Tuesday, 28 December 2010

2010 and all that beer

2010… The clock in the church tower strikes 6pm and from several alleyways that feed the centre of Laxfield groups of villagers urgently make a beeline for the Kings Arms. For me this was the most striking and visual confirmation of the paramount importance of the pub and its role in our national community (and being an Adnams pub, the beer was pretty good as well) — people still set their watches by them. Pubs might be closing, pubs might be losing money, pubs might be getting as rare as the hair on Oz Clarke’s head, but this image, which I witnessed, as I joined in the common stream and ambled across the churchyard, was a sign of hope. I hope. Long may it continue.

Like most people, I look back, cherish lost moments, and in the beery sense have a shed load of fond times that come back to me from my journey across 2010 — great beers delivered straight from the tank on their home territory, getting a bridgehead in the US with All About Beer, seeing 1001 Beers continue to sell (even though I don’t get royalties), getting major beer and travel stories in the national press (a front page story on beer in the DT was a particular highlight), meeting loads of great people and still being surprised by new beers (as well as being irritated by those who don the Emperor’s new clothes), but it’s hard to really pin things down, say that this was the best, this was the worse, so all I can is offer a few views of the year in beer as I witnessed it.

Arrived hot and sweaty at the Von Trapp Lodge high above the mountain resort of Stowe, VT, and greeted with one of the most sublime Helles that I have ever had.  The Von Trapp brewery might sound like some gimmick to entrap the Sound of Music masses, but under the stewardship of brew master Allen Van Alda this is a serious lager brewery, which also produces a chocolaty Dunkel and a crisp Vienna Amber. The hills are alive with the sounds of triple decoction.

Lager was very much on my mind on a Pilsen press trip in the summer. This was a first: you normally have to place a feature in a magazine or paper to get on these trips, but the organisers wanted blogs instead. As well as getting a vision of the new Czech beer revolution thanks to Evan Rail, there was the Chodovar brewery where in the lagering cellars brewmaster Jiri Plevka filled a metal jug with the brewery’s Spezial straight from the tank. The beer was creamy, fresh and perky, fulsome in the mouth feel, a bittersweet buzz followed by a notable bite of bitterness, it felt both smooth and rough in the mouth, a heady combination. ‘It is like a Marzen/Fest,’ he said. And then followed one of those beer epiphanies — a light-bulb moment when I realised the close relationship between Bohemian and Bavarian brewing. I have donned my deerstalker and investigating further.

Other memorable moments: drinking in Poechenellekelder in Brussels with Stuart Howe, the Martin Johnson of the mash tun (regular tastings of his 52 brews have been spectacular and I’ve got Monsieur Rock to try later this week) and then over to Orval for it on draught in the company of the mouse-like Jean-Marie Rock; the lagers of Vermont from the likes of Alchemy, Northshire and Bobcat; Ray McNeil in Brattleboro and Paul Sayler at Zero Gravity, Burlington, VT — unsung US brewers who don’t do the rock star or celeb trail but are immeasurably talented; a moment with a pint of Tanglefoot when I noted a dryness and grape-like character reminiscent of Gewürztraminer; the fun and sociability that always follows a committee meeting of the British Guild of Beer Writers; Thornbridge’s Jaipur running out in two hours in the Bridge last Whitsun during the folk festival; the sumptuous magnificence of Otter Head at Woods this Christmas; loads of pubs throughout the country and plenty of new discoveries (Euston Tap, The Harp, Kilvert’s, the Coopers, the Jolly Butcher’s, the Triangle) and then…
— the fantasticness of Kernel Brewery: as someone who spent 11 years in London and left pretty pissed off with the place, the idea of the London Brewers’ Alliance would have had me fulminating about bleeding Londoners, but with Fuller’s and Meantime continuing to rock my boat, I am SO in love with the beers of Kernel and look forward to trying the rest of the Alliance’s beers.

So there it is, 2010 and all that — and I didn’t even mention the things that irritated me… Happy New Year.

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