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Black Ops: Is Snakebite Illegal?

April 1, 2013 8 comments

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.

* See The Weights And Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order 1988 para 2(1) as amended by The Weights and Measures (Specified Quantities) (Unwrapped Bread and Intoxicating Liquor) Order 2011 para 2.

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Oh, Vienna: Brooklyn Lager v Thornbridge Kill Your Darlings

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I said in a recent post that my love for Brooklyn Lager had recently been reawakened.  It was certainly my first US craft “wow” and I even visited the Brewery last year, documented in a post no-one read.

It was also my first Vienna lager.  Style icon Michael Jackson said Vienna is:

Amber-red or only medium-dark, lager. This was the style originally produced in Vienna. Brewers still talk of a “Vienna malt” to indicate a kilning to this amber-red colour, but the beer-style itself is no longer especially associated with the city.

One suspects that Brooklyn (supposedly an reimagining of a pre-Prohibition US style) is something of a style of its own, with the blend of Cascade and more noble hop flavours (Hallertau, Vanguard) reflecting a clever piece of US genre-merging.

I’ve been very pleased to see Brooklyn Lager increasingly available in the UK, in keg (North Bar claims to have been there first) and bottle, including in Sainsbury’s.  However the Brooklyn in my fridge found itself elbowing for attention with a chippy novice from Derbyshire, Thornbridge Kill Your Darlings.  Also a Vienna Lager, also from one of my favourite breweries; but which one’s best? There’s only one way to decide: a Viennese sandwich!

Appearance:  From the moment they’re out of the bottle, you can see that Kill Your Darlings is a different beer to Brooklyn.  Whereas Brooklyn is an amber, chestnut colour, KYD has the appearance of a much darker wood, mahogany perhaps.  The heads also reflect a difference in the malt bill, the relatively clean ivory whiteness of the Brooklyn contrasting with the slightly nicotene-stained froth on the KYD.

Smell:  The Cascade hops really shine in the New Yorker’s aroma, a lovely pine scent mingling with a light but noticeable sugary maltiness.  The KYD is more malt-forward in its aroma with an inviting burnt-sugar smell dominating.

Taste: The malt continues to dominate the KYD, with the lovely rich, deep, dark, sweet maltiness that you might expect of a US double IPA, but without the heavy stickiness.  There are also hops, with a pine and a light lemon citrus emerging especially on the finish. By contrast the Brooklyn lets the fresh piney and herbal hops shine throughout, more bitter than sweet but still with a smooth caramel base: a light, invigorating, very tasty beer.

It’s almost unfair to compare Kill Your Darlings to a world classic like Brooklyn, but this examination has demonstrated two things: (1) that Thornbridge have, once again, expanded successful and very enjoyably into a new style with a delicious and complex malty Vienna lager; and (2) that Brooklyn Lager has earned its success (as both a gateway beer and as a standard to return to over and over again) due to a perfect balance of hops and malt which come together in a very drinkable beer with hidden depths.

Lager, Lager, Lager, Shouting: Thornbridge Italia & Leeds Bierkeller

February 20, 2011 5 comments

For the purposes of a leaving do and a birthday party, I went to Leeds Bierkeller twice this week.  Thursday night was fine: a quiet night in the bar as there was no band on, I was able to talk with friends and try some of the different beers, of which I decided that Früh Kölsch (not a lager) and Flensburger Pilsener (which was) were my own favourites.  There was a delicate floral hoppiness in the Flensburger which was more interesting than most of the various Paulaners.

In accordance with the standard practice, many of the girls (excluding Kate) opted for the Belgian fruit beers, with many enjoying the draft Rosarda.  The waitresses in short dirndels, however, may or may not be to their tastes.

Friday night was very different: with the band on, the bar was bunged by 9 O’Clock, and one’s enjoyment of the event depends very much on whether you enjoy a Northern English band leading everyone in drinking songs, synchronised swaying, and being encouraged to stand on your seat (essentially the rules require that you absolutely must not stand on the table but you pretty much have to stand on the bench).  There was at least one stag do in, which is probably the market being targeted, really.

The band were good at what they did, however.  An example of one of their medleys went as follows:

Hitler Has Only Got One Ball > Yellow Submarine > She’s Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts > Lily The Pink > The Can Can > Oggy Oggy Oggy! Oi Oi Oi! > Ein Prosit.

If I had one particular criticism of the Bierkeller it’s that the televisions everywhere (above and around the bar, the little ones above the urinals) should probably be switched to something other than Sky News when all this is going on.  It’s difficult to get really into bawdy German drinking songs whilst the death tolls of anti-government protestors in Libya and Bahrain are constantly revised upwards on the big screen.

I should be clear that I’m not one of those people who liked pilsner before being converted to “real ale”; I always actively disliked pilsners, preferring Guinness and other nitrokegged stouts and even watery smoothflow beers such as Caffreys and Tennents Velvet.  That’s not to say that, given no other option, I won’t happily drink a Peroni, Stella or Mahou in a restaurant, but it tends to be a last resort.

However, on Saturday I found myself buying pilsner again, as Beer Ritz had Thornbridge Italia in.  According to the label, it’s a collaboration with Maurizio Folli of Birrifico Italiano, made with Hallertau Northern Brewer, Perle and Spalter Select hops.  I thought it would probably go well with curry.

Pouring a very pale blond, it had a fresh lemongrass smell and a light, sharp, slightly grassy floral taste.  There was a small amount of the usual pilsner biscuitiness in there, which carried through into a building, light citrus bitterness in the aftertaste.  As Reluctant Scooper notes, there’s a lot going on in there for a pilsner, although it remains a light, refreshing beer. 

I think it’s an excellent example of the style, it’s just that it’s not a style of beer that I particularly like.  Much as I love Thornbridge, it’ll probably be a while before I get this again.  However I would probably pick it over most other pilsners.

For Rob’s review of Italia on keg at The Grove, Huddersfield, see his post on Hopzine.  Ghost Drinker has a more comprehensive review of the Bierkeller with lots of photos here.

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