From our own correspondent: Cakes & Ale

A creme brûlée imperial stout? Are the boundaries really being pushed or are beers such as pastry stouts just a gimmick? On a trip to Amsterdam, Adrian Tierney-Jones ponders the question

Adrian Tierney-Jones

There’s an advert for a Melon IPA on the wall and I have a glass of a creme brûlée imperial stout to hand. I’m in Crafts & Drafts in Amsterdam, a shop-front windowed bar whose interior is Scandi clean lines fused with the traditional twilight of the pub. As happened with me at a Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen in August (and written about in the current issue of Original Gravity), I scoured the tap list for something that wasn’t a collaboration, yet another IPA (or whatever denomination) or missing the ingredients of my mother’s kitchen store cupboard. ‘The creme brûlée imperial stout is sensational,’ said a screen-scanning drinker stuck on a stool at the bar. I pulled a face and she said, ‘no, really’. The barman also nodded his assent. So I ordered it.

It was ok, spirituous and sanctified with the caramel love of the creme brûlée but I couldn’t help feeling that what I was drinking was not something new, something carved out of the brewing heritage and reborn like Christ on the third (or was it the fourth, I can never remember) day. Instead, of leaping in the air, sharing high fives with all and sundry and raising a glass to innovation and exploration, I felt I was joining in, collaborating (in the Quisling-like sense of the word rather than the one that means partnership and friendship), merging my soul with the continuing gimmickry and infantilisation of beer, joining in with the great lie that brewers brew what they like to drink.

Apparently, after the fruit juice jamboree of NEIPAs (some are good, very good, but the ones that don’t work leave a taint on the tongue and a deep welt on the soul), pastry stouts are now something to behold and in vogue as they combine the ingredients of the bakery with whatever strong beer is mug enough to welcome them. I don’t know why I’m surprised as craft beer (or whatever you want to call it) continues to eat itself with the relish of a man with a Franz Josef handlebar devouring a plate of dumplings and pork in a Prague pub. IPA is splintered as if it were a mirror smashed on the floor; sours are beaching themselves on the sands of undrinkability; and now my mum’s kitchen store cupboard is being raided to add ‘another dimension’ (not anyone’s words, but my imagined conversation when brewers wonder where they can go next) to the beer in our glass.

Back in Crafts & Drafts, I think back longingly to the glass of Beaujolais I’d had earlier in the evening in a bar specialising in Natural Wines. It was delicious, smooth, soft in its tobacco box tannins and with a nice lean dry finish, nothing like the puny Beaujolais I had tasted in the past. There was no cake mixture, cherry brandy, Shreddies or onions in the mix, but just a great wine. I wonder if it’s too late to launch a campaign for natural beer?