Whoever said brewing was romantic? Perhaps it’s the notion of brewing that’s romantic as opposed to the reality, in the same way we think of warfare as being ceaseless carnage where in fact those who have seen warfare suggest that it’s mainly boredom leavened with moments of pure fear and pain. And so looking at this photograph on a cold November morning in 2005, we can see Brasserie de Saint-Sylvestre, which makes one of the most memorable beers in Europe, Trois Mont, a beautiful and elegant beer that I have drank deeply of for many years. It’s a boring imagine, wet tarmac, red brick, metal tanks, steam from that morning’s boil while I suppose the sight of the local church at the end of the street does add some romance, in the sense of community. On the other hand, perhaps the snap of some of the brewing equipment does have a certain resonance in that envelope of feeling that I like to call my soul; it’s a vision of industry, a vision of intent, a vision of part of the journey that Trois Monts makes before it ends up in the glass. Some perhaps brewing is romantic after all.
Sunday, 19 June 2016
Saturday, 4 June 2016
I’d forgotten about bitter, forgotten about that citrusy-slow build of sweetness, the words of toffee and hop spice, the crosstown traffic, the blistering bitterness, the dryness, the siren call of English hops, the warp and waft of the raw materials, the full body, its common touch (at which I have unforgivably sneered), the monstrosity, the leviathan, the well water hoisted, the sheer sheerness of it all. And as I delved further and further into my glass of Gadds No 3 I realised how much I’d forgotten about bitter and how much I had missed it.
Monday, 30 May 2016
Occasionally, sometimes, when there is an r in the month or when there is a moon that is suggestive of a time I never really knew, I find myself wishing I’d never put my head (or was it my nose?) into that first sack of hops. That I had never been beguiled and bested by the flurry of aromatics emerging out of the sack, the rough, textured Hessian sack into which a cluster and concentration of dried hops were packed, squeezed and suffocated into, expressing their individual identities cone by cone. Was it at Moor Brewery in late 1996 when I was writing my first piece for What’s Brewing? Or perhaps, ironically, given what the brewery was best known for, Highgate Brewery in 1997? I can’t remember, but all I do have a certainty about is that from this moment (of which I have little recollection) I was possessed of a passion for the aroma of hops, not a love as that is something for life, but a passion, a lust perhaps, a kindness and a benevolence towards the aromatics that hops bring to my sensorial world. Since that time I have sniffed my way around a world of hop sacks (and even crushed up hop pellets in order to smash up the aromatics and let them play their way to my brain).
I thought of this journey, this Jedi-like awakening as I stood in the brewery at Redwell on Saturday morning, while Dave Jones, the head brewer, worked out the hop ratio for a beer he was brewing called Hop Rocket. Chinook was one of the varieties engaged, Centennial perhaps and I stuck my nose into the container that was holding the first wave of hops. The aroma was green, chive-like, tropically fruity, pungent, musky even. We discussed hops, we discussed malt and what malt could do, we discussed beer and coffee beans and like a circle we kept coming back to hops. ‘Try this,’ and I was given Bullards’ Summer Ale, which is also brewed here. Whatever your thoughts on a brewery buying the name of a long gone brewery and brewing beers with their name attached to them and with little link with what the beers tasted like (I think British brewers are confident enough now to be able to celebrate the past, their forebears, those that came before them and besides as Jeff Alworth here argues maybe not everything in the past was good), I found this beer to be exemplary: juicy and bursting with flavour, with the kind of bitter dry finish that clangs away with the insistence of a warning bell. And once again I was drawn to the persistence of the hop sack and its influence on my senses. Oh how I do love the hop sack but sometimes, just sometimes, I have doubts on whether it was a good move on that long distant day when I let myself be led to the hop sack.
Monday, 23 May 2016
I could be this. I could be that. I could be this. And that. Could I do this, could I do that? Could have been a contender. Could have scored that goal, ran that line, made that hit, smashed that ball. Could have left that drink, could have gone home. Could have grabbed the last bus. Could have called a taxi. Could have left the pub when I said I would. Could have joined the forces. Could have worked harder at school. Could have thought before opening my mouth. Could have run for the bus. Could have married her. Could have called my father more. Could have learnt how to speak French. Could have learnt how to say goodbye. Could have learnt how to say hello. Could have turned a blind eye. Could have left the island. Could have pined. Could have wined and dined and could have refined the argument (but I didn’t). Could have made this beer, could have sold this brewery, could have kept this worker, could have spoilt, could have soiled, could have toiled, could have boiled. Would I have sold the brewery? I would sell the brewery. The brewery could. Could have knelt and spelt and felt my way towards the future, the couture that would hold me, that would gild and gold me. Could have. Could have whirled around the world. Could have whirled and whirled until the world came round to me, but instead. Instead. I am the man who sold a world to bring the world in my whirl. Could/can/will you forgive me?
Friday, 13 May 2016
|Much as I love this beer |
I doubt I could have
matched Maurice Healey
in a boozing contest
‘Lager seems to owe its otherness to the method of its fermentation. When after the last war I was trying to get beer for the troops in Germany I got one letter which spoke of “our by-a-special-process-top-and-bottom-fermented-beer.’ I felt it must be good with a description like that; and I ordered a consignment. It was good. English beer, on the other hand, is apparently only fermented form below. Also, hops are supposed to play a large part in English beer; I do not think that lager contains hops, but it usually betrays the presence of more than a touch of garlic. I know of no scientific reason why lager should demand icing to be served in perfection, while English draught beer is undoubtedly harmed if its temperature is brought down to anything below what would be described as coo. Our beers are more potent, also; ‘One over the right’ is a phrase to indicate drunkenness, whereas I have myself put away 31 litres of German lager in one twenty-four hours, without being conscious of any evil effect. I may add that this statement so shocked the editor of The Listener that he twice cut it out of my contributions to a teetotal controversy in the columns of his paper. But there is really nothing to it. The late Father Tom Finlay, one of the wisest of men, once told me that when he as a young Jesuit went to Munich to pursue his studies, the Master of Novices addressed the young arrivals in friendly warning: ‘You will like our beer,’ he said; ‘and you will perhaps be tempted to drink more of it than is good for you, not knowing its powers. Well, I would counsel you to set yourself a limit, and not to exceed that. You may not know what limit to set yourselves; my own limit is 17 litres a day, if that will serve you as a guide.’ So I think that a tourist on holiday at a more mature age need not be ashamed of having merely doubled this minimum.’
Monday, 4 April 2016
On my desk as I type, a bottle of Cloudwater’s Aus Hopfen Weisse, just finished. It was juicy and tropically fruity, full of passion fruit and banana, plus a peppery spiciness and a grown up lemon-brushed bitterness in the finish; a fascinating beer that managed to hold my attention all the way down the glass. Later on, I will take myself down to The Bridge Inn, dog in tow, and order a pint of Punk IPA, whose tropical fruit lushness (lychees and papaya) and malt sweetness contrasts with an almost Bachian counter-pint to the buzz-saw bitterness on the finish. If I have time I might also have a pint of Jaipur, whose lusciousness and lubriciousness puts me in mind of TS Eliot’s lines at the start of the fifth part of Little Gidding, What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning.
Three great beers, gustatory in their joy, whole-hearted in the way they splash and spring about on the palate, enablers of taste and tailored to fun, enjoyment, consideration and a beseechment to a life well led. Oh, and for those who care about such things, one is served from a bottle, another is keg, and the final one is cask. As if it really matters.
Also on my desk, newly arrived in the post, still smelling of the printers (that fresh, brand new aroma that must be partly paper and partly the glossy, wet umami of ink), a size somewhere between A5 and A4, with a cover that sports a grid of colour photos and images pertaining to beer, is something from CAMRA called Shaping the Future. As everything is a project these days, it’s called the Revitalisation Project, a review, an exercise, a download of thought on the way CAMRA is going in during a time zone of beers that demand the attention and the attrition a man walking into a pub (unless of course it was a Belgian pub) in the 1990s would have thought a purity of fantasy and fancy.
From my limited understanding it’s all about where CAMRA goes now. Does it embrace all beers or remain what it set out to do when it started — promote and defend cask-conditioned beer. Does saving pubs fit in and other things?
To be honest, I’ve been as enervated by the announcement of this review as much as the whole EU referendum circus — bored and not really bothered. So why write anything? I suppose as a member, contributor to the excellent Beer magazine and CAMRA Books author, I should try and articulate something about it all, but the motivation is not there. I suppose I should have a look at the website and fill in the survey in the same way that I will drag myself down to the polling booth on June 23 or whenever it is (it was hammered into me when growing up one should always vote, suffragettes etc) and vote, but as the three beers in the first paragraph demonstrate, I’ve long stopped worrying where my beer comes from, whether its makers designate it craft, cask, bottle-conditioned, chill-filtered, pasteurised (well maybe not in this instance), or if it is served in a gourd or from the polished skull of a captured Frankish knight. Mind you, I still harbour a dislike for handled glasses and nonics, which are the work of modern-day devils with the aesthetics of the man who designed the cardigan.
But to get back to the project that CAMRA is putting forward, good luck to them and good luck to those who have long geeked off in a different direction. I’m just going to have a beer and think and talk and write about what it tastes like, what it does to my life, how it accompanies Beethoven, Eliot, a game of rugby or football, a conversation with a friend or a farewell to a friend or just maybe a moment of transcendence; how it props up an economy, how it defines a region, a district, a country, a way in which one lives a life; how it conducts itself in the presence of food and how it looks when it’s spilt on the floor and lapped up by a dog. And maybe that’s what my future is shaped like.
Wednesday, 16 March 2016
It’s a beer that reminds me of a mint chocolate, an After Eight perhaps, or maybe a mint-flavoured Aero. It’s minty but not gormless in the way the mint flavour comes through. There’s a smoothness, a spiciness, a childishness, a warmth and a swarm of thoughts produced by this beer that I’m drinking at the Barcelona Beer Festival, not long before I chair a tasting and conversation about cask and keg with Brian from Stillwater Brewery and Joe, head brewer of Garage, which is based in this city of cities. The beer? Oh it’s from Brooklyn and something like 9.5 or 9.7%. It’s called Old Fashioned Traditional or something like that and I actually rather like it but the co-founder of Garage, James Welsh, doesn’t. He pulls a face and turns down another sip. Still there are plenty of other great beers in this festival, which is held in part of the old boatyards, where Philip of Spain (he of the singed beard) built the Armada apparently. Up at the front of the vast arched space, on a stage, a young guy in braces, continually updated a massive blackboard of beers and rung a bell whenever a new one went up — expectant faces wait for this bell as if it was a warning from the nave of beer awareness.
Then we went back to Garage’s bar, where at the back a shining brewery and a handful of barrels announced their intention. This time I had the Pale Ale, which had the assertive savoury scent and sensuality of its American hops. This was a beer that said: here I am and here I am to please you, which it did. And while we drank and talked, there was one name that hung over us, especially as it had been written on a blackboard at the back of the bar: Steve Huxley, a Liverpudlian who had settled in Spain years ago and set up a brewing school and some people call him the godfather of Spanish craft beer and as you can see from the photograph above he is highly revered and mightily missed. He died several months ago. I wish I’d met him.
I’ve always loved Barcelona (even though its football team seem to love putting my football team to the sword regularly). It’s a city in which I have always felt at ease, a place that is cool without being off-putting, that has wonderful food (I adore that market off the Ramblas) and architecture and now it seems to be a possibility that it might become a beer city. At the festival, which had crowds queuing to get in, there was a mixture of people, young, old, male, female, families, serious geeks, lads on the craft lash, and the odd brewer; I visited several bars, including Kaelderkold, not far from the Erotic Museum on the Ramblas, a narrow, wasp-waisted space that was holding a tap takeover by Garage on the Friday night. A babble of voices, all languages, beers being poured with a smile, a rock’n’roll sensibility, a blackboard of beers that included Garage’s Merlot Sour, which was gently sour and tart, the ghost of a wine barrel haunting the glass (and let us not forget Napar as well).