Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 - The Year in Beer - A few specifics

So after the brief overview of 2017 in the last post, here is a look at some of the highlights in a little more detail.
Campaign for Real Ale
CAMRA finds itself at the cross-roads, and next year sees the group finally voting on the much vaunted and long awaited findings of the "Revitalisation Campaign".  I've got my own feelings on this, but returning to local branch matters, in August we sadly lost our former, long-standing Chairman,  Iain - the Kentish Scot.

Iain is greatly missed, both from a personal and also branch point of view. He will be a hard act to follow, and as we wait for a new year to begin, our thoughts are with his widow, Carole.

Best Brewery Visits
Dark Star Brewery. A trip organised by my local CAMRA Branch to as a “thank-you” to all those who helped at the previous year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival. This was my second visit to Dark Star, and I was surprise to see how much the brewery has expanded since my earlier trip, six year’s previously.  Being shown around by two member of the brewing team was a real bonus, and helped make the trip one of the most interesting I have been on.

Brauerei Schumacher, Düsseldorf.  The city’s oldest brewery and constructed on a traditional tower principle, Schumacher still uses open top fermenters and packages some of its beer into traditional wooden casks and, somewhat unusually, one litre swing-top bottles.

Our group tour took place on our last morning of our stay in Düsseldorf, and after being shown round the brewery we enjoyed a few beers in the attached restaurant/bar. Here we sampled Schumacher Alt, along with the brewery’s  1838er Anniversary Ale. Described as a hybrid pale/alt, the beer was brewed to celebrate Schumacher’s 175th anniversary.

Best Beer Festivals
Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival 2017. Looking back I only attended the one beer festival last year, and that was the event my own (West Kent) CAMRA Branch organises, in conjunction with the SVR Heritage Railway. The unique selling point of the festival, is there are different beers available at the stations up and down the line, as well as on the trains themselves. This obviously encourages visitors to buy a ticket and enjoy a ride on the trains; so if you enjoy preserved railways, as well as beer, then I highly recommend this festival.

Great British Beer Festival.
I’ve included the event, even though I didn’t attend this year, as the comments I made in 2016 still hold true; especially those about the festival being far too crowded. There were also complaints about the beer prices which, if you take into account the admission charge, means GBBF has become a rather an expensive day out, (even for CAMRA members).

Given the phenomenal rise of craft-beer, there is also the vexed question of whether GBBF is missing out on something, and is it now time for the Campaign for Real Ale’s flagship event to focus on other types of beer?  It could then truly be said to represent the very best of British beer.

I also missed the 2017 Kent Green Hop Beer Festival, which takes place in Canterbury, in the shadow of the city’s historic stone walls. The festival aims to feature every Green Hop Beer produced by Kent breweries, but as our SVR Festival had made a real feature of Green Hop Beers,  I was able to sample a fair few of these beers on home turf, the following month.

In relation to this I was one of the judges in the competition we ran, to decide on the best Green Hop Beer of the SVR Festival, and this was a particularly enjoyable evening. At the tasting, we were joined by two distinguished guests in the guise of Sophie Atherton and Roger Protz; both well-known and highly respected beer writers.

 Sophie is also a qualified Beer Sommelier, and before the judging commenced, she ran through the basics of beer tasting, and told us what to look out for in a beer. I learned a lot about beer tasting from sitting on the same table as Sophie plus fellow judges from Pig & Porter and Cellar Head breweries.

Best Beer on Home Turf
Harvey’s Sussex Best. As previously, no beer comes close to beating Harvey’s Best.  For everyday drinking it is a real classic and one of the finest examples of a full-bodied and well-hopped southern bitter. If I could only choose one cask beer to drink for the rest of my days, this would be it.

Two local seasonal beers also ticked all the right boxes for me. Both of them are dark ales.

Long Man brewery Old Man, a fine mellow, traditional old ale, reminiscent of a strong mild, which has been quite widely available in the West Kent area this winter.

Larkin’s Porter, is stronger and packs in masses of flavour. Still my favourite winter beer by far,  this excellent  Porter makes this cold, and often depressing time of the year, much more bearable.

Best Beers Abroad
Hacker-Pschorr Festbier 6.0%,  enjoyed in the autumn sunshine, in the outdoor seating area of the Hacker-Festzelt, at the Munich Oktoberfest. My litre Maβ Krug slid down really well, and despite its high octane, I could quite easily have demolished another!

Gräfrather Klosterbräu Zwickl, an unfiltered Kellerbier, enjoyed whilst sitting out in the mid May sunshine, at the Gräfrather Klosterbräu brew-pub, on the way back to Solingen, during our Düsseldorf trip. This tasty, and full-bodied beer was served in a stoneware Maβ Krug, and was one of several excellent beers I enjoyed on that trip.

Bucket List
Oktoberfest – Munich
A visit to Oktoberfest had been on my wish-list for ages, and with a little serendipity coming into play, it was easily accomplished. (See Regensburg trip, above).   like I did for years. It is free to attend, and if you time your visit, as we did, to a midweek early afternoon,  you won’t need a reservation to get into the “tents”. If you haven’t been to the world’s best known beer festival, then go. Don’t make excuses and put it off

I won’t say anymore, as you can read about our visit here, but I will say the whole family enjoyed it, as there are other attractions such as fairground rides and sideshows, so Oktoberfest is not solely about beer drinking.

I didn’t manage to knock anything else off my bucket list (the one which isn’t written down and which changes on a fairly regular basis!), but I have a few things planned for 2018.

Best Locations to Enjoy a Beer
In the UK.
There were quite a few places where I enjoyed a beer over the course of last year. I think pride of place should go to the Greyhound at Charcott; a recently re-opened pub close to where I work, After years of barely ticking over, and then put up for sale as “suitable for development”, a local couple bought the place and have breathed new life into it. It is now a smashing place to enjoy a pint, and you can read more about it here.

Slightly further afield, the Windmill at Sevenoaks Weald continues to demonstrate how to run a successful village pub. With a good choice of mainly local cask ales, plus excellent food, the Windmill is another favourite haunt of mine.

Finally, special mention should be made of Fuggles, whose owner Alex Greig brought the successful formula he’d developed in Tunbridge Wells to nearby Tonbridge. Since opening back in August Fuggles has been packed most evenings, and is now delighting the good people of Tonbridge (including me), with a selection of beers which is second to none.

Further afield
Alte Linde, Regensburg, Bavaria. Set on an island over-looking the main branch of the River Danube, this lovely old pub was a real find. With its shady beer garden and views across to the old city, good and reasonably priced food, plus several  refreshing glasses of Kneitinger Edel-Pils, Alte Linde turned out to be an excellent place to spend a sunny, early afternoon.

It was every bit as good as the nearby Spitalgarten, which also overlooks the Danube.  Spitalgarten is much larger and can be quite raucous, but when Matt and I called in on our last afternoon in Regensburg, it was quiet and gave us that distinct feeling that the outdoor beer garden season was drawing to a close. 

Zum Uerige, Düsseldorf. Close to the River Rhine, this pub in the Altstadt looks quite modern, certainly on the outside, but once through the door the inside is like stepping back in time, with a maze of different inter-connecting rooms. On our first morning in Düsseldorf,  Matt and I sat outside, enjoying the warmth from the sun, whilst watching the people strolling by. A few glasses of the rather bitter, Uerige Altbier provided a good “pick me up”, after the previous night’s Altbier session.

Best Days Out
Several days stand out here, the first of which was a West Kent CAMRA trip to London to visit Kew Brewery and also By The Horns Brewery. Both breweries had picked up awards at the previous year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival,  and the purpose of  the trip was to present them with their respective certificates. Using a London Travelcard, we took a train up to the capital, and then hopped on and off a variety of different buses and trains to visit both breweries, and also found time for a spot of lunch in between.

If I’m honest, Kew Brewery was a disappointment, as it is housed behind an anonymous looking shop front, and was rather chaotic and haphazard in nature. By contrast,  By The Horns Brewery was very good, and we spent a pleasant afternoon sitting outside their well-fitted out brewery tap.

The days’ highlight was our pre-arranged lunchtime stop at the Express Tavern, Kew Bridge. We arrived to find the back room reserved for our party, and the tables laid out ready for dinner. The Express Tavern was also a real delight to the eye. The character of this lovely old Victorian building has been maintained, and original features such as the old fireplace and bar counter have been kept.  

North Downs Way
I spent a couple of days walking two sections of the North Downs Way long-distance footpath, with three friends. The walks took place on consecutive weekends at the end of June, and we were blessed with fine weather; particularly on the first walk.

We enjoyed some contrasting scenery, ranging from open downland to dense woodland, and everything in between, as we followed the route along the Stour Valley between Wye and Chartham on the first walk, and then south across more open countryside from Shepherswell towards Dover, and the finish of this long distance footpath.

There were, of course, several good pubs along the way, and also a small beer festival, in Wye, at the end of the first walk. For one of my companions, us reaching Dover marked the completion, for him, of the 130 mile trail. Having completed the South Downs Way, eight years previously, I have now been inspired to have a go at the North Downs Way. As a prelude, I received a booklet of OS Maps in my Christmas stocking, outlining the trail from Farnham in the west to Dover in east.

Well, that’s probably more than enough to be going on with, so let’s see what next year brings us. Whatever you are doing this evening,  have a great New Year, and I'll be back with you in 2018.

2017 - The Year in Beer - A brief overview

As many of you will know by now, I don't do "Golden Pints", as the concept is a little past its sell-by date, and can come over as rather  naff. What I do instead is take a look back over the past year and reflect on the highlights, with a particular emphasis on beer and travel. As there's quite a bit to get through, I've decided to break things down into two parts. This first one is a brief overview of 2017. The second installment will look at a few specifics.

Like 2016, last year was quite tame, and something of a mixed bag. I did manage four separate visits to Germany; one of which was an unexpected business trip, but apart from a brief stop over in Belgium to change trains, that was the extent of my foreign travel. On the home front, nights away were largely confined to trips up to Norfolk to visit my father. Unfortunately dad’s Alzheimer’s is slowly getting worse, and sadly on each visit there seems to be less and less of the father I remember and love.

At the end of each year I like to look back at what I have achieved in various areas of my life. With just three and a half years before I reach state retirement age, there is still quite a lot to accomplish before I can swap the nine to five with something different, and potentially more rewarding. Part of my strategy is to complete the outstanding work on the house and pay off the mortgage.

The latter is progressing well, and there’s been some movement on the home-improvement front, although the major bathroom refurbishment has been put on hold until the new year. The delay this is not down to the inability of the great British workman to turn up when he’s supposed to, but rather because there is far too much choice in relation to wall tiles, bathroom suites and associated fittings, and it took Mrs PBT’s and I  rather a long time to choose.

Back in February, I succumbed to pressure from my son and his friend to accompany them to Munich. This was the first of last year’s visits to Germany, although the trip was slightly against my better judgement. This was because I view the Bavarian capital as a "summer city", and considered that the cold bleak days of February would not show the city in its best light.

I was correct in that assertion, but we still had a good time, and the boys enjoyed their visit to BMW Welt. They even persuade me to join the tour of the adjacent car plant; something which took a full two hours and several kilometres on foot to accomplish. I wouldn’t have minded the later had I not already been for a lengthy walk around the nearby Olympia Park.

I was back in the Federal Republic a month later; this time to the city of Cologne, on a business trip. I had been by my boss asked to step in at the last minute to help staff the company stand at the International Dental Show (IDS). This event, which takes place every two years, is the largest dental show in the world, and is a “must attend” event for any company involved in the field of dentistry.

Unlike previous shows, where we have driven over in a hired van, this year we shipped the exhibits over in advanced and travelled across to Cologne by train. This involved taking the Eurostar service from Ebbsfleet to Brussels, and then switching onto the Thalys train, direct to Cologne. This was a fast, comfortable and very civilised way to travel, with minimum check-in times at Ebbsfleet and just a 45 minute stop-over in Brussels. What’s more, there are no limits on baggage and no restrictions on liquids either.

We didn’t see much of Cologne, as the exhibition was very busy, and there were a couple of nights where we were dining out with customers. We’d all been to Cologne before though, so that didn’t really matter, and on the plus side we picked up several new overseas customers. We managed one night at a traditional Cologne beer hall, in the shape of Früh am Dom.

The place was absolutely rammed, but our waiter found us a table right in the bowels of the building. Our Polish colleague was pleased because she had her Schnitzel and Sauerkraut fix (so did I, as it happens).  I was pleased at the chance to down a fair  few Stanges of Kölsch.

I was back in Cologne two months later, this time as part of a group of CAMRA beer enthusiasts. The trip was actually to the neighbouring Rhineland city of Düsseldorf, but we spent a day in Cologne which included lunch at Malzmühle; a Kölsch brew-pub at the far end of the Alte Markt, which I had always wanted to visit on previous trips to the city, but never quite managed it.

Our day in Cologne also saw us visiting Brauerei Sünner, a traditional brewery on the other side of the River Rhine, and one where the Kölsch style of beer is said to have originated. After a fascinating tour around the brewery, we concluded with an excellent evening meal, at the small beer garden attached to the brewery.

Düsseldorf though was the main focus of our visit, and gave us the chance to enjoy the city’s own, unique style of beer, known as Alt Bier. The latter is a top-fermented, copper-coloured beer which, apart from being served on the cold side, is quite similar to an English ale. We sampled the majority of the Alt Biers produced in Düsseldorf, and we also managed a tour around Schumacher; the city’s oldest brewery (see Part Two).

The highlight of the Düsseldorf trip was the day out we had to the nearby conurbation of Solingen and Wuppertal. After travelling by trolley-bus (remember those), from the former to the latter, we had a ride on the highly unusual, Wuppertal Suspension Railway.

Known in German as the Schwebebahn, this 110 year old Suspension Railway operates at a height of around 40 feet above the River Wupper, and runs for a distance of just over 8 miles from Vohwinkel to Oberbarmen. We took advantage of this unusual mode of transport to visit the Wuppertaler Brauhaus; a large and spacious brew-pub, which occupies a former public swimming baths. On our return journey to Solingen, we visited another brew-pub in the in the small village of  Gräfrath. (See Part Two, best beers).

And so to our family holiday, and my fourth visit to  Germany. We again visited the unspoilt medieval city of Regensburg on the River Danube, in eastern Bavaria, and like the previous year, our took place at the end of September. However, whilst we had very little in the way of rain, the temperatures were much cooler than the previous year, but it was still a nice family break, in an attractive city. If you don’t know Regensburg, I can highly recommend a visit. 

We spent the first day of our holiday in Munich, having flown in the night before. Our stay just happened to coincide with Oktoberfest; that well known fortnight's celebration of beer and all things Bavarian. (See part Two, Bucket List).

To be continued.................................

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Follow your dreams

I don’t have a bucket-list as such; you know, a list of things you'd like to do before you shuffle off this mortal coil (kick the bucket). As the wise-man said "Having a bucket list, is to have a life and utilise it fully before it's knocked off from under your feet"!

The prime reason for not having compiled a bucket list, or at least one which is fixed, is  the fact that priorities and life situations change. Visions and dreams  constantly evolve over time, and some long cherished desires, the fulfillment of which may once have seemed imperative, no longer seem as important as they once did, or indeed even necessary.

An example of this is a desire I had as an eighteen year old, in my first year of university. I had been reading a book about hidden places of the world; some might even have called the "hidden wonders". I can’t remember who the book was written by, but that’s not important. What is important was  being almost blown away  by a lengthy write-up, accompanied by a number of black and white photos, of Machu Picchu; the long abandoned, former Inca stronghold, high up in the Andes.

Martin St-Amant - Wikipedia - CC-BY-SA-3.0
Here was a place which, for centuries, had lain hidden from sight, only to be “re-discovered” sometime around the beginning of the last  century.  I remember thinking at the time how much I would love to visit this amazing citadel, which had disappeared from human knowledge for all those years. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to achieve this, but back then I had a fascination with exploration and the discovery of hidden treasures; something which dated from having read as a boy, the  novel “King Solomon’s Mines”, by H. Rider Haggard.

Years passed, and like most of us I was swept up by life’s currents and carried along the familiar path of study, work, marriage, home ownership and family. So like many others, any dreams of adventure I may have once harboured, ended up being swept out of the window, and out of my consciousness.

Machu Picchu came back onto my radar a few years ago. A work colleague had been telling me about the trek her daughter had undertaken high up in the Andes, to Machu Picchu, whilst on a trip to South America. She had returned enthusing about  this "lost citadel of the Incas", saying  how amazing the place was.

I decided to do some research of my own, and discovered there are a number of tour operators offering such treks, but I also discovered a hidden downside. My colleague had failed to mention this, perhaps her daughter hadn't told her, but the fact remains that the trail has become so popular today, that paths are wearing away, litter has become an enormous problem, and when trekkers actually get there,  they find a queuing system in place, with strict limits on the time spent amongst the remains.

Much the same is happening on Mount Everest. Who would have thought, back in the day when the mountain was first conquered, that hordes of wealthy western tourists would be queuing up to scale the peak?  Amazingly, since that day in 1953 when Hilary and Tenzing first stood on the summit of the world's tallest mountain, over 400 people have now followed in their footsteps; although despite modern equipment and survival gear, around 75 of these  people have died in their attempt to reach the summit.

We're getting slightly off piste here, so whilst I don't have a Bucket List as such, there are places and activities which I keep in the back of my mind, with the aim that one day they will surface so I can take action to bring them into reality. I have achieved many of these desires over the past few decades, and am regularly adding new ones.

Most of these desires involve visiting places which have featured on my "wish list" for quite some time, and here I am talking about trips to Prague, Munich,  Bamberg and Cesky Krumlov. Beer played an important role in the selection of these places, so it is worth looking at them in slightly more detail.

Prague 1984
Prague was the first of these locations I visited; my desire being sparked after reading Richard Boston's excellent Beer & Skittles; an account of his journey through the world of beer, brewing  and pubs. I was a student when I acquired my copy in 1975, and was enthralled reading Boston's account of his time in Prague 10 years previously. He'd been traveling by train, through Germany and Austria, before crossing into Czechoslovakia, and had only intended to spend a couple of days in Prague.

Stunned by the quality, and cheapness of the beer, and enthralled by the architecture and setting of the city, he ended up staying a week, in his words "Going from place to place drinking this wonderful beer and feeling more and more like the Good Soldier Svejk".

Prague 2015
With a recommendation like that, how could I also not wish to emulate him, and fortunately my chance came just nine years later when some friends and I booked a place on a trip, organised by CAMRA Travel, to Pilsen and Prague. I have written about this trip on a couple of previous occasions, so I won't go into detail, apart from saying how lucky I was to have experienced this golden city, in its pre-Velvet Revolution, communist days.

I have been back to Prague several times, since the collapse of communism and whilst life, living standards and facilities have obviously improved by several orders of magnitude for its citizens, there was something about that first visit when the beer, the architecture and the people stood out amongst the dull, grey mediocrity of life under a totalitarian regime.

I was inspired to visit Munich after reading the Good Beer Guide to Munich & Bavaria, published by CAMRA in 1994, and researched and written by Graham Lees. Lees was one of the four founding members of CAMRA, and after living and working in Munich for several years, had decided to write this pioneering guide. It was dedicated to "All who appreciate good beer, regardless of borders"; something which rings very true with those of us appalled at the direction our government is taking us in.

I had to wait 11 years before my chance to visit the Bavarian capital came about, but I was not disappointed at what I found. Graham Lees's publication still proved its worth in guiding  me to some of the best pubs and bars in Munich, as well as some of the best beers the city had to offer.  I also found time on that initial 3 day visit  to takes  trips out to  Kloster Andechs and Weihenstephan; the first a location where the monks still brew beer, and the second  a place which started life as a monastic brewery, and which now claims to be the "oldest brewery in the world".

I have returned to Munich many times, since that initial visit in 2005, and on my most recent trip, just a few months ago, I was able to fulfill another long-standing desire; namely visiting the world famous Oktoberfest for the first time. I even took the family with me!

I first became aware of the beautiful baroque city of Bamberg, and its famous "smoke  beer", whilst on the coach traveling back from that CAMRA trip to Prague. A couple of obvious beer enthusiasts, sitting in the seat in front of me, started talking about the city and its beer as we sped  along the Autobahn, past the turn-off to Bamberg.

I'd been vaguely aware of "smoke beer" after flicking through the pages of Michael Jackson's "World Guide to Beer", published in 1977, but it was Michael's' ground-breaking TV series, "The Beer Hunter", which really inspired me to visit Bamberg.

My chance came in late December 2007, after spotting an ad in one of the local free newspapers. A travel firm were running a coach trip to Franconia, taking in Nuremberg and its world famous Christmas market, but also including a visit to Bamberg. I paid my money and embarked on the trip.

As it happened the itinerary only allowed for a morning in Bamberg itself, but as soon as the coach dropped us off, I made a beeline for the renowned Aecht Schlenkerla tavern,  in the heart of the old city, and managed to drink my fill of its famous Rauchbier, dispensed from a wooden cask, whist chatting to a visitor from Coburg, about our shared royal-family connections. I also brought back with me a 5 litre keg, plus as many bottles as I could carry.
I spent a much more leisurely visit to the city, two and a half years later, when my son and spent a week in Bamberg, during what must have been one of the hottest July's on record. This was followed by a return visit in December of the same year (2010), where the snowfall was one of the heaviest the city had experienced in years, and the temperatures were well below freezing.

Finally we come to the wonderful southern Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov, and once again I have Graham Lees to thank for inspiring me to visit this lovely old town in its stunning setting on the Vltava River.

Not content with his guide to Munich and Bavaria, Graham brought out a second guide in 1996; this time a Guide to Prague & the Czech Republic. Whilst providing an invaluable guide to what was then a country only recently freed from the shackles of communism,  Lees uses the publication to express his concerns that in the rush to modernise their brewing industry, after decades of stagnation under socialism, the Czechs were in real danger of losing the very qualities which made their breweries, their beer and their pubs so special.

Whilst these concerns are outside the immediate scope of this post, they were still very real, and the danger was that the Czechs would repeat the same mistakes made by the British brewing industry, 30 years previously (big name brands, pressurised beer, dilution of choice etc). More to the point were some of the places the author recommend readers to visit.

Chief of these as far as I was concerned was Cesky Krumlov. Lees described this small, southern Bohemian town as a "Time-warped, medieval beauty, built in a tight loop of the River Vltava". He went on to say that "It's as though some witch had cast a Sleeping  Beauty-like spell over the entire edifice. But the spell is now wearing off, and the more tourists who "discover" it, the more it will change".

Many tourist had of course, "discovered" it during the 20 years since those words were written and the visit of my son and I, two years ago. Cesky Krumlov is still well worth seeing. It's massive castle, overlooking the river, is the second largest in the country, after Prague, and the old town is still a maze of twisting, narrow streets, virtually unchanged since medieval times.

There are hordes of mainly Chinese tourists, complete with their  selfie-sticks, but they tend to gravitate around the castle and the old town square, and can normally be easily avoided. However, do go soon, before the town becomes too gentrified!

Visiting  the USA also featured highly on my list of places to visit, and I achieved this desire back in 2008, when I spent 10 days staying with my sister and her American husband. I haven't finished with North America though, as another desire is to undertake a "trans-continental railroad trip" across the USA, from the Atlantic coast in the east to the Pacific in the west.

Another long-distance rail trip would be to follow in the footsteps of an old friend and journey  right across Russia, on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and I'm sure given the time and the money, I could come up with quite a few more.

This is probably as good a place as any to end, and I would like to think I have inspired  you  to follow your dreams. As Mark Twain said, "Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover". And if you do  decide to draw up a bucket list, remember "You created it to hold yourself accountable for what you wanted to do in life".

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

"Well, you wouldn't want a warm beer would you?"

Strange as it may seem, one of the drivers behind my selection of beers this Christmas, or at least the order in which the beers were drunk, has been available fridge space. This may seem a little strange, especially where ales are concerned, as surely top-fermented beers are not supposed to be served cold? Perhaps not, but as those vintage Foster's ads famously said, "Well, you wouldn't want a warm beer would you?".

The temperature at which English ale was traditionally served was a long standing source of both amusement and frustration to visitors to these shores. With most of the world used to lager-style beers, traditionally served at significantly lower temperatures than the "cellar temperatures" normal in these islands, it is perhaps easy to understand why tourists would be tempted to complain.

Times change of course, and as Brits began to travel more, and developed a taste for "bottom-fermented beers", they too acquired a taste for cooler beers and started to demand them when they returned  home.

We're all familiar with the rise of lager in the British Isles, from a beer enjoyed by a tiny minority during the early 1960's, to the most popular style of beer a couple of decades later. The rise in lager's popularity was said to have been helped by a series of particularly hot summers, when a cold beer would have been especially welcome, and lager, of course, is always served chilled.

It was probably around this time that a feature known as the "cold shelf" first appeared behind the bars of many UK pubs. This was a refrigerated shelf used to keep bottles cool. Such shelves were commonplace for a while, but were eventually superseded by the chill cabinets and glass-fronted coolers which are such a feature of pubs today.

The growing popularity of chilled bottled beers was mirrored by the use of chillers for the dispense of keg-type beers, and of course lagers. Cask-beer (real ale ) on the other hand, had none of this and devotees had to make do with a pint served at "cellar temperature". This was fine during the cooler months of the year, but during the summer a warm and, by association, insipid  pint was often the order of the day.

A number of solutions  to this problem were found, starting with chiller units for pub cellars. These were heat-exchangers, similar to air-conditioning units, which control the temperature, and often the humidity in the cellar. Cellar cooling was a great step forward and resulted in a huge improvement in the keeping qualities of cask beer. The resultant lower temperature at which the beer was served, was also welcomed by many customers; but not all.

There were rumblings from within CAMRA that "real ale" was being served at too cool a temperature. The low temperatures were masking the subtle flavours associated with cask beer, resulting in a pint which was bland and tasteless. This may have been true to a point, but was probably due to licensees being over-zealous with the cellar thermostat, rather than inherent problems with the system itself.

Over-chilled cask ale was a problem long before cellar-cooling was ever heard of, and I can remember the “joys” of drinking  beer in the middle of several particularly harsh winters.  The pints served in some pubs were nearly as cold as the ice and snow outside, and certainly rattled ones teeth! One Tonbridge pub of my acquaintance,  famously took to giving customer’s pints a quick 30 second zap in the microwave, in order to restore the beer to a more palatable temperature.

These days, many pubs serve beer which is chilled at the point of dispense, and providing the temperature is properly regulated, this is to be welcomed. Another positive development is the use of beer lines with a narrow bore, as it means there is less beer sitting in the lines between sessions, and less chance of this beer becoming warm. The introduction of beer-engines with a quarter of a pint pull, again lowers the chance of customers being served a warm pint.

The main consequence of all this is customers have gradually become use to a cooler pint, and I am no exception. Years ago I wouldn't have dreamt of sticking a bottle of ale in the fridge for any length of time,  whereas nowadays I much prefer my bitters and pale ales to be chilled, in the same manner as a lager. I even prefer darker beers, such as porters and stouts to be served cool; but it is important here to distinguish between cool and chilled (cold).

There are various guidelines and recommendations to the best temperatures for the dispense of different styles of beer. The ones I have reproduced below are from the US, so they may appear a little on the cool side:

Mass market lagers  24°C; Czech and German Pilsners, Bavarian  Helles, wheat beers, Kölsch. 4–7°C;  IPAs, American pale ales, porters, and most stouts 7–10°C; Belgian ales, sour ales, Bocks, English bitters and milds 10–13°C.

In order to experience all the aromas and tastes that the brewer has carefully crafted into the beer, cask ale does need to be dispensed at the correct temperature. If the beer is too warm unpleasant and unplanned aromas will be given off, too cold and the clean, fresh, vibrant tastes will be lost.

Cask Marque and most brewers, recommend between 11 – 13°C, with the former organisation working to a range of 10-14°C, when carrying out its inspections;  thereby allowing a little leeway.
Even lagers should not be served too cold, and despite the appeal of an ice cold beer, lager should actually be served at a warmer temperature than you might imagine.

Pilsner Urquell, for example, recommend serving their classic “original” Pilsner at 7 - 8°C, and I have seen this temperature displayed on a monitor, in the enormous beer-hall, beneath the brewery, in Pilsen.

There may be a reason then for mass market lagers being served at just 24°C, and that reason is to disguise their lack of taste. So were the Foster's ads correct, or were they just trying to put across the macho Australian image typically associated with the beer?

Intriguingly the answer is both yes and no; as whilst no-one in their right mind would want a warm beer, one which is cold enough to set your teeth on edge is equally undesirable. As we have seen, the temperature at which beer is served is very much style dependent and whilst good pubs and bars know this, and use it to their customer’s advantage, there are plenty who unfortunately do not. 

If this is the case, perhaps more of us should carry a digital thermometer around with us; as one well-known beer blogger is reported as doing!!