Thursday 29 October 2009

The evidence that beer is good for you often comes from the unlikeliest sources

Here we go, beer is good for you: ‘Beer, on the other hand, is a useful laxative for those prone to constipation. It increases the amount of fluid reaching the bowl, while its sugar content prevents water from being absorbed into the colon. Guinness (or stout) has a reputation for promoting milk production in nursing mothers and, until 30 years ago, was routinely prescribed for hospital patients convalescing from an operation.’ This is taken from the health page in a magazine called The Lady, which seems to be like a posh Saga mag (I found it in the loo). No alcohol panic or fear here, not even anything on drinking within your limits and it is even written by a doctor, James Le Fanu. Does Alcohol Concern or the Daily Mail know about this?

Monday 26 October 2009

Another post about the itch that is beer styles

At the Conwy Feast beer tent on Saturday afternoon, a glass of Great Orme’s delectable Welsh Black, a 4% dark ale that one immediately assumes is a mild. A chat with the brewery’s founder Jonathan Edwards turns assumptions on its head though. A mild I presume, I say in the manner of Stanley greeting Livingstone, no comes the reply, a halfway house between a mild and a dark ale. CAMRA, naturally, accord it the status of a mild when it hands out the awards. We discuss the whole vagaries of the beer style question and eventually decide that it’s a good beer whatever pigeon hole one wants to put it in. It reminds me of Green Jack’s Jack the Ripper, which won Champion Winter Beer a couple of years ago, after triumphing in the barley wine sector, even though the brewery has described it as a tripel — so is a tripel a Belgian barley wine? It wasn’t the last time I looked. I always reckon that Malheur 12 has more in common with Anglo-American barley wines. The question to be asked is — is the whole issue of beer styles just there for the consumer or does it remain a valid way of dividing up the family of beer? I must confess I don’t have the answer, but it’s one of those things that bugs away at me whenever I write about a style.

Saturday 24 October 2009

Pub time

If you’re down in North Devon this weekend then a visit to the Hunters Inn might be a pleasant chore, you can see my review of it in today’s Daily Telegraph. The picture was taken during its recent beer festival where amongst its offerings, including Rudgate Mild, I was surprised and pleased to see Punk IPA. Now I’m off to the Conwy Feast, where there’s a beer tent featuring the likes of Great Orme Brewery and Purple Moose (whose beers always seem to impress).

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Do you want to be in my (beer) gang?

Queues form round the corner for a chance to take home cases of Mad Elf Ale from Tröegs in Pennsylvania every year the beer is released; Meantime bottle special brews that seem to be available solely for CAMRA beer club members (unless you go to the brewery); I along with others received a bottle of an Imperial Fraoch (minty, peppery, spearmint, whiskery, spirited and spicy if you must know) that Joe Public can’t buy; on e-bay a bottle of Zephyr is up for $399 — and now you can pay £230 for the chance to belong to a club, or as has been written here, wear the t-shirt. I am talking about the sly sense of exclusiveness that is seeping through the world of craft beer. Do you want to be in my gang? Is it a good thing, has beer lost its democratic edge? Was its democratic edge just another manifestation of mindless rabble-rousing, the guy in the corner, drunk on god knows what, taking potshots at easy targets — drink Bud, Blue Ribbon, Stella, whatever? Is this what the craft brewing revolution has come to, a freemasonry of various lodges looking uneasily at each other, or will love of good beer overcome any drift towards tribalism? The love of elitism. And what of the wider world? Will commentators in the media (whatever branch) be overwhelmed by this sense of singularity in a world which is usually represented in their pages or on the screen by closing pubs, ‘oh look women drink beer’ featurettes, the very odd shrug on the rising star of cask beer and predictable points scored on the horrendous fashion sense of CAMRA members. As beer becomes more exclusive, but more knowing, more distanced from its ur-source of a refreshing but uncomplicated drink, then it becomes more valuable, changes its character, at least in the minds of many of us — however, as this drive to exclusivity continues, I wonder if it might hinder its growth and its clubbiness put off people who like a beer but don’t consider it their life and deliver them into the arms of whatever drink offers them a alternative and less threatening sense of belonging (maybe beers that are the equivalent of those ads for ‘exclusive’ figurines of Native American warriors looking narky or kittens wearing high heels). A two-tier system of beer appreciation waits perhaps?

Sunday 18 October 2009

Gooner murder an ale

I love this: yesterday in the DT, Andrei Arshavin is quoted as saying: ‘I Heard about ales. Ales! A special drink like beer but without gas!’ As an Arsenal fan, I love the fact that the dressing room conversation might be a bit like the chit-chat before a judging for the IBC Awards or similar. Rossicky to Walcott, ‘ Bohemian Pilsners are the best’, Walcott: ‘have you tried London Pride?’ Van Persie: ‘Personally I prefer a Christoffel Blonde’. The ghost of Tony Adams: ‘ anyone fancy an Evian?’

Tuesday 13 October 2009

In which the British Guild of Beer Writers organise a bliss-up in a brewery

Beer seminar? Booze-up more like it, went the refrain when I mentioned down the pub that I was off to Thornbridge for a Barley Wine seminar, which I had organised on behalf of the British Guild of Beerwriters with the brewery. (Now, if I had said a wine discussion would there have been the same response? Probably not, but I’m getting a bit bored with the whole wine vs beer game these days). These seminars have a long (ish) and honourable history within the Guild going back to the early 1990s when ones on old ale, porter and — most memorably — IPA were held at the White Horse in Parsons Green (I reckon that the last one went some way to help foster an interest in IPAs amongst British brewers). So it was entirely fitting that the former landlord of the pub, Mark Dorber, opened up the proceedings yesterday. He was the advance of a thoroughly good line-up — Fuller’s John Keeling, White Shield’s Steve Wellington and Sierra Nevada’s Steve Grossman got their memory sticks out (well Steve used his memory), while shorter performances came from former Guild president and journalist Barrie Pepper, Durham Brewery’s Steve Gibbs, Lovibonds’ Jeff Rosenmeier and Pete Brown (We also had Mark, John and Thornbridge’s Kelly doing a barley wine and cheese tasting). And what happens at a barley wine seminar, you might ask if you’ve not been to one. A beer style or ingredient or phenomenon is discussed, dissected and highlighted (we’ve had yeast, wood-aged beer, lager and the Durden Beer Circle in the last 10 years) and then beer is drank (well the denizens of my local got that one right). Yesterday we had: St Austell’s Smugglers (one version aged in wood, the other not), Sierra Nevada Bigfoot in a whisky cask, plus 2004 and 2007’s versions, a 31 month old pin of Alliance, Moonraker, Golden Pride, Vintage 1999, Lovibonds Wheat Wine, Stingo, Benedictus, Headcracker, Barley Gold, and Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale. A hefty line-up of ales, all tempting the 50+ people present who had to wait until the half time break for a swig (and given some of the pot-valiants there I made sure there were only half pint glasses available).

Barley wine is a subject that deserves to be discussed, it’s not rocket fuel, it’s on a par with wine (though PB made an interesting point about one of the beers there — lovely beer but nut-job name, guess the beer?), while for me one of the great moments of the afternoon was when Steve Wellington, who confessed he’d been thinking about knocking Bass No 1 on the head, exclaimed that he didn’t really know that there was so much interest in the style. ‘Now I will have to go and brew some and it will be ready in a year,’ he said, which is the sort of reaction you need. As the weather gets colder beer drinkers like myself do want stronger beers, beers to sit and contemplate and sip — barley wine might sit on the shelf of shame in many pubs, if at all, (ie Gold Label, too fizzy and syrupy last time I tried), but it’s a beer that deserves to be considered more than just rocket fuel. As Pete Brown said (and I nicked for the title for the seminar): Barley Wine, the beer that thinks it’s a wine.
The smart looking chap in the pic (not the scuff sitting down) is James McCrorie, founder of the Craft Brewing Association (and Guild member); this was taken at the 2007 seminar on wood aged beers, while the one-legged man is chairman Tim Hampson.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Why Orval is the best beer in the world at a certain moment in one’s life

I’m in a restaurant in Wallonia, not a beer restaurant, just the sort of well-run place that caters both for visitors like myself and locals who fancy something different. As it happens I am the only one in there that night, having dashed in from a long rain shower and — shaking myself like a terrier who has been just been hauled out of an Exmoor river — I explain in my kindergarten French that the tourist board has reserved a table for me. I am offered the run of the house, were would I like to sit? Remembering that Wild Bill Hickock met his fate because he sat at a table that faced away from the door, I choose one that faces the door. Would I like wine I am asked by a young lad with spiky hair? No thanks a beer please, this is saison country after all. Carlsberg comes the reply. Even here in Tournai, it’s depressing that I am being offered a beer that I would be offered throughout most of Western Europe whatever the beer culture. No thanks, any Belgium beer I say, dreading Leffe, whose Tripel was a mainstay on a southwest France holiday in 2005, but whose blonde I find a Demerera-sugared irritation. He comes back with a tray on which sit bottles of Orval (ideal shapes for West Country skittles), Chimay Bleu, Stella and possibly Leffe, but as soon as I saw Orval my mind was made up. Orval it was — I love that beer, a beer that has the influence of Brett, a beer that is both so satisfyingly complex, moreish, creamy, bittersweet, palate refreshingly citrusy and as this restaurant shows quite commonplace. I am served turbot in a creamy shrimp sauce which is bossed over by the Orval, bringing out the creamy and citrusy notes of the beer and also cutting through the cream of the sauce. It is delicious. I remember that this is not haute cuisine, biere cuisine or even good gastro-pub stuff, it’s just ordinary for this part of the world. I sat there wondering where in the UK in an ordinary restaurant, you know the small town high street gaff with French cuisine pretensions, would you get such a wonderful and complex beer. In the UK some might have the local ale, a bitter or a golden ale, pasteurised to high heaven, but this is the local ale. No one else comes into the restaurant while I eat, which is fine — and besides I wouldn’t have noticed, so engrossed was I in contemplating and considering the Orval. Another thing that occurred to me, later on, in another bar, with more people about, well-fed and well-watered, as I enjoyed the rich orange liqueur-like character of Triple Karmeliet, was that there is no such thing as the best beer in the world — just the best beer at the right moment and in this case Orval in a touristy restaurant in the town of Tournay fitted that bill as snug as a bug in a very snug rug.

Friday 2 October 2009


Even in this little rural outpost of Exmoor, we get beer: at 5.15pm this afternoon I received an email from Kenny at the Bridge. ‘Brew Dog 77 Lager on now...’ It’s a five minute walk down the road, right next to the River Barle, which eventually meets its destiny with the Exe about two miles away. At 5.30pm, having decided that my saison opening for an American magazine was coming along nicely, I was on my way. It’s the best beer on tap this weekend in Dulverton, and I say this having also thoroughly enjoyed several pristine fragrantly hopped pints of Tribute at my other local Woods afterwards. The countryside and fantastic beer, what a combination. This is not one of those Sodom and Gomorrah rants about the Moloch of the city, I love cities, but I don’t want to live in them and I glad to get home here after a day or so in London, Sheffield, Prague, New York, whatever So take a bow Kenny at the Bridge and Paddy at Woods. Hwyl fawr.
The picture is of a tree (obviously) in the centre of Hawkridge, a village four miles or so out on the moor, which has no pub but is exquisitely isolated.