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But don't drink the widget

Here's a guess on the beers that will top the fashion charts in 1995

When did you last see someone trying to be fashionable by paying an absurdly high price for a very cheaply made Mexican beer with a wedge of lime in the neck of the bottle - not recently?

Fashions change. Once, it took a generation for people to revise their drinking habits; now it takes only a year or three. Perhaps 1995 will see the last of the would-be macho boys slugging American Budweiser straight from the bottle.

Why someone seeking to be tough would drink one of the world's lightest-tasting beers is a puzzle. To take it straight from the bottle is to minimise its slight taste by denying the nose any opportunity to scent barley-malt and hops. There was a time when we had no opportunity to learn how to drink beer. One generation was exposed only to mild and bitter, often badly kept; the next drank only keg ales. Then came, in quick succession, the real ale counter-revolutionaries (armed with 0ld Peculiar), the lager louts (Fosters, Castlemaine), the real ale second wave (Boddingtons. Tetley's), the trendies (the worst of Mexico, and identical beers from other "exotic" countries), the macho boys (the blandest of American brews). And now?

Today, the choices are bewildering in the supermarket or wine merchant's, and even publicans are beginning reluctantly to pay attention to their selections of beer. Here is what to expect in 1995.

Good things: more lagers that smell of hops and taste of malt, especially from the Czech Republic. In addition to the well-established Budvar from Budweis, look out for Staropramen from Prague. Both are at the moment on better form than the famous Pilsner Urquell. Czech lagers are becoming available not just in supermarkets and wine merchants, but also in pubs.

Good thing: more styles of lager. The golden style based on the Pilsner type is only one variation. The world's first lagers were dark. Look out in February/March for rich, dark-brown German lagers bearing the legend Dopplebock (strong winter warmers); in March for amber-red, nutty Marzenbier; and in April/May for strong Maibock, various hues.

Good thing: more foreign brews that are not lagers, such as German Altbier, Belgian Trappists and fruit beers, and wheat beers from both of those countries. Some of the wheat beers are yeast-sedimented and are intended to be served hazy, au naturel. Contrary to the wisdom in the drinks industry, the British drinker will this year learn to love them. Look out right now for dark, winter wheat beers such as Aventinus.

Good thing: more emphasis on the different styles of ale. It is not all bitter. We will see more mild and IPA (India Pale Ale), for example. Not to mention porters, oatmeal stouts, etc.

Good thing: more emphasis on the flavours of beers. After Whitbread's short-run specials featuring malts and hops, and such unusual ingredients as chocolate, spices and herbs, expect more unusual touches in 1995. Whitbread's Chocolate Mild, dismissed by some as a gimmick, sold more than double the 1,000 barrels planned.

Good thing: Worthington's "don't-fridge-it-widget" means that "draught beer in a can" may be served at a natural cellar temperature instead of being chilled. Because they are fermented at different temperatures, ales usually express their flavour most fully at about 55F (12-13C), while lagers taste best at about 49F (8-9C). There has been a tendency for ales to be served too cold and it is to the credit of Bass, Britain's biggest brewer, that it should offer an alternative in this version of its Worthington ale.

Mixed blessing: cans containing the nitrogen capsule known as the "widget" do produce a creamier beer, but it is not the same as draught and should not be labelled as such. The use of nitrogen was adapted from the draught pressure system used by Guinness (which is introducing "fake" hand-pumps). Now nitrogen is being used to impart the same small bubbles to "smooth" keg versions of Tetley's, Boddington's, Flower's and Belhaven. If you want to experience the true flavour of draught ale, avoid pressurised kegs and stick to the hand-pumped, cask-conditioned versions.

Published Online: FEB 14, 2000
Published in Print: JAN 7, 1995


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