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.

Year of the Dog
January 9, 2010

James and Martin of BrewDog, Photo from The Independent

James and Martin of BrewDog, Photo from The Independent

2010 is off to a great start, at least where beer is concerned.  Today I woke up to an email from Martin with good news:  BrewDog have hit their target for investors for Equity for Punks, which means all their exciting projects, like the eco-friendly brewery and brewpub are going ahead.

What I love about BrewDog is not just their beers, but how ambitious they are, and how they seem to carry off anything they set their mind to.  It’s inspiring and I’m proud to be one of the  investors.  But if you missed your chance to invest– you still can as the deadline has been extended to Feb 19th.  Just think of the fab AGMs…that 20% life long discount…and being part of an exciting beer journey with one of the bravest and most talented breweries in the UK.

Today is a happy day, indeed.

New Beers Resolutions
December 31, 2009

The Beer Chicks have asked us for our best and worst beers of 2009.  There is a tie for best– between the sublime BrewDog Zephyr, and Pete Brown’s traditional Burton IPA– the same beer brewed for his voyage which he documented in Hops and Glory.  After fermenting for two years, it took on all sorts of mysterious, vinous, lambic-like characteristics.  Really haunting and complex, made moreso by its role in such a marvelous narrative.

In 2009 this blog turned one.  It started as a whim and has now become central my lens on life and London.  The days of the lone blogger are over; I’m part of a community.  It’s introduced me to fascinating people, many who are now friends.

My biggest leap of faith in 2009 was investing in BrewDog.  Why did I do it when so many in the blog-o-shire put forth compelling arguments not to?  When it’s not really an investment? When the Equity for Punks promo material was clearly sexist? When the guys at BrewDog went one stunt over the line and reported their own beer to the Portman group?  I confess the lifelong 20% sweetened the deal but really, I believe if anyone can inject new life into brewing in the UK and turn on a younger generation to craft brewing, it’s BrewDog.  Their beers excite me and capture my imagination. James’ sincerity and passion have won me over. I want them to do this thing– the new brewery, the brewpub, everything. It’s going to be amazing, the kind of thing that is already alive and well in the US. The Equity for Punks scheme is a bit crazy, but it just might work, it might be this kind of craziness that’s needed to ring in this sea change. What a coup it will be if they pull this off. These are exciting times in terms of craft beer, especially in Scotland, but in the whole of the UK.  I don’t want to miss it and I want a front row seat.

My big mistake of 2009 was not brewing enough of my own beer, not finding enough time, bottles, gumption.

The Beer Chicks have also asked us what kind of beer-o-phile do we want to be in 2010.  For me that would be a home-brewster beervangelist of a higher order.  Brewing stronger, bigger, tastier.  I want to take the beer message to the people.  And by people I mean non-beer drinkers.   In 2010 as in life, I want beer to dictate my travel itenerary and season my travelogue.  I want to eschew the role of foodie in favor of beer bard and alethropologist. I want to have a green knees up in Hastings at Beltane. I want to be my own surveyor of a beer map of Scotland and hunt for booze in Bruges.  And all this I can do, provided the Border Agency sees fit to keep me.

Happy New Year, beer-0-sphere!

La Tamalada Sola del Londinium
December 22, 2009

Vegan Sushi. But where's the beer?

I’ll admit I have a hard time with the whole food matching thing.  Most of the time I drink beer without food. I consider it my pud, my afters.

I am health conscious, maybe to a fault.  This beer hobby is taxing on the body, let’s face it.  But I’ve never seen eating healthy as a sacrifice– it doesn’t have to be.  But you’d  never get this by looking at foodie writing or even beer blogs.

Consulting other experts on food matching leads one to meat-and-cheese heavy ideas. Hot Knives, from California, are an exception to this, though often their recipe ingredients and beer choices are difficult to find in London. Reading their blog I’m reminded that I learned to cook and love beer in a place that’s culinarily alien to most Brits.  My voyeuristic glimpse of the British Guild of Beer Writers annual dinner had me thinking Caligula would have blushed, or at least the courses could have featured as a chapter in the Decadent Cookbook.

In London the availability of beautiful, fresh produce rivals choice in Cali– and yet vegetables and grains are considered afterthoughts, peripheral to the “real” food which is flesh. In a time when we are all thinking green, and when cheap meat will cost plenty in terms of our environmental future (let’s not think of the smoking piles of mad cow by the fin de siècle motorway here in the UK or the recent H1N1 from the viral incubator of a US factory farm), it just makes sense to rethink the centrality of meat and its pairing with beer.

With that said, I need to learn to food match, and I need to do it yesterday.

The other day I made vegan sushi, pictured above.  I had this idea that BrewDog’s Movember, with its mild manned yet hoppy character would be perfect.  Big mistake.  The soapy nose really wrastled with the ginger in a most unpleasant way.  Everards Sly Fox would have worked well, but it’s not something I can nip round the corner to get.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about Crouch Vale’s Wild Hop, which I had in during a lovely day out in Cambridge with Jesus John and Claire.  It was a beautiful beer, made with hops gleaned from hedgrows, with a mild, chamomile character, and it would have gone perfectly well with the sushi.

Tamalada, by Carmen Lomas Garza

Though, this year, I have one beer matching success.  In Aztlan, or the part of Cali I consider home, it’s traditional to have a tamalada or tamale-making party at Christmas. It’s something I never did when I lived there, as it was easy to get tamales around my neighborhood.  I never knew how to cook them until homesickness dictated I learn.  In past years I’ve smuggled masa and corn shucks home in my suitcase.  One year I mail ordered the ingredients from a gourmet shop and nearly went broke.  This year my friend Alice found a Mexican importer near Columbia Flower Market where we found all the ingredients necessary, with still enough money to buy beer.  If we count the food miles here I might as well be chopping down a rain forest, Paul Bunyan style.

Tamale making is a two-day process.  I was complaining to my friend El Chavo that it felt lonely to do it solo, and he said that it could be a time for quiet contemplation.  This year I perfected my recipe and I shared the finished tamales with more London friends than ever before. I served them with BrewDog’s Trashy Blonde and it was gorgeous, the sweet fruity character balancing well with the smoky-earthy corn cakes.  (I also made some hibiscus and lime infused wassail for full-on cultural hybridity, and that went over well.)

Tamales, pre-steamer

I’d like to think that this is a new London tradition in the making, and that next year I will have friends join me in the tamalada and we can find the perfect beer to drink while making them (an intense Christmas ale!)

So, what are you doing this time next year, mis tamaleros-in-arms?

The Green Dragon’s Hoard
December 18, 2009

Sir Frank Brangwyn's etching of Southwark Cathedral

London, in its infinite complexity, forces one to be a creature of habit, to stick with what you know.  I return continually to the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, crossing the Thames over London Bridge, built up, as the rhyme goes, with needles and pins.  Pricked and tingled, you take Green Dragon Court into the rabbit warren of delicacies that is Borough Market.

I am not a foodie; the dead creatures hung and bled, laid out on ice– I will never get used to the ordinary cruelties.  I believe the best food is the simplest, the most humble.  And yet the plenty of this little chaotic market moves me.  So much of old London is gone, but there has been a market on the south bank of the Thames here since Roman times, and this particular location has existed for 250 years.

The cathedral shimmers golden in the early dark– I pass in its chiaroscuro. Soon I will be at the Utobeer beer stall picking out something new.  It’s started to snow, now, as if the weather conspires in delight.  Yule beer!

But, I have a secret. I’ve come here tonight because I suddenly find myself the kind of drinker that will run after a beer tweet.  The trip to the beer stall is just a ruse– I’m kidding myself that I’m not really headed, once again, to the Rake because I’ve heard they have cask BrewDog on: mysterious Equity for Punks.  I’ve never had cask BrewDog, and this is about to change.

I’ve resigned myself– it will be a grumpy affair.  I’ll order, drink up, take notes and leave.  The place is already packed at 4pm, but there’s still some BrewDog left so I order a half and find a vacant stool by an elegantly bearded gentleman drinking Rodenbach’s Grand Cru, “Are they doing something with this place?” He asks, “it seems even smaller than when I was last here.  It’s like a temporary classroom or something.  All the beer in the world to drink and nowhere to drink it!” (exactly.)  And then we remarked that normally no one talks to strangers in pubs in London and why is that?  This guy, mild mannered and charming is a beer person.  Every year he makes a pilgrimage to Belgium in his Volkswagon, loads his boot with bottled beers and returns via the Eurotunnel in Folkstone.  I love this idea– a beer road trip! it’s so American— but I keep this to myself.  He never drinks “real ale” but his first Chimay, years ago, blew his mind.  He’s joined by his mate, a fellow car-boot pilgrim who turns out to be this blogger.

I’m warming up to the Rake now, grateful for good company and a corner perch– though maybe that’s just the 3.7% Equity for Punks coloring things.  In silent triumph I’ve gone back and snagged the last pint.  It’s red and piny, velvety with a lacy head staying put through the entire pint.  BrewDog have done their hat trick again, producing a profoundly hopped beer that remains balanced with lovely caramel malt on the finish.

And then who should pass by the window but Mike Hill, one of the owners of the Rake.  Before moving here my idea of a quintessential Londoner was some Dickensian, lock-stock-and-two-smoking-Dalloways amalgam: forthright, funny.  That Londoner is rare, but Mike is one, with his voice of shale and tailings.  I had the luck of meeting him through Pete Brown and just immediately took to him.  He waves, comes in from the snow and we have a proper chat.

My table mates have moved on and are now drinking Delirium Noel.  The beer is starting to work; the elegant gentleman is praising the designer who came up with the little archetypal DT elephant, “It is exactly what a pink elephant should be. The essence of elephant!”

I’m on to the inevitable Death and Taxes, Moonlight Brewery’s schwartz beer, from my old stomping ground in the Bay Area. It’s impenetrably black and roasty, with a dense mouthfeel that betrays the style but makes me like it more.  I resist the homesickess that might be equally inevitable.  I’m a Londoner now.

Mo Town
November 6, 2009

Sure, a beer can say it's handsome, but without a mustache, how can it prove it?

It’s Movember, that time of year when every sensible soul capable of doing so grows some facial hair to raise donations to fight prostate cancer.  I love Movember– I love mustaches.  And I love a savvy charity that knows just how to get younger guys to start thinking about prostate health early and talking about it. (The campaign is silly, ironic and hip, really genius).  Prostate cancer was always remote issue until it affected my family quite recently.

BrewDog’s Movember beer donates  25% of the sale price to the Movember foundation.  Cheers to the brewers who once again avoid cliche here– I was expecting something with a thick head that would leave a “mustache” on the drinker.  Or maybe I was just letting my imagination get away with me (again).

This beer is lucid– sunny and lager-like with a tall head that quickly dissipates while releasing all kinds of estery brightness– there’s a strong note of melon– not unlike that Korean chewing gum (does anyone know what I’m referring to here?).  The nose has a chamomile note and some soapiness that I forgive. The malt hits you first, kind of sweet but mellow– the beer has the mouthfeel of a lager, cut with some lovely hops to dry it all out so you’re left with only a bit of sweetness.

This beer really needs some fried foods to go with it– bhajis, chips.  Tempura. Wheat-meat drumsticks with chipotle mayo would rock with this.  You get my (veggie) drift.  It’s a companionable beer (I won’t say quaffing– that word makes me blush.)  You could totally drink loads of this while waiting for lip hair to grow.

As it mellows in the glass the cantaloupe really comes to the fore, yet the body is so light and the hops balance out really nicely.  I can’t place the hops…perhaps in growing this mustache I have lost my hop-sense?

If I can grow one, so can you!

To donate to the charity on behalf of this “mo sista”  just click here.  Who knows, by the end of the month I might rival my favourite cookie duster:


Henry Wellcome: drug magnate, collector and facial hair farmer extraordinaire

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

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.

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.

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.)