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Save Deuchars IPA! DESTROY IT!

21 Jun

Now, I don’t usually like talking about beer. For me, beer is something of such rare and true quality, that I feel I would be doing it a disservice, should I even comment upon it.

Image (c) Ford Buchanan on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License

Am I due one? Am I f**k.

With Deuchars IPA on the other hand, I feel I can make an exception.

A once fine beer, who only ten years ago deservedly won the Champion Beer of Britain award, is now virtually unrecognisable from its former self. Simply put: it’s awful.

There was something magical about the beer that won the award in 2001; it was light, it was crisp, it was tangy. It wasn’t too fizzy, and it wasn’t too dry. It had a lingering citrus taste which, on a nice summers day, hit the spot.

Fast forward ten years and the end product is entirely different. The hoppy, citric bitterness is still there, only now its far less pronounced, as if it were hiding behind some some rather uninspiring malty overtones. Now, I can only begin to guess at why a perfectly balanced beer has been zombified over the course of a decade; according to Wikipedia, the brewery has undergone a takeover and a change of management since they won that award, and the company that took them over (Scottish and Newcastle) have themselves been taken over by the Dutch brewery, Heineken.

Furthermore, the change in management resulted in the brewers of the award-winning pint heading to the Harviestoun brewery, which they already owned but was deemed surplus to requirements by S&N. Too bad, I guess. A quick look at the companies websites (Harviestoun, Caledonian) suggests that the awards followed the brewers out the door almost immediately.

So what can be done to improve it? Well, drastic times call for drastic measures, and this suggestion may well incur the wrath of seasoned Deuchars drinkers and ale fanatics alike, but I believe the only way to make this once great beer drinkable again is to pasteurise it, shove it full of carbon dioxide, and serve it from a keg. My reasoning goes like this:

Firstly, it’s a beer that can only really improved by carbonation. The pressure group CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) contend that adding gas to a beer ruins the flavour, and whilst that has been the dominant school of thought for many years, there are now some beer aficionados and brewers who believe that fizzy is best (or can be best) for certain types of beers. While I’m personally of the opinion that nothing can beat a good, well conditioned cask beer, Deuchars is seldom well conditioned, and it’s not all that great. Frankly, the taste and texture of Deuchars would be improved nine times out of ten simply by giving it the Soda Stream treatment.

Secondly, the quality of kegged beers has moved on leaps and bounds over the last few years. A few years back, I found myself at the Drill Hall in London for the recording of a Radio 4 comedy. The venue was sponsored at the time by Charles Well’s brewery, who supplied the beer for the bar, including their flagship brand, “Bombardier“. Though I wasn’t a fan of kegged beer, I gave it a go, and to my surprise it was the best pint of Bombardier I’d ever had. The fizz managed to release some spice that otherwise went unnoticed in its casked form, and I lament the fact that it’s not commonly available in this format.

I am convinced the same would be true of Deuchars – in order to make it a beer worth drinking again, it needs to go back to the drawing board, look at what it is, and where it fits in with the modern beer world. There are many beers available now that, quality wise, far exceed Deuchars at even its highest points, beers such as Fyne Ales’ Jarl, Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter and Harviestoun’s Bitter and Twisted to name but three. If it were to regain any semblance of a beer worth drinking, it would need to destroy itself and start from scratch. Besides, being brewed by Heineken, they may as well work to their strengths…


The Value Booze Challenge (Or "Do We Need Minimum Alcohol Pricing"?)

7 Mar

In Scotland, the minority SNP government at Holyrood want to bring in minimum alcohol pricing. A noble idea; proponents of the scheme say it will save the NHS millions in (not) treating alcohol related injuries and illnesses, and the police will be freed to deal with more pressing issues than Glasgow city centre on a Saturday night.
Opponents, however, claim that any such move may be illegal (in effect, state sponsored prize fixing), and it would hit manafacturers and responsible drinkers the hardest.

My two main concerns, upon finding that one could walk into any major supermarket and buy a four pack of lager for as little as 90 pence, were a) is it any good, and b) is it potent?
So I decided to try it for myself – quick trip to Morrisons with two quid in my pocket, and this is what I got (plus change).

Four cans of Morrison’s Value Lager (90p for the lot) and four cans of Bitter, slightly dearer at 99p. Both the lager and the bitter are 2.0% ABV, and the cans are 440ml, meaning the cans contain in total about 7 units of alcohol. Some press reports say the SNP plan to set a minimum price of 40p per unit, meaning this lot would be nearly 50% more expensive if minimum pricing were bought in.

At time of writing, I’m just about to finish the first can of lager. What you will read from here on in is a diary, I suppose, of how drunk (or not) I get off cheap weak drink.

Can 1. Approx 18.00

Not bad. The first one was a little bit warm, but that’s always the way with beer of any strength, innit? My flatmate swears by putting the first one in the freezer, but I dunno about that. Besides, that would have meant moving the fish and the peas, and by the time I’m done, I can’t guarantee I’d be able to put it all back together again. Cheers to jackster69 and themasterbrewer for words of encouragement on twitter!

Can 2. 18.32

Ooh that’s a lot better. Nice and chilled. The brilliant thing about most lagers that you get in cans is that being super chilled, you can’t taste how good or bad it is, but it goes down a dream. This lager, in fairness, doesn’t taste all that bad given that it’s two percent. Carling made a big thing a while back about their (then) new beer which is three times the price in the supermarket, yet not noticably different. Ellie on facebook asks “how’s the beer?” (I say “party in my mouth…”), while Sam taunts me with a pint of Spitfire in Selhurst’s Two Brewers over twitter. My entire booze tonight costs me less than one pint there. HA! I respond with “I have some Fullers for later in the firdge!” – surely the alcohol can’t be affecting me that quickly?

Can 3. 18.55

Ooh. Feeling it a bit. Maybe I should slow down a bit. Sam’s been in touch on Twitter asking if the Fuller’s (a bottle of their IPA, Bengal Lancer, by the way), affects the experiment. This is science, kids. Don’t worry, this blogpost will be done by the time I start on the hard stuff, in fact I’ll probably leave them for another night. Just put the bitter in the fridge. All gone quiet on twitter and facebook, so I’ll need to make my own entertainment here. Hmm… could put on a DVD. The Long Good Friday is staring me in the face. Best avoid it, mind, in case the alcohol makes me think that somehow, I’m in the movie, and that stabbing Charlie out of Casualty in the neck with a broken bottle is a good idea. You know, three cans in and I haven’t felt the need to run to the toilet yet. Given the relatively low alcohol content, perhaps this is inevitable. Though Ross (flatmate) did say he was going for a shower in a bit… oh God… please Ross, make it quick. In other news, Peter on Facebook suggests that I should have gone for Sherry.

Can 4. 19.25

Well, I feel fantastic. I’m reminded of a story that a tabloid ran back in the day, where they got George Best to try alcopops. Now, I never “got” (by that, I mean “understood the appeal of”) alcopops. If you’re wanting a vodka and orange, and you’re in the pub, why not order a vodka and orange? That said, they were quite popular in the Wetherspoons up Orpington High Street. 99p for a bottle of Hooch in 2000, and quite potent for little old me. I say little. I was massive. Ooh, this is beginning to hit home a bit, and yet it’s only the equivalent of a pint and a bit in the pub, alcohol wise. Are they sure it’s only 2%? Ellie on facebook chat says “I recently won the lottery and spent it on David Bowies back catalogue”… and I believed her for a split second! The gullibility factor is definitely increasing. If you’re a spammer looking for me to help you win back your country, nows the time to do it.

Can 5. 20.05

On to the bitter now, it’s 2.0% like the lager, and it tastes… a bit like a lager. A more heavily hopped one, but that’s it. Averaging one can of weak beer every half hour, and feeling a little bit tipsy. Shall watch a film (or part of) with these cans. Its either that or Wikipedia. Speaking of wikipedia, I discovered just there that Sir Paul Judge, the backer/financier of the Jury Team (who John Smeaton stood for in Glasgow NE not so long ago), is standing in my home constituency on account that he’s from down the road from where I grew up? Yeah, not going through wikipedia any further in this state is probably wise.

Can 6. 20.40

Well over the quid spent mark now, and I’m beginning to get hungry. Hmm. Well, it’s only about right that value booze should be accompanied by a value meal. The only problem with this is that I didn’t think to buy any dinner. Ahh well, there’s plenty of stuff in the freezer/cupboards, plus a couple of mushrooms in the fridge. Wonder what I’ll make with that?

Can 7. 21.25

Bit of an anticlimax, I’m afraid. You know how one reaches their level of drunkenness? Well, that’s just happened to me. 7 cans in and I’m beginning to feel quite lucid again. The film I watched, incidentally, was Moon, as directed by David Bowie’s son, Duncan. £7 on, boys and girls, well worth it. Despite what essentially has been seven cans worth of homeopathic ale, I feel strangely reticent about trying an eighth. Here goes nothing…

Can 8. 21.55

Now isn’t this the oddest thing? Beginning to feel tipsy again. Just as I had thought I had reached the point of no return, here I go again. The only thing that has surprised me thus far is quite how tipsy I felt after the first four cans, and at no stage have I felt particularly drunk. Of course, I understand that the drunk is, generally speaking, the least qualified to comment on their own level of inhibriation. However, in this instance it’s the first time, possibly ever, that I can TYPE after eight cans of anything other than Vimto.

Going back to the original point, I have at this time (22.33, Sunday night) consumed 7 units or so of alcohol in over four hours, without anything to eat. I won’t pretend for a second that it hasn’t affected me, indeed much to my surprise it’s made me merrier than I had thought possible, but at the same time I’ve not reached a level of drunkenness that has affected my mood, nor (touch wood) my health.

Which brings me on to this article. Ignoring the story in the main about Brewdog brewing very strong, or very weak beers (neither of which I have tried, but their Punk IPA is amazing), the author hits a very good point about dropping duty on weaker beers, thus making them cheaper (and more desirable) to drinkers. If we are to use the price mechanism to penalise the heavy, dangerous drinkers, it seems perverse not to reward the low, sensible “session” drinkers. Whilst a minimum pricing strategy may make the headlines, it won’t change anything. If a determined drinkers going to spend a £3.50 on a bottle of strong cider, only to find it’s now £5, I suspect the determined drinker may go for a still £5 bottle of wine, and drink it twice as fast to have the same effect. Meanwhile, I’ve just spent £1.89 on cheap, average booze. Time for bed.

PS. I reserve the right to correct drunken prose at a future date 🙂