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. 


  1. I remember that night, you were looking knackered and I didn't stop talking.

  2. I believe the Dark Star brewery is named after a Grateful Dead song. I can't stand them either (the "Dead" that is, not the brewery).

  3. There is no point me ever trying to do tasting notes on Cannonball now...I ain't ever gonna top that. Also, try American Beauty by The Dead. It's not bad - really. not as much noodling!

  4. sorry Leigh you aren’t going to convince me ;-)

  5. What sort of a difference to the taste of a popular beer (such as Fosters or Carling) do things like temperature, bubliness (this sort of thing - make?
    In your opinion for example, does a Fosters that is a bit more gassy taste better or worse? Can things like this change your opinion of a pub, or is a Carling the same wherever you go?

  6. Will
    Haven’t had Fosters or Carling for donkeys’ years so cannot comment, but keg beers like that can lose whatever it is that people like when the cooling or the carbonation goes awry — have seen it happen in my local when the gas failed on Northampton’s very own San Miguel and it became as still as death.