I was in a pub yesterday when one of us, who had been abstaining from alcohol for the duration of Lent, wanted to break her fast with a snakebite and black.
For the uninitiated, snakebite is a mixture of (usually) half and half cider and pilsner, often taken with a dash of blackcurrant cordial. It’s sweet and refreshing and is especially popular amongst students and younger drinkers. I sold thousands of them when I worked in bars in St Andrews, sometimes asked for as “diesel” or, ahem, “pinky pees”.
It was therefore slightly surprising when the barman informed us that he could not serve snakebite and black, as it was illegal. As a compromise, he sold us the component parts separately.
It is not illegal to serve snakebite, as far as I can determine. Weights and measures legislation in the UK requires that draught beer or cider can only be served in quantities of one third of a pint, two thirds of a pint, a half pint, or multiples of a half pint, “except when sold as a constituent of a mixture of two or more liquids”.* That doesn’t prohibit anyone from serving a pint of half & half snakebite. It also appears to me that a half-pint wouldn’t be a problem under the exception for mixed drinks, but I’m happy to be corrected in the comments.
It seems that a number of pubs, perhaps including Wetherspoons, refuse to serve snakebite on the grounds that it is drunk primarily by younger drinkers who tend to drink it too fast. This seems to be an odd distinction for places that have posters in the window advertising discounted jägerbombs. Nevertheless, the “illegal” excuse seems to be used by staff in these circumstances as one of those catch-all, blame-shifting excuses, like “health and safety” or “data protection”, when the law in question has nothing to do with it, which is then passed on to others as fact.
My favourite story about this is from the Harrogate Advertiser in June 2001. It’s not recorded whether this particular customer was thought to be a potential troublemaker or whether the member of staff just accepted the myth as fact:
At about 11.45am, seven serious looking security agents had banged on the door of the pub, flashed their warrant cards, and requested lunch for the former president of the USA. […]
“But we let them in and after they’d searched the building in walked Mr Clinton himself. He came to the bar and introduced himself, and then there was the dilemma of what to drink.
“So I gave him and his aide a taste of a couple of real ales we have here, but he decided on a diet Coke.
“He did ask for a snakebite after one of his security men did, but we kindly refused him. It’s illegal to serve it here in the UK you see.”
Welcome to Yorkshire, Mr President.
Having explored quite a lot of Cumbrian beers recently, it was good to cap it off with a visit to the Beer Festival at Taste Cumbria. The CAMRA-run festival at the Jennings Brewery was part of a programme full of exciting food events in Cockermouth.
Because there was so much on, we only got to spend a few hours at the festival, but enjoyed a few of the range of Cumbrian beers and got to talk with some luminaries of the Cumbrian beer scene including Neil Bowness and his other half Sharon, Jeff Pickthall, Hardknott Alex and Coniston’s Ian Bradley and Helen Bradley. The beers were a good representation of the Cumbrian beer landscape and included some excellent examples from the progressive fringe, including Hawkshead NZPA, Hardknott Code Black, Coniston Infinity IPA, Coniston No 9 Barley Wine and Stringers Furness Abbey.
In addition I got to try a couple of beers from breweries that were less familiar to me. Hesket Newmarket Scafell Blonde was a pleasant light blonde of which it would be easy to sink a few pints after a long summer walk. Great Gable Yewbarrow from Egremont was a great beer hiding behind an unassuming pumpclip: a 5.5% strong dark mild that was packed with flavour.
We also got to chat with Pete Brown at the festival, and on the Sunday we went to his talk and tutored tasting. We tried a perry, cider and five beers from the festival, which Pete talked us through in an engaging and informative manner.
He also did a couple of readings from his books, including his new one, Shakespeare’s Local, about the history of The George Inn in Southwark. It sounded like it should be as fascinating and funny as the rest of his books, an exercise in studying the wood by looking very closely at a single tree. The book is released on 8 November and will be a Radio 4 Book Of The Week in December. Pete also talked about his new project surveying international ciders and perries for a world cider guide, which sounds like it should be an interesting survey of an drink that isn’t usually considered in a global context.
Sadly, I missed a few of the other beer events, including Jeff Pickthall talking about the more esoteric beers of Cumbria (although Jeff very kindly gave us a bottle of his aged stock of No 9) and Pete and Jeff’s pub quiz on the Saturday night. But it has been a fantastic weekend and everybody involved, especially including Neil and Sharon, deserve a lot of thanks for the work they put in to showcasing the best of Cumbria’s beers prominently alongside the best of its food.
I don’t know an awful lot about cider, but I do know that I like the cloudy, interesting, farmhouse end of cider more than the clean, clear, sweet, macro ciders. Oh, and that Americans call apple juice “cider” and refer to actual cider as “hard cider”. By that logic, wine should be “challenging grape juice”.
As for Spanish sidra, my entire experience is limited to a visit to an Asturian-style sidreria on a backstreet in Madrid in 2009. Kate and I ordered two small sidras, whereupon the barman took out a 70cl bottle, attached it to something that looked like a hatstand, and poured a thin stream of cloudy, tart, still sidra into a small glass in a holder a metre below. I subsequently realised that this was a method of traditionally aerating the sidra by “throwing” it, and it seemed to add to the taste and liveliness.
When we were in El Bareto, my favourite Leeds tapas bar, I decided to try the new “Spanish cider” mentioned on the board. The barmaid produced a device that looked like a barrel with a car aerial attached to it, maybe some form of steampunk torture device.
It was actually a plastic, battery-powered cider throwing device, which you inserted into your bottle and, when you pushed your glass against a button, spurted a stream of aerated sidra into your glass. It seemed to work and the sidra, which I suspect was probably fairly unchallenging as the drink goes, went well with the delicious pimientos de Padrón, croquetas and Chorizo a la sidra.
Although I should say that the buzzing (like a battery-powered fan, an electric toothbrush or, um… similar) when you poured a glass did detract a little bit from the romance.
It’s been a rubbish first day at work after a very relaxing week and a half back in Northern Ireland with family, open fires, good whiskey and variable beer. I ate every meal today at my desk.
However, there’s always alcohol. And, what’s more, alcohol given to me by friends and loved ones. I didn’t notice it lurking in the corner of my office until lunchtime, but the first part of Kate’s fantastic Christmas present to me was waiting there. A cardboard box with some hops on the outside contained the first 13 beers of MyBreweryTap.com’s 52 Week Beer Club, which promises to turn the entirety of 2011 into a big beery advent calendar. Of the 13 beers, I’ve only tried four before, so I’m very excited. Look, widescreen:
Also today my colleague Emma gave me a plastic bottle of her first homebrewed cider made from apples from her own garden in Wentbridge. It was thanks for the rambling and half-thought out advice I’d given her when she set out, muttering on about yeast, sugar and secondary fermentation (but mainly directing her to a good home brewing shop). It also represents rental payments on my hydrometer.
The cider itself is pleasingly dry, tart and powerful, but it’s mainly just lovely to get something that someone’s made themselves and you can still get wellied on. Home brewing’s a great thing and I really need to do more of it: I’ve only gotten round to doing one kit so far and it went really well. Iain in the Abbey Home Brew shop at Kirkstall traffic lights recommended a Brupacks Colne Valley Bitter kit when I said I wanted to make a Yorkshire bitter like Black Sheep and with not much effort (barring a lot of bottle washing) I ended up with a couple of crates of very drinkable beer.
I’d like to try a couple more kits before moving on to anything more complicated. That might be a good resolution for 2011. Must get my hydrometer back.