Archive for August, 2009

One Salty (brew)Dog
August 11, 2009

Apologies for the phone photo. My camera is packed away.

Apologies for the phone photo. My camera is packed away.

I’m cracking open another from my precious stash.  This time it’s one I’ve been saving for a good long while.  This beer has the most beautiful label I have ever seen. The illustration, devoid of text save “Atlantic Pale Ale: Product of Scotland” is by Johanna Basford.  It seems she has already done a tattoo project but this label would make the perfect sleeve!

label by Johanna Basford

label by Johanna Basford

I’ve been on the Atlantic a few times. My hair whipping about me while riding the wild swells: those were times in my life when I was perfectly happy.  That sea, the “pond” I cross between two homes*, has taken on a poetic solidity in my imagination.

And just so with this beer. This baby has a dense, velvety head.  The deep orange colour is alive with sea-monkey effervescence.  This is one pretty beer. The nose is full of roasted malt and kelp.  The first sip you get that tickling from the head which is staying put, crowning the beer to the last and tracing the sides of the glass like maps of archipelagos yet to be discovered.  There’s an upfront earthy malt which quickly sours as the hops take over.  I don’t sense any fragrance from the hops, just an intense, side-of-the-mouth bitterness with a hint of white pepper. As I keep drinking the fruits come out, but they are dried, salted- apricot and umeboshi. The whole thing finishes with ghost-toast rounding it out.

BrewDog have done it again– in the dazzle camoflage of their stunt-mindedness there’s joyful lyricism, or maybe that’s just me, waxing in the buzz.  No matter, these guys make beer that feels like a gift.

You’ve got to feel for that little barrel strapped to the bow of the ship– a beery figurehead!

*By plane of course.

My name’s Coffy
August 10, 2009

This image of Pam Grier in front of Watts Towers makes me a bit homesick.

This image of Pam Grier in front of Watts Towers makes me a bit homesick.

I’m a hoarder, a child of depression-era parents.  I have a beer stash and I agonize over what to open next.  But I’m also moving from one tiny flat in London to another and this means pretending I’m someone else– someone who will drink expensive, rare and intense beer night after night because they can, without thinking about it or having a plan.

I’ve started this madness with the Mikkeller Jackie Brown. It’s the first of my devil-may-care stash drinking because, well, I’m not that excited about it.  Maybe it’s the Afro on Mikkeller? (In the US this might be politically dicey.) The name doesn’t intrigue me (never been an Quentin Tarantino fan, but have seen Pam Grier passing in the flesh in L.A. and she is friggin’ GLORIOUS). It claims to be a brown ale and that is the one beer style I don’t particularly relish.

I like the idea of Mikkeller– an itinerant home-brewer whiz-kid who is blowing people’s minds with intense tricks borrowed from daring US breweries.  It’s a bit DIY (in the US indie sense) and hopeful. I also like how he shares his secrets on the label- the type of malt, hops and yeast are listed right there, which is fantastic for those of us training our palates or experimenting with our own brews.  I’ve never tried one of his beers before so here goes.

I open it, the head is a lacy, swirling vortex, immediately disappearing.  The smell is amazing–so fresh. It reminds me of another reason why I love microbrewed beers–there is a sense of immediacy.  The more you drink, and the better the beer, the easier it becomes to parse out what has gone into it.  Chocolate malt and lush green leafy resin– big hops! (nugget, simcoe and centennial) I recognize the centennial but not the others– what should be an IPA flavor is back in black, flipping this beer that’s more like a dark lager in mouthfeel (light, effervescent, easy drinking) than an ale, even though ale yeast has been used.  What at first was an off-putting soapy aftertaste has now developed into something layered and dense like a really good hand-roasted coffee.  The hops linger lovingly.  But I must say the pleasure of this beer is in the nose for me– I wish it had more of a backbone. There’s a center missing.  Not that I wouldn’t drink it again, but at 6% I was expecting something bigger, more of a presence, more of a badass– like Pam Grier!

Not really a page three girl
August 6, 2009

Irrelevant really, except I once was very blonde and very young.

Irrelevant except I once was very blonde and very young.

I’ll admit one of my prime annoyances is the marketing of blonde ales as if the beer is a woman you can “have”.  “Skinny blondes like to have a good time” being the most recently obnoxious example of this.

According to the press, Brew Dog’s Trashy Blonde has come under fire from feminists. This beer happens to be my favourite offering from Brew Dog, and that’s saying a lot.

It’s a pretty lantern-orange color. The big fruits (lychee dominates) and hoppy bite are fresh and juicy, and they ask little from the drinker, save that you pair it with something tasty.  Anything really. I won’t say it’s easy going because then I would be anthropomorphizing this beer.

The marketing of Trashy Blonde is so OTT and really kind of poignantly satirical, it’s hard to be offended.  Once a friend of mine read the label out loud.  “You know you shouldn’t…A titillating, neurotic, peroxide punk of a pale ale.  Combining attitude, style, substance and a little bit of low self esteem for good measure; what would your mother say?”  She and I, both avowed feminists, cracked up.

If we could just drop the blonde’s “e” it could be talking about the forbidden boyfriend, about a person we know or used to be. It could be, my my hey hey, the story of blond Johnny Rotten.

Good beer is sexy.  Can we find a new way to talk about this yummy aspect that doesn’t demean women?  Irony is one place to start but it’s going to be, as most things worth doing, a very tricky business.

GBBF Trade Day: Do you know where your beard is?
August 5, 2009

Laura & her knitted beer jumper!

Laura & her knitted beer jumper!

I have concluded that the way to really deal with the Great British Beer Fest is to drink American beers with Irish Craft Brewers.

It is the day after a rollicking beery adventure in extremes, and let it be said I am not hung over.  (I can’t confess to never being hung over because the minute I type this I know my particular superpower will abandon me.)  I skirted the edge of sensibility, starting with a 9% double IPA and continuing with crazy-bold flavors and highly alcoholic brews for six hours before quitting while I was still able to feign a civilized demeanor.  The only giveaway that I was quite squiffy:  I woke this morning in a panic, thinking I’d left my tasting notes under Thom’s bottle of Alaska Smoked Porter.  I was more chagrined that someone might read my absurd ramblings than losing the notes.

After braving the GBBF last year by myself or with non-beery friends, I considered giving it up.  Was it really worth it to be overwhelmed by the dire Exhibition Centre and all those less-than-friendly beery dudes?  No matter what careful planning I made of beer lists, once confronted with the crowded, cavernous space, the experience devolved into a joyless, inebriated wander.  But not this year! The Beer Nut and Bionic Laura had the keen suggestion that I should come on Trade Day, which is the Tuesday before it all kicks off and attendance is limited to media and beer professionals.

I arrived a half hour before the doors opened, thinking I would be one of a few waiting around.  I was amazed to see a massive queue of the UK beer demographic, boomer-aged men, wrapping around the building.  The talk in my point in the queue was of beer– American Beer.  The men behind me were trying to outdo each other with stories of their US beer-tourism and I felt vindicated that American beers dominated my list.

I had printed out a beer list from the CAMRA site, lovingly plotting my tasting sequence based on intensity of hops and alcohol percentage.  All that flew out the window when I arrived at the World Beers section the first 5 of on my list were not on cask yet or were only in bottles.  I went for the Captain Lawrence Reserve Double IPA at 9%.  It was intensely warming with a refreshingly floral nose.  The dominant grapefruit-hop character danced around a hard-candy sweetness.  It immediately went to my head– I was starting in the deep end!

It was then that I saw Mark (who really should have a beer show on Radio 6). His enthusiasm matched my own:  I’m drinking something insane from my homeland!  It’s doing me proud and making my cheeks red! This is going to be so much better than last year!  Mark already had a Father-Christmas satchel of incredible bottles from the US.  Yes!

Then I spy Laura who brought her knitting and has her posse with her, the Irish Craft Brewers.  I find myself sitting next to Thom and Kevin, comparing notes and beer lists and when Boak and Beer Nut show up the party had started in earnest. In the past I’ve had to pour out beers at the GBBF, but not this time.  Everyone around me has such good ideas– every beer I tried was delicious. The other benefit of sitting with a bunch of generous beer geeks is that everyone opened bottles for the table to try and we shared each others’ beers as well.

And it wasn’t just ticking either– Laura and I busted out our knitting and kept our hands busy.  She made me the adorable Beer Jumper in my favourite color green (pictured in the above photo).  At some point during the afternoon that beer jumper was on every bottle we tried, and later it was actually doing some disco moves, too.  And there was Tombola-tomfoolery (Tombolafoolery?): with Sarah winning a false beard.

Dont you wish your Beer Fest was as fun?

Don't you wish your Beer Fest was as fun?

Seriously, though, Sarah could capture a beer in just a few words.  She  had the foresight to buy a bottle of Dogfish Head’s heady Midas Touch for the table.  Based on an ancient Sumerian recipe it was very mead-like, fragrant and earthy.

(At one point the beard ended up on Beer Nut…)

John dons a the Tombola Beard
John dons the Tombola Beard

The other beers I had were:

Crouch Vale Amarillo, an old favourite I had just to add a British mellow in between the intensities.

Alaskan Smoked Porter (Thanks, Thom) which was a synesthetic delight reminding me of an experience I’ve yet to have: eating chocolate smarties on Bonfire Night.

Grain’s Tamarind IPA and Marble’s Ginger (both UK beers), recommended to me by Kevin, one of the Irish Craft Brewers, who didn’t steer me wrong all afternoon.  They were lovely, with the Tamarind being decidedly tannin-y and the Ginger very fresh, juicy and full of spice.

I also tried the Tsarina, which sat beckoning in an old oak cask, its name painted in a contraband-scrawl.  Mark exclaimed, “I don’t know what it is but I want it!” At 11% it was the biggest beer of the afternoon, an imperial porter  (De Molen Tsarina Esra Reserva) coating the glass in a treacle veil with intense chocolate-raisin smoothing out with a bittersweet finish.  It was too rich for me, and even though I couldn’t finish even a third it was still delicious.

But there was one beer that surprised me.  It lingered in my mind so that I woke up up craving it– the Allagash Interlude, an experimental ale brewed with Belgian yeast and fermented in oak wine barrels. At first it sounded like there is just too much going on.  I’d ruled it out, having had bad experiences with American beers using Belgian yeast, but after tasting Laura’s I had to have some. Complex fruits and animal scents with an addictive tartness, a demanding puzzle that remained refreshing to the last.  I’ve contemplated going back today in hopes it would still be on, braving the whole thing alone.  That’s how good it was.

If I go back, maybe I could even win myself a mustache in the tombola and my perfect GBBF would be complete.

EDIT: I stand corrected on two counts: it was actually Dave’s Alaska Smoked Porter that I was bogarting.  And Pete Brown was the first to suggest I get myself to the Trade Day.  Thanks, guys.