Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - March 2002
The best lagers are world classics - so why are most of them such rubbish?
One of the most distinctive features of the National Winter Ales Festival was the extensive foreign beer bar, which, according to the Beer Monster, offered, amongst other delights, probably the widest selection of authentic German lagers anywhere in the world. Sampling a few of these underlined just how good examples of this style can be, the Tegernsee Spezial proving particularly memorable.
The knowledge that the best pale lagers from Germany and the Czech Republic are genuine world classics makes it all the more disappointing how so much taste-free rubbish is produced vaguely in the same style, which has become a lowest common denominator for bog-standard, mass-market beers around the world. Particularly regrettable is how no version of a foreign beer brewed under licence in the UK comes remotely near matching the character of the original, most having a flavour that owes more to cardboard than to hops.
So, if during the summer months you should want to quench your thirst with a cool beer from the fridge, make sure you choose the genuine article rather than a poor imitation.
There's no good reason for the filthy habit of drinking beer from the bottle
If people want to advertise their lack of taste and manners by swilling beer from the bottle, that's up to them, but I wish they wouldn't try to come up with pathetic excuses in an attempt to justify it. I'm informed by a relative from the younger generation that drinking from the bottle rather than a glass makes it much more difficult for strangers to introduce date-rape drugs into your drink. For young women in city-centre nightclubs late at night this could contain some truth, although even there surely it's easier both to spot and taste foreign matter in a glass. But when you have a group of strapping young men drinking in a pub at lunchtime, the risk of someone dosing them with Rohypnol and dragging them off to a dark corner must be absolutely zero. Nobody's going to convince me there's any valid reason for this boorish practice.
Whatever happened to light and bitter and brown mixed?
On the subject of bottles, a slightly more civilised habit that has vanished from pubs is drinking splits. In the 1950s, in an attempt to perk up the often dodgy draught beer of the day, light and bitter became virtually the staple drink in the south of England. Even in the mid-seventies it was commonplace to see people around here ordering brown mixed and brown over bitter. Yet it now seems to have totally disappeared, and sales of bottled brown and pale ales in pubs must have fallen off a cliff, with the result that most brewers have stopped producing them. Maybe this is due to pubgoers becoming more discerning and not wishing to blur the flavours of their drinks, but when you can sit in a pub and watch six middle-aged blokes in succession go to the bar and order a pint of Carling Black Label it looks more like another distinctive tradition that has fallen victim to blandness and standardisation.