I know Christmas has come and gone, but this wish list isn’t for Santa.
As it’s the time of year for trend pieces – what beers will we see in 2019? – I figured I’d put in a few requests for the styles I’d like to see more of from modern British breweries.
And they might surprise you…because they’re boring, brown, and bitter.
Hear me out.
Whatever happened to brewing just with beer’s four main ingredients? It seemed every beer brewed last year was made to push the envelope – from kettle sours, to pastry stouts, to barrel aged everything.
It’s almost as if brewers worked hard to make their beer taste like, well, anything but beer!
Can we leave out the lactose, bacteria, and gin, rum, and tequila barrels this year and go back to the good old days of just malt, water, hops, and yeast? It worked for the Bavarians for the last 500 years, so I think it’s got some staying power!
Yes, all this experimentation can be fun and can create some incredible new styles that open minds and change palates, but I’m just asking that brewers don’t forget the basics.
It’s ok to be a bit boring when it comes to beer ingredients – malt, water, hops, and yeast have plenty to contribute.
One of my go-to beers last year was Orbit Nico, a kölsch style ale. It’s on pretty regularly at Mother Kelly’s and often serves as an antidote to some of the overly adventurous options on the menu.
A kölsch is an exercise in subtlety – an ale yeast tamed by cool fermentation and conditioning temperatures. There are aromas and flavours of light, bready malt and maybe a touch of fruit or honey, but overall it’s clean, crisp, and oh-so moreish.
More boring, please!
(In fairness, Wildcard’s Passionfruit Gose was another one of my favourite beers last year, so they don’t all need to be boring. But fewer overly-boozy barrel aged blinders and kettle sours that smell like baby sick would be nice!)
I’m not talking porter and stout here, folks. Think a few shades lighter – Vienna lager, Munich dunkel, American brown ale. Why are these styles so hard to find here in the UK?
I discovered Vienna lagers while studying towards my Cicerone and Beer Sommelier certifications. A good Vienna lager is elusive, but it’s become one of my favourite styles.
It’s a nice clean lager with just enough bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt, which gives the beer a beautiful chestnut hue and toasty, nutty aromas and flavors. It’s characterful, but still light.
I was really pleased to find one from West Berkshire’s Renagade range, but it was tough to get a hold of and when I did, the quality varied from bottle to bottle. If there are any other breweries out there that you know of giving this style a go, do give me a shout so I can seek it out.
A Munich dunkel might be a bigger ask, as most dark German lagers are brewed using a mashing method called decoction, which few UK breweries are set up for.
In decoction mashing, the temperature of the mash is increased in “steps”, by removing a portion of the mash, boiling it, and then adding it back into the main mash. This process creates a rich, hearty depth of malt flavour, giving Munich dunkels aromas and flavors of bread crust, toast, and chocolate.
Even with this depth of flavor though, dunkels have just enough bitterness in the balance to keep them drinkable.
Again, I discovered this style through my studies and have only tried German versions (either ordered online or during my delightful visit to Munich last December, as seen above!), but haven’t come across a UK-brewed version yet.
Finally, the humble brown ale. I’m not talking Newcastle Brown here. I’m talking about its bolder international cousin, the American brown ale, in my eyes best exemplified by Cigar City’s Maduro.
I remember loving this beer when I first tried it at a bar in Brooklyn back in 2015.
And, now that it’s currently available in the UK, I was fortunate enough to be reacquainted with it courtesy of Lotte Peplow and a beer and food pairing she prepared: Chef Adam Dulye’s pork meatballs with Maduro. And let me tell you, it was heaven.
I was so delighted to rediscover this beer, I bought another can to enjoy over Christmas. So why is this beer and this style such a stand out?
It’s both malty and hoppy, but the bitterness doesn’t get in the way of the malt. Each sip contains notes of chocolate, coffee, and toast, but the beer isn’t overly sweet. Put it this way, if it was cool to drink beer at breakfast, I’d easily replace my morning cup of coffee with a glass of Maduro, hands down.
No, I don’t mean the traditional English bitter. (Sorry.)
I suppose “bitterness” is probably a more fitting term here. And a good, clean bitterness at that.
Yes, pale ales and IPAs will likely always be the mainstays for most modern breweries, but the style took a turn last year with the move towards the New England, or hazy, IPA.
Hazy IPAs are more focused on hop aroma and flavour than bitterness. The bitterness is certainly still there, but a bit clouded, shall we say?
Hops give beer bitterness, aroma, and flavour. To impart their bitterness, hops need to be boiled. But, this boiling can drive off many of the essential oils that give beer its hoppy aroma and flavour.
To make up for any hop aroma and flavour loss during boiling, more hops can be added to beer towards the end of fermentation in a process called dry-hopping. As the hops are added when the beer is cold, the beer’s bitterness won’t change much, but those hop essential oils can come out in force.
Problem solved then, right? We’ve got bitterness, aroma, and flavour.
For some drinkers, it’s a yes. Hazy IPAs are selling like hot cakes. But for other drinkers, myself included, it’s a no.
Unfortunately, dry-hopping at high levels can give beer a hazy appearance and an unpleasant astringency.
Much like making a cup of tea, the longer the tea is left to steep, the further the extraction. And I’m not just talking flavour. Other compounds, called tannins, can be extracted from both tea and hops, leaving behind a haze and an unpleasant astringency or harsh bite to the beverage.
While I have enjoyed a few of the hazy IPAs I’ve tried in the past year, I’ve found that too many brewers have taken their dry-hopping a bit too far, making the beer astringent and unpleasant to drink. Sure I enjoy the enhanced hop character on the nose and palate, but I don’t like it when my beer bites back.
I’d love to see more breweries dial down the dry-hopping and go back to the classic, clean bitterness of a West Coast pale ale or IPA. (Even if it is just as a counterpoint to their hazy IPA to show how differently hops and hop bitterness can be expressed in beer.)
West Coast styles still pack a powerful hop punch… just without all that harshness and haze. A beer with a good, clean bitterness is what I’m after.
So, I’ve said my bit. What beers are on your wishlist? Leave me a note in the comments.
And cheers to many more delicious beers ahead!
P.S. What’s with all the silly pictures of me? Because posts like this are fun. Because beer is fun.
And not only are we all entitled to our own preferences, we’re all entitled to share them.
I’m not one for negativity – I’m from California, we’re almost too sunny, smiley, and positive over there! – but I spent much of last year too worried to post content on my blog or on social media for fear someone would find something negative to say about it.
So this post came about as part of a new year’s resolution, of sorts, to use my voice and share my opinions, even if only to build up my own confidence in the fact that I do have something to say.
(I suppose part of the lesson is to learn to toughen up a bit, too, but that almost justifies people being mean for no reason. If you ask me, I shouldn’t have to learn to be tougher, people should learn to be more kind.)
Apologies for the rambling, but I figured if I want to engage with our industry a bit more, I have to say my part, and that means having opinions I’m confident in and comfortable sharing.
If you’ve ever felt this way, but have been able to overcome it, I’d love to hear your thoughts or advice.
And here’s to keeping those new year’s resolutions. I think I’ll go reward myself with a beer now!