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.

Extreme Beering
July 5, 2009


When Mr. Malting and I moved across the pond, one of the first things we noticed was the difference in advertising.  In the UK there was a clear absence of images of SUVs driving over small cars on the motorway or dudes chugging yellow soda while snowboarding down a mountain.  In the UK, it’s all fey turtles carrying cans of cola on their backs and Vashti Bunyan singing about her Hebridean cow while hawking a phone plan.

After this weekend’s American Beer Festival at the White Horse in Parson’s Green, one could say that there is a similarly cartoonish contrast in beer.  Many British beers may ask you to be attuned to subtleties all the while courting you with a mild buzz.  American beers are flashy, with big hop-bling and alcohol percentages that will have you arm wrestling strangers before the night is up.

hopdevil_200Forget your 2.5% milds, your quaffable bitters…this weekend’s festival was beer tasting as an extreme sport. Boak had the brilliant idea to meet up at the festival in the afternoon, beating the inevitable evening crowd. I made it there first and chose to start with Victory Hop Devil, a beer I’d never tried before, but I’ve always thought the little hope creature was cute.  Palate pandaemonium!  Was I wise to start with this?  Was my palate f*cked now?  After a few sips of the warming stuff, served in a very nice brandy-shaped half pint, I stopped worrying and just embraced the intensity.

I’d almost finished when both Boak and Pete joined me. If you are going to be tackling these extremes, these are the drinking buddies you want–engaging and passionate about beer, the kind of folks who will sympathize when your half of Hop Wallop goes barn-yardy on you.  We decided we couldn’t detect the oak in the “blind taste test” between the two Arrogant Bastards on offer.  Both were tastier than AB’s I’ve had in the US.  I read that some of the beers had been extra-dry-hopped for the journey. Many were also served American-cold which, while not fridge-cold, is a few degrees colder than what in the UK is cellar temperature (which can vary wildly but sometimes is room temperature).  It might be heresy in some beer circles, but in the summer I like beer to be cold.  Really cold.


Why can't British breweries learn a bit of marketing from the US micros?

Next, Pete suggested we try the fabled Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA, a mixture of IPAs that have been re-fermented in their special “Johnny Cask” with maple syrup, yeast and even more hops.  It was by far my favourite of the evening with loads of tropical fruits and big hops balancing it out. In typical US fashion, the alcohol % is not advertised on the gorgeous pump clip (or anywhere else where the beer is profiled on the web…)

Sometimes alcohol percentages seem like an absurd obsession in the UK (see the controversy over Brew Dog’s 12% Tokyo).  Whereas in the US many brew pubs will serve pints of 6%+ offerings without blinking.  Indeed, the first time I had an Arrogant Bastard (that sentence sounds bad…) the place didn’t serve halves and yet most of the beers on their menu were upwards of 6%.  What would the Daily Mail say?

Luckily, the White Horse does halves, but as the sun came out and the the post-work crowd showed up, I wished they did thirds.  There were so many beers I wouldn’t be able to try because I was already getting goofy.  At one point Pete asked me if I could still taste anything!  Like a boxer you just retire to your corner, drink some water, strategize and get back into things…

Boak went to get us halves of Meantime’s London Porter. Brewer Alistair Hook playfully “[threw] down the gauntlet to the American brewers by giving drinkers a comparative taste of an extremely traditional beer, a six-month old porter vatted in the original London brewing style…”  Indeed, much of what seems new in the US is actually a reinvention of something quite old, and good American brewers know this.  Likewise, exciting UK brewers like Meantime and Brew Dog are having a beery dialogue with the US and this friendly sparring just means better beer for both sides of the pond.

I believe the London porter was Boak’s favourite; she declared it “liquid tiramisu.”  It was indeed deliciously deep– a contrast in sweet, seductive darkness next to the Dogfish Head IPA which had a sun-in-splendor brightness.  At 9.? % it was the thing that made my liver cry uncle.

But, Alastair…you haven’t won yet!  I am considering returning for another round today.

All the cool kids are doing it.
March 20, 2009

Brew Dog Hardcore IPA and my metal face.

Brew Dog Hardcore IPA and my metal face.

Yesterday I tried to go to the London Drinker Festival but the queue was 100+ people deep and it was packed inside.  It looked like a queue for a nightclub– not an un-ironic facial hair in sight. I’m thinking they were all students from the nearby university.  I ended up at a pub with a friend drinking Tribute next to a table of screechy white wine drinkers, wondering if I’ll ever really get the hang of living in London, where even small pleasures like a beer festival are overrun with other humans, and crowds are the norm.

To soothe my angst, today I drink alone.  What do I drink, you ask?  Why, it’s that beer with pornographic promise, Brew Dog’s Hardcore IPA. After reading Mark’s tasting notes I immediately ordered some.

Wortwust will no doubt see me as a betrayer, drinking what can only be described as hop juice.  The most significant sensation from all this is not just the lingering bitterness but the real alcohol warming in the belly.  This is one comforting beer, which is strange because the brewery’s tasting notes are gleeful with hyperbole:

It just completely and utterly screws you over.  It is like being raped by a hop monster! Yet somehow it is difficult to leave it alone. The 9% makes your head go fuzzy, the warm tingling adds to the confusion. This beer messes you up so much you want to keep on drinking it just to try and figure out what is going on.

At  150 IBUs I have to wonder if I am just getting used to massive hoppage?  Because I have had hoppier beers.  Stone’s Ruination and my friend Bob’s dry hopped beer he made while in the Netherlands were serious pallet f*ckers, but this one doesn’t coat your mouth in hop oils.  There’s definitely room for other flavors here and I call that a win.

Hops are an acquired taste.  I used to hate hoppy beers, and then something clicked.  I had a hop breakthrough drinking Crouch Vale Amarillo, and I realized I would be craving these flowers forevermore. There isn’t much concept of a moderate session beer in the brews I really take to.   Maybe if I came of age quaffing ales in sessions with mates these beers would be impractical or a “sideshow.”

This particular beer is definitely a hop panorama, like putting your face in a potpouri bowl of hops.  The mouthfeel is peppery, a gentle effervesence releases the esters.  There is a very brief melon roundness that is immediately seared, dried out.  It’s all here– the rose petals crushed by the footfall of pine and grapefruit peel.  Whatever sweetness is just left on the lips to dry there. You could almost forget this is carrying the whole thing.

There is barely any malt character to this beer but do I care?  No.

As for food matching, right now I am craving a Thai spicy green curry, or corn chips with black bean, jalapeno and mango salsa.  Call me crazy but I’m also thinking a chili-marinated halloumi burger with beet slaw would rock.  But I have none of these things so the real test will have to wait.  I have two more bottles after all.

July 25, 2008

Maybe it’s all this apocalyptic talk of the hop shortage, or my own dire skintness, but I haven’t been drinking a lot of beer because it seems like a luxury. And I haven’t been writing about it.

Sure, I could drink cheap beer in cans but I have never liked it. I never drank beer until I tasted the nice stuff. I would start homebrewing so I could have something to drink, if I didn’t live in a little shoe box of a flat with an even smaller sink and a cat that sheds. A lot.

I’ve been slowly breaking into my stash. I open a beer after I finish a round of sending out cv’s. The last round was crowned with a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Flemish Red I splurged on (at almost £4 for a small bottle at Whole Foods) when I was feeling rather flush. I had hoped the beer would cheer me but it was overly sweet. I ate it with some luxurious stilton and pear pate, a lovely gift from my friend Liza, but maybe that was the wrong food choice. Usually tannins and stilton go together. (For a better take on this beer, see The Hot Knives’ review, which remains my favourite beer review, like, ever.) Maybe it was just my palate that was messed up but I didn’t get the sour balance at all, and I kept thinking about the Duchesse falling from her horse while hunting with a falcon. I’d just had a birthday, the kind of birthday that makes one weary rather than gleeful, the kind of birthday that makes you think about the closed circuit of death.

Once I saw a falconer in Trafalgar Square and the bird took wing around Nelson’s column with a wild certainty. It was one of those slyly seductive moments London gives up too rarely. And in between those moments there is beer. Or there should be.

So, I have a beer hoard. Last night I was impatient for a glass half-full outlook, so I made some very garlicky pizza from scratch and cracked open a bottle of BrewDog’s Punk IPA which turned out to be the the hoppiest beer I’ve ever had.  One could almost say it was aggressively hopped, almost a hop tea left to steep at a slow seethe, except that it was most certainly a beer– a fruity, summery nose with a delightfully bright mouthfeel. I confess I don’t even know what colour it really was because I drank it straight out of the bottle. It seemed like the thing to do. Hours later my palate was still coated with resins. It was a beer with something to prove, not unlike the brewery itself.

Is it possible to crush out on a brewery? Yes.

The brewery sent this beer along with a bottle of the Anniversary Paradox, one of the most expensive beers in the world, which was a gift from Mr. Malting (he doesn’t share my pessimism about money or life which is part of why I love the guy.)

I thought I should save that bottle for some good news, but maybe beer is the good news.