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!

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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!

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.