Session #83 – Against The Grain

The SessionWell this session was irresistible… but there are so many different ways to go with it. I’m unconvinced by US IPAs… I’m grumbly about faddish new brewery fanboism… but I kind of understand these things. What I do not understand is the UK’s top beers. Ignore RateBeer, Untappd, and the loud-yammering yet minuscule craft beer community. I’m talking the likes of Carling, Sharp’s Doombar, Greene King IPA…

Carling and its ilk… for the most part inoffensive. Most beer drinkers just want to get something alcoholic in them I guess and value consistency & simplicity. It’s part of the UK’s derisively-dubbed “chemical fizz” world of pseudo-lager… much maligned in beer circles from the old-school CAMRA to the new-wave craft, yet by far the lion’s share of the beer market. Let us move on from this… it’s not “craft” by anyone’s measure anyway… how about a look at the UK’s unique craft beer world of cask conditioned ale, aka “real ale“.

Sharp’s Doombar is the current holder of the “UK’s most popular cask ale” title… it is sweet, brown, and inoffensive in good condition. Yet near-universally served in a bloody awful state – offensively flat, cardboardy, vinegary. But it sells. Despite pints and pints of substandard beer being sold & consumed it is a huge success. I’d love to know why. Is it really just down to marketing success? Is it price? I don’t have a clue – forced to choose between a pint of Doombar or Carling, it’d be Carling for me every time.

Greene King IPA is the former holder of Doombar’s top-of-the-cask-pile title… it’s probably what the word “twiggy” was coined to describe. Even in great condition this beer has a unique backnote of dead rat. Seemingly some odd estery product of their yeast that I’m perhaps over-sensitive to.  I find it offensive… but to many the word for this beer – in good condition – is probably “inoffensive”. Again… I’ll take the pint of Carling, thanks. To be fairer on Doombar it does rate 73-for-style in RateBeer, whilst GKIPA is 3-for-style. Yes… “3”… I’m not sure how long it was “top of the pile” for, but I suspect Greene King’s insistence on it being stocked by all of the pubs they own is possibly the reason.

Both these beers have become a bit of a pub screening-test for me. If I peer in the door and of an otherwise unknown pub and see one of them on… I leg it. For the most part these beers are a reliably indicator for a pub that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about beer. Usually tied houses with management who just don’t care.

I seem to go against the grain of the UK’s larger cask ale drinking society. If I want to put something inoffensive in my mouth I’ll stick with water thanks. But why is there such a huge demand for these beers? Greene King – perhaps it’s the tied estate, Doombar – perhaps the sheer uncomplicated dullness? In these times of the gastronomic silliness of dusts, foams, & smears – and punchy wine lists where even the subtle old-world is trying to mimic the brash new-world. Why do most beer drinkers settle for… bland?

Perhaps it is that my view of “these times” is blinkered within a world of foodies, aspirational connoisseurs, craft beer wankers, and whathaveyou – and really the UK is for the most part and at core still a land of les rosbifs… sliced white bread and pseudo-lager.

Note: as for “craft beer” – up until recently Sharp’s & Greene King would certainly be “craft breweries” by the US definition – until Sharp’s was bought by Molson Coors… a similar situation to Goose Island. Do you call it craft? Are either of these craft in a UK context? You’ll get different answers depending on who you ask of course.

[Edit: yes, I do realise that my views here are probably very much with the grain of much of the UK’s craft beer community ;) I’ll swear I formed a negative opinion of both these beers before I [d]evolved into beer nerdery… but if you go against the grain of the crafties and drink & enjoy these beers, then good for you… I’d like to know how/if you battle the haters like myself?]

3 thoughts on “Session #83 – Against The Grain

  1. Good point on using GK IPA/Sharps Doom Bar as a pub screener. I am not as harsh on Doom Bar, but being London based, wherever has Doom Bar can normally field London Pride instead. But TBH I can usually get myself into pub which tends to match cask selection with cellar skills.

    I get the whole brand magnetism – I am Irish, where people depressingly label themselves as an X drinker, where X is one of 6 products from 2 distributers. Beer is for inebriation and not to challenge anything except the ability to stand. I guess it is the same force at work here.

  2. I think Doom Bar appeals to people who have their tea with 5 sugars. Personally I find it unbearably sickly. It also has a reputation amongst non-beer fans as being “a good real ale”. I have no idea how this came about, but go on a UK newspaper comments section and attack it and a thousand people will tell you you’re wrong.

    GKIPA on the other hand is almost universally derided. I have literally no idea who drinks it, perhaps unsuspecting tourists?

    Beers like this are as much part of what the “craft beer movement” in this country defines itself against as Stella and Heineken.

    As a side note, they are also the only two cask ales my local sells.

  3. Pingback: The Session Roundup (finally!) | The Bake and Brew

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