Beer Diary Podcast episode 4: Emerson’s Bookbinder and Midstrength Beer

I was in the very-vague planning stages for a Midstrength Beer tasting (which did eventually, er, eventuate) and George and I thought that the topic itself was worthy of a longer discussion, not merely a little recurring segment — although we’ll keep that, too. Sessionable beer really is an ongoing obsession of mine; a good one is a bloody marvellous thing for all sorts of reasons, and I’m delighted that they seem to be coming back onto the beer-drinkers’ and beer-makers’ radars.

We do apologise for the inadvertent hiatus suffered by the podcast (it’s the 30th of August as I post this, and so about five weeks since the last episode); we’ve both been abnormally-busy with our “regular” jobs, and I was also knocked over for a few weeks by a particularly nasty winter lurgy (as us hospitality workers occasionally are). We hope to return you (and ourselves, obviously) to regularly-scheduled programming from here.

As always, a direct download is available (and so will more-bite-sized ‘chapter’ chunks, in a day or two…), there’s a podcast-specific RSS feed, and you should be able to get us on iTunes. George and myself can both be reached on the Twitterthing, and you are (naturally) more than welcome to leave comments, here.

Show notes:

  • (0.40) It had been a while been recordings, and now it’s also been an extra while between postings. That feels oddly prescient.
  • (0.50) Beer of the Week: Emerson’s ‘Bookbinder’.
  • (2.00) Pompallier House is totally worth a visit.
  • (3.30) It was officially called the Museum of Fishes and the usually-useful internets are being a little unclear on whether or not it still exists / has been sold / moved. Any local knowledge would be welcome; that place was awesome.
  • (4.20) Southern Cross is a surprisingly good good-beer venue, still.
  • (5.10) Basically everything is Toby’s fault, if the situation / humour demands. We’re both a little surprised that this is his first time getting called out for it.
  • (5.50) Emerson’s Pilsner was Beer of the Week for Episode I.
  • (7.55) When I ran the aforementioned Midstrength Beer tasting, the phrase “kebeb-seeking missile” came out of nowhere to describe late-night drunken food choices. You all know what I mean.
  • (8.15) The clip from The Human Body doesn’t appear to be online, sadly. But the whole series is worth watching, not just for that moment.
  • (8.50) I really did flub a good deal of the history, here. Kieran Haslett-Moore mercifully jumped in in a comment (below) and padded things out properly / tidied them up. I didn’t help my case by not really quantifying my “historically”, of course, and I suppose the general point — that midstrength things did fade from view for much of the last beer-drinking generation — still stands.
  • (9.30) Before proper sanitation, the water really would kill you. Beer has to be boiled, and has booze in it — both of these things help keep you safe against any number of otherwise-nasty microbes. The past was not a Golden Age.
  • (11.20) 8 Wired ‘Underwired’ got its own Diary entry, and was mentioned in Episode I (foreshadowingly) and II (with the benefit of hindsight).
  • (13.00) The definitional question is always fun for nit-picking (preferably with a few pints), but 3-point-something is a good guide. The Session Beer Project are the Americans I refer to who (for various good reasons) opt for ≤4.5%.
  • (15.00) Martyn Cornell’s post on the subject is a typically-great mix of history and damn-good-point-making.
  • (15.20) If you’re thinking in physics terms — and you should, occasionally — the relevant concept is power, not work; it’s not just the strength of the thing, it’s the strength per time. More-flavourful beers can be “sessionable” at higher ABV.
  • (16.20) Seriously, if you see Fraser around town, buy him a beer. Not just for his Argument Concerning Boozemath — for all sorts of reasons. The key is to remember that, factoring in various things which doubtless vary wildly, each beer you have contains some alcohol you’ll process before the next beer and some extra, intoxicating alcohol that’ll slowly build up. This is not really reflected in ABV or in “standard drinks” notation.
  • (20.40) In New Zealand, beer under 1.15% attracts no excise tax; anything 1.15% – 2.5% is subject to 38.208¢ per litre of beverage; and all beer 2.5% and over is levied at $25.476 per litre of alcohol.
  • (23.10) See? Toby made me drink Tui. Well, he didn’t make me. I still blame him.
  • (24.00) Pressed for recommendations: Emerson’s ‘Bookbinder’; Hallertau ‘Minimus’ (punnier name suggestions for the Winter Variant are welcome…); Cassels & Sons ‘Elder Ale’ (Elder-berries is very-definitely Monty Python); Yeastie Boys have made a few midstrengthables — I unfairly had a couple of no-longer-available ones come to mind, but unforgiveably forgot to mention / didn’t yet know about the Pot Kettle Black 2011 ‘Remix’, which is a session-strength “weemix” (and Stu’s pants really are legendary; Jed Soane got a good photo of them, as you’d be right to expect); Galbraith’s ‘Bob Hudson’s Bitter’ (which is lighter than I remember, at 3.2%).
  • (27.30) The Wikipedia page for White Lightning puts it bluntly — “It was known for its high alcohol strength and low price. White Lightning was popular with those wishing for alcoholic intoxication at a minimum price.” — and notes that its strength crept gradually downwards before it was abandoned entirely.
  • (29.40) Coopers make great Gateway Beers (as we mentioned in Episode II), and frequently (though not always) make just plain great beers.
  • (30.50) Talking about this again more recently, I’m not sure why the Australians were earlier on the midstrength uptake, in mass-market terms. One hypothesis that came up (I forget out of whose brain; possibly my own) is that the more-mad sporting culture over there helped push the big breweries to make 3.5%-ish lagers, in an effort to find a relatively-palatable middle ground for both the drinkers and the local authorities.
  • (31.20) That’s how out of date we got, right there. The has been a ruling on Radler, as you probably know. The bad guys won, as they sometimes do. I’ll have to rant properly about that at a later date. Campbell Live had two surprisingly-decent pieces on the subject, one before the verdict and one after.
  • (32.20) There you go, I said it: IPONZ are narcoleptics, or drunks. Or both.
  • (33.30) I know it was a while ago, so I should give a link to last time, which was indeed about “winter ales”.
  • (35.00) Breweries on the way: Garage Project (gee, we should interview them; tune in again next time…); ParrotDog (which probably isn’t at all Art Deco, in the logo department); Revolution Brewing; Brewaucracy.
  • (39.20) Liberty Brewing’s stuff has all been worthy, and some of it just plain marvellous. ‘Never Go Back’ is still my solid favourite. And I did slightly screw-up the history of the company; Stu (currently of Yeastie Boys, formerly of Liberty Itself) appeared in a comment (below) to give the proper story.
  • (42.40) Yeastie Boys ‘Fools Gold’ (no apostrophe) is a pleasantly-coincidental thing to mention, given the slot this podcast episode will fall into, in the Beer Diary timestream — weirdly-distorted as it is. If you haven’t heard George trying ‘Rex Attitude’, you should listen to the tail end of Episode III. He is embarrassed to have to correct himself on his film references, though: he didn’t mean Remains of the Day (he enjoyed that), he meant The Age of Innocence (which he definitely did not enjoy).
  • (45.00) Cue the music: ‘Shopping for Explosives’, by The Coconut Monkeyrocket.
  • (45.26) We’re way overdue to give credit to Audacity, the open-source audio editor we’ve used for all of these so far. George — a man with degrees in marketing and zoology, not audio engineering — found it alarmingly-easy to learn and capable of genuinely impressive cleverness.

13 thoughts on “Beer Diary Podcast episode 4: Emerson’s Bookbinder and Midstrength Beer”

  1. You were part of the way there on Liberty Brewing….

    Previously owned by Brendon MacKenzie (of Revolution Brewing) and myself… we couldn’t give it the love and hours it deserved so adopted it out to Joseph “Joe King” Wood – the best of a most awesome list of people who were interested. Essentially we just sold him the stock at cost price and handed over website. Best move ever.

  2. Huzzah for a new episode!

    Another example of Bookbinder’s general brilliance is that it was (is?) served as the palate cleanser between tasting drams at Regional W&S whisky tasting evenings. It worked perfectly, even between two cask strength malts.

    p.s. There should be a mobile friendly checkbox you can tick in your blogthing’s settings so it defaults to a view for small screens when accessed by smartphone.

  3. Stu: Cheers for the correction / elaboration. That did work out rather nicely, didn’t it?

    Raffe: I’ll have a look around in the settings. I’m only very new to the cleverphone world, myself, and have been making do with using an RSS-reader on my little Android. Those of you with the bigger-but-still-small screens of gruntier smartphones may indeed benefit from a switch that can be thrown somewhere in the WordPress workings — although I am way overdue for an update / upgrade, so maybe the option just hasn’t appeared to me, yet.

    1. No problem, I usually use an RSS reader too but that comment was written on my phone (also a little Android) on my train home, so I had to access the site itself using the browser.

  4. Booky is indeed still a fixture at Regional Whisky tastings.

    I’m not sure I totally agree with you on the progression of beer to becoming stronger. Based on the work of Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson I think its the opposite. It’s not a simple clear pattern but on the whole beer strengths have decreased. Yes there used to be small beers that were consumped instead of water , but these were a by product of the much stronger beers that were the mainstay of the brewers output.

    Yes there is a small section of the beer market , the craft market, that seems to be bucking that historical trend but on the whole beer strengths are a fraction of what they were.

    Milds for instance are now generally considered to be a low strength style yet my great grandfather was probibly delivering 6%abv mild to the pubs of London.

    Were did 3.2% come for Bob? last time I looked it was 4%

    1. Kieran, do you know of anything similar happening with the strength of NZ beer in the 20th century – such as tax on malt during WW1? I certainly think the introduction of 6pm closing and the shift to sweet amber lagers for swift consumption would have dropped gravities significantly. Is there a historical record anywhere that confirms this, one way or another?

      1. There is precious little info about NZ beer history, or at least alot of research to be done.

        But I would say this, the NZ draught style is a decendant of the Milds that were the major style of beer produced in England at the time of the bulk of migration from England to NZ. It was only post World War 2 that Bitter over took Mild as the main style of beer drunk in England. Mild through that period was stronger than it is today, on the whole lighter in colour (tawny amber) and not necessarily absent of hop character. It seems reasonible to assume that the first beers brewed here would have generally followed in that vien. Locally grown barley and the malt produced from it was not of the quality of well modified English 2 row pale malt and sugar was used to insure a clear wort. I suspect wartime shortages ,potentially taxs and definitly the prohibition experiment all resulted in brewers reducing gravitys. The swill definitly had an effect on body and strength (well definitly maybe, the only evidence I have seen is anetidotal) of beer in an attempt to cater to the pub environment of the time.

        Another interesting note is that Stout was the other minor style represented in brewery portfolios as this was another major style in the UK at the time of migration. You can still occasionally find Tui Extra Stout bottles in second hand shops , I have a Campbell and and Ehreinfried Brewery (ancestor of NZ Breweries) bottle with the ‘Dominion Ales and Stouts’ slogan emblasioned on it.

        1. Yeah that’s kind of what I thought, and have read Martyn Cornell’s book where he posits the theory about mild mutating into NZ draught. It would be good to get hold of the brewery log books from the 20s and 30s to see what the recipies were and how they changed.

          Also, if you look at old photos of NZ breweries from that era, you often see the common phrase ‘ales, porters and stouts’ as part of the exterior signage and branding. Which suggests they were being brewed.

          1. Yeah, I discussed that with Martyn after reading it. It’s a guess on his part and I have no real evidence but Im certain he is correct.

            It’s interesting recently the Duncan family discovered that thier ancestors brewed an AK which is another minor style from the time of migration.

    1. Oh, I’d never flinch from corrections, especially when they turn into awesomely-diverting pieces about beer history. Ta for the amendments / elaborations; a side effect of my infamously-crap memory is a real handicap when it comes to history.

  5. I feel like I need to put a word in for Liberty’s TSB (Taranaki Session Beer). Not only is it not 10%, it is excellent hoppy stuff.

    1. Ah, yes, of course! My bad entirely. I realised I’d unforgiveably forgotten TSB just when we finished recording, and then assured George (and myself, and I suppose also Joe, in spirit) that I’d mention it in the Show Notes.

      Given my infamous memory, I suppose I can’t really claim to be surprised that that didn’t work out as planned. Good catch!

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