How to make cheap wine taste like chateauneuf du pape

ineyard and andy hamilton

Make us a drink Andy

Before I get nasty emails from French lawyers (Like I did off the Champagne lawyers for elderflower champagne),  the only way you can actually make Chateauneuf du pape is to grow grapes in the Chateauneuf du pape commune. Cheap wine will always be cheap wine, but you can make cheap wine staste better.

This technique will help lift a wine, not a mid-range wine, that should taste ok by itself, but a cheap wine. A wine that might even taste better coming up than it did going down. The sort of wine you may have drunk at a teenager or in your early twenties as it was the cheapest and strongest thing you could get your hands on. The sort of wine that you might now turn your nose up at, unless you have already had a few glasses.

If you need to impress but are skint, or if you are simply tight with your money then please read on.

How to make cheap wine taste expensive

The main thing to make cheap wine taste expensive is to give it a story when we think that something is going to be delicious our mouth will react and we will start to salivate. In that saliva is a chemical that coats our tounges and will actually make things taste superior. Presentation is also key, as a little experiment pour the same wine into two containers, a crystal wine glass, and a jam jar. Give it to your partner, mum, friend, dog and then get them to decided which one is the tastier wine.  I assure you that most (apart from collies who love a good jarred wine), will favour the wine in a glass.

The setting can also make a difference if you have every gone into a pub or an off-licence in search of the Greek Lager, that French plonk or that obscure spirit and have been offered something that you swear isn’t the same then you are not alone. A recent study suggests that subtle changes in light, the music playing and of course your mood will all affect how the wine tastes.

Do please hunt out my youtube channel where you will find a bunch of other booze experiments. Such as how to how to make buckfast,  how to make foraged gin, how to make edible shot glasses or stay right here to find the best tip to make perfect sloe gin and other liqueurs.

I’ve also been experimenting with barrel aging and can simulate barrel aging in days rather than years. This means I can make whisky in 10 days, rioca in weeks and Olde Jenever in a week. Should I share the secret?

Golden ales from Kits

Golden Ales from kits

Summer ales from kits

A glass of summer ale

It might not yet be summer, indeed as I write it’s not even spring and yet and yet, I’m starting to think about what I want to drink during the summer months. I’m sure I am not the only one either.

For those new to brewing and worried about what to brew with a kit, don’t fret, help is at hand and here is run down of some golden ale kits to help get the summer drinking off to a good start.

The following is an extract from Brewing Britain.

St Peters Golden Ale

The St Peter’s kits can be a little hit and miss, but the Golden Ale kit is by far one of the best that they make. Unlike a lot of kits, you really don’t have to tinker with it to make a decent pint either, although as with most instructions it is still a little optimistic with the time. I’d wait at least a month before drinking it.

It’s a two extract tin kit. The kit contains two tins of extract, which brings it into the premium kit range, but it can often be found on offer and you don’t have to buy any extras like spray malt or brewing sugar. The hops provided in a sachet add a smooth, floral spice ideal for a Golden Ale quaffed in the summer months. The other bonus of this kit is that the beer it emulates is readily available in bottles, so you can at least try it before you brew it and work out for yourself if it is worth the effort for yourself!

As with most kits the yeast provided (I believe) is muntons gold will have many kit beers tasting the same. When making a golden ale, Chris white from White labs suggest using WLP080 Cream Ale Yeast Blend or a kolsch yeast instead.

Festival Golden Stag Summer Ale

This is at the very high-end of the kit market, but it is worth it. The difference here, especially compared to some of the one-tin kits, is immense. Hop pellets are supplied for dry-hopping, along with a hop-straining bag, a bag of dextrose, two bags of liquid malt extract, priming sugar, and the yeast provided is a specially selected strain rather than (as was) a generic and nondescript ‘Ale’ yeast. The use of Cascade and Columbus hops means that you get a real hit of fruit. Expect grapefruit, herbal and earthy flavours to come through.

Coopers Canadian Blonde and Black Rock Pilsner Blonde

Both these Blonde kit beers that are worth a brew day, and both are from Oceania. Coopers Canadian Blonde and Black Rock Pilsner Blonde from New Zealand. Each will benefit from an addition of 500g of spray malt. Blonde being a Belgium Belgian style, an addition of some Belgium Belgian hops will certainly add something to the final product. In this case I’d suggest a dry-hop addition of 25g Saaz after the beer has been fermenting for 12 days – unless your beer is fermenting very slowly, as dry hops shouldn’t be added for longer than a week. If using the yeast provided you may have to be patient, as it is known to be sluggish.

See St Peters golden ale above for other yeast suggestions.

What were we drinking in 1935 and 1915

What were we drinking 1935 and 1915?

Continuing the countdown to the magna carta was signed I’m looking at 800 years of boozing. So What were we drinking in 1935 and 1915?

1935 The Bellini

Drunkenness of Noah bellini

Pissed up Noah by Bellini

When in 1931 Giuseppe Cipriani was given 50,000 lire ($25,000) for a drink he soon put it to good use and opened Harry’s Bar in Venice. The money was a thank you gift from Harry Pikering, a wealthy Bostonian, whom Giuseppe had loaned 10,000 lire to two years previously. Hence, Harry’s bar a place that was to be frequented by the likes of Hemmingway, Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Wells and my girlfriend.

It was here, at Harry’s bar, during a long drinking session with Harry Pikering that peach puree and Prosecco was first drunk. Of course if ever you drink a Bellini you’ll be struck just how much the colour looks like the pink/orange colours favoured by the renaissance artist Giovanni Bellini. Indeed, I think that Giuseppe was having a sly dig at the church with this drink as there is a painting called the drunkenness of Noah where a passed out Noah is barely wearing a Bellini coloured toga.

The Bellini

2 ripe peaches


Puree the peaches until smooth, best done in a blender if you have one. Spoon your mixture to fill a third of a champagne flute and top up with Prosecco.


If you were a German living in 1935 you may have been drinking Jagermeister as during this year if was first marketed to the German people. As with many digestives Jagermeister was initially invented as a health drink. It’s inventor Wilhlem Mast. Wilhelm reported that it helped digestion and could be used to treat coughs and colds. Some of it’s known herbal ingredients, such as ginger and chamomile do indeed aid digestion and the liquorice will help sort out a sore throat. Which means that next time you are downing Jager bombs at 4am wearing nothing but a sock you can be rest assured that you are being kind to your body.

1915 – French 75 Cocktail invented

It being wartime in Europe the French 75 cocktail has a wartime link, it is said it has such a kick it is like being shot by a French 75mm machine gun. Talking of big guns, two of the big guns in the cocktail world differ their opinion on the base spirit of a French 75. David Embury who wrote the seminal Fine art of Mixing drinks states Congac whilst the highly respected Savoy Cocktail book state gin. Both work in my opinion, so – Vive la différence.


1 part Lemon Juice
1 part Simple syrup
2 parts Gin or Congac
6 Parts Champagne
Lemon twist

Pour the Lemon Juice, simple Syrup and gin into an ice filled shaker, shake vigorously. Strain into a champagne flute and top up with Champagne. Garnish with a twist of Lemon.

Little or no booze in the UK

1915 was a crap year for booze jockeys, Russia had prohibited Vodka, Absinthe was banned in France and well-known kill joy and then prime minister David Lloyd George was waging war on booze in Britain.

DLG and co

David Lloyd George and his mates not talking as there isn’t any booze to get the conversation going

Prime minister David (it’s in the name you see), really was the Beeching of the pub, it was him that really started the rot of the boozer and not the smoking ban. Dave continued with a series of bitter blows to aimed at the pub and drinkers. Not content with sending off the men who drank in the pubs to their certain death he curtailed drinking hours, instead of pubs being allowed to open from 5am to Midnight they were only allowed to open for a maximum of 6 hours a day.

He continued his onslaught of fun, giving a speech in March 1915 stating, “We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink; and as far as I can see, the greatest of these deadly foes is drink”. On a propaganda war of his own he even convinced the King to give up the booze. It was a sad state of affairs pubs closing at 9pm in many places and people getting arrested for public drunkenness.

Prime minister party pooper David continued throughout the war and raised the tax on spirits, then in 1916 he made it illegal to buy your round. You were not even allowed to lend someone some money to get a beer in, run up a slate or pull a beer that was even a smidgen over a pint. If you did you’d be fined £100 (about £10,000/$15,000 in today’s money) and 6 months hard labour.

Perhaps Britain did have a drinking problem at the time which needed to be addressed. But the problems had more to do with condemning a generation to live with the horrors of war.

Magna Carta of Booze – Pt 1 Booze predictions for 2015

Magna Carta of Booze – Booze predictions for 2015

not the magna carta

I don’t have a picture of the magna carta a but here is me pretending to read in an old building

The Magna Carta was signed on the 19th June 1215, which is now just 20 weeks away. I’ve decided to go back in time in 20ish year (or there about) increments in search of the alcoholic drinks that were invented during that time period and/or what we were drinking.

Next week I’ll take at look at what we were drinking in 1995, 1975 and 1955.

But for now, charge your glasses, curl up and let me look into my crystal decanter and I’ll tell you the future of booze as I see it.

2015 – A Crafty Year

I write in January so my account of  this year will differ from the other years I will cover, as it is more speculation than history. If you are reading this in the future then this is history. So, please let me know if you think. Was wrong or right?

Craft, Craft, Craft – The trend of craft beer, cocktails and gin continues. Although some might argue that Gin has reached saturation point. I don’t, how much is too much gin?

Gin predictions for 2015

homemade gin

Some gin made in my back garden

Hyperlocaliszed distilling means that here in the UK many of us have a local gin distillery. Two of my favourites close to my Bristol home are the Juniper forward 46% Cotswold dry gin and the experimental seasonal gins from Psychopomp.

Six O’clock gin, Sipsmith, The Botanist and Whitley Neil are all stand out gins too. Being championed by bartenders and cocktail lovers alike. Sales of these gins should continue to rise over the coming year.

I’m not sure how long the trend will continue, it does seem like the gin craze might be a fad. I see it as gateway booze. A gateway into a world of new flavours created by master distillers.  I suspect that the forward thinking distillers will already have new spirits in development. Many already are increasing their range. We live in exciting times if you like booze.

Beer predictions for 2015

Craft beer sales and appreciation of a decent pint will continue to rise. Expect many flagging pubs to get the craft beer overhaul. Distressed wood, 24 beers on tap and stonebaked pizzas are here to stay, at least for the time being. Although, the writing is on the wall for facial hair, trousers that show your arse and woolly hats. There may even be a decline in overly hopped beers as punters just get a little bored of the same old shite.

The experimental path will continue though and expect style fusion, stronger (imperial) versions of everything along with herbal non-hopped beers encroaching on the market. I could even see malt forward beers such as milds growing in popularity, but in our image conscious market place perhaps under a different name.

My STOUT – This year I’ll be releasing 500 bottles of an 8% stout made with wormwood and based on an ancient recipe for Purl. If you are interesting in buying a bottle then do get in touch.

In my last book Brewing Britain, I predicted that Saisons will be huge here in the UK perhaps even replacing lager. I may have been a little enthusiastic about that I still think that their popularity will grow. Although, lager drinkers may move to craft lager before they enjoy a good Saison.

Cocktail and spirit predictions for 2015

Every avenue of cocktail making is being explored a trend that will continue. Bartenders, the industry and punters are all looking for something new but what’s left? Trends that are emerging here in the UK include aging cocktails and my favourite is a Bordeaux Barrel aged Negroni from the World of Zing. Foraged cocktails and molecular mixology (for want of a better name) will also continue their rise in popularity. Drinks like the  Elderflower Tom Collins  that are simple to make and use wild ingredients will certainly be popular.

I also hope there will be a backlash against the rise of the robot bartenders that many of the big cruise ships are using. The backlash will force bartenders to become more innovative and handmade ingredients will flourish. From homemade bitters, syrups and tonics even to home made digestives and aperitifs. Some of which will break into the commercial market. I suspect there will be a few very interesting foraged spirits coming onto the market.


How to open beer without an opener

Owen Mead with a big beer

Thanks for opening my beer

The smoking ban is suposed to have had a huge impact on the amount we drink. Perhaps it has but not for the reasons that many of us think. When you smoke you have a lighter on you at all times. It was a sacred item when needed but they would also readly change hands as one of the most stolen items in a pub. Despite this fact it was always easy to come but far from just lighting fags (ciggarettes, spot singgering Americans), it could be used to open beer bottles. No smoking means no lighers, no lighers means no beer.

What do we use in a world that no longer has lighters? There are a few methods that will help open a beer. In this video I’ll show you three methods that do work and that use items that most parties will be furnished with namely,  more beer, some paper and a tea towel.

How to open beer without an Opener

Methods to avoid when opening beer

Other methods to open beer that I’ve found don’t work amazingly well include using your teeth. I’ve witnessed someone opening a bottle of beer with their teeth. Followed by a whole load of blood and a rather expensive dentist bill. I’ve also tried prizing the top off on a brick wall. I ended up with a shattered top of a bottle. Once I saw a very drunk person with a huge carving knife trying to prize the top off a beer without much success. That ended badly too.



THE track used in the opening beer bottles video is entitled “beer” and was C0-written and performed by Max Milton and produced by me.


Andy Hamilton’s Boozy Christmas present ideas

Andy Hamilton drinking

Bottoms up

It’s that time of year again, shopkeepers are bracing themselves for a buying frenzy, Amazon have upped their bandwidth, authors are writing top 10 blogs and the North Pole is buzzing as the elves wrap up a colossal amount of presents. But what do you get the lush in the family? The person who is only happy when your gift is at least 40% ABV.

Here are a few of my ideas to help you get the right boozy gifts this Christmas. If I get a chance I’ll do more of a brewer’s gift ideas soon too.

Boozy Christmas present ideas – THE LIST for 2014

1. One of my wild Booze walks – Yes of course I’m going to mention my own walks. But right now and up until 20th December 2014, I’m offering Wild Booze walks and a signed copy of either Brewing Britain or Booze for Free delivered to your door* for just £24. (fill the form below to order). Of course if you have my books already you can still book on for just £15. Gift Vouchers are available.

*uk Only. I can post further afield but just let me know.

2. A crate of Christmas Beer –  Beer ritz (in Leeds) is my go to place whenever I buy beer online. The selection is always top notch. There are some champion breweries in this batch of 12 Christmas beers and who could resist an 11.2% beer called insanely Bad elf! Now that in itself is a great Boozy Christmas present idea!

3. Boozy Books – Plenty to choose from here. The highlights I’ve read this year include,

the wet and the dry

A cracking read

American Sour Beers, Michael Tonsmeire – A book for the ultra-geek brewer who’s read everything else. meticulously written and well researched.
The Wet and the Dry – A drinkers Journey. Lawrence Osborne. An entertaining and ridiculously well written boozy travelogue
Craft Cocktails at Home – Kevin Liu – A great book that will keep the experimental cocktail maker busy all year
Brewing Britain and Booze for Free – Andy Hamilton – Simply two of the best books ever written. personally dedicated/Signed copies available, £10 each + £2.80 postage and packing. Fill in the contact me form below.

4. An CO2 NO2 infuser  – More on this later. But a great new toy, perfect for the cocktail maker.

Boozy Christmas present ideas – The HINT!

5. Wine tasting course – I hope that my Mum is reading this as this is what I want for Christmas. As for everyone else, perhaps see you there?

Sloe gin hamper

Sloe gin hamper

6. Sloe Gin and all the trimmings – Don’t worry if you only want to drink Sloe gin and not make it. The multi-award winning Heavenly hedgerows do a great little hamper container Sloe Gin and Bramble Vodka, West Country Honey and a jam/jelly of your choice. They are very environmentally conscious too!

7. A big old bottle of posh whiskey – I asked my friends over at Independent spirit of Bath what they’d like and this beauty was their reply.  Wemysee Malts Whisky is Made from vatted malt and aged in, “heavily Sherried barrels”.  (I’ll wait to see what they get me first).

8. A big old bottle of posh Gin – My favorites include the local (Bristol UK) Psychopomp season gins, 6 O’clock gin and of course the Gin made with foraged ingredients from Islay – The Botanist. (Hint, Hint Independent Spirit of Bath).

Roberto Bava - making a martini

My mate Roberto Bava – making a martini

9. Vermouth – This year I became a convert to Vermouth. I can’t get enough of the stuff. If you live in Bristol the check out the Ethecurian’s foraged “The Collector Vermouth” (if you can find a bottle, only 1000 have been made). For those in the rest of the world, try Cocchi’s  Vermouth di Torinio made using a recipe from 1891! A vermouth that is perfect in a Negroni.

Boozy Christmas present ideas – for 2015

10. Sonic Decanter-Early days yet with this one. It doesn’t even ship until May 2015. But it is going to turn the wine industry on its head. Apparently it can age a wine in just 20 minutes. I can’t wait to have a go and if I sell enough books, I think this will be my present to myself! I wonder if it works on strong beers too?

Beer and beard matching – Mo-vembeer(d) – Does your beer match your beard?

Beer and beard matching – Mo-vem-beer-d –  The traditional beards. (a collaborative post with Paul Fishman)

Beer and beard matching

What a beard!

My first local was in Northampton a small market town in the centre of England. A pub called the Racehorse Inn. Back then it was a place that Goths, Trendies, Hippies and a whole manner of people would happily drink side by side. One of the most famous drinkers at that time was a fella called Alan Moore. At the time I didn’t really know who he was, I knew he knew the score, but I was unaware that he was such a well known writer. I might not have been in awe of his work (as I am a little now) I was, however, in awe of his beard. He’d sup his beer with one hand and stroke his beard with the other. A perfect union of man beer and beard.

I remain in awe of his beard. Indeed, I remain in awe of anyone who is not just able to grow a beard, but who is willing to go through the intensely itchy stages of having a beard. To put up with getting beer, milk and a whole manner of food caught in it. This post is not to mock people with beards but to raise a glass to them.

For this post I am working with fellow booze writer Paul Fishman – he is concentrating on the less traditional beards. We were talking about food and beer matches and somehow got onto beard and beer matching. Perfect to celebrate the start of Movember we thought. Here are some of our friends and what we think their beard says about their drinking habits.

 Beer and Beard Matching – Beard one – The Full Chin Beard

beer and beard matching

Spud and the full chin beard

Here is Spud. He is very proud of his full chin beard, so much so that he has decided to wear a fluorescent jacket in order to reflect as much light as possible onto the bearded area. This man loves his beard.

The top whiskers are crying out for something lightly coloured and creamy to hang off them. To become like a walrus. The sides of the beard have been tailored, perfect mutton chops ride up the side of the face. This is a classy beard and deserves a classic pint.

I’d suggest a Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout. The cut of the beard pairs perfectly with the stone square fermentation tanks used by Samuel Smiths. The creamy head will hang perfectly off the top whiskers and the beer a proud Yorkshire pint. It is also vegan, like spud.

Full Chin beard beer match -Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout

Beer and Beard Matching – Beard two – The trimmed beard

Beer and beard matching

Dennis and the trimmed beard

Dennis is supporting another traditional beard. He has used clippers to ensure an even spread of hair across his face.

There are some patches of grey in Dennis’s beard that highlight a dark moustache area. The mix of the moustache and the cap could distract and suggest that Dennis would prefer a cold lager above all else. It is veering towards a trailer park look. Yet the image is saved by the proud intensity in his eyes and the perfectly fitting t-shirt. He is rugged and outdoors with a touch of cosmopolitan. This is a practical beard, kept for the minimal amount of shaving and perfect amount of warmth.

He needs a beard that matches these attributes; something warm would indicate something strong in ABV. But nothing too fancy, this has to be a practical beer.  It is then a perfect match for a Fullers ESB. A full bodied, no nonsense ale.

 Beer and Beard Matching Beard three – The Goatee

Beer and Beard matching

The classic goatie beard

Nic’s beard, the goatee dates back to ancient Rome and famous goatee wearers included Abraham Lincoln. It was until it’s 1990 reincarnation that the moustache goatee was born.

It is a half-way style, not quite a full beard, a bit more than a moustache. It deserves some kind of “mash up” style of beer as a result.

In Japan, hipsters are much more likely to have a smaller goatee, indeed many favour the old style Lincoln goatee. A Japanese mash up style is then the order of the day.  The Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale from the Kiuchi Brewery is the perfect choice. Not quite a sake, not quite and ale, earthy and raspberry all at once.

Beer and Beard Matching Beard Four – Unshaven or the Noel Edmonds?

Beer and beard matching

Down but not out

Paul’s beard is an oddity, it’s not quite a beard. Just as Noel Edmonds, its most famed wearer, is not quite a entertainer. Caught between lazy unshaveness and a real desire to be bearded Paul‘s face instead looks confused and unkempt. Granted it’s not helped by the resigned, sullen look held on his face, the sunkeness of many an ill-advised night turning into a regretful morning and the sad anger in his eyes.

For these reasons I match this beard with a warm can of Carlsberg Special Brew. The beer that has been helping the troubled rid themselves of thoughts for over 60 years now.

To see Paul’s choices of beards visit his excellent blog a rare and curious mix of drinking, musings and the occasional whip of dry wit, it is always rather good.

What is Craft Beer?

What is Craft beer?

Andy Hamilton "cheers"

Andy Hamilton “cheers”

A wise wag once told me that real ale is made with four ingredients and craft beer is made with six. Real ale is made with water, hops, malt and yeast and craft beer has two extra ingredients twitter and facebook. It’s a neat little joke as it helps to illustrate that sometimes there is little discernible difference between them, other than perhaps their approaches to marketing. It’s no wonder so many of us are scratching our heads and wondering, just what is craft beer and where did it come from?

What is craft beer? – Is this the first reference?

The first reference I have found for, “craft beer”, dates back to 1995 where the New York magazine refers to it as, “a rarefied name for beer that has no cruddy adjuncts”. (although please do prove me wrong by posting in the comments below if you know any better).

Since then it has become such an institution in the States that, courtesy of the Brewers Association and the IRS, it now has a legal definition. Craft beer has to come from a small brewery with an, “Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less”, these “small” breweries also have be independent, with no more than 25% of the brewery controlled by larger non craft breweries or drinks concerns.

These craft breweries started to appear across the country during the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, often referred to as microbreweries. They were set up by homebrewers so fed up with the bland mass produced beer that seemed to be the only stuff available. These homebrewers often turned to UK ales for influence and they grew in number. By the 90’s almost every American was within drinking distance to a decent brewery.

What is craft beer? Vince from Ashley Down Brewery and Michael from Wiper and True

What is craft beer? The stuff on the left or right?

One of the major strengths of these craft brewers is their inclusion and openness. Unlike the bigger breweries they freely share information and brewing techniques. This is a win win as it means brewers get good very quickly and punters can rely on good beer.

American craft brewers will take influence from historic beers just as they might from international brewing techniques. This pushes the boundaries of beer making to its limits. A great example of a craft beer style that helps typify this innovation and boundary pushing is a black Imperial Saison. A Saison is normally a cloudy pale beer, but here the black colour is an influence of the Black IPA‘s which have been popularised by craft brewers for a few years now, the Imperial means it’s strong in alcohol, its influence from the drinks that were once brewed for the Russian Imperial court in the 19th century and the Saison is a Belgium farmhouse style characterised by the peppery almost cider fruit flavour derived from its yeast. As you can imagine craft beers could certainly never be called bland!

What is Craft Beer? – The American Influence on the UK

The GBBF at Olymipia

CAMRA’s biggest beer festival the GBBF at Olympia

Over the last few years craft beer has travelled from America and it’s influence can be felt across the beer drinking world. Here in the UK this has been a bit of problem for some traditionalist due to one issue, the keg. In the States the cask is rarely used and instead they favour (or should that be favor), the keg. Cask beers use a natural carbonation and keg beers forced, being pumped into the beer from a canister when being served. When CAMRA first set up all the mass produced, pasteurised, bland beer they were fighting against was being served from a keg. This distinction made it very easy to champion cask beers and vilify the keg.

With advent of craft beer in a keg in the UK there is much debate due to this issue and CARMA stand against the keg even when its full of amazing beer. Personally, I’ve found CAMRA’s stance here odd especially as they will happily champion cider which last time I checked wasn’t made with hops or malt, in fact don’t they use apples! At least craft beer, however it is served, is actually beer. In CAMRA’s defence, and to stop a lynching next time I’m at a beer festival or CAMRA meeting, cask beer is something that is considered to be very British and it would indeed be shame if this method disappeared for the sake of a trend.

Petty arguments aside, craft beer in the UK pretty much mirrors American craft beer. The people brewing it are enthusiastic brewers who are generally former home brewers and work out of small barrel plants. They are make highly innovative, interesting beers with care and attention. If your local brewer matches this description, then you a have a craft brewer.

What is Craft Beer? Does it have a future?

However, craft beer is under attack or rather the term is in the UK as many of the huge breweries are getting in on the act and creating new styles that they are calling, “craft beers”. This muddies the water somewhat especially as, at unlike the U.S. the U.K. has no real legal definition for craft beer. If this trend continues I imagine that the term will have to evolve to match. Already drinkers are just referring to, “really good beer”, and there is even an organisation called CAMRGB (Let’s campaign for real good beer) to reflect this emerging trend.

Perhaps the term will change as, like a bad beer, it continues to be watered down. But for now most will agree what craft beer is a style of beer typified innovative styles and great brewing practices, something that came over from America and yet was influenced by the UK. If you haven’t tried a pint then I’d urge you to seek out your local craft ale pub as its the best thing to happen to beer since Enki (the god that first created beer).

This article was first published in the 2015 Good Pub Guide.

Blending beers

Blending beers

Blending beers

Will this blend?

Blending beers was commonplace in Victorian Britain. Landlords would know what blend each of their customers wanted and they would run around with jugs full of beer (before we had bars) and serve each customer there preferred blend.

Thankfully we can just order a pint of what we like and there is no need to blend. It’s a practice that has long since died out since brewing practices have improved right? Well no apparently not; there is a very strong rumour that one of the most well known breweries in the world blend their flagship beer before it reaches the can, bottle or pump. Guinness apparently put a portion of their beer in old oak barrels teaming with the wild yeast Brettanomyces and lactic acid bacteria before adding it back to the rest of the brew in order to give it that characteristic twang. It doesn’t sound that surprising when you consider that one of the theories* behind the origins of Porter involves blending three beers, including a sour one, to create a new beer . Other big commercial breweries might blend too, using different batches of the same beer in order for the flavour to be consistent.

* Much disputed

Why should I be blending beers?

I have to admit that after first being introduced to the concept at the Griffin Brew pub in Milk Street Frome I was a little sceptical to say the least; but mixing different beers before you bottle/keg, or even at the pub can create a beer greater than the sum of its parts. Just like three hundred years ago stale beers can be made great again rather than being destined for the drain, weak beers stronger and new styles can be created by blending. Landlords might also be interested as it is an easy way to get us beer geeks to buy two beers when we might have otherwise just bought one.

How to Blend Beers

Unlike most brewing practices there is no real set way to blend a beer and getting a good blend takes time and effort, it’s really a matter of trial and error and is more of an art than a science. But similarly to all brewing practices accurate notes and experimentation are the key. Use measuring jugs to ascertain percentages and blend just a few bottles from a batch, or blend just a mouthful of shop bought beer before diving in and blending gallons at a time. A bad blend could just be an expensive waste of beer.

It can be a great way to save beer. I’ve managed to save a sour thin beer infected by bacteria, by blending it with a fresher, fuller beer. It was a batch of rich dark old ale that tasted good when fresh but developed a fault in some of the bottles. I simply blended the bottles with a fresher IPA and the results were excellent. The sour, jagged and lifeless notes were replaced with some sweetness and the thin lifeless beer was given a lift.

Two beer blends to get you started.

Black and Tan

Perhaps the most famous of all blends a Black and Tan is created by blending half and half with a dry stout or porter and a light ale and it was a drink favoured by my granddad who joked that he was making a cocktail. It’s made in a pint glass and the ale is poured in to around halfway up a pint glass. Then the stout or Porter is poured in on top, slowly and over the back of a spoon. The relative density of the stout or porter means that it stays on top of the beer and so the top half looks like dark beer and the bottom a light ale.

A cautionary note though, do not ask for a Black and Tan in an Irish pub as there is a small chance it could offend. After the First World War the then secretary of state for war a certain Mr Churchill set up The Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force to fight the IRA, they were nicknamed “Black and Tans”. Despite tensions easing over there, this will be akin to talking about politics or religion at a dinner party, it’s just not really advisable. Either order a half and half instead or ask for a Guinness, an ale a pint glass and a spoon!


Thanks to Ian Allsop for pointing me towards the existence of a pint of “Mixed”, popular in 1980’s Lancashire also known as a boilermaker in the West Midlands. Not to be confused with the american beer “cocktail” which is basically a shot of whisky and a pint.

In the UK ask for a pint of mixed you’ll probably get a puzzled look, unless you ask a beer geek or someone over the age of 40. It’s basically half a pint of Mild and half of bitter mixed.

In the midlands there is a slight variation and the mild is mixed with a bottle of Brown Ale. I have heard reports that the idea arose in some of the rougher bars as it meant you always had a weapon to hand, the bottle!

Having you been blending beers?

It does seem that here in the UK there are some strong beer blending traditions. So, do you remember blending any beers? Likewise any other country that might have a tradtion of beer blending, I’d love to hear from you if you do.