An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Saturday is Pub Day

The pubs open Saturday. Whoop Whoop I hear you cry. Or maybe that cry is more a whimper of “It’s too soon. It’s not safe” I don’t know. You are welcome to your view. I for one am happy to see the world normalise. I think the quicker we get back to normal the better. I don’t mean a new normal, neither, the old normal. I hope any adaptations we need to make are short-lived and not with us forever. I liked the old comfortable nihilism of living in a decaying culture and hope we return to it as soon as possible.

In deciding whether to go back to the pub, I confess to mixed thoughts. Pubs are not necessary, and they are unlikely to be able to provide the type of relaxed hospitality I enjoyed for some time yet. Nevertheless, the regimented hospitality of Perspex, masks, gloved hands, app ordering, disinfected tables and whatnot is something to experience even if it is to report back here how utterly terrible it is. Like visiting a craft brewery tap under a railway arch in a shithole district of a northern city. Something to do at least once just so you can moan about the ridiculous price for poor crap. Imagine being a pub and beer interested person and not experiencing one of the big forced changes to hospitality in a generation and not be in a position to comment from your own experience?

Throughout this pandemic it has been a sight to observe the many different reactions both to it and the activities of others. The widespread condemnation of the irresponsible other. The same people condemned and clapped in equal measure depending on whether they are sat on a train or stood in a hospital. Some would say this comes down to the different assessments we all make about risk. How we all as humans evolved to bypass a rational assessment and trust a gut instinct. There is certainly an argument that a rational assessment and calculation is a costly exercise in time, and that in dangerous situations those able to make a quick judgement enjoy an evolutionary advantage. Maybe not in this situation but when faced with the near certain death from a predator, a quick assessment of whether to fight or flight might result in a greater chance of survival. So, we are not really programmed by our evolution to weigh carefully the risks, but to trust our feelings about things. It is why people get in cars and on bikes but fear planes and trains. There’s a reason why deaths on the latter are news but on the former they are an everyday occurrence and not worthy of the news.

I would suggest our lived experiences influence this more than anything. The educated middle classes like to think of themselves as clever and rational, but I would suggest they are products of the same evolution as their less educated and harder working countrymen. If you have the type of desk occupation that has lent itself to working from home or furlough and you now have spent a lot of time indoors, isolating or going outside your property rarely, you may have developed the view that it is risky out there. If you work on a computer like say, if you’re a beer writer churning tiresome guff out to your website, you can do that from the comfort of your own home whilst waving at the Ocado and Craft Beer delivery driver through the window as they leave things on your step.

If your occupation has lent itself to going out to a shop floor on a daily basis whether in factory, shop or warehouse, travelling on public transport, being told you don’t need a mask, then you do, being clapped one minute, condemned as irresponsible the next, you may have developed the view that going out on a Saturday to a pub is no more risky that what you have been doing Monday to Friday in order to make ends meet anyway and by God, won’t it be nice to get back to normal and sink a purple cocktail jug down Spoons? Your view of risk may be different.

I cannot tell you whether to go down the pub or not. I can tell you that your assessment of risk is no more scientific and based on facts as anyone else’s. It is based on feelings. Just like everyone else’s. I can’t tell you whether it’s safe or not. I know no more than you. The difference is I am aware that I don’t know. I wear a mask. I bought it from the St Pauli online gift shop because I wanted one with skull and crossbones on. I bought ones with N95 accreditation from screw fix for my elderly parents who may be leaving their home sometime this month for the 1st time since March. I swerved crap on amazon and eBay wary of rip offs for poor quality shite thinking your B&Q, Screwfix, Wickes flog proper stuff with quality standards if you can find it in stock. I have no idea whether it makes a difference or not. No more or less an idea than you do. It seems the done thing. I wear trousers when outside the house for much the same reason. People stare if you don’t. Maybe the next pandemic will bring hats back. My grandfather always sported a trilby with a feather in it. Maybe we can rationalise that as having some effect on our survival chances.

But imagine. You purport to write about beer and pubs and don’t go out to experience the biggest format change they are ever likely to have forced on them. You don’t record if it works well or badly. Whether it represents a good or poor experience, or even whether you feel safe. Imagine if you swerve it. Leave it until you feel safe and report back an experience devoid of any lived experience.

Then imagine in a month or twos time, when the numbers start coming in. Cash receipts are in the toilet. Takings have tanked. Half the hospitality industry is unviable and screaming for a government rescue. Pubs are being boarded up. I guess they’ll be something to write about then. How it’s all the governments fault for not writing a blank cheque to an industry that doesn’t stand a chance of returning to the position it was once in no matter what you throw at it. No more arguing about use it or lose it as you are in no hurry to use it until you feel safe.

More don’t use it and expect a bailout, I’m guessing. Chin up though. It’s not just pubs, it’s flights that are returning. I'm off to check out the Ryan Air offers. The cheapo game of my summer. I want to experience a socially distanced bier garten and be that foreigner that coughs. That’s life returning. See you in the Spoons queue Saturday afternoon depending on the length of it and whether it’s raining or not.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Fischer Tradition Draft Lout

As we get into month 3 of this 3-week lockdown, are you all still missing pubs, or have you accepted they are now gone and most likely most of them are gone for good? How much of a reduction in turnover is involved in 2m social distancing and customer reticence? What percentage drop in trade makes any business unviable? Never mind, though eh? We still have cans of cheap supermarket lager and as per my last post, pretty decent options for pub bitter in the form of 5l kegs. If you miss draft (spelling copyright the pub curmudgeon wind up society) pub bitter, I’d give that option the thumbs up. Crack on.

I could explore this further and go into growler fills of takeaway pub beer, but I’ve been put off that malarkey by none other than the CAMRAs. Here we go, blogger slags off the CAMRAs but not at all, I come to praise them. On the occasions I delved into beer geekery to volunteer for a CAMRA festival or two I much enjoyed the experience and the people involved and understood why people get involved in such things. Why do such a thing? By trying it out, I got it. I understood what a volunteer gets out of it in terms of being part of an impressive project and team of people and civic area you may or may not have developed an attachment to. It’s an education, the CAMRAs, in there among the propaganda. Of course, I could be cynical and mention volunteers get free beer, but the price of beer would not compensate for time in any labour market. One of the observed rituals was at the end, when it’s all done and dusted volunteers fill up plastic containers with whatever is left over to take home as breeched casks are poured away. Didn’t seem desirable to me but I joined in to see what it was about. The thing is after a beer festival I was a bit beered out and I didn’t really want beer for at a least a week so my milk carton of beer sat in the fridge for a few days and by then it was past its best. Shelf life is important. Whilst cider is not really my drink, that lasts, so these days, if I were to sign up for one, I would only help myself to few pints of that. It’s fine with ice and a dash of Vimto the following weekend and as it tends to veer towards tramp’s strength a four pinter can get you a long way. So, buying take homes of beer that doesn’t keep isn’t my bag.

The 5l ale keg was far from long dated, but you had a month before you had to open it and once opened had 3 days minimum. That was cope able. I gather the fact that the ale is “Realish” is a factor in it lasting 3 days. An unpressurised keg of stabilised beer is to be drunk that day. I’m a boozer but I’m not sure I need the pressure to neck it in a day. The choice to neck it, not the pressure to do so.

Lager in CAMRA glass

But this is where my thoughts turned to beer geekery past. Years ago, I bought a keg chiller/dispenser and had brought it down from the attic to keep my ale keg cold. It was never going immediately back up there. Time to relook at the pressured beer keg options on the market. These days there appears to be a few choices for draught beer systems in the home. The Blade is pricey and seems geared for small cafes but a quality nice looking gadget. The Sub seems more geared for the home but at 2 litres an under capacity for any social gathering where the point is to show off a new gadget. Pint lads? Ok but just the one as then its run out.

When I was playing about with my 5l gadget I discovered it worked well with the pressurised Heineken style now branded “beer tender” and worked poorly with the unpressured kegs and required a lot of CO2 cartridges across the life of a keg. The Heineken style at the time was clearly the best system but seemed limited to Heineken and whilst that’s a lager I like, a constant diet of it is not even on my cards. The Heineken system is a contained system that works well without a dispenser coming with the bits to dispense straight from the keg. Further, even at the time, the price for the beer in the pressured keg was about twice that of the discounted cans and bottles in every supermarket. It wasn’t the value option I like to plump for. But you did get a lot of free Heineken glasses, all of which are still in my attic and denote the Champion league years the promotion ran for.

The Chambrer chiller I got back then seems to have been superseded by better ones. I don’t know how good they are dispensing the unpressured kegs with a separate CO2 cartridge. Some decent beers are in that format and I’d be interested in comments if you have a decent model that does this well. That is keeps the keg fresh and dispenses with CO2 and doesn’t eat cartridges by releasing gas. That would be the only reason to bin off the Chambrer.

The recent developments in the pressured keg front appear to be that there are a wider range of beers in this format, likely little to excite geeks, but enough to entertain me in a form that offers draught beer that lasts a month when tapped, pours with carbonation and foam. It’s all priced cheaper than pubs but more expensive than bottles and cans. Most of the choices are Heineken brands the format has extended over. As spoons is shut, might as well blow the government furlough cash on beer tat.

Kegs are the future

I put on a Keg of Fischer Tradition. A 6% Alsace lager made by Heineken priced at £19.99. The Keg ran for about a week before I’d necked it and maintained a full fresh condition to the end. Wiki has a mention of the Fischer brewery and when Heineken got their evil mitts on it. As for the lout? Top stuff in my humble view. I’d buy one if Timbo stocked it. A clean crisp balanced pint of lout. Similar to Kronenbourg but with a bit more of that Alsace spice note on the hop. Cereal backbone giving a body that whilst not really full bodied wasn’t thin. Clean, light, refreshing. Dry and without a residual sweetness you sometimes find at the stronger end of lout. I liked it. I liked the novelty of pouring draft ones. I remembered the tilt of the dispenser controls foam so you can have as much or little foam as you figure it out. I liked the fact it lasted without feeling a need to finish it off. There was enough gas to blast the last liquid out, so the empty keg didn’t slap about with wasted beer. I was glad to get it out of the attic for another go.

If I wasn’t overly price sensitive, I’d use this more and it would never go back in the attic but at some point, I’m likely to balk at paying more. Until then, I’ve a few kegs to go at so I’ll see if I get bored with it. Like taking an old games console or computer out of the attic. It’s fun for a bit but will it go back up there, be taken to the tip or remain in the kitchen? Who knows?