I was once in possession of this, it didn't last.
Now I don’t want to make enemies with the multinational brewing organisations but I’m not particularly happy with them (and I don't think they'll ever read this).
Multinational beers are, at best, bland and dull with hints of board-room, generic fizz and a fancy marketing campaign – they really offer no advantage over proper beer apart from that they keep a lot of Ad-men in Soho rolling in Cocaine and shareholders being able to dangerously invest money ruining other market sectors.
It particularly hurts when the rise and rise of awful European Lager has pretty much all but destroyed the beer scene in the UK – one of the world’s most important brewing nations. There are still local, micro-breweries dotted around the country but they fight not just against changing tastes (or advertising influence) of the consumer but also ridiculous taxation schemes whereby the multinationals occasionally have a tax-bill waved off but John in his shed producing 100 barrels of beer a year has got to give up half of his income to some slippery taxman in an off-the-rail suit.
John can’t afford a bottling machine, nor can he afford to produce his beer all day (he’s got a full-time job somewhere else) but when he, and he alone, gets down to brewing beer, it’s all about excellent ingredients, hard-work and a love of beer. By stark contrast, skyscrapers full of smart suits press buttons on a keyboard in an office thinking of new ways to crush John with another fantastic advert series that, despite its high-quality, doesn’t show in the product itself at all.
At the brewery itself, often miles outside of inner-cities in big factories, hundreds of workers in safety gear wonder around the brewery looking forward to their next break, casually checking up on machines that are doing the work that they should be doing. The identical litres will be filled into identical cans, barrels and bottles and sent off to a variety of pubs where identical people will slurp large amounts of the liquid down in each sip thinking “hey, this tastes roughly like beer”.
Now, you might think that it's Lager I’m attacking here and, well, it is – the majority of Lagers you get in nearly every pub and shop are, and I’m not sorry for saying this, poor. There are a few odd ones out: Peroni and Becks actually possess a tiny amount of typical origin and character – rare in the premium Lager world but both are produced in god-awful amounts by people who don’t really care about what they’re making.
Of course, it comes down to personal taste and if you don’t like anything but Lager: a) you should probably see a doctor and b) make sure you’re not investing your hard-earned pounds into Mr Soho’s next line of the white stuff. Opt for something local (if possible) or something you’ve never heard of – it WILL taste better and more of the money you spend is given straight back to the people making the product – no middle managers financing a 4 bedroom house in a sleepy suburb with an Audi parked out front, just a bloke with a beard and a satisfactory pile of hops and barley.
However, if you really like beer (and I mean beer) and you live in the UK, I’ve got some good news: you live in beer heaven. Although the micro- and local breweries have taken a hit, there are still plenty of them around and, in stark contrast to multinationals’ beers, they all have unique characteristics typical of the local surrounding (just like wine I might add). Now beer has never been a complicated drink – it is a beautiful pint of relaxing elixir that combines every taste we glorified, bald monkeys love: its bitter, sweet, spicy and everything else too and I’m not going to bother even thinking of it like wine - but the comparison is there and for those who spend lots on wine, you should be thinking about buying proper beer too (although the good stuff is usually cheaper)!
Going back to the local aspect for a minute: you’ll find Scottish beer is powerful and, the most traditional of breweries substitute a certain amount of their hops for local crops: thistles, heather and much more to give beers a unique feel – malty, hoppy but also bitter but sweet and dark and….I’m longing for a pint of Caledonian ale except I’m stuck in Lagerland.
South English beer is lighter, hoppier, fruitier, redder, herbier, more refreshing and those brewed on the coast taste like….well, like they were brewed on the coast – salty, aromatic, spicy, lots of fresh air, sandy and altogether rather fabulous.
But it doesn’t stop there, head off to the West Country and, if you don’t find yourself in a pub selling proper cider (none of that rubbish with ice cubes and straws or whatever), you’ll find some lovely creamy, smooth, fruity Cornish ale. A quick swim over the Bristol Channel and you’ll be acquainted with Welsh beer – big, juicy pints of spicy, herby beer with as much local character as the people you’ll be standing next to at the bar.
Even the big cities have a brewing culture – whilst Newcastle’s famous beer has taken a leaf out of the European Premium Lager’s recipe for undue success (as has Manchester’s), London beer (despite not really being brewed in London) is also great (my favourite style of beer actually) with its hoppy, bittersweet notes and refreshing citrus it is the choice of thousands who know what they're doing after a hard day at work. Few people know that it was London beer that eventually turned into the creamiest of all marketing campaigns produced a few hundred miles to the North-West in a different country although, I must admit, I do enjoy a pint of the black stuff every now and then.
What annoys me even more is that I see people championing English wine on this internet thing, I see people cooking up ‘the Best of Britain’ and I see people saying how great we as a nation are – I also see these people boycotting proper British beer in favour of international fizz where you can safely say that the best thing about it, is the label on the front of the bottle.
So what am I saying? Drink British beer and, if you really don’t like Ale, Porter, Bitter, Cornish Ale, London Ale, Caledonian Ale, Welsh Ale, East-Anglian beer or any of the other hundreds of styles out there, at least drink a decent Lager – one that somebody actually made whilst wondering how his beer would taste rather than contemplating the measly wage the office-people were paying him preparing for their next round of cutting down on staff costs despite.
There exists a wonderful phrase in the German language ‘wenn schon, denn schon’ – roughly ‘if you’re going to do it, do it properly’. I find this can be implied to wine and food better than anywhere else and I sometimes avoid buying cheap, average wine every day so that I can drink something a little better every other day.
Whereas we’re all aware of large-brand superfluous Champagne, this way of life fits in well here too. If you’re going to celebrate something properly, ditch the Moët and go for something from a smaller producer or even a vintage wine.
However, I find this phrase much more appropriate when it comes down to the world’s favourite red wine region: the Bordelaise.
I first got into Bordeaux with poor generic cuvees and when a friend of mine said that real Bordeaux started at 25-30€ a pop, I rejected this and carried on in my consumption of bland wines named after non-existent Châteaux. Thankfully, I decided to go down the route of appellation-specific Bordelaise wines a few years ago and will never go back – Bordeaux AOC is, and I’m sorry for saying it, a complete waste of time and usually money as well.
If you’re interested in buying something for a quiet night in and want to spend around 8-10€, stick with Italy, Spain, the new-world or the less complicated wines of the Southern French coast. Bordeaux AOC priced at 8-10€ is usually hideously overpriced and you’ll find yourself drinking generic wine with very little unique character. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one with a bit more Cabernet than Merlot and Cabernet in its cheaper formats is usually a little better. This advice includes wines like Mouton Cadet, which is always a safe (if not dull) purchase.
Although, come to think of it, I’m not even suggesting that you have to spend much more. Recently a string of St. Émilion Grand Crus have been available for well under the 10€ barrier and whilst none of these of world-moving wines, you at least get something authentic for your money. You’ll find some definite St. Émilion characteristics and a crafted taste to the wine even if it isn’t close to some of the more expensive produce that most of us will never be able to afford.
I’ve also seen Haut-Médoc wines priced at around 6€. Again, don’t expect perfection but, after half an hour in the decanter, you’ll find that these wines contain the driving factors behind the popularity of such wines. A really lucky purchase from Médoc or Haut-Médoc might find you enjoying a wine with some real Cabernet structure, some tobacco and leather notes – something that usually first appears in wines priced at 20€. I recently bought six bottles of a fairly well-known Haut-Médoc for 30€ and, whilst it definitely wasn’t the best wine I’ve enjoyed in the last few weeks, for a fiver a bottle: Chateau Larose Trintaudon (08) is a fantastic wine for the price, full of authentic Left-bank aroma, albeit a bit unrefined but nonetheless a real Bordeaux.
There are hundreds of Médoc and Haut-Médoc wines out there priced between six and ten euros and nearly all of them are considerably better than the Bordeaux AOC wines priced at a similar level.
It doesn’t even have to be Médoc though. If you’re more of a Merlot person, I’ve already mentioned St. Émilion. However there are other alternatives. Premier Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac and even Côtes de Blaye offer decent wines that are affordable and considerably better than those carrying the Bordeaux AOC declaration.
When it comes down to white Bordeaux or rosé Bordeaux, I tend to find that the Bordeaux Blanc AOC or Bordeaux Rosé AOC classifications rarely command high asking prices and therefore don't need to be avoided. The best white is however also smaller appellation-specific and sometimes I don’t understand the use of Bordeaux Blanc AOC when nearly all of the white grapes making dry wine are grown in Entre-Deux-Mers anyway – so are most of the red ones for Bordeaux AOC too though.
I don’t see the attraction in buying Bordeaux AOC wine, there really isn’t one. I can understand that an inexperienced consumer might not know the difference and the labels of the mass-produced wines are often a little more attractive (lots of colour and gold print). If you’ve read this and you're a casual consumer, now you know. Either buy similarly-priced smaller AOC wines or spend more and buy more expensive specific AOC wines – Bordeaux AOC doesn’t represent good value and isn't a fair representation of the region it comes from.
What do you think?