Archive for March, 2009

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.

Not in the least bit creamy!
March 28, 2009

Getting women to drink something not exactly unlike beer
March 27, 2009

Coors new ad campaign aimed at women.

Coors new ad campaign aimed at women.

Coors new brand spells it out for you: Yes, some beers make you burp. Yes, some do have a bitter taste. Yes, you can get bloated drinking beer. So we changed it. Their new lager is “ultra filtered” so that it’s completely clear.  And it’s flavored with green tea and dragonfruit.  The tasting notes for this prerelease are limited to “like an alcopop.”

Fancy being a beer goddess? The site asks me while giving me some handy facts about ancient mythology and “experimental cocktails.”  My first reaction when looking at the Bittersweet site was that it was some kind of joke. What if beer came in sexy easy-to-carry boxes? A girl can dream!

There is also much talk of glassware. On the “Views” section of the website someone, probably not a real person, suggests that if bars  “have sleeker slimmer or taller and slimmer or curvier glasswear, I buy one more proudly. Usually I really prefer a large dash of lemonade on the top too.”  (emphasis mine).

So really, not beer at all but shandy in a champagne flute?  This isn’t aimed at me.  It’s not even aimed at any women I know.  This campaign is patronizing and alienating and is doomed to fail.

The Beer Babe is running a “Beer for Women” ad design contest. On the contest page she links to a video where this issue is being debated on BBC Breakfast.  There is an image consultant (surely a vocation overly represented in hell.) who suggests that if a woman were to order a beer on a date it would turn the guy off.   She claims the drink you chose reveals who you are. She suggests a Manhattan, a “Sex in the City” style cocktail. I think all that really tells us is what kind of person she is.

What really keeps women away from beer are backwards, sexist attitudes that still persist in beer culture and marketing.  Take Skinny Blonde, a new Australian beer.  The label features a pin up girl whose clothes disappear as the bottle warms.   If we are to apply the image consultant’s logic to the male drinker, how would this beer augment his image? If you were on a date with a guy and he ordered this beer, would you be turned off? It might impress some moron friends of his but most women I know would see it as a red flag.

Some beers have managed to appeal to women quite effortlessly–think of Hitachino or Meantime–not a pink heart in sight. Beer culture does need to evolve, and perhaps advertising will be part of this, but I’m skeptical.  When has advertising ever really understood us as human beings? These femme campaigns are trying to right the wrongs of the macho mega-breweries but they have it all wrong. People don’t drink beer to impress each other, they drink beer to be together.

Carling Belong bus stop ad from 2006

Carling Belong bus stop ad from 2006

I’d be lying if I said this ad made me try Carling, but it spoke to me as a beer drinker who just happens to be a woman.

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?

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.

Is it time to adopt a pub?
March 18, 2009

Would you adopt this Dolphin?

Would you adopt this Dolphin?

According to CAMRA  39 pubs are closing every week.  The Times online projects apocalyptically that “last orders in Britain’s last pub would be called for the final time one evening in June 2037.” There have been excellent discussions on Boak and Baily’s blog about why pubs are closing and what class might have to do with it.  The conclusion, it seems, is people just stopped going to them.

Some pub owners like to blame the smoking ban, but I can’t be the only person who spends more time in pubs now that I can breathe in them.  In the long run this will be one of the wisest adaptations of pub life.  Maybe some publicans just can’t see it yet.

But must we save pubs from extinction?  Pubs aren’t pandas, are they?  Sure, one could argue the pubs’ once-thriving habitat has come under threat from pubcos, cheap supermarket booze and home entertainment, but should they be seen as victims in need of charitable donations of time and money?  As Pete Brown has pointed out, they are businesses, after all.  Businesses must evolve and adapt to survive.  (Unless of course you are an investment bank, but I digress.)

Unlike endanegered species, pubs don’t have to wait for generational mutations to adapt. They can do it now.  The CAMRA leaflet encourages intensive community involvement and has creative suggestions about combining services in a pub–a hairdressers, a takeaway or a post office, but clearly these are aimed at village pubs.

To fully grok CAMRA’s argument, one must do a fair bit of reading of pdfs– probably more than the average drinker is willing to do.  The point is that development has been so aggressive that many pubs face becoming something else altogether–luxury flats for example.  The CAMRA literature does not address mismanagement, which might be a key reason why so many pubs are becoming unviable.

As I consider CAMRA’s statistics and the sheer number of dead pubs, it is a bit overwhelming.  But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to see the pubs in my immediate vicinity– The Fox and The Dolphin– evolve or just die off.  I don’t go to my locals.  Why should I “donate” my money to pubs that don’t provide what I want, or are unpleasant?

The Fox is nice enough inside.  But I have often had a pint of ale that’s gone off, and the staff sometimes have warned me off the ale, “Because there have been complaints today.”  The food, usually mediocre, has taken a turn.  It will be placed in front of you, shamelessly, without a word, sometimes almost inedible.  (How is it possible to burn a whole plate of chips?) The small mercy is that the portions are always quite mean.  The servers are young and ever-changing.  Once, I brought a friend there and he found a hair in the head of his pint.  When he brought it back to the bar the server said, “that’s not my hair,” shrugged, fished it out and gave the pint back to him.

I have a local even closer to my flat called The Dolphin. I have watched crews film commercials and an episode of Peep Show there.  From the outside it looks lovely, but I have never been inside.  This pub, when it’s not full of extras and movie crews, is scary.  Last night at 2 am, I lay awake listening to punters toss the picnic tables at each other while hurling invectives.  And this went on for an hour while the pub was seemingly still open.  It was Saint Patricks Day but this happens even on non-drinking related holidays.  I’m dreading summer.  Since they’ve made an outside smoking area, messy brawls and middle-of-the-night shouting matches are routine and will only get worse as the weather improves.  At least they’ve stopped the amplified, al fresco karaoke.  The landlord of this pub as taken on an evil cast in my imagination.  What kind of person is so hostile to his customers and community that he would let this happen on a regular basis?  And why, exactly should I save him from anything?

This is an extreme example, but if CAMRA really does support consumer choice, consumers will chose some pubs over others.  The reality is some pubs will close if they can’t compete.  There are some pubs–like the Intrepid Fox in Soho–that were beloved of many and well-used but gentrification has killed them off, the blow dealt so rapidly no one had time to organize against it.  Though CAMRA presents a detailed guide for rallying community involvement and even ownership of an endangered pub, that might well be impossible in a place like London.  The guide seems geared to more rural areas, places with a “village pub”, and this is acknowledged in their Public House Viability guide.

On a recent visit the barkeep changed the number to 2182.

On a recent visit the barkeep changed the number of real ales to 2182.

My local is not the closest pub to me, but it is where I spend the most money.  It’s the Magpie and Crown in Brentford. The staff are always friendly and on top of things, and I’ve never had a bad pint there. Last night I had the light, hoppy Twickenham Grandstand with some of the best Thai food in London from Magpie’s kitchen.  While sipping my cracking pint of Acorn Old Moor Porter (some serious coffee bitterness and a very dry finish) I wondered why I was a CAMRA member at all, since their campaigns didn’t seem to address my concerns as a young, female London drinker.  (Take it to the top? Not really a problem.) I have only recieved one copy of What’s Brewing since I joined a year ago, so I may be out of the loop, and I have never felt compelled to go to a meeting as I’m sure I would be completely out of place amongst the older fraternity there.  But while Joy Division and The Jesus and Mary Chain were on the pub sound system, I considered my good luck at having adopted a magpie, and congratulated myself for doing my part in the campaign.

The Magpie and Crown features in Rankins novels as the Flying Swan.

The Magpie and Crown features in Rankin's novels as the Flying Swan.

Oh Yeah!
March 12, 2009

The other day my friend Liza came over and rearranged the living room of my flat in hopes that some impromptu feng shui would bring back my writerly mojo.

We surveyed the new desk-by-window set up and saw that it was good.  So we rested.  And by resting I mean we cracked open the Cantillon Kriek from my stash, in partial solidarity (and a tinge of jealousy) with the Beer Nut who just returned from visiting the brewery on an open brew day there.

When I drink Cantillon I feel like I’m inside some crazy beer time machine.  Ancient fermentation!  The mysteries of wild yeast! Arcane blendings!

I will never not be in the mood for this beer which makes me feel just sophisticated enough but also earthy, like a rosy cheeked clog dancer in a Breugel painting.  We ate it with some cave-aged gruyere and too many olives, and our tasting notes consist of only Did kool aid have a red sour patch flavor? and, more tipsily, Hey Kool Aid! Bustin’ through your wattle and daub in his ceramic pitcher.  yo.

(for non-Americans or the very young/old who are unfamiliar with the wrecking ball aspect of Kool Aid, here is a video)

It’s Brew Day
March 8, 2009

Steeping the malt grains

Steeping the malt grains

Today I attempted to brew a mild, this time without the help of my friend Bob, brewer extraordinaire who taught me how to brew on my recent trip back to the States.  (He’s also the guy who originally turned me on to beer.)

I was using  his recipe because it turned out so well the first time, but I had a hell of a time finding the ingredients and had to substitute some of it.  I had to go to Surrey to get the crystal malt  (thanks to the very helpful Richard Burns at Cheers Brewing) and Grotusque sent me the magnum hops from the US.  (It seems the variety of hops available in the UK is very limited– or am I missing some amazing supplier? At this point hop distribution should have recovered from last year’s shortage.)

Once I got the wort going I was encouraged– it filled the whole flat with that comforting smell: the hominess of bakng bread with the halo of Bacchanalian promise. It’s in the fermenter now– hoping I get to see a bubbling airlock tomorrow.

Dancing Sparkle in Each Glassful
March 6, 2009


The Beer Nut has decided on a most compelling theme for this month’s session– lager.

There are lovely lagers out there– Brew Dog’s Zeitgeist being the first that comes to mind.  But I’m more interested in talking about the unlovelies. Homer with his can of Duff.  Billy Beer. Hamm’s Beer Bear– one of the first commercials I remember, and I can still sing the jingle. Marketing beer to children works! But I digress.

In the US I knew lager as simply beer, and I thought there was no other kind.   My mother loved Michelob and would drink it very cold, just one bottle, after her game of tennis. For most of my childhood I thought this was a very sophisticated drink, as my mother was a very polished sort of lady.

The first beer I ever tasted was a Michelob– I was very small and we were on a trip in Florida, lost in the swamps there.  I had to take my tablets and there was no water, only beer, and not cold.  Poison! Suddenly this sophisticated drink didn’t seem so elegant after all.

In college I tried to drink Miller.  I think I liked the sound of the initials, MGD.  But once in a seedy bar in San Francisco my friend handed me a cold bottle of Rolling Rock.  Beer in a green bottle was a revelation!  It seemed colder, happier from the neck of green glass, which is of course how we drank it.  I can still feel the braille of the white and blue printed label and I confess it makes me thirsty just thinking about it.  It wasn’t good beer of course but if I was drinking it, it meant I was with friends, people I loved, and we were having a good time. I’m glad at the time the brand had not yet attempted their hoax marketing gimmick of “moonvertising”, where they claimed to use lazers to project an ad onto the surface of the full moon.  I contemplated a tasting of this beer, knowing it would bring on a bargain-basement of Proustian revelries, but lucky reader, I could not find a bottle of the stuff.

When I moved from San Francisco I just couldn’t drink Rolling Rock anymore.  I flirted briefly with Mickey’s Big Mouth (technically a malt liquor?).  The bottle was green and round, it fit nicely in the hand and the caps featured a picture puzzle on the inside which served as a handy drunkenness test.  But the love didn’t last– I switched to martinis and stuck with those for many years, swearing off all beer.

During my martini phase I was teaching and one of my students worked as a Bud Girl.  One of the writing assignments was to render a formative moment in a few pages.  She wrote about her experience peddling lager to lunkheads and titled her narcissistic ramble, “Beauty and the Beast”, concluding that by the time she was done with the job, Bud would have basically paid for her plastic surgery and she could go on to “real” modeling. The Beast in her story was not the mega brewery and its sexist approach to marketing, but the louts she enticed.

It’s hard for me to see a can of Bud without thinking of her, even now, and how the lager stigma goes beyond just bad beer– it represents advertising’s cartoonish gender divide and the bonehead banalities of our culture.  A Bud Girl doesn’t drink the stuff, she just wears the branded bikini, and the lager lout “beast” has the power to turn your beloved Burberry plaid into trash and your local A&E into a WWF smackdown.

Last night I was with a dear friend and drinking buddy who loves lagers and is not interested in drinking anything else.  I’m not a very good beervangelist– I’ve tried to tempt her to try other styles but she’s having none of it.  Yesterday, as we were putting a few pints away in the Cockpit,  I’d commented that most ladies in the UK seem to drink chardonnay, so what did that make us, drinking pints in a manly place like this?

“Oh, there’s a word– Ladettes,” she joked.  I’d never heard it before, though apparently there have been reality teevee shows based on sending these individuals to finishing school, etc.   I mentioned I would be brewing some beer, you know, probably whilst skipping out on my deportment class.  She said if I could figure out how to brew a lager we would be BFF.  I’ll be calling it Ladette Lager.

Showing Off
March 1, 2009

The Fox Pub, Twickenham

The Fox Pub, Twickenham

So today I went to Twickenham, to have a pint of Twickenham Ales Naked Ladies– a lively, hoppy ale with a gentle mouthfeel and sunny color. I drank this in the Fox pub– a dim, wonky-walled 17th century pub complete with taxidermied foxes and old men nursing their pints.

Then I went to Real Ale, a store that has a fantastic, ever-changing selection of great beers from all over the world, and a knowledgeable and friendly staff on hand to coax you into buying even more beer.  There are staff picks in the store as well as helpful tasting notes for each beer.  I spent a lot of money and added to my stash of beers, pictured below:

haul from Real Ale

haul from Real Ale

Partial Stash

Partial Stash

I’ve been in hoarding mode.  Time to start drinking. What should I crack open next?

  • BrewDog Coffee Imperial Stout
  • BrewDog Hardcore IPA
  • BrewDog Paradox Isle of Arran
  • BrewDog Paradox Smokehead
  • BrewDog The Physics
  • BrewDog Speedball
  • BrewDog Tokyo
  • BrewDog Zeitgeist
  • Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout
  • Cantillon Kriek
  • Goose Island Matilda
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
  • Stone IPA
  • Thomas Hardy’s Ale
  • Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier
  • Innis & Gunn Blonde
  • Innis & Gunn Original
  • Oakleaf Brewing Company, Maypole Mild
  • Vale Brewing Company, Black Swan Dark Mild

If anyone has food pairing ideas for any of these (The Rauchbier I’ve had on tap before and will be looking for some smoked cheese for it), suggestions would be welcome.  Also, if you have written about these before a heads up would be cool.

Then, of course, there is Lemmy’s stash:

I don’t know which is worse, his can of Fosters or his obvious pandering to the LOL crowd.