A while ago, I attended a Nottingham CAMRA branch meeting where Rod White, of Nottingham University, presented on that very topic. Rod summarised that, the beer should be brewed true to type, be free of faults, balanced and contain that moreishness quality that keeps you going back for another sip. I agree, an English Best Bitter should look and taste like an English Best Bitter – there are plenty of guidelines for brewers to follow for every defined style of beer. And of course, no beer should ever be released from a brewery if it contains faults. Balance is about the perfect amounts of sweetness, bitterness coming from both the malt and the hops. But that last bit – moreishness – how do we create that?
I’d go one step further - I recall a time in the Cotswolds when visiting the Crown & Trumpet Inn and bought a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Always a favourite, this particular pint was in perfect condition and it transformed me back in time to the early 1990’s, when I used to share a pint of Landlord with my late father every Wednesday in the George and Dragon in Chester where we both lived. That single sip had the effect of a time machine – it brought back the fondest of memories and a tear to my eye I can tell you!
I think beer is a fully sensory experience – the sight of it, perfectly poured and topped with a tight, smooth creamy head, its’ aroma as you bring it close to your mouth for that first sip and the initial taste all combine to create a first impression of the beer. But I think there’s even more to it than that – have you ever had an initial sip of a beer, that didn’t seem that special, but by the time you got halfway down the glass you felt it was the best beer of the evening? For me, Coniston Brewery’s Bluebird Bitter is a great example of this – it seemed underwhelming on the first sip, but by the end of the first pint I wanted many more.
The challenge facing brewers today is the constant demand for newness from drinkers and publicans. We churn out new beers to keep up with the desire for ‘something different’ on the bar. We don’t often get the opportunity to refine a recipe to make it better and we don’t have any formal ways of receiving feedback from the general public. Sure, there’s Untappd, a social media platform for beer drinkers – but it’s a niche view of the few who use it and often is based on just the first sip.
So I’ve an idea – would you like to join me on a formal tasting panel of a beer that we’ll all create together? Starting in January with a brand new recipe, we’ll be looking for a group of people who will give feedback on the beer we brew. You don’t need to be a beer expert, but you should be confident to describe what you like or don’t like about the aromas and flavours. The panel will take place in the evening’s mid-week; timings and days to be confirmed once we have the volunteers.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest and together let’s find out what makes a good beer great!