Sunday 30 May 2010

The World Cup of Crisps

Walkers, to coincide with the 2010 World Cup, have released 15 new flavours, asking eaters to buy them, supporting their favourite and potentially winning ‘a packet’ in the process. It’s a mix of national pride for the eater along with the curiosity of trying new flavour and in the Walkers Flavour Cup, the flavours are going ‘bag to bag’ to find the Walkers Flavour Champion. Obviously I wasn’t content with just hearing what the winner was, I wanted to find out for myself, so I bought the packets, opened a beer (Marble Manchester Bitter, of course) and had my own little tournament.

There are 15 flavours but three of them I haven’t seen: Scottish Haggis, Welsh Rarebit and Irish Stew. As those nations/teams aren’t actually in the World Cup, it probably doesn’t matter too much, but it did leave the problem of having 12 flavours to format into a competition. To combat this I started with a group stage (three flavours in each group, one goes out, the other two are placed first and second) then to a usual quarter/semi/final (the winner group 1 plays runner-up group 2, winner group 2 plays runner-up group 1...). I picked the groups blind and randomly.

Group 1
German Bratwurst
Japanese Teriyaki
Italian Spaghetti Bolognese

Group 2
American Cheeseburger
French Garlic Baguette
Argentinean Flame Grilled Steak

Group 3
English Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
Dutch Edam Cheese
Spanish Chicken Paella

Group 4
Brazilian Salsa
Australian BBQ Kangaroo
South African Sweet Chutney

Group 1: German Bratwurst tastes like sausage and is actually pretty good; Japanese Teriyaki is sweet and peppery and a good flavour; Italian Spaghetti Bolognese was a bit boring and just a little herby. German Bratwurst tops the group, Japanese Teriyaki is second, Italian Spaghetti Bolognese goes in the bin.

Group 2: American Cheeseburger is literally like eating a McDonalds cheeseburger in potato chip form, it’s a little smoky, there’s cheese, mustard and gherkins and it’s actually brilliant; French Garlic Baguette is a little garlicy and a little parsley, but ultimately weak; Argentinean Flame Grilled Steak is steaky and flamey, exactly what it should be. American Cheeseburger is number one, Argentinean Flame Grilled Steak is in second, the French drop out.

Group 3: English Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding is a little beefy and a little of something else which is possibly the Yorkshire pudding, sadly a little disappointing, maybe some horseradish was needed in the end; Dutch Edam Cheese tastes a lot like cheese; Spanish Chicken Paella tastes like nutty rice, paprika, pepper and peas and is actually reminiscent of a real paella. England leave the tournament early (through gritted patriotic teeth) then it’s Spain in first and the Dutch in second.

Group 4: Brazilian Salsa is sweet and herby; Australian BBQ Kangaroo tastes like BBQ and unknown meat; South African Sweet Chutney is both sweeter and spicier than the Brazilian salsa and just a bit tastier. Brazilian Salsa goes one, Australian BBQ Kangaroo wins, South African Chutney is second.

Quarter Final 1: German Bratwurst vs Argentinean Flame Grilled Steak
Close game, tough battle but ultimately the bigger power of the Germans beats the slow-build quality of the fiery Argentineans.

Quarter Final 2: Japanese Teriyaki vs American Cheeseburger
Another tough battle and the Japanese were strong but the American just tastes too much like an actual Cheeseburger to drop out; America go through.

Quarter Final 3: Dutch Edam Cheese vs South African Sweet Chutney
The Dutch stand out like their orange shirted equivalents, beating the spicy South Africans.

Quarter Final 4: Spanish Chicken Paella vs Australian BBQ Kangaroo
Actual classy paella flavour versus the burnt meat brashness of the Aussies; Spain go through.

Semi Final 1: German Bratwurst vs American Cheeseburger
Sausage plays burger in one of the ultimate food battles. The presence of mustard and gherkins in the burger sees them comfortably into the final.

Semi Final 2: Dutch Edam Cheese vs Spanish Chicken Paella
Long, hard-fought battle; Spain authentic and excellent from the beginning but the Dutch grow stronger as they progress. We had a penalty shoot-out (meaning Lauren stepped in to try them and choose the winner) and Spain make the final.

Final:  American Cheeseburger vs Spanish Chicken Paella
The big one and the two flavours which tasted the most authentic got to play each other. The fun, enjoyable quality of the burger powers past the paella and they are my Flavour Champion.

So American Cheeseburger wins for me purely because it tastes so much like a burger and I have a lot of respect for anyone who can make something else taste like a cheeseburger. Some of the packets were surprisingly good and some were just a bit rubbish, but the overall competition is good fun and it’s made my crisp eating a little more interesting. Now I guess I just need to find a relevant beer for each pack of crisps... 

If you've had any of these then what do you think of the flavours? What’s your Flavour Champion? 

Thursday 27 May 2010

If anyone needs me I'll be in Belgium

Tomorrow I’m going to Belgium. We’re staying in Brussels on Friday and going to the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation on the Saturday. Hopefully we’ll be stopping at a couple of breweries over the weekend too – Westvleteren, De Struise would be cool, Cantillon for breakfast... Tell me though, because I won’t be able to drink just sour beer and quads for two days, what new Belgian beers are there that are worth looking out for? I’m thinking along the lines of Chouffe Houblon, modern twists on traditional Belgian styles, something a bit different (but preferably not spicy Belgian blondes or anything similar to Duvel - I have no idea why people like Duvel -  as they aren't my thing).

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Judge Dredge

When you have my surname, and you are born in the 80s, there comes a point in your life when becoming a judge holds considerable value.

When I was 14 I was in a ten pin bowling team. I was pretty good; good enough to have my own bowling ball (not good enough to have my own bowling shoes though). My ball wall electric orange and inscribed in it was the name 'Judge Dredge'. I don't really know why I chose that name. I guess it felt imposing or important. I guess that made me better at bowling (I scored 226 in a game with that ball). I also knew there was very little chance, no matter how well I succeeded academically, that I would ever be an actual judge. That was until today...

Judging a beer competition is pretty much the coolest job in the world, ever. Seriously. If I tell my mates that I spent the day judging a beer competition then I get serious man points. I sit at a table, someone brings me beer, asks me to drink it and then requests that I objectively give it a score out of whatever. Essentially my job is to drink beer and find the best ones.

Today I judged the International Brewing Competition. I was faced with a total of 59 individual brews, starting at 10am and finishing at 5pm. The quality was varied. Some were excellent, some were poor, most slotted inconspicuously into the middle ground - forgettable. The best were wonderful but known only by number, the worst were undrinkable and lucky to be unknown by name. A bland quality flowed through many and I found myself writing the word 'dry' way too often; I wrote the word 'excellent' way to infrequently. But judging beer is good fun; it's social and friendly, it encourages you to talk about beer, it's incredibly interesting, it makes you look at beer differently and concisely, using only taste as your guide, and it makes you a more considerate drinker. It also lets you try a spectrum of beers and see just how wide a style can be spread, and that's fascinating.

Every little boy's dream is to judge a beer competition and I've now done it. The next thing on the list of boyhood dreams is either finding a dinosaur skeleton or flying to the moon.

P.S. I wrote this on my blackberry on the train home from London. I was quite drunk.  

Monday 24 May 2010

Style, Sight, Reputation and the Perception of Taste

If you give me a US IPA, and you tell me exactly what style it is, then my brain triggers an expectation of taste. If you give me a beer, but don’t tell me what it is, and I see that it’s chestnut brown with a thin head, then I can almost taste it before I actually raise the glass to my lips – it’ll be bready, a little toffee, maybe some earthy, English hops, right? If you give me a bottle and don’t tell me the style but the tasting note says ‘rich chocolate flavour, roasted fruit and a bitter finish’ then I know what to expect when I drink it. And if you gave me a bottle of Dark Lord/Westvleteren 12/Pliny the Younger then I can guess roughly what it’ll taste like flavour-wise and I also expect it to be incredible, thanks to its stellar reputation. But how much do these – knowing the style, colour, tasting notes and reputation – affect the actual perception of taste?

To try and get a better understanding I asked Lauren to choose any two beers from the cupboard. No restrictions, apart from a couple which were 750ml or some strong specials - there were about 50 bottles to choose from ranging from lagers, through pale ales up to big stouts, from all over the world. She then put them in the fridge for an hour and banned me from looking until after I’d tasted them both.

Part of me expected to be almost stupefied by not knowing the beer/style in my hand, as if the senses of smell and taste would be rendered useless. At the same time I wondered if not seeing them would intensify my ability to smell and taste. Also, I was worried that I’d get them entirely wrong, proving that I can’t actually taste anything...

As you can see from the video I didn’t do too bad. I got the strength and colour of the first beer – Mikkeller’s GIPA, which I fail miserably at trying to pronounce – picking out earthy, peppery citrus but confusing it with something a little bretty and sour (it wasn’t sour, just bitter, lemony and fruity from the hefty use of German hops). Taking the blindfold off and drinking it again seemed to make it taste different, as if the flavour was suddenly amplified. The second beer - Viven Porter - I managed to get the colour straight away from the roasted aroma but the easy-drinking quality of it made me think it was a low abv beer when it fact it was 7%. Again when I drank this without the blindfold it suddenly tasted different; stronger and generally bigger. I’m pretty sure my perception of these beers changed as soon as I knew what I was drinking, which I guess confirms the idea that knowing what beer is in your glass does affect the way it tastes.

The mind tricks in clever ways so I wanted to see how well I can smell and taste without anything influencing it. The selection group was small, which may have affected me (I knew I had a bottle of mild in the cupboard and as soon as I tasted the dark beer I thought it was that), so maybe next time I need to do it at a beer festival where there are hundreds of beers to choose from. I also think that next time I will be more objective and know what to expect of a test like this, perhaps taking more time to think about the actual qualities of each, rather than speedily sniffing and sipping just to get to the big reveal of what I’m drinking. The use of all the senses of important and I sped past them eagerly.

The test was far from scientific, but an interesting look at perception and the senses. I want to try it again soon and it’ll be interesting to see how I do with a couple of British ales. The other idea, inspired by Chunk, is to get Lauren to choose any bottle of beer from the supermarket without me knowing and then pour it out and see how I get on. As experiments go, this one has got my brain ticking in many ways, raising questions about packaging being able to influence the taste of something, as well as reputation and style. 

Have you attempted a similar blind tasting exercise? If so, how did you get on? 

I think there’s so much more to this idea than just this post and I find the whole concept of taste and perception fascinating. The only trouble is that I look like a right twat with that mask on. I've also just realised that the way I have the page set up cuts off half the video, thankfully it's the half in which nothing happens, but if you want to watch it in glorious (hazy) widescreen then you can see it here.

Friday 21 May 2010

I was absolutely wasted...

Here’s a question for everyone and it’s inspired by something Andy wrote in a post earlier this week. He said: “to put it bluntly I was bolloxed.” It’s not surprising given the list of beers he was drinking during the day, but the question is this: from a writer’s and a reader’s perspective, should we talk about being drunk in blogs?

Traditional beer journalism has worked hard to make beer a serious beverage up there with wine and whisky, breaking away from the binge-drinking statistics, so by getting completely hammered and then telling everyone about it, are we in fact doing more harm to beer than good? Or, is that just a side of beer drinking which now gets a chance to be written about honestly thanks to the diary format of beer blogs?

What do you think: is it good to read about someone being drunk (so long as they aren’t throwing up on trains and pissing in bins) or does it do a disservice to beer? What about discussing a raging hangover? A part of drinking we should talk about or not?

I also ask because I’ve mentioned it in a piece I’ve written for CAMRA’s Beer magazine and wonder what others think. I got the image from here.

Wednesday 19 May 2010


Perhaps I was too hasty in my wild praise of Thornbridge Halcyon. It’s not that it doesn’t deserve it – of course it does, it’s bloody fantastic – it’s just that maybe I’ve found something even better.

It was Friday. It had been a very long bitch of a week. I was hot and thirsty and tired. I slumped in from work, dragged myself to the fridge and pulled out a restorative beer: Marble Brewery’s Manchester Bitter. I’ve had it on cask in The Bull and loved it but was a little worried about how it would transfer over into a bottle... I needn’t have. It’s 4.2% of brilliant. It’s a stunning gold colour. It smells like you’ve been locked in a room full of sacks of deliciously fresh hops - passion fruit, tropical fruit and citrus – the kind of aroma you want to be able to inhale so deeply that it fills every last space of your lungs. It’s easy drinking, it’s completely delicious, it’s got these incredible hops that just keep on teasing and playing and nibbling away, so fruity, astoundingly fresh, vibrant, AWESOME. It puts almost every other bottled British beer I’ve had this year to absolute shame. Breweries: if you want to taste what a 4.2% hoppy bottle-conditioned British bitter can taste like then try Manchester Bitter. Please.

In fact, it’s so good, I put my money where my mouth is and just bought a whole case of it from myBrewerytap – it’s the perfect summer beer and I can’t imagine anything better when sitting in the sun than a chilled bottle of this.

myBrewerytap are also selling four other Marble bottles – Lagonda IPA, Tawny No.3, Ginger and Chocolate Marble. Beermerchants sell the special, limited edition Marbles, which are also fantastic (Special, the American-style barley wine is my favourite).

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Spiteful rumours that I’m not a proper, hardcore beer geek

There are terrible rumours going around that I am not a proper, hardcore beer geek and they are malicious because, despite what some are saying, I am a proper, hardcore beer geek.

I’ve got more beer glasses that I have hot meals in a month; I’ve got a stack of beer books that’s taller than I am; I write notes on every beer I drink, most of them really poncy like ‘oh it’s got a delicious fruity quality and wonderful balance of nutty sweetness, with – oh that’s it – just the most delightful and delicate hints of elderflower’; I buy beers to be able drink them in 2-10 years time and I pay stupid amounts of money for the privilege; my fridge and my flat are filled with random bottles of beer from all over the world, some oak-aged, some whisky-barrel-aged, some with coffee in, some sour beers, some with killer levels of hops in, and some are so flipping rare they don’t even have labels!; I read ratebeer and beeradvocate forums every single day, usually more than once; and I write a bloody beer blog, you don’t get much geekier than that. So hearing that I’m not a hardcore beer geek is hurtful.

These rumours started in Burton. One rumour is that I drank a bottle of Desperados. Well, listen here, Desperados is like the quintessential craft beer: a 5.9% pale beer, extreme ingredient added (in this case it’s tequila), snappy and fun marketing aimed at the yoof, the appeal of serving it with a slice of lime. Hello – that sounds like half of the craft beers in the world and everyone needs a USP, whether it’s barrel-aging, fruit, chilli, tequila and lime, or whatever. Come on. The other rumour is that I drank C2, a low-alcohol incarnation of a popular brand known as ‘Carling’. Well guess what? I poured it out into a snifter. Hello – a bloody snifter! It was a really nice crystal one too and everyone knows that if you drink beer out of a snifter then you are a beer geek. Come on. The rumour-spreading losers are only jealous because they ordered some crappy cask ale and it wasn’t as delicious as my bottle of Desperados.

I am a proper, hardcore beer geek and I will bitch fight anyone who says otherwise. Plus, obviously, Desperados is the best beer in the whole, wide world. 

Monday 17 May 2010

FABPOW! P2 Stout with Strawberries and Clotted Cream

A chance meeting: the National Brewery Centre, a buffet with strawberries and thick clotted cream for dessert, cask P2 on at the bar. The thinking: strawberries covered in dark chocolate with a dollop of rich cream. The beer: smooth, roasty cocoa, silky, a hint of blackberries, a cakey sweetness, an incredible thing. The combination: tongue-covering creamy richness, a burst of strawberry juice; the beer swathes through, becomes more chocolatey, blends with the cream, feels totally luscious and a little bit sexy. A perfect chance combination, a brilliant FABPOW!

(The picture looks a little sorry for itself, I know. The trouble is I ate a bowlful, realised how delicious it was, told everyone else who also had a bowlful and then there were only two strawberries left.)

Friday 14 May 2010

Beer in the Movies

This is probably my favourite line in any film of all time, and it’s (very) loosely about beer, too (by virtue of the fact that it's in a pub). In fact, it’s my greeting of choice, unless I’m meeting my parents. In a very tenuous way this brings me to a question: what’s your favourite scene in a film which also involves beer? Pete posted a link to Ice Cold in Alex, and that’s a fantastic scene, then there’s the scene in Shawshank Redemption when they get to drink a beer outside like free men, or maybe it’s the ‘Frank the Tank’ in Old School?

Best scene in a movie which involves beer in some way: what is it?  

Wednesday 12 May 2010


Excuse the tabloid hyperbole and screamy capital letters, but I don’t think enough people have said just how good Thornbridge Halcyon 2009 is yet (only Zak Avery, Hopzine, Reet Good Leeds, Real Ale Reviews 'an Innocent smoothie on acid', and The Ormskirk Baron [baron rating of 5/5]). It’s a beer blogger’s dream: limited release, once a year, hotly anticipated; green-hopped with new season UK Targets (forget the US C-hop, it’s all about the UK Ts on this display); a dangerously beautiful 7.7%; a sexy new label (featuring a sneaky peak of bust); a stream of updates - promises - from the brewery on its progress: we’re brewing it soon, it’s been brewed, it’s in the conditioning tank, it’ll be a few months yet, it’s almost ready, it’s tasting great, we’re almost there, bottling Halcyon soon, bottling Halcyon now, so close, just a little longer, it tastes amazing, it’s ready to go, YOU CAN BUY THEM NOW... it’s beergasm territory, get ‘em while they’re HOT.

Remember Fruit Salad sweets? That’s what it smells like first, then pineapple, then mango, then a little grassy and floral, then a tangy, pithy, resinous bitterness stomps on through. One line of the notes has both “Mmm” and “Yum” on. The hops are super fruity and unexpected; juicy and delicious. It could threaten to get a bit sweet but the bitterness rips through and it’s all backed up with a stiff malty backbone to keep it in shape. A knife-edge balance, perfectly executed.  

It’s hyped-up and laden with heavy sacks of expectation, but the beer smashes through that (I imagine it does so with a look to the skies, an impassioned roar, a paw at the chest). Big green hops, super fruity, full-on bitterness, but always just lip-smackingly good. It’s up there with the best IPAs this year (and I’ve had some shit hot IPAs this year).

I’ve got a mixed 12-pack of this and St Petersburg (another great beer, deserving of its own upper case exclamation, no doubt – imagine you BBQ’d a bar of dark chocolate and then blitzed it up with some coffee, and loads of earthy hops, it’s real goood, in a dirrrty kind of way, like eating in bed) but I’m seriously tempted to go back to myBrewerytap and order some more (especially as they’re now selling Marble, too).

Monday 10 May 2010

RIP: The Pub

Pubs are closing at a supposedly alarming rate, beer is getting more expensive, life is getting more expensive, people socialise differently, community has a new definition and Guinness is no longer good for you; I think the pub just entered the early throes of death.

Something has happened in the last 20-odd years to make a seismic change for the pub; a generational change. For the generation who have just reached the legal drinking age, going to the pub is something to do once or twice a week on a Friday or Saturday, tarted up and looking for action - a weekend fuel stop on a journey to Fuckedupsville. It’s not important what the place is like so long as they serve booze and it isn’t too expensive - what DJ is playing is more frequently asked than what guest ales do you have. A couple of years on, in the early- to mid-twenties, away from the bingeing, the pub is something different. We leave work (if we have a job) and go to the gym or there’s a long commute or we go home and cook and relax in front of an enormous TV with hundreds of stations zapped straight into our living rooms. Be healthy, we’re always told, eat your five a day, more than one pint or a glass of wine a day and you’re overdoing it, take at least 30 minutes exercise, don’t smoke, relax, drink two litres of water, have less salt, avoid caffeine, get eight hours sleep a night. And if you don’t do all of these then you’ll die from cancer.

Going into a local after work - at least where I am, away from a big city and in a small town - feels more wrong than right, more anti-social than social. The chaps at the bar have been there too long, it’s almost empty, it’s a realm of misbehaviour - drinking is bad for you, didn’t you know? And walk into a local pub and take a look around – there won’t be many people in their early 20s just sitting there and enjoying a beer. Call me bigoted, but if there are some then they aren’t likely to be the sort of guys who you’d feel comfortable socialising with, are they?

After we’ve decide that we don’t want to be a binge drinking statistic and stop doing the pints-and-shots of our late teens, the pub is where we go if we want dinner out, of if we are meeting friends once every few weeks, or there’s a game of football on, but it’s not a daily thing. If we want to drink daily then the supermarkets do some great deals on multi-packs, saving lots of money. Have you seen how cheap beer is in the supermarket? Why bother going to the pub? Life is pretty expensive – we need to save up for the uncertain future. Restaurants face a similar problem. It’s expensive to eat out and it becomes a luxury. Plus we can buy all the ingredients in the supermarket and cook it ourselves - everyone cooks now, don’t you watch Jamie Oliver? And haven’t you been warned about the ill-effects of bad diet and heavy drinking on society and the individual? Drinking is bad for you; stay at home with a glass of water.

This is also the generation of social and mobile media. We don’t have to go to the pub daily to meet our mates to see how they are doing, we can email them, we can text, we can call them anytime and anywhere, we can see their latest facebook status updates or tweets. We can follow what they do and others can follow us. A lot talk to more people regularly online than in real life – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different to how things used to be. We can’t compare today with 30-years ago. Plus the definition of community is now so much broader than it used to be, in fact, try and define community for me... The generation of social media is changing what it means to be social.  

But the pub is important. It’s where we grow up and learn to act like an adult, it’s where we become who we are going to be, it’s where we socialise and meet people - it’s the starting line of our adult life. But that’s a short burst of freedom, breaking the shackles with that legal ID, learning about life before actually living it and ordering a pint because we can. After that it changes. We aren’t brought up with the pub as part of a daily routine, instead we’re brought up with the daily routine of being told that it’s a bad thing – it’s unhealthy, you need to save money, don’t binge drink - and that is the change which has affected everything.

Soon pubs and bars will need to be specialist to really succeed. They will need to attract people in from miles around with something unique. Maybe it’s the food, the location or maybe it’s what’s on the bar. Beer bars might become more popular and a pub known for stocking great beers will get more customers, but they will probably be the type of customer who only drinks once a week. The specialist market - appealing to the connoisseur, wannabe expert or curious newcomer – might be the only place which can grow; either that or all pubs will become gastro. Can the local survive without a USP? Will the ‘local’ be one of those terms which slowly drops into antiquity.

It’s been a gradual generational shift, not an overnight thing. Fast-forward two more generations and what will the pub be? When the existing pub goers become extinct, how will the pub survive? Will it evolve? Survival of the fittest kicks in, whether we like it or not. It’s no surprise that we don’t drink out like we did two, three, four or five generations ago and it’s no surprise that this community spirit is dying (communities of people we don't know, chain pubs, corporate chain managers not doting landlords). But it’s a shame. The government battering ram of warnings and fear-mongering wins the battle of attrition; the world is dangerous so stay inside, eating healthily, not drinking and saving money – things aren’t going to get easier.

What is the real future of the pub? Can, and will, it survive as we know it, or has it already started to change?

UPDATE: Tandleman has written a reply to this post. In truth, I hoped that somebody would pick up on it and show a different side - that's what makes blogging fun. His is almost the opposite of what I say but that's understandable as he's coming at it from an entirely different viewpoint. Interestingly, if we met right in the middle we'd probably be fairly balanced and close to the real situation. What do you think about the opposing views? 

Sunday 9 May 2010

11 men against the world; beer advertising at its best

I’ve tried to write more about this than is here but there’s just nothing more that I can write which isn’t said by watching it. I think this advert is completely brilliant. It’s so good that at the end, when I finally see who is behind it, I just want to drink the pint that comes up on screen. I think it’s incredibly successful in lifting national pride as well as pushing their brand forward. Fantastic.

Does it make you want to drink that pint at the end? If you are in a pub and there's no decent cask beer on, what will you be drinking? I now know what my first choice will be. (to see the video in full widescreen look here)

Friday 7 May 2010

Vote for the Rum, Coffee and Coconut Imperial Stout!

Sometimes I write things off the cuff which get picked up by others. Last week BrewDog asked fans to suggest a beer for them to brew as a summer special and they short-listed 10. When I looked through the list I saw something very familiar... a 10% rum-barrel aged coffee and coconut imperial stout, something I had mentioned in this post - it seems I wasn’t the only one who thought this sounded like just about the most delicious beer in the whole world! You can now vote for it here (there are other options but they all sound rubbish compared to the rum-coffee-coconut monster).

And cheers to Tom Mann for suggesting it!

Wednesday 5 May 2010

And... Action!

Imagine for a moment that I’m an actor. I’ve had some success, a couple of films, a few regular roles in TV. I’ve taken some time out to go and see an amateur dramatics performance like I do every few weeks, in fact I often perform in these shows myself. They are a regular bunch of people, they do a few shows a week and everyone is just there because they want to be and because they enjoy it, even if it is harder than it looks sometimes and takes quite a lot of motivation to keep it up. They put in time to rehearse, to write the script, to decorate the set, to advertise the performance and then to actually perform it, and they do all of this in their spare time. They don’t earn any money from doing this but that doesn’t matter, they like the interaction, they like the social side of things and this is what they want to do – it’s their hobby. Now, I’m at the performance. It’s okay, a lot of people have put in a lot of effort, the set looks good, there are scene nice changes, lots of main characters, lots of dancing and singing, some rock songs, some classical, some ballet and some break dancing. It’s a performance based on variety and everyone has their own role within it and it comes together to perform a whole, and that’s what’s great about it. Sometimes they all perform really well, other times not quite so good, but this is dependent on a number of things - the audience, their personal life, someone hasn’t shown up this week, some have got a speaking role in a TV show so they are distracted, whatever is extraneous to the actual performance (the performance that they are there doing for free because they enjoy doing it). Tonight it’s not one of their best performances but you wouldn’t know that unless you’ve seen it at its very best when it’s lively, bright, bold, interesting and varied. So I’m sitting there and I’m sensing a malaise. I check my watch, I look around, I see some smiling faces but I also see a few who are checking their watch, thinking about other things. Normally I’d just sit there, maybe check my emails on my phone, read the paper, something like that, but not tonight. Tonight I cough loudly a couple of times and then jump up and rush onto the stage. I tell everyone to stop and look at me for a minute, I’ve got something to say, I tell them all, it’s aimed at the actors and the audience. You see, I think you can do it better than this, I say, I’d like you to try something new, maybe throw a few punches, start some fights, try and kiss the other guy, sing out of tune, try some different dance steps, run with it and see what happens, I don’t mind what it is, just take a few risks. I’m a bit bored, you see, and I think you should be better. Watch me, I say, as I show them an example of what they could do differently, a little dance, a short monologue, a scissor-kick in that guy’s nuts. Can you do that for me? I ask. Obviously you don’t have to, it’d just, you know, be quite nice. I’d appreciate it and I think the audience might too, do you agree with me audience? I tell them all of this and then I call Action, jump off the stage and wait for the performance to start again.

What do the actors do?

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Hardknott to like Aether Blaec

It seemed timely that as I was about to open a bottle of Hardknott Ӕther Blӕc I was reading a post by Dave about the labeling of the newly branded beer and how the best before date is an ‘irrelevant and contradictory semantic’ for beers like this, which are perfect candidates for cellaring.

My bottle, number 68 out of 456, had the old label on, a rather less dramatic design compared to the new one, which I think looks great. The beer is a stout aged in 30 year Caol Ila whisky casks, 8% ABV, according to the new label (the old says 6.7% - to dispel the rumours of grogging, Dave wrote this post). In the glass it has a fantastic chocolate aroma with waves of sweetly phenolic oak and Islay beneath, subtle but still self-imposing, the kind of intriguing deftness which makes you stick your nose so far into the glass to smell it that it comes out with beer on the end. I jabbed a still-swirling glass under Lauren’s nose (as I always do) and she got it too: “Smoke, like that BrewDog one.” The beer is silky smooth, chocolatey and roasty before the barrel creeps in, delicate but still unmissable, adding a perfect depth without tasting like a pint of stout with a shot of whisky crudely added. In some barrel-aged beers the barrel bit of it is just overpowering but not here, and instead it adds so much to the overall enjoyment. Phenolic but not TCP; a dry, almost-savoury quality which I love in beers like this; hints of berry sweetness to tease the playful wisps of smoke; a bitterness which develops throughout, spiking the end with something new; every mouthful enjoyable and interesting.

I didn’t know what to expect from this beer but I was hugely impressed. Pete Brown tweeted that it’s ‘either beginner’s luck, or one of the best wood-aged beers yet.’ Whichever it is, I want some more bottles, and maybe that way I can put the semantics of ‘best before’ and ‘best after’ to the test. 

Sunday 2 May 2010

The Hop Press: Dangerously Bitter

I’ve been lazy with my Hop Press blog recently but I’m back on it this week. Essentially it’s a re-hashing of a blog which I wrote early last year (an important post which made me realise that beer was more than just a taste experience) with a few tweaks. It’s about how bitterness is innately a warning of poison and how this increases the enjoyment of hoppy beers.

What do you think? Am I a bit crazy here or is there something addictive about big hops that keeps you going back for more? That smack of bitterness which craves sweetness - the unending cycle of drinking for pleasure and ‘pain’ that makes a great IPA.