Wednesday, 21 December 2016

How much is a bottle of beer?

Beer has become a little more important to me over the last couple of years and now things are getting out of control. It used to be (back in my formative days of drinking) that a pint in a pub was under £2 – yes, you could get 5 pints for under a tenner. Imagine how many nights out I could have on my salary. You could also get 4 cans of cheap lager for £2.
Then things started to change, and I’m not talking about inflation or devaluation or increases in VAT or anything like that. I’m talking about how beer suddenly became… hell, aspirational. I trace it back to when Stella wasn’t the most [reassuringly] expensive beer anymore. All these other premium continental lagers entered the market – Peronis and Staropramens. Then Hoegarden came and it was followed by a shitstorm of expensive Belgian beers.
And then? Craft beer. All manner of breweries making all manner of beers – bitters, ruby ales, stouts, chocolate stouts, imperial stouts, oak aged stouts, milk stouts, porters, smoked porters, fruit beers, wheat beers, lagers, Helles lagers, pilsners, Trappist ales, golden ales, brown ales, IPAs, APAs, Black IPAs, imperial IPAs, Saisons, goses, Koln style beers, Vienna style, pale ales, strong ales, dark ales, spiced beers, bocks, blonde ales, sour beers, winter ales, Hefeweizens, Schwarz beers, roggenbiers… some of those are probably same, but there are also a host of others I haven’t been able to remember off the top of my head – and some fucker’s inventing new ones all the time anyway.
I first noticed the extremes when people like Brewdog started making beers that were 40% alcohol – just for the sake of it. At the time of writing they are selling 3 litre bottles of Double Bastard (11.2%) for £85. Then Manchester’s Port Street Beer House introduced the city to the beer menu (others may have actually done it first), and on it were beers that cost £70 – for just one beer.
Finally I was introduced to two breweries that would become my favourite – Derbyshire’s Thornbridge and Manchester’s Cloudwater, and I started to try and get hold of any beer they made – culminating (or so I thought) in spending nearly £13 on Cloudwater’s Ardbeg Imperial Stout.
Needless to say, it didn’t stop there and it hasn’t stopped yet. I now need my favourite breweries to stop making these expensive beers, so that I don’t feel obliged to buy them. This week’s post actually started by being about Thornbridge’s recent collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery; Serpent. It’s a 750ml bottle, it’s 9.5% and I paid £15 for it, direct from the brewery thanks to a free delivery offer they had on (I actually saw it a few weeks later in our local bottle shop at £14.95, 5p cheaper than direct).
How special could this be? Well, I figured I’d wait for a summer afternoon with a cigar to find out. It’s a Belgian-inspired golden ale that has been aged for over a year with the lees that are used to ferment Oliver’s Cider apples.
Before that summer afternoon arrived, I was out shopping for another recent Thornbridge release,Lukas, and while searching I came across something even more exciting; Love Among The Ruins. This one is a 7% sour red ale that has been aged in Burgundy barrels, with cherries, for over a year. It’s only a 375ml bottle… but I paid £10.80 for it. That makes it more expensive by volume than the Serpent.

When I returned to Mrs Cake, who had been waiting in the car, she said, “we could’ve bought little Sylvie a new pair of shoes for that”. Which made me feel great.
So how did these beers do?
I didn’t manage to save my cigar for the opening of this one. I had promised I would share it with Mrs Cake, then she went out one evening, so I decided to have the cigar and save the beer for when she was around.
Thornbridge have thoughtfully sealed this beer (and indeed Love Among the Ruins) with a cork so that you get a special opening experience. And it’s very tasty. I likened it to a white wine, with the apple flavour (that I didn’t know whether to expect from the lees or not) appearing in the sort of proportion that you might get from a white wine. It was crisp and elegant.
As you’d expect from a 9.5% beer (stronger than Special Brew), you get a nice buzz from this. One bottle, by rights, ought to last you an evening. I couldn’t really imagine drinking one of these all by myself. Belligerance would be right around the corner, I think. Fifteen quid does seem a lot for a single beer, but I would argue that you probably are getting fiteen quid’s worth of booze. 4.5/5
Love Among the Ruins
Sour beer isn’t really my thing, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed one or two examples of this phenomenon in the past – Thornbridge’s Tart was one that I previously awarded 4 stars to. This one is probably a little bit better than that, though I didn’t see fit to award it any more stars at the time. It certainly isn’t too sour for me, but Mrs Cake recoiled in horror at it’s tanginess. 4/5.
I think I’m going to have to be a bit more careful about buying beers that exceed £10 in future. Not that I regret getting these, it’s just that there seem to be so many of them. I don’t really want to encourage breweries in this kind of thing, even though I appreciate the effort they are going to in making new and special beers, and indeed the increased production costs it entails. Is it wise or sustainable? It sure is coming at an interesting time… but, I suppose, it means I must be able to afford it. It’ll be time to worry when I need it but can’t afford it anymore. But then there’s always supermarket own brand premium lager – as you’ll discover in a later post.

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