Monday 28 October 2013

Clean vs dirty

Some beers squeeze their way into the house, they’re from Sharp’s and they do more than make me think about how they taste. First of all, there’s Equinox, a 3.8% session beer with orange peel in the mix. I’m not thinking breakfast beer here though, it’s something that takes me into another space as the nose carries the delicate breeze of orange notes that occur when you dig your nail into the pith; it’s not a big orange blast, but something fine, something just there, something shimmering on the far horizon. Alongside this subtlety, there’s a corporeal sweetness from the barley, both notes combining to suggest a mythical beast along the lines of orange flavoured toffee. I would call it a clean nose, in which the constituent parts all harmonise together, Bloch’s Piano Quintet no 1 perhaps? On the palate the beer is more forthright with the ghostly oranginess and a honeyed sweetness and a cracker-like dryness in the finish that is accompanied by a zestful orange note. A complete beer, a refreshing beer and above a clean beer — where clean doesn’t mean lacking in flavour, but more that the flavours have a wholeness, a unity to them. And when the word clean appears on the scene is when I start to think about the idea of clean vs dirty beers.

Continuing on the theme here is Land Shrimp Pale Ale, famously made with woodlice, creatures I would squash without thinking about it when I was younger. This has a good carbonation, a zip and a zap of fizz when the top is popped. Hazy orange in the glass, fruit gum, orange flavoured, on the nose — not a big bazooka of aroma, but there it is, to be joined by pineapple. Mouthfeel is initially creamy, followed by a sprightly dance of carbonation, a good two-step action. Pineapple, orange and no woodlice — I don’t really know what to expect; further gulps bring forth an earthiness or is that the mind playing tricks on me? There is a good appetising dry finish with bitterness and subtle pepperiness in the background; plus a hint of chalk. There is still the cleanness of what I come to feel is the signature of Sharp’s beers.

This then brings me to think about the idea of clean vs dirty beers. I remember writing once about how Kernel’s beers were dirty and the better for it and I would say the same with Sharp’s from the clean perspective. It reminds me of something Alastair Hook said to me years ago about lager — about how he was trying to have his beers show off the flavours and aromas of the raw materials he was using. That’s the definition of a great lager. With the cleanness of the beers of Sharp’s, you also get to smell and taste the raw materials, but with the ale yeast adding that extra dimension. Clean vs dirty — it doesn’t have to be divisive.

Friday 25 October 2013

An over-ignored Tasmanian Tiger eager to go for a walk

There’s nary a pop as the bottle top is popped, no hiss, no gentle pssst as what I would expect the noise the CO2 would make, eager to escape like a genie from this earthenware style bottle. Has it been released too young is the thought that burrows its way through my brain?

There is an appley cider sourness to the aroma, which bridges over to the palate; the tasting notes for the beer say vanilla and coffee and that is what I would expect from a beer billed as a strong dark porter — and then I think Brett? However, it’s still and viscous even though its end of life date is only next summer and the abv is 7.5%. Perhaps it’s meant to be still, but the stillness means initially that all the flavours hang separately; a wardrobe of badly picked colours and shaped, nothing that you would want to wear at the same time. It’s just I would like carbonation to be the wardrobe mistress.

Those were my first impressions. 

As time takes hold, takes me by the hand, there is a character and a cough and toughness to this beer that really makes me want to explore it further — it couldn’t any further from Box Steam’s other beers. A toughened, leathery toffee/treacle character that has pepper in the background and roast ground coffee beans that have been left for some time to lessen the freshness of the coffeeness, which is fine as I wasn’t expecting a big coffee hit; then here they are, the mellow vanilla notes are a nice big hug from someone close to you. It’s not overly sweet and the Brett is a delightful surprise but then I wonder if it is deliberate? Definitely Brett and it works pretty effectively with the vanilla and cocoa notes. It’s an interesting and exciting beer that nudges me like an over-ignored Tasmanian Tiger eager to go for a walk. Thank you Box Steam for sending this beer to me — I did think I knew what to expect but I am glad my expectations were confounded. Oh it’s called Evening Star and I think it’s rather special.

Friday 11 October 2013

Deep breath, I like beer mats

I’m going to be brave and stand up and say my name and after taking a deep breath I am going to say that I like beer mats. Yes that’s right, I like beer mats. I started collecting them as a teenager, though I got rid of my first hoard after splitting up with a girlfriend, but then started again and now have enough to fill about four shoeboxes. I have some of them displayed on my book shelves, while others are in plastic sleeves somewhere in a folder and the rest remain in the boxes. 

What do I like about them? 

There’s an element of time and travel about them — some represent a visit to a pub (or brewery) in a specific town or country, a memory jogger, a souvenir, a time capsule. I can see an old school Adnams one with the fisherman (and pipe), which was used for Old Ale —this takes me back to my first visit to Southwold on a cold night towards the end of the year in 1989 (that was a good night). The one for Coreff returns me to our son’s first holiday when he was about four months old (oddly enough there’s a photo from that time on the web somewhere — I’ve got a glass of Leffe and a baby is looking at it worriedly). Then there are the mats of beers from breweries that I used to like but are no longer here: as I write I can see ones for Morrells, Devenish, Tolly Cobbold and Brakspear’s on the wall. There are also mat or should that be coasters for American, Polish, Italian, German and Belgian breweries.

However the reason why I have been thinking of beer mats is this little beauty above for Harvey’s in Lewes. I picked it up at the Rake on Wednesday night and I just love it. Its immediate, striking, has a cartoonish quality but is warm as well. There’s an element of self-humour there as well, as Viva Lewes is not a phrase I would usually attribute to Harvey’s, who are one of my favourite breweries. It’s a mat to celebrate their old ale and presumably the imagery refers to Lewes’ bonfire night next month. I love it and it’s like a prediction of a journey yet to be done — I haven’t been to Harvey’s but this is something I will get around to rectifying sooner rather than later. Oh and Pete Brown tells me that the artist who did this glorious beer mat also did the cover for Shakespeare’s Local

And of course we all know that beer mat collectors call themselves tegestologists’ — I think I’ll pass on that .

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Bristol Beer Week calling

Bristol Beer Week is coming to its close and from what I hear it’s been a liver wracking success. Last night I was engaged in a beer and food match alongside a 1001 Beers signing at Arbor’s fantastic Three Tuns in the Hotwells area in Bristol. I think it went well, there was good people, good beer and I was overwhelmed by the brilliant food that Ben at Meat and Breadmatched with the beers.

Here goes. Pork belly cured in Saison Dupont accompanied by celeriac puree — the beer’s spiciness and carbonation wrapped itself around the meat, hugged the fat, slapped the puree on the back and insinuated itself into the spices. A celebration. Brewfist Spaceman with mango salad, Asian spices and peanut: say hello to the deep orangey hues of this Italian IPA and it’s a greeting as effective as that between US and Soviet forces when they met on the Elbe in 1945. Cerviche. Bristol Beer Factory’s Southville Hop was used to cure fresh mackerel and then served alongside — what a beautiful result it was. The beer brought out the flavour of the fish, while its hop character of tropical fruit was kept intact. A sensual otherworldly experience somewhat akin to praying awaited with Ampleforth Abbey beer and a slice of well-aged Westcombe Cheddar —there was also a rarebit with the briskness of the beer’s carbonation and its toffee, coffee and dried fruit notes lapping at the well of creativity. Beavertown Smog Rocket was used to braise mussels and then served alongside — yes please, while home cured cucumbers were floured and deep fried as pickle chips before being served with Lindemann’s Cuvee Rene — an inspired match with the soft, gentle acidity of the cucumber lifting the vinousness and sherry like flavours of the beer. Oh look, here comes another triumph: smoked caramel ice cream and peanut brittle served with Arbor’s silky, earthy, bittersweet Breakfast Stout. If man is 5, the Devil is 6 and this match is 9 — the beer almost became a component of the dish, lifted its flavours, acted as a bridge and made the grown men in the room ooh and aah like babies. To finish: how about Triple Karmeliet with foie gras and banana chutney? Yes please.

So when in Bristol head to the Three Tuns at lunchtime and see what Ben at Meat and Bread has to offer (his sarnies are on the bar every lunchtime). And then on the way to the station pop into BrewDog and say hello — Bristol is yet another great beer city and I for one look forward to next year’s Beer Week. 

Tuesday 1 October 2013


Dissonance. It sometimes works in music. Chords bumping into each; a rhythmic disturbance that somehow works; slow, fast, slow, fast, C# Minor and G Major played at the same time perhaps, though given that one chord contains C and the other C# it might be stretching things a bit too far. However, I’m also thinking of John Coltrane, whose work I don’t know much beyond a Love Supreme, but I remember enjoying it years ago. The Jesus & Mary Chain could do a nice riff in dissonance as well — the Beach Boys (or the Monkees) filtered through Lou Reed Metal Machine Music perhaps? Even in Elgar’s transcription of JS Bach’s Fantasia in C minor there’s a nice line in creative dissonance when it seems like the orchestra is starting to slow down and fall apart but something happens to keep it all together and the music moves to new heights of beauty.

And what this has to do with beer? The other night I opened the bottle of Meantime’s Cali-Belgian IPA that I had been sent. Described as a golden Californian-style IPA given a Belgian twist, I found it an intriguingly dissonant beer with the Belgian yeast giving it a bright and spicy character, while the IPA side of things brought forward a concentration of grapefruit, orange peel and fresh mango, though it wasn’t an easy-going fruitiness. It was a fascinating beer and one that really deserved to have some time spent with it. It made me think and with each sip I loved the beer more. And as I drank it I thought that if Californian-style IPA was rock, then Cali-Belgian IPA was most definitely jazz and that is when I started thinking about dissonance.

There’s a wildness, a flutter of different harmonies, an itch developed to explore more, a feeling that such a beer is not an easy conquest, but something to be contemplated, not instantly understood. And it was then that I thought about jazz, a form of music that I’ve never been too fond of though what I’ve heard from Coltrane and Miles Davis has always intrigued me. That’s the same thing with this beer — it intrigues me, it makes me think and best of all it revives what I sometimes worry is a palate being jaded by too many IPAs, that everyone and their mother nowadays makes. I loved it but if you want some best be quick as it’s part of the Brewers’ Collection, a monthly beer from Meantime. Next time around there’s an Imperial Pilsner , which I really hope I can try. That won’t be dissonant — contrapuntal perhaps?