Friday 31 July 2009

If you had to...

I posted here about the best beers available in the supermarket, suggesting that Meantime’s IPA and London Porter were my then-choices. I think I’m changing my mind. And following yesterday’s FAB POW! post you might know what to: Orval. It’s a fantastic beer and I can get it in the supermarket.

Which, in a round-about way, leads me onto this: If you could choose, or if you had to choose, one bottled beer that you’d want available in the supermarket near you, but which isn’t already, what would it be? You can have anything. It can be from anywhere in the world. It can be a one-off or just something which you can’t buy near you. Literally anything. It’ll be sensibly priced, not completely marked-up if it’s something rare or from far away. And you still get all the other regular beers to choose from too. Even those of you who are pub drinkers must enjoy the odd bottle or two at home, but what’s the one. But you can only choose one extra to sit on those shelves so pick carefully!

Thursday 30 July 2009

FAB POW! Orval and Paella

The call of the flowery superhero returns and FAB POW! is here as the antidote to non-believing beer drinkers who think that a pint of Kingfisher and a chicken balti is the furthest stretch of the imagination when it comes to having a beer with dinner. To them I say, eat this!

It took me a while to ‘get’ Orval. The first few bottles, spread over a few fledgling beer drinker years, did nothing for me, perhaps being too esoteric, perhaps just being out of my ‘5% dark ale’ comfort zone. Then, on a hot day, I poured myself one and sat in the garden with a book and all of a sudden it was entirely clear to me. It’s elegant and light but it’s mysterious and intriguing. It’s the swathe of opaque orange, the simplicity of the malt, the mouth-filling body; then it’s the big peppery hops, that bitterness and then that burst of brett with its almost-impossible-to-describe, ever-evolving lift.

And it’s an almost perfect food beer. It’s got the spritzy tart finish, it’s got boozy strength to stand up to big flavours, it’s got a savoury peppery quality and it’s got palate-sweeping fizz. Fish, check. Cheese, check. Salads, check. Battered cod and chips, check. Curry, check. Hell, I reckon it’d probably even be awesome with the king of dinners: sausage, chips and beans.

This Food and Beer Pairing of the Week! is Orval and paella. For me paella is a ray of sunshine. It’s a memory of the summer, of a sea-breeze, of sitting outside in Barcelona by the water side, the smell of cooking, of the sea, of the warm air, the feeling of warm skin, of a beer or two already drunk, of being chilled out. I cook paella when I want to recreate that feeling; it’s a burst of summer warmth. And why Orval? Why not just some Spanish cerveza? San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Estrella Damm? Well, paella is salty and rich and fishy and it comes with lemons to cut some acidity through it, but why use lemons when you can use a beer to do that job? The just-sharp finish of Orval picks up everything, glides through it and rounds it all off, while that hop bite matches the chorizo and loves the fish and rice. Add to this the primal, summer breeze-like aroma of the beer and it’s a totally awesome match. And what could be more summery than that? Forgo the lager on this one, pour the beer into a fancy glass and enjoy.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

BrewDog Tokyo* and the Incendiary Binge Winge

When I was at university we would buy a bottle or two of vodka/gin/whisky almost every week. Each bottle cost us less than £6. We used the spirits as part of drinking games with the intention of getting very drunk, very quickly and cheaply. Between six of us the 700ml of spirit would usually go, sometimes we drank more than this, all the time we drank a few beers too. We played drinking games and then we'd leave our house and go to the student union where we would have quite a few more drinks - alcopops, pints of lager, shots, shots and mixers. By the end of the night we'd be very drunk. Mission accomplished.

That is what we did. We didn't sit around in a circle tasting the drinks. Hell, we tried our hardest not to taste them. We spent as little as possible to get as much alcohol as possible and then drank it quickly. This is binge drinking. It's organised and calculated. This is what we are warned about in the news.

Here are some examples; which do you think contribute most to binge drinking? Having two pints of 5% ale in the pub; being able to buy a litre of 7% cider for £2; 24 cans of premium strength lager for £10; two bottles of wine for £5; a four pack of Bacardi Breezers; a 350ml bottle of whisky for less than £4 (almost the same volume as a bottle of beer); a £10 bottle of super-premium ale that's 18% (a little stronger than wine, as strong as port - which costs £4 a bottle, half the strength of gin).

There are different modes of drinking. Some are reckless and concerned entirely with being a means to a drunken end. Some become reckless through the evolution and degradation of an evening. Some are altogether more civilized; a few bottles of wine or beer to share, no plans on drunkenness but a certain inevitability that it will come. There are nights when it is all about the drink and the whole getting drunk side of things gets in the way and stops the evening prematurely. Then there is the quiet drink to relax in the evening, maybe a pint in the pub, a glass of wine with dinner, or perhaps opening a bottle of something at home. And as soon as it's taken into the home then it's the responsibility of the drinker, am I right? If I buy a bottle of whisky then I could drink it all in one go if I wanted to (if I could). I could buy a four pack of beer or alcopops and drink the lot, or maybe I'll just open one. I may open a bottle of 4% ale or I might fancy trying a bottle of super-premium strength, super-premium priced, completely esoteric beer designed for a select few and made on a small, hand-crafted scale from premium ingredients.

The difference becomes the way it's consumed and the mentality behind the drinking. If I had £20 to go out and 'get drunk' then I could buy 48 cans of lager and put myself into a coma. I could buy one bottle of wine or five. I could get three bottles of whisky or one. Some people would rather have one good bottle of wine than five cheap bottles. I'd say it's likely that more people in general would rather have five, thus putting the buyer of the one £20 bottle apart from the other drinkers. Some people are happy with a Big Mac for dinner; others want triple Michelin starred food and will pay hundreds of pounds for it. It's all about how people consume and how they want to consume. It takes a certain kind of ruinous drunk who would knock back a few bottles of £100 wine in an evening, or who would get lashed on six bottles of expensive 10% craft beer.

The debate about Tokyo* is inevitable but still frustrating. There has to be some common sense from the writers of articles like this and this before publishing such one sided arguments. I can see their side and selling a bottle clearly intended to be drunk in one sitting, which contains 6 units of alcohol, is a lot, but I could go to the pub and drink three pints and be over six units or I could drink a whole bottle of wine (something that's easily done), or I could drink two bottles of 9% beer, 3 bottles of 6% beer (there aren't lobbyists against the new four packs of Punk yet, are there?).

I will drink Tokyo*. It's most likely that I'll just have the one bottle in the evening. Why would I want to drink three bottles of it in one sitting? If I wanted to get that drunk then there are quicker and cheaper ways of doing it. And besides, I won't be drinking it with the intention of getting drunk; I'll be drinking it as a fan of the brewery who wants to try everything they brew. That's an important part of this: BrewDog are aiming their beer at a very particular crowd of beer enthusiasts. This isn't even just for those who enjoy beer; this is for the serious hardcore and it comes with a price tag to match. It may appeal to other people in a 'wow I want to try the strongest beer' way but the taste and experience will be too much. And while this may be the strongest beer in the UK, it isn't close to the strongest beers in the world and there comes a point where these beers only appeal to a very select audience, an audience who drink to appreciate something and are therefore willing to pay to appreciate it. And what if the beer was packaged in 250ml bottles (for the connoisseur) or 750ml champagne bottles (for sharing) rather than the ubiquitous 330ml bottle that we pop the cap off and suck down like water. It’s all about education still, it always is.

This is not a cheap case of lager, this is not a £6 bottle of vodka and this is not contributing to a binge drinking problem because it is working at the opposite end of the spectrum where smoking cigars is fun, reading a book in the sun is okay and enjoying a few sausage sandwiches isn't all that bad.

What do you think? And have you noticed how not even one of the journalists has given us some tasting notes before they dig into the hysteria?!

I know this debate is rolling around the beer blogs and the news but I wanted to add my thoughts as someone who technically regularly binges (on Friday I drank a bottle of Stone IPA followed by a bottle of Moor JJJ IPA – which itself contained 6.3 units of alcohol - followed by a Riptide stout which I think probably tops 10 units; does this make me a drunk? No. It made me drunk, but not a drunk and I only did it once in the week.) And yes, this is excellent punk marketing for BrewDog, so good on them for having the balls to stand out there. I also understand that The Rake have a cask of this and when that comes out I'll be jumping on a train for a pint (which I guess will cost me about £15!), who'll join me?!

Monday 27 July 2009

Please, Sir, I Want Some Moor?

Moor Beer’s JJJ IPA is a beer that I’ve heard a lot about; it’s got one of those reputations that pushed it up high up my must-try list. It’s an elusive brew unless you live in Somerset (I don’t live in Somerset) and as UK beers go a 9.5% triple IPA (albeit brewed by an American) is a terribly rare thing. So when I heard that beermerchants were getting a pallet-load up from the West Country I rubbed my grubby little hands together in preparation of an order. The beer finally arrived at mine last week after a voracious wait with nights of wild thirst (ooh, if you’ve read Oliver Twist you’ll now see that the title of this is not a totally tenuous allusion after all!). The first thing to know: everything about JJJ is BIG. This is not a pussy-footing, pretend imperial IPA. This beer is balls-out and in your face and it’s not scared of what it is; to be honest I think it revels in the fact that it’s harder than every other beer. The big bomber bottle is a good looking thing to start and who can resist a handsome looking beer? Out of the bottle it pours a deep copper red with a thick and creamy head. Sometimes you can look at a beer and know that it’s going to be something special; this beer looks like that. Dip your nose in but don’t expect it to be an olfactory hop-festival, no, that surprise is hidden away. You get the big malt, the toffee, some nuts and almonds, a boozy warmth as it grazes the nasal passage and a distant spicy whiff of those green grenades. And then you drink. For me the greatest joy of a beer like this is the mystery of it. There are moments during a gulp of beer when you don’t quite know where it is or where it’s going next and there’s a thrill to that see-sawing balance. JJJ’s body is huge and strong, creamy and smooth and mouth-filling. It’s huge caramel sweetness first and then comes one of those ‘moments’ where what happens next is a mystery. It’s a split second. It could go too sweet, it could flip-over and shrivel out or it could take off. This takes off. But it takes off slowly, gradually building up, wrapping itself around your tongue; bitter, floral, earthy, spicy and then more bitter and sweeter again with over-ripe tangerines, pine forests and roasted fruits and more bitterness, growing all the time, then the swallow leaves behind the dryness which grips tightly and hangs and pulls you up back for more sweetness; it’s that essential kiss-on-the-cheek, slap-on-the-bum of big malt and big hops that makes very bitter beers so drinkable (you get a malt kiss then you get the slap, but you want another kiss, but the kiss is attached to another slap, then the slap starts to get fun…). And it drinks so well too; I finished a bottle in no time and loved every sip. I had a Stone IPA before it which I chugged with dinner and the combination of that and JJJ left me with the stupefied, hop-stoned beer buzz. And I love that feeling; it’s just totally relaxed and chilled out and happy; it’s the ‘ahhh’ of finishing a beer followed by the calm afterburn. But don’t expect an IPA as you know it. It’s not one of those 9% American hop bombs; this is more of a super-hopped barley wine given the fullness of the body, the roasted caramel maltiness and the fruit. It’s really very good, you know, and there isn’t much like this being brewed in the UK right now either.
You can also get two other Moor beers from beermerchants: Somerland Gold and Old Freddy Walker. I’ve just finished a Somerland Gold (5.5%) now and I’m impressed again. Here’s the important stuff: it’s golden in colour, but you’d expect that given the name; the nose has a sweet, cakey creaminess to it topped off with citrus, tangy apricot skins and very distant pine; the taste is superb, a big mouthful of clean pale malt, smooth and crisp and sweet and then the tropical fruit bitterness rolls up and attaches itself to the insides of your mouth, clinging on for dear life as you swallow. It reminds me of Thornbridge’s Jaipur in many ways and it’s fantastically drinkable. JJJ IPA is a triumph of a beer, Somerland Gold is a classic-in-waiting and beermerchants is the only place you can buy these bottles. You really should drink Moor beer.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Pad Thai Plus Chang Equals Three

One of the perks of writing this blog is receiving free stuff. It doesn’t happen often but I gratefully accept when the offer is there. This doesn’t mean that I will eulogise about it or feel obliged to say good stuff about it; it’s just good to get it and if I like it then I’ll write positively about it. So a few weeks ago when I received an email asking if I’d like some Chang I said yes, of course, send it on over. Fine, I thought when it arrived, and then, I know, it’s a Thai beer and this blog purports to be about the antics of my pencil and my spoon (a spoon that’s been hidden away for a while, I know), so I thought I’d get the old silver stirring weapon out and into action again.

Pad Thai is a favourite dish of mine. It’s everything that I want in a dinner: fresh and zingy and light yet filling and hearty and rich; it’s great fun to eat and easy to cook; it’s got the full spectrum of tastes and a different texture with each chew. So I thought, let’s put Chang up against it to see how well it does. And I’m being totally honest here when I say this but Chang is absolutely the perfect beer to go with Pad Thai, which is a shame because I expected and actually wanted to be able to write something bad like, Chang sucks with Pad Thai! but I just can't. Chang is 5%, a pale gold and has those big lager bubbles that simultaneously manage to look good and evil as they stream up the glass. The nose is delicately sweet like fruit pastels with hints of apple, sherbet and the lagery spritz of citrus. The freshness doesn’t last long on its own and having a bottle by itself is nothing to holler about, but with Pad Thai it’s awesome: the fruitiness clings around long enough to lift the nutty-oily-umami richness, the fizz cleans the palate and gets you ready for the next mouthful and there is just enough going on to balance the chili heat and round everything off with gentle applause. Nothing overpowers anything else, there is no struggle, and, most importantly, the dinner is better with the beer than without. That’s what good pairing is. It’s not about having haute cuisine with designer craft beer. It’s not about choosing the flashiest name or the specialty dish, because, let’s be honest, when we drink beer at home it’s usually not with fancy restaurant-style food, it’s with the dinners that we know and love and we want a simple beer pairing that works wonders. Life is about the simple things done well (breathing, consuming, reproducing, and so on). I’ve said it before but it’s about adding one and one together and getting three. Pad Thai plus Chang equals three.

I wasn’t expecting such a good pairing, I’ll be honest, but it truly worked well. But here’s the important question: will I buy a six pack for myself? Truthfully I don’t know, but I’m certainly happy to recommend it to everyone as one of those beers that it good with Thai food. If you buy it to drink on its own then you might be left wanting but serving it with curries, salad or noodles is a winner. And you know, there’s something to this food and beer pairing lark when you can take a national beer and pair it with a national dish; there’s a symmetry that should be there, a natural you-and-you belong together kind of thing. I like that.

You can buy Chang in six packs in Oddbins for £5.99. And if you want Pad Thai recipes then look here and here (I would write-up my own but it’s so easy that it seems unnecessary so I’ll leave that to those who know better than I do).

Let's go for a beer

If you ever wanted to know just why beer is so special to so many people then the first person you should see is Pete Brown. He has a way of saying the things that we already know about beer but don’t have the capacity or the words to say it ourselves. Check out this post about Barack Obama offering a couple of chaps over to The White House for a beer. Pete sums it up better than anyone else could. In doing this Obama is holding out the hand of friendship and filling it with a cold bottle of beer, bringing everyone onto the same level and saying, we are all just men here, let’s share a beer, sort out our problems and then chat about baseball and movies and whatever else. This one act encapsulates just why beer is the coolest and best drink in the world and why Barack Obama is the coolest man in the universe.

This clip is Obama throwing the first pitch of the 2009 Baseball All-Star Game. If you were in any doubt about how cool the man is then just check this out.

Friday 24 July 2009

This Week in Beer

So a few things have gone down this week worthy of me saying some stuff about them.

There’s the news that 50-odd pubs are closing each week. A lot of people have posted about this already - see here and here for some. Stonch got it right in the quickest and most succinct way: 50-odd shit pubs close each week and then many re-open again under new management, skewing the numbers. And have many excellent pubs close? Have any of the good pubs which you visit closed? It’s doubtful. Personally, I don’t care if shit pubs close because I don’t drink in them and it will hopefully allow the good pubs to do better. Sure it sucks that pieces of our essential Britishness and beacons of the community… of wait, it’s not the 1960s anymore...

Then there was the releasing of the beer lists for the GBBF. The Ratebeer forum went a bit mental over it and I completely agree. The British list is massively uninspiring. It’ll be like a sea of ‘me-too’ bitters, indistinguishable from each other, all 4-point-something%.

The BSF beer list, on the other hand, is much more exciting. I’ll be there at the trade session and I very much doubt I’ll leave the BSF bar. Yes I will be pissed pretty quickly (although I might go crazy and order 1/3rds, drinking American beer the American way) and won’t be able to drink eight pints of ale but that’s not what I want from this beer festival. I want to taste new things and experience beers that I can’t get in England, even if it is the Great British Beer Festival. I don’t want to wander lost around the UK bars wondering which beer to choose next from an endless and effete list of bitters and pale ales and watery stouts. I know a lot of people would be the opposite of this, but that’s just me. This GBBF argument is essentially the negative of British ale. It’s the same old thing, round and around. I don’t want to waste my money on something that could be shit and a lot of British ale, sadly, is shit. Call me a slave to the label but right now in my drinking I am after the names of UK craft brewing, the established ones who I know will pour me something good. But I do like drinking UK beers (and I've found a lot of good ones this year); I just want to drink better UK beers. If there are breweries that I MUST be drinking then tell me so that I can add them to my little green-light list.

Next, there seems to be some food and beer pairing going on that’s pretty much the antithesis to the flowery way I do things here (see this and this). I like this, it’s fun to read. If you enjoy fast-food and tins of beer then that’s the thing for you. Personally, I love trashy food and beer combos, just don’t expect me to write many of them up here.

Beermerchants have got some shit hot new beers in, check this mo-fo-ing list out (although a couple of the rarer De Struise have sold out already!). I also put in an order with Beers of Europe, excited that they had a whole new load of Stone beers in. Now I like Beers of Europe (even if their website is fairly unusable when ordering) but imagine my horror when I see that ALL of the Stone beers have ‘Enjoy by’ - and ALL of them say this, including the must-drink-fresh IPAs, - August 2009! Not happy. I’ll still drink them, but I’m not happy. That’s TWIB according to me. Have a cracking weekend.

Pencil&Spoon is ranked 8th in the Wikio Top Blogs - Wine and Beer list. This was a wonderful surprise. I expect to drop down a few as I got some mentions in food blogs last month, but I’m pleased with that, especially when you see the big names directly in front of me.

Finally, and this one's more about me than us, last night I went for a curry. I scanned the menu and then something jumped right out at me: Jaipuri chicken, a specialty dish from Jaipur. Brilliant. I had to order and it was delicious. The only thing that would’ve made it better is if it come with a pint of it’s fresh, hoppy namesake beer.

That’s TWIB, according to me. Have a cracking weekend.

And yes, I know that my 'pubs closing' and 'GBBF/British beer' arguments are massively unrefined. This is intended as a quick post and not some pseudo-journalism. Maybe I'll go into my thoughts on these more another time, maybe not...

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Beer with Character; Characters with Beer

I posted here about writing a novel and writing in general. Of the stages of writing, the early creative planning is my favourite part. It’s where the characters are turned into real people, where they grow and develop and pop out into 3D. I’ve been working on a new idea for a while now. It jumped into my head in the middle of a meeting one day at work and has been bounding around since then, getting bigger and more in focus. I’ve now sorted out pretty much everything – characters, names, places, tone, mood, plot, story, narrative – but there’s a few things that I want some help with as I start writing, a few of the smaller details. And guess what?! This story is about beer (here’s the gist: think American Psycho meets Sideways (the film, not the book - the book is unreadably bad) meets Perfume in a brewery).

Here’s some background. The story is essentially about two brewers. It’s (probably) based in North California. The protagonist is at The Wagon Brew. Co and the antagonist is at the Second Sunday Brewery. Both are micros. Both are adventurous brewers. Both have their core range of beers and seasonal extras and specials. Second Sunday is more established and award-winning; The Wagon is new and struggling to get started, especially with Second Sunday doing so well. I won’t tell you anything more about story just yet…

The Wagon Brew Co. is sorted and I know the plan for it. But the Second Sunday Brewery beers have not been finalised. The brewer’s name is Chase Burton. He’s a celebrated home-brewer who decided to start his own commercial brewery. The story begins as he is winning an award for best beer at a beer festival. His core range will involve the expected pale ales, IPAs, stouts, ESBs, plus DIPAs and imperial stouts. There will also be a few Belgian styles and ‘clones’, for which he is well known. There will also be some barrel-aging. And here’s where I need your help: I need beer names, I need beer descriptions, I need creative ideas for new beers. The brews can be strong or weak, pale or dark, lager or ale, one-offs or regulars, cask-only or keg or bottled. Just go crazy and throw a load of ideas at me but remember that this is fiction and not fantasy, so keep them real and possible but take inspiration from anywhere and feel free to experiment with different ingredients and styles. If any stick and I like it then I’ll name a character after you.

Inspire me!

Whenever I tell a mate that I’m writing they always ask if they are in it. I don’t know why. Oh and I posted the picture at the top to twitter this morning. I was working on the quick and early designs for The Wagon’s logo. If anyone has any ideas for what it could look like then let me know. And if Second Sunday inspires anything in you then shout as I haven’t finished that logo yet either.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Some Holiday Photos

As promised, here are some holiday photos. You may be delighted or you may be disappointed to hear that they are all of beer. Yes, I was sad enough to take a picture of every beer I had just for your viewing pleasure. And to add to my selflessness I made sure that I drank a wide variety of different beers from can, keg and bottle. And I tried every Greek beer I could get my dusty sun-tan lotion-soaked paws on. Enjoy my holiday in beers!

1. The first beer – a Mythos of course - with the mountains in the background. That one tasted amazing!

2. Mythos, this one in a restaurant on the beach.

3. Another Mythos. Get used to seeing those green letters.

4. And another one! This one with Pete Brown’s Three Sheets to the Wind. Great book and more on that to come, book worms.

5. You’ll never bloody guess what this is… Loving the frosted glass here.

6. It’s not Mythos! McFarland Red. Nutty but slightly phenolic. I didn’t love it love it love it.

7. Ah now here’s something pretty special. Even though I was away I didn’t forget my food and beer pairing: Italian Hell Bier with pizza flavoured crisps. Genius. Nice beer too, very pale, pretty sweet with hints of melon, apples and bubblegum. I will admit to only buying it because it was called Hell though, even if it was one of the better beers I had.

8. This looks like Heineken but it is in actual fact Amstel. I was watching Andy Murray in the Wimbledon semi-final with this one. When it’s cold and in an iced glass Amstel is very drinkable but as soon as the chill snap leaves it’s actually terribly.

9. Same bar just a pint later.

10. Mythos! Welcome back. And say hello to Lauren’s wrist and a little bit of boob.

11. Keo. Kee-ee-ee-o. Cypriot lager. Another pale one. This had some apple juice aromas to begin which left quickly. It’s very drinkable but a bit thin and becomes bland. Best enjoyed quickly.

12. Furstenbrau (plus some umlauts). It says it’s produced in Greece but the can also suggests, somehow, an Australian link. Ratebeer tells me it’s produced in the EU and distributed by Athenian Brewery so that doesn’t tells me much more. I won’t lie to you; I bought this because it was cheap. It was 0.44 euros. There’s a promising golden colour and it tasted a lot like a slice of liquid bread but it’s all a bit soapy and bland.

13. Kaiser Pilsner. The best selling pilsner in Greece according to the Carlsberg website. I believe it might be the Greek incarnation of this beer (only brewed at the hallowed Mythos Brewery), but I might be wrong. And you know what? I thought this little can was good. A fizzy gold but this time I smelt something that almost definitely suggested some hops had been nearby. I got a little bit excited by this. It had this really subtle tangy orange character, a dry floral breeze and a good body. And check out the (side of the) glass. I bought myself a Mythos glass for 0.80 euros - bargain!

14. Alfa. Another Grecian brew. It’s got that now familiar golden colour (a sun setting over a field of barley…), it’s bready, pale, clean and crisp with the occasional spritz of lemon. It’s pretty good but it’s no Mythos.

15. And talking of Mythos… Here’s another! This time it’s accompanied by Hops & Glory. I enjoyed many moments of sitting in the sun, glugging beer and reading Pete Brown’s words. A real pleasure.

16. Lunch time and more food and beer pairing. This is the first of the Craft beers which I managed to find at a supermarket out of town (it was over a kilometer away in stifling heat but well worth the trip – the shop also had a surprising selection of imports including wheat beers and a few Belgians, including Leffe). This was the Craft Red Ale paired with (very classy I am) moussaka from a can. The moussaka was surprising edible (just edible, nothing more) although a little strange and the beer was nutty, bready, edging towards singed with a dry berry-like finish. The beer was okay but I’m not a big fan of red ales. What’s their purpose?

17. Onwards to Stadelbrau. Brewed at the Macedonia Thrace Brewery so another Greek beer. This was pale with a nose of apples, white bread (more bread, seriously, it’s bloody everywhere) and a vague nod towards distant citrus trees. It’s smooth and easy drinking with malt first then a bready finish.

18. (Probably) Mythos!

19. Now this one annoyed me. Ignore the beer in the glass for a minute and forget that you’ve seen it. Now study the can and tell me what you’d expect from a 7% Polish beer called Tatna, with the word Mocne (whatever that means but in my mind it was saying mocha, it was saying I’m blacker than the night sky) underneath. I had every hope that it was going to be a fine Baltic porter, but no. It was a 7% lager and 7% lagers do nothing for me. I’ve never had one that doesn’t taste like a brutal upscaling of a 5% lager. This was a little cakey but over-strong in my opinion.

20. Craft Athens Lager. I had high hopes for this to be excellent but was left wanting. It’s not bad at all, I just wanted more. It’s got that classic barely-there nose. A crisp and clear body and a not-too-sweet flavour, it was just missing something.

21. Can you believe I nearly forgot to take a picture of this one?! It was an Alfa with dinner. I don’t remember what I ate but the plate’s empty so it must’ve been good.

22. Remember this blog post asking about which bottles to take? Well I took a BrewDog Hardcore IPA with me figuring that the massive dose of hops with smash my hop cravings to pieces and scare them away for a week or so. I was wrong. You know what, I only had one occasion where I was craving a hoppy beer and all I wanted was a pint of Hophead or Marble Pint. Anyway, I took the beer so I drank the beer when I finished Hops & Glory. It didn’t satisfy my thirst because it was too full-bodied and bitter for the 100 degree heat. It’s still a damn good brutish British IPA though.

23. The dream team: Mythos and a gyros. This picture essentially sums up the answer to the question: Why is Greece awesome?

24A. I saw this side of the can first and picked it up because it’s brewed in Greece. I then turned the can around…

24B. Tasting notes, as already semi-described to my twitter friends: A sexy gold, winking bubbles at the rim, it glides over the tongue and has a real nice bite. I could manage quite a few Verginas. (Sorry everyone but I simply couldn’t resist the gratuitous innuendo)

25. Hello Mythos and hello Malcom Gladwell. That guy can write.

26. And hello sailor! Sorry for including this everyone. I did take a ‘regular’ shot of this beer but this was so much funnier. I’m thinking of using it for my profile, what do you think? Does it say the right thing about me? Creative but not mental, fun, cool, the kind of person you’d like to sit down for a pint with… (And no I don’t mean a profile for a gay dating agency and no I don’t usually wear that stuff, I just happen to look especially camp right there).

27. Me and Lauren waiting for dinner posing while some Greek waiter tells us to smile. There’s a beer on the table and I bet you can’t guess what it is?!

28. I also took a BrewDog Coffee Imperial Stout. I really love this beer and its ever-swaying blend of earthy coffee, bitter dark chocolate, citrusy hops and woody oak. I bought a Greek chocolate bar which was kind of odd. The beer went down well though.

29. Mythos with a sexy view.

30. Alfa with a sexy view.

31. Mythos with a sexy sunset. The sunsets on Santorini are amazing and I just had to buy a beer to go with this one.

32. Another Kaiser. This one with Sam Calagione’s Brewing Up a Business while sitting by the pool. You know what this beer, at this time, made me feel? I felt very late-80s drinking beer from a 330ml can. I don’t know why I felt like this as late-80s I was only just starting school but still, that’s what effect it had. I just wanted to drink can after can of this stuff, crunching it in my palm and tossing it aside. I felt cool and it made me want to start smoking.

33. Mythos Red. Another red. Why do the Greeks like their red beers? This was a bit toasty, a bit fruity, a bit nutty and a bit nothingy.

34. Craft Pilsner and we’re near the end. This was probably the best beer I had all holiday. A pale gold, lots of little bubbles, a creamy-fluffy head and fruit – orange, pineapple, blackcurrant and raspberries. There was more to this beer than any of the others with fruity high notes, biscuity malt and crisp hops at the end. I wish I bought a couple more of these.

35. And the final beer. Of course it’s a Mythos. As you can tell from the picture, the beer has taken its toll.

So there we are, my holiday in beer (I also drink a fair few litres of very good local Santorini wine but I won’t even go there…). There’s only one thing left to do, which I haven’t done yet: talk about Mythos. I saved it up and I didn’t write my own notes until the very end of the holiday because I wanted to really understand what made it stand out above the others for me, and I worked out what it is: it’s the fuller body and the extra sweetness compared to the other beers. That’s what makes it so eminently drinkable. I compared it to so many others but this was still the one that I could recognize at first sip - it’s that instant sweetness at the tip of the tongue followed by the mouth-filling beer and the quench at the end. But it goes deeper than that too. The sweetness that it has just seems to work with the hot, salty air. And I think it has a few specific jobs: to kill a thirst, to entice hunger, to relax the drinker. It perfectly suits Greece. It’s for drinking quickly, not slow. It’s best ice cold in a frosted glass. It’s not the best beer in the world but it’s the best beer for drinking in the hot Greek sun.

It was a bit of a lager overload but that’s all I wanted to drink while I was there. I was expecting hop cravings but they only popped up for a few moments on one day. The rest of the time it was lager, lager, lager.

Yes, this took bloody ages to put together and upload.

Friday 17 July 2009

Beer Geekism

If any of the following apply to you then you might be a beer geek. Embrace beer geekism like a lover.

When you walk in to a pub and then walk out again because they haven’t got a beer on that you want (I don’t fancy any of them, there’s another pub down the road, let’s try there and if not then we can come back here and I’ll have that one).

When you take beer to a friend’s house… and you take the appropriate glassware.

When your (non-beer drinking) other half knows more about beer than most of your mates (seriously, my girlfriend knows A LOT about beer!).

When it takes longer to choose the beer than it does to actually drink it.

When it takes you hours to put away your latest beer shop.

When you get upset about beer being too cold, too warm or served in the wrong shaped/branded glass (oh no, don’t serve me that pint of ale in a Guinness/Stella glass!).

When you have a cool, dark cupboard (far from a radiator or the cold of the garage) to keep your beer at optimum storage temperature. Even better, you have a special, or modified, beer fridge set to 13C, or even better yet you dig yourself a basement under your house that is climate controlled to the perfect conditions.

When you keep a notepad and pencil on you all the time (I do this anyway, not just for beer).

When you can recognize rare bottles from afar and are sucked towards it, bouncing giddily and excitedly (look what they’ve got!).

When a newly released beer has you grabbing your phone and texting/emailing/tweeting the glorious news to all your beer loving amigos.

When you buy that newly released beer as soon as you possible can. (BrewDog seem to get most of money each month thanks to their regular succession of new beers, not that I’m complaining!)

When you wake up the next morning and see you’ve written tasting notes into your phone so you don’t forget what you’ve had. (This happens to me waaaay too often and I don’t even write tasting notes in the pub!) (I read about a guy who forgot his notebook one night and woke up to find he had left himself four voicemail messages of tasting notes!! Hero)

When you shape your weekends around which pubs you can visit on the way back from wherever you’ve been. Or when your weekends are beer adventures in their own right (Do you want to go to Bluewater? Maybe we could go to The Bull on the way home. You can drive)

When you will travel many many miles just to try a particular beer.

When you spend unbelievable sums of money buying new beers. (You spent how much? I wish you’d spend that kind of money on me and buy me nice things instead of just beer for you)

When you remember nights out by the beer rather than what actually happened.

When you choose the beer first and then decide what to cook to match it.

When your glass cupboard at home is filled with fat-stemmed, branded bulbs, thin and reaching pilsners, a flipping great range of pints branded with all number of beer festivals and just the odd wine glass or tumbler for everyone else.

When you take photos of your beer.

When you eat something and it reminds you of beer (“Mmm… this grapefruit tastes really hoppy” or “Mmm... my coffee has got fantastic chocolate malt notes”).

And of course, when part of your daily reading includes beer blogs, books and publications.

Oh yeah, and I suppose writing a beer blog counts too!

Are you a beer geek too? What else constitutes beer geekism? Let’s liberate ourselves in the knowledge that we are not alone and we are drinking the best beer out there!

Wednesday 15 July 2009

I'm Back!

I return from my jaunt to Greece! I haven’t sat at a computer for over two weeks and, strangely, it feels pretty good to be back – this is where I do my thang. I love the scratch of the pencil on paper and I’m most creative this way, but there’s just something about the tactile tap of the keyboard and the way things just write themselves that I can’t resist from my computer. I had a great time, thank you, although that seems quickly forgotten as I slump straight back into the day-to-day routine. Yes, I am already feeling the holiday blues. But let’s not dwell on that misery, let’s cheer and hug and swill our drinks because it’s still the summer and there’s plenty of fun to look forward to. But before we move on, I need to look back. I’m a sharing kind of guy (I guess that’s why I sit here and write this stuff) so let me tell you a little about my holiday. My days went a little like this: wake up; write under sparkling blue sky while looking at a little white church high up into desolately beautiful mountains; read; eat; read; swim in the warm sea, burn my feet on the black sand; read some more; open a beer and read and feel the calming presence of those mountains, the cooling calmness of that beer; eat; read; sleep. Perfect. We also climbed a couple of mountains and a volcano and saw the most incredible sunset. And this all wound around spending time with Lauren too: watching her read, wondering what she’s learning; picking food from her plate at dinner; being happy in the sun. For me this is a good holiday. I’ll write about the beer and food and the books in more detail soon, but I’ll summarise now. Beer: I can manage solely on lager for two weeks and not crave anything else; I have learnt an important lesson in the ways of lager, even if it is mainly continental pap; I have come to see a frothing, frosted golden glass of beer as a beacon of so much joy. Food: I ate a lot. Surprisingly for me I ate a lot of crisps, in fact I probably ate more crisps in the last two weeks that I have in the last two years. I am fickle and can’t resist a funny name or a strange flavour (mushroom and sour cream anyone?!) or a quirky shape. I also ate a fair number of the world’s most disgustingly good food: gyros. The last one was laced with the over-hot, over-sized owner’s hard-worked sweat and tasted even better for it. Kebabs in England are shit unless you are bladdered to the point where short-term memory loss is a blessing not a curse, but in Greece they are messy parcels of joy: spits of pork, juicy and crisp and fatty; a zing of onions and tomatoes; a cool lick of tzatziki; a handful of cheeky fries. Hell yeah. And books: I read a lot. I read some really superb books and they have inspired me to do better, to write better, to write more, to succeed. I want to write and I want my books published so that I can make others feel they way I do when I finish a great book. But more on all these another time. I don’t want to get all gushy on you or bore you with hundreds of holiday snaps of me drinking a beer, me with a kebab, me and Lauren up a mountain, me in a mankini (seriously), me swimming in the pool, me asleep outside, me exiting the sea like Daniel Craig (that shot from Casino Royale) on estrogen. I won’t bore you with them today but I’ll warn you that they are coming soon (not the mankini though). But since I’ve been away what have I missed?! I’ve tried catching up but there’s so much to read. I’m on it though. From what I’ve picked up so far here’s what I’ve missed: The American Beer Festival at the White Horse was goddamn amazing and I’m totally gutted that I couldn’t go (read about it here and here – I’m especially upset to have missed Dogfish Head’s 75 Minute IPA from the cask, but hey ho, I’ll keep all my bits crossed that DFH will make it to the GBBF this year, although I am massively worried that I’ll be comatose with my head in a bag of those amazing pork scratchings before four o’clock, but that’s just a risk I’m willing to take). Just to be able to drink those beers, all those beers… never mind. Rest assured that next year I am choosing the dates we go away and it will NOT be over the same weekend as Independence Day. Next, Moor’s JJJ IPA is finally available to buy in bottles. This is big news. It’s a 9% American-style IPA brewed in the UK and I’ve heard so many good things. Beermerchants have got it. I have put my order in. And BrewDog. It wouldn’t be a blog post on Pencil&Spoon without some kind of mention to BrewDog, would it. And you’ve probably seen this everywhere (literally everywhere) but I’ll kick it out there on my little space because I think it’s one of the best and most exciting beer ideas that I’ve seen in ages, as I wrote before: It’s a wikipedia art project created by the drinkers; the evolution of it undetermined, the content unplanned; a collage of people and ideas and words and images (yeah I just quoted myself, it was from here and I wrote it buoyantly hungover). Zeitgeist and the accompanying blog project, which allows anyone who buys the beer to update the site’s content, is now rocking out in the www. And, as you know, if you use the code SHEEP you get 70% off, blah blah blah, which is a cracking deal (and the beer is great with a BBQ, see this for proof). I’ll add my own little piece to the blog soon enough (i.e. when I think of something cool enough to write). Atlantic IPA is also out now, but it’s £10 for a 330ml bottle of oxidized beer (they are selling and promoting it as oxidized though so I guess it’s okay). Sure it’s got a great story (and I love a story!) but the beer isn’t for me, even if it’s doing okay on ratebeer and no one's seemed to have noticed the oxidization. Blimey, that was a bit of a long splurge of a post. I guess I’ve missed this whole blogging thing. Stay tuned for more posts, I’ve got lots to write about and lots of things that I wrote before I went away that need publishing. I’ll also soon be starting up another blog where I’ll put a bit of writing and use as a scribble pad while I start work on my newest piece of fiction, which was fully planned out while on holiday. And expect a lot more pictures of Mythos!