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The Beer Bra. Really.

2 November, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been a wild rover for many a year, and muckle have I seen. I’ve seen folk drink from yards of ale, I’ve been in pubs which serve from glass chamber pots, I’ve seen men drink beer from a wellington boot. There’s all manner of glassware, pewter and whatnot all designed with one delightful task in view; that of drinking beer. I’ve seen beer hats, kilts that boast the ability to carry 20 bottles of beer, but until today I have never seen anything so outrageous, so bizarre and so just-plain-wrong as this new technology.

There exists a container (or possibly a pair) that is shaped after the human female bosom and designed to fit in the upper female undergarment. You may doubt, you may scoff, but it’s a genuine product and it does appear to meet a genuine need. After all, who wants to carry several bottles or cans into a sporting event, or some other venue where they don’t allow you to drink anything other than their (frequently overpriced) fizz?

There are a couple of problems that I see with this device. First of all, I wonder what it’s made of, and whether that material (presumably some specie of plastic) would affect your drink. I’m wary enough of beer in cans or growlers without worrying about whatever might taints the taste of your ale. Even those “safe” acrylic glasses one is forced to quaff from occasionally do affect the flavour.

The second problem I consider to be temperature-related. Most people fuss about beer being served at anything even approaching room temperature, so you’d need to consider the effect of having a couple of pints of cold beer strapped to your boobs, and the affect of enjoyment as the beer temperature approaches body heat!

It’s available in different (bra) sizes, and does enhance the bust; indeed the manufacturers boast that “you can turn an A cup in to double Ds”. It’s an odd world and it gets odder each day, and this is more proof, as if it were needed.

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Categories: Beer Talk Tags:

Serving Beer – The Question of Temperature

16 September, 2009 6 comments

“I’m looking for the type of mugs [of beer] that are so cold that your hand gets numb…so cold that it doesn’t matter how cheap the beer is…so cold that bits of ice float in your beer”Forum comment
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In my thirty-odd years of drinking, one of the things I’ve discovered is that there’s more to brewing beer than science – there’s art too and even (dare I say this?) magic. Not just to the production, but to the enjoyment. It was on a tour of one of the pubs in Norwich that I learned about how beer is cellared, and that different brews are frequently best enjoyed at different tempartures.

It’s a thorny topic, this business of serving temperature – nowadays the seeming majority of beer drinkers are conditioned by the media to expect their beer to be ice-cold. The quotation above demonstrates something of this, but it’s been driven by the advertising of just one type of beer – a fairly recent addition to the beer pantheon, lager.

So strong has the lager influence been, especially on the American psyche, that natives of that land visiting Great Britain would return complaining of the warm, flat beer served in those isles. But there is a reason, and it lies in the deeps of the ancient pub cellar, and its temperature.

So what is “cellar temperature”, and why should I care?

This is another of those really odd questions, like “what is room temperature?”, to which there are some who might answer “the temperature of a room”. I have met many Americans who sincerely believe that English pubs serve their beer at room temperature. They are wrong, and I usually take great delight in pointing out just how wrong. In fact, cellar temperature is much lower than room temperature (typically held to be 70°F/20°C ). Whilst in the past British pub cellars used to vary quite considerably, they tended to be around 45-55°F (7-13°C). These days, cellars can be climate-controlled, and on occasion, individual barrels can be kept at an ideal temperature for that particular beer. CAMRA’s web site states that real, live casked ales are generally best served between 54-57°F (12-14°C), considerably below the “room temperature” that many Americans believe.

Old Man Ale - to be served at 58F

Old Man Ale - to be served at 58°F

But what is the “ideal” serving temperature, and why should we care? Well, there are components in all beers that are volatile; they evaporate, being freed from the liquid. These are the components that we enjoy most – they add considerably to the enjoyment of the beer, both in the nose and the flavour. After all, the tastes detected by the tongue are few – salt, sweet, bitter, sour. The olfactory senses in the nasal cavity can detect minute quantities of thousands of different chemicals, and it is the combination that results in the overall flavour.

The problem is that the colder the liquid, the harder it is for these chemicals to come out of solution into the air, where they are detected by the sensory cells in the nose. Too cold, they stay in solution, and are swallowed before they evaporate. It follows that the warmer the beer, the more flavour it will release, the colder it is, the less flavour. So cold beer=less taste.

The more complex beers brewed and served in the UK and Europe demand to be stored and served at temperatures above freezing, by design. The new breeds of non-lager American beers also demand the same. By all means serve your lagers and cheap beers at close to freezing, and enjoy the light refreshment that they offer. Beware though, that you observe and respect a beer’s nature before you hoist it out of the fridge and serve it.

Now of course, I’m obliged to come up with some actual figures, and inevitably, there’s going to be some dispute about ’em, but many brewers and writers tend to agree that the darker and stronger the brew, the more they will benefit from slightly higher serving temps. There’s obviously some latitude, and personal preference may alter these figures, and I stress that this is just one suggestion, pulled from RealBeer.com. Feel free to disagree on the exact numbers:

Wheat beers and pale lagers at fridge temperature, 45-50°F (7-10°C)
Pale ales, English bitter, amber ales or dark lagers at 50-55°F (10-13°C)
Belgian ales, barley wines and similar strong beers at around 55°F (13°C)
Porters, stouts and other dark ales at 55-60° F (13-15°C)
Some of the stronger Belgian beers should be served close to room temperature

Now given that the average refrigerator temperature is around 45°F (7°C), you see that there’s quite a difference, especially for the stronger beers. The answer is to take some of these brews out of the fridge a while before you serve them, and for goodness’ sake, don’t pour them into a chilled glass!

Obviously no-one except the truly fanatical is going to measure the bottle temperature before opening it, but allowing the bottle to warm up for fifteen or twenty minutes won’t kill you. In fact, the anticipation will doubtless make it taste even better. After all, they do say that hunger makes the best sauce.

The Bluffer’s Guide To Beer

15 June, 2009 1 comment

You’ve met them. The wine buffs, the folk who speak sagely on the subject of grape varietals, vineyards and whether the best grapes are grown on the North side of the slope; whether one clone of the grape is better than another. They compare New World and Old World wines, they talk in terms of a wine’s legginess and struggle to find new ways of describing the fruitiness of a wine. They can be grassy, herbal, have overtones (or undertones) of avery fruit from apples through blackcurrant to peaches and plums. Jilly Goolden once described one wine as “composty”. Goodness, Jilly, is that supposed to turn me on or off this wine?

Of course, the world of beer is catching up with this manner of speech, but instead of grapes, we talk about the balance of hop and malt, dark vs. light beers, bottom-fermented vs. top-fermented. So herewith, a brief guide to bluffing your way through the world of beer.

Beerdrinkers Evidence

Evidence of beer experience

First of all, you need to establish some basic credentials. You will need to be able to talk about the basic types of beers, when and where they originated, how they were brewed. Have in your mind a hierarchy of these, divided into basic types, for example dark and light, malty and hoppy. Know which are maltiest, which are hoppiest.  Have in mind that there are different types of malt; dark malts, which tend to have been roasted longer, or at higher temperatures; and light malts, which are less well roasted. Then there are the many varieties of hops, some of which are considered noble, some not.

It also helps to compare an exapmple brew with their classic types. A good example of this is a stout. What is the number one stout that people will be able to identify? Guinness, that’s what.  Once you know this, you can compare any stout beer to Guinness. For instance, you could say that a particular beer has a similar body, but that it lacks the sweetness, or head, or nuttiness, of the “original”. Because Guinness is, to many people the archetype, everything can be compared and contrasted with it.

Of course you’ll need to talk a lot of rubbish to do this properly. When you’re talking about the malt in a beer, you will need to describe it. It’s not enough to say that a brew is “malty”, you have to come about and be less direct. “Sweet and toasty” works, provided there is evidence of both sweetness and, um, toast. Hops likewise have a descriptive language attached to them. “Floral” is one good descriptor when you’re describing the nose, then you need to talk about the bitterness and astringency in the taste.

Of course you can get all scientific if you want to.  Feel free to talk about IBUs (International Bitterness Units) when you discuss beers. Especially when you’re talking to the IPA-lovers, they just live to hear about brews over 60. If you brew your own beers, you’ll soon learn about the Diastatic power of a malt, too.

Then there’s presentation. The first lesson in being a successful bluffer is that you never, ever admit to drinking out of the bottle (or God forbid, a can). It’s important that you establish early on that you drink your beers from a glass. Not just any glass, either. You have to make it clear that you know the correct glass to select – drinking a pint of bitter from a standard “straight” pint glass is fine, but if you’re sampling a weißbier, you should know there’s a special glass for that. The Belgian beers frequently have “custom” glasses, and where possible, you should collect them. Myself, I have four basic types of glass – straight-sided pint, tall and curvy weissbeer, pilsner types and a couple of goblets. In addition, I occasionally select an oversized red wine globe or a large highball glass. There’s a lovely article at Wikipedia should you desire to know more about this simple, yet important element of beer drinking.

One other thing to remember is the serving temperature (a big issue for me, of course). As a general rule, light beers such as lagers should be served cold. British beers benefit from a temperature closer to 45°F, and remember to mention that many beers change character as they warm up. Be sure to criticise Americans for serving all their beers cold, in a frosted glass – you’ll win a lot of points this way (but only with a winning wink). Of course the reverse is true. Feel free ti gently poke fun at the British tendency to serve their beers too warm (extra points for mentioning that they are also flat!)

You should learn to describe colour well. Amber, copper, auburn – all are good words for the mid-range beers, and doubtless you’ll come up with suitable adjectives for the lights and darks. The head is also important. Is it dense, frothy, light? Does it hold up as you drink, or vanish like a desert dew in the morning?

Now, of course, you must learn the most important lesson of all. It’s not necessary to do all of this – the only really vital thing you should do is learn to appreciate beers from all types, and above all, enjoy your drinking safely.

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day. Guinness, anyone?

17 March, 2009 1 comment

Back in the days when I lived in England, one of the ways many of my friends would judge a pub was on the quality of their Guinness. It seems that it is one of those draught beers that will either suffer or benefit greatly from its treatment in the cellar. Now Guinness itself barely needs any introduction – it’s well known the world over for its almost black, dark-chocolate colour, its rich and creamy body, that almost-sweet, slightly bitter flavour with a hint of espresso.

So why is it that people are fussy about it? Is it true that “Irish” Guinness is better than that brewed elsewhere? Is is de rigeur or a faux pas to serve it ice-cold? Well, some of this is historical, some of it is cultural, but all of it hinges on one’s view of what beer is. Read more…

Categories: Beers Tags: ,
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