Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hop Tonic
October 23, 2009

Guinness ad from the 1920s

Guinness ad from the 1920s

My best friend in college happened to be Irish and once when I had a cold he offered me his cure-all: a pint of Guinness and a raw onion.  Did it work? Why yes.  My guess is it was the raw onion that really made you want to be better so badly that you decided you were.

But the health properties of Guinness were renowned, if perhaps fabricated. “Guinness is good for you”– so good that it was given to people recovering from surgery, blood donors, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

But new research suggests beer might have some health benefits.  Beer is lower in calories than milk, juice or, contrary to popular belief, wine.  Beer contains a chemical which has recently been found to protect mineral bone density.  Beer can provide you with B vitamins, can lower your risk of hypertension and heart disease.  The hops in beer have sedative, anti-anxiety properties.

But is beer good for you?  This is the question I’ve been mulling over for a few months now.  I have recently finished a course in Holistic Therapy, and my fellow students were a varied bunch, but very few were beer drinkers.  One classmate said to me, on finding out that I wrote a beer blog, “What will your clients think?” I believe she was fairly scandalized. Why would someone in a healing profession publicly confess to drinking beer?

While the benefits of beer can be found in other foods, and no one would propose beer as a health tonic, is it really that bad for you? It kills brain cells; it taxes the liver.  Is it beer that makes the belly or the 6-pint sessions that do it?  Most caloric comparisons of beer and other beverages are not ounce-for-ounce.  Consistently beer calories are measured by pints, while other beverages are listed in smaller measures. What if we rethink the pint?  I’m not asking for stemmed glass.  I’m just wondering when more pubs will start to server more flavorful, compelling beers in smaller measures.  This is how I like to drink beer, and when one considers the way beer is presented in places like Belgium, it’s not so unusual.

I have always balked at subscribing to a lifestyle, which is just another way of signing yourself up to be a marketing demographic. The phrase healthy lifestyle makes me recoil, bringing to mind as it does supermarket shelves full of bland, packaged foods and patronizing advice from experts seeking to capitalize on our mortal fears.

But many who do subscribe to a healthy lifestyle are trying to eat organic and they’re probably even counting their food miles, which means, whether they know it or not, they are warming up to the slow food movement.  And most ale drinkers are–perhaps unwittingly– part of the slow food movement: they know their beer miles because they know the brewery that’s made what they are drinking.  They probably know how it was made, how long it took and the resources that went into making it as well as the history behind it.  Some probably even brew their own.  And, in knowing all this, we ale drinkers savor what we’re drinking and that’s healthy.  But how do we explain this to people who only equate beer with cheap lager, binge drinking and the infamous “gut”?

It would be wonderful to see beer festivals pitched to the slow food movement.  Recently there was a BBC 4 show on a slow-food cheese festival in Italy. Cheese is probably as bad for you as beer, maybe worse! But the cheeses at this festival were being savored in small amounts, which is the same approach many beer drinkers take to tasting at a festival.

The healthy lifestyle industry has at its heart certain puritanical ideas.  In its most cynical aspects, it’s hoping to appeal to the self-hating kill-joy in all of us.  Has the misnamed “Be Good to Yourself” Diet Frozen dinner ever filled anyone with glee?  Has a Lite beer ever really brought joy to anyone?  Guinness used its 1920’s slogan because after drinking the beer, people said they felt better.  Good beer can make us happy.  Happy people live longer.

The black sheep approach to marketing
July 9, 2009


The guys at brewdog are good at making a beer with a story, and now they want you to do the telling.  They trust the drinker to taste something and to know when enough is enough.  And now, they’re trusting drinkers with their blog.

The Zeitgeist blog is a platform of the drinker, for the drinker, by the drinker, and that drinker is you.

When you buy some beer from the Zeitgeist shop, you get a code that will give you a chance to blog on the site. To make it even more fun, readers of this blog get a massive 70% discount on the lovely black lager.  Just enter SHEEP in the code box at checkout. How cool is that?

And now for something completely different
June 12, 2009

My novel, The Desperate Ones, is now available from in paperback and as a free download.  So, this book has very little to do with beer.  In fact, in the book’s universe there is no such thing as beer anymore.

But if you are curious what has driven me to drink over the last six years I was writing this, or if you are keen on speculative apocalyptic fiction set in a meta-London, you just might like this thing.

The book’s website can be found here:

The cover was designed and illustrated by the illustrious Patrick Farley.

Here’s to Great Lengths!
June 5, 2009

session_logoThis months session is hosted by Red, White and Brew, who’ve asked us to consider beer and distance, or which beer was “the longest haul away.”  I first considered writing about the earthy, comforting Dragonhead Stout from the Orkney Brewery– I took a plane and then a car and then a ferry and another car across the the Orkney Mainland to Quoyloo because I thought they would have a visitor centre or at least sell me some beer, but it was just two guys working hard at making more beer.  In the end, I basically went all that way to gush at them about how much I loved it and ended up buying some from the local market.  Along with some bere bread and a mild, crumbly cheese made locally– it was the perfect meal.

But then I reconsidered the subject.  Surely the more interesting take on this is not the farthest beer, but just how far would you go for beer?

Last night I toasted Pete Brown’s IPA voyage carrying a keg of traditional Burton IPA by ship to India. This journey has culminated in a book called Hops and Glory. The book is mixture of high-seas adventure, travelogue and an ode to IPAs.  I read it on the tube and couldn’t help laughing out loud even if that made me look like a nutter.

Last night I got to meet this man who has quite possibly gone the farthest for beer: his warmth, self deprecation and enthusiasm, so apparent in his writing, is amplified in the man.

I spent the night chatting with the Moore Group fellows.  The guys behind the Bronze Age Brewery experiments flew in from Ireland to drink IPAs (The Meantime IPA was my favourite of the evening) and chat about using moss to cork up an old wooden trough to use as a mash tun and boiling water with hot stones, and how none of it is reinactment because let’s face it that word is problematic. Good times!  I hope someday to travel to Ireland to sample their ancient beer and laugh with them again.

Beer obsessives, they are my people.

at the excavated burnt mound at the Tomb of the Eagles, Orkney, what might be the remains of an ancient brewery.

At the excavated burnt mound at the Tomb of the Eagles, Orkney. It very well could be the remains of an ancient brewery.

Take a sad beer and make it beh-eh-eh-ter*
May 1, 2009

Gypsy Rose Lee serving the "Little Brekkie" on the far right.

Gypsy Rose Lee serving the "Little Brekkie" on the far right.

session_logoIt’s the Session, hosted by Beer at Joe’s who’ve asked us to wax lyrical about beer cocktails.  I blogged about stuff in beer quite recently.  It’s a delightful topic which undermines a good deal of beer snobbery present in the blogoshire (coining credit:Woolpack Dave)

Without getting all pedantic, what exactly counts as a “cocktail”– must it be another liquid added?  Another alcohol? If you add fruit (or, say, garlic) does it count?  And, is it still real ale if you’ve doctored it with Tango?

I must confess that though my mild has vastly improved with more time in the bottle, it’s just not very alcoholic.  I’ve taken to dropping a shot of whisky into each pint and it’s a winner.  I did not drink it from a martini glass a la Janet on Two Pints of Lager.  That would have been ace.  I would like to call this cocktail FREAKOUT IN A MOONSHINE DAYDREAM (oh yeah).  And now it will have to be one of those mythic drinks that people whisper about in hushed tones like Westvleteren 13, because it’s all drunk up.

With the success of FOAMeD, I feel I should branch out into other beer mixology.


The Power Skunk: Pacifico, Emergen-C (any flavor will do but acai berry is the best) and a shot of vodka.  If you find yourself in the Netherlands or other permissive environs, feel free to garnish with a fresh cannabis leaf.

Little Brekkie: Bud, clamato and minced Vicodin.

Three Wise Men and the Landlord: Goldschlager, Jagermeister, peppermint schnapps and some poorly-kept Timothy Taylor Landlord.

Green Flem ahem. Or, the Flaming White Fairy: Hoegaarden and absinthe.  Don’t forget to set the sugar cube on fire before pouring.

*Sung to the tune of Hey Jude.

**let it be known that I would consider drinking any and all of these, though for the record I would only drink the “Little Brekkie” when recovering from major surgery or other situations which would find me in legal possesion of controlled substances.

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.)

Your Party-by-Proxy Beer
November 23, 2008

Photo by Great Danes on Flickr

Photo by Great Danes on Flickr

I haven’t posted in a while, being consumed with the dreariness of working in a huge investment bank during the Money Apocalypse.

There have been some lovely beer moments that have gone un-blogged– meeting the passionate and chatty fellows at the bustling Twickenham Beer Festival.  And there was that revelatory tasting of Fuller’s London Porter on tap at the pub at One Knightrider Court (as my friend Steve has point out, this is one of the best addresses in London.  And happens to be right across from my work).  But most of all, there was the election of a new American President– and there were parties in the streets which I missed, being across the pond.  I’ve spent the last few weeks since the election wondering what beer would really match my elation?  I have continued searching.*  This search will progress for the duration of my elation.

Good times. oh yes.

So, I ask you, Dear Reader, what beer did you crack open when you heard the good news?  Surely you remember.

*I admit to immediately cracking open a BrewDog Tokyo because sometimes you need a beer that ups the ante, and does so with a degree of immediacy.  Sometimes quaffing’s just not on.

Things I Learned Today
September 19, 2008

  • I can blog from the banking citadel in which I work. Wherein most websites are verboten, this one is not.
  • Taking lunch in heels is a bad idea.  (I thought– how hard could it be?  So many of my fellow City  women do it.  I had learned from a fellow City worker that most women in heels wear trainers to lunch, keeping their heels under their desk.  Why did I not do this today?  Maybe I was feeling sassy, or stupid, but I limped back to my desk.)
  • Negotiating the banalities of the office is even harder after a pint.

Today I went to the Blackfriar pub, which is very close to my office.  I passed the Rising Sun, which is the closest pub to me– it  has a grand red corner sign and is on a lovely little windy secret street.  However, every time I go by it is filled with suits.  They are my coworkers, yes, but do I really want to drink with them? Well, being a woman alone, someone who knows no one here,  it would be more like drinking around them. I have tried to rally my pleasant coworkers around the wisdom of the lunchtime pint but they aren’t having it.  I’m on my own.

I usually go to the Blackfriars pub because it’s a nice mix of people and I’ve rarely had a bad pint there.  Plus, even inundated with tourists,  you can always find a seat and it’s lovely inside.  They havea weekly guest ale which I always try.  Today it was a Coach House Blueberry Bitter. I ordered a half but was given a full.  I’m glad I liked it, nay, loved it, but now I’m confronting an afternoon of work a bit tipsy.  Even so, it had a blueberry muffin nose, and was definitely very sweet– cut by a resiny, bitter finish making it a very balanced beer– surprising given the blueberry-pancake finish.  I apologize for comparing this beer to sweet food.  I usually hate that.  If anything the berries in the beer were very present but completely natural and earthy tasting, melding well with the malt and hops of the beer so that it didn’t taste blueberry-flavoured at all.

While I was finishing my pint, my nose in a Gunter Grass novel– more to banish self-consciousness at drinking alone than to actually read, II overheard an American tourist talking to a Brit (she must have been a Brit– she was eating a fish finger sandwich).  The American smelled of cheap perfume which was overwhelming my pint and making me grumpy.  She told the other woman that there are no pubs in America, only bars, and they serve hard alcohol and are “scary”.  She said that she can only buy non-alcoholic beer in her supermarket which made me conclude she must have been from a dry county in the midwest, not dissimilar from where some of my relatives reside. 

It made me sad, and maybe a bit homesick and confused.  The only thing that gave me a glimmer of hope was that she was drinking a dark brown ale, so maybe she was catching on.

State of the Art
August 25, 2008

why?, originally uploaded by velvetdahlia.

Since I couldn’t take any decent pictures of the pub where we found ourselves on Sunday, here is me drinking a pint there and vaguely protesting the impromptu documentation of said drinking.

Yesterday I visited a friend in hostipal in Euston and used it as a reason to check out Bree Louise, a pub I’ve read about on several beer blogs.

It’s a bit like being in some old bachelor’s living room. It’s the kind of place men feel comfortable letting it all hang out. The crowd was basically farting geezers (wish I was exaggerating) and laddish young men with teeshirts that read: “Drink till she’s cute” and “Let’s play carpenter. We get hammered and I nail you.” The bare white walls and grubby red carpet, coupled with the furniture that looked like cast-offs from a chain pub all added to the complete lack of anything resembling ambiance. It was one of those places that made me wonder why the hell I go out looking for beer in these alienating spaces. It must be the masochist in me.

There were several beers on gravity, but it was impossible to make heads or tails of them because in some instances the brewery wasn’t listed with the name. The overly eager bar-hand kept saying, “I’m ready when you are, what do you want?” I chose at random the Doombar and the Beartown something or other. When I finally ordered, he said, “That’s 4%– it’s going to go straight to your head!” Which was actually kind of cute. When we presented our CAMRA cards we got 50p off each, making the round £1 cheaper.

The beers were rather forgettable, except the Doombar which was tasty but seemed a bit flat and thin. Maybe it had gone off? We tried the Iceberg and the Atlantic IPA also but I took no notes.

They had a list of what casks would be tapped next. I can see how this would be ticker heaven, if all you cared about was beer and not where or how you were drinking it.

The sinister Mr. Malting guarding the half pints.

The sinister Mr. Malting guarding the half pints.

Back in the Land of the Beering
July 15, 2008

I have been away for a while. I was fasting on doctor’s orders, and then I broke my fast with a tiny bit of cider from some enabling friends. And then I found myself drinking lots of cider…in pubs like the Green Man in Fitzrovia where they have Old Rosie on tap. I’m hanging out with my old tribe– goths– and drinking cider. In the US cider is a sweet hot mulled thing children drink at Halloween…here in the UK it seems cider is the madwoman in the Real Ale attic– and, more strangely– it seems to be associated with goths.

Then I went beer slumming for an extended period, finding myself addicted to the rosy-hued Sam’s Smith’s cherry beer. The label is beautiful and old-timey, and every time I look at it I think happily about the rainy British summer.

And then I continued on this path away from beer snobbery by visiting Garlic and Shots in Soho and drinking their garlic beer. It is basically generic lager with minced garlic floating in the head. A lot of minced garlic. My friends and I sipped it with trepidation, feeling like we were on a college party dare, and all of us were delighted with the sweet pungency. With perverse glee, I realized that this is maybe the one way I could learn to drink fizzy yellow beer.

I’m going to the Greenwich Beer Festival tomorrow. If I can survive the “jazz” I will be reporting back fronting a more evolved palate.