Two and a half cheers for Heinrich Beck

One of the funnier five minutes on the BBC programme Antiques Roadshow, where the public brings its mouldering rubbish along hoping for the experts to tell them it’s worth thousands, was a couple of years back when a woman turned up while the programme was being filmed in Scotland with a painting signed by someone called Jack Hoggan. She liked it, she told the Roadshow’s art expert, she had bought it quite cheaply in a junk shop, and she kept seeing pictures that reminded her of it, so the thought she would bring it along to try to find out more about this Hoggan chap.

The BBC art expert was obviously tortured by, on the one side, being able to tell the woman the painting was indeed worth much more than she had paid for it, and on the other, by having to say this was because it was by the painter who later changed his name to Jack Vettriano, the artist the experts loathe and the public adores. Vettriano’s The Singing Butler is one of the most reproduced pictures in Britain (you know it – it’s the one with the couple in evening dress dancing in the rain, while the butler and maid hold wind-blustered umbrellas). Art critics insist his work is flat and derivative. Vettriano is sheltered from their jibes by the £500,000 a year, at least, he makes from reproduction rights to his paintings.

There are plenty of beers that fit into the Jack Vettriano category – loathed by the “experts”, drunk in enough volume by the public that the brewers who make them don’t care. I don’t like Jack Vettriano that much, but there are at leat a couple of beers I’m not supposed to like that I really feel need to have a flag waved on their behalf: they’re, you know, actually, not that bad. Maybe it’s because they’re both from that global megacategory the pilsalikes that they come in for the ritual dismissal. The World’s Top Writer On Beer™ insists

“Even if you want nothing more than simple refreshment, you could do much better than the familiar Foster’s, Corona, American Bud, Carling, Heineken, Grolsch, Beck’s and similar international-style golden lagers from Ruritania, Xanadu or Bongoland. People imagine that these beers are enormously different from one another, but they are all lighter-bodied, blander-tasting, distant impersonations of just one style: the Pilsner lager of Bohemia. None of these imitators is truly individualistic.

but there are two errors in that position.

The first is that of the seven beers TWTWOB™ puts the boot into, some – Corona, and Anheuser-Busch’s Bud, in particular – are demonstrably worse than the others. Not just “bland”, but actual muck, in fact. The second is that very often you’ll find yourself in a bar where the choice is going to be just two or three of the beers listed by TWTWOB™, or lemonade. And frankly, if Beck’s is one of those choices, then I’m going to be, not deliriously happy, but not unbelievably grumpily miffed, either. Because Bremen’s best-known brewer isn’t Jever (maker of North Germany’s finest pils, if you had asked me, which admittedly you didn’t), and it’s certainly not any of the fine brewers from Bohemia or Slovakia, but more than 130 years as an export brewer means Beck’s is consistent, never poor, always acceptable – and with enough depth of flavour to leave Carling, for example, puffing in its wake.

The other beer in the “let’s praise with faint damns” category is Peroni Nastro Azzuro, which, like Beck’s (now owned by InBev). has also fallen into the maw of a world giant (SABMiller). Almost every Italian restaurant or pizza place in the UK has Nastro Azzuro, and you know why? Because it’s not that awful, that’s why. Try a test. Order, if you can find it, a Peroni “red label” (slightly weaker) or a Moretti in your local Italian, and then have as your next beer a Nastro Azzuro. Despite what TWTWOB™ says, not all bland pilsalikes are alike in their blandness. When you’ve tasted other Italian lagers, and agreed with me that Nastro Azzuro is easily the best of a not-so-hot bunch, celebrate with a Peroni Gran Reserva (PizzaExpress sells it) At seven per cent ABV, I believe you’ll like it …

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