SCRATCH and sniff. The actions may not appeal as much as sip and slurp or gulp and guzzle, but they’re very much part of a beer student’s education.
The All Beer Experience, developed by Sheffield-based master brewer Alex Barlow and his wife Diane, is a complete beer school in a carrier bag – an authoritative guide to the world’s top 25 beer styles, focusing on flavour, dedicated to discovery and creating choice. It’s also a beautifully-packaged, lavishly-designed, ring-bound manual that takes beer into the appreciation stratosphere through assessment, evaluation and good old-fashioned fun.
And, part of the enjoyment is a scratch-and-sniff card where three distinct hop varieties can be appreciated along with several similar tear-open sachets of malt revealing stages of barley preparation that influence particular styles of beer.
The hop aroma card contains essential aroma oils from three different hops from three different countries – scratch, sniff and smell the genuine ingredients used by brewers to develop beer flavours. Coupled with the Barlow website www.allbeer.co.uk it’s a university in miniature.
“Beer is so much more than a drink,” says Alex, who has brewed, marketed, sold and talked about beer for the last 25 years. “Beer is a pleasure-giving, thirst-quenching, heart-warming blend of art and alchemy, of passion and precision.
“A profession for some and a fascination for others, beer is brewed, enjoyed and celebrated the world over. It offers great diversity of taste and style than any other beverage and has a history that can be traced back to the earliest human civilisations.”
Alex Barlow learned his beer production skills at breweries all over the UK and was the country’s youngest master brewer when he qualified.
His career includes project management with Bass Brewers and a two-year stint in the Czech Republic as production adviser and brewery director at Staropramen’s Branik Brewery in Prague – the first British person to do so – where he completed a major capital development project to double output. He also developed Staropramen’s Velvet and Kelt brands.
Beer writer Jeff Evans is a big fan of All Beer but stresses that it’s not simply a book about beer, it’s a complete package that provides everything for getting to grips with the complexities of its flavours.
“To succeed with a major project like this, you have to start with authority,” he says. “That’s what Alex Barlow brings. All Beer is not traditional and stuffy; far from it. From the colourful little bag in which everything fits, to the beautifully designed book at the core, this is beer tasting for the modern age.”
The simply-not-a-book-about-beer is like a building block of flavour through chapters such as Brewing Guide, How to Judge a Beer and Brewery to Glass (which devotes a page to answering the question: Smells Like Cat Pee?) It describes the characteristics of 25 top ale, lager and lambic styles – from American Pale Ale to Weissbier and from Blonde to Stout, dissecting them via natural ingredients and sensory suggestions.
One section encourages drinkers to listen: “Glugs, whooshes and drips are all sensory parts of liquid refreshment, they heighten your expectation as you imagine your first taste. Another pleasure principle – never let bar staff pour your bottle. You’ve paid for the privilege, it’s all yours.”
Significantly, where there’s a beer expert there’s a beer expert’s wife. Diane Barlow has been swept along in the business to such an extent beer could be her Mastermind specialist subject (“Diane Barlow, you have no passes”).
“I’ve been dealing in beer with Alex for 20 years, involved with it at home and in going out,” she says. “You couldn’t go into a single pub without Alex ending up in the cellar while I was left propped up at the bar.
“When we set up All Beer, the idea was that I’d be involved in the creative work and general marketing and Alex would do the practical side, but it changed completely. I asked a lot of questions.
“It’s actually about opening up your mind, getting people to say ‘I’m drinking that individual flavour’. If you’re not, you’re just drinking to get drunk. It’s about masses of information and we’re trying to simplify things.”
A fine crystal tasting glass is also included in the think-of-everything, treasure-trove, All Beer carrier. A hop design in the base helps bubbles nucleate (form and set themselves free to stream upwards) while its distinctive shape maximises aromas and taste sensations, helping to savour the flavour of the beer.
It’s not only beer writers who are impressed (All Beer gained a national runners-up award from the British Guild of Beer Writers in 2009) – the package won a silver medal at the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards in New York and was named Best UK Beer Book 2009 at the Gourmand World Cook Book Awards.
“No matter how much you think you know about beer there’s always something else,” says Alex. “The nicest comments are the ones from brewers who have said ‘I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I’ve learnt something from this book’.”
Scratch. Is that Styrian Goldings hops from Slovenia? Sniff. I’ll murder that cat.
All Beer costs £19.95. For more information, visit www.allbeer.co.uk
The All Beer Experience, developed by Sheffield-based master brewer Alex Barlow and his wife Diane, is a complete beer school in a carrier bag