Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Style

I’ve written a couple of times about London breweries, here and here, over there and over the hills, but since the time of these two articles things have raced on, taken various bends, crossed continents, frosted up arguments and then warmed and warned them up again; things have accelerated and accentuated the positive, grown up and thrown up all manner of conundrums and now there are god knows how many existent in the capital; countless amounts are capping bottles and kegging kegs, but that’s not what I want to write about.

I’m in the Dean Swift, a few moments from where Barclay Perkins used to send out beers to perk up Londoners; the Institute of Brewing and Distilling is a corner away, my happiness being a final trawl through a variety of brewing publications from the late 1950s onwards: finally I have all the results of every brewing competition for what is now the InternationalBrewing Awards since its inception in 1888 (I’m writing a book). Four cask beers and — I don’t know — six or eight craft keg beers (it’s ridiculous that I feel the need to identify the dispense system of the beers I want to choose from) face me and my throat desires the first drink of the day, the drink that I want to percolate down through my palate and whose character I want to stay around and get me to remember it in 100 years. So I chose the pub’s own branded London Lager. I ask questions. Is London Pilsner a Czech style then? No it’s a London style. I try a tasting, there’s a billowing diacetyl note that I’ve always associated with Pilsner; there’s a bite of bitterness. It’s Czech I mutter to myself, very happy that there are breweries bold enough to take on this style (it’s Portobello btw). However, what it also makes me think. So what is a London style, how can a city influence a beer style?

The next day, I’m drinking Kernel’s London Sour with founder Evin; mindful of the previous day’s thoughts about London, I’m thinking about the beer: it’s sour but not too sour, not too assertive in its sourness, but still sour enough for someone not attuned to sour beer to make a face a contorted as jazz and ask what on earth are they drinking. It’s a refreshing beer, a beer Evin tells me has Berliner Weisse, the idea of Berliner Weisse as its idea, but I then think about London Pilsner and wonder if there is such a thing as a London style.

Could there be a London style and what would be the influence? I know about the water of London and the availability of the hops and the malt, but there’s got to be more to a style than this? What about the people, what do they eat and what do they like to drink with their food? What about the climate, the temperature, the summers and the winters, the happiness and the sadness, the carefree index or the lack of care, the influence of wine, the silence of temperance, the ghosts that haunt people’s palates, the food that they eat and dream about and then there‘s the feats of strength they like to boast about and toast. All these must surely contribute to a contemporary London style? Or any style?

5 comments:

  1. If 'London' can qualify styles as distinct as sour & pilsner, it's not a style itself. Manchester bitter, if it exists (I think it does), is a sub-style of bitter, not a marriage of two styles, bitter and 'Manchester'. There are probably a lot of historical sub-styles associated with London - bitters typical of London, porters typical of London etc - but I wouldn't expect those sub-styles to have anything in common among themselves. Besides which, once you're into the realms of sours & pilsners you're leaving local tradition far, far behind.

    In short, I think these breweries are committing the modern sin of Making Stuff Up Out Of Thin Air, also known as Building Brand Identity - and you're aiding & abetting them, I'm afraid.

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  2. Cheers Phil
    Modern sin? That’s a bit evangelical ;-) I have always like to think that styles have a fluidity and tradition (local or not) could be reduced to habits and peculiarities. As for aiding and abetting, some of the beers are so good that I’m happy to do so.

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  3. Gary Gillman17 June 2014 21:05

    Well, the craft-style beers are too young in temporal terms to qualify for a clearly demarcated London style. In time one may emerge amongst them. (I was going to say, there is one, London Murky, but never mind).

    Lager, the biggest in sales, can't qualify because it is not English in origin and in any case lager sold in London, excepting again certain minor craft ones, is the same as sold elsewhere in England.

    Porter doesn't qualify - it did for a long time - but it is mostly defunct in the city of its origin.

    Mild ale at one time was big, but now is almost disappeared too.

    That leaves: bitter! Since the demise of Young's, Fuller carries the flag for the iconic London beer, and it is, London Pride, and appropriately named, too. Many other traditional bitters, of varying palates, are still available. Some are similar to London Pride but there is only one London Pride. That for me will always be London beer.

    Gary

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  4. Hi Gary, interesting point about Pride is that it was based on a 19th century Special Pale Ale, was it a London pale ale that became a London Bitter — then there was Young’s Ordinary, which wehn brewed in Wandsworth was a bitter London Bitter. It becomes a bit angels dancing on pinheads after a while. However, re the current scene I’m interested in what will emerge. I think the breweries I saw on Saturday are here for the long term — I just like the idea that there is more to style than the beer.

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  5. Gary Gillman18 June 2014 13:15

    Thanks Adrian and I fully agree. Probably a single type will emerge from the current ferment to define a locally preferred style of the newer type. London Pride will stand for the old school and no reason the two can't co-exist. Perhaps it will be an APA type of beer a la Sierra Nevada. Most Britons I know quite like this style.

    Gary

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