“People have become disillusioned with bland, uninteresting beer,”

That is the thought of James Watt, one of the co-founders of the BrewDog brewery.  I agree with him on principal, but I think he is taking the argument too far when he states “this could be applied to 95 per cent of the country’s cask ale products as well the cold, fizzy, tasteless beers produced by the large national brewers”.  There are many good interesting lower strength cask beers out there and I’ve sampled a lot of them over the years.  BrewDog beers are generally quite strong in taste and / or strength, and have a distinctive flavour, so in comparison this may be true in quite a few cases, but it doesn’t make the others any lesser a beer.

Some of this is purely marketing bluster as well, something they are well known for.  However he makes a very good point that large breweries do not need to make less interesting beers as is generally the case with the brand name national groups here.  Another of my favourite beers is from Sierra Nevada brewery in the USA, and it’s this example he cites.  It’s background is as a craft beer maker and the same recipe is still used today for the signature Pale Ale (gold medal winner at the Brewing Industry International Awards this week) despite them being the 4th largest brewer in the US.  Its other brews which you occasionally get over here also have a lot of flavour and depth and are worth searching out.  Its Celebration Ale also won a gold medal at the same awards, which testifies to the experts opinion on their beers overall.

Depth is something which the “Government’s Responsibility Deal on Alcohol” panel could do with.  Among its main members, 90% are drinks companies, groups or trade bodies, with the charitable members generally funded by the trade as well.  The health interests hardly get a look in.  So it is no surprise when the outcome of the consultation is likely to be soft on the trade.   Then again the original proposals were somewhat watery in the first place.  It was found that the new minimum price guidelines would have affected 1 in 3600 supermarket promotions.  Other measures announced are to be downgraded to pledges, mainly about informing the customer about the amount they are drinking.

All of which will make not one difference to most responsible drinkers, the new taxes on high strength beers won’t affect them, they know what they consume so the increased unit labelling will be pointless and the beer they buy in the shops isn’t cheap enough to fall under the minimum price level.  Those irresponsible drinkers and alcoholics won’t care about this either and thus leave them untouched as well.  So who benefits from all this activity, apart from the paid experts, nobody. If you are a non drinker, your taxes still paid for it, if you are a politician you look silly and if you are a brewer you’ve just incurred a bill for a few hundred quid for a graphic designer to put a unit symbol on the labels and beermats.

A large brewer who does make interesting beers is Thwaites. I mentioned the 13 special brews for 2011 a few weeks ago.  However it’s their regular brews which have impressed international judges enough for them to walk away with two gold medals among others at the Brewing Industry International Awards I mentioned earlier.  The winners were Thwaites Smooth and Wainwright, both of which I have featured here previously.  The Smooth would be a good “regular pump” for any pub and the Wainwright regularly finds its way into my weekly shop.

5 other UK beers also won gold medals, and in total 40 out of 86 medals went to native brews.  The gold medal winners were Moorhouses Black Cat, Everards Tiger Best Bitter, Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, Joseph Holt Crystal Lager and Marston’s Manns Brown Ale.  The first two I have tasted and are decent beers, but not outstanding in my opinion however.  Other Gold Medals of note are Asahi Super Dry, a very dry crisp beer originally from Japan (made under license in UK now) which I recommend you try.

It is good to see that so many UK beers are doing well at the international level, and across the board nobody came close to us in the overall number of medals.  However it only confirms what we already know and that is that we in the UK have one of the best and most varied selection of great beers available to us and we should be proud of that fact.