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.