Saturday, 8 December 2018

Beer at home over Christmas

I was talking beer with a work colleague yesterday afternoon. He was thinking of buying one of those 5 litre mini-casks to drink over Christmas, and was asking for my advice. I've limited experience of beer in these containers; in fact the only mint-cask I've had was one of Bamberg's legendary Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, brought back from a pre-Christmas trip to the city, eleven years ago.

The beer was excellent for the first two or three days, but then slowly began to go downhill as the level of the precious liquid in the container gradually went down. As might be expected, the amount of condition in the beer (the level of dissolved CO2), was the first thing to decline, followed slowly by a deterioration in the taste of the beer.

My conclusions are these containers are fine, if there are sufficient people around to drink the beer, but if there's not, then do your best to consume the contents as quickly as possible. So, would a flexible container, such as a poly or mini-pin, which slowly collapses as the beer is drawn off, be better.

The answer of course, is yes, and over the years I've had plenty of polypins, but with only me to drink it, I found the beer wasn't always quite at its best by the time the contents were exhausted. I also found considerable variation in quality between different beers; and over the years I had a fair few.

None were off or even approaching undrinkable, but several were rather lacking in condition, meaning a flat and often uninspiring pint, and when you’ve got 36 pints of beer to get through that you’re not particularly enjoying, then it becomes something of an endurance test.

I gave up on polypins, but not before several years of having my own, home-brew to enjoy. This was back in the day when I was accomplished home-brewer, producing a wide range of well-crafted, full-mash beers. Now I don't want to blow my own trumpet too much, but my beers were rather good and eminently drinkable and the only reason I ceased brewing was the off-licence that Mrs PBT's and I opened, was pretty much a twenty four-seven affair.

I eventually moved on to bottles, as in my experience they're a much better bet. Not only do they remain fresh until they are opened, but they can provide a lot more variety. And with so much good food and interesting flavours available over the Christmas period, variety is what's required.

Now I'm not going to get all snobbish here and insist on matching beers to accompany certain foods, but there's no getting away from the fact that some do provide a better accompaniment to particular foods than others. I've got a reasonable number of bottles to enjoy, which have built up over the past few months, but the amount is probably not as many as in previous years.

So what have I got in my stash?  For starters, I've got plenty bottles of Pilsner Urquell to hand. This classic and pioneering “original” pilsner, has just the right amount of aromatic hoppiness, from the lovely Saaz hops, which is set against some lovely, chewy toffee malt. For several years this Czech classic has become my go-to beer for every day, home-drinking. It's only 4.4% in strength, but still manages to pack in loads of flavour.

I've got several bottles of St Austell Proper Job; a beer which in my view is one of the best bottled pale ales around. It's bottle-conditioned as well, but unlike many producers of BCA's St Austell do this properly - hence the name (only kidding!). Proper Job is well-hopped, but not too aggressively, and there is just the right amount of juicy biscuit-like malt present to counteract the bitterness.

Fuller’s, the last surviving traditional brewery in London, supply two more beers which feature high on my list of personal favourites. The company’s London Porter, is a fine example of the beer which made the capital's name as one of the world's great brewing cities. It weighs in at 5.2% ABV, and packs in a range of roasted chocolate and coffee flavours from the dark malts used in the brew. Served lightly chilled, this Porter is the perfect beer to round off an evening's drinking.

The other beer from Fuller's that I'm really looking forward to drinking is 1845. This 6.3% ABV bottle-conditioned beer is packed with lots of ripe, juicy fruit and marmalade flavours, and goes really well with a traditional roast turkey dinner. For as many years as I care to remember, a bottle of this excellent ale has always been my beer of choice to accompany  my Christmas dinner.

So what other beers have I got hanging around? Well it's a bit of a mixed bag really. I’ve still got a selection of six different bottles from the St Bernardus Brewery, in Watou, Belgium, to drink my way through. They range in strength from 6% up to 10%  ABV. I obtained them via a colleague at work, who has a friend living in West Flanders; definitely a handy person to know!

There's a few other odds and sods at the bottom of the boxes I use to store my bottles, including a bottle of Gadd's Imperial Stout. There's also a bottle of Dark Star Imperial Stout which needs drinking. Bush de Nuits, from Brasserie Dubuisson, which I acquired over three years ago, whilst in Belgium for the European Beer Bloggers Conference. It’s 13.0%, and aged in oak Burgundy casks, plus it's bottle-conditioned as well, so it’s a beer I will need some assistance in polishing off.

Finally I'm sure there will be the gift of the odd few bottles of beer from family members and colleagues (we buy a present for each other within my department). Basically, there's little chance of me running out of beer over the festive season, and with such a variety kicking around in my cupboard, there will be a beer for virtually every occasion.

Christmas is still a fortnight or so away, but I thought I'd get in early this year, especially in relation to the beers. So whatever you're planning to drink over the festive season, may you do so in the company of friends, family or loved ones.


Evan said...

Paul, I agre Fuller's Porter is good. I'm going to try Proper Job on that recommendation - cheers!

Paul Bailey said...

Evan, ASDA were running a promotion on Proper Job at four bottles for £6.00, along with a wide range of other bottled beers. It's been running for some time, and I imagine they will continue it over the Christmas period.

Waitrose sometimes discount Fuller's Porter, so it's worth keeping an eye out.

Anonymous said...

We don't have that problem in our house! Completely ignoring it all this year (as we are away). Have a fab Christmas to you, Eileen and Matt. Andreax

Paul Bailey said...

From what I've seen on your blog Andrea, it looks like you're having a great time down-under, so I don't blame you for ignoring Christmas this year. I'm sure though that you and hubby will find somewhere to raise a festive glass or two!

Enjoy the rest of your trip.