Archive for August, 2008

State of the Art
August 25, 2008



why?, originally uploaded by velvetdahlia.

Since I couldn’t take any decent pictures of the pub where we found ourselves on Sunday, here is me drinking a pint there and vaguely protesting the impromptu documentation of said drinking.

Yesterday I visited a friend in hostipal in Euston and used it as a reason to check out Bree Louise, a pub I’ve read about on several beer blogs.

It’s a bit like being in some old bachelor’s living room. It’s the kind of place men feel comfortable letting it all hang out. The crowd was basically farting geezers (wish I was exaggerating) and laddish young men with teeshirts that read: “Drink till she’s cute” and “Let’s play carpenter. We get hammered and I nail you.” The bare white walls and grubby red carpet, coupled with the furniture that looked like cast-offs from a chain pub all added to the complete lack of anything resembling ambiance. It was one of those places that made me wonder why the hell I go out looking for beer in these alienating spaces. It must be the masochist in me.

There were several beers on gravity, but it was impossible to make heads or tails of them because in some instances the brewery wasn’t listed with the name. The overly eager bar-hand kept saying, “I’m ready when you are, what do you want?” I chose at random the Doombar and the Beartown something or other. When I finally ordered, he said, “That’s 4%– it’s going to go straight to your head!” Which was actually kind of cute. When we presented our CAMRA cards we got 50p off each, making the round £1 cheaper.

The beers were rather forgettable, except the Doombar which was tasty but seemed a bit flat and thin. Maybe it had gone off? We tried the Iceberg and the Atlantic IPA also but I took no notes.

They had a list of what casks would be tapped next. I can see how this would be ticker heaven, if all you cared about was beer and not where or how you were drinking it.

The sinister Mr. Malting guarding the half pints.

The sinister Mr. Malting guarding the half pints.

Cleopatra’s Fruit and Martian War Machine Coolant
August 24, 2008

In the Olde Ale House at the Red Lion Beer Festival

In the Olde Ale House at the Red Lion Beer Festival

This weekend was the Champions Beer Festival at the Red Lion in Isleworth, which I consider practically my local. Even when there’s not a festival on, this pub has at least 7 guest taps that are ever changing, and the women behind the bar know their stuff and are always happy to recommend something based on beer you already like.

Walking in, it was hard to know that there was a beer festival on. There were no banners or signs leading people to the small outer cellar where all the casks were arrayed. In fact, when I was sitting at the bar a woman asked what ciders were on and the guy behind the bar looked bewildered and then told her “Only Strongbow.” I had to butt in and tell her to go in the back where they had three different kinds. After she left the bar hand turned to me and joked, “You made me look bad.” But did he not know there was a festival on?

A man and his two sons came up and squinted at the taps and kind of looked around. When we told them there was a room full of casks in the back worth checking out the old guy said, “You’ve been here for a while have you?” and the younger ones repeated what we said in American accents. I suppose we amused them. (In London, talking to strangers is mistaken for drunkeness. Or being from nutterville.)

I confess I actually didn’t drink any of the featured “Champions” from the GBBF and went straight to the Proper Job, after having read about it on Boak and Bailey. While not as sparkly as I had hoped it was lovely in its hoppy spice. I starting thinking about hops, and how for the longest time I associated very hoppy beers with something medicinal or astringent. I have gradually learned to like them. The first time I ever saw a hop was at my brewer friend Bob’s– he and Edie were having a tasting and they’d strung garlands of hops around. The smell was really comforting and herby and they were beautiful. Now that I knew what they looked like they didn’t scare me as much. And then I realized that different hops have different flavours, and the key was finding the ones you liked. I love estery hops but still can’t abide anything too piney…don’t think I ever will.

And speaking of estery– my favourite was probably Derventio’s Cleopatra Fruit, recommended to me by the woman behind the bar with Cleopatra eyes, no less. It had apricots in the nose and throughout the palate but it was actually quite dry.

there is way too much going on on this pump clip

there is way too much going on on this pump clip

Mr Malting of course stuck with milds. The Bateman’s was forgettable. The Martian Mild, which Wayland claimed was “used as a coolant by the Martian War Machines on Mars” was sweet and sour, not unlike some kind of candy we had as children. We concluded that Martian war technology must be cooled by Werther’s Originals. Still, it was a good beer– made even better by the sense of marketing absurdity.

The standout of the milds was the Hobson’s classic. Roasty, roasty comforting and still light. I had a half pint of it myself.

I regret not having a full pint of Old Scatness– a beer I loved at the GBBF. But I thought I should try new things. Interestingly, there were absolutely no disappointments, unless you count the band, who took over 40 minutes with a sound check. There was an accordian, a fiddle, a mandolin and a stand up bass…our interest was piqued and we waited. And waited while their fussing began to squash any potential joy they might make once they got around to making it.

Eddie

Eddie

More entertaining was the Red Lion’s gregarious Pomeranian, Eddie. I’ll forgive the band and the lack of signage. With a dog as cute as Eddie, and knowledgeable women behind the bar, plus not a single dud in the line up (at least of what I tried), this festival was a winner.

Naked on a beer rug.
August 11, 2008

Pump clips from the GBBF.  So. Not. Sexy.

Pump clips from the GBBF. So. Not. Sexy.

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder…from today’s Mirror, researchers prove beer goggles exist. Which begs the questions– why did they need experts to prove this, and why, exactly, is this news?

The researchers administered vodka to test subjects– probably mixed with something to mask the alcohol. So, technically, they really haven’t proved the validity of beer goggles, at least in my mind.

Beer isn’t really sexy-making, is it? Beer in the quantity that gives one goggles also bloats and queases. Beer marketers have a lot of work to do if they really want to bring sexy back in a more universal aspect– this would mean more than a stemmed glass (apparently the stemmed 1/3 pint glass at the GBBF was designed to appeal to women. Does anyone else find this strange?)

Yesterday I was at the Market Porter, drinking a wonderfully estery Crouch Vale Eldorado when I spied a pump clip for a beer called “Forbidden Fruit” featuring a be-thonged prepubescent-looking buttocks with a disembodied hand holding a strawberry over the tail bone. The tag line read, You know you want it. Er…ok. But can you put it in a stemmed glass? Part of me thought, gee– that beer must be pretty great to survive such a horrible pump clip, but I’m not getting anywhere near it. Many beers are marketed as “sexy”, with a shameless use of women’s bodies. (In the US these babed-out ad campaigns are reserved for the “Bud Girls” and other megabreweries.) It’s just uncool, really, and no amount of beer goggles could make this bad taste good. Every time I see something like this it’s the equivalent of a cold shower. Is it any wonder women drink wine? Have you ever seen a crappily drawn bikini clad woman on a wine bottle? Real ale in the UK would be forward looking if that approach were just ditched, lumped, exstinctified. In my more paranoid moments I figure these ad campaigns in the UK are designed to deter women and save all the good stuff for men.

Witness the wrong-on-all-levels Shepherd Neame ad:

...a bowl of water for me bitches

...a bowl of water for me bitches

So, while beer advertising evolves (one lives in hope), let’s talk about beer. What is the sexiest beer you’ve even had? What made it so? Mine without a doubt would be Paradox Grain. Teh hotness.

Three Nights of Beering
August 9, 2008

GBBF-- a grim venue in which to get your buzz on.

GBBF-- a grim venue in which to get your buzz on.

“Why would you need to go to a festival to get beer?” The guy from the mail room, who’d stopped by the new high security den in which I work, asked. My co-worker had just informed him that I was going to the GBBF again, after having gone almost every day this week. They found this hilarious.

I told him there were hundreds of beers by small breweries, beers you could never get at your local pub or off license.

“Stick with the big names, that’s what I say. You know how they’ll taste. You know what they’ll do to you.”

I have to admit that after three days of drinking countless and varied thirds, I see a sliver of wisdom in this man’s words. You see, I don’t feel so great. Friday night my feet were covered from blisters– after working 8 hours in heels and corporate costume, I now stood for another five drinking. And then I spilled mild all over my only good work skirt, and I wasn’t even drunk. I was in serious beer overload.

It’s hard to get drunk happily at the GBBF. There’s a lot of trekking around, looking for the beer you want, and then queuing, and then more walking around looking for a small, calm corner in which to enjoy it. You realize there is really no such thing, so you drink it while being jostled by unfriendly crowds. And then with the next 1/3 of a pint it starts all over again.

If Tuesday belongs to the professionals, Wednesday belongs to the obsessives, the tickers. Thursday belongs to the suited hedonists: City workers drinking as fast as they can before their 9 o’clock train. And Friday belongs to all the people you’d rather not drink with. Friday is one giant stag night. Groups of men roam, roaring in unison every time a glass breaks or they win at something or just because they think they need to jump-start the craic. They’re wearing purple western hats usually reserved for desperate fun of the hen night, or tams with “ginger” hair attached, or jester hats. And it’s not even hat night. That was Thursday. And there are more women on Friday, but they are tarted up in the tiniest skirts and stilettos.

After wringing a half pint of mild from my career-wear separates, I’m really no better. I just wish I was drunk like them and maybe none of it would matter.

But the thing I realized as I watched a saintly CAMRA volunteer set up the “roll the barrel” game for the stream of drunk asshats (in America the equivalent would be frat guys, but in the UK I’m not sure) I realized why I came every night wasn’t just for the beer, or the spectacle of machismo, but the sheer wonder of this volunteer-run event. To work unpaid in the dismal Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre with drunks and beer obsessives sounds like its own kind of hell. You’d have to really love beer to do this. I hope they all got lots of it.

A lovely CAMRA volunteer encouraged me to try my luck at the tombola– only a pound to play, and you are guaranteed to win! When I won a little stuffed ram toy she whispered, “If you don’t like it you can pick another.” But how could I? I’d already won.

My tombola win and a half of Chocolate Cherry Mild

My tombola win and a half of Chocolate Cherry Mild

Here are my tasting notes:

Abbeydale Black Mass: a thinner stout, quite hoppy– almost soapy.

Anglo-Dutch Brewery, Tabitha the Knackered: a favourite of mine from the festival. Golden amber with an orangeflower water nose. Slyly warming at 6%. Refreshing but complex.

Bushy’s Oyster Stout: Another favourite. I would like a glass of this right now please. Very close to Porterhouse’s version, minus the salinity and with more chocolate happening.

Dunham Massey, Chocolate Cherry Mild: An amazing beer, exactly like its name except that it’s not too sweet at all, balanced by a gently hoppy finish. I drank a lot of this.

Mighty Oak, Oscar Wilde Mild: It was tasty but through a major party foul I ended up wearing most of this.

Valhalla, Old Scatness: Named after the Iron Age village in Shetland and brewed from the ancient grain bere, this was really a light but satisfying beer– one which I went back to again and again. While in the Okneys we lived on the local flat bere loaves and the fresh white cheese made at a farm near our cottage. I thought this beer would have gone perfectly with these lunches. It made me long to go back to the Outer Hebrides.

Thursday was a blur of ciders– the most memorable was Rathay’s Old Goat with its mossy, forest creature nose and very dry finish.

I had several other milds and a few other stouts but I neglected to make note of them.

Limited Edition Paradox
August 1, 2008

I worried about when to open it. It was so pretty, so perfectly black. What occasion could match it?

I wondered– could my bottle of LE Paradox 004, 10%, aged in 1968 Ex Duncan Taylor Bowmore casks, the most expensive beer I have ever imbibed, this bottle numbered 141 of 200 made, be its own occasion?

And then all at once things conspired against my niggard’s caution. Today is Lughnasadh, the Celtic festival that marks the beginning of the harvest– really the wrong time to count beans. And it’s beer blogging friday, hosted by The Barley Blog, who’s asked us to make tasting notes on a an anniversary beer.

(Plus, this week I got a job in the City, and that’s something to celebrate.)

I was reading the wonderful Boak and Bailey who participated in the session by cracking open a Fuller’s Vintage Ale, “You need an occasion to justify it, and what better occasion than raising a glass to fellow beer-bloggers across the globe.”

Genius! Of course. I have met so many wonderful beer people since starting this blog; it’s truly remarkable to be in such good company. At first I worried about opening a special beer all by myself and then I realized, hey, once you’re in the beer-blog-o-sphere you never truly drink alone.

So cheers, all you warm, funny, brilliant beer-folk– here’s what I’m drinking– Limited Edition Paradox, released for BrewDog’s first birthday:

Limited Edition BrewDog Paradox, bottle 141 of 200

Limited Edition BrewDog Paradox, bottle 141 of 200

The label is gorgeously florid– screen printed in gold laquer on matte black paper by Johanna Basford Designs. Out of the bottle it’s a perfect inky colour. The head is flocked, tea-stained and lovely. (There’s a beer p0rn moment where the black stream nests in the head perfectly, but of course I didn’t capture this on camera. I’m not that kind of girl.) The notes that predominate are a mysterious woody note, kindling in the nose and carpentry on the palate. There’s chocolate, too– but it’s only a shadow. The first taste is sweet but brief, prunes steeped in black tea. This glows to bitter smoke, tarnished metal and a bit of blood, and ghost-flashes of the whisky whose cask it’s shared. Five sips and it’s already warming.

Aztec Skull depicting Tezcatlipoca, from the British Museum.

Aztec Skull depicting Tezcatlipoca, from the British Museum.

It reminds me of a concoction made by the Los Angeles perfumer, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, who make a scent named after the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, or “Smoking Mirror”– it shares the same notes of chocolate, armour, blood and fire.

Drinking Paradox has made me contemplative. There’s an autumnal memory surfacing– late summer watching fireflies with my cousins who would break out their Barbies when I would visit (the older, creepy Barbies from the 50s–) while the adults cooked things with fire. My uncle had built a new deck and it’s the wood smell that’s bringing it all back. My hands smell like that now, in a truly Proustian fancy: the Paradox reflects this Indian Summer night from my childhood in its smoking mirror.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers