My Stout Valentine
January 11, 2012

The Hymn to Ninkasi necklace is featured in this beery Etsy treasury!

The beer goddess necklace has been featured in this stout-themed treasury on Etsy, full of valentine gift ideas for your beer lovin’ love.

 

 

Stout Showers
April 18, 2009

heartPerhaps this is what I get for naming the Black Heart Stout after such a volatile organ.  Have you ever seen an arterial spray of beer?  I have.  After a rather Withnail and I style afternoon, I find myself covered in the stout I brewed three weeks ago.  I taste and smell awesome!  If it survives my bottling antics, I have high hopes for the 43 bottles.  (I blame a dodgy stick filler for the mess.)

Luckily this time I took an OG reading.  (Every time I say OG I want to throw down my I M hand signs I’ve been working on.)  This baby is 5.08% ABV, which is right on.  I’m also happy to report that it tastes pretty darn good and has a nice full body, unlike the first beer I brewed solo which is tasty but kind of thin.  It still has that mineral tang. I’m just guessing that’s from the hard London water as well as perhaps being from the DME (according to my friend Bob that’s a common issue).  There is a faint hop character showing up here which makes me excited about perhaps brewing a hoppier stout.  The lovely, generous dudes at Brew Dog have sent me some hops– (Warrior, Chinook and some out-of-sight Nelson Sauvin which I will probably save for a single hop lighter ale maybe?) so the choice will be which one to add to the next stout.

The end-all is a have a f*ckton of beer.  Come on over.

(in about three weeks.)

A Stout as Black as my Heart
March 29, 2009


Today I decided to use up the 6 pounds of dark spray malt I had laying around (don’t ask me how I ended up with so much). I steeped a 1/2 pound of chocolate malt which in hindsight maybe wasn’t the best idea as the charred flavor might take over everything. It did make the wort blacker than black. \m/

It’s in the fermenter now. I remembered to take a gravity reading this time. Wooo. 1.049. Hopefully this is OK. The recipe says the gravity should be at 1.054. I was pretty fast and lose with this recipe which I found in How to Brew. It will be curious to see how it turns out.

Polarities
March 25, 2009

The beer flavor wheel.  GEEK OUT!

The beer flavor wheel. GEEK OUT!

The more  beer you drink, the more you notice things– my latest fixation has been texture or mouthfeel in a beer. People will describe beer as chewy or smooth, dry or creamy. (I enjoy looking at the flavor wheel.  It’s a bit like a diagram an ex of mine had with emotions clearly labeled.  It was supposed to help him talk about his feelings.  I liked to put together the worst combination of emotions possible, and I do the same thing with the beer wheel!  Mouthcoatingly-solventlike-cooked veg, anyone?)  Italo Calvino once said that one of the most admirable qualities of good writing was lightness.

photo by _bubby_ on flickr

photo by _bubby_ on flickr

The same can’t be said about beer.  Or can it?  Yesterday I had some Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout.  It’s an imperial stout, my favourite style of beer.  I should have loved it but I couldn’t finish it.  It was just…so…sludgy.  With a weird mineral tang that distracted me from what should have been round, chocolaty warmth.

Still, it reminded me that beer is a mystery.  This stout is a polar opposite of the Brew Dog IPA I had last week. No matter how many beers you try, there is always the possibility of tasting something new.  What other beverage can claim such a thing?

And also a complete contrast to the stout is my own beer I just bottled.   It was  my first solo batch– the batch I brewed without my friend Bob.  I tasted it before putting it in the secondary fermenter and it is light in color and body, and gently carbonated.  Though I used the mild recipe it is nothing like a mild. The water here is very different than LA water.  Also, I had to substitute different grains and spray malt (DME), and I’ll admit finding the ingredients and equipment here has not been easy.  I bottled the beer using some janky make-shift siphon purchased at Wilco because I couldn’t find a regular stick filler. But hey, it tasted good, and hopefully after bottling it will taste even better but who knows?  I’m worried that if it carbonates more during bottle fermentation I’m going to have some really lively beer on my hands.

How important is mouthfeel to you in a beer? What kind of carbonation is too much?  How heavy is too  heavy? Have you ever had what’s described as a ‘powdery’ beer?

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.

Dark Hare
May 30, 2008

I have had numerous beer conversion moments, with lots of false starts. The first beer I ever loved was Guinness, and the first time I had that was when I was a teenager in San Francisco. I had the flu and my Irish friend brought me a pint of Guinness and a raw onion which he said would make me feel better if I just bit into it, “like an apple.” The onion was painful but the Guinness was a revelation, as previously I’d thought all beer was icky lager.

I am nostalgic for a time before I existed, when nursing mothers were given milk stout as a tonic. For years Guinness was my chicken soup. I had no idea that what I was drinking was a shabby version of what could be had in Dublin, and now it’s possible to find wonderful stouts whenever I have the blues or the lurgy strikes. (The last time I was at Utobeer I was eying the imported Rogue Shakespeare Stout for my medicine cabinet. Specific indication for that brew– homesickness.)

I love bath ales which I have only had on tap until now. I found a bottle of Dark Hare at Waitrose and kept it for medicinal purposes, and tonight it’s my dinner: roasty and dry with just enough bitter chocolate to be comforting. I’m skipping the raw onion.

While listening to: The Young Charlatans’ “Shivers”

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