Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Humble English Bitter

Hops. High ABV. Hurricanes of Wild Yeast. All twisting your tongue, assaulting your palate; wish I had more rhythm as I'd make this a ballad.

It's 2015 and the world of beer is moving fast. We're hopping the fuck out of beers, we're making them strong as fuck, we're making them so sour that they suck your face in and we're adding ingredients that 10 years ago we wouldn't have dreamed of putting in beer.

As a beer geek, I love how experimental and crazy the craft beer scene is, but I'm as guilty as most of you. I've forgotten about where my love of beer first started - the humble English bitter.

I walk into a pub with a bank of 8 hand pumps, I scan the bar, there are English bitters but almost every time I will pick something that sounds like it might be the most hoppy; or I'll pick a keg beer, obviously.

I see an English Bitter on that bar and I ignore it, as if it doesn't exist. I almost give it an evil glance as I cast it asunder, as if it has no place on the bar in 2015. The pump clip of the Humble English Bitter weeps and asks why I don't pick it and I respond with "sorry bro, you're just not interesting enough".

Years ago, this wasn't the case. Years ago, friends and I would go to The Fat Cat and pretty much only drink Fat Cat Best; it was sub-4% and only £2.20 a pint. It was a little oaty, sweet from the locally grown barley and leafy from the English hops, with just a tad of fruitiness. It wasn't a challenging beer, it was easy drinking and you could happily sink a fair few and still wander home. It wasn't the greatest beer in the world, in all honesty, but it was a pleasant one.

I'd go to The Gatehouse with my brother, god knows why; it was a weird, dingy pub filled with some extremely odd characters, not to mention the barkeep/owner, a man who seemed to not have many words to say; long grey hair and beard, always wearing a bow tie and a waistcoat. We'd sit and drink pints of Grain Oak, a best bitter, for under £3 a pint. I always remember enjoying it but it's a beer I'd overlooked for years, until last night.

Last night I popped into the Coach and Horses on Bethel Street to see Sammie. I've been in this pub a few times since it's been refurbished (the first was the day of the Bullards launch) but it's never been on the top of my list when out and about. Last night I walked in and scanned the bar and didn't think there was anything I really wanted to drink, until I spotted the Grain Oak pumpclip so I got a pint.

And it was perfect. It was dark golden, verging on amber; it had a sweet crunchy nut cornflake malted base with an abundance of leafy, peppery hops leading to another sweet, refreshing finish. It made me question why I overlook the Humble English Bitter.

It made me question my status of being a beer geek and a beer writer. What authority can I really have if I can't regularly appreciate such an important style of beer? A style that doesn't challenge you and is sessionable?

As beer geeks, we all do the same. We all forget about the Humble English Bitter and it's not great. It leaves me wondering, with so many beer geeks at IndyManBeerCon this weekend, how many English Bitters are on the bar? And as far as I can tell from the current beer list on their website, the answer is none. Is that really the case or have they just been rebranded as pale ales to seem cool?

Fellow beer geeks, step away from the Brettanomyces; sweep your high IBU beers under the carpet; ignore the Imperial and wake up. It's not all about the funk, the bitterness and the strength.

Sit down and have a pint of the Humble English Bitter. Sit and appreciate a low ABV beer that isn't jacked up with hops or sourness or whatever the fuck else.

You'll thank me.


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Czeching It Out - Bernard Pub Andel

Smichov was a nice area to stay in as it was the less touristy side of the river, and felt more local; sure it was busy, with a shopping mall and several late night bars and casinos but it kinda felt homely, with the quiet back streets and beautiful architecture.

One thing that impressed me about Prague, as silly as it is, is how easy it was to cross the road compared to other foreign cities I've been to. People in the Czech Republic generally seem quite chilled out, not in a rush to get anywhere, and I liked that.

I've been a fan of Pivovar Bernard for years, ever since I first drunk in the Euston Tap. Their range of lagers have always been available there, and were a go-to for when I was a bit hop tired.

I was delighted to find that there was a Bernard Pub about a ten minute walk from where I stayed so it'd be rude not to pop in for dinner and a few drinks.

Yet again it's another smoking establishment, which even as a smoker I got a bit annoyed at since I was eating and there didn't seem to be such a thing as a non-smoking eating area. I like to think I was considerate by not smoking when people at the table next door were eating, but others were not of a similar thought process.

I started with the 5% Unfiltered Lager which was crisp and refreshing on a hot and humid day; it was perfect after wandering around the zoo all day and y'know what? I actually think I prefer it to Urquell.

I went for the 4.6% Pale Lager next, which was full of leafy bitterness and a biscuity base. I liked it, but not as much as the unfiltered lager.

It was then time to order food, and I figured it'd be rude not to have a traditional Czech Gulas. It was really bloody delicious and paired well with my 4.7% Amber Lager.

The food and beer were both great. No fuss and a nice atmosphere. It wasn't too busy either, despite going there right after office hours.

Bernard is making some of the best lager in the Czech Republic, in my opinion, so definitely seek it out.