While most people have a bit more time on their hands, what better time to get stuck into a new book, and what better subject than beer? If you, like me, are looking for some learning, some tasting and some information then how about some of the list below:
This is the perfect guide for anyone who’s interested in beer and wants to get to know more. “Everyone knows how to drink beer, but few know how to really taste it” – the blurb really sums it up and this book makes it clear, easily understandable and something you’ll come back to again and again.
A great collection for the homebrewer – if you’re not yet at the point (like me) where you can make up your own recipes, this book gives you everything you need to replicate some of your favourite beers at home. It should take you some times getting through all these, and hopefully you’ll have some serious fun doing so!
This book is great for a beginner, something easily readable with great illustrations to keep you interested and entertained. It covers everything you need to know, and will give you a broad range of knowledge to get you started on your beer journey.
A great little guide to some of the headline beers to try in different styles – it might not be revolutionary to someone who knows a lot about beer already, but it’s a perfect companion to have to hand, both in its size and it’s very clear and well-illustrated layout.
A fantastic read, one which gets you right to the heart of the author’s love for beer. This comes through clearly in the descriptions of his efforts to make beers through each chapter and for me was a really important book in the development of my interest in beers. I probably learned more from this book than any other, so would highly recommend.
Another guide to the world of beer for the enthusiast – a bit more detailed than others above, so I would say something for those who have more of a familiarity but are looking to expand their knowledge. For me, this definitely helped to expand my knowledge of types of beer, brewing and tasting.
Finally, a book that breaks everything down visually – this book tells the story of beer from it’s very beginnings to the present day. Comics are always going to be easier to understand than the long written theory, but this is something accessible enough for newer beer fans and more experienced drinkers alike.
I would love to hear from you if you’ve read any of these books, or if you’re planning to look them up now! Are there any other books you’d recommend? Leave them in the comments below, or get in touch on Twitter, @craftynumber.
I’ve been looking back through some of the beers I’ve had over the last few months, and there’s definitely some attractive cans and bottles in the mix. That got me thinking – which were my favourite designs?
7: Anspach & Hobday, The Cream Ale
I love the outline, cartoony but sort of old fashioned design of the characters here, and for some reason the fact that they’re baseball players just appeals to me. The illustration is similar to the rest of their core range (Porter, IPA and Smoked Brown) which reflect English gentlemen and explorers.
As for the beer itself, click the image above.
6: 71 Brewing, Breakfast Toast Stout
71 Brewing has a lovely logo, and a really nice website. I think the branding of this beer has changed since I had it but I love the main purple colour with the contrast of the blue, just hints around the can reminiscent of a set of blueprints.
5: Big Smoke Brew, Jagged Sky Pale Ale
Bright and blue, with really simple and clear panels making the wording stand out. I also love the font and the Harry Potter-like silver lightning bolt.
4: Mondo & Yeastie Boys, Ask for James Kveik Session Fruit Ale
An epic voyage through the beer itself – there’s the idea of icy mountains hinting towards the Norweigan Kveik yeast used in making it, combined with the citrus fruits it is conditioned on. The northern lights in green and pink round it all off and make this a colourful masterpiece to look at while you enjoy.
3:Vocation Brewery, Love & Hate New England IPA
The contrast between the bright orange and black background makes this striking, and is a preview of the fruity beer within. The outlines around the text are so simple but clear, tying that Love & Hate to heaven & hell including a cherub you’d expect to see in a medieval painting.
2: Wiper and True, Plum Pudding Porter
This is such a clean and beautiful can, as is the whole Wiper and True range – pure white cans, simple black text and gold images. Just looking at this can takes me back to Christmas, and the beer inside is like a Christmas pudding.
1: 6 Degrees North, Velo Pale Ale
I have to say that this is my favourite of the bunch. The combination of the red and blue, the way the red triangle cuts into the name of the beer, and the pattern in white on the background all comes together to make for a really visually pleasing label.
It’s an interesting question of whether the art on the outside matters, or whether it’s distracting from the beer on the inside. I think that it goes without saying that the beer has to be the priority – a bad beer can’t be saved by a nice label. However I would say that when a nice beer comes with a visually stunning exterior, it makes for a better beer experience all round. Beer52 have covered the topic in a recent issue of Ferment magazine.
What do you think? What’s your favourite beer art? Let me know in the comments below, or let’s chat on Twitter, @craftynumber.
As you might have seen me write before, I’ve set out on an adventure of the best kind (and one I can do indoors) – a beer odyssey. I’ve got six different pale ales together, and I’m trying them all in a row to try to understand how and why they’re different: in looks, smell, and taste.
For a while now, about two years which have gone very quickly, I’ve been making an effort to taste as many different beers as possible. Whenever I see something I haven’t tried in a pub, I get a pint. This has included rerouting trips around Ireland and New Zealand, the planning of trips to Belgium and Germany (now on COVID-hold) and, on a more local scale, walking across my home city of London to get to specific pubs. All topics for another day.
First, my pale ales. I’m trying to do a bit of reading around these beer styles and I have enjoyed it – it all feels very much like beer is significantly more important to society than I thought, and it’s a nice idea that something as simple as having a beer of an evening connects you to your ancestors from hundreds of years ago. But enough of my poetic licence.
The history bit
Back in 18th century England most beers were dark, but as malting methods improved those in charge of the process (maltsters) were more able to control the malt’s colour. As a result, brewers were able to brew lighter beers which also then had some different, less roasty, flavours. Generally, pale ales are on the mid- to darker end of what we might imagine a light beer to look like: think straw to copper, rather than an almost colourless lager. ‘Pale ale’ is also a catch-all term for a variety of beers, from IPAs on the stronger end to bitter on the weaker. In the craft beer boom in the US through the 1980s, pale ales had new life given to them – they were easier to make than lagers, and brewers were able to use the wide range of American hops to play with different flavours. Fast forward to the present day, and there’s more varieties of pale ales than I could hope to list here.
Onto the beers
I ordered six pale ales from Honest Brew, to be honest completely at random. Again, I was trying to get ones that I knew I hadn’t had before so that was a factor but otherwise I was choosing six that were available. From my experience, the selection on their website is always changing (a good thing) so if you were to go there now you may not find the ones I had. I would encourage you to pick a different six and do what I did!
First up, Nor’Hop by Moor (4.1% ABV). Pouring it out there wasn’t much of a head, but I wouldn’t let that put me off. Very slightly hazy, and the smell of it was a little bit of citrus fruit but nothing too strong. The taste was really a balance between some malt and light fruitiness, but for me there was still nothing particularly strong coming out. That said, this was generally a very pleasant beer, definitely a session beer and a nice one to start on.
Next was Inhaler by Magic Rock (4.5% ABV). A darker colour and much cloudier than the Nor’Hop, with a pure white head. There was a really strong hoppy smell coming off of this – fruity yes, but for me there was a lot of earthiness. Maybe something wrong with my nose according to the description Magic Rock give it (“super fruity, super ripe, super juicy”). Tasted exactly like it smelt and was nice overall, but not necessarily a standout for me. Either way it was really interesting how different this was from the first beer, all down to the hops giving their distinctive flavours.
Third in my list was Undercurrent from Siren (4.5% ABV). A similar colour to the Inhaler, maybe slightly less cloudy but not by much. I felt the smell was quite earthy but there was something there I couldn’t quite identify – it was annoying me. Reading spicy and floral on the bottle, perhaps it was a peppery smell I was getting? I felt the taste was sweeter than the Inhaler, with some similar flavours. The more I thought about it and the more I drank, the more I got that peppery flavour coming through. I can kind of understand the floral description of the hops, but it was definitely not a light flowery taste (if that makes sense) – more on the side of the earthiness, possibly because of the spice. This one also has oats in it and although the smoothness they bring wasn’t immediately obvious to me it was definitely there. All round a nice beer to drink and one that grew on me. Siren have been one of my favourite breweries and I’ve tried quite a few of their beers over time, so love to keep getting my hands on everything they come out with.
Fourth – Hickey the Rake by Wylam (4.2%). Back to a pale, straw coloured beer. Straight away there was a burst of fruity smell, with a little hint of sourness; being a ‘limonata pale’ I’m assuming that comes with the lemony side of this beer. It kind of smelt like a sour sweet, if you could possibly describe sourness as a smell. Tasting it, immediately the bitterness hit but quickly turned into a slightly sweet lemony smoothness. It’s great to have a beer made with two completely different hops to the previous one; this uses Chinook and Mosaic while the Siren beer had Cascade and Simcoe in there. The two beers are very different, I know some of that comes from the malts but I’ve loved trying the two alongside each other and really seeing the difference that the hops make. That’s why I wanted to do this, and it’s what I’ve got.
Next up was Cloudwater’s West Coast Pale (4.0% ABV). A light amber colour with a slight haziness when it was poured out. This one seemed to have a fresh, grassy hop smell that felt a bit like walking through a forest. The strong hop taste rolls into bitterness and it really lasted, like a fruit pith taste. That was probably the biggest difference between this and the other pales I’d had, which didn’t have such a lasting bitterness.
Last but not least, Headband by Verdant (5.5% ABV). Immediately an explosion of fruity smells pouring out of the can, a mixture of mango and pineapples straight to the face. An interesting one to taste: you get the fruitiness straight away, then it turns into something weirdly smooth and much less sweet. I’m seeing stinky cheese written on the can, I think that must be what they’re referring to. Not sure how pleasant that is really. I guess you get more used to it as you have more, but once I had that idea in my head I just couldn’t get past it. Probably not one for me, but it’s amazing to see just how different this was to the first few pale ales I had. Just goes to show how much of a difference there can be between beers of the same style.
All in all, I was very pleased that I did this. Not only was it the perfect way to spend an afternoon, it also opened my eyes to some of the amazing differences you can get between beers when just a few things are changed – whether that’s adding a small amount of oatmeal to the mash, or throwing in a ton of hops to bring down a fruity rain. I would wholeheartedly encourage this experience to any of you interested in beers, especially if it’s a relatively new thing for you. All you need is a glass (if you’re as civilised as I clearly am) and a thirst.
One small step for beer, a massive leap for my beer knowledge. The first of many of these trial sessions, which I will write down my thoughts on.
It was while I was watching the Super Bowl in February 2018, drinking from a box of American beers I had got in specially, that I posted my first Instagram pic through @craftynumber, but my interest in trying new beers had started a while before. It goes back to a trip to Edinburgh and in fact a slightly different alcoholic drink, whiskey! Going on a whiskey themed ride explaining how the drink is made, followed by a tasting flight of the four main types really opened my eyes to how different one drink could be. What followed was a number of different whiskeys bought for me or by me and after straying into the world of wine in the same way, I found my natural place in the world of beer.
In beer terms, I was always a typical lager drinker coming through the teenage years, as I’m sure many readers are familiar with. Into university, it was then about price more than anything, with Carlsberg the beer of choice in the student unions and their rather entertaining £1 pint evenings. It was never something I truly enjoyed the taste of, but as you do, drank away… other than a brief dabbling with cheap cider in my second year of university, basic lager was it for me. A few years later, I came to terms with Guinness and my horizons were broadened!
Looking at the craft beer world from the outside, it’s completely baffling. A load of words you don’t understand, hipster men with beards and tattoos but some very attractive looking cans and bottles. I think it’s easy to be put off, especially with some of the snobbery hanging around the beer world – people looking down their noses at lagers and everyone who drinks them, paying over the odds for the supposedly rare beers in smaller glasses. Some places seem to think that writing ‘craft beer’ on their windows, shop fronts and menus means they can bump up prices and cash in on that crowd. What it in fact seems to do is scare people into paying too much for beer they don’t necessarily like the taste of, or understand what they’re buying.
I’ve made a conscious choice to try as many different types of beer, from as many different breweries as possible. I want to understand the differences between them, and why one tastes more hoppy, malty, sour or sweet than another – so I know better what I like and where to find it. If you feel out of your depth looking at a menu of beers you’ve never seen before, at least knowing what you like can help you pick one out that won’t feel like a waste of money. However as anyone out there who’s had the same experience can attest to, you do get the occasional dud…
My way of documenting what I’m trying has been through Instagram, @craftynumber – give me a follow if you haven’t already! Take a look at what I’ve been drinking, if you’ve had them then let me know what you thought, and if there’s anything you’ve had that you loved then I would be very grateful for your recommendations!
I’ve been meaning to start writing like this for a while, but never found the time. After an extra boost of willpower I find myself typing, finally! Plan is to be a bit retrospective at first, catching up with some of the beers I’ve been trying, and maybe talk a bit about my experiences buying and trying beers over the last few months. I hope you read and enjoy, and I’m always happy to see any comments. Thanks for reading, and cheers!