Food and Drink: Best drunk when fresh: You wouldn't buy stale bread, so don't accept beer tasting of damp paper, says Michael Jackson

ONE of life's great but simple pleasures, widely recognised, is the aroma, taste and satisfaction offered by truly fresh bread. Another, less well acknowledged, is the same sequence of sensuous experiences brought forth by really fresh beer.

Like a loaf new from the oven, a beer fresh from the brewery exudes an aroma of faintly sweet, earthy graininess. We should expect this. Baking and malting are similar procedures. The Sumerians baked bread, before they knew how to make malt, then crumbled the loaves into water from the Tigris and Euphrates in order to brew beer. In Germany, the lenten diet of monks was supplemented by 'liquid bread' - heavy, salty brews like today's Paulaner Salvator. The new season's brew of this dark, strong, lager, was released in Munich last month and is in our shops, along with rivals such as Engelbrau's Leonhardi Doppelbock.

I have never tasted lagers as freshly aromatic and delicious as they are in Munich and elsewhere in Bavaria - or Prague and the rest of Bohemia. With a brewery in every village, the beer is as fresh as bread from a neighbourhood bakery. This is especially true in Bavaria, a state with more than 800 breweries (England, Scotland and Wales together have about 200). Fresh beer is the greatest benefit offered by local breweries, and diversity of flavours the second.

There are still scores of beer- makers in Bavaria, and some in Belgium and Britain, who can say that their product is sold only 'round the brewhouse chimney'. I find this traditional phrase so evocative that I immediately want a glass of their beer.

If you have a local brewery, surrounded by its own pubs, pick the nearest to the source, and learn the pleasures of fresh beer. If you find similar characteristics in a beer that has travelled farther, then you can be sure that it has been shipped as quickly as possible, and that the pub or shop is rotating its stock properly (first in, first out).

If, when the shelves are replenished, new stock is placed in front of old, those dusty bottles at the back will soon contain beer that smells and tastes of damp paper or cardboard. If bottles are displayed in the window, the beer will go cabbagey. You would not buy stale bread: do not accept beer in a similar condition.

In America, where beers are sent very long distances and endure considerable changes of climate, the biggest brewer, Budweiser, insists that its product be removed from the shelves after three months.

In Britain, brewers who wish to sell in supermarkets are obliged to guarantee the beer's stability for nine months. Who is kidding whom? Certainly the consumer is being misled. Perhaps brewers can ensure that their beer is bright, and has not gone sour, after nine months - but they cannot say that it will still have a freshness of aroma and flavour.

The consumers should always be told when the beer was bottled, and what it contains, apart from barley or wheat malt, water, hops and yeast. They can then make up their own minds about its drinkability.

'Best before' dates are a nonsense. Most beers can go only downhill from the moment they leave the brewery. There are, though, important exceptions: the minority of beers that are designed to mature in the bottle. 'Best before' dates do not do justice to them, either.

These brews are either not filtered or pasteurised, or are given a dosage of fresh yeast and sugar in the bottle, so that they can have a slow further fermentation. They are not totally bright - they have a yeast sediment - but their flavours are lively and complex. These are less like fresh bread than mature fruit- cake.

An example at a conventional alcohol content, such as Worthington White Shield or the Oddbins bottle-conditioned range, may develop for 18 months. A stronger one will hit its stride at five years, and can mature for 20 if kept in a dark, cool place (but not refrigerated).

This applies to many Belgian specialities, especially those from Trappist monasteries, and to products from Britain such as Gale's Prize Old Ale, Thomas Hardy's Ale or Courage's Imperial Russian Stout.

The Campaign for Real Ale and similar organisations in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavia have been lobbying in Brussels for a European Community ruling in favour of bottling dates. They would like to get rid of unqualified 'best before' dates, and have ingredient labelling.

A few days ago, they gave members of the European Parliament a tasting of 'vintage' beers to illustrate their point. With the beer-loving Belgians due to take over the presidency of the commission on 1 July, the consumer who wants to enjoy beer at the peak of its condition may yet get more helpful information from the label.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project