Beer Mixes (The Session #88)

For those of you who don’t know; the Session is a synchronised day of beer-blogging, held on the first Friday of the month. A beer-blogger offers to host, chooses a topic, collates the posts and the comes up with a compendium of the responses. It’s all a bit of a laugh really.

This month’s topic comes courtesy of Boak and Bailey, and is all about traditional beer mixes. Choose a traditional beer mix. Try it. Write about it. Simple.

So, I decided to try and mix a boilermaker. Apparently, a boilermaker is one part Brown Ale, one part Mild Ale. Honesty alert: I’ve never knowingly drunk Mild, and I’m not sure exactly how it should taste. Still, why let that hold me back?

I’d seen Coopers Mild for sale in my local Dan Murphy’s (other warehouse-style, supermarket-affiliated alcohol-emporia are available), so picked up a couple of bottles. Coopers is the Grandad of the Australia craft beer scene, pre-dating even the phrase craft beer. Surely their Mild would be an accurate representation of the style?

As for the Brown? There could be only one; Mornington Brown, my winter staple.

Out came the glassware, three ISO tasting glasses, because that seemed a little scientific.

I wrote notes, because that seemed a bit scientific too. Here they are…

Coopers Mild Cloudy yellow. White head; large bubbles. Almost a saison nose. Dry. Prickles on tongue. Little flavour – but what’s there is slightly lemony. Reminds me of my first homebrew. Coopers MildMornington Brown Mahogany. Polished. Tan head, think and creamy Earthy, sweet, leathery, woody, autumnal. Big in the mouth. Rich, unctuous, coffee, chocolate. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Mornington Brown Boilermaker Coopington? Morpers? Almost orange, with a tan head. Still got the saison nose, but richer. Sharp on three tongue. Lighter, all round. But, could grow on me. Boilermaker

I have a real problem with this concept.

I like beer. I like good beer. I like good beer, brewed by a brewer. I like good beer, brewed by a brewer who knows what they are doing. I am not a brewer. And I don’t know what I’m doing.

I can see the attraction of beer mixing in the bad old days when good beer was hard to find. There was always a chance that mixing one substandard brew with another substandard brew was going to lead to a mixture which tasted better than either of the ingredients. Taking some bits from one, and some bits from another, and hoping to only be taking the good bits. Where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. Unfortunately, it is very possible to take the bad bits and mix them together.

It’s a great idea, making the best of what you’ve got. But not any more; there’s just too much good beer around!

Beer Journalism (The Session #86)

It’s been 4 months since my last confession post, so I’m feeling a bit rusty. Other (very pleasant) parts of my life have stolen my blogging time. Actually, they’ve limited my time on twitter too. I’m feeling a little out of touch. Must change that.

For those of you who don’t know, The Session (a.k.a Beer Blogging Friday), is where the international beer blogging community all share their thoughts on a set topic on the same day. For more info, read this…
I’ve seen some of the topics for the recent Sessions sessions, and sat frustrated on the sidelines. And now I’ve got some time to snap out a post, I’m a little underwhelmed by the topic.
That’s not to say that Heather from BeerHobo has chosen an inferior subject, just that I have little knowledge of it. And I don’t quite know how to start.
We’ve been asked to pen our thoughts about the quality of beer journalism. Right. Erm…

I’ve got a pretty good (and growing) beer library – but that’s not really journalism is it? [prepares himself for bitter backlash from inadvertently insulted writers]
I enjoy reading a pretty wide range of beer blogs, many of whom will probably take part in the month’s session. And I’m looking forward to learning what their takes are on this month’s subject.
I do read beer magazines but if I’m honest, they are my least favourite beer-writing discipline to read. And I haven’t ever examined why, until now.
Reading beer magazines tends to happen when my other options aren’t available – a mighty hardback tome on the beach? An iPad in bed?

FerrisBeuller

Bueller

As Ferris Beuller says “Life moves pretty fast”, and the craft beer scene is no different. Small batch and limited release brews seem to come past on a weekly basis, and if you’re slow on the uptake, can be gone before you’ve had a chance to try them. Social media allows the gospel to spread fast and wide. Digital could almost be a synonym for Instant. Contrast that to the slow cycle of a monthly (or bimonthly, or quarterly) periodical. Why would you rely on a magazine to keep abreast?

And as for detail? How can a magazine article contain the depth of knowledge of a reference textbook? It can’t, and shouldn’t try to.

So what is the point of magazine-style beer journalism? Opinion?

Isn’t journalism supposed to be impartial?
If so, what place does it have describing something subjective like taste? A truly impartial beer review could only report whether a beer was free from faults, and if it conformed to style guidelines. And would be aneurism-inducingly boring to read. Imagine…
Hop Hog, by Feral Brewing fits into the guidelines for American Pale Ale, at 5.6%abv….zzzzzzzzzzzz!

If it is ok for journalism to be partial, what differentiates it from blogging apart from the medium itself?
Possibly the quality of the written word? I’m fairly sure that my school English teachers would have words to say about my prose – I don’t remember ever being taught creative writing, only years of dissecting The Lord of the Flies and Romeo & Juliet. Did you know that “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” actually means Why are you Romeo? But I digress…
Some blogs (mine) are only written with an amateur level of skill, and some read very professionally. The same can be said of much newsprint.

TopGearI have no objection to partiality. One of my favourite television programmes is BBC’s TopGear. I do love cars and driving, but I mainly watch TopGear because I like seeing the presenters’ different opinions and their defence of those opinions. I could watch Clarkson, Hammond and May argue about anything; cars, washing machines, political theory or beer.
Partiality and opinion are of huge benefit. They can lead to discourse and debate, which causes evolution and ultimately improvement.

There was recently some stuff on twitter bemoaning the one-eyed nature of some beer writers with respect to certain brewers and breweries. If I am struck by the notion that the beer writer, whose work I am reading, feels that a particular brewery can “do no wrong”, I immediately start to question the value of their opinion. Opinion is not impartial, but affected by the mind of the opinion holder. That said, opinion should not be blind, but formed through thought. And an opinion cannot be wrong, even if it may not be aligned with my own.

I have written before about Mornington Peninsula Brewery, and I have a lot to say that is overwhelmingly positive. It is my local. I count AG (the head brewer) as a friend. Their Imperial Stout and Imperial IPA remain two of my favourite beers. But some of their stuff leaves me cold – the Sorachi Kolsch and Mosaic IPA just don’t fit my palate. That says more about my palate than it says about the beer.

I sometimes receive feedback when I’ve done a particularly good job at work. And occasionally, I get feedback when things haven’t gone perfectly. I love the pat on the back, but I love the raised eyebrow and furrowed brow too. How can I do a better job if nobody tells me where I need to get better?
The desire to be the best that you can be is one of the central tenets of professionalism. And the ability to respond to constructive criticism is vital in a professional. As someone who embraces both of those things, I look for the same in others. Feedback is one way in which the craft brewer is different from the macro brewer – and the ease with which that conversation can take place is a boon to both producer and consumer.

So what are my thoughts about beer writing? I’ll still use social media and blogs to keep up to date, and books for deepening my knowledge, but I’ll continue to buy beer magazines to read on the loo!

Against The Grain (The Session #83)

The Session (aka Beer Blogging Friday) is a thing where beer bloggers from around the world think about a predetermined topic and then simultaneously release their thoughts into the wilds of the internet.
Imagine those beautiful candle-powered sky lanterns, but with added beer.
This month’s thoughts are being corralled by thebakeandbrew.com with the theme; Against The Grain. Basically, what do you dislike that everyone else loves, and why (or vice versa).

When I first read the announcement for January’s session, I knew instantly what I was going to write. Unfortunately, I am worried that it is going to seriously undermine any beergeek-cred that I’ve accrued over the last couple of years.

I expect that many of this months Session posts are going to read something like; “I keep trying DogFishHead’s 90 minute IPA and, call me a fool if you like, but I prefer the 60 minute” or “I just can’t get past the fact that Westvleteren12 is over-rated“.

My own thoughts are… well, erm… Where I go against the grain is… ahem, I… Oh man, this is harder than I thought. OK, here goes…

I have a dirty little secret.

I quite like [coughs] Corona.
From a [coughs] bottle.
With a [coughs] slice of [coughs] lime.

Right. I’ve said it, and now am going to be drummed out of the club.
The thing is, I think of beer a bit like I think of poetry or prose; I love well-crafted verse. Beauty can be found in the words of a sonnet, or in a series of rhyming couplets, or in a phrase of iambic pentameter*. There is majesty in the words of the greats; Shakespeare, Dickens, Dahl…
But, on the beach, I read fiction – stories about detectives or soldiers or sci-fi.

It’s exactly the same with beer; I love a well-crafted pint. A perfectly balanced IPA is a beautiful thing to behold; when the malt bill compliments the hop profile, with neither dominating. Beauty can be found in a mouthful of saison, or a porter, or in a barleywine. And there is majesty in an Imperial IPA or Russian Imperial Stout.
But, on the beach, when I have sand between my toes, and sun in my eyes, I like to drink Corona. I know that it’s not a great beer. I know its not really even a good beer. It doesn’t even taste right without a wedge of lime in the neck of the bottle. Or if the sun isn’t shining.
It would be easy to say that I have been taken in by Corona’s From Where You’d Rather Be advertising campaign, but I felt this way before it started.

Sometimes, a beer is elevated by circumstance. Sometimes, I don’t want to have to think too hard about the beer I’m drinking. Sometimes, I realise that there is a very fine line between beergeek and beerwanker. And nobody likes a beerwanker. Now, did anyone see where I put my barrel-aged, hop-forward, fruit-infused, sour, smoked imperial barleywine?

*As an aside, I’ve decided that one day I am going to brew a lambic, just so I can call it lambic pentameter. I might even drink it on the beach.

Corona

Coffin Sally

I love the craftbeer movement.
I love that I get to call it the craftbeer movement, which makes it sound a little like a band of rebels intent on overthrowing the occupying armies of a despotic regime. Think; the French resistance during WW2 , or (geek alert) the Rebel Alliance in StarWars.
One of the things that I most love about the craftbeer movement, is that I get to meet interesting and passionate people, who do what they do because they love what they do.
Yesterday I met Nick and Marcus, who together run Coffin Sally, a funky little pizza joint in Port Fairy.

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The pizzas look, smell, and taste fantastic! Actually, I can only give a second hand report about the taste of the pizzas, but the vonSchlapper children absolutely inhaled their margarita (tomato, mozzarella and basil).

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The kitchen is in the shop window, with a small counter for serving takeaway customers. It’s thoroughly enticing to wander along the high street during the afternoon, and see the team prepping dough and toppings for that night’s service. 20131109-211436.jpg

Head past the kitchen, down the narrow corridor, and find the bar. There’s an open fire, a couple of tables, a walled courtyard, and if you go further still, an eclectic dining-room full of mismatched tables, chairs and light-fittings, with laid-back tunes loud enough to listen to but quiet enough to talk over.
There’s a small but well thought out beer list, with; Stone & Wood Lager, Pale Ales from Bridge Road and Kooinda, and Holgate’s marvellous Temptress, plus others.
Now I struggle to go past Temptress when it’s available, especially on a wet and windy night. It’s a great beer, which serves up chocolate and vanilla and caramel, but balances all of that sweetness with a perfect hit of coffee-shaped bitterness.
20131109-211453.jpgI didn’t have to ask for a glass, which is a good sign. And the glass wasn’t chilled, which is a better sign still. They were latte glasses, which I thought an odd choice, but actually added to the casual charm the place (glasses of rosé and riesling were served the same way).
The service was great too; but then I love that natural banter that you can have with guys who are enthusiastic about their new project. Nick and Marcus and I talked about craftbeer, and homebrew, and transition beers, and about some of their plans for the future.
It’s fair to say that Coffin Sally has won a fan this weekend: I can’t wait to come back, and see how those plans are going.

Perception

I’ve just had an epiphany. Well, maybe calling it an epiphany is a slight exaggeration, but I’ve definitely realised something about the subjective nature of taste.

HopHog ValeVale IPA has long been one of my go to IPAs. I’m aware that some regard Vale IPA as slightly substandard, and that “you can taste the contract” (Sh!t Beer Geeks Say 2013), but I think that’s a bit harsh. It is an easy-drinking IPA, rather than a “special occasion” beer, but that doesn’t make it substandard in my book. I often take it with me when I’m on missionary work converting the unenlightened (craftbeer unbelievers). (Dan’s $3.99/bottle)

Feral HopHog IPA was recently voted Australia’s #1 beer. Again. I know that I risk being run out of town, but I never quite got the hype. People really rave about this beer. It even gets mentioned twice in the aforementioned “Sh!t Beer Geeks Say”. I’ve always enjoyed HopHog, but to call it Australia’s best beer felt a bit much. Even calling it Australia’s best IPA seemed a bit of a stretch; Mornington Peninsula Brewery’s Imperial IPA, or the late lamented Temple Brewing’s Midnight IPA, anyone? (Dan’s $4.99/bottle)

Anyway, the other night I opened the two back–to-back, and I finally get it.
We started with the HopHog. It is a well-hopped beer, with real citrus punch and a piney resinous backbone – there’s plenty of hop-flavour and real bitterness there too, but it’s controlled. The beer sits nicely in your mouth, and doesn’t demand your undivided attention. Drinking HopHog is a very pleasant experience – no one component is overpowering.

Moving on to the Vale IPA, I noticed a distracting base flavour that I hadn’t appreciated before. The aromatic hop flavours were there, the alpha-acid bitterness too, and a hunk of malt. But they didn’t seem to fit together. I’d never noticed it before, but it just seemed a bit two-dimensional, jarring even. Not bad, mind; just unbalanced.

So, I’ve had my mind expanded. Just a little bit. I’ve seen that my opinion of one beer can be affected by the previous or next one. And that as my palate matures, and my knowledge grows, I am starting to recognise more complex (and amorphous) qualities like balance. I’ve also learnt that when I’m underwhelmed by a beer that everyone else raves about (or at least, all those beergeeks who I respect), I should probably try it again.

Beerography – Part 1

I’m interested in the idea of  personal growth and progression, of learning and acquiring knowledge, and about how our growing knowledge changes as our perception of the world around us. I guess that’s one of the reasons I started writing this blog – I wanted (and still want) to understand my own personal beer history.

My beer biography has had several distinct chapters, with the end of each chapter and the start of the next marking one of the turning points in my life. Thankfully, some of the chapters were very brief, whilst others have been more prolonged. Some chapters end abruptly, whilst others merge almost imperceptibly into the next.

  1. The Park
  2. Mainstream 1 – Euro-lager
  3. Mainstream 2 – English Bitter
  4. CAMRA also known at “The First Enlightenment”
  5. VB-or-XXXX (ugh!)
  6. Premium
  7. CAMRA-redux
  8. Craft Beer / Beergeek also known as “The Second Enlightenment”

Thinking back over my time as a beer drinker, I can see now that my tastes have grown steadily more complex, more interesting, (and more expensive). I’ll admit that there have been blips – although there were normally mitigating circumstances.

I’ve previously recounted a little about “The Park” chapter. If you fancy reading the first chapter of my beerbiography click here. I delve deeper into those dark memories at some time in the future, but now is most definitely not the time.

The “Mainstream Euro-lager” chapter was thankfully short-lived. If my memory serves me correctly; it lasted the length of the summer before I left school, ending as the weather started to close in for autumn. I can only really remember drinking four or five different beers… Initially Heineken (see previous post), then as the summer progressed Carlsberg and Stella Artois (aka “Wife-Beater”). I think I may have even had a Castlemaine XXXX and a Fosters or two. (Australian advertising has some serious apologising to do!)

Kronenbourg 1664

As my taste matured I started on Kronenbourg 1664, which I still have a fondness for. Not the beer itself, but the idea. Seize cent soixante quatre. It just rolls of the tongue so. Perhaps it is something to do with learning French for 9 years at school? Bonjour. Je m’appelle Will. J’habite en Australie…etc

My abiding memory of the lagers that I drank that summer, is that they were too fizzy. I could hardly drink them. The bubbles would get up your nose as you raised the glass to your mouth, or tickle your throat as you swallowed. You certainly couldn’t neck a pint of Stella comfortably.
Isn’t it odd that I remember nothing about flavour? No, it’s probably not that odd, they’re hardly the most flavoursome of beers, and getting a bit sloshed was the main aim. Getting sloshed, and helping to summon up the courage to actually talk to a girl.

The drawing in of the nights marked then end of Mainstream Euro-Lager and the start of my Mainstream English Bitter phase. To be honest, there is such an overlap that they probably should be the same chapter; 2a and 2b perhaps? I never really enjoyed the lagers. It was just what you were expected to drink. Anyway, at some point, I decided to try something different, and found that I actually enjoyed the experience. Suddenly, I was starting to appreciate some flavour. At the primordial beginning of my beer-life, I would have had no ability to explain what I was tasting, or even describe why I enjoyed it more than the swill I had been drinking before. I was just happier with a John Smiths, Boddingtons, Tetley (insert name of other English macro ale as available).

Not the author.
Really, it’s not!

If I am honest, I was never cool during my school years. I don’t think that I was quite as hopelessly uncool at Will from the BBC’s The Inbetweeners, but I can see my young self in him. Anyway, drinking lager was cool, drinking bitter was not. Bars were cool, pubs were not. Others were cool, I was not. Rather than stay at boarding school, I used to stay at my friend James’s house on Saturday nights. On our walk into town, we would invariably stop at his local country pub for a decent pint, before arriving at the bar/nightclub of the moment. My pint at The V***** Arms [redacted for dramatic reasons] was always my favourite drink of the night – and given a stronger sense of self, I would have stayed there all evening chatting to my friend rather than join the crowd heading into town aiming to get pissed (usually successful) and maybe snogged (usually unsuccessful). This Saturday routine continued, largely unaltered, for about a year. Turning 18 during the Christmas holidays removed the illicit thrill of the purchase, but didn’t change much else. To be honest I hadn’t been carded (ID checked) for a while; I just about looked old enough, and anyway, underage drinkers don’t usually go for bitter (#pro-tip).

The Mainstream English Bitter chapter merged into the CAMRA chapter about a year later. I had left boarding school, and secured myself a place in an academic college in the next county, with the single goal of negotiating a place on a specific (and ridiculously competitive) university course.
During that summer, I still drank with James in his quiet little pub. I also became one of the regulars at the quiet little pub in my own village and I started working behind the bar of a private members club in a nearby seaside town.

I learnt a lot about beer and drinking during that year after I left school. I learnt about hospitality, and familiarity. I learnt how nice it felt to have your own spot at the bar, to appreciate the relationship between barman and patron, to feel what it felt like to have your freshly pulled pint arrive at the bar by the time you have hung up your coat at the door.
I learnt how it felt to be asked to join a regular weeknight quiz team (for reference; Hold the cradle still Mother, while I shave the chicken’s lips! is the best name for a pub quiz team. Ever. Embarrassingly, I don’t remember the names of anyone else in the team, although I do remember that they were a thoroughly friendly bunch). I learnt how it felt to represent your pub in the local inter-pub quiz championship (this one was much more serious; no silly name, and the line-up included the landlord, the vicar, some other chap from the parish council and me). I learnt about last orders and lock-ins. I learnt to handle both the drunk and the obnoxious. I learnt that manners and civility can get better service for the customer and a drink for the barman.

I graduated from John Smiths and Boddingtons to Bass,20130609-110508.jpg Wadworth’s 6X and Flower’s IPA. I can remember seeing the advert on television and thinking; I’ll give that a whirl (In the advert; some ramblers enter a country pub and all chose beers with names like “Skull Splitter” and “Old Belcher”, before the knowing local orders a pint of Flowers with a knowing smile, and the voiceover makes some comment about the folly of choosing a beer by it’s name).
And it was a hop, skip and a jump from there to the next chapter…CAMRA.

CAMRA

For those who do’t know; CAMRA stands for the CAMpaign for Real Ale. Set up by four friends in 1971, CAMRA’s goal was to champion variety and choice for the beer drinker, and stifle the expansion of flavourless mass-produced beer. I have never been a paid-up member of CAMRA, although that is probably more to do with being a tightarse than for any moral or ethical reason. In my defence, I was about 19 and more interested in my own position at the bar than in the greater good of the beer industry (and, I hadn’t quite grown into my beard, pipe and hand-knitted jumper). My appetite grew, as did my willingness to try new beers. I remember some of the better things that I tried that year – Teignworthy Reel Ale, Dartmoor Jail Ale, Sharp’s Doom Bar. They were all of a similar style (English Bitter), but I couldn’t have told you that in those days.  There were some absolutely cracking beers but, looking back, they were all very similar (in style, in flavour, in ABV). One of the hallmarks of the modern Craft Beer revolution is the breadth of variety; there are Pales, and IPAs, and Wits, and Dubbels, and Browns, and Saisons and Porters, and Lambics, and… (and they all taste completely different!). Don’t get me wrong – I love Real Ale, and I think that CAMRA started the ball rolling on the salvation of beer, but there is so much more to try.

In a future post, I’m going to look at the more recent chapters of my beerography, from Brisbane’s wilderness years to my craftbeer rebirth (also known as The Second Enlightenment) !

If you’ve read this far; thanks and please come back to read the next bit. As always, comments welcome below…

IPA (The Session #77)

TheSessionBeerBloggingFridayThe Session (also known as Beer Blogging Friday) is a opportunity, once per month, for beer bloggers around the world to pen their different thoughts on a specific topic set by that month’s host.

This month is the 77th time The Session has been run, and the topic has been set by Justin of http://justinsbrewreview.blogspot.com.au/ who wants to know why people get in such a froth about IPAs.

India Pale Ale

Being an Englishman, who spent a large portion of his childhood as an expat in Africa and the Middle East, I understand the romance in the IPA story. When you live a long way from your home and family, there is something deeply reassuring about anything which comes from the old country and links you back to what you left behind: It’s why Aussies in Britain eat Vegemite, and why Brits in Australia crave Marmite.

EICThe story goes that only the most heavily-hopped pale ales survived the 6 month journey from London to India (incredibly, the voyage often started out by heading southwest to South America before turning southeast to round the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa and then northeast again to India!). As only the most heavily-hopped pale ales survived the journey, they gained the name India Pale Ales (or IPAs). Hops are naturally preservative, so extra hops should equal extra preservation. Unfortunately, “India Pale Ale” is a misleading term for a number of reasons – firstly, styles other than hoppy-pales were also sent to quench the thirst of the colonial British (often in equal or greater volumes – Porter was especially popular!). IPA can’t really claim the India appellation. Secondly, “pale” is a subjective term – yes, they’re paler than porter but they’re darker than true pale ales, saisons, weizens… While I’m talking about IPA colour, what is the go with Black IPA? Let’s look at that again; BLACK India PALE Ale – so that’s pale black is it? Let’s just all agree to go with IBA or India Black Ale shall we? And also, the term India Pale Ale wasn’t even coined until the 1830s, 50 years after the hop-driven ales were first shipped to the colonies. And it was a term used for beers sold in Britain, not in India itself. Nostalgia was obviously in vogue during the 1830s. Plus, the East India Company traded with many British colonies, not just those on the Indian peninsula.

So, we’ve decided that both the IPA name and history, have a romance associated with them. And like most romances; there is some degree of rose-tinting but, at the core, there is something truly special.

Modern IPAs are hop-tastic, alcoholic and unctious. They are the poster-child of the craftbeer movement, but they’re not for everyone. Some people regard them as severely overrated – a brewed version of the emperor’s new clothes. Me? I’m not really a black and white kind of guy. I think there are IPAs and IPAs (or should that be ipas and IPAs?).

BassMy first grownup beer was Bass. It’s a memory beer for me, but I only recently found out that it is an IPA. It’s hardly hop-driven, and is at the other end of the scale from a modern craft IPA. Speaking of which, I’ve said before that Mornington Peninsula Brewery‘s Imperial IPA is one of my Desert Island Beers (for explanation, see BBC’s long-standing radio interview programme Desert Island Discs – a different interviewee every week for 71 years – where the interviewee or “castaway” must select 8 pieces of music, 1 book and 1 luxury item).

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I’ll be honest; I love hops. I love the bitterness, the resin, the floral-characters. I love that Fuggles are different from Galaxy, which are different from Citra or Nelson Sauvin. I love that there are brewers like Ben Kraus at Bridge Road and Mikeller who brew whole series of single-hop IPAs, and I love that they really do taste different. I love modern IPAs – it’s the style that I seem to gravitate towards. They’re fun, and can be a bit lairy. They’re complex and interesting, but approachable. They can be a main event or something to drink while watching “the game”.

I love hops, and hop-forward beers. But not to the exclusion of malt and yeast.
I’ve got so many more adventures to have – why would I miss out on Belgian Dubbels and Tripels, on smoked beers, on peated-beers (props to Yeastie Boys), or on Saisons and Lambics?
I wouldn’t!

Compulsion! (The Session #76)

TheSessionBeerBloggingFridayWhat are we doing here?

The Session (also known as Beer Blogging Friday) is a opportunity, once per month, for beer bloggers around the world to pen their different thoughts on a specific topic set by that month’s host.
I’ve never taken part in The Sessions before, but this month it is hosted by a beerfriend of mine, so it seemed like a good idea to dive in. Although I call him a beerfriend, I’ve never actually met Glen – but that doesn’t matter in the craftbeer world.

Anyway, here goes…

 

Compulsion! The OED defines compulsion as [1] the action or state of forcing or being forced to do something, [2] an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way. Both of these definitions describe the reaction felt when a beergeek sees beer for sale.

By the way, I use the term beergeek in an entirely non-derogatory way. I am one myself!

Which of the two definitions is most appropriate depends upon what you consider to be the driving force behind the purchase. Definition number 1 gives a little space to be able to share the blame. It worth noting, though, that citing the phrase “the beer made me do it” won’t win you any points in the spousal disagreement that might follow. Definition number 2 doesn’t give any wriggle-room; it implies that the purchase is entirely the fault of the purchaser. Which let’s face it, it is!

So, why do beergeeks have an irresistable urge to behave in a certain way (ie buy beer)?
It might be a desire to try something new, or stock up on an old favourite. It might be to bag that “must-have” collectable, or simply to be able to sleep at night knowing that the cellar is rammed full.

For me, it’s a mixture of all of the above… I’m still very much a learner in the craft beer world, so a large component of the compulsion that I feel, stems from my desire to learn. I want to taste beers that I have heard about, to compare what I taste with what I “should” taste. I want to be able to calibrate my palate against people who know more than I do (everyone else blogging on this topic today?) and can pick the faults. I want to learn more about specific styles, and specific breweries. I want to learn more about the different malts, and different hops, and different yeasts.

hil0-046

But more than anything, I don’t want to miss any of my craft beer adventure. Every beer is another lesson, another conversation, another leg of my journey.

There was a man, far greater than I, whose words can summarise the answer to the question of compulsion. He felt an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, and he was knighted for it. His name was Sir Edmund Hillary, and when asked why he was compelled to climb Everest he answered quite simply “Because it’s there!“.

Oh for Peat’s Sake

Beer.
Malted barley. Hops. Yeast. Water.
(And sometimes; a special secret ingredient)
Yet, the most amazing breadth of flavours can be created by the master-brewer.
Beer is such a diverse drink; a yeasty Saison bears little resemblance to a roasty Stout. And even within a style, one example can be poles apart from another.

One of the great things about craft beer, is that this diversity is celebrated. It’s perfectly ok for a beer to divide opinion. And, a beer that divides opinions more than most, is RexAttitude from New Zealand’s Yeastie Boys.
Rex is a beer brewed with peated malt. XeRReX is the one-off single-batch Imperial version.

Actually, I think it’s really important that brewers brew beers which split the craftbeer world in two. I’d rather open a beer that I really dislike, than one of which I have no opinion.
Death to mediocrity!
I’m not sure that this is a mindset shared by some other craftbeer drinkers.
XerreX currently rates at 3.58 on @untappd. This means that either the majority of drinkers/raters think it’s unremarkable (seriously unlikely) OR the lovers balance the haters (much more likely).
WARNING: SCHOOLBOY STATISTICS ALERT! Using the mean is less useful than the mode. Mean is when the sum of the responses is divided by the number of respondants, while Mode is simply the most commonly selected response. 3.606 tells us nothing, but knowing that most people rate it 5, slightly fewer rate it 1 (nobody rates it 3) tells us much more.

I’ll fess up. I really disliked it, right from the moment of the click-pfft, even before I’d poured it; the smell of smoke was overpowering. And lifting the glass to my mouth brought me closer to the smell.
And in the mouth, all I got was smoke. People talk about its balance malt profile. I couldn’t taste anything but smoke.
The odd thing about Yeastie Boys XerreX is that despite finding it revolting, I love it!
Don’t get me wrong, I never ever want to drink it again, but I love that it exists. I love that some mad kiwis have been told “You can’t do that: It’ll never work!” But they did it anyway.
Think of all the people throughout the course of history to whom that was said; Leonardo DaVinci, Gallileo, The Wright Brothers, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, Edmund Hillary.

I love that while I hate XerreX, I love Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta. I love that the same creative spirit that embraces peat-smoke also embraces tea leaves. I love that there are brewers out there pushing the boundaries of what can be done with 4 simple ingredients. I love that in the craftbeer world there is a place for beers like XerreX.

So, how do I rate it on @untappd?
5 because I love that it exists? Or 1 because its horrible*?
Definitely not 3, because it is anything but mediocre!

(* other opinions are available and welcome)

Breakfast?

I know that until now, I have only written about my adventures in craft beer. And this post could be described as a beer review. But really, it is a beer review wrapped up inside an adventure of sorts.

Beer at breakfast time? There is something that has never quite sat well with me. I guess that it is an innate fear of alcoholism. Isn’t it just a hop [pun intended], step and a jump from having a beer at breakfast to having a whiskey with your weetbix, or a metho-mouthwash before brushing your teeth?
Well, I managed that fear this morning. The beer in question has sat patiently in my beer fridge for nine months. It’s been nestling next to a Southern Bay Sunrise Breakfast and a Moa Breakfast. I’ve been fighting an uphill battle with my conscience. But, today was the day…

It’s Sunday, the sun is shining and the birds are sheltering from the heat amidst the foliage in the garden. I am sitting at my kitchen table, listening to the evocative twang of Spanish guitar on the stereo whilst the domestic goddess and attendant cherubim are baking a peach and raspberry flapjack. I’m sitting amongst the remains of breakfast: Eggs Benedict, with homemade foaming Hollandaise, and bowls of stone-fruit salad. Beside me sits an almost empty bottle of a beer that I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year. A beer that I have been hugely excited about drinking. A beer that has only been brewed once and, to the best of my knowledge, won’t be brewed again. A beer that was brewed with breakfast in mind: Bridge Road Brewers‘ 500 Smokey Breakfast Lager.

Now, why would this unusual beer languish in my fridge for such a long time? Because it is a breakfast beer. And, as I said before, who drinks beer at breakfast time except those in need of help? Well, if breakfast is a late brunch, on a Sunday, then it’s almost lunch. And a beer with Sunday lunch is most definitely allowed in civilised company.

A lazy day of cooking, eating and drinking with the family sums up my favourite was to spend a Sunday. Throw in a coffee, the paper and the time to read it and you’re pretty much there. Aaaahhhhh, perfection!
So, six-year-old-son and I set about making the Hollandaise sauce. It’s a simple fact that every man sold know how to make a Hollandaise; girls love a guy who can cook! Although if you’re cooking her breakfast, you’ve probably already done pretty well.
For reference, Delia Smith’s recipe from How To Cook Book One never fails!
Thick cut sourdough toast. Crispy bacon. Poached eggs, quiveringly soft, perched on top. And then anointed spoonfuls of unctuous Hollandaise. Perfection.
And beside it; a glass.

I was surprised by how dark the beer poured. I’d expected a burnished gold with an ivory head, but what I got was a dark brown, almost grey. Like the bitterest chocolate: 85% stuff. The head was tight, firm and tan in colour, dispersing over five or ten minutes to leave fine lacing.
The aroma was slightly odd and, frustratingly, I can’t put my finger on it. It was sweet and smokey, almost like marmite (the original British institution, not that ghastly Sanitarium stuff).
The beer had a lively, spritzy mouthfeel, and tasted both sweet and bitter at the same time. (It’s worth using your whole mouth to taste, rather than just a quick swallow.) My first thoughts ran to maple syrup, and almost burnt toast. And then weirdly, apricots and dried fruit.
It’s a malt-driven beer, and not over-hopped. And it works fantastically.

Between my beer breakfast and actually converting my thoughts into a coherent narrative, I asked Ben from Bridge Road for a list of ingredients. He pointed me towards a great video made on the brewday, listing the ingredients which were drawn from the brewery team’s favourite breakfasts. This list includes; Carmen’s Muesli, Zo’i coffee, Tetley’s tea, maple syrup, cinnamon-raisin bread, and Beechworth honey (of course).
There are several malts, primarily a smoked German Rauchmalz to echo the smell of bacon (didn’t quite work for me), a Belgian Abbey-malt for a biscuity character and a roasted wheat malt for colour and a chocolate hit.
In hindsight, the cinnamon raisin bread, muesli, honey and maple syrup, I can taste. I think that the marmitey smell is a combination of the the coffee and the smoked malt.

Well, I can say that I’m a convert – beer at breakfast time can be a triumph of beer and food matching. As with all craft beer, it’s all about the experience not about getting smashed.
I’ve had an illuminating experience, and the next question is: what should I have with the Southern Bay Brewery Sunrise Breakfast Lager in the fridge?
I’m thinking something lighter and more befitting of a summer Sunday morning; figs and ricotta drizzled with honey, or crepes with maple syrup and banana perhaps?