Archive for January, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole
January 20, 2011

The European Beer Bloggers Conference?

Now that I have escaped London I can look on it as Alice might, wandering past the rabbit hole.  The six years I spent there are more solid than a wild dream, but no less strange.  London still holds for me a kind of bland terror spiked with moments of thrall. Often my time there felt as if I were pleading my case to an unseen tyrannical force full of whimsy and danger, not unlike the King and Queen of Hearts.

But was there ever such a labyrinth of surprises as London?  Not in my life.

So it was with a keen sense of timing that I sampled BrewDog’s version of that quintessential of London brews, the porter.  That it’s named it after the blue-skirted adventuress, Alice, makes it all the more fitting to sample before my return.  Alice Porter is as surprising as I’d hoped, with a big tart cherry nose straight out of the bottle and shifting notes of bitter chocolate, pollen-like hop florals and a bit of pleasant mineral tang all topped with a bruise-dark cherry sweetness.

I’m going back to London Friday for a day, hopefully having a pint or two at the Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington and saying hello to a pizzled dragon or two guarding the city before making my speedy return.

And I will return again, certainly, in May, for the Beer Bloggers conference.  Now if I could only find the right rabbit hole to get me to the conference in Portland in August…

Life Through a Sparkler
January 18, 2011

House of Trembling Madness Illustration by Rebecca Wright

I’ve lived in Yorkshire now for nearly two months, living in three different cottages and one hotel room.  My nomad ways are over (for a time) and I find myself in a little cottage (“Moonlight Cottage” it’s called on the door, in that affectionate way the British have of naming their houses) in a little village a few miles outside of York.

It’s the kind of place where people win prizes for floral arrangements and making elderberry wine.

Though I may not win any awards, I have begun a little private brewery in the Moonlight Cottage– the first batch is bubbling in the fermenter as I write, an American Pale Ale brewed on the Cold Moon from partial extract, steeped with Crystal malt and Northern Brewer bittering hops and lots of Cascade for aroma.  I’ll be dry hopping this batch with more Cascade or Amarillo hops– I have yet to decide.

In the two months of Northern living I’ve drunk many a beer from a sparkler, which is a particularly Northern way of serving cask ale.  It is a method of delivery that produces a denser head and a mouth-feel that is creamier, at least initially.  I like it, or maybe I just like the beer up here that seems to echo the laid back understatement and love of place– predominant Northern qualities, if I can generalize.

I’ve had some cracking pints, which must be fuel for a future post.  The House of Trembling Madness, a medieval drinking hall specialising in Belgian beers, has become my new York local.  Oh how I love it’s cozy strangeness.  But there are no handpulls– no cask ale.  Mr. Malting made the mistake of asking the guy behind the bar if they had any “real ale” on, and he returned with a perfectly straight face, “What do you mean by real?” Which just made me like the place more.  And in the Shambles there is Pivni, which always sets my heart racing as I peer in at the taps.  It was there I tried BrewDog’s There is No Santa, the standout Christmas beer (and I tried quite a few this year)– with its velvety-nugmeg-dark-comfort– unforgettable!

The other unforgettable pint was of the omnipresent Black Sheep Bitter.  Yes, it’s everywhere here, and I was loathe to try it as the pints I’d had in London were just not that great, but I found myself snowed in in the village of Hutton-le-Hole on the moors during the beginnings of the brutal winter snows.  The Crown pub had been closed due to the snowy roads but somehow on this night the landlord made it in, and this was the beer they had.  There were just a few of us there but he’d stoked a roaring fire and if that wasn’t the most beautiful pint of bitter I’d ever had, I’d be lying.  And I had two more, something I almost never do.  I commented that the beer was so much better than the Black Sheep I’d had in London and someone called out, “It don’t travel well!”

On that night, tucked up near the fire, all the moors coated in fondant and sparkling in the moonlight, I thought, “and why should it?”

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