12 days of IPA: The Ones That Are Oxymoronic; or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Hop-Bomb

I'll keep this brief.

There's no such thing as Black IPA. And Black IPA is everywhere.

I've had animated conversations with brewers about this. I've tried good beers and bad; some no more than hoppy porters, others that shied away from a roast note, many that were just not-pale ale for no discernible reason other than there was a bandwagon to be blagged before the shark gets jumped.

After much discussion and research, I have come to this conclusion:

Who gives a shit?

Call it what you will; just brew good beer. Style is a construct applied retrospectively to describe an often-spontaneous occurrence. Else it's confused with trend, driven by marketing and hangers-on.

Two good beers tonight to wrap up this madness. Windsor & Eton Conqueror was flabby on cask when I tried it at the Brewing Industry International Awards but the bottle tonight is one of my stand-out beers for conditioning and depth of flavour. The Kernel IPA Black underplayed its hand but gained kudos for it; any idiot can chuck hops into a kettle - brew me a beer that knows its boundaries and finds them in a perfectly-executed reverse-sweep kind of way and I'll love it for evermore.

In conclusion: the last Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

It is widely believed that IPA is responsible for 95% of all the beer misinformation on
the interweb, with stout/porter and cask/keg responsible for the other 1539%

And the last word goes to Martyn Cornell, from 'Amber, Gold & Black', on the renaming of beers in the Victorian era:

"This lack of consistency raises doubts over whether IPA was ever a properly distinguishable style or just a fancy piece of marketing for well-hopped bitter".

Everything changes. Everything stays the same.


12 days of IPA: The Ones In Burton-Upon-Trent

Beer Town isn't what it once was. There are still serried ranks of fermenters but the scale of Burton's former glory days is better measured by the absence of the past. Private railways that once split through streets into brewer's yards have been ripped away and replaced by access roads for sprawling car parks. A decaying leisure complex floods the area between the River Trent and the High Street where malthouses and breweries once crowded. Every superstore, every retail park, every shopping centre... everywhere there once was industry and service to supply and support it.

Tangible signs of Burton's past are comparatively few. And it seems the same could be said for IPA. The last time I went looking, with beer polymath Phil Lowry, we came up short. Familiarity, certainty and blind hope would guide me this time.

I made early doors at the Burton Bridge Inn. Damp dogs drying before the fires, weathered old men drank from pewter tankards whilst holding slightly-shouty conversations. And I get what I'm looking for; a bottle of the brewery's Empire Pale. Scant head suggests little condition but there's spiced, chewy marmalade and an almost-aggressive Burton snatch.

The rain still lashed down all along Bridge Street as I headed for the Brewery Tap of the National Brewery Centre. And here's my dead cert: I can't imagine them not having Worthington White Shield. Plenty of it on offer today; Sunday diners don't seem to be ale drinkers so it seemed to be me with the only cask pint. A few bedraggled parties from the museum tour enjoyed their splash-in-a-glass samples.

I'm still not sure why Eastenders was showing on the flat screen TV - surely that's why people go out on a Sunday? Truth be told, the Brewery Tap bar nowadays is more like a holding pen for diners before they shuffle off to the restaurant. There's plenty of wood and chrome but the place isn't exactly a destination in itself. Still, I was happy to skulk in a corner and read the IPA chapter of 'Amber, Gold & Black' IPA by Martyn Cornell. Drinking IPA in Burton whilst reading about IPA; priceless.

As for White Shield; earthy, fruity, rough-handed rather than gentle caressing... and again has that snatch to remind you, uncompromisingly, that you're drinking a beer brewed in Burton.

The wind blew me down Guild Street and off to the Cooper's Tavern. Which was quiet, their lunchtime crowd must have drifted off into the mizzle. No hoped-for Thornbridge Jaipur; the only IPA was from Newby Wyke and that spluttered a last gasp into the glass. Only one thing for it; I'd have to drink Bass instead.

Cards on the table: I don't care how the incremental changes have changed the beer over time, how it's all-too often a piss-poor beer in dodgy pubs, about the irony of how the world's first trademarked beer brand is owned by AB-Inbev and contract-brewed for them at Marston's whilst celebrated at a museum funded by Coors.

Good beer is where you find it: I find it in a Bass cask at the end of a corridor in the Cooper's.

The act of drinking beer is many things to many people at many times; social, raucous, convivial, introspective. For me, for an hour on Sunday it was contemplative. A half-hearted attempt at a crossword, farting about with my camera, thinking....

There's IPA to be had in Burton, for sure. It may not be what you're expecting. But that maybe because you sometimes need to challenge your assumptions about IPA. And about beer. And as to why it matters.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

IPA is illegal in sixteen US states under “misuse of trade description” legislation. Such beers have to be sold instead as “hoppy pale ales originally brewed for, but not exclusively supplied to, the area of South Asia now known as the federal constitutional republic of India”.


12 days of IPA: The Ones At The Festival

There's a certain something about a CAMRA beer festival. The best of beer, the worst of beer. Venues that make you feel welcome, well-cellared beer, interesting food. Or municipal shit-holes, staff with body odour, rank ale, stale sarnies.

When one of your tried and trusted local fests shifts venue, you've got to give it a go. Truth be told, there can't be many members sad to see the Derby Winter festival move out of the Darwin Suite in the Assembly Rooms. A titchy venue, beers appearing at random due to lack of bar space, almost zero seating. This year; new broom, new room - and, boy, what a room.

The Roundhouse defies photography. Well, that's my excuse. It used to be a loco shed; it's now where college students get parked during term-time as a common room. It's large. It's round. Get the picture? No? Tough. I could show you pics like this:or this:

or even this:

... but I don't think they're fair representations.

In summary: great beer on the Friday, some of which alcofrolicchap poured over other people. Great beer and cheese on the Saturday; most of the beer being totally random replacements as almost all of the advertised beer had run out on Friday. When the random beer comprises the likes of Liverpool Organic Kitty Wilkinson (proper chocolate & vanilla) and Brewdog 5am Saint (stupendously-Nelson-Sauvin-ed amber ale), then I'm a happy camper.

But this was supposed to be about IPAs. There were several, but there's no point in discussing all of them. There was only one worth talking about.

Buxton Axe Edge.

For, once upon a time, a brewer called James Kemp did move to Buxton and did wonderful things. In particular, he dumped a shed-load of Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin into Axe Edge. And, lo, amongst the topers of Derbyshire there was much rejoicing.

There are two schools of though about beer-festival drinking. One is that you should start at low ABV and work your way northward. The other says you should start on the beer you really want to drink, regardless of strength, because you never know how long it'll be on for.

Which is why I drank Buxton Axe Edge like a loon on the Friday. And, amazingly, on the Saturday as well - albeit for just three blissful halves.

So; props to Geoff and JK at Buxton. And to Ralf for putting on a Derby Winter fest in a superb venue, albeit the only one I've known where the queue for the gents was longer than the queue for the ladies by a factor of 30 to none. And to the various drunkards I spent time with. And to my wife, who did what she had to do to ensure no-one else got to drink as much Oliver's Medium Perry as her. And to Morgan's of the Eagle Market, Derby, for the best cheese platter ever seen at a beer fest.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

Hodgson invented IPA in 1744 when he had a dream about exporting a pale ale.
Sadly, he forgot the dream and had to wait many years for severe déjà vu to take hold
before he could recapture the recipe.

Thanks to Richard Mackney for letting me steal that first photo


12 days of IPA: The Ones That Work With Fish & Chips

It's Thornbridge Jaipur.

And Marble Dobber.

And Brewdog Punk.

And that's it.

"IPA & fish & chips /

Are all my brain and body need"

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

IPA first arrived in the USA in 1899 when, following the shipwreck of the HMS Chlamydia, Petty Officer Dick Fitztightly rowed on top of a partially-full hogshead and made landfall at Montmorency Creek, New Hampshire


12 days of IPA: The Ones From Brewdog

IPA Is Dead.


Single hopped beers are not new. But I applaud Brewdog for putting out four variants that fall firmly into the 'what-if?' category of hopping for many beer lovers.

Now, I drank the Citra last night and wasn't exactly blown away. How did the others fare?

Nelson Sauvin: waves of aggressive gooseberry. It turns, waves of bitterness. The flavours I began to fall in love with get pissed all over.

Bramling X: interesting. Starts with strawberries and cream? Segue to earthy fruit and then... tsunami bitterness. Just as the hedge was probing with berries and spices. Damn.

Sorachi Ace: Whooooo-hoooooo! Fantastic aroma; like my fridge when I bury satsumas under a heap of other crap at Christmas. It's creamy, bits of crystallised lemon stick in the palate, that turning orange was majestic. My wife thought it was rank; "I thought you loved me?" she spat. Literally. Meanwhile, I was losing myself in the lemon tea meets piss-ridden nettles sumptuousness of this beer. I ruddy loved it.

So, what to do next? Blend them.

One-third Nelson Sauvin to two-thirds Bramling X was transformational; killed the cattiness, maintained a gooseberry lineage all the way home, somehow took the lingering bitterness away. I'm not saying the sum of both beers was better than its parts but in comparison I'd put it in my top one.

Three parts Bramling X, two parts Nelson Sauvin, one part Sorachi Ace. Good, but not as good as the previous. It just tasted like a good, strong, hoppy IPA. Nothing special.

But I saved the best til last. One part Sorachi Ace to lots more parts of Sorachi Ace.

Moudly orange. It's the future. I've tasted it.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

With pale malt attracting a premium price, some London brewers tried to brew IPA
with dark malts instead. The export market, however, was non-existent as no-one was
dumb enough to buy a beer called Black IPA.

One last point I have to mention - seven quid postage and it took eight days to arrive. Meantime, other merchant's orders arrived within 24 hours and cost less to ship. Brewdog need to raise their game in the delivery department.


12 days of IPA: The Ones With Citra In Them

The wonderful thing about Citra is that Citra's a wonderful thing.

100% Citra hopped beers can be sublime - I'm thinking Oakham Citra at the Barton's Arms in Birmingham, or Thornbridge Larkspur at the Coach & Horses, Dronfield. Or Fyne Ales Jarl at the same place. Mmmmm, Jarl...

...anyway, let's stop drooling. All-Citra IPA is something I hadn't tried so thought I ought to rustle some up. Couldn't find the one by Nøgne Ø. Beermerchants had sold out of Kernel's. So the idea was withering on the bine until a moment of happenstance: Tom Fozard (cheeeseboiger on Twitter) offered up some homebrew and Brewdog started selling their 'IPA Is Dead' series that featured a Citra single hopped beer.

The results?

Tom's homebrew - Baby Faced Assassin - had a great fruitbowl aroma, sharp flavour with plenty of bitterness and just a touch of acetone lurking in the background. Brewdog Citra was earthier, more malt-forward, softer. Both tropical; Brewdog in a freshly-blitzed smoothie way, Fozzie's in a Chewit stylee.

Let's remember - one's a homebrew. One's the product of a major brewer's incessant experimentation programme. So which one impressed me more?

Baby Faced Assassin. If Tom Fozard can knock out stuff like that in his kitchen - and manage a cool label as well - he's doing better than half the professional brewers I Reluctantly Scoop around Sheffield and Derby. Sure, I've had better homebrew. But they've been homebrews by professional brewers.

Brewdog Citra was a competent beer. But compared to other beers of a lower ABV that lead with the hop, it underplays its hand. I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of the 'IPA Is Dead' series measure up later in the week.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

The first hop variety grown specifically for IPA brewing was East India Excess Isohumulene Ordinary developed in the village of Hadder by the ninety-year-old farmer Jeremiah McDonald. Brewing ledgers from the mid nineteenth century stipulate the use of “Old Mcdonald Hadda Farm E.I.E.I.O”


12 days of IPA: The Ones From Japan

Kids in a sweetshop. Except for sweetshop, read 'international bottled beer bar with random beers at stupidly cheap prices'. And for kids, read two drinkers who ought to know better but, thankfully, don't give a monkeys.

The recent Brewing Industry International Awards in Burton-upon-Trent offered up the bottled beer entries to festival goers. By a fairly early stage on the Saturday afternoon my partner-in-beer, Stoph McBride, and I had laid waste to some of the finest beers known to humanity. A bottle of Adnams Solebay for £2.50, bought to wash down a cheeseburger, was either our finest moment or a gross injustice to Fergus and the Adnams brew crew. And then we started to buy the odd bottle or two to take away.

My man-bag was soon bursting at the seams. A box was commandeered. Then the box was swapped for a plastic crate. And so a disgusting amount of beer was lugged home on the train. And within; Japanese IPA.

And why not? We'd tried a German IPA that was good. And the Japanese wheat beer was great. Germans make great wheat beer. So, by the most amazing leap of fallacious drunken logic, Japanese IPA ought to be stunning.

Tonight, I found out the truth. I can only just about handle the truth.

Sankt Gallen Yokohama XPA had the aroma of three-hour-old grass cuttings and tasted of lemon juice. These were the positives. There was also something un-nerving; wet tiles (shower, not urinal) and damp tobacco. Yet it was all strangely alluring.

In fact, when the flavour opened up it was rather good; lots of liquid caramel, strong bitter lemon/quinine, lurking carbonation kept things rolling.

Ise Kadoya Imperial IPA was possibly the weirdest beer I've ever tasted. Permit me this mind-dump: spicy plasters, toilet cleaner, warm lemon meringue, cinnamon, warm toffee, Chewits, fresh thyme. And I loved it all. According to the label, ten different hops were added at 120 different intervals. Mad as a box of frogs.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

So prized was Burton water that Bass shipped it direct to India where, between 1859
and 1894, it commanded a higher price than the beer itself.


Ratebeer down!

Updated 22/02/10 19:47

The site should be back up now.


12 days of IPA: The One From Suffolk That I Wasn't Expecting

So far I've tried several US-brewed 'English-style' IPAs. Translation: caramel, earthy. Tonight the hop's on the other foot; UK-brewed 'American Style'. Translation: amber, C-hopped.

To be fair, the aroma doesn't go fruit-bowl-spilt-on-a-mown-lawn mad. There's no relentless bitterness stamped onto your palate. It's a beer that wears its 6.8% ABV lightly; a fragrant pashmina rather than an oily shroud.

It's lucid and juicy. You can actually taste enough toffee and biscuit to remind you that IPA does actually have malty goodness in it. American-style? Well, sort of. American hopped, certainly. But this is fuller-bodied, rounded, better-balanced affair. A re-imagining of a re-invention of IPA.

The beer? Adnams American-Style IPA. No longer available in bottle, I believe, though a cask version brewed at 4.8% is doing the rounds. And let's be clear - this is an IPA. Ratebeer may call it an American Pale. Ratebeer are guilty of ever-increasing hubris. Two people can have an opinion as to the style of a beer; between a website admin and the brewer, I'll always side with the latter. The brewer may get it wrong on occasion (not the case here. IMO) but I'll fight for their right as the guys and gals that brewed the damn thing to make that style choice.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

At the height of the IPA trade, Burton’s coopers made enough barrels in one year to stretch from Shobnall to Calcutta nearly three-and-a-half times over.

Many thanks to Fergus at Adnams for the bottle


12 days of IPA: The One From Colorado

Back in 2008 at Beer Exposed, Eric Wallace of Left Hand Brewing told me the tale of how any, er, 'brewer' can chuck a bundle of hops into a brew. That it takes restraint to brew in balance. And so 400lb Monkey IPA was born.

Today I got to taste it on draught. And it was... good. Caramel-forward, dusty spicy hopped, a well-composed IPA. Worth £3.50 a half? Debatable. Better than Brewdog Punk IPA on keg? Let's not get involved in a dick-waving contest.

It was worth the experience: Left Hand 400lb Monkey is today's IPA. Not Punk, which was sampled on cask and keg in the company of Magic Rock Stu. Truth be told, it wasn't the tastiest beer of the day; that goes to Pictish Motueka. For which, as for the rest of his single-hop series, the brewer supplies the following tasting notes: "A pale, very hoppy beer brewed using [insert name] hops."

And a tilt of the glass to Matt Clarke from Thornbridge and Alex Barlow of ALLBeer; always a pleasure to share a beer and chew the fat with you.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

An over-conditioned shipment of IPA erupted en route to India in 1876 resulting in the
The Carlsberg Ridge Incident, still the second-largest man-made explosion on Earth.


12 days of IPA: The Ones From Sea To Shining Sea

One of my plans - yes, this level of ass-hattery does actually involve a modicum of planning - was to try some staple US IPAs that can be bought in the UK. As luck would have it, the following can all be bought in the UK from those jolly decent chaps at My Brewery Tap. And so begins an IPA trip from sea to shining sea. Via Colorado.

Because it's Saturday and I have other things to do like scream at the prats on Radio 5 Live, cook tea and generally forget where I left the laptop, I'm going to keep this brief.

5pm: Brooklyn East India Pale Ale. It stinks. In a great way. Earthy, creamy, orange peel, Willamette spice? Ballsy not blousey. Like White Shield on steroids.

6pm: Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA. I think I'm about to have a Gazza moment. Too much Crystal malt. Sappy bitterness. All rather messy.

7pm: Odell IPA. Different class to the others so far. Pineapple in a glass with a bitter bite. Went great with cheeseburger and fries.

8pm: Great Divide Titan IPA. Box-ticker. Orange body, resin nose, bready note, citric punch. Tick, tick, tick, tick. All in balance, almost better than the sum of its parts.

9pm: Sierra Nevada Torpedo. Harsh but fair. Plenty of Magnum to blow the back of your taste buds away. Trickle of Citra to salve them.

Kudos to myBrewerytap for donating these beers.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

Traditional English IPAs actually contained either few hops or none at all, a style that

many modern-day English brewers have now successfully recreated.


Bottled Up: Thornbridge Italia

I rarely drink just one pint of lager. A bottle straight from the fridge after mowing the summer lawns is followed by another straight after. A half-time pint sinks quickly; a second can then be sneaked in. Club lunches, punctuated by burgers and big-screen sports, have several pints of Samlesbury's finest as their narrative.

So I don't just look for drinkability in a lager. I look - nay, demand - sessionability. It still has to be something crisp, something refreshing, something just the right side of not-too-gassy. But is has to be something I can carry on supping.

When I heard that Thornbridge were brewing a lager, I was intrigued and concerned in equal measure. Intrigued because Maurizio Folli of Birrificio Italiano was collaborating and the beer would be a variant of their Extra Hop Pilsner. Concerned because the Thornbridgers may give into temptation and pack the pils too full of hops.

The result? Uncertainty. Emerging from its long lagering period, Thornbridge Italia is a conundrum in a bottle. Looks great; pale lemon with a pillowy billowing head. Then that aroma - herb garden. Bouquet garni. Almost overpowering. Which carries through into the flavour - some soft lemony biscuit that's crushed underfoot by herbal size-nines.

Let's be clear here. Italia is a well-crafted, flavoursome beer. I'd happily enjoy a pint and then move on. But I don't think I could manage another, nevermind a session.

Should a lager have too much obvious, up-front flavour? Am I about to declare that, in a pils, I'm actually looking for 'less is more'?

There's my uncertainty. I think I may need to chew over that one. Perhaps I need to find Italia on draught and see how a session develops...

Thanks to Thornbridge for the bottle.


12 days of IPA: The One From Fraserburgh That's Changing

I have a fractious relationship with Brewdog Punk IPA. I've bemoaned the inconsistency of recipe and level fill. I've been caught up in the keg v cask 'debate'. I've winced slightly at the homage/straight steal from Stone of the bottle's wording.

But I know this much is true. It sits in my fridge eternally, the loyal and faithful retainer of hop promise, the dependable Labrador of beer that welcomes me home.

Tonight could have been the night when I compared Punks old (6%) and new (5.6%). It could have been the night when I lined a Punk up next to Thornbridge Jaipur and Marble Dobber. Instead, it's going to be the night when I stop prattling on the tinterweb, go the fridge and Just Drink Beer.

This bottle of Punk IPA, bitter and floral, was chugged down in the time it took to type this post. I now have to go and recover the next bottle from the freezer - 15 mins should do the trick- and then repeat, lather, rinse, repeat...

... but not forgetting today's Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

East Kent Goldings hops were used in IPA not only for their preservative qualities in stopping the beer from spoiling on the long voyage but also because they stopped the beer drinker from contracting syphilis


12 days of IPA: The One From Oregon

There's always room for more learned discourse about India Pale Ale on the tinterweb.

But not here.

What can I add? Pete Brown has nailed the travelogue/potted history. Martyn Cornell excels at mythbusting. And Ron Pattinson has mined the rich seam of recipes long since peed up the brewery wall.

Which leaves me with only one viable option. Spend the next twelve days drinking whatever IPA I can buy, beg and blag. And make up some whacking great lies about the style.

Tonight's steaming pile of guano is brought to you in association with Rogue Yellow Snow IPA, which I bought from Ales By Mail solely because of the name. It's bitter, it looks good in a dull-gold-with-thousand-island-lacing way, but the hops seem to have been waylaid en route to my schnozz. It's got legs. Maybe later it'll open them up and show me its class.

Anyoldhow. Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA is:

The name Hodgson chose originally for his export ale was Pale Indian Strong Session. It proved to be a disaster; a fortuitous game of Scrabble with Michael Bass inspired him to rename the beer and reap great rewards.


The Session #48: Round-up

I thought the roundup for The Session #48 would be straightforward. Everyone would simply say no; dispense doesn’t matter - it’s all about the beer, stoopid.

Thankfully, most of you wrote more than that. For which I am eternally grateful.

Some of you, though, did keep your opinions concise and to the point. So, for services to precision and brevity, congrats to A Perfect Pint and The Brew Site. And kudos to Glyn Roberts, the ever-jovial manager of Rake bar in London, for his Rabid About Beer post. Glyn’s a shining wit. At least, I think that’s what the customers call him.

Was their really a question to be answered? That Thirsty Pilgrim, Joe Stange, thinks the argument has now gone, as " the majority of aficionados have tasted enough beer from enough places to know that great beer flows from all sorts of vessels." Many of you still thought that particular methods of dispense had their pros and cons.

Cask attracted several positive posts from both sides of the pond. Ale Talk declared his ‘professional Yorkshireman’ love of a beer with a creamy head on it and, whilst deciding that it's the taste that matters, noted how Tetleys’ dispense can divide his local’s pool team.

Craig Garvie make an impassioned plea for cask beer at Make Mine A Half, whilst giving a nod in the direction of quality keg from smaller brewers that are managing to displace multinational fonts in the bars of Edinburgh.

The Beer PHXation crew from Phoenix, Arizona show that cask, although a minority method of dispense in their neck of the woods, can be wildly popular when it’s done well. Which got me thinking if it’s a case of ‘cask it right and they will come’? And whether we have the parallel approach in the UK as discerning drinkers are now being drawn to bars that serve ‘quality’ keg?

Perhaps it’s the human touch of cask that makes a difference. It’s been manhandled and tapped before the intervention of a human hand on a barpull brings it to life. Brian Yaeger over at Red White and Brew certainly likes what a little real-life interaction can bring to the party as opposed to clinical, cold technology.

One method of dispense that blindsided me was the growler-fill; it’s almost unheard of in the UK. Alan McLeod at A Good Beer Blog discussed its merits at Duggan’s of Toronto, comparing it memorably to “a very long straw into the heart of the tank”. David Jensen at Beer47 also plumps for the growler but notes the legal limitations of their use in California; it seems crazy to me that a brewery can only fill their own growlers. I’m sure someone can point me in the direction of a rational explanation. Maybe.

What We're Drinking echoes some of my heart-felt sentiments in identifying the "location of consumption" as key. With the local bars having few kegs and cask being "strictly special event-grade material", bottles provide the opportunity for leisurely drinking. Indeed, something that many of you picked up on was that bottled beer gives drinkers the chance to try beers from all over the world in the comfort of your own home.

Alongside bottles, Kristy McCready in The Lighter Side Of Beer declares a predilection for kegged beer too. Although in characteristically robust fashion, she recalls her licensee days when you could have dispensed her a beer “through the gusset of a whore's drawers as long as it delivers a great pint”. I think we’ve all seen those photos, Kristy.

Bob Arnott posits that UK perceptions of dispense are moulded by current product quality, with canned and keg being all too-often "a mass produced undrinkable excuse for a beer". His experience of Italian kegs and US cans has convinced him that high quality beer can be delivered by those means - but it may take some time for UK consumers to associate low-grade dispense with high-flavour beer.

Melissa Cole is another convert to the can cause. At Taking The Beard Out Of Beer she argues that “the sooner more breweries follow in BrewDog's paw prints and band together to run a consumer campaign to get them to understand how much better the beer is when packaged this way the better everyone will be”.

But not everyone is enraptured by the allure of canned beer. Ugly packaging in a dispense designed to be guzzled doesn’t appeal to A Flagon Of Ale who believes firmly that beer needs to be drank from a glass.

And how it gets into the glass wasn’t critical to many of you. Beertaster.ca was more concerned about keeping the beer near the snowmobile's exhaust on the way home to stop it freezing. Impy Malting has tried high quality ‘Black IPA’ on both keg and cask and is content to not be fussed how a good beer makes in into the glass. Jay Zeis at A Beer In Hand is a firm believer that a beer needs to make it into the glass too, so it can open up to him.

That struck a chord. I enjoy drinking beer straight from a bottle or can and firmly believe they’d be no more aromatic or visually appealing in a glass. Perhaps that’s because they’re low-expectation beers. And perhaps that’s why much bottled/canned beer sold over at pubs in the UK has a reputation for not being the tastiest.

Tasty beer. That was the draw for many of you. How it comes to you means not a jot as long as the dispense doesn’t detract from a beer being tasty. It’s hard to disagree with that.

The beer monkey nails it; “Tasty beer is tasty beer”. Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin debates the merits of all forms of dispense but knows ultimately it’s about the taste. Leigh at The Good Stuff has enjoyed great beers all ways round and says “The best dispense system for any beer is surely the one that suits it the most”. Alcofrolic Chap argues that the quality of beer is paramount and it's actually chip-dispense that really gets his goat (as someone who remembers fondly the days when chips were wrapped in newspaper, I'm with him on that). Mark Dredge at Pencil And Spoon professes a love for many great beers, particularly for the new wave of British keg, but is still a believer in “Good beer first, container second”. And Andy Mogg at Beer Reviews says that “the but of J-Lo sized proportions” is not the method of dispense but whether the beer is at its best”.

Some contributions really tickled me. Another Drinking Blog’s ongoing revelations of each dispense form being “the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back” mirrors my own arc of beer appreciation. Adrian Tierney-Jones at Called To The Bar had a straightforward message; “the right container for the right moment”.

The declaration by Beer Search Party that they fall in the “slut category”- if the beer is good, they’ll drink it regardless - had me rolling on the floor. And the observation that we may not be getting hung up about dispense at all ”if the same care was shown by the people in the supply chain from Brewer A to Beer Merchant Z” had me applauding.

Derrick Peterman at Ramblings of a Beer Runner talks of a ‘cultural disconnection’, that the American brewing scene seems more focused on methods, ingredients and an entrepreneurial spirit whilst the United Kingdom seem to concentrate more on the context of how the beer is consumed and enjoyed. The defensive Brit in me wanted to say that was all bollocks. But I think he’s on to something - I think the British brewers have the same focus on production and ingredients as the Americans do, but the British consumer (in the main) isn’t prepared to accept non-traditional dispense for their favourite beer.

Pete Brown makes a killer point - different dispense works better for different beers depending on recipe and ABV. As he says, that’s why US double IPA works well on keg and UK session bitter works well on cask. And, by crucial expension, I’d suggest that’s why pioneering brewers on both sides of the pond get it spectacularly wrong when they force a great product into the wrong dispense method for the sake of being experimental or cutting edge.

And that’s almost the end of this wrap-up. A huge thanks to everyone that took part, particularly to those who lost their Session virginity this time around. Don’t be a stranger to the debate from now on. It’s been a pleasure to host and, incredibly, it’s been huge fun to work my way through thirty-odd different blogs to collate your views.

The last words, literally, I will leave to Zak Avery at Are You Taking The Pith? It’s only February but I doubt that I’ll read a more cogent, entertaining and damn-well-written post this year.

“Sometimes the message and the medium are, of necessity, tied closely together. But here, moving into the second decade of the 21st century, when there has never been a better time to be interested in quality beer, surely we're not going to lose sight of the message, are we? “


Dr Seuss, Bertrand Russell and beer dispense

I’ve been a busy toper of late. Busy in the sense of drinking a colossal array of beers and finding no time in between to do much more than nurse the occasional bastard behind the eyes.

The wrap-up of The Session will arrive presently. In the meantime, I’ll share what will be my penultimate-last word on the cask-keg-bottle-can shenanigans.

On occasions, usually lupulin-induced ones, I enjoy a good-old natter with the spirit of Bertrand Russell. Our discussions about metaphysics and epistemology are always illuminating, although it is his searching questions about my preferred method of beer dispense that have shaped the way I drink today.

I’ll leave you with the record of our latest conversation.

Do you like green hops and wort?
I ruddy love it, my mate Bert!
I ruddy love green hops and wort.

Would you drink it here or there?
I would drink it here or there.
I would drink it anywhere.
I ruddy love it, my mate Bert!
I ruddy love green hops and wort.

Would you drink it from a cask?
Would you drink it from a flask?

I would drink it from a cask.
I would drink it from a flask.
I would drink it here or there.
I would drink it anywhere.
I ruddy love it, my mate Bert!
I ruddy love green hops and wort.

Would you drink it from a keg?
Would you drink it on one leg?

I would drink it from a keg.
I would drink it on one leg.
I would drink it here or there.
I would drink it anywhere.
I ruddy love it, my mate Bert!
I ruddy love green hops and wort.

Would you drink it from a bottle?
Would you drink it daubed like wattle?

I would drink it from a bottle.
I would drink it daubed like wattle.
I would drink it here or there.
I would drink it anywhere.
I ruddy love it, my mate Bert!
I ruddy love green hops and wort.

Would you drink it from a can?
Would you drink it in a van?

I would drink it from a can.
I would drink it in a van.
I would drink it here or there.
I would drink it anywhere.
I ruddy love it, my mate Bert!
I ruddy love green hops and wort.

Yes from a cask
Yes from a flask
Yes from a keg.
Yes on one leg.
Yes from a bottle
Yes daubed in wattle
Yes from a can
Yes in a van

I would drink it here or there.
I would drink it anywhere.
I ruddy love it, my mate Bert!
I ruddy love green hops and wort.


What the term 'craft beer' means to me


In praise of the walk to the pub on a Sunday

There are five fields between my house and my favourite local pub. I could drink in my own village - four pubs, two of them decent enough - but instead I choose to hack across country.

Today the wind whipped over the Trent Valley so strong that my eyes start to hurt. Path margins were so muddied that it was hard to tell the dogshit from the horseshit. I couldn't be bothered to put proper boots on and after five minutes of sliding about on glutinous poo, I'm wondering why I bother.

Here's why:

A great pint of cask bitter. Banter with the landlord, a fellow Red Dog. Civil conversation with dog walkers and smokers - you do seem to meet a better class of person outside a pub on a Sunday lunch. To be sat an ex-Singer sewing machine table, drinking Whim Hartington Bitter (floral hopped with a toffee twist), watching the Twitterverse tweet by...

... and then enjoy the gale-blasted, shit-dodging walk back home again.


The Session #48: Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle?

"All men have secrets and here is mine"

I've drank beers you people wouldn't believe.

Cask Thornbridge Jaipur served on gravity to give it the kind of excited head that you could only dream about as a teenager.

Keg laaaaager from an unpronounceable and long-forgotten brewery that glittered in the glass and unlapsed your synapses down by the Brandenburg Gate.

Cans of Grolsch by the slab, powering you through three days of festivals (motor or music) because they were allowed on site, could be kept cool and gave you something to chuck at each other. And made your wee smell funny.

Bottles of Orval whipped off the bottling line and downed in one as the most insane elevenses tipples that you could imagine.

All those moments will be lost in time...

... unless I blog about them again.

Cask, keg, can, bottle?

Never mind the medium - here's the message:

Good beer is where you find it.

Time to drink...