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

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.

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.

Ebullient Redemption
May 22, 2008

As Pete Brown suggests in a recent post, sometimes taste, whether we like a beer or not, is all about context.

I must begin my discussion of this beer with putting it in the context of several other beers I tried around the same time. Last year I was traveling in Scotland and saw signs for the Black Isle Brewery. I convinced Mr. Malting it would be a good idea to check it out, a decision I later regretted. In the brewery store we just wanted to grab some beers, but clearly if you stopped it meant you wanted a tour of the brewery. We waited for the brewer to finish his conversation with a well-dressed couple who were chatting with him endlessly about their green lifestyle. Having come from Los Angeles this sounded weirdly like beer schmoozing, but we waited. And waited. He offered samples to the M&S wearing Brits but not to us, even though there were only five of us in the room. It was awkward. We waited some more. I considered leaving, but in one of my Larry-David-esque moments I decided that I was going to see this through. So of course once we purchased a range of beers to try later, they were already clouded with my vague annoyance. I’ve also had bad luck with several organic beers (why is it so hard to find a really good organic pint? I have had a few nice ones, but that is a subject for another post.) I tried the Irish red, the “Beat the Drum” ale and the Yellowhammer IPA. They were that rare thing– beers I couldn’t finish. I did finish the porter, but barely, being the one style I’m very forgiving about.

It all left a bad taste in my mouth, literally. So the next day when we stopped at a tourist shop to use the loo, I perused the shelves of coats-of-arms mugs that Americans buy to take back with them to prove they have roots somewhere, and in between the plush Nessies and clan tartan neckties, there was a small beer section. I fell for the Ebulum label– I am not immune to the whole Pictish-Celtic marketing aesthetic. But it was also black, flavoured with elderberries and was 6.5%. I was sold. And you know, after the bad-beer luck I was having, this beer wasn’t just good. It was redemptive.

The Plough Inn, Crowmarty

The next day we went drinking at the Plough Inn in Rosemarkie, where an old man played the accordion for the almost empty room. There was a gentleman there with a big black dog named Molly. When this man saw me he exclaimed, “You are a strange one, you are,” pointing at me as if I should know it.

“I’m a stranger.” I agreed. And once that was settled we got to talking. He’d lost his wife “two years to the day.” He bought me a pint of Tennent’s Velvet, which was really quite lush, and I told him I had been to the Black Isle Brewery. He then gave me an earful of gossip! He also asked me what I thought of the beer and I told him honestly.

He said, “The red one?” and then made a choking gesture, “It’s like Buffy the vampire was choking me!” I had to forgive him for mucking the pop culture reference– I was just happy to have someone concur.

And now, curled up with my laptop and cat in my little flat, that Ebulum holds up to a second try in these more familiar surroundings. The berries mix with a dark tea-tannin deliciously, any Ribena subsumed in warm barley, and the vanilla-malt nose floats over it all. Cheers to Molly and the widower and that old man playing the accordion, faraway on the Black Isle.

Eats: belgian chocolate truffles

While listening to: In Gowan Ring

Badger Golden Glory
May 16, 2008

Badger Golden glory, originally uploaded by unclewilco 

(Thanks to unclewilco on Flickr for the use of the photo and power of suggestion)

When I was a teenager I read Flipside magazine, combing through the ads for pen pals in the back. Those were pre-internet days: heady exchanges of mixed tapes and Xeroxed collages! I met a guy that way who ended up being ten years my senior and actually someone who babysat me when I was tiny, but to continue in this nostagic vein would be OVERSHARING.

None the less, the first time I ever drank was with this person, who I adored. We sat on the rickety balcony of his squat in downtown Chicago drinking fuzzy navels– peach schnapps and orange juice. Sure it was poison, deliberately concocted to appeal to my adolescent femme palate, and I wouldn’t be able to choke one down now but there is something about Golden Glory that reminds me not of the flavor of that cocktail, but that glowing delight of initial intoxication. Of course, it’s the peach.

And maybe even honeysuckle? How did it get in there? Nectar? Fairy dust? Some hyphenated additive? Wait, don’t tell me. Or if you do, it better be buried between tracks on a mixed tape.

Eats: parsnip crisps!

While listening to: Psychic TV– The Orchids.

In the Meantime
May 14, 2008

While real ale in itself isn’t going to change white, male “boy’s club” feel of beer drinking in the UK, it does have the potential for wider appeal with women and people of color. How is this going to happen?

One possible way is that beer will be marketed to separate race and gender demographics. People will buy it from supermarkets and drink it in front of the telly.

Where is the fun in that? Beer is a social thing, a bonding agent. Beer has the potential to really bring people together joyfully. What if real ale culture harnessed that anew, starting with pubs and festivals radically rethinking their base?

Perhaps the nationalistic, tradition-based advertising approach of many British pubs, festivals and breweries is not ultimately the way forward if real ale is to have more appeal. In the changing landscape of Britain it must have wider appeal to really survive and grow.

Meantime– which doesn’t produce cask-conditioned ale– is an amazing example of British beer adopting international styles and learning from the American microbrewery revolution. Easy-drinking kolsh and Munich styles plus Strawberry cream, blackcurrant porter and raspberry ale are beers that will appeal to women, but they aren’t marketed patronizingly at us. Also the packaging in the grocery store and the pub spoke to me: bottles with a beautiful font and a great name. They were elegant, back to basics and yet full of London magic (Greenwich Mean Time– time begins here–).

The Greenwich Union pub did not disappoint, and echoed the branding effortlessly. Everything was perfect down to the details: the glasses were appropriate to the style and brewery branded, and even carefully sprayed down after pouring by the bar staff so they wouldn’t be sticky. The beer itself was perfect in every way– the kolner seemed quite accurate especially– I suppose it can’t be called a kolsh because you can’t hear the bells of the Dom in Greenwich! The dunkel rivaled my favourite of that style– Andrechs. The raspberry was specially perfect for drinking outside on a summer’s day. The sunny Union garden did remind me of happy times with friends in the beer gardens of Bavaria. It was a Sunday afternoon and there were many more women here drinking– maybe even outnumbering men. Though it was still a predominantly white crowd.