How do you take it?
There’s more than one way to pull a pint, as Jonny Garrett discovers
Monday 23 March 2020
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The Island of Ireland
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When we talk about innovation in beer we mostly talk about things like hop cannons, mixed cultures and dissolved oxygen levels. But inspired ideas don’t just happen in brewhouses and laboratories. Sometimes they happen at the bar, sometimes under the influence and sometimes, inexplicably, completely sober.
Beer has taken me all over the world, from Hartlepool to Qingdao, and every place has its little quirk not just in process and local beer styles, but in serving method. Each says something about the culture that conceived it, though quite what is often hard to tell. Here are the strangest I’ve found, but so long as there are big thinkers in bars, the innovation will never stop.
The Reverse Guinness
Team Toxic, a collaboration between Waen Brewery’s Sue Hayward and former Hopcraft brewer Gazza Prescott, caused a very weird looking splash with Sinistral. Irritated by the trend for “white stouts” – actually amber beers with the aromas and flavours of a stout – they decided to brew the first true white stout, unleashing it on the world in October 2019 with a launch that garnered national press attention. Variously described as a “reverse Guinness” or “a pint of milk with fag ash on top”, it looked remarkable and reportedly tasted like Caramac bars.
Another truly white beer, the Mliko pour is a British lager drinker’s nightmare—taking “Could you top that up, luv?” to a whole new level. The Mliko is a pour championed by Pilsner Urquell, and one of the three you can get served at their “tankovna” or tank-fresh bars. While the others are more sensible, playing with the balance of creamy foam and the carbonation of the beer, the Mliko is a pint of pour foam. It’s not just any foam though, because the side pour taps used by so many Czech pilsner brewers create a meringue-like texture. So the Mliko drinks like a pint of cream, all lemony silkiness and soft bitterness – so long as you drink it before it settles.
I was first told about the Hartlepool head by a local, and I was sure he was pulling a prank. Why on earth would you pour half a beer, stick in the fridge for 30 minutes and then top it up to create a head like a Smurf hat? Well, apparently the reason is that Hartlepool pubs used to pour their beers in advance, to speed up service when the steelworkers finished. The result is like having a Mliko balanced on top of your pint, with the creamy texture lasting to the final drop.
Woodruff Berliner weisse
In my first year at university we were taken on a field trip to Berlin. We were there to study the legacy of Nazism and Communism in the city’s architecture, but mostly we assessed our hostel’s absurdly cheap bar. While we were necking pints of lager, the German residents kept coming away from the bar with lurid green pints. Out of curiosity we asked for a “grün bier” and my untrained palate was disgusted to find the beer was sour, with a strange sickly sweet-yet-earthy flavour. It turns out that came from woodruff syrup, pumped into the glass before pouring. Woodruff is a bitter, earthy forest herb that was historically used in gruit – a blend of herbs and spices historically used instead of hops in some beers – that was used to curb the acidity of the berliner weisse. Today, my trained palate still hates the stuff.
When the pilsner revolution began to take hold in America – mostly to save the sanity and livers of brewers – breweries had to find some way to make it exciting to consumers. With this style, listing the grams per litre, adding five fruit purees or a tub of lactose just wouldn’t work, so instead they “innovated” the slow pour. The story goes that Dan Suarez, cofounder of the amazing Suarez Family Brewers in upstate New York, was in a lock-in at a bar one night. The owner tapped a keg of Taras Boulba, a delicious dry Belgian pale that’s hard to find in the States. The only thing more excited than the drinkers was the beer, which was fobbing (foaming) badly. The server persevered, pouring the beers as slow and carefully as possible, but still ending up with giant heads and next to no carbonation. In their inebriated state they decided this was actually the ultimate way of serving beer. Suarez took the method back to his brewery, where you can now order a pint at the bar and have to wait around 3 minutes at your table while it is poured— inexplicably, lager breweries all over the country now do the same.
Originally created in tribute to Prince Albert on his death, I still drink it in mourning for two delicious drinks—the Champagne and Guinness used to make it. Half a glass of stout is poured over half a glass of Champagne, often with a spoon to ensure the layers don’t mix. The result is a Guinness that tastes oxidised and sour, or a Champagne that tastes like it has ash in it – depending on your outlook on life. Bizarrely, many other countries have taken on the concept, using their own drinks to familiarise it – you can use cider in the UK for a “Poor Man’s Black Velvet", schwarzbier in Germany for a “Bismark”, and Prosecco in Italy for a highfalutin “Veluto Italiano”.
Buying deeply into the idea that pretty much everything is improved by ice cream, the beer float is the kind of idea that shouldn’t work but really, really does. The addition of vanilla ice cream to a big imperial stout is like an affogato for alcoholics, adding sweetness and body to a beer that... well was already big bodied and sweet but is somehow just better. Many people stop there, but the real fun is to be found by mixing the concepts up – try chocolate ice cream with Kriek, hazelnut with barley wine and even lemon sorbet with West Coast IPA.
Simultaneously the most bizarre and practical pour on earth, the Chinese bag of beer is exactly as it sounds. In Qingdao on the west coast, I found you could head to any cornershop or off license and buy yourself a clear plastic bag full of beer to enjoy with a straw on the way home. If drinking on the street from a bag is a little lowbrow for you, you could always wait until you get home, cut off a corner and pour them into glasses. You know, like a classy person would do.
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