Sunday 31 July 2011

į sveikatą!

And as the clock ticks down towards a pretty decent celebration of beer in London this week (there’s a beer festival going on I hear plus various meet the brewer events and a general sense of beer celebration whatever the dispense), I think this majestic fellow might be interested in what’s going on. He’s actually a King Gambrinus I snapped whilst in the Avilys brewpub in Lithuania back in 2007 — though he’ll probably have to put some clothes on before venturing out. Not bad beer in the place either. į sveikatą!

Saturday 30 July 2011

Pub fantasia

On a trip to Dublin, I once had a jar of stout in Davy Byrne’s, though I should have plumped for a glass of Burgundy with a Gorgonzola sandwich just like Leopold Bloom. At least the pub exists, which is more than be said for the Sailors Arms, the Bull or the Rovers Return. If they did exist, in the Sailors you would be drinking in a village of Llareggub. At the Bull you would be reminded of its late landlord Sid Perks, while the Rovers Return would see creamy ersatz pints of Newton & Ridley served. Pubs abound in the pages of literature and popular dramas, being the places where people meet and dramas occur. The Shakespearian clown Falstaff caroused with his drinking cronies in the Boar’s Head, while Mr Pickwick went to the Magpie and Stump (for a nice glass of porter perhaps?). GK Chesterton went on the move with The Flying Inn and Graham Swift’s characters met at the Coach & Horses in Last Orders. Imaginary pubs aside, you might want to create your own just as George Orwell did in his famous essay on the perfect pub, The Moon under the Water

Or why not come to Hay-on-Wye over August bank holiday weekend where Kilvert’s Hotel will be hosting a Hay Ale and Literature Festival, at which myself and Mark Dredge will be talking — more details here. The picture is of myself, Pete Brown and Tim Hampson laying our collective egos aside and doing a collaboration tasting last year (it was cold).

Tuesday 26 July 2011

In this Wetherspoons…

This is a Wetherspoons in Llandudno in North Wales. It is the Wetherspoons which was once a cinema. At the age of 14 I sat in the first tier of seats, possibly to the right, and watched Clockwork Orange (along with most of the 4th and 5th and 6th form). I also sat there and watched the Exorcist (twice in a week) and had a crafty bottled Guinness in the cinema bar, that was when I was in the lower 6th. I think my parents saw films here in the 1950s — certainly not Bergman but I would like to think they queued up for Wilder (that’s the director by the way). The last film I saw here was an Austin Powers one, possibly the first. Nowadays when I return to Llandudno (as one must, but it’s hardly we’ll always have Paris), I go there to get the free WiFi and remember the movies I saw over the years (I have a pint as well, it’s got better over the last couple of years). The other cinema I used to go to (I saw a lot of Bond and Carry On movies there) was pulled down and is now a fortress of warden controlled flats. Cinemas, like pubs, have their own memories and like the Proms audience currently acclaiming a rather excellent performance of Listz’s Faust I acclaim Wetherspoons for their sensitivity in adapting somewhere that was so important to me when I was growing up.

Thursday 14 July 2011

You can do Magic

Magic #1 
I had spent my whole life avoiding the music of the Grateful Dead but a year ago during a visit to Magic Hat in Burlington, VT it caught up with me. Not very impressed, sounded like I expected it to sound: hippy trippy guitars, self-indulgent hippy nonsense, going-on-far-too long and utterly concrete-dull in its ability to attract. On the other hand the visit to Magic Hat went down a treat even if I found their blend of hippy vibe and carny extravaganza a bit too much at times. The whole place was a mixture of Dr Seuss and Willy Wonka plus a bit of 1950s B-movie horror — the aforementioned Grateful Dead eternally jamming on the speakers and incredibly inventive tap handles inducing a zany swirling cacophonic vibe. Lots of stuff to buy, including frisbees, bottles, t-shirts and some books (though not 1001 Beers sadly) and massive papier mache figures hanging over the brewing area (the brewery sponsors the local Mardi Gras). It was honest and open in the great American way, treating brewing as showmanship and I think some Brit breweries could learn from it (no Grateful Dead please). The beers? The night before in a bar in Rutland VT I had #9: I wasn’t blown away — blackcurrant plus vanilla, and some apricot tart notes. Shrug of shoulders. This time at the brewery I got it — rich apricot skin on the nose, a luscious apricot character and gorgeous flowery elegance (a tired keg the night before?). Amongst the others I tried were Circus Boy, an unfiltered Hefe-Weiss with cloves and a slightness of banana on the nose; in the mouth it was chewy, elegant, peppery and refreshing, leading to a dryish finish; Single Chair, whose tap featured a Lilliputian ski chair, was fragrant and flowery with a dry finish; Hex had a fresh bath salts style nose and was sprightly on the palate, bearing forth a sweet caramel/toffee character with hints of smoke and wood; the finish was dry grainy and bittersweet. Blinking back out in the sun I felt rather discombobulated. 

Magic #2 
Stuart Ross at Crown
In 2008 I was in Sheffield for pub research and booked into the Hillsborough Hotel. After a day going round pubs I got back at about 9.30pm looking forward to an early night. Stuart Ross of the in-house Crown Brewery had a different idea and invited me to the cellar to try his beers. We both bonded over Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing, one of the best beer books ever, and drank beer. I remember a red IPA though wasn’t taking notes, but I did think that he was going places. A couple of years ago I was at the Crown again and he gave me a bottle of a smoked Oktoberfest, which I thought brilliant. Now Stuart is over at Magic Rock Brewery and I was sent several of his beers. They’re all excellent though the one that really impressed was Cannonball, an imperial IPA. The aroma alone was to die for — it was like sticking your nose into a freshly opened pack of New World hops. If you’re going to be drinker friendly there were passion fruit, grapefruit and pineapple notes, but on the other hand: the aroma was primeval and erotic in its abandonment; Isadora Duncan dancing Diaghilev; Ur-hop; sweaty almost but not in an unpleasant manner; alcoholic; a muted Cointreau with some caramel sprinkles (only a few); and the earthy smell of cow skin minus all those intervening aromas of shit and whatever else. The palate was velvety, like licking and perhaps biting into ripe orange skin, then there was grapefruit juice, alcohol, a sweetness that was soon kept in its place by a slap of dryness; some soapiness in the mouth feel (Saaz?) as well plus a slight woodiness in the background. The finish was grainy, toasty and lime-like with more bitterness. Rather excellent and I wish I’d tried it on tap at the Craft Beer Co last week, but I suspect I will see it around a lot more. 

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Pabst Blue Ribbon

Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) is one of my favourite beer writers, passionate, no nonsense, both gravely and grave in tone and a proselytiser for Philadelphia, which he claims is the best beer place in the US (having not been there I will leave it for others to debate). After reading his piece on retro beers in All About Beer in 2008 (see here) I just knew he had to do Pabst Blue Ribbon for 1001 Beers, the favourite beer of Frank in Blue Velvet. And then last year I was in a bar in Rutland VT and amongst the hordes of taps was one for PBR. I was tempted but instead plumped for Magic Hat’s #9 and then Otter Creek’s Summer Ale. I bottled it. So when I got send a couple of bottles the other week I thought it was about time I tried this blue collar brew. First thoughts were its paleness, as if the lightest malt you could kiln had been used (or was that just the adjuncts?). In the glass it’s limpid, rather like the surface of a slow moving, sluggish river, with a few bubbles rising to the top, fish hanging around below; perhaps the Waverley in Suffolk, where Roger Deakin was wont to swim, or a mill pond or mere. Bubbles rising steadily to this limpid, still surface; does it make you want to dive in, be enveloped in a blanket like embrace? Not really. A clean nose and then some bitter lemon notes. The sharp carbonic bite on the back of the throat is reminiscent of coke or lemonade, though nowhere as sweet (do the success of such beers appeal to those with an infantile taste, who crave a return to the innocent pleasures of childhood — I only ask having watched with amusement the reactions of an eight-year-old boy to tortilla yesterday). After time spent in the fridge I guess that the attraction of PBR is that it is a beer to be drunk at a certain occasion — perhaps after a run or a few games of squash when you want something to spike up your palate, though I have found Fuller’s Discovery one of the best thirst-quenching beers about. Or maybe you want to wind up your craft beer buddies, in the same way a copy of Hustler will wind up others — again the inner infant to the fore. The boiled lemon notes swell as the beer warms. It doesn’t as much float my boat of beer as sink it — in that sluggish, slow-moving river in the depths of which lord knows what waits. 

#Oh and I know I use a pic of a can but it’s available in glass bottles in the UK.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Beer and terroir: a retrospective view

Was interested to catch a glimpse of some of the tweets between Tim Atkin and various beer bloggers yesterday; one thing stuck in my mind: something said about wine having a sense of place but beer not so much. Terroir in other words. It led me back to my 2005 book The Big Book of Beer, in which I wrote a page about the terroir of beer, where I argued you could have a sense of terroir for beer. I thought I would reproduce it here with one caveat: it was written in 2005 and was very much of its time, if I were writing now I would come at it from a different angle, but I do like the idea of the effect of salt-laden north-easterly winds of East Kent Goldings.  

‘Terroir is the term used to describe the effect of the local environment, history, farming practices and climate on the product. In the world of wine, the very concept of terroir adds value, prestige and romance to certain vintages. Winemakers can tell stories about steep south-facing slopes, granite soils, low rainfall and all-year sunlight that have oenophiles turning claret with excitement. Can beer be said to have a similar terroir? Most certainly. The ingredients of beer have a terroir, that magical attachment to place. Here’s Kentish hop grower Tony Redsell on the effects of the local temperature on his hops: ‘The exposure to the salt-laden north-easterly winds in March, as the character of the hop is being developed, gives an East Kent hop that unique aroma, which is just that little bit different from common or garden (yard) Goldings or Goldings types.’ Taste and savour Shepherd Neame’s Master Brew or Spitfire to experience this uniqueness. For richer hop aromas we have to travel further west to Herefordshire and Worcestershire, where breweries such as Teme Valley, Hobsons and Wye Valley make use of the hops grown on their doorsteps. The rich clay soils in the area help to produce these lush hoppy scents. Here the Fuggle hop is king (though other hops are also grown). This is a magnificent bittering hop, which adds a sensuous earthiness to beer, but also contributes a tropical, grassy aroma. In East Anglia, both large and small brewers use locally grown barley that is also malted in the region. Beers such as Adnams Best Bitter and St Peter’s Suffolk Gold possess a richness and maturity in their malt flavours, which could be ascribed to the rich low nitrogen soils of the region. Then there is the water of Burton, gypsum-rich and hard as iron, which was ideal for sparkling pale ales in the 19th century, making this Staffordshire town the centre of brewing. Until Burton’s water could be replicated chemically, beers brewed in the town had an identity that could be ascribed to terroir. Brewers might not be able to ascribe the qualities of their beers to the angle of the sun on the mash tun or whether it was raining when the fermentation took place, but the raw materials of our favourite beers all have a story waiting to be told, whether it’s hardy hop bines struggling in the cold winds of East Kent during March and April, when the flavour and aroma of the hop begins to form, or sturdy stalks of grain taking their time to mature as another summer sea fog rolls in along the north Norfolk coast.’