28 Dec 2011

Pretty Things St Botolph’s Town and Christmas Day

The beer

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project’s story is an interesting one.

Not one that’ll I’ll re-tell here, as they tell it better than I ever could on one of the best, most informative brewery websites I’ve yet to encounter.

I remember there being a little buzz around Dann and Martha’s beers when BeerRitz imported a few cases to the UK this summer.

I noted the name, but on the rare occasion I chanced upon a bottle or two I was always tempted by other choices, being that I was inevitably in a specialist shop, pub or bar that had a dazzling range of beer available.

How I regret that now.

St Botolph’s Town conjures up sweet aromas of toffee, caramel, burnt sugar, treacle and golden syrup.

















Its tan head and impenetrable chestnut body seem to hint at a hidden world.

As I close my eyes and drink, the real magic begins: first muscavado sugar, then dark, dried fruit, into syrupy-cake-like sweetness, followed by a yeast flavour not dissimilar to that of Fuller’s ESB, completed by roast coffee bitterness and just a suggestion of butterscotch.


The day

You didn’t actually think I was going to explain Christmas here did you?















If you’re unsure as to what it’s all about, I would suggest watching two critical documentaries on the subject:  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Scrooged.

That should explain everything you need to know.


The match 

My Christmas Days are all about pure, guilt-free self-indulgence.

Not sure if that’s quite the spirit, but it’s the truth, and it’s the one day of the year I feel I can truly relax.

Clearly, this kind of activity demands great beer.

My line-up this year was pretty exceptional: Stillwater Stateside Saison, 3 Fontenein  Oude Geuze, the traditional Samichlaus and more (I suspect I may have just been a teensy bit over my daily unit allowance).

It was the St Botolph’s Town that stood out though – and not just because the exceptional flavour profile was so evocative of the festive season.

Christmas is all about fantastical tales, and St Botolph’s Town’s story is as compelling as its creators’.

The magical, fairytale aesthetic of Pretty Things adds to the intrigue.

It just felt so right, so celebratory to be drinking this beer on Christmas Day.

But there’s no way I’m waiting twelve months to drink it again. It’s too special for that.

23 Dec 2011

Rodenbach Grand Cru and Golden Pints 2011

The beer

Mahogany brown with a hint of deep maroon , Rodenbach Grand Cru’s effervescence matches my own bubbling excitement whenever I crack open a bottle.

















When those bubbles burst they seem to release a hit of vinegar and apple straight to your brain.

Similar flavours emerge in your mouth, but far from being a cheap sour trick there are layers of complexity here that reward the attentive drinker: tannins, cherry, raspberry and so much more.

Puckering doesn’t even begin to explain how it leaves your mouth feeling.  This beer wants you to know you’ve drunk it.

Pay it attention. It deserves it.


The year in review





















Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer
Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter: my session beer and the greatest example of bitter on the planet.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Fuller’s Bengal Lancer: flying the flag for English-style IPA and repelling all challengers for the crown of world’s finest IPA. When are we going to see it on keg though? #kegbengal 

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Odell IPA: a tropical fruit basket delivered straight to your mouth; the embodiment of all that I love about American IPAs.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Cantillon Zwanze 2011: a special beer on a special day.

Best Overall Beer
Saison Dupont: sublime, complex, refined, magical. Consistently brilliant.

Best Pumpclip or Label
Dupont (everything): restrained, refined elegance and sophistication. Guess it helps having a graphic designer in the family...

Best UK Brewery
Fuller’s: other breweries of their size just would not be this committed to the artisanal craft of brewing utterly incredible beers.

Best Overseas Brewery
Cantillon: beer sorcery in defence of the old ways.

Pub/Bar of the Year
De Garre: if I lead a good life, it’s where I’ll go when I die. And hopefully many more times before then.

Beer Festival of the Year
European Beer Bloggers Conference 2011: okay, not really a festival, but it was a three-day celebration of all that is good in beer for me. See you in Leeds!

Supermarket of the Year
Sainsbury’s: as much Pilsner Urquell, Duvel and Bengal Lancer as I can drink? Oh, go on then.

Independent Retailer of the Year
Kris Wines: an exceptional range that’s reasonably priced.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Des de Moor’s London’s Best Beer Pubs & Bars: it turned me onto the Dog & Bell, so I owe much to this publication.

Best Beer Blog or Website
Beer Lens: capturing the inherent beauty of pubs I see with my eyes but can never quite articulate.

And the winner of the 2011 Award for Best Beer and Life Match 2011 is...
Brooklyn Local 1 and Dog Day Afternoon: just one of those incredible, euphoric moments spent with great beer. An outside shot considering the once-in-a-lifetime experiences I’ve had with beer this year, but it was such simple, effortless perfection that it represents exactly what motivated me to start writing this blog.


The match

I’m finding reflecting on a year of beer therapeutic.

The tart sourness of the Rodenbach Grand Cru is a sharp reminder of how far I’ve come in terms of appreciation of beer over the last 12 months.

As I think about the beers I’ve encountered over the last 12 months, each one is framed by what was happening in my life at the time.

It’s been a year unlike any other for me, one full of the most extreme ups and downs. I’m keen not to trivialise these events by writing about them on what is ostensibly a beer blog.

I’ve needed moments of calm contemplation, and beer has provided the platform for that – much like it’s doing now.

I’m excited about the future, but apprehension dwells somewhere deep within too.

What is certain is that I will continue my pursuit of great beer moments, and rely on them to help me through both the good and bad times.

11 Dec 2011

Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait and 't Brugs Beertje

The beer

I’m not much of a fruit beer drinker.

In fact, I think have may have been avoiding fruit beers for a few years.

Why?

Well, because one of the major factors that set me on my path to beer enlightenment is the ability of expert brewers to create such a vast array of flavours from essentially the same four key ingredients: water, grain, hops and yeast.

Within those parameters they can conjure up pineapple, grapefruit, lime, lemon, mango, banana, apple and so much more – so why introduce actual fruit to the mix?

Isn’t that cheating?

It’s for that reason that I haven’t drunk much kriek.

That, and the fact that, er, cherry beer just seems like a bit of a girl’s drink doesn’t it?

Clearly, I’m an idiot.

As I’ve learnt more about lambic and gueze, I’ve realised that fruit definitely has a role to play.

The time has come.

And what a way to introduce kriek into my life it is.

This 2007 Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait is unbelievably good.

















It might even be better than the 2007 Geuze Mariage Parfait that so defined my last trip to Bruges.

A flash of intense lipstick red illuminates the room as I pour.

The cherry hit on the nose I’m expecting doesn’t come. Cherry aromas are barely detectable.

I’ve been told it’s better to drink krieks fairly young. I may have made a mistake going for the 2007.

As the liquid passes my lips those fears are allayed.

It’s like silky smooth version of Geuze Mariage Parfait, with none of the intense acid spikes of that beer. Christ, it might actually be better!

Then, as it leaves your mouth, it rains cherries.

Not a brutal storm, more a refreshing spring shower that has you tilting your face to the heavens to behold its true glory.

Exquisite.


The café

't Brugs Beertje is possibly the friendliest beer destination in the world.

















It doesn’t quite have the je ne sais quoi of De Garre, but the welcoming warmth more than makes up for that.

The service is simply outstanding.

And it has one of the best beer lists in Europe, if not on the planet. You can just sit and read it for hours, absorbing its glory.

The decor is charming without being twee, interspersed with appealing beer memorabilia.


The match

This is the last night of my Belgium trip.

The highlight has undoubtedly been the Cantillon Public Brewing Session, but this day spent in Bruges has been fantastic, and confirmed just how much I love this special city.

Did I mention I came to Belgium by myself to drink beer?

Some people find that a bit weird. I have friends (honest), I have a fiancé (no lie), but I came here alone.

I thoroughly enjoy the company of others, but like the solitude that solo adventures can bring.

Luckily for me, the aforementioned fiancé is beyond saintly in her understanding of this.

Equally, I have no qualms about drinking alone.

I’m hoping that doesn’t make me some kind of social pariah.

It gives me time to think and slows my hyperactive mind down.

These moments are deeply meditative for me.

I appreciate the gentle murmur of voices around me, but don’t require any interaction.

Pure contemplation.

Just me and Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait, enabling me to give it the appreciation, concentration of thought and respect it deserves.

Allowing me to give it the undivided attention that recognises the labour and imagination that has gone into its conception.

It’s an almost spiritual connection.

Goodbye Bruges. Goodbye Belgium. Until next time.

8 Dec 2011

Tripel van de Garre and Staminee de Garre

The beer

Served in the most stylish, elegant glassware in beer history.

Presented on a small wooden tray draped in lace, accompanied by a few cubes of local cheese.

Fuzzy, off-white head contrasted against fierce orange body. A tiger in a transparent prison.

Even before it gets anywhere near your face, Tripel van de Garre is a joy to behold.

















The closest beer has ever come to art.

Classic Belgian yeast and candi perfumes send a frisson of excitement pulsating through your nervous system.

Taste buds primed, mellow, refined sweetness sweeps into your mouth.

A sublime, dry, wine-like finish almost makes you weep as it slips down your throat, such is its gracefulness.

Its 11% ABV is masterfully hidden – just as it should be – and there’s no alcohol burn.

The house beer.

The definitive example of the style.


The bar

De Garre doesn’t seem to be there the first time you look for it.

















Tucked away down an inconspicuous alley between two confectionery shops in Bruges, when you finally reach your destination, it feels like you’ve boarded the train from platform 9¾ at King's Cross station, found the secret garden, discovered Narnia at the back of a wardrobe and stepped through the looking glass.

There is something magical about places that are hidden.

When you uncover the entrance to this place you feel special, privileged and like something fantastically amazing is about to happen.

And it does.

Ramshackle timbers, decrepit staircases, soothing classical music and a murmuring buzz of friendliness greet you like an old friend.

There is nowhere like Staminee de Garre.


The match

Bruges is drenched in a deep fog tonight.

It makes the city distinctly eerie – still undoubtedly charming, but with an edge of mystery, a sense of sorcery afoot.

Ducking down the alley towards Staminee de Garre fills me with an infantile glee that I haven’t experienced in some time.

Coming in from the cold, I take my seat at an empty table and feel a wave of comfort wash over me.

The house tripel please.

I am Jack’s ultimate definition of relaxed.

Staminee de Garre is a place you can drink in alone without ever feeling awkward. My ultimate definition of a great place to consume great beer.

If I were to open a pub in London, it would be modelled on De Garre; a killer house beer, a decent list and a vibe that is so chilled it’s practically asleep. A dream-like atmosphere that still pulses with human activity.

In my quiet contemplation I ponder whether this kind of establishment could be ported over to my hometown.

Sadly, I don’t think it would work.

My perception is that Londoners don’t tend to drink this way. At tables. Nibbling on cheese. Thinking.

I wish I could drink this way. Every night.

5 Dec 2011

De Struise Westoek X and the De Struise store

The beer

I don’t fully understand how Westoek X came to be.

















From what I gather, it was commissioned by a US importer, who asked the Deca brewery in Woesten-Vleteren to create it, who in turn roped in Urbain Coutteau to aid in its conception.

Whether that makes it a De Struise beer I’m not sure, but the label design is aesthetically similar enough to the rest of the range that I’m going to flatly refuse to change the title of this post.

I do know that I’m glad this beer exists.

Straight from the tap, soothing wet straw and damp earth vapours trigger imagined Belgian-farmhouse memories.

Fluffy and white in the head, deep burnt orange in the body, it entices you in.

Subtle, sweet honey greets you. A gentle, refreshing dryness asks if you want to stay the night. And you do.

And you want still more each time that tender caress leaves your mouth.


The store

Situated on Burg, the smaller of the two main squares in Bruges, the De Struise store nestles inconspicuously among the historic buildings that surround it.



















As well as almost the entire current De Struise bottle range, it has a tall cooler which chills three rotating taps.

There are a couple of seats outside and the counter serves a makeshift micro-bar. Well, it did for me...


The match

Ahhh, Bruges.

Beautiful, enchanting Brugge.

I feel instantly relaxed here after the relative craziness of the Brussels weekend. I kinda feel like I’ve come home.

No, not quite home.

More special than that. But I’ll save that for another post.

I head straight for the De Struise store as soon as I arrive. No map required.

I order a beer and start chatting to David, the gentleman behind the counter.

He’s instantly friendly and genuine. We talk about nothing but beer for 45 minutes. He speaks about his beyond-incredible bottle collection, but I still manage to impress with my Zwanze exploits.

As we move on to discuss the De Struise range I get a bit depressed – I just do not have the physical capability to carry any more beer home following a number of purchases at Cantillon the previous day.

The Black Damnation range is of particular interest.

To some, De Struise might seem like something of a brewing anomaly in Belgium.

It seems to share more in common with the American craft beer scene than Belgium’s rich heritage.

But the quality of their beer suggests otherwise. It’s not just hype – they combine European history with cutting-edge US style to create a canon of wonderfulness.

Along with this Westoek X, Ardmonnik, Tsjeeses and an intense taste-off between various Pannepot Grand Reservas punctuate this trip with glorious flavours.

De Struise, and fellow innovators like De Dolle, ensure Belgium has a future as well as a past.

27 Nov 2011

3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze and Le Bier Circus

The beer

Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen makes my favourite gueuze – the one that’s in the title of this post.

Today I’m drinking it from a bottle that was sealed in December 2000.

















I’ve previously only ever sampled younger versions.

Though ‘younger’ is a relative term here – this Oude Geuze, as it is with similar products from the other HORAL members and traditional gueuze blenders, is a fusion of 1-, 2- and 3-year old lambics.

In order to underline the differences I encountered in the aged version, I’m going to talk generally about 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze now.

Deep apricot in colour, it smells like taking shelter under an oak tree during a summer thunderstorm.

Lemon and lime acidity slaps your tongue awake before gentler, fizzing sherbet sourness takes over.

After that aperitif it’s straight onto the main course: steak with peppercorn sauce.

I’ve never encountered a beer that shares the overtly savoury, spicy meat flavours found here.

As your plates are cleared away, a drying, Champagne-like finish emerges.


The bar

While maybe not having the chic appeal of Moeder Lambic Fontainas, or the charm of A La Bécasse, Le Bier Circus should definitely be on your Brussels beer hitlist.

















The beer list is fantastic, particularly when it comes to aged bottles.

It was quiet when I visited, but I liked that. Slightly off the beaten track, it’s a cool, relaxed vibe that greets you when you enter – particularly appealing when set against the relentless bustle of Brussels city centre.


The match

This post is really just about me documenting my consumption of a 10-yr old version of one of my favourite beers.

Last time I was in Belgium was the first time I drank 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze. It was instantly added to my greatest-of-all-time list.

I shelled out more than €11 for this vintage 375ml bottle, but I would have easily paid double that.

Initially I’m concerned I’ve made an error of judgement. There’s hardly any aroma coming off the beer as I pour. I suspect it may be dead.

But it’s still as effervescent as fuck, so I convince myself everything will be alright.

Then BANG.

That citrus acidity I mentioned? Turn that up to 11! Super spiky and way more punchy than in younger versions.

The meatiness is still present, but it’s softer, more rounded, more melt-in-the-mouth – a bit like slow-cooked or cured meat.

The sparkling dry finish remains as appealing as ever.

I can’t believe the process this beer has undergone in the bottle over the past decade. Rather than mellowing, it’s got more intense and added complexity.

Here’s hoping I age as well as it does.

22 Nov 2011

Cantillon Zwanze 2011 and the Cantillon Public Brewing Session

The beer

Every year since 2008, Cantillon have conducted an experiment.

That experiment is Zwanze.

















This year no bottles were made available for sale.

If you didn’t get to taste it at one of the participating bars (none of which were in the UK) on Zwanze Day 2011 (17 September), the only place to drink it is at the brewery itself.

It pours a pinkish-red with a fizzing white head.

Raspberry and damp soil fumes pulse from the glass.

Once it’s past your lips, the real alchemy begins.

Red grape, berries, oak tannin, freshly-ground black pepper.  Puckering tartness and a delirious finish that fuses summer fruit sweetness with subtle red wine-like flavours.

I have never drunk anything like it. Anything.


The event

Apologies for shattering any visions you may hold of the Cantillon brewery being on an idyllic farmyard in rural Belgium, but it actually resides in a dingy, semi-industrial area of Brussels.

That doesn’t make it any less special.

















The brewery is open to the public all year round, but at the start of their brewing season (they can only brew when ambient temperatures drop to a certain level) they invite people to join them for a Public Brewing Session.

I don’t have much more to add here other than this: if you love Cantillon beers as much as I do (i.e. a lot) I urge you to attend one of these events.


The match

It’s 6.30am on a Saturday morning and the alarm has just gone off in my hotel room in Brussels.

Since 10pm there has been a wall of noise assaulting my eardrums.

Shouting, screaming and weird chanting. At 7am it abruptly stops. Instant silence.

It’s still dark as I emerge bleary-eyed onto the Brussels streets.

There’s broken glass, half-drunk bottles of wine, empty beer cans and shit everywhere. Everywhere.

The only people on the streets are drunken men stumbling into one another. No one else.

I work and play hard in London. I live in a fairly grimy part. Brussels shocks me.

When I walk through the door of Cantillon all the tension and unease brought about by the unsettling night of manic screeching dissipates.

The combination of restorative black coffee, croissant and wood stove does wonders for my fragile state.

It’s busy as I wait for the English tour to start. There are dudes here who are sloping around, clearly drunk. It’s slightly surreal.

The tour itself is incredible. I’ve been to Cantillon before, but to be there when they are actually brewing, in amongst the buzz of the Public Brewing Session is magical.

To watch – and smell – such astounding beer being crafted is a privilege.

My euphoric mood is only slightly tarnished when talk of increasing pressures from health and safety legislators suggests there is a real threat to this enigmatic brewery and the traditions it upholds.

After the tour we get our complimentary beer. I’m drinking Gueuze at 9am. I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the rest of the day. I had thought I’d be here all day watching different elements of the brewing process. But evidently it’s now just about hanging out.

I get chatting to @jonathanmoxey, who was on the tour with me (I was the only person on it from the UK).

He proposes we share a bottle of Saint Lamvinus. I second the motion. And I’m so glad I did.

Once that had been consumed there was only one logical step: Zwanze 2011.

It was unlikely I would ever get another opportunity to try this beer. It had to be now.

Oh how it fulfilled expectations.

I felt like dropping to my knees and pleading to the Cantillon staff and volunteers to release just one bottle to me, but I knew it would be ultimately futile.

And in a way, only being able to drink it here, in this moment, crystallises just how special this beer is and ensures the memory of this perfect experience is preserved.

As I stumble back out into the sunlight, even the Brussels grime cannot harsh my vibe. It’s Zwanze-proof.

20 Nov 2011

Dupont Bons Voeux and Moeder Lambic Fontainas

The beer

Originally given as a gift to their best clients, Dupont’s Bons Voeux is a beer designed to be drunk as you welcome in the New Year.

















However, there is nothing stopping you from enjoying it all year round.

From keg to glass it emerges as a swirl of sumptuous, clouded copper-orange liquid and voluminous white lather.

A gentle carbonation strokes the side of the branded glass.

Hold it under your nose and you’re greeted with orange zest and carrot peel, as if you’ve just ordered a freshly-blended juice from the bar.

Less fresh – but no less appealing – are the wet hay and damp wood aromas.

There’s an immediate sharp, tangerine-like sweetness as you begin to drink, which is swiftly followed up by dustings of black pepper and coriander.

The finish feels like a Dupont signature move: dry, sour and distinctly Belgian.


The bar

Moeder Lambic Fontainas is the most recently opened and larger of the two Moeder Lambic bars in Brussels.

















Enter and you’re greeted with exposed brickwork, wood, steel and low-level lighting. It oozes pure, modern European style.

Forty-plus taps run the length of the bar and an exclusive selection of Cantillon cask beers nestles between the well-stocked fridges.


The match

After leaving A La Bécasse, I head straight to Moeder Lambic Fontinas.

The vibe in here is completely different.

It’s a much younger, trendy crowd and the ambience reflects that. However, it’s still laid back, chilled and instantly inviting.

I take my place at the bar. This will be my spot for the next couple of hours.

The bar itself is at a bit of an odd height in relation to the stool and I’m not immediately comfortable. A quick glance along a bar full of awkward positioning confirms that it’s not just me.

The beer list, somewhat unusually for Belgium, has a decent representation of hard-to-find international beers.

But I’m not here for that.

I’m here for beers like Bons Voeux. On draught. An experience I’m unlikely to have in any other country.

I don’t have to scrutinise the menu any further at this stage. Bang.

As my eyes look up from the page, a barman, sensing the strength of desire for the beer I’m about to order, appears in front of me.

And within a few minutes of entering Moeder Lambic Fontinas I’m drinking one of my favourite beers of all time as fresh as it could possibly be.

A few beers – Cantillon Lambic (cask), De Ranke Saison de Dottignies and Noir de Dottignies (both keg) – and a generous helping of warm bread and pâté later, and I’m thinking about how much I love Belgium (yes, probably in a ‘your my beshtest mate and I fahcking loooove you’ way).

This in the country I’ve spent the most time in outside of the UK.

First it was music that brought me here repeatedly. Now it’s beer. It’s where I got engaged.

My life forever intertwined with this place.

The beer culture in particular blows me away every time and I get a bit depressed when the time to leave it behind approaches.

The knowledge that I’ve got two days of pure, unadulterated Belgian beer indulgence ahead of me fills me with a sense of well-being as I head for the exit.

19 Nov 2011

Timmermans Lambic Doux and A La Bécasse

The beer

The house speciality, the slightly-sweetened Timmermans Lambic Doux, is, according to the menu I’m staring at, a ‘young gueuze, fresh and amber’.

















It’s served to me in a ceramic jug, accompanied by a squat tumbler.

In the glass it looks almost exactly like clear, concentrated apple juice. Pure translucent burnt caramel. The only hint that it’s beer is the exceptionally thin head and occasional bubble.

After a couple of minutes, there is zero carbonation present.

It smells like apple juice too. Not even cider – actual apple juice like you’d get out of a carton.

At this point I’m wondering if my very basic French is even worse than I thought and I have, in fact, ordered apple juice.

Upon tasting, I still doubt my linguistic ability, as a sharp apple hit continues to confuse my brain.

There is, however, enough sour acidity to convince me that only a beer could deliver this range of flavours.


The bar

As with the Cantillon brewery a mile or so away, A La Bécasse seems at odds with the city it inhabits.

















Brussels is full of hustle and bustle, neon lights, fast food and grime (not the music).

Stepping into A La Bécasse is like being transported into a different world.

Full of wooden beams, brass long tables and an authentic antiquity, its charm doesn’t take long to win you over.

The beer list is by no means the most extensive in Brussels, but it has enough classics on it to keep you going.


The match

I'm in Brussels on a Friday evening, ahead of the Cantillon public brewing session the following day.

A La Bécasse wasn’t necessarily on my Brussels beer hitlist, but on the advice of @caskcrusade and @CarsmileSteve I headed there as soon as I’d checked in at my hotel.

And I’m so glad I did.

The place is buzzing, but in a really welcoming, comforting way.

I find a seat and pointlessly examine the menu. I already know what I want: the house lambic and kip kap!

There’s one waiter to about fifty people, but he swiftly acknowledges my presence and swings by after a couple of minutes.

I’m repulsed by gimmicky tourist tricks and can spot them a mile off. The serving of the beer in ceramic jugs doesn’t feel forced. It just seems like the right way to do it here.

The slight spice from the kip kap actually works really well with the beer and offsets some of the sharp sweetness.

I’m not going to lie though; I don’t think this beer is exceptional by any means

It is kinda fun however, and I’m digging the atmosphere here. I’m comfortable and relaxed.

If I drank it anywhere else, I’d probably dismiss it. But here, well, it works.

The absolute definition of a great match.

16 Nov 2011

Brooklyn Cuvée de la Crochet Rouge Riesling and Garrett Oliver

The beer

As far as I can remember – my notes for this are almost entirely covered in mustard and there’s little info online – Brooklyn Cuvée de la Crochet Rouge Riesling is a variation of the superb Local 1, aged on Riesling lees.

















It’s golden in colour, translucent, with little-to-no head and practically zero carbonation.

Along with subtle Belgian muskiness, familiar wine grape odours mix with gentle wood aromas.

The ageing process has resulted in this beer drinking more like wine than beer, but not in a bad way. Not bad at all.

There’s still elements of the bright citrus and slight sourness found in Local 1, but there’s a massive hit of vinous grape and the finish is pure, unadulterated dry Riesling (a wine I quite like).


The man

Garrett Oliver is one of the few genuine beer superstars.





















Brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery, he is enigmatic, talented and a great advocate for beer.

He stands out a like the most stylish sore thumb you’ve ever seen in an industry awash with unfunny beer slogan t-shirts.

At this point I’m trying not to gush too much – fawning fan boy is not a strong look. If you want to know what makes him special, there’s a extensive feature in Edible Brooklyn that I came across a few months ago.

Also, he doesn’t seem to age, which suggests those ‘beer has health benefits’ claims may have some validity.


The match

I’m at The Draft House, one of my favourite SE1 haunts, for the London launch of The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by the man himself.

I've been out of the beer blog loop for a while, but I’m aware there’s been some debate about this book. I’m late to the party, so I’m not going to wade in here with any opinion, particularly as I don’t have the knowledge or the expertise to do so with any authority whatsoever.

One thing Garrett says about the book particularly resonates with me. Again, the mustard-drenched notes prevent an accurate direct quote, but it was along the lines of ‘this book details the things that are happening now in brewing, the things that aren’t written down anywhere else’.

As a brewing industry outsider this felt like the truth.

I’m as thirsty for knowledge about modern brewing practices as I am beer. If details of recent advancements in brewing techniques are either ready available in print or easily accessible online, I’ve yet to come across them.

I am also extremely time poor, so consuming great scientific tomes or even undertaking practical study through brewing is not really an option when all I want is a quickly digestible answer.

Couple that with a memory like a goldfish that renders anything a brewer tells me pointless within a week and you get a man who sometimes struggles to comprehend what goes into creating beer at a granular, contemporary level.

Oral tradition to written history. An important step for any culture.

Garrett also states that the purpose of crafting beer is so that people enjoy consuming it. I’ve questioned whether that should be the case in the past, but it is a good point nonetheless.

And as I enjoy consuming this Brooklyn Cuvée de la Crochet Rouge Riesling I begin to understand this position more.

Garrett has no reason to innovate  like this. He could just churn out the core beers in his range (brilliant as they are) and watch the money pile up.

Instead he opts to do something that pleases me greatly with its complexity of aroma and flavour.

And he's done it with such sophistication that he could never be accused of gimmicky attention-seeking.

A true man of the people.

15 Nov 2011

Bear Republic Racer 5 and Football Manager 2012

The beer

Racer 5 is an American-style IPA.

















It's made by Bear Republic, a Californian brewery.

Underneath a pristine white cloud, golden fogs and orange mists swirl in the glass.

Wafts of caramel-sweetness, Belgian waffle-like in nature, hit your nose as you draw close and the crystal malt performs its duties.

There's very little of the tropical fruit aroma that other west coast IPAs are famous for. Well in this bottle I'm drinking, anyway.

Similarly, the hop character is not as big as I might have expected, not the brutal assault on the tastebuds I had anticipated, but drying nonetheless, offsetting the more dominant, sweeter flavours.

The game

Football Manager 2012 is a life-ruining football management simulator.

















I have no doubt it has been cited in divorce cases and devastated otherwise healthy relationships.

It is dangerously addictive for anyone interested in football.

When you find yourself devoting a lot of thinking space to a game – when you're not actually playing it – you know you're in a bad place.

It should be boring. If you stripped away the graphical interface, it would be a spreadsheet of formulae and cascading numbers. A bit like when Neo comprehends the true nature of the Matrix.

But, oh, what algorithmic beauty!

The match

Football Manger 2012 release day.

The annual internal struggle is upon me again: to buy or not to buy?

The desire is strong. But as a grown man, can I justify the purchase? Can I devote the time that it deserves? Will I devote the time anyway and potentially screw up some actually important stuff in my life?

I hold out for about five minutes and then begin the download. I'm nervous and excited.

Playing Football Manager 2012 is the perfect game to be accompanied by some contemplative beer drinking. You control the pace, it requires a bit of reading and you only need one hand to play it.
At this stage I've given in to pure indulgence, so I figure I need a beer that reflects my state of mind.

Racer 5 ticks the boxes – it looks kinda fun, is of a style I'm likely to dig, and is rare enough in the UK that it feels special and a bit decadent.

I pick my club based on some long-established criteria: lower league club, young squad, potential for growth and a chairman looking to move on. Inevitably this always seems to see me selecting Port Vale. Every year.

I crack open Racer 5 and am initially a little disappointed.

There's not the big hop kick I was looking for and it feels a little thin.

I set about shaping the club in my image. Loan signings and free transfers for key positions, set up a rigorous training regime, refine my tactics and scrutinise my squad to pick out potential stars.

I'm engrossed, and it's a little while before I realise how much I'm actually enjoying Racer 5.

It didn't quite fulfil expectations – I probably need to drink it fresher – but it's sublimely balanced, smooth and satisfying, with enough going on to make it interesting.

Now, if I can only get my team to play football like that...

12 Oct 2011

St Peter’s G-Free and allergies


The beer

It goes without saying that St Peter’s bottles look great.

A brilliant piece of packaging design, they are truly distinctive and ultra-appealing.

I reckon the brewery can probably attribute at least 25% of their sales to the way these bottles look.

G-Free is St Peter’s gluten-free beer.
















It’s pale, straw gold in colour and bright as a button.

Robinson’s orange squash notes, derived from the Amarillo hops, dominate in the aroma department.

It’s sweeter than I expect, slightly oily, with a dry pilsner finish that doesn’t quite cut through and struggles to provide any balance.

Aside from the Amarillo hops and what I presume is a pilsner malt of some sort, the label does not make it clear what the beer is made from.


The allergy

My fiancée is allergic to wheat.














That’s allergic – not intolerant.

And not allergic in a ‘gets-a-bit-bloated’ kinda way, allergic in a ‘life-threatening-anaphylactic-shock’ kinda way.

It’s likely that it’s specifically a protein in wheat that causes the allergic reaction, possibly glutenin – an essential component of gluten (which is a protein composite) – but it’s complicated, and I’ve probably got that wrong (sorry Christina!).

She is not, however, allergic to barley or rye, as the gluten derived from these products presumably doesn’t have the same protein composition. Again, I’m not entirely sure.

Oh, and she’s also similarly allergic to nuts and oats.


The match

As you can imagine, eating out can sometimes be a stressful experience for us.

It’s gotten better over the last couple of years as awareness of the severity of food allergies spreads.

But if we feel a waiter isn’t taking the issue seriously, we’ll walk. It’s really not worth playing fast-and-loose with your life over a meal.

Before I really knew what went into beer, we assumed it was off limits too, especially when we saw gluten-free beers on supermarket shelves.

Now I know that the majority of beer – obviously excluding a number of Belgian varieties and wheat beer (duh) – is produced using just four ingredients (barley, hops, water and yeast), it should be back on the menu, right?

Well, not really, no.

Like the disinterested waiter, the ambiguity and lack of consistency on beer bottle labels when it comes to ingredients means it’s often not worth the risk.

This St Peter’s G-Free beer doesn’t list the ingredients on its label. I find that utterly bizarre.

A quick survey of my cellar reveals that bigger UK and European breweries do flag that their beer ‘Contains barley’ or is ‘Made with wheat’.

However, the smaller UK craft breweries and one huge US craft brewer do not list any ingredients whatsoever on their label, bar the hop varieties used.

Why not?

Do the same labelling laws for food not apply to drinks? Maybe a brewer can help me out on this one...

It’s this lack of clarity that concerns me. Many beers are undoubtedly perfectly fine for my fiancée to drink – but would you risk your life for beer?

I reckon breweries are missing a trick here.

I imagine there are many people in similar situations to us – the fact that there are beers specifically targeting people with food allergies suggests there is demand.

And that demand is just going to grow as more and more people get diagnosed with allergies of this type – which they are.

Most brewers I know are obsessed with precisely controlling what goes into their beer.

Communicating this just makes good business sense.



25 Sep 2011

Mikkeller It’s Alive and Orval


The beer

This is my fourth post about Mikkeller this year.

Though involved in one of my desert island beers, I’m by no means a fanboy.

It’s just that Mikkel makes interesting beers. Beers that people want to talk about. Beers that are easy to write about.

It’s Alive is his interpretation of Orval.














The beer


In my head there’s a complex analogy at work: boxing and beer.

I’m not going to reveal (yet) the ridiculous extent to which I take this, but it’s relevant to this post.

Orval is the greatest heavyweight of all time according to my list. Pound-for-pound I reckon it just outclasses Saison Dupont, which I place at number two.





The match

In keeping with the boxing analogy, this is clearly more match-up than match (can you match beers with beers? I think so).

It’s been inspired by Mikkel’s comments in this interview, around the 27-minute mark, where he indicates that he believes It’s Alive is actually better than Orval.

That sounds like some serious pre-fight trash talk to me, despite displaying a great deal of taste by paying due respect to the champ.

So, with the help of a glamorous assistant, it’s blind-tasting time.

The beers enter the ring one at a time, separate from one another so I can’t compare them side-by-side.

Beer 1 is highly-carbonated and blood orange in colour with an off-white head.

It’s intensely fragrant. Like a girl wearing too much perfume, it clears your nasal passages with its slight astringency and floral notes.

There’s sharp, grape sweetness in the mouth straight away, which is followed up swiftly by an intense sawdust-like dryness.

Beer 2 is lighter in colour – peach-orange but with way more haze than the much brighter first beer.

It’s more subtle on the nose, though raspberry sweetness and damp wood come through strongly.

There’s a similar initial wine-grape sweetness, but it’s subdued and not anywhere near as sharp as its predecessor.

Orange zest contributes to a sherbet sourness that fizzes in the month.  As the bubbles dies down, understated bitterness leaves you thirsting for more.

There’s a clear winner: Beer 2 with a third round knockout.

There’s also no way this test would ever get included in any scientific journal. I know Orval too well by sight, smell and taste – and love it too much – for this experiment to ever be considered fair.

But I was hoping to be surprised, to have my world turned upside down.

However, It’s Alive is like an MP3 version of Orval – compressed, with massive spikes in the high and low end (little bit of chat for you audio geeks out there).

That doesn’t make this challenger a bad beer.

It just means it can’t really mix it with one of the true greats.

21 Sep 2011

Saison Dupont and style


The beer

A genuine, all-time great.

Possibly the greatest of all time.

If you claim to like beer, and even begin to suggest you don’t appreciate Saison Dupont, we will never be friends.
















Why?

Because of its meadow-like, hazy, summer-gold body and whiter-than-white head.

Because it’s a vision, almost impossible to behold...hard to even look upon in its perfection, lest your gaze somehow corrupts its purity.

Farmyard aroma? Horse blanket smell? What does that even mean? Get away from me with that talk. Those things smell like actual shit.

Saison Dupont smells like a freshly-prepared salad – crisp green leaves, some herbs, a bit of spice, a hint of clementine sweetness and a light, lemon-juice dressing.

Manuka honey flavour gives way to effervescent pepper and coriander spiciness before restrained, subtle bitterness smoothes everything out.

A bit of gentle sourness here and there geo-tags the beer – just in case you forget what country it’s representing.

I’m not doing it justice.  Using only the mortal language of man to describe it, no one ever could. Just drink it.
You need to be shown, not told.


The way things are done

Style is hard to define, troublesome to quantify.

Generally, when I think of style, my mind moves quickly to the idea of someone having a personal sense of style.

Some people have it, some people don’t.





















It’s about more than just the clothes you wear. It’s about having a bit of an edge – a distinctive flair – without ever having to try. It’s about never needing to seek approval from anyone ever.

The word also applies to specific methods of expression in the arts: to literature, design, architecture and more.

And, of course, it is intrinsically linked to beer; ever-present in the brewing lexicon since Michael Jackson started dropping science – and probably long before that.


The match

Even before you pop open the bottle, Saison Dupont oozes elegance and sophistication.

No flashy images here – a minimal, typographical design approach is all that’s required.

It’s the essence of understated cool; the perfect blend of heritage and modernity.

It doesn’t try to be one of the best beers in the world, it just is. I want to be seen drinking it because it tells those in the know that I have impeccable taste.

There’s been talk that saison is the new trendy style, the new black (IPA). Good. It’s a style of beer I like.

I’ve had a couple of SS11 saisons that have been very decent. Beers that I would probably pick up again.

None of them have come anywhere near Saison Dupont.

Fashions come and go. Style is forever.

17 Sep 2011

Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait 2007 and Bruges


The beer

Lambics and geuzes (or guezes) are difficult beers.

The flavours created by the unique, spontaneous fermentation are not to everyone’s taste.

But they are to mine.

I’m not going to explain the mysterious art of lambic brewing in this post, but it is truly fascinating.

If you’d like to know more, I’d recommend the HORAL (High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers) website as a starting point.

As I understand it, Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait is a blend of the brewery’s best lambic barrels, as selected by the head brewer himself (someone please correct me if that’s wrong).





















This selection process translates into a glorious example of the style, and a wonderful beer.

It’s hazy, marmalade orange in colour, so the orange zest aroma makes perfect sense.

Once it’s in your mouth tart, grape-like characteristics sweep you towards a dry finish that is not unlike a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (yes, I sometimes drink wine you know).


The place

Bruges is a city in West Flanders, Belgium.
















For 300 years, from the 13th century until the 16th, it was one of the most important trading ports in Europe.

Nowadays, it is mainly tourism that fuels the city’s economy.

The historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and much has been done to preserve the city as it was in its glory days.

It’s beautiful, charming and very pretty without being quaint.

It is also an absolute mecca for beer lovers.


The match

Beer and I went through a bit of a rocky patch in August.

I was working hard on other stuff, and didn’t really have time to give it much attention.

Yeah, I was still drinking it, but it felt like I was just going through the motions, simply consuming tried and tested standards, and not making the effort to seek out anything exciting.

I began to feel a bit disillusioned – did beer really matter that much to me? Is it actually important in my life?

In other words, the relationship had gotten a bit stale. I certainly didn’t feel like writing about it.

It took Bruges to reignite the romance.

The dizzying devotion to beer in this city is almost too much to comprehend.

Beer lists dwarf wine lists in every bar and restaurant.

In the specialist beer joints I found it hard to focus, my eyes scanning vast menus comprised of some of the greatest beers in the world.

Incredulity. Delirium. Joy.

You could be in Bruges for a month, drinking a different beer every waking hour, and still thirst for more.

Many beers could have been included in this match – like the 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze I had at 't Brugs Beertje, or the house Tripel consumed at De Garre, the Westvetleren 8 at Cambrinus, the draft La Trappe Isid’or at Café Rose Red...

But the Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait made the cut because as I was drinking it I had one of those perfect moments that this blog is all about.

A zen-like moment of clarity, calm and unbridled happiness, where the connection between the romanticism of lambic brewing and Bruges became abundantly apparent, and where my passion for beer was rekindled.

Beer is important. And I love it.

11 Aug 2011

Baird Brewing Co. Angry Boy Brown Ale and money


The beer

Chocolate brown with a golden hue and a luxuriant beige head, Angry Boy Brown Ale is brewed by the Baird Brewing Company, which is based in Numazu, Japan.
















Bar a hint of roasted barley, there’s not much in the way of aroma, but any feelings of disappointment are soon forgotten.

Sweet chocolate cereal graininess dances merrily with unexpected grapefruit bitterness to form an unlikely, but incredibly appealing, partnership.

It’s a wonderfully-balanced, exciting take on brown ale.

And the artwork is among the best I’ve ever seen on a beer bottle.


The medium of exchange

Money is weird.

Coins and banknotes have no – or very little – intrinsic value as objects in themselves.




















Vast swathes of it seem to exist only in theoretical form, represented by numbers on screens controlled by complex algorithms that hardly anyone understands.

For such an abstract concept then, it seems to have a disproportionate influence on our lives.

Many people devote a lot of time trying to acquire as much of it as possible. Lots of people worry about not having enough of it to get by. Most people in this country fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

It’s both incredibly important and utterly meaningless at the same time.


The match

I handed over £5.50 for this 360ml bottle of beer.

I would say that’s fairly pricey, but it has been imported from Japan.

Rising fuel costs mean transportation is more expensive. And global commodity prices have generally increased so the cost of producing beer has in turn grown.

Luckily this beer is exceptional, so I’m happy to pay a premium for it. I’d have been less happy if it turned out to be shit.

I guess I have just about enough ‘disposable’ income to justify buying this beer.

But what if I didn’t? I might never have had the opportunity to try it.

‘Boo-fucking-hoo’ I hear you cry.

 However, though it’s not essential to my existence, quality beer is something I’m passionate about.

If it was beyond my financial reach I’d be unhappy.

There are plenty of good beers available for considerably less than £5.50 a bottle, but the cost of all beer has increased over the past few years, and higher VAT, rising duties and worrying inflation rates effectively mean lots of people have taken a pay cut – and therefore don’t have access to even vaguely decent beer anymore.

In these circumstances you can see why 18 Stellas for £6 might seem more attractive to the casual drinker than even £1.80 for a bottle of Pilsner Urquell.

That’s true of many things – you pay for quality. I accept that.

This creates a concern for me though with regard to beer’s function in British society.

I have some outdated romantic notion of beer being the people’s drink, the everyman tipple.

The further we move away from that with expensive craft beer, the more I feel a gnawing sadness (not enough to stop me drinking it though of course).

We can certainly forget about educating the public about good beer if huge chunks of the population are priced out of the sector.

I see it from brewers’ perspectives too. They need to make a living. I would be surprised if any small craft brewery had huge profit margins. Specialist beer pubs, bars, importers and shops probably struggle too.

I don’t have a solution.

I need more beer.

7 Aug 2011

Revelation Cat 3 Year Old Lambic (Laphroaig) and Great British Beer Festival 2011

The beer

Detailed information about Revelation Cat Craft Brewing is thin on the ground.

I know Alex Liberati, owner of Brasserie 4:20, is behind it. I’ve seen the scratchy cat t-shirts adorning the torsos of connoisseurs.

From what it says on (what I assume is) their website, they don’t have a brewery of their own.

Beyond that, I know nothing.

What I do know is that this Revelation Cat 3 Year Old Lambic (Laphroaig) I’m drinking is absolutely stunning.
















Based on its name, I’m assuming this beer is a lambic that’s been aged for three years in Laphroaig casks.

Dusky orange with a slight haze, it smells like sawdust drenched in whisky.

It’s a rollercoaster of a beer, taking you through a range of sour, complex lambic flavours before supplying a peaty, single malt whisky-like finish.

Idiosyncratic doesn’t even come close.


The event

The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) is CAMRA’s flagship event and the biggest beer festival in Britain.



















Its huge selection of beers draws in a surprisingly diverse crowd, from hardcore beer aficionados to people who just think a massive beer festival sounds like a great excuse to get pissed.

Regardless of your opinion of CAMRA, it’s a must-attend event if you’re interested in beer and live in the UK.

There are elements of it that bum me out, like the archaic layout and the crowds of people round the Marston’s bar (why not just go to a pub? You’d be more comfortable), but those things aside it’s a glorious opportunity to get together and celebrate beer.


The match

I’ve spent a good few hours at GBBF.

I’m drinking thirds, so I’ve tasted a wide selection of beers.

I’m primed and ready for the beer that will stand out from the crowd and be my pick for best beer of the festival.

As time goes on nothing seems to surpass the first beer I drink, an unfiltered Matuška Fast Ball 9°, which is a great, great beer, but doesn’t entirely satisfy my lust for something mind-blowing.

That is until Revelation Cat 3 Year Old Lambic (Laphroaig) comes along.

It cuts through the mediocre, distinctly-average beers I’ve been drinking like a white-hot machete through butter.

I take a moment to consider whether this beer is only standing out because of its startling complexity, its bewildering combination of flavours and its sheer insanity when set against the other beers on offer.

Subtlety in beer is something I greatly appreciate – it rewards focus with new, previously unnoticed levels of flavour – but it’s something that is difficult to detect after your palate has been assaulted over the course of a few hours at an event like GBBF.

Is it simply contrast that’s driving my appreciation?

I take another gulp.

Nope, this beer is definitely awesome – in the true sense of that word.

Even now, days later, I thirst intensely for it. The scarcity of information about it just fuels that insatiable desire.

I'm sure I’ve committed some horrific faux pas in the eyes of some people by picking an unusual Italian beer for this match.

However, I'm not sure whether that says more about me or about GBBF.

5 Aug 2011

Fuller’s Bengal Lancer and #IPADay

The beer

Gleaming, polished copper draws me in.

Familiar Fuller’s aroma holds me close. So distinctive: toffee, caramel, honeycomb...iced gingerbread.

Malt sweetness in my mouth too, but cereal grain and spicy, star anise bitterness keep all that in check.

The best English-style IPA there is. Yes, better than White Shield.
















Does being the best English-style IPA there is make Bengal Lancer the best IPA in the world?

Quite possibly.

Fuller’s – I beg of you – please stop viewing this wonderful beer as seasonal ale. It deserves year–round attention.


The trending topic

I’m not quite sure how or why #IPADay exists – and I’m not prepared to even dedicate a cursory Google search to finding out – but kudos to whoever came up with the idea as it has clearly caught on.












It’s utterly ridiculous (when is #BièredeGardeDay?) but it’s just a bit of fun and an excuse to drink beer – the type of cause I can always get behind.


The match

I would imagine the vast majority of people drinking IPAs today will have opted for something big, American and heavily-hopped.

And quite right too – so many exceptional beers fall into this category.

This match is no act of patriotism; it’s just borne out of a desire to express my love for this brilliant beer.

Yeah, I could make some comment about the big, brash hop character of the American IPA versus the subtle spice of the English variation, and how that correlates with national stereotypes, but that’s not needed. Not today.

English-style IPAs will have been underrepresented over the past 24 hours. However, I’ve no need, or desire, to fight their corner.

If you believe you are an IPA connoisseur, and have never tasted Bengal Lancer, you are fooling yourself.

2 Aug 2011

Odell IPA and Doug Odell

The beer

The American-style IPA market is a heavily saturated one.

There are lots of really good beers to be found in this category, but it really takes something to stand out – I can think of 3 or 4 beers that do.

One of them is Odell IPA, particularly when it's available on keg.
















After admiring its vibrant orange appearance, you’re rewarded with an incredible concoction of fresh mango, lychee, pineapple and passion fruit aromas as soon as you get anywhere near it.

The citrusy, orange bitterness is huge and upfront on first taste, but mellows as your palate adjusts.

Alongside a smooth, subtle, cream soda-sweetness, those tropical punch aromas are mirrored in the heady, refreshing mix of flavours.

I get beer blindness whenever I see it on a beer list. I go for it time and time again because I know it will be brilliant.


The brewer

Doug Odell started homebrewing before I was born.

He started Odell Brewing Co in 1989, before I even really knew what beer was.
















90 Shilling, his brewery’s flagship beer, is in my top ten – possibly top five – beers of all time.

He undoubtedly knows what’s up.


The match

I’m at CASK’s first US Meet the Brewer event, featuring Doug Odell.

As soon as I get there I go for a half of Odell IPA. I should have just got a pint. There’s little point in drinking anything else when this beer is around.

Doug gets up to talk.

He keeps it brief, simply thanking the staff at CASK and describing beers as free samples come round, including selections from the oak-aged Woodcut series.

His measured brevity suggests a man who is experienced at dealing with a room full of people who have been drinking beer.

Before I leave, I make a point of saying hello. I attempt not to come across as a fawning fanboy. I’m not sure I’m successful.

We talk briefly and he clues me in to something exciting about one of my favourite beers.

As I make my journey home, any elation I feel is unexpectedly replaced by paranoia and doubt.

Who am I to write about beer? Who am I to judge whether one beer is better than another in the face of such talent?

I know the basics of what goes into making beer, yes, but when I’m party to brewer-to-brewer conversations, I feel like brewing is akin to alchemy, quantum physics...structural engineering even – an arcane mix of science and sorcery that I will never truly understand.

However, I cling to the hope that it’s my acknowledgement of my own inadequacies that allows me to appreciate great beer like Odell IPA in the way that I do.

1 Aug 2011

Oakham Ales Bishops Farewell and Anna Mae’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese

The beer

Let me just get some boring pedantry out of the way: unless there’s some religious event I’m unaware of (The Bidding of Farewell to the Bishops?) shouldn’t there be a possessive apostrophe in ‘Bishops’?

Okay, breathe...relax...onto the beer.
















I doubt that the best way to drink Oakham Ales Bishops Farewell is poured from a cask that has only a picnic blanket to shield it from the beating sun, served in a plastic cup, but no matter – it’s got enough going for it to deal with the conditions.

Pure gold with a fine white head, it’s a generously-hopped ale that makes a lot of sense to be drinking in July in England, delivering just the right balance of meadow, grass-like bitterness and subtle summer fruit pudding flavours.


The southern street food

This is the story of Anna and Tony, who quit their office jobs and went off on a jolly – sorry, I mean ‘research mission’ – to the US, eating their way from LA to Texas.

Inspired by the flavours they discovered, they founded Anna Mae’s Southern Street Food when they got back to London.
















They serve up a focused range of American classics, the likes of which are seriously under-represented in London – and in the rest of the UK I imagine.

Check out Anna Mae’s facebook page to see where they’ll be popping-up next.


The match

I’m at the Southbank Centre for Vintage at Southbank.

There’s a real buzz around all the food stalls, but the queue at Anna Mae’s is the longest.

Today they’re concentrating completely on their take on mac ‘n’ cheese, with a few mouth-watering variations to choose from.

I’d always thought macaroni cheese was an exclusively British concern, but a quick bit of internet research suggests otherwise.

I opt for mac ‘n’ cheese topped with hot dog sausage, chives and BBQ sauce.*

And it’s exquisite.

Gooey, stringy, Monterey Jack cheese-savouriness collides in a perfect explosion of flavours with the sweetness of the BBQ sauce.

Perfectly-cooked pasta provides a carbohydrate counterpoint to the meatiness of the sausage. The chives give it a hint of spice bite that stops the dish feeling too heavy.

I would like a beer to go with this.

I look around in desperation, expecting there to be a wasteland of options. However, unexpectedly, I see three casks lined up almost directly behind me.

Closer inspection reveals names I’m familiar with, one of them being Oakham, so I purchase a pint of Bishops Farewell.

And I’m glad I do, because this premium, hoppy golden ale simultaneously cuts through and augments the wholesome flavours on show in the mac ‘n’ cheese.

Southern street food and English ale work surprisingly well together.

My mind wanders to the other beers I’d like to match Anna Mae’s food with and I’m excited by the range of possibilities.

Here’s hoping they get a licence.

* This combination had a clever name, but it completely escapes me. Hey, I was drinking at lunchtime, I’m excused.