Colour is a means of communication, we instantaneously recognise a meaning or a message where colour is present. It’s a non-verbal cue that taps into our learned associations and we use it on a daily basis to help us stay safe, fit in to our surroundings and determine what we will eat or drink. We can have a lot of fun with colour and it is possible to manipulate a recognisable object and make most of us look twice. The novelty value of engineering a red banana or blue carrot is likely to be short lived, but try convincing a child that green rice pudding isn’t brilliant!
The colour of beer is determined by the malt and is measured using one of several scales, the Standard Reference Method (SRM – “Degrees Lovibond” or “°L” scale) being one. Colour is important (to some) when characterising or categorising beer, there is of course the opinion that colour isn’t everything, but lets not go there. We know where we stand when we order a lager or a stout, we know instinctively know what the first sip will offer. Well we could rely on visual priming until now anyway. If you keep up-to-date with the latest beer news, then it won’t have escaped you that there have been some recent developments which are causing a stir, some debate and in one case an affirmation of tradition.
Richard Fletcher – Journal Live – got a great quote from Durham Brewery owner Steve Gibbs in his article back in December 2011. Steve isn’t about reproducing a beer, he prefers to take original styles and “Durhamise” them. Which is exactly what they have done in brewing a 7.2% abv White Stout (launched Nov 2011) . They describe this as a “modern pale stout“. That’s right, it’s not just in the name, this is a pale, full bodied – and taking the word ‘stout‘ literally – it’s a strong beer. I tried it on keg at Mr Foleys and it didn’t disappoint. I bought a pint just to make sure. From my memory it was a golden syrup sweetness, fruity, big mouth feel and oh so bitter.
While the word “stout” has come to mean a dark beer, the original meaning was strong and true. Before the porter brewers commandeered the word to mean a stout, or strong, porter it referred to any strong beer – Durham Brewery
Interestingly, and most likely a facet of being Durhamised, is that they use American Columbus hops, not a ‘traditional’ hop choice for representing a 200 year old beer style, but where would the fun be in being traditional? If a brewer decides that Columbus is the hop that will produce the bitterness, flavour and aroma they desire, then that is the best hop choice. While we’re talking brewer creative licence, I happen to think Durham have got it spot on. Their White Stout is a heavily hopped (72 IBUs bitterness), strong beer and crucially it has the body to carry it off. Just to add, heavily hopped doesn’t always equal ‘bitter’, they could be used as late copper hops for subtle bitterness and maximum aroma, which this White Stout also has in abundance (the aroma that is). The only blog reviews and resulting comments I’ve read are few, and with mixed reactions. I think this is more to do with the limited availability at present, but expect to see more opinions as the bottles hit the shops. Also, I think that a change from the ‘norm’ is a challenge for some people, with their initial reaction almost predetermined: “but it’s not black” and reject the idea as ‘no added value’, to which I disagree.
There are other examples of this alchemy and more readily available in the form of the much debated Black and Red India Pale Ale’s, but the only other brewery to get involved with pale stout’s is BrewDog with their Abstrakt AB:08 an 11.8% abv “deconstructed imperial blonde stout” no less, which I’ve read is amber/gold in colour (a 6500 bottle release December 2011). Pleasing to see a brewery steal the march on BrewDog for once.
So I understand from eavesdropping on @DurhamBreweryEl ‘s Tweets and a brief email conversation that the second brew of their White Stout is bottled and nearing distribution. Always worth waiting for your beer to taste just right before releasing it into the wild. The beer plains can be a harsh environment. So having casked the first brew and bottled the second, the third brew will be on cask and keg and hitting pubs next week, but if you really can’t wait that long then get yourself over to the brewery’s bar on Saturday (21st Jan 2012) and fill your boots, so to speak, although that is one way of taking beer home with you.