16 Jan 2014

BrewDog Old World IPA and Craft Beer World by Mark Dredge and Boutique Beers by Ben McFarland

The beer 

Focused groups of tiny bubbles press their faces against the glass, begging for help to escape the dusky, orange fog that engulfs them, so that they may join their off-white brethren gathered far above their heads.

Aromatic crème brûlée-promise and old world spiel on the label makes me hopeful that this will be a turbo-White Shield.

Sweet, fizzing sherbet runs throughout, but as you drink it’s like someone turns down that fader on the mixing desk while simultaneously bringing up over-brewed tea tannin bitterness until it dominates the song. The effect is not unpleasant.

And turbo-White Shield is actually not too far off.

I love a proper English IPA, me. What I love about those beers is the subtlety, the hidden depths. This has complexity, but it’s more aggressive, more overt.

Maybe BrewDog Old World IPA is a modern, Scottish take. It knows its heritage, acknowledges its roots south of the border, but c’mon guys, it’s 2013, and fuck me, it’s cold up here. It fucking rains all the fucking time and we need something a bit more fucking robust to get us through the bleak, grey winters (that last from September to June).

The books 

There are some things that just shouldn't be digitised, that today’s technology is just not capable of replicating digitally.

I’m no Luddite – I embrace, for instance, digital music formats. There’s already too much stuff in the world. I don’t want to be contributing to the landfills just because I insist on my entertainment being tactile.

Similarly, when it comes to books, I am a Kindle advocate.

However, not all books work on Kindles; beer books do not work on Kindles.

Specifically, the beer books that list and describe hundreds of beers with accompanying glossy bottle and glassware photography.

I am, you may think somewhat unsurprisingly, a fan of this type of book, and I have yet to see anyone be able to create anything that even remotely approaches replicating the physical interaction I enjoy with these books online or in a digital format.

Craft Beer World by Mark Dredge and Boutique Beer by Ben McFarland are two books that were added to my library over the festive period. The former a present to myself, the latter a gratefully-received gift from a family member.

Books of this type are not intended to be read cover-to-cover. They are to be flicked through, dipped into, and perhaps referenced ahead of a visit to a specific region.

I must admit, I generally skip through the introductory sections to get into the beer porn, but I proceeded more linearly through both of these titles.

You’d be hard-pushed to find a beer book in 2013 that looks better than Craft Beer World.

The hand-drawn illustrations look great, and layout and design choices are understated and easy on the eye throughout.

And there’s enough engaging and unique content early on – such as the beer and food matching section – to even make delaying the porn worthwhile.

Mark’s selection of beers is intelligently-curated; I like the device of selecting a single classic of the style followed by the best the modern world has to offer.

Some of the beers I’m reasonably confident I will never drink, but that’s the game, right? That’s the dream, that’s what keeps you hunting.

There are plenty of familiar favourites here for me too though, and it’s comforting to see beers that I’ve enjoyed but never really discussed with anyone cropping up, such as Nils Oscar Ctrl Alt Delete and Santorini Brewing Company Yellow Donkey.

Ben McFarland’s World’s Best Beers was one of a number of catalysts that accelerated my love for, and appreciation of, good beer.

My eyes go a bit watery when I think about it, think back to those early days when everything was strange, new and exciting.

However, now I’m cynical and jaded, I’m not sure how useful beer selections grouped by country are to me – I often think authors feel compelled to include beers that just aren’t that good for the sake of international completeness.

That’s why it’s great to see that in Boutique Beer, Ben has opted to group his selection into his own categories, then by style and then by country.

Punctuated with insightful profiles of breweries that make beer I love – such as Brasserie de la Senne and 3 Fonteinen – Ben’s selection has plenty of beers that have me nodding in agreement, believing this is a man whose judgement I can trust.

Anyone who has written about beer will tell you this: the more beers you describe in print, the harder it gets to avoid repeating yourself. It takes imagination and enthusiasm to keep things interesting.

Qualities that these two writers have in abundance.

The match

Don’t drink average beer when reading beer books. Drink something, punchy, limited, and interesting, something you’ve laid down, or just something expensive.

Otherwise you’ll just end up hating yourself and everyone else. Yes, more than you already do.

My turbo-White Shield is doing the job.

As I flick through Mark and Ben’s pages I realise my relationship with beer books has changed.

Where before they revealed a world with intricacies I could barely comprehend, hinted at a knowledge beyond my reach, now they do something different.

They trigger glorious memories which I haven’t accessed in a while, such as the time spent with the Icelandic beer documented in the second-ever post on this blog that appears in both books.

But one thing remains the same: I just cannot get bored reading well-written descriptions of beer.

Three hours have just slipped by and I barely noticed.

That’ll be time for another beer then.

3 Jan 2014

Stillwater Sensory Series v.1 – Lower Dens and 2013’s best music

The beer 

‘The Stillwater Sensory Series is a collaboration between Stillwater Artisanal and singular musical artists.’

This is a concept I want to work with all my heart, as beer dwells in the same cavern of my mind that music does, but all too often the execution of this type of thing is nothing short of abysmal. No names mentioned.

v.1 – Lower Dens is the first in the series.

Dusky, golden, cloudy apple juice-like visuals raise expectations.

This is brewed with hibiscus. I don’t know my hibiscus scent from my rose, but the most detectable aroma here is one I’ve encountered with Stillwater beers before – a combination of fresh country air and damp wood. Not unlike Duvel.

A gentle bitter caress and languid raspberries invite you to take a seat and relax.

There’s boiled sweets towards the end, but nothing cloying. In fact, the sensation is uplifting, cleansing. The freshness you get from good basmati rice followed by a hot towel.

This is how to execute a concept.

2013’s best music 

I bought more music in 2013 in than I did in any previous year.

At least 100 albums. Probably more. I don’t want to think about it too much.

Of those, these are the ones that really stood out. And – because it would be a massive fail not to – I’ve suggested beers to drink while you listen to them.

True Widow ‘Circumambulation’ 
The soundtrack to a lonely night in a bar in Nowheresville, Middle America. Dark, brooding and hazy. Think doomed Sonic Youth.

Listen to it.
Drink AleSmith Speedway Stout.

Inquisition ‘Obscure Verses for the Multiverse’
Syrupy, luxuriant black metal created by swamp-dwellers from a far off-planet.

Listen to it.
Drink Golden Carolus Tripel.

The Weeknd ‘Kiss Land’ 
Broadly dismissed by critics as being self-indulgent – which is weird because as far as I’m concerned the best music ignores the concept of an audience – I embraced this as the cinematic, regret-laden modern RnB masterpiece it is.

Listen to it.
Drink 3 Fonteinen Armand'4 Oude Geuze Lente.

Botanist ‘IV: Mandragora’
Transcendental, hypnotic combination of distorted dulcimer and disarming, croaked vocals. Strange and unfamiliar, but deeply rewarding.

Listen to it.
Drink Saison Dupont Biologique.

Beyoncé ‘Beyoncé’ 
Ambitious and sprawling, yet intensely intimate, this is the best ‘pop’ record of 2013 without really having an obvious single on it – it has to be listened to (or more accurately, viewed) in one sitting to fully appreciate its majesty.

Listen to it.
Drink Partizan Single.

The Ruins of Beverast ‘Blood Vaults – The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer’
The music undead mediaeval monks from another dimension would make were they released from their submerged crypt and handed guitars.

Listen to it.
Drink St Bernardus Abt 12.

The match

This is a bit of a match within a match: I listened to ‘In the End is the Beginning’, the song v.1 – Lower Dens interprets, keen to understand why Brian at Stillwater had made the choices he had with this beer, how the music had informed his process.

I found it hard at first, as the song is not something that would normally hold my attention. But the insistent repetition of the bass, the slightly jarring wail and interspersed discordant guitar lines began to make more sense as I sat, listened and drank my beer.

It goes nowhere, builds to nothing, and that seems to be the point. Motion without moving.

I can’t pull apart how and why the beer and the song relate to one another. I’m not sure I want to.

Beer plus music is a universal truth.

Solitary deep listening. Shared auditory experiences.

I decided against doing a ‘why I haven’t posted much here this year’ 2013 reflection (not least because I already did that at the midway point in my solitary post of 2013), but I still feel compelled to look back over the last 12 months as the New Year’s Eve fireworks fade from the memory.

Music was the pervasive extra-curricular activity of 2013.

The way I consume music is similar to the way I consume beer.

Yes, there are the beers I go back to over and over again – tried and tested classics that will deliver exactly what I’m looking for.

But there is also the insatiable hunting, hoping for some new beer that will come along and overwhelm my senses before lodging itself in my addled psyche for years to come.

A beer that I will connect to a special moment in time, to a feeling.

A beer that will make me take up the hunt again just so I can feel the way I felt the first time I drank it.

26 Jul 2013

Ommegang Hennepin and the last six months

The beer

Ommegang is one of those breweries whose name I’ve seen and heard, but have never encountered any advocacy or criticism.

Which is a bit weird as seemingly they’re doing a Game of Thrones beer so obviously have a reasonable profile.

So it’s with some trepidation I approach their Hennepin Farmhouse Saison. I compare every saison to Dupont, which often leaves me disappointed.

It looks the part – golden haze, billowing head.

But there’s a hit of nail polish that opens up the nostrils and overpowers the familiar saison mustiness lurking somewhere within its vapours.

Thankfully, things get better as you drink. Manuka honey sweetness. Cooked apple tartness. Dryness.

If there had been some peppery hotness I would have been even more impressed.

The last six months

What I've done:

Been to Barcelona. Twice.

Went to the most southerly point in Europe. Once.

Played guitar in hardcore bands in East London, East Germany and a quite a few places in between.

Went to Roadburn in April. It was incredible. Mournful Congregation, Elder and Goat were the standout performances in case you were wondering.

I recorded and released my second, semi-serious solo musical effort.

I saw a load of live music in London.

I bought a load of music. Mainly off the interweb.

I acquired a load of musical equipment.

Somebody asked me if I even lift (bro), and I was able to say yes.

And I worked. And worked. And worked.

I did some even more banal shit too, but what I haven't done is write about, or follow, what's happening in the world of beer.

So, based on a quick skim of the beer blogs I was reading last year, I'm going to try and work out what's been happening 'while I've been away'.

What's happened in beer:

Mark Dredge released his book. I can't wait to read it. I love a good beer book me, and respect Mark's taste.

EBBC took place. This is the first year I haven't attended

The Copenhagen Beer Celebration took place. This is, er, the first year I haven't attended.

For the first time ever in history there was some heated debate about beer nomenclature.

Black Metal and Brews exists. This is relevant to my interests.

A comprehensive summary no doubt.

The match

I’m ready.

I’ve rediscovered focus over the last few weeks. Been able to see more clearly what I care about.

As opposed to being in a dizzying swirl of whatamigoingtodowithmylifeitis.

I feel sure – as deep down I always have done – that simple pleasures are important.

A new beer encountered. Spend time with it. Write about it. Connect with it on a physiological level.

Focus on it. Meditate on it. Shut the world out for an hour.

No rhyme, no reason. Just because it feels good.

Hennepin is in some ways the perfect beer for a rekindling of the fire.

It’s not perfect, but it is very good, and therefore demands critique. The imperfections subtle, the qualities prominent.

Though this post is in some ways about reflection, it’s also about moving forward.

Here, now, I am caught between those two points of time in a glorious moment of tranquillity. However fleeting that may be.

28 Dec 2012

Samuel Adams Noble Pils and Golden Pints 2012

The beer

Clean, archetypal pilsner colour – a good sign.

Minimal head. Yet appealing, lingering lacing.

Samuel Adams Noble Pils smells like Boston Lager. Unexpected. Suggests that this is going to be on the sweet side.

The distinct Boston Lager flavour is there as a base, but where that beer can get a bit sticky and syrupy, this is light and crisp.

However, it lacks a little of the Saaz snap I would hope for in a beer like this, but I guess that could be blamed on the fact that it’s been imported from America via Sweden and has probably sat on a shelf for at least a couple of months.

The year in review

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer
The latest iteration of Camden Town Pale Ale. So fruity it tastes like E numbers.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Thornbridge Kipling. Ultimate showcase of Nelson Sauvin.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Has to be the 3 Floyds Zombie Dust. Shivers run down my spine just thinking about it.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Just before I flew to Finland to play a gig last month (yes, you’re right, I am pretty cool). I had a can of Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA on the train to the airport. That was about as good as life gets.

Best Overall Beer
Again, has to be the 3 Floyds Zombie Dust.

Best Pumpclip or Label
Epic Brewing’s Exponetial Series. Muted, textured, subtle brilliance. Screams quality and sophistication.

Best UK Brewery
I tend not to write about them for reasons of impartiality, but it has to be Camden Town. I can’t think of anyone who has produced better in terms of quality, consistency and creativity in this country this year, particularly in the latter half.

Best Overseas Brewery
AleSmith – the far-too-infrequent opportunities I’ve had to pour their beer into my mouth have filled me with awe.

Pub/Bar of the Year
My new work local and haven is The Cleveland Arms. An absolute escape from the horrors of everyday existence. And they serve a great pint of Harvey’s Best.

Beer Festival of the Year
Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2012. Kinda gutted I haven’t sorted out 2013. Is it sold out? I’m out of the loop...

Supermarket of the Year
Thought it would be Waitrose, but their range seems to have contracted recently, so Sainsbury’s it is again.

Independent Retailer of the Year
Ølbutikken was probably the coolest place I bought beer from this year.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Beer in the Beehive. Fascinating history about a really interesting place. One I am unlikely ever to visit again.

Best Beer Blog or Website
I’m struggling here. I’ve barely been able to maintain my own over the last couple of months, let alone read anyone else’s. Recommendations please!

And the winner of the 2011 Award for Best Beer and Life Match 2011 is...
La Trappe Isid’or and Ancient VVisdom @ Roadburn 2012. Stumbling across a great beer bar in a town I thought lacked one, combined with watching a great band do their thing, cannot be topped. As I said at the time. Cough.

Seems a long time ago now...

The match

I’m fairly ambivalent about this Sam Adams product, but it’s got enough going for it to help me gather my thoughts about 2012.

Last year I said this exercise was therapeutic.

It doesn’t feel quite like that this time around.

Good beer has undoubtedly got more popular over the course of the last 12 months. This is economically positive for the brewing industry.

Unfortunately, this has an unwelcome effect on quality.

It impacts the volume of quality beer on the market. As the size of the market opportunity increases, so does the number of advertising executives who think it is viable for them to have a go at brewing.

This result (in the UK anyway) in a load of shit ‘craft’ beer flooding the market, with retailers, few of whom have any fucking clue (though clearly there is a stand out few who do), stacking their shelves with ‘artisan, locally-brewed beer’ that tastes like ear wax.

This would not necessarily be a problem were it not compounded by the fact that as the market grows, it attracts people who lack any sort of quality control (in many aspects of their lives) and think everything is great, including any old liquidised turd in a bottle labelled ‘craft’, thereby creating an abhorrent, artificial pool of demand for this pish.

I’m pretty sure I feel exactly like Cobain did when the jocks started turning up at Nirvana shows.

In fact, if I hear another person stating that they are ‘passionate about craft beer’ I’ll be sending Dylan Carlson (who I actually spoke to face-to-face this year, yah, yah I did) off to get me a shotgun.

I know I sound like a prick. That’s because I am a bit of a one.

As is the way of things, I believe (hope) the market will naturally contract and only the truly dedicated will remain once the dead wood has fallen away.

But I think this state of affairs has impacted my enthusiasm for beer.

You’ll see my posts have tailed off towards the end of 2012, despite some absolutely incredible experiences in spring of this year that I feel should have been some kind of life-changing tipping point for me and beer.

Maybe I’m just burnt out because of the intensity of those experiences – I’m a habitual cultural locust you see, and consume my interests at an intense rate, leaving behind a desolate experiential wasteland once I’ve reached some kind of apex.

I also frequently feel like a complete fraud when it comes to beer: I don’t brew; therefore my opinion is of no consequence.

Ithink I am in a trough of disillusionment when it comes to the beer ‘scene’.

More likely, however, is that this feeling is due to me having a really fucking intense year that has made me feel like I have less time for self indulgence than ever before.

Poor little me.

Real life – i.e. work – has been brutal, with frequent periods of mind-melting stress and soul-destroying international business travel.

I got married. This is the best thing I have ever done without a shadow of a doubt.

The event itself involved a great deal of organisation though. Or so my wife tells me; I didn’t actually do a lot.

I have rekindled my relationship with music creation, as I now recognise how important this is to my mental health. Given I have so little free time these days, it’s inevitable that this would squeeze out other interests.

Etc etc. Really interesting for the three people that read this I’m sure.

Does all this mean I’m going to stop appreciating and writing about beer?

Nah, there’s too much great beer out there and experiences to be had for that to happen.

I guess ‘cathartic’, rather than ‘therapeutic’, is more appropriate this year.

14 Oct 2012

Mythos and Santorini

The beer

If you have ever visited, or happened to live in, Greece, I’d hazard a guess that you may have encountered Mythos.

If you've ever described a beer’s colour as ‘straw’ and felt that people just weren’t getting it, I’d suggest keeping some Mythos in the house as a visual aid.

Or some straw.

In fact, if you do have some straw, throw it in the faces of the people you’re talking to.

This act of physical theatre, breaking down the barriers between audience and performer, will be a perfect representation of what it’s like to drink Mythos.

Hopefully, some will have got a bit of debris in their mouth to make the experience complete.

Slightly annoying, sort of refreshing.

What I'm trying to say is that Mythos definitely has something of the cereal crop about it in appearance, odour and taste.

Grainy, chewy, slightly sweet and a bit dry.

The place

Santorini is impractical for human habitation.

Essentially, the island is the crater edge of a civilisation-ending (allegedly – don’t want to get sued by geology) volcano.

A volcano that is still active.

From its highest heights, the island slopes down almost vertically before plunging into the deep oceanic lagoon formed by a cataclysmic eruption over 3000 years ago.

Most of the settlements on the island nestle precariously atop exposed ridges, snatching at the small pieces of land that allow for development perched high above the sea.

Maybe its height and position in the Aegean made it important, from a military and trade perspective, but I’d like to think there is another reason for Santorini’s early (and continued) residence: it is incredibly beautiful.

I use neither of those words lightly, but I may have slightly misused them.

It is what Santorini looks upon that makes it beautiful.

The sun, the ocean, the rock.

Whoever it was that first washed up against the steep cliffs of Santorini must have ascended to the top and witnessed the golden dazzling orb dipping into the obsidian depths as I did night after night.

There is no practical inconvenience so great that it would make you leave this place.

The match

The holiday beer is not a new concept.

Among those who appreciate exceptional beer it reserves a special place in the heart.

Special because it transcends appearance, odour and taste.  It is almost inevitably not very good when measured against these criteria.

A bottle of Mythos to me represents glorious heat, relaxation and tranquillity. The effect of drinking it is almost meditative.

And so it was this time.

At first.

You see this holiday – which was in fact more than a holiday, it was my honeymoon (sorry ladies) – I had resolved to do nothing but relax, listen to music, eat and drink beer.

I'm quite a catch.

The first few glasses of Mythos did everything they were supposed to do.

A few days in, however, I was not entirely content.

Though I would have happily drunk Mythos till it seeped out of my ears (again, I'm quite a catch), I could not quite shake off the beer geek dwelling in the cave of my mind.

So when I discovered the beers of Santorini Brewing Company being sold not too far from my luxury abode, I felt complete.

It’s impossible for me to really critically appraise these local craft beers given the situation, but they were an absolute revelation to me at the time.

And even though it’s hard to separate the beer from how happy I was, the Crazy Donkey was definitely pretty cool.

In fact, here’s a photo to reiterate whatever point it is I'm trying to make.

Weirdly, I was in Camden Town Brewery’s walk-in fridge this weekend and spotted Crazy Donkey and Red Donkey sitting on a shelf.

I'm assuming that this is the universe telling me something.

30 Sept 2012

Alesmith Wee Heavy and Loss’s Despond

The beer 

Wee Heavy is not about colour. Ignore how it looks.

It smells like Heaney’s The Tollund Man.  All peat, bog and ancestry.

Beers that smell like this generally taste like the worst available whisky available to man.

Not this beer.

You wait for, anticipate the brutality, but it never comes.

Peat aromas are such an indicator of impending harshness that when sweet smoothness unfurls, complimented by subtle wood-chip chewiness, you feel at one with the trees, at one with the hills.

At one with everything that grows.

This is the beer that you want to tell the world about. To shake them until they listen.

There are no banal flavour specifics to go into here.

Articulate infinity. Define existence.

Language does not account for these things.

The album 

I don’t like to think about what music is.

I cannot comprehend how it evolved.

I am unable to explain what a profound effect it has on me. Sometimes it feels like all I am.

When I discover a band or artist that instantly forges a connection with my psyche, with my very being, it scares and delights me in equal measure.

Scares because I'm not sure where it will lead me, delights because it confirms that there is something more.

Loss’s Despond ticks all of those bizarre boxes.

I don’t imagine for a minute this is an album for everyone.

The growled – not shouted, not screamed – vocals will turn off pretty much everyone not well versed in heavy music.

I would hope the enlightened few might persevere, because is the music I've been looking for for a while.

Funeral doom meets blues meets the void.

Ultra melodic, super harmonic, guitar-centred misery.

The match

Contrast is often used as a device in song writing.

Quiet / loud is the most obvious example to cite, but there are plenty of others, such as fast / slow or melodic / discordant.

Loss’s Despond is relentlessly miserable and slow. But there is a contrast at work to great effect: that of beauty and sadness.

In this case a fragile, delicate beauty and a vast, endless sadness.

These two words are not antonyms, but they are opposing sensations that should feel very different.

They are, however, entangled. It seems to me neither can exist outside the context of the other.

It seems natural to behold both at the very same moment. I believe it may be something to do with the human condition

There’s a fleeting line in American Splendor which tells me I'm not alone in thinking this:

“Life seemed so sweet and so sad...and so hard to let go of in the end.”

And, without wanting to force a point or belittle the concepts I've named here, so it is with beer in a way.

The never-ending, perpetually-doomed affair of the bitter and the sweet.

Folded-armed, refusing to look at one another one minute, a naked, swirling embrace of passion the next.

Sometimes one the more dominant, sometimes the other. Sometimes equals.

Contrasting and complementary all at the same time.

The essence of what great beer is and the defining quality that Wee Heavy has in bucket-loads.

9 Sept 2012

Abbaye des Rocs Blanche des Honnelles and GBBF 2012

The beer

I’ve never had a bad Abbaye des Rocs beer.

Never had one I didn’t want to finish. Never had one I wouldn’t have again.

For some reason, in the context of beer, that seems an important point.

But Blanche des Honnelles is the first of their beers that has inspired me to put finger to keyboard.

Some beers interact with light in such a way that you can lose yourself in a spectrum of colours (okay, a spectrum of orangey browns).

This beer, however, has an impenetrable orange solidity.

One colour. Unchanging. Fuck light.

Have you ever frozen banana slices?

If not, you may not recognise the aroma this beer gives off.

Though you may recognise the whiff of booze, which is a bit odd given its 6% ABV.

I’m no wit connoisseur, but when a wit is right it refreshes the body, soul and mind in a way few other beers can.

This, this is right.

I’m not really sure how a beer can be ‘clean’, but there is no other word available in the English language that so succinctly describes the first time your mouth is introduced to Blanche des Honnelles.

If that was all there was, I’d be happy enough.

So when further complexity begins to emerge like a piece of paper unfolding for eternity my brain feels like it may pop.

Herbs and spices from every corner of the world wink at you from parallel universes as you are pulled into an infinite cosmic spiral.

Then something like blood – iron and raw meat – reminds you of your own physiology.

A hint of honey sweetness in the death throes calms the nerves and returns you to earth.

The event

The Great British Beer Festival took place a month ago.

I am only writing about it now, its status as anything approaching a hot topic a distant memory for most.

I suggest there are two possible reasons for this delayed reaction: a) that I am lazy or b) that there has been so much other stuff going on in my life that I have been physically and psychologically unable to devote the time and mindspace to even contemplate writing about it since my attendance.

In reality, it’s a bit of both, but I would be more comfortable if you went with the latter.

Certainly a lack of time and escalating stress levels hampered my ability to really engage with the event.

I went on the Friday with a few vague acquaintances who don’t know I write this stuff and only attend the event to get blind drunk and shout.

However, if any of you blind drunk shouters happen to stumble across this, please don’t assume I think there’s anything wrong with that.

As soon as I enter I am struck by how much better Olympia is than Earls Court. Oooh, look! Sunlight!! Actual architectural character!!!

As soon as I enter I know I am not in the right place mentally to endure this for more than a couple of hours.

The match

I’m not sure why I didn’t connect with GBBF this year. I feel like a Grinch.

I just wasn’t that interested.

A load of bars serving mediocre beers from around the country.

A German/Czech bar that had run out of anything I was excited about.

A US bar serving high-strength, heavily-hopped IPAs out of casks.

I considered just ploughing through some bottles, but then realised I could actually just drink them at home without being surrounded by cunts in novelty hats and therefore have a much better time.

So I bought every Deschutes and Epic beer available and headed toward the exit.

I stopped off at the Belgian/Italian/Other bar to have one for the road. And I’m so glad I did.

Blanche des Honnelles cut through my disillusionment like a claymore to the neck.

I almost stayed.

Instead I just purchased a few bottles of Blanche des Honnelles and left.

27 Aug 2012

Heineken and the London 2012 Olympics

The beer

Do you remember when Heineken withdrew its lower-ABV ‘cold-filtered’ version from the UK and replaced it with the 5% version?

I do, as I can remember thinking ‘finally, we can get as hammered as the mainland Europeans do on this shit’.

Which is a weird thing to think. If you think about it.

Anyway, I can remember banging a lot of it. Or can’t, if you catch my drift.

Drunk out of a plastic cup it tastes much as it always has: nondescript, but better than Stella, in the way that Shania Twain is ‘better’ than Celine Dion.

I’d still take it over the ‘Ale’ (shhh, it’s John Smith’s) that’s on offer here.

The event

I love all sport me – increasingly more as a spectator than a participant – so when the world’s grandest sporting event took place a few miles from my house, featuring a load of sports I never get to see because they’re obscure and weird, I got excited.

I went to the boxing on the first day. It was awesome.

I’ve found myself saying awesome quite a lot recently.

I think it’s a self-loathing thing. The more I say it without being truly awestruck, the more I hate myself, the more I chip away at the baggage of the ego and a misguided sense of self.

My seats for the water polo on the last day were so good I almost fell out of my chair and into the pool.

But the event that really captured my imagination was a preliminary round of the weightlifting.

The match

I had nothing to do on a Saturday.

Partner in crime otherwise engaged, brothers in arms called away on alternative missions.

So on the Friday night I relentlessly pursued the goal of a last minute Olympic ticket.

Despondency was the order of the evening, until, at the 11th hour, I secured the all important golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s yard.

Got to the ExCel around lunchtime. Drank a pint of Heineken. £4.60.

Bit bored. Have a sandwich. Drink a pint of Heineken.

More waiting. Have a pint of Heineken. And better get one to have in the arena.

Seats are good. I have the warm glow.

I witness an incredible two hours of human endeavour.

The crowd are unbelievably enthusiastic and support every single athlete in a way that utterly transcends the usual sectarianism in sport.

One dude, I think he may have been Finnish (proper sports journalism right here), fails his first two attempts at a clean and jerk lift that is way off the heaviest weight being lifted.

Even if he is successful, his Olympics ends here and now.

As he comes out for his third attempt the crowd roar louder than they have for the British athlete competing.

The arena is drenched in emotion. The noise lasts longer than it should. I can feel the force of gravity crushing me as chalked hands find their place on the bar.

The clean phase goes well.

The weight rests under the Scandinavian’s chin. I would love to delve into his mind at this point to understand the internal conversations.

Then without warning the snap into the jerk.

His knees look like they will buckle. His arms tremble uncontrollably.

The crowd draws a collective breath, then explodes as one.

The weightlifter straightens himself and stares into the middle distance.

Atlas taking his punishment in defiance of the gods.

Do I care that I’m drinking Heineken? Not really.

If you were expecting some commentary on the monopoly of sponsors and how awful it is that you could only drink Heineken at Olympic venues I’m really sorry.

Not really.

15 Jul 2012

De Struise Black Albert and Frank Ocean's Channel Orange

The beer

I should have sat on this longer.

But how many beers – if you understand the inherent risks of bottling beer – can really be kept for any period of time?

That there is my excuse for cracking this open nine months from purchase.

The most striking thing about Black Albert’s appearance is its head: thin, so removed from white it’s almost red and the slightest hand-twitch introducing a quicksand lacing,

Port, brandy, Baileys – smells of something more alcoholic than beer. Though coffee too, to the extent I’m slightly confused about what time it is.

It’s definitely somewhere between 2am and 6am.

Burnt toast aromas don’t help.

I’m a bit fed up of applauding Belgian beers for hiding high alcohol volumes, but even relatively young, this beer buries 13% so deep it’s beyond comprehension.

Infinite pit.

There is no flavour spike. No brutal booze beatdown.

Just utter smoothness.

If you were to twist my arm to force specificity, I’d allude to toffee and vanilla, and yes, a burnt wine, brandy vibe.

I’d rather you didn’t get physical though. I’m pretty fucking chilled out right now.

The album

I’m an adult. A grown man.

I like RnB.

As in contemporary RnB.

As in Usher, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown et al.

Not in any kind of ironic white middle-class way. Just pure dig it.

I could write essays about the critical paradigm shifts in RnB since the mid 90s.

I could reveal to you the intricate subtleties of a single R Kelly song in a way that would melt your mind.

But I’ve always thirsted for RnB to do something more.

Always felt there was rich unexplored territory here, an opportunity to uncover something more about modern, urban life that wasn’t, well, so shiny and polished.

Usher’s Climax touched on it.

The Weeknd pretty much got there.

But this, this is something different.

Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape promised much – Novacane is in my eyes one of the best songs to emerge in any genre over the last five years – however it felt a little disjointed, but then I guess that’s why it was a mixtape.

Channel Orange is a different proposition.

I’m not going to review it here, give you a potted history of Frank Ocean or otherwise do what a thousand music journos will do.

I will simply explain my reaction.

Sometimes I hear music that tonally and compositionally instantly connects with me.

I fear this music. I am suspicious of it.

Nothing should be that easy.

Usually, eventually, I come around to loving what my gut instinct told me I should.

Not with Channel Orange.

From the moment the strings kicked off Thinkin Bout You I knew this was it.

This is what I’d been waiting for. A thirst satiated. A hunger satisfied.

I keep getting stuck on moments on the album, but the nine-minute-plus pinnacle Pyramids expresses precisely what it is I love about this album – I have listened to it on loop for literally hours.

Particularly the section from 4.26 onwards.

Got my incredulous face on.

The match

This match is about potential.

And how satisfying it is when someone or something fulfils it.

Frank Ocean has not just fulfilled it, he’s surpassed it by light years.

What I love about what he’s done is the ambition that he’s expressed.

It’s gone beyond what I could conceive. This is a key moment in 21st century music for me.

When will beer’s key, paradigm-shifting, 21st century moment happen?

That same insatiable thirst I have for RnB to do something exceptional exists in my appreciation of beer.

I hear whispers on the wind that some people consider De Struise to have something of the The Emperor's New Clothes about them.

Those people have clearly never sampled Pannepot or Black Albert. And are idiots.

I knew Pannepot was good,

I had no idea Black Albert was so deserving of the beer geek hype that surrounds it.

It’s utterly, unashamedly incredible.

I could drink it every day and ruin my life.

It fulfils its potential.

As good as it is, it’s not the moment for beer.

When will it come? Or have I missed it?

14 Jul 2012

Oppigårds Single Hop Ale and Lund

The beer

The United Nations Single Hop Showcase Educational Programme (UNSHSEP), mandated at the 2005 World Summit, has only really begun to gain traction among member states over the last few years.

The UK is a global leader in the activation of the Programme, with both relatively new market entrants and established players now supporting the initiative.

While I applaud the sentiment of the Programme – to educate the world's palate and champion the hop crop – I can't help but feel divided by its outcomes.

I struggle to remember the last time I went to an Indian restaurant and asked for a single spice jalfrezi.

My hope is that this analogy resonates and I don't have to try and pretend I have a clue about what I'm talking about.

Just nod, in a kind of knowing way, and pretend you're on my wavelength. 

Maybe tap your temple with your finger. The one you point with. Finger, not temple.

Ignoring all the above nonsense, I'm extremely glad Oppigårds Single Hop Ale exists.

A block of unremarkable (to these jaded eyes) pale orange, it's difficult to know what to expect.

Well, that is unless you've done the obvious thing – which is to read the label and find out what the single hop is.

The discovery that it's Styrian Goldings is a little disarming.

That's not very rock and roll now is it? That's not what the young people are into nowadays, what with all their Walkymans and their X-Station 2s, is it eh?

Any thoughts of tedium are instantly dissipated the moment you realise you're sniffing an apple crumble straight from the oven.

Any assumptions of banality are smashed into microscopic pieces when those aromas are carried through into the flavour and balanced outrageously well by a squeeze of lemon juice.

Charming and eminently appealing.

Makes sense – this beer was inspired by a visit to England.

The small city

Cities, towns, villages, hamlets, fields, parks, meadows.

Places occupy as much mind space as they do physical.

What I mean by this is this: your conception of, and connection to, a place is as important as its actual existence in the world.

Actually what I mean is my conception of, and connection to, a place is as important to me as its actual existence in the world.

I engage with spaces – from the vastness of mountain ranges to intimate corners of rooms – in a way I don't really understand, but that I know is distinct and different from the way I comprehend other stuff in the universe.

I'm increasingly bewildered by the unique circumstances that take me to places that would probably not even make the wishlist of a seasoned traveller.

See Salt Lake City, for instance.

Without wanting to do it a disservice, Lund is one of those places.

Stars have aligned to bring me to this small university city in southern Sweden.

And I'm glad they did, because it's undoubtedly both charming and sophisticated – a bit like a Scandi Cambridge, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Also, The Bishops Arms has a branch here.

The match

This post is as much about the Swedish beer scene as it is about Oppigårds Single Hop Ale and Lund.

The reason that I've pulled out this particular match is simply that this was the stand out beer on my trip, and it was purchased from the Systembolaget in Lund – an outlet that combined an exceptional selection of Swedish craft beer with attentive, knowledgeable customer service.

Reykjavik's Vínbúð has a lot to learn.

I guess it's against this backdrop of state alcohol regulation that I want to applaud Sweden's thriving, vibrant beer scene.

It gives me hope that whatever the beer duty escalator throws at us here in the UK, good beer will out.

It'll find a way.