Opinion and rants

The Session #123 – Do you even blog, Bro?


For this month’s The Session, Josh from Beer Simple is asking us to ponder whether the Internet has been a help or a hindrance to craft beer. 

For the most part attitudes to online interaction have changed significantly from when I was a teen and online activities were only just becoming part of everyday life. Telling someone you’d met a friend/partner online back then would have attracted suspicion and concern for your wellbeing, and online discussion of even the least niche of topics would have you marked as an anti-social nerd. Now, blogging and vlogging is actively seen as a desirable thing to participate in, especially by marketeers.

Their emphasis on individual expression of opinion as ‘authentic’ has created a new way of obtaining cultural capital – maybe your opinion *does* matter – and consequently to participate in these activities and have your ideas acknowledged has become aspirational in itself.  The beer community isn’t separate from this – I’ve met people who feel the need to blog in order to have their opinions validated, or to be acknowledged that they are ‘into’ beer. Conversely, I’ve talked to people who devote their time to discussing beer online who have a ‘do you even blog, bro?’ attitude. 

Whilst I don’t think that craft beer blogging is subject to the level of falsity of paid-for content that other, less niche interest sites are, the desire to be recognised as knowledgeable coupled with the thrill of being ‘liked’ online can also be seen as compromising to the quality and diversity of beer – e.g ‘Blogger X says this beer is great, and that more Brewers should be doing something similar, and they have loads of followers – should I say the same?’ ‘As a beer lover, all these people are saying this is great, I should probably try it.’ ‘I brewed this IPA and these reviews are creating a buzz for this beer, I’ll make something similar soon, with a twist!’ 

Sometimes, of course, good beer is good beer, and there are loads of great bloggers, podcasters and vloggers out there who are objective and distinctive.  I don’t mean to be critical of anyone on a personal level, especially considering I don’t blog that often – spare time being the main factor but also because I don’t want to be retreading other people’s praise, and neither do I have the guts or desire to criticise other people’s hard work. Being overtly scathing  isn’t always necessary, but healthy self-awareness and constructive critical thinking of trends and fads within beer is, even if you don’t write about it overtly. Whenever there is a chorus of praise for something, I also try and think about those who aren’t singing at all. 

The internet has given me a plethora of information – on styles, on breweries, on individual beers – as well as the ability to chat and make friends with people I’d never have ended up meeting without it, so I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. But, like most things, sometimes there’s a tendency to get swept along by the positives, to a point where the downsides get overlooked – and sometimes the internet acts solely as a cheerleader for beery causes or ideals, when a degree of detachment would be more appropriate.

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Opinion and rants

The Session #121 – Bock

This month’s Session is hosted by Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site who has nominated Bock as the topic of discussion;

‘The month of March heralds the start of spring, and March 20 is even National Bock Beer Day. So Bockbiers seemed like a natural fit for the month!

Don’t feel constrained to simply write a review of a Bock beer, though I’m certainly interested to read any reviews that come it. Some other ideas to consider:

  • Dig into into the history of the style—their ties to Einbeck, the differences in the development of Bocks and Doppelbocks, and so on.
  • Do any of your local breweries brew a Bock-styled beer? Seek it out and write about it.
  • Alternatively, interview your local brewer who brewed that beer; get their take on the style and why/how they brewed it the way they did.
  • Have you ever attended Bockfest in Cincinnati, Ohio? It just so happens to take place the first weekend of March—write a review for The Session!
  • There are already the styles of traditional Bock, Doppelbock, Maibock, Eisbock, Weizenbock (and Helles Bock and Dunkles Bock in the BJCP) guidelines. Just for fun, invent a new style of Bock and describe it.
  • Have you homebrewed a Bock or similar style? Tell us about it, and anything you learned brewing this lager style at home.
  • Bock puns!’

To be honest, i’m finding it hard to resist the final suggestion, but my pun gun has long been retired and i’ve tried to commit myself to writing something other than a straightforward review for this month’s post. Here goes, can’t bock out of it now….dammit.

My first thought when I saw the topic for this month was about as far removed from ‘craft’ beer as it is possible to get. My mind wandered back to 2005, when I was definitely not ‘into’ beer – pretty much every purchase I made would have been at the supermarket, and one such trudge through the aisles turned up something new, and to me at the time, exciting – Artois Bock.

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In 2005, Stella Artois was ubiquitous in the UK, far from being ‘reassuringly expensive’ it was seemingly in every pub, bar and chain swill house in the country. The attempts at marketing itself as a luxury, heritage brand had given way to the image of smashed Brits consuming it by the bucket load. As Pete Brown, who had played a large part in ensuring the success of original campaign to position Stella Artois as a quality, premium product in a sea of 4%-ish pale lager, wrote in 2008, Artois Bock had a far more authentic claim to the storied history that was being written for Stella, but the powers that be failed to recognise this and rested on their laurels, delaying the launch by 6 years.

By the time of its eventual release in 2005, the Stella brand had been tainted and recycled into a byword for Saturday night thuggery. It seemed like whenever an incident of drunken disorder was reported, the suggestion was made that it was fuelled by this particular ‘strong’ lager, even though there were plenty of other similar products on the market. Concern from alcohol bodies and the press about binge drinking was a familiar theme, and even at launch InBev were fighting off accusations that the introduction of a 6.2% ABV beer into the UK market was irresponsible.

Looking back at the concern and debate around Stella as a whole, and the launch of Artois Bock in particular, it seems odd, if not laughable when compared to what is readily available in many beer bars up and down the country in 2017. However, there is a peculiarly British obsession with ABV, and Stella’s original strength of 5.2% would have seen it fall firmly into the category of ‘loopy juice’. To launch a new style at this time, at a higher strength, from such a mainstream brand, with a reputation like Stella’s was going to overshadow any marketing, no matter how good the product. Even if it was a bold move by InBev, and actually one that tried to introduce new ideas to their existing market, it seemed a last roll of the dice in trying to position the overall brand as worthy. 

Unfortunately for InBev, it seems from the available apocryphal evidence that the product was also a bit crappy. My own memories of the beer are almost useless – i didn’t really know what it was, I preferred the Peeterman Artois (a wheat-based lager with coriander that was quickly dumbed down even further), and of course, it was 6.2%! I couldn’t have drunk more than a few bottles of that! Loopy juice isnt it?

12 years on, and while I still look in on the Bock family from time to time (Paulaner Salvator currently being sipped), it’s never really taken a place on the podium of styles I really savour. I certainly cannot argue that the stalled curate’s egg of a large macro trying to introduce a minority style into the mass market put me off persisting with Bocks – i just think I prefer my bread in solid rather than liquid form.

 

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Fridge Favourites, Reviews and events

Time, Tide and Foam

Based in West Yorkshire, I get to try a huge range of beer from a wide variety of breweries, and now and again it all becomes a bit of a blur. Its great to have such choice on offer, but inevitably I don’t always pick a winner. When I go back home to Thanet i’m used to taking a small stash of my favourites, mainly to share with family, but also because until quite recently there hasn’t been much in the way of dedicated off-trade outlets in the area.

However, in the space of about 18 months, this changed – there’s now two or three decent off-licences in the area to supplement an ever growing number of micropubs, and on a trip to Sandwich in spring I was pleased to come across a range of cans from Time and Tide Brewing. I’d previously been impressed when trying their beers on keg, and thought i’d drop a line to the brewers themselves for a bit of background on the company as well as writing up my thoughts on part of their range.

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Paul and Sam, founders and joint brewers were happy to oblige, and gave me a short history of the business. ‘We launched Time & Tide Brewing in November 2013, as a dynamic duo, looking to
brew the sort of beers we couldn’t find locally. Paul and I decided to set up our own brewery whilst talking in our favourite pub, having only met once before – we were so aligned in our passion for beer and flavour it just made sense’. From a serendipitous meeting of minds, Paul and Sam spent the first year cuckoo brewing before building their own 20 barrel brewery in 2015.

Other than with the assistance of an apprentice, Paul and Sam handle all aspects of the business on their own, based not far from Deal and deep within traditional cask beer country. Craft beer by and large isn’t on the lips of most drinkers in the area, and I dont think it would be unfair to say that the perception of Kentish beer in the minds of most craft drinkers is based on Shepherd Neame and not too much else. Until recently there was very little in terms of production for keg in the area, but Time and Tide now solely package their beer in keg and can.

From their first cuckoo brew, Calista IPA,  Time and Tide have rapidly expanded to a 20bbl brewery with new fermenters being added at a fast pace. Even with a current range of 8 different beers, they continue to produce experimental brews on a 100L pilot brewery. Although the majority of their early production was in cask, they decided to move to keg production for a simple reason – ‘for us it was always about the flavour! Our beer is unfined and unfiltered, naturally reconditioned in the keg and can with both vessels omitting both light and oxygen, it means that you get the freshest possible beer’

Paul and Sam explain that ‘local businesses are incredibly important to us and we are incredibly grateful to them for taking a chance on us. In many instances these places didn’t have
the ability to dispense our beers and have allowed us to support them in installing the equipment needed in order to serve our beers on draft’. People often talk about innovation when discussing brewery output, and in terms of Kent, Time and Tide certainly stuck their neck out as one of, if not the only brewery canning beer in the county, even though, as they state, ‘our bottleshop style customers then had a bit of work to do to explain to people why canned beers are awesome!’

Time and Tide’s current range of cans certainly stands out on the shelves, not least their 8% ‘The root of all evil’ beetroot hefeweizen. Inspiration comes both from the local area – ‘Spratwaffler is named after the folk from the north end of Deal, where both of us grew up’ – and from quickly developed ideas – ‘Papa Midnight went from concept to fermenter including artwork, recipe etc in 24 hours’

Understandably, local bars and pubs can be sceptical about stocking Kegged products for the first time when they’ve been told for the last 30 years that cask is best, and that this is what will drive repeat sales. Paul confirmed that by adopting their approach they have met with a few hurdles. ‘I think the biggest is education – helping people to understand what craft beer is and dispel a few prejudices. But when people from the local area start to come on the craft beer journey they are our biggest advocates and educators’. Pubs such as the Berry in Walmer, the London Tavern in Margate, and the Queens Head in Ramsgate are prime examples of pubs that serve great keg as well as excellent cask ale, and Paul is not only pleased that their beer has found it’s way into the hands of eager drinkers, he is also keen to progress and keep pushing on.

‘There are lots of great breweries out there doing their thing, however we don’t aspire to be like any of them really. That’s not to say we are not inspired occasionally by what others are doing, its that have loads of our own ideas and are focused on pulling them through. We are keen to grow in a way that means drinkers get more from us.  So we are always looking at tech, methods and capacity to make sure our offering is always getting better.’

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From the cans and keg that I’ve had, there is certainly something about Time and Tide’s beers that stands out – bold recipes, clever use of ingredients and an eagerness to improve and expand on simple beginnings. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see their beers more and more on the bars back home, and further beyond, soon.

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