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.

7 Jul 2012

Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada Life & Limb and Euro 2012

The beer

There is an intense darkness about Life & Limb, but one that stops just short of black.

Clarity exists here too, but it is a solid, impenetrable, polished sheen rather than anything to do with translucence.

It doesn’t seem possible that any light could come from something so impassable, but bubbling beige froth is summoned somewhere from its depths.

Leaning in closer, vanilla pod scents and booze vapours evoke blurred memories of something I can’t quite make out in my mind’s eye.

Probably for the best.

An indistinct citrus swirl emerges, akin to a section of the aroma you get from a coffee they call bright.

Damp wood chip too, like walking through a forest in the rain.

I steel myself for a brutal alcohol mouth burn, but it never comes.

Instead there’s a caress of caramel sweetness.

I detect a dash of lime, feeling happy about the connection between smell and flavour.

A more overt presence is maple syrup, and it works brilliantly. No gimmicks here.

The finish is like a well-oaked Chardonnay.

I sense an underlying theme of wood in this beer that I hope hasn’t been planted in my mind by the label.

I walked into this beer having not read anything about it. I leave it feeling informed about its greatness.

The football tournament

There were two clear camps during Euro 2012: those who were irritated by its presence (posh people and nerds) and those who are suffering from a savage comedown now it’s over, falling forever down a pit of infinite despair, simply going through the motions of life like everything is okay when it’s definitely not, asking why the universe would show you something so incomprehensibly beautiful and then rip it from your grasp (me).

I think it was one of the best international tournaments in my lifetime. It’s up there for me with Italia 90 and USA 94.

But maybe that’s because the 2010 World Cup was such a damp squib. This was just contrast

Maybe there could have been more goals, but I can forgo the need for net busters when a tournament produces as many moments that will be forever imprinted on football history, that will be talked about when I am an old man, as this one did.

Shevchenko’s brace bringing joy to a nation.

Pirlo’s sublime majesty.

Mario’s semi final.

Carroll’s brutal elegance reminding everyone that old fashioned English centre forward play still has a place in the modern game.

Spain cementing their place as the undisputed best international team of all time, laughing in the face of the ‘boring’ haters.

Keane being as psychotic as a pundit as he ever was as a player (though ITV coverage can generally suck out).

The match

I could have undertaken some cheesy as fuck beer and, er, match matching throughout this tournament.

"Ooh, I’m watching Italy versus Germany, why don’t I have an Italian beer then a German beer?!?!?"

Get the fuck away from me.

That shit is so forced.

And deeply unlikely to bring about any truly great beer moment.

I decided early on I was just going to drink good beer throughout the tournament, with no thought to how it related to the game I was watching.

Pure sensory indulgence.

Nods must be given to some other standouts –Brasserie de Jandrain-Jandrenouille V Cense and Duvel Tripel Hop 2010 in particular – but Life & Limb is the beer that I will forever associate with Euro 2012.

Because in the moment I was drinking it, watching the England-Sweden game, I felt like I was 9 years old again.

Albeit with beer replacing Ribena and slight inebriation supplanting a sugar high.

How long till the Olympics again?