pubs in Hampstead.


Has the poker trick reminded me of little fancy gimmicks of culture – shamrocks traced into the heads of pints of Guinness, cider thrown over chunks of ice, the lemon wedge added to bottles of Corona or even the lumps of butter that are now being dropped into cups of coffee? If the reason was to stay warm during the colder months and spirits were outside your budget, wouldn’t a cup of tea have worked better? Why weren’t the pubs just mulling cider or beer with spices and fruit? Maybe it wasn’t a thing then – just not the culture.

Siren created Uncle Zester – a sour citrus braggot I reviewed just before the new year. It was outside my comfort zone and instead of reining things in, Siren has cranked up the juice to bring an even freakier monster to life by crossing the mead with a stout. I get excited when a new beer tries to stare me down. I want the chance to try and pin its shoulders to the deck. But this is a new emerging culture of experimentation; we’re seeing a beer not as refreshment or even sustenance, but as a challenge. Nobody would stick a red hot poker into the stout braggot because it isn’t a staple but an education.

I read the tweet about the black breakfast braggot whilst in the Cask and Kitchen in Pimlico – notorious for its informed selection and the first of the Craft Beer Co pubs. I showed the tweet to the folks behind the bar like it was a Top Trumps card to beat the gamut of exotic offerings they already had on tap. Whether or not I like Siren’s new offering, I desperately want to try it.

The items are footnotes in the long history of beer, the making of which changes as do the cultures that appear in its wake. I see these events like neat little dioramas of which there are hundreds – little figures in smocks stand around an oak tun in one whilst tiny LED lights light up the edge of a poker in another booth. A phone screen illuminates faces of tiny models behind a bar in another – that last one’s me in The Cask & Kitchen bemusing the staff.

The future is just the present but more so. Based on this trope, a few observations: 

Breweries like Siren (others include Buxton, Beavertown, Anspach & Hobday, Weird Beard, Magic Rock) are actively cross-breeding styles. There is logic to this – beer is generally four ingredient groups that can be mixed into a finite combination. Why not reach out beyond this quad to blend with mead, cider, spirits, tea, coffee and wine.

This is where it gets schizoid because simultaneously, we focus increasingly on each ingredient in the beer over the sum of its parts. As a drinking public, we’re more aware of what effect each ingredient actually has on the beer. There are definite splitters – people that seek out a beer based on the hops or yeast and currently, that seems to also be a trend. 

Yeast and hops seem to be leaving the beer and taking on their own identity. Some hopheads’ thirst for lupuloids makes it seem like the beer’s actually holding it back. Sure you can make a hop tisane, but it’s still trapped in a liquid. Some yeasters just want the tombstone crepitus of Brett. Similar cracks might appear between the malt and water too. 

What if individual ingredients could be set free? As a simple step from breweries showcasing single hop varietal beers, will we at some point start dividing beer up like Michelin starred restaurants deconstructing dishes into their composite parts?


Here is the cell in my parting diorama – little figures in a see-through pub with a retro hanging sign.

Ye Olde Smartephone & Appe is a traditional pub with an original 2060s aerogel bar. On Thursday in the activity zone, there’s the classic workout for old age pensioners – Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus is beamed from an antique flat screen with suspended balls and foam mallets. Clothing is optional. On the perspex wall behind the bar is a red flag with tassels bearing the acronym SPBNK – The Society for the Preservation of Beers from Nitro Keg. 

In the chiller stand bottles of Snatch – sparkling Burtonised water. At a neoprene table sits a yeaster; he chomps on a heavily leavened Brett bap which he dips into hop oil. In the Snug, a woman gets stuck in to a bowl of Marris Otter & rye porridge and in the vaping section a man tokes away. Eyes closed, he’s lost in blissful abandon as he blows a Cascade & Amarillo smoke ring. 

Ye Olde Smartphone & Appe is an old boys’ flat cap pub – it’s full of ageing hipsters. They disapprove of the new fashion rapidly taking the world of brewing by storm and it’s being installed here on a glowing crystallised fount – a brand rated across the globe by the younger generation of beer geeks – Watney’s Red Barrel.

CAMRA Revitalisation Project

As every member of CAMRA will now be aware, a 6 month consultation is taking place about the future direction of the campaign. I’m a member who helps out at the local festival and occasionally contacts my MP about issues flagged up by CAMRA. I suppose this makes me knee deep. I have had issues with the term real ale but it’s generally a campaign I’m proud to be a part of.


When I go to places like Bermondsey, walk its infamous mile and experience the world through the prism of beer, it just feels a shame that CAMRA won’t allow itself this pleasure too and it’s because of the rigid definition of what is and isn’t real ale. This consultation with every one of its members is something I’m deciding to view with optimism. I have no inside knowledge on what it’s like to be a publican or a brewer. I’m always at the customer end.

When I blog about beer and pubs, my opinions change constantly in what is a constantly changing field. I would now disagree with some of the things I wrote just over a year ago. My optimism is naive but unapologetic. This is what I wrote on the survey. It’s 4 paragraphs and basic but I mean every word of it.
Revitalisation Project – Consultation survey 2016
PLEASE READ THE CONSULTATION PAPER, SHAPING
THE FUTURE, BEFORE COMPLETING THIS SURVEY

6. If you would like to say why you have come to this view, please add
your comments here:
I have been fanatical about beer for about 8 years and am reaping the benefits of the campaigns hard fought by CAMRA mostly before I was of legal drinking age. CAMRA has had a huge part in encouraging the growth in breweries and getting that beer on hand pumps in my local pub. It has saved our unique method of cask dispense from extinction and returned it to the norm. 
I’m passionate about beer and one of the best situations to be in is when I volunteer at the (CAMRA) St Albans Beer & Cider festival and am confronted by somebody indifferent to beer. A woman who only drank red wine decided to try the stouts and porters (by memory, Tring Tea Kettle Stout and Red Squirrel London Porter). These were closer to the mark; there was a certain tannin quality that reminded her a bit of wine but it was the coffee dimension she wasn’t too fond of. We settled on Royston Red by Buntingford. She liked the red fruit bitterness it had and went off enjoying beer.
Later on a small group of people from Hungary were keen to try as many different styles as possible. The leader seemed like a connoisseur, even going for the Froach Heather Ale. The man’s father couldn’t speak English but his son translated, asking if there was anything like Guinness. After trying a few stouts, the father ended up being very pleased with Sonnet 43’s Bourbon Stout.
Imagine if there had been a line of key kegs at the festival too. A lager drinker could’ve been introduced to a Kolsch or a Pilsner. A white wine drinker could’ve tried a Saison, a red wine drinker a raspberry Brett, a brandy drinker a bourbon imperial stout. The beer range would’ve become kaleidoscopic and it would’ve been under CAMRA. I really hope that by recognising good beer in all formats, CAMRA can again become synonymous for beer based on its own merits of craftsmanship and taste.
Cheers Mike – thanks for everything you’ve done!