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.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
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

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home