Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Tuber Babies, Human Sacrifice and Harvest Home.
October 1, 2012

“The Birth of Mani” by Vincent Rego Montiero, 1921

I’m reading the fascinating Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner, and was quite taken by the myth of Mani, the magic baby girl born of a vigin birth who died after a year of life. Where she was buried a plant grew and all the birds of the forest came to eat this plant. The people ate her and became drunk– so goes the Amazonian story of fermented cassava or manioc beer.  There is a recipe in the book for Manioc, and I am tempted to try it.

Early fermentation was always seen as miraculous– a gift of the Gods. This is universal. How much more so this must be when the fermentable sugars come from a starchy plant like the cassava, which contains cyanide when raw.  Manioc is akin to chicha– the boiled grain is chewed and saliva converts the starch to fermentable sugar. It’s a family activity, this chewing. I have tried it with my brewer friend, Bob, and have written about that in a previous post in this blog.

The traditional ritual of brewing manioc requires a “slayer” as well as the brewer (always a woman) who will acknowledge the being-ness of the plant– it’s soul. The intimacy of mastication as part of the process, and the metaphor of flesh (of a baby in the case of Mani!)  is reminescent of communion as well as the English folk song, John Barleycorn– so appropriate this time of year, especially around rural Yorkshire, where the evidence of the harvest gilds the landscape.

For the first time in my life, I have a small space to grow things.  I tried to grow vegetables this summer, which felt more like winter. If I had to live on what I grow, I would starve. Only one tomato plant flourished; I babied by bringing inside and it has taken over my tiny kitchen.  And the rosemary, which I planted over a year ago from seed: it waited 8 months, refusing to come up in the old rental house and only showing itself once we were rooted in our own home. I always dismissed the idea of talking to plants as a fantasy from my 1970s childhood. But growing food taught me that plants have their own desires and wiles and a green thumb (which I do not have) requires not only knowledge of the “Gardener’s Question Time” type, but a knowing, the way one knows a friend.

I lied. When I was very, very little my family had an allotment. I remember digging in the ground with my father and I asked him if that is where he found me.  This is one of my first memories, and perhaps one of the reasons the legend resonates.

Octoberfests are coming up everywhere– a last hurrah of the harvest season, a time intimately related to life and death.  I might go looking for cassava in the Leeds market, which feels a bit like an outpost for stranded expats and old locals who remember it in its heyday, but that is a subject for another post.  If I find the cassava, who will chew it with me?


An Update
November 3, 2011

This blog has been quiet for a while, but not for lack of beer in my life.  Perhaps there is too much good beer in York– it is everywhere, making blogging about it a bit overwhelming.  Just yesterday I walked to my optometrist and smelled that boggy bakery smell of a working brewery– York Brewery was no doubt cooking up some Centurion’s Ghost or Yorkshire Terrier.

I look forward to the opening of the York Tap this month– a stone’s throw from my house.

York has been good to me.  The local branch of CAMRA invited me to be a judge in the beer fest this year, and I have gone on many happy pub crawls in this beautiful city I now call home.

In other news, one of my short stories has been published in the current issue of Witness, in case you are curious. It is a fictional account of the Dyatlov Pass Incident.  You can read it online here:

In the meantime, while I consider ways to talk about the quiet delight of beer in York, I thank you for stopping by this sleepy blog.

The Lovibond Hop Flower Necklace
June 4, 2011

The Lovibond Hop Flower Necklace, by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

So, I haven’t been blogging about beer lately as I have been busy trying to make some actual money using my skills.  Imagine! I have been making jewelry and selling on Etsy, which is a wonderful platform promoting handmades.  It’s a whole booming micro-economy, I tell you.  My shop there is called Feral Strumpet

In my pieces I like to work with pewter from Green Girl Studios.  When I saw this hop flower pendant I knew what had to happen.  I busied myself collecting a range of semi-precious stone beads to represent the Lovibond or SRM scale– the rainbow of beers.  And here it is in all its glory– The Lovibond Hop Flower Necklace–the convergence of my beer geekery and jewelry design!

Gifts for the Beery People in Your Life
May 8, 2011

I’m sure you have coworkers, friends and relatives who share your love of beer.  What do you buy them for their birthday or as a thank you or just a dude-you’re-awesome present, besides more beer?  I’ve carefully combed the hand-made Emporium of Etsy to find the best beer-related gifts from small makers.   Here is a hand selected array for yourself or your beer peeps.  May you never be without a beer related gift idea again.

Solstice Gruit wins my GBBF beer of the year
August 4, 2010

It was another whirlwind GBBF Trade Day. As I stood in the queue, which was much shorter on the Non-CAMRA member side, I felt a bit exposed, lost amid a sea of serious Beer Blokes. What was I doing there? I thought to myself. And then the two men in front of me from Oxford asked me, “Why did you come alone?”

I didn’t say “I always drink alone.” Maybe I should have quoted Homer Simpson, “Does God count as a person?” But I just explained, “I am meeting people inside.” And I hoped it was true.

I stealthily sat at the Irish Craft Brewer Table waiting for The Beer Nut to arrive, drinking the first beer on my list, Thornbridge Craven Silk.  It was the second best beer of the day, a perfect summer ale with a strong hop character immediately apparent, giving way to a white grape and floral middle that accumulated with drinking the stuff.  I had a third and wished I’d had a pint.  It was a lovely sunny color with a lacy head, and perfect study in balancing the delicate and the bold in a light mouthfeel.

The Beer Nut and Ms. Beer Nut arrived and the party started  in earnest because the rest of the Irish Brew Crew had come with them, including two Americans.  Maybe I’m homesick, or maybe these guys were just awesome, but it was great to bond about American beers with other expats.

My next beer was the Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean– The Beer Nut thought it a bit to synthetic, and I saw what he meant.  The hops seemed to give the profound vanilla a weird two-dimensionality.  The smoke was lost on me.  I felt guilty about liking the stuff.  It was a vanilla-fairy beer which twinkled along the palate, reminding me of a cereal I ate as a child, something with a prize inside.

But by this time I was eying Beer Nut’s rather girly looking beer, a cloudy aubergine-colored lambic from De Molen which he described as a farmyard where all the lambs are only fed raspberries.  How could I resist?  It was in one of those mysterious-looking De Molen casks (you can see them in the video above) which looks just enough like contraband to make you feel like you are getting away with something drinking it.  It was indeed the fruit-dream farm beer The Beer Nut had described, and yet there was something dark there as well, a leather note and a bit of tobacco.  If I were to extend the metaphor to incorporate these elements that farmyard would be more akin to the Torture Garden. But in a good way.

The next beer on my agenda was something that made me think of Jesse Bullington, a medievalist who has written a remarkable novel called The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. I had the happy chance to hang with him and talk beer last month and I thought it was the kind of beer he would dig.  It t urns out it was the most remarkable beer I’ve had this year.

Quote from the American Flatbread Philosophy

I had never heard of the brewery before, but I’m fascinated by brewing history, particularly pre-hopping styles.  This quote from the American Flatbread website could describe their Solstic Gruit.  It was a gentle beer with a mead-like character.  Often with honey or mead one can taste the ghost of the flower, what the bees used in the brew, and this beer had a similar twice-removed esther. It was also quite herby and peppered, similar to Froach but with nose that had a bit of ceremonial incense about it.  Seductive!  In my tipsy delight I see I have scrawled in the margins of my tasting notes, “PUT ON THE WOODEN CLOGS!”

The only downside to the gruit was I knew nothing could follow it.  But I did try.  Beartown Ginger was a thin, dry ginger tea which I couldn’t finish.  And next up was the Saint Austell Black Prince which had a mineral tang that predominated and lingered distractedly, like blood in the mouth. Ms. Beer Nut described it, “like licking rocks.” It was swiftly abandoned.

I was on the cusp of feeling a bit morose and hopeless– would I wander around the entire airplane hanger of beer that is the GBBF tasting one unpleasant thing after another?  There were suggestions from the table but the last two beers had made me feel a bit queasy, a bit put off beer altogether.  Thinking back I should have had some really un-beery beer like another lambic, but instead I opted for the perfectly fine Left Hand Black Jack Porter.

Richie suggested I should just have the beer I really liked.  It’s what I really wanted, anyway. And honestly, when will I ever see it again?  As I got some more I sang its praises to Tandleman who was sceptical, but that’s his MO. Secretly I’d like to think that he stayed on the weird medieval herb beer all night without telling anyone!  And then I told Zak about it, though he’d already tried it and wasn’t so keen.  I basically talked about it to anyone who would listen.

Skinners brewery from Truro were forcing the craic with their marching band headed by a “Queen” in bad drag.  huzzah. They thundered through the echoing space like an invading army, and whenever anyone broke a glass the place erupted in hollers as if someone had invented fire.  The strange grey space of the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre is no place to get squiffy. I’ve said it before, but there is a moment in the afternoon when the ugly labyrinth just seems to ambush you.

That happened before I had a chance to go up to any of the bars and get the bottles I was hoping to take home. Some in my party were not allowed to take bottled beers from the bar, but Tandleman assured me this was not the case. All the same, I didn’t press my luck.  The American bars were so much more crowded than the others, and the layout so confusing– impossible to browse without consulting the maps and program.   So I will just have to wonder about the Great Divide 16th Anniversary IPA and the Thornbridge Saint Petersburg and hope that I can get my mitts on a bottle or two elsewhere.

And then I sat down and savoured my third, listening to the conversations around me, talking to the American blokes about what it’s like to be here.  And I was happy.  Sure, the company was great, but I was really, really happy.  I thought, why is that, when really the GBBF is so often like work– a bit scary, a bit overwhelming, always grim.  But I’ve come every year in hopes that I’ll find that elusive thing, that thing every beer-obsessive has felt at one time– beer joy.  Last year it was the Allagash Interlude and this year, I found it again in the Solstice Gruit.  Thank you, lovely brewers at American Flatbread for making it worth it.

Suffer the children, for the Old Brewery belongs to such as these
May 13, 2010

The Old Brewery, Greenwich

Last weekend I met Chris at the Old Brewery in Greenwich, a place I’d been eagerly waiting to visit since I’d heard plans of its construction a year ago.  I am a fan of Meantime’s beers, and what Alastair Hook the brewer has done in redefining historical beers is truly exciting. With the Old Brewery, Hook has used part of Wren’s grand Old Naval Hospital  for his new brewpub, making beers inspired by the space, including a porter.  It is a glorious idea, but one that, on the afternoon I visited, felt much like stepping into a brochure, a concept rather than a welcoming space. Perhaps this is the problem with so much history– to respect it is to care for it and make it live somehow, but in doing so how do we make room for ourselves in it?

Hook has done a wonderful job surmounting this paradox by brewing traditional London beers but using processes and philosophies from both the German brewing tradition as well as the American craft brewing movement.

I had read much about the brewpub on blogs and other reviews, so I imagined something a little different.  It is a brew pub, in that the beer brewed is served there, and you can even sit near the gorgeous copper vats. Though you will be surrounded by a sea of buggies and families who, though I’d like to think are admiring the shiny beer apparatus, aren’t there for the beer at all, but for the space which they are using as a pit stop on their day out visiting the “interactive learning stations” (this curmudgeon shudders) of the Discover Greenwich exhibition next door.  On the day I visited, this cafe/brew pub felt more like a National Trust tearoom.  In the main room there are aproned staff serving up chocolate muffins and sandwiches, and in the bar there are many very efficient and helpful staff, there’s just not enough space or tables to sit comfortably.  On the rare occasion the weather behaves, the outside beer garden looks promising if a bit overly-groomed.

The Old Brewery

I didn’t take any pictures.  These are promotional photographs.  Much like estate agent documentation, they distort the space slightly, offering a perfect angle. The place just isn’t that big, which shouldn’t be a criticism but if it’s going to be an overblown creche, I would prefer to drink elsewhere.

But drink we did.  Between Chris, Mr. Malting and myself we must have tried almost all the Meantime beers on keg.  They were all quite tasty and refreshing, though in danger of being somewhat interchangeable, their differences were so subtle.  The exception was the wonderfully named Hosptial Porter which was exceptional, and at 8% quite dangerous. A delicious lactose note laced with  lots of deep chocolate, quite balanced with a soft mouthfeel and no sour note or alcohol tang as I had been expecting.  It did seem to have medical properties, lightening my rather grumpy mood.  (It’s not that I don’t like children, I just resent the private space of the parenting endeavor invading on the public space of the pub, which it too often does, becoming an obnoxious spectacle of entitlement, but at the risk of losing my readership I will stop now). Chris commented that Meantime’s dark beers are much better than the lighter ones and I fear he may be right.  The London Pale Ale, so blissfully zingy in the bottle, remained a ghost of itself in the keg (MarkBeer Nut, Knut and I found this to be the case when we visited the Union Pub last year, and our consensus must remain.) However the London Porter as well as the stout are outstanding beers both on keg and in the bottle.

I wonder if in the evenings the cafe is transformed into something closer to the promotional images?Though to be fair I’m a bit put off by the white tablecloths.  That is really taking gastro to the extreme– I look at it and think where’s the awkward wedding seating chart? I don’t know if I would travel the hour and a half it takes for me to get to Greenwich unless I can be promised something between the creche and the precious, upmarket dining experience, no matter how good the beer is.  Though, if they do that Tudor recipe, and put it on keg, the anachronist in me is just going to have to brave the buggies.

Hop Pop
February 17, 2010

Japanese "Good Kids Beer"

Japanese "Good Kids Beer"

I’m giving up beer for Lent.*  The irony of posting this on my beer blog isn’t lost on me.

My health has been poorly for weeks– I haven’t been able to drink much beer lately at all.  It’s strange to have a hobby that is, at least for me, really dependent on my body participating happily.  With that said, I have been drinking with relish the new Brew Dog Nanny State which is kind of like a hop soda pop.  At .5% it’s technically “alcohol free”.  Far superior to the unfermented hop tea that was the first Nanny State, this version is packed with Amarillo hops, which are my favourite. But Brewdog Nanny State has me thinking about Near Beers– particularly these Japanese kid’s beers which I’m dying to try.  Call it  a temporary regression!

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday. I went to see Wolf People at the Lexington and did a nice job of exceeding my daily units by having three pints of Sierra Nevada (much better on keg here than in bottles in the US– less sweet and the hops really zing).  It’s good to note that this pub has an excellent selection of bottled American beers and the staff are friendly, efficient and knowledgeable.

I will most likely continue to drink Nanny State during my Lenten privation.  Will it feel like cheating?  I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

*I’m not Catholic, but seeing as Catholics have borrowed so much from the Pagans, I feel it only right to steal a few things in kind. The cyclical poetry of Ash Wednesday has always felt significant, coming as it does at the last pale of winter. It’s a good time for meditating on an habitual pleasure.  Imagine how good that first springtime beer will be.  I have weeks to think on which one it will be.

January 7, 2010

Lately I’ve been wondering where that famous British grit has got to. There certainly isn’t any on my hilly road which is now an ice slide. This picaresque weather has brought Britain to its knees. In the words of my friend Steve, if the Nazi’s would have sent snow we’d all be speaking German now.

Growing up outside of Chicago, this all feels like MiniWinter, except no one is prepared for what, by American Midwestern standards, is postively mild.

After spying this tidbit in the Metro (OK, I read it for the animal pictures…) I will forever hold my tongue:

When There’s Beer to Save…

Scotland faces running out of beer after breweries struggled to get supplies to pubs, shops and supermarkets.  But villagers in Moniaive, Dumfriesshire, were determined to help the cause by forming a human chain in sub-zero temperatures to rescue 150 barrels (13,000 pints) of Belhaven Beer from a lorry after it slid off a road in blizzard conditions.

Blitz spirit, innit?

What Survives
December 23, 2009

Near Finsbury Park Station there’s a boarded up old pub, a matte lapis facade festooned with a remnant of London’s disappeared beers: Meux’s Original London Stout.  In every corner of London a mysterious detail hides a story; to note them is to chase ghosts.  Ghosts of the drowned; of the sudden, absurd death.  Even death by beer.

Meux’s was “famous for its black beer” and the great porter vat it was brewed in: 22 feet high and containing enough beer to supply more than a million persons with a pint of beer each.  According to Zythophile the brewery “…once brought a beautiful aroma of malt and hops to delight passengers on the tops of buses at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and New Oxford Street.”  But British Historian Thomas Pennant describes it as exhibiting a magnificence unspeakable.

One day, this vat burst. The London beer flood was immortalized in Peter Pindar’s poem, “The Lamentations of the Porter-vat”

Here—as ’tis said—in days of yore,
(Such days, alas! will come no more),
Resided Sir John Barleycorn,
An ancient Briton, nobly born,
With Mrs. Hop—a well-met pair,
For he was rich, and she was fair.

And yet the pair quarrels, love-locked, waltzing disaster like petty gods.  Are these the genius loci of this Seven Sisters corner, driven from their original perch by the tourists flocking to see We Will Rock You musical playing at the Dominion Theatre which now stands in place of the brewery?  I imagine Meantime’s London Porter to be a fitting ode to these bitter, roasted ghosts.

1814.  It’s that hour when everyone’s at home. You run from a flood of porter, through the crowded tenements surrounding the brewery. The basements of the rookery fill.  Up on the first floor: a mother and daughter at tea and then not, the mother dead on the spot.  The daughter tries to swim and is dashed to pieces.  Running, a tidal wave of the stuff after you. Timber and neighbors, feral cats swept up in it. Drunk on the fumes. The drunk are dying.

There are rumors: in the nearby hospital the doctors minister to the injured who stink so of beer the other patients there demand beer too, almost causing a riot.

And following it all, punters with pots, gleaning from the porter river: knee deep or face first.

You would cup your hands–let nothing go to waste.

Ich gehe nach Berlin
October 30, 2009

Drinking to the fall of the wall, 20 years on.

I'll be drinking to the fall of the wall, 20 years on.

November 9th marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I will be going.  I will be drinking to it and to my own Cold War childhood.  The fall of the Berlin wall had profound meaning to me as a uber-politicized teen who raged through the Reagan years, plagued by nightmares of nuclear winters.

I’m learning German from mp3s– something my teen self would have marveled at; I didn’t even have a computer.  My many visits to Germany have been complex emotionally– as if I’ve arrived there suddenly and not by choice. Like a misguided time traveler, I seem to end up there a lot.  My Grandmother could speak German, but I never asked her why (family stories of a mysterious German man are unconfirmed).  My uncle, a war veteran, only shared with me once his horrific story of survival at sea during WWII.  He could speak German, too, and do a hilarious imitation of Hitler which employed the use of a black comb for a mustache.  I asked him to do that a lot, but I never asked him why he knew German.

The Turkish grocer on the corner near me speaks to me in German and I have to remind him, “Ich spreche kein Deutsch.”  Then he laughs and confesses he misses speaking it. I miss it too, in that lost-time-traveler way, language as a past once removed.  All the people in my family who once spoke German are now dead and I never practiced with them.

I’m trying out key phrases: Ich nehme ein shwartz bier.  Ich mochte ein rauchbeir, bitte. Haben sie ein Berliner Weisse? Have I got it right? Not sure.

Ron, of Shut up about Barclay Perkins, has written fascinatingly about the place on his blog.  He’s given me many tips and I look forward to plotting with his pub guide. I hear the beer isn’t that great, real Berliner Weiss being a thing of the past.  But if anyone’s been and has any suggestions I’m all ears!