2013 has been a rollercoaster. I’ve not been writing much you may have noticed.
It all started before Christmas when the time came to start our homemade wedding invites, and the dark evenings were extended long into the night, firstly on photoshop, and then cutting, sticking, glueing and tying our handiwork.
Then came Christmas with all its trimmings and travelling, and before there’d been time to play with presents January arrived, and a daily stream of RSVPs for ticking off came through the letter box.
In February I was made redundant and for a few days the world caved in.
Immediately a big red button was pressed in my head and, soaring on adrenalin and tea, I was rushing around interviews, sign on meetings and ‘catch ups’ in a whirlwind of quickly learned answers and soul destroying niceties.
I crashed on my stag do, asleep in a Berlin ping pong bar at 11pm on the first night, uncertain if I could afford a wedding and exhausted from running on empty.
My head finally stopped spinning only two weeks after starting a new job in March. I realised how much I had loved my old job, grieved, and the year which had stalled dramatically started to rev and pull away again.
Not for long. Four days before the wedding day, I received another job offer, one that meant the days before marriage were not so much a reflective calm before the storm, but a pensive, anxious period of conjecture, most minutes spent second guessing a future of vivid pathways to self destruction.
Decision made; now it was time to head to Nottingham to be wed, and amidst a year of much grey hair growing was the best day of my life. Followed by a honeymoon of exploring Icelandic landscape and cuisine with my new wife, and trekking through the commuters and skyscrapers of New York hand in hand in the first sunshine for months.
Which brings me to today. Four weeks after arriving in Reykjavik, I’m sat on the first day of my second week of my third job of the year.
I don’t know whether the renaissance of this blog will last beyond this post. These few words could be an acorn, they could mark the end of the line. Only the rollercoaster knows, and this year I’ve learnt to just jump aboard and worry about the bends later.Tags: berlin, Iceland, new york, wedding
March 4th, 2013Beer Reviews
Sacrebleu! Even ‘King Eric’ is talking about hops. If you haven’t seen it yet, the new Kronenbourg 1664 ad stars French football legend Eric Cantona masquerading as a hop farmer. The commercial is set in an Alsace village where the local crop growers are treated like soccer stars for producing the hops “that make Kronenbourg so special”. Cracking marketing no doubt, but perhaps a kung-fu kick to the face of beer geeks everywhere courtesy of the Heineken owned company.
It came just days after Beck’s (an arm of American brew giant Anheuser-Busch InBev) launched its new 6% ‘Sapphire’ beer during last Sunday’s Superbowl commercials; the main selling point – other than its fancy black bottle and singing goldfish – the use of ‘German Sapphire hops’, apparently to aid their “smoothest Beck’s yet”.
The ads themselves have been well received on social networking sites for their humour, however gimmicky; though I’m not sure the feeling is shared amongst real ale and craft beer aficionados. Independent brewers of specialist, hoppy beers face enough competition from their peers without the big boys and their huge advertising budgets muscling in.Tags: Cantona, heineken, hops, kronenbourg
February 6th, 2013Stout & Porter
I’d love to know if Courage Imperial Russian Stout tastes anything like the dark stouts that circumnavigated the Baltic coasts on it’s blustery journey towards the courts of nineteenth century Russia.
I’ll never know what those early imperial stouts tasted like, no matter how many historical accounts I read or how many experts I ask. Even if an antique bottle surfaced and I could tease a tiny drop from it’s degraded cork, it would be no fair representation of the dark liquid that in the nineteenth century became more than just a stylish beer, but a style of beer.
The story of Russian Imperial Stout is somewhat disputed – better blogs cover that here and here – but don’t the best histories always have a few enhancing evolutions over the years? Whether you prefer rousing stories or raw statistics there’s little doubting the Russian penchant for strong dark English beer that worked it’s way along the Baltic trade routes.
Courage was not the first to brew an imperial stout for Russia (that was most likely Thrales), and the brewery no longer exists, but as I’m sat peering into a Courage Imperial Stout late one Sunday night you could easily convince me otherwise.
The aroma fills the curves of the rotund glass and becomes thick enough to breathe in and bite. Did the drinkers of the Russian court swill it around in expensive glass vessels and take long drawn out sniffs? Did they compare the rich chocolate notes to a creamy latte or recognise cranberries in the fruity flavours? They definitely won’t have thought ‘dashes of Nutella’ and scribbled down excited tasting notes.
Nor would they have had Proustian memories of a homemade pear and chocolate upside down cake left in the oven a little too long. They might have exhaled in satisfaction at the way the fruity and coffee flavours are wrapped up in a tobacco cuddle like a friendly beer cigar.
The Russians would probably think I’m mad (you might?) but then again I don’t have large volumes of my favourite beer imported by sea from hundreds of miles away across cold, heaving channels, just because I can’t be bothered to make it at home.
Thank Gambrinus for Courage and this dark, smoky bundle of history. It’s a real treat with a great story.Tags: chocolate, cigar, pear, Russia, Tobacco
January 31st, 2013Lagers
A cyclist eases along the uncluttered embankment; a couple stand contentedly at the waters edge peering towards their future; a couple of suits stroll happily in the yellowing evening light towards an ice cream van sat under the shade of a riverside tree.
So is printed the scene on every bottle of Meantime London Lager. I imagine the inky outlines slowly awakening into a perfect city portrait, rustling and rising to the cafes and bars for a peaceful drink.
The reality is more likely to be Boris bikes avoiding brisk paced briefcases and couples cringing into cameras, tensed outstretched arms aiming backwards to frame faces in front of famous skylines; seagulls, crisp packets and gust-strewn hair swirl and swoosh in an orchestrated effort to ruin the shot.
Luckily I can gaze at the winning shot hanging on the wall whilst sipping a brisk and fizzy lager, reminiscing on our recent trip to the capital (the winner was the best of a bad bunch). The creamy body, cornflake flavours and subtle lemony scent are a picture perfect beer, a long way from the stereotypical lager of crummy pubs and industrial processes. Even the bitterness feels calm and natural, light and transient like the crunch of celery.
The London Eye creeps skywards over the serene label edge. The only way to enjoy this surreal version of the city is to jump aboard; and with that I grab another bottle of this seductively crafted (and marketed) beer.Tags: lager, London, Meantime
January 25th, 2013Desert Island Beers
Back in September ’12 we started a ‘Kiwi & Oz’ series on Desert Island Beers saying these were exciting times for New Zealand and Australian brewers, with both countries experiencing major growth in “craft” beer sales and the number of “craft” breweries. With this major growth as background we will have featured nearly twenty of our Kiwi & Australian brewing and blogging cousins when the series finishes in the next few weeks.
There is however a similar story closer to home as one of the great things about being a beer drinker in London at the moment is the vibrancy of its beer and brewing scene. We have therefore planned our next series of castaways on Old London Town.
The growth in London breweries in recent times has been nothing short of amazing. When in 2011 Des de Moor published his excellent guide, London Brewers and Beers he reckoned there were thirteen operating breweries, an increase from the eight that remained after Young’s left Wandsworth in 2006. He now reckons there are thirty six breweries operating in London, including ten brewpubs, with at least a further eleven under development, including three brewpubs. And with some of these projects well advanced its likely there will be over forty by the summer!Tags: brodies, camden, Fuller's, kernel, London, Meantime, redemption, truman, watneys, youngs
I’ll wager right now that you won’t find a more attractive bottle of beer in the supermarket. The thick curvaceous bottles of St Peter’s Brewery stand out like a vintage medicine vessel, reminiscent of a simpler, more authentic age.
Vintage is one way of describing the brewery’s heritage. Housed in a medieval hall deep in rural Suffolk, St Peter’s deliberately leverage their location to their advantage. And whilst their history may be less rich (incorporated 1996) the supermarket shelves are enhanced with their marketing angle.
The bottles are modelled on a US gin bottle from the eighteenth century and this particular fake is temporary home to 500 millilitres of St Peter’s Best Bitter that’s working it’s way towards my sensory system.
This is a bristly bitter beer; colour the epitome of amber, taste the epitome of England; caramel and pepper flavours whilst the linger is all hedgerow and moorland bitterness.
The thick green gin bottle, the faintly herbaceous aftertaste, the hanging logo embossed with subtle confidence into the glass. I’ll wager right now you won’t find a better looking beer in the supermarket. You might not find many better at representing the East of England either.Tags: bitter, suffolk
1January 9th, 2013Belgian/Trappist
Stroll through an ageing orchard, take a gulp of the musty air at the defunct pressing room door. Continue past the old farm cottage to the door of the dirty whitewashed inn where the drip trays need emptying. The fruit in the bowl near the window has seen better days, and through the yellowed single pane of glass the smoke rises from the chimney in the monastery opposite. A calm shadow sneaks across the cobbles dodging wooden stools and deposits freshly baked bread with the rotund innkeeper, a silent nod the only interaction before the mysterious robed shape is gone.
Order briskly but politely and then pause to acknowledge the peppery scent, which laces the pyramid of froth in top of the brooding liquid. It glows with some kind of knowing soul. Perhaps it was the confident almost challenging pour, the beer dispatcher from curvaceous glass to angular chalice with an unexpected deftness. Sip the slightly sour, herbaceous barley juice that’s so different to it’s contemporaries. It’s no wonder those monks believe in heaven, they just don’t realise it’s closer to home than they think.
The above is a figment of imagination. Orval was the muse.
Hercules Double IPA lives up to it’s name from the first overloaded sniff. To paraphrase The Boss (and a bit of Bob too) the hops hit you like a freight train running through the middle of your mouth; this beer was definitely born in the USA.
Hercules is bursting at the seams with tangy grapefruit bitterness, and he ram raids my tongue and the back of my throat. Pow. He’s strong too and thumps me in the head with a 10% alcohol punch. Kaboom.
Balance isn’t Hercules’ strong point. But it’s not supposed to be. This is not a session beer, at least not in the English sense. This beer is a drinking challenge, like the multi-meat vindaloo hiding at the bottom of the menu with a caption ‘invented by our favourite regular, Lucifer’.
And it’s well named. A brute force hop monster dominated by bruising bitterness, seeping resin and slowly bleeding booze; a hedonistic but messy mix of crazed pine cones and hyperactive barley.
Hell if hops could spontaneously combust this beer would be on fire.Tags: great divide, hops
January 7th, 2013Desert Island Beers
As soon as he could legally drink beer Dean Pugh joined Wetherspoons and has showed no signs of his passion for malt and hops diminishing since then. Especially for hops.
Dean undertook Wetherspoons management training after leaving university, and in 2007 joined York Brewery, helping them to open their first pub outside the old city walls, Mr Foley’s Cask Ale House in Leeds.
Dean grew ‘Foley’s’ from scratch, managing it from new kid on the block to Leeds Pub of the Year in 2009 (as voted for by the local brand of CAMRA). Set in a grade-II listed building opposite the iconic Leeds Town Hall, the pub has become a magnate for geeks of all kinds, whether that’s football (telly screens and comfy sofas), beer aficionados (bottles and cask ales aplenty) or weekend art critics (the bar is a stone throw from Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute).
Dean was integral in encouraging the growth of beer lovers in Leeds, with Foley’s well known as a place to find well kept real ale and interesting bottled beer from around the globe. Under Dean’s stewardship Foley’s has hosted many beer focused events, from Meet The Brewer evening with the local lads at Summer Wine or Kirkstall, to making Leeds centre stage in the UK celebration of IPA Day. Most recently Foley’s hosted a lunch with Garrett Oliver as he toured the UK at which Radio 4 were present to interview Garrett and the beer bloggers of Leeds.
Sadly after five years Dean hung up his boots at Foley’s and jumped onto the BrewDog ship, becoming manager of the all new BrewDog bar in Manchester. The people of Leeds have lost a good man, even if he is (undeniably) as passionate about Sunderland FC as he is about beer.Tags: BrewDog, leeds, manchester, radio 4, summer wine
Sometimes a beer tastes far better than it looks, and sometimes a beer looks much better than it tastes.
Shepherd Neame Double Stout looks so good my first thought is to worry profusely that it won’t live up to its aesthetic appearance.
I needn’t have worried.
It’s not the double stout I’ll drink on my wedding day, or save for my first born child’s 18th, but sat on the cusp of the festivities, last one standing (well, sitting) on Christmas Eve, it’s a manifestation of the calm before the storm.
A quintessentially modern vintage design introduces a stout to be proud of. Creamy but
carcinogeniccharred; fruit finished with rustic chocolate; bitter and laced with promises of liquorice. A quintessential stout, doubly aromatic, easy to drink but restrained.
A double stout nightcap at Christmas is no surprise. That it came in Shepherd Name bottle is a bit of an unexpected present.Tags: shepherd neame