All the cool kids are doing it.
March 20, 2009

Brew Dog Hardcore IPA and my metal face.

Brew Dog Hardcore IPA and my metal face.

Yesterday I tried to go to the London Drinker Festival but the queue was 100+ people deep and it was packed inside.  It looked like a queue for a nightclub– not an un-ironic facial hair in sight. I’m thinking they were all students from the nearby university.  I ended up at a pub with a friend drinking Tribute next to a table of screechy white wine drinkers, wondering if I’ll ever really get the hang of living in London, where even small pleasures like a beer festival are overrun with other humans, and crowds are the norm.

To soothe my angst, today I drink alone.  What do I drink, you ask?  Why, it’s that beer with pornographic promise, Brew Dog’s Hardcore IPA. After reading Mark’s tasting notes I immediately ordered some.

Wortwust will no doubt see me as a betrayer, drinking what can only be described as hop juice.  The most significant sensation from all this is not just the lingering bitterness but the real alcohol warming in the belly.  This is one comforting beer, which is strange because the brewery’s tasting notes are gleeful with hyperbole:

It just completely and utterly screws you over.  It is like being raped by a hop monster! Yet somehow it is difficult to leave it alone. The 9% makes your head go fuzzy, the warm tingling adds to the confusion. This beer messes you up so much you want to keep on drinking it just to try and figure out what is going on.

At  150 IBUs I have to wonder if I am just getting used to massive hoppage?  Because I have had hoppier beers.  Stone’s Ruination and my friend Bob’s dry hopped beer he made while in the Netherlands were serious pallet f*ckers, but this one doesn’t coat your mouth in hop oils.  There’s definitely room for other flavors here and I call that a win.

Hops are an acquired taste.  I used to hate hoppy beers, and then something clicked.  I had a hop breakthrough drinking Crouch Vale Amarillo, and I realized I would be craving these flowers forevermore. There isn’t much concept of a moderate session beer in the brews I really take to.   Maybe if I came of age quaffing ales in sessions with mates these beers would be impractical or a “sideshow.”

This particular beer is definitely a hop panorama, like putting your face in a potpouri bowl of hops.  The mouthfeel is peppery, a gentle effervesence releases the esters.  There is a very brief melon roundness that is immediately seared, dried out.  It’s all here– the rose petals crushed by the footfall of pine and grapefruit peel.  Whatever sweetness is just left on the lips to dry there. You could almost forget this is carrying the whole thing.

There is barely any malt character to this beer but do I care?  No.

As for food matching, right now I am craving a Thai spicy green curry, or corn chips with black bean, jalapeno and mango salsa.  Call me crazy but I’m also thinking a chili-marinated halloumi burger with beet slaw would rock.  But I have none of these things so the real test will have to wait.  I have two more bottles after all.

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.

Session 16– Beer Festivals
June 6, 2008

Teeshirts at the Great British Beer Festival

It’s Beer Blogging Friday. This one is hosted by the Geistbear Brewing Blog and the subject is beer festivals, a subject I have written about on this blog in a previous post, but also on my other London blog, Feral Strumpet Teatime. I’ve decided to revisit my post about the Great British Beer Festival for this month’s session.

Great British Beer Festival Ad by oiyou on flickr

Great British Beer Festival Ad, photo by oiyou on flickr

Upon entering the huge Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre,the first thing that greeted me, besides the overwhelming choice of beer available, was this tasteful billboard. I gave this Bishops Finger booth a wide berth, thinking, I see your finger and raise you a knuckle sandwich. The party mood evaded me from the get-go, even though it was “hat day” and most of the drinkers had on some kind of headgear– cardboard new year derbys, giant guinness pints with plush shamrock brims, white caps emblazoned with the Saint George flag and in the case of one gentleman, disco 45s taped together.

This was my first Great British Beer Festival, and I didn’t have a game plan. I did bring a friend who kept insisting with fatherly concern that I was “drinking too fast” from my third pint glass. (Note to self: don’t bring him this year!) I decided to people watch and became fascinated by the teeshirts on the drinkers and those displayed for sale. There was a strange mix of British nationalism (ie bulldogs pissing) and indulgent self-deprication (the “I ate all the pies” teeshirt.) But ultimately, it was a celebration of liver execration (see Oliver Reed themed shirts on special.)

And it was a dude kind of affair. Where is a woman’s place in this scene? (”If only these were brains” across the bust of a baby doll tee shirt.) There were women there, but we were like some alien race. (”I have the PUSSY. I make the RULES” tank top.) I felt a special allegiance with the women who were not under the arm of a man. Women who had come here because they liked beer, not because they’d been dragged along.

When 4:30 came round and the suits started rolling in, things went in the lad-derly direction– a wink’s as good as a nod–kind of direction. But before then I got some drinking in. Not as much as I would have liked. All my careful planning (light to dark, start with thirds and NO CIDER) failed me.

Having no posse to buffer the culture shock, I tried to take it all in but I needed a drink first, and fast. To get oriented I committed what felt like sacrilege, going to the international counter. It was very small and mostly featured bottled stuff, but unlike the other counters it wasn’t packed with punters. I was looking for Rogue but my country was singularly represented by Sierra Nevada. I shuddered and slid down to the German section. Behind me, all of Britain was represented and I held out my glass for kölsch. It was illogical, ridiculous really.

And then I had a dunkel.

I was about to try the Bavarian Andrechs spezial when my friend convinced me to branch out, go native. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say-no-more. The Hambleton Nightmare Porter was singularly spectacular and worth the price of admission. I only wished I’d had a whole pint of its malty comfort. I sat with two friends on the floor of the utilitarian Earl’s Court Exposition Centre, splitting a plate of buttery Wensleydale cheese and ale chutney with biscuits and a few different ales. It was perfect. For a moment I understood this English pride precisely– the urgent love of the countryside and the bounty of tradition and all that. And I wanted another beer.

My friends were set on cider and I caved– I broke my no cider rule. Why? Cider makes me drunk and does my pallet in. I had something that was quite drinkable if not memorable, and it predictably went straight to my head. I felt an achy melancholy creeping up, like when I drink champagne. The choice was either to buy an Oliver Reed tee shirt and keep up the red-cheeked work or go home. The later course won out.

I even thought of going back to the festival the next day by myself just to undo this grave error. (Does she go? Is she a goer?) This year I’ll start at the Yorkshire counter and work my way widdershins around the island, map in pocket (said the actress to the bishop).

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