Archive for the ‘ales’ Category

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?”

Poppy Appeal
November 4, 2009


A field of California Poppy by Tianna9 on flickr

BrewDog’s Dogma has some intense flavors, ever shifting. In the label’s words it’s a “conspiracy of transcontinental ingredients” which includes guarana, California poppy, kola nut and Scottish heather honey.

The first time I had this beer it was called Speedball.  There was the ridiculous controversy, created by the Portman Group, around the name which refers to a drug cocktail of cocaine and heroin.  I didn’t especially like the beer– dominated as it was by a sharp, mineral tang.   Speedball has a new name (It’s now sold in the UK under its original US name, Dogma) and there’s an extra .7% (originally 7.1 now 7.8%) alcohol just to make things interesting.

I’m not a big fan of honey beers but there is no cloying here– all that’s left of the honey is an earthy tinge and the heather of course.  I can taste that clearly, and it’s the most loveable note. The flower is quite present in the nose and there is a sour, bread-crust finish.  There are elements in this beer I can’t taste- like the poppy seed.  I can summon the kola nut if I try but it is mixed up with the malt.  Having never had guarana, I couldn’t tell you if I’m tasting it. There is a profound bitterness at the back of this beer that isn’t hops.  Maybe that’s the fruit?

Is this beer caffienated? It may very well be– as I near the halfway point I feel vaguely irritable, as if I’ve had too much coffee.  I’ve never had an energy drink; I’m a downer girl at heart.

Have you ever driven through a field of California poppies?  (Of course you were driving, it’s LA.)– there’s nothing Flanders Fields about it– no brave larks or torch passed.  It’s amnesiac Cali where everything is 15 minutes away and a few years old.  The poppy sea dazzles the sun.

Have you ever taken a little coach through a narrow country road cutting through a moor furred with heather, and the fog rolls in so that you see nothing for a moment? You might as well be in a cloud in the sky if it weren’t for the sheep ambling from the tarmac.

Eventually you have to choose between the two and you do, forever after feeling a bit of impatience with in-between things.  Dogma is a limbo beer, too close to home. Though as long as it’s a quid at Sainsbury’s, I’ll be drinking it.

A field of Scottish heather

A field of Scottish heather

As the Wort Tuns…*
October 29, 2009

So, last night Mr. Malting came home with a beer for me, made in honor of “that soap I watch.”  A beer made after Eastenders? My mind raced with perverse variations of the kind of ale that might be served at the Vic. (For those who feign ignorance because this topic is beneath them, it is the pub on the show.) I wondered: had Mr. Malting found some Black Eagle Porter? Maybe some Albion Ale?  Of course all they drink on Eastenders is some thin, brown-to-yellow ersatz, but what if they didn’t?

I started watching EastEnders when I moved to the UK almost five years ago.  Not unlike the mermaid in Splash who watches telly hoping she will learn to speak, I hoped it would be a fast-track aculturation. All it really gave me was a time-suck addiction and dreams of certain characters long after they’d moved off the show to Essex.

But no, this ale is called Coronation Street, after a serial I’ve never watched.  Maybe Mr. Malting doesn’t know me that well after all!  This beer is brewed by JW Lees in Manchester, and the label claims it’s made with “Northern Soul” and is full of “twists and turns” like you find on an episode of the show.  I don’t know if contrived complications are what I want in a beer.  Even so, this beer is pretty darn uncomplicated.  Uneventful, even.  But Coronation street has a lovely theme song, and being kind, I’d say this beer is more like that. Just nice.  It’s a deep amber color with a thin head that laces down the sides of the glass.  Once you get past the soapy confrontation in the nose (maybe that’s where they get the name?) there is caramel upfront, balanced with some mild-mannered Goldings.  Consider the iconic opening credits with the brick rooftops, the sun bathing cat.  Maybe in the cask this beer would be like that– archetypal and comforting.

Now, what if brewers sponsored beer operas?

*Mr. Malting reminds me yet again that my immigrant-mind has damned me.  Brits won’t get the title pun, and Americans won’t really get the telly references.

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!

Open a Can of Hop Wallop on Your ***
June 19, 2009

I didn’t want to buy the bottle of Victory’s Hop Wollop, despite the endearing sprung rhyme in the name.  I was put off by the label which features a Poopdeck Pappy look-alike with foam in his beard and a corny story about him panning for gold which turns out to be this beer.

But it was my bi-annual trip to Real Ale in Twickenham and, well, Mr. Malting talked me into it.

Let me tell you, I’m glad he did. You’d never know this beer is 8.5%.  It’s sneaky:  light, well-balanced and easy-drinking.  Dangerous! The hops are dominant as one would expect, but they are juicy rather than resinous.  Lemon and green apple are clipped by a profound bitterness at the finish.  The sweetness from the malt is reminiscent of agave nectar.

After half a glass of this I’m getting happy and even warming up to the notion of Pappy.  Tipsy enough to admit to being mesmerized by Popeye as a little girl. It was a favourite of mine.

The Spinach Moment here clocks in at around 5 minutes.  I would like to see a spinach moment beer– the label can explain that this cartoon character suddenly discovers the tin isn’t full of spinach but HOPS.  It makes more sense than the “Legend of Hop Wallop” on the beer I’m holding.  But that’s the great thing about beer.  It doesn’t have to make sense to taste good.

What’s the perfect snorkel beer?
May 13, 2009

Conch fritters and Red Stripe at Vies Shack on St. John, the Virgin Islands.

Conch fritters and Red Stripe at Vie's Shack on St. John.

A lot of beer connoisseurs resort to local lager in the holiday heat.  It’s true things we value in good beer can’t really be tasted if the beer is served cold, so if you are overheating why not drink something like a super-chilled, crap lager? Is this what’s known as a “lawnmower beer”? Having never had a lawn to mow, these beers seemed exotic, but after sweating off sunscreen while hiking and swimming for a week, I think I get it.  What would be my “Snorkel Beer”?  For most of my holiday in the Virgin Islands last week, I drank Red Stripe.  I confess I have a weakness for the stuff.  I love how the little squat bottle feels in the hand, the simple screen-painted label is perfect branding.  Plus, I like the sweet malty character and it went perfectly with things I was eating like conch fritters, fried plantains and red beans and rice.

But, luckily enough, my drink of choice wasn’t reduced to rum cocktails and Red Stripe, as there is a microbrewery on the island, St. John Brewery.  It was located in a charming villa of shops called Mongoose Junction (the island seemed totally overrun with rikki-tikki-tavis).  The Tap Room of the brewery had some beers from other east-coast micros on, and two of its own seasonal beers, the Tropical Mango Pale Ale and the Island Summer Ale.  As far as names go these are pretty unimaginative, and I had my sights set rather low.

Mr. Malting had the Island Summer Ale, which was too malty-sweet for me but he loved it.  I then tried the Mango Ale, worrying it might be even sweeter, but I was pleasantly surprised.  There was mango, but it was mainly a sweetness from the malt, totally cut with a dominant, grapefruity hop.  This wasn’t really a fruit beer at all, any estery-earthiness  reminiscent of mango came from something other than fruit, though according to their website this beer contains “essence of mango.”  (Hey, the sun’s out, I’ve been swimming with garish, gregarious fish and I have the Caribbean sea soaked into me; does it really matter what “mango essence” is?) In the dense heat this beer became addictive and brought on a buzz happy enough to buffer any and all Jimmy-Buffet-Bob-Marley saturation (the Muzak of the Islands).

The brewery’s story began in 2001 with two castaway college grads and a $50 brewing kit. They decided the island didn’t have the kind of beer they wanted to drink so they made their own.  Their response seems perfect to the place, the “demands” of the islands, the sabor. The mango ale would have been great with saltfish, johnny cake or West Indian curry.  In short it tasted of the genus loci of the island, something only a good microbrewery could capture.

In The Tap Room of St. Johns Brewery

In The Tap Room of St. John's Brewery

April 30, 2009

Sometimes I’m hard pressed to find things to celebrate, but not today.  I finished writing a piece that’s been hanging over me; writers block has been defeated, and within a few days of the deadline.  Also, tomorrow, a show called Novel Constructions opens at the Long Beach Museum of Art featuring a piece I wrote in collaboration with artist Edith Abeyta.

So, I cracked open my little bottle of BrewDog Zephyr which I was lucky enough to get in the pre-release 330ml bottle. It features a gorgeous pink label by Joanna Basford: a 12.5% Imperial Ale matured in a 1965 Invergordon whisky cask with fresh strawberries from Martin’s grandma.

The tang of berries is evident with the first pour.  The nose is completely fragrant and tart, reminescent of Cantillon fruit beers. On first sip this sings of spring. As it warms it becomes darker, beyond pastoral bliss to something of the woodland, like the Willow Song from the Wicker Man…Britt Ekland knocking on the wall…

The fine-planed wood of a new house.  Spilled sacks of grain.  Fresh hop vines over the porch and someone inside is already baking–vanilla and toffee.  Over it all is a strawberry haze, like some girlie-kawaii dream. The sweetness in this beer is in the malt alone. It’s not twee–the berries are there as fragrant essences, a kind of “attar” flavor you find grounding good krieks.

This is a beer full of love and light and play.  Toes in the grass.  Ivy crowns.  Daisy petals counted out even, always ending in loves me. A handfasting sort of beer, to be served instead of champagne at anything  joyful.

Like today.

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.

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.

A Mild for my Old Man
February 19, 2009

So this post is no longer topical, being a Valentine’s post. I’ve returned from America and blame the jet lag.

With the help of my friend Bob, I brewed a mild, which happens to be Mr. Malting’s favourite kind of beer. I smuggled back a very large bottle of the Blackout Mild, swaddled in bubble wrap and tee shirts and I gave it to him on Valentine’s Day.

We drank it together and he said it was second only to his favourite, Harvey’s. On occasions like this I would really welcome hyperbole and maybe even some white lies (what do you mean it’s not the best thing you’ve ever tasted?) but he’s not that kind of guy. It was malty and smooth and at 3.5% it seemed really true to the style. The crisp carbonation, which I really enjoyed, seemed a slight departure.

Can I reproduce another successful beer without the help of my friend Bob? It remains to be seen. I still have to buy some basic equipment, most of which I can get from Wilkinson’s down the way. But those of you that do brew at home, would you recommend an online seller?