I am happy to report that 27 folks have signed up as members without privileges (MWPs) with the North American Branch of the National Good Beer Blog Mapping Service, GIS Division. But I am a bit confused as to the meaning of the great wasteland of membership that is the Prairies. It is true that here in the near north, I do not have much access to the ales of Saskatchewan, Wyoming or Oklahoma and so can't write about them. But surely there are readers out there who can fill in the gaps. Have a look below and see what is out there that you can add to the unfolding story hereabouts. You can send any tips and stories to this blog's gmail account.
A few weeks ago I received a free review copy of Alcoholica Esoterica by Ian Lender sent to me by Yen Cheong of Penguin Books in New York. I must say one of the unexpected up sides of blogging has been the wee free gifties that come along and this one is no different.
This book is not the sort I might run out and buy for myself. I tend towards the weighter tomes but the fact that my article for the Journal of Culture and Brewing [ISSN 1715-7811] entitled "One Beer Lover's Library" remains unfinished is some testamony to the state of the collection. So I was quite happy to find this lighter entertaining sort of book come in the mail to see what it might be like.
In one sense it is like a 264 page Hallmark card celebrating dypsomania - all drink stories are good for a laugh. And in the cause of entertainment, some liberty is taken with detail. Organized largely according to category of drink, we get a brief history of beer or rum or champaign at the outset of each chapter. Beer's history is covered in just over a dozen shortish pages so leaps abound and lines are drawn like the one at around 1100 AD between the age of the alewife and the monk as brewer even though household brewing by women really was only stopped by the advent of commercial brewing some 500 years later. But no never mind. The point is that there have been eras and that there have been shifts. What else can you expect in 13 pages? Other than the histories, all is quip and anecdote and quip - like the fact that ten percent of all US rice production goes to beer. No never mind is made by the author that beer should not have a grain of rice in it because this is not a book aimed at the real ale nerd market.
But this is the kind of book you can pick up for 15 seconds or 15 minutes and put down again. No need for a book mark. Pleasantness. It is meant as a companion for a drink or two in company as its plasticized cover might suggest. It would find a good spot next to any bartenders guide in a quieter sort of bar or basement. It would make a good basis for a more wordy Trivial Pursuit challenge or a quiz night in a pub. So if you are looking for a stocking stuffer for someone who has a cocktail shaker and knows how to use it, this might be a good idea. If you are looking for a book for someone who said that they liked the accuracy of detail in Martyn Cornell's last work Beer: The Story of the Pint, maybe not so much.
I picked on of these up a few trips ago. We have visited Cooperstown Brewing Co. which is not in Cooperstown but at a very nice depot next to the operating tourist railway line in the slightly less baseball crazed neighbouring community of Milford. I have liked and not so liked their brews but thought I'd give this one a try - and not just because of the soccer playing dog on the label. That is just a little bonus.
The brew pours a really attractive mahogany with a massive souffle of a beige head on top. Though an upstate NY brown, it is more in the style of a southern English moreish one than a sour northern English one or a hoppy US-style one. There are notes of powdered cocoa, a slight bit of sweet fruit and nuts in the middle and a nice creamy chalky yeasty presence underneath. There is a nicely placed structural use of hops that is really not that bitter all all. Medium bodied. This is likely the best beer I have had by Cooperstown.
With a large student and academic population, I figured out that this could be the goal of a day trip from London – focused on beer, but not exclusively so. So the plan was to catch a few pubs and sample a few rare beers as well as taking in the more famous sights. The ordeal of navigating the London Tube in the morning rush hour was compensated by a very pleasant direct train connection from King's Cross. The ticket was cheap and the direct train took only 45 minutes. I strolled into the city centre from the railway station, and was just in time for a splendid two hour guided walk along with a dozen other tourists. We got to see quite a lot, including the chapel of King's College and the impressive library at Trinity. These walks take place daily throughout the year and with expanded options during the summer – google for Cambridge tourist to find the details. After walking around for several hours in rather cold winter weather, a pint of Black Sheep Bitter and a steak and kidney pudding was just the thing to get some warmth back in my bones. I had lunch at a pub called the Mitre - with slightly warmer weather I would probably have looked around a bit longer. Both the food and the beer were perfectly all right, if not outstanding.
This is an area dominated by the Geene King brewery, but at least some of their pubs stock guest beers from other brewers in addition to their own range. Caldeonian 80 shillings was the Scottish ale available at the Champion of the Thames, an unspoilt pub a few minutes away from the city centre. I won't bore you with my shopping round, but after that I went to the Castle, another Greene King pub. It was very quiet in the afternoon, despite being located on a busy street. It seems like the drinkers here are stuck to the tradition of drinking at lunchtime and in the evening, and not in between. That explains why so many pubs still close for a few hours between sessions.
The real gem of my day in Cambridge was the Live and Let Live. A real local, and a real free house, too, not being tied to a brewery or pub chain. They had seven real ales and a real cider on tap. I had a pint of Greedy Pike, a splendid bitter from the Nethergate Brewery. Rich nutty taste, very well hopped, with the hops leaving a pleasant dry aftertaste. No blaring music here, just peaceful conversation. This is the English pub we all would want tucked away down at the end of our road. I have to add that I would never have found this without the help of the CAMRA guide to the pubs in the Cambridge area, available from the beer-inn print mail order shop.
I finished off with a Damson porter with a vedge of Stilton. This is fairy light for a porter. It looks almost pitch black, but when you study it closer you have the purple plum colour shining through a bit. It is the same with the taste of the plums, they are there in the background to make this a really pleasant brew. This porter, from the Burton Bridge brewery, wherever that might be, ought to be bottled and given a wider distribution.
A quiet weekend around here as I was off in central New York state picking up some more beer to keep your insatiable appetite for my views on brews fed...or at least watered. Also quiet because I've been muttering under my breath about another digital camera that has died on me. For the short term I will be being a little creative on the visuals. Like today with the brewery's logo for Hop Wallop Ale from Victory Brewing in Dowington, Pennsylvania.
I picked this up at the ever reliable and interesting Finger Lake Beverage Center in Ithaca New York whose selection of products on the shelf is quite stunning. I was asked by the staff which shops I would be hitting while south of the border and I said just theirs as I have yet to run out of things to write about. I really have not looked at their German or UK stock and I hardly had the nerve to go too heavily into the Belgians - though I picked up a few Christmassy ones for a month from now. I did ask if they had any Victory Storm King Imperial Stout and was told, no, but that the "Hop Wallop" was in.
Well, I am not one to see that one door opening usually means another closes...or...whatever...but I was quite impressed with this brew - especially its label. And not for Yosimite Sam or whatever they are calling the old miner guy but the style "very hoppy ale". This is quite a relief. Not an IPA or a double IPA or an ESB or one of the other structured and recognized style but simply "very hoppy ale". Not even VHA. When you look at the ingredients this level of heresy goes deep: an 8.5% with imported german malts and american whole flowers in a pale ale. Sounds simple enough but what is it? Too hoppy for Kölsche, too Teutonic for best bitter, too pale and light for an India Pale Ale.
This ale pours golden straw with a snow white head. I imaigine it wouldn't be that different from a Canadian macro ale if I had one around to compare it with. On the mouth there is no doubt it is not with a cream, hop and heat in quick succession and a long drying finish. It is a spectacularly well made brew hiding the level of 8.5% better than maybe any other ale I have tried. The malt is slightly sweet, some notes of pear juice and grainy in the style of a real pale ale. There is no raisiny crystal malt or notes of other roastier malts added for texture and complexity. This is simpler ale, showcasing a large body of hops over plain bread-crusty barley. The hops are green and then citrus and then spiced in clear sequence. Only then the heat comes through opening and sustaining along a long drifting conclusion.
Loverly. 98% of BAers approve but those who do not find a pineapple smell.
Myrick the Asiapundit and one of our corrspondents from China has a post up about the role China's oldest brewer, Harbin Beer, is playing in the disaster in that city. Harbin's river and water supply has been contaminated with benzene but the brewery has deep wells and bottling facilities which have been brought into production to aid the citizenry. The same capacity for brewers to supply safe water has been seen this year in Sri Lanka and, I believe, New Orleans as well.
Just a note on a vanity of mine...
Please vote for both this here A Good Beer Blog and our sister station Gen X at 40 at the Canadian Blog awards. I think both are up for best blog - which risks splitting the vote and letting the mighty Flea sneak through. We of the beery set are up for best group blog and best culture blog and the Tantrama City posts from Gen X at 40 are up for best series. This is a two round competition with the top five in each going on.
As I crave shallow adoration this is the perfect fit for me.
I really do not know about the move to 24 hour open all day and all of the night drinking in England. The BBC has a good article this morning on the debate:
Shadow culture secretary Theresa May... said it was of "great concern" that a "significant number, if not a majority" of premises that would have 24-hour drinking were supermarkets and petrol stations, which she said were often frequented by underage drinkers. She concluded that the change "will lead to more disorder", adding that "government ministers have accepted that there will be more crime as a result of these laws".While it is very difficult to observe one culture's point of view on the drink and I am not one to race to the line up under the sign that says "prudes", there is an aspect to this which is beyond personal liberty that seems to be is entirely abandoning what I would think would be the limits of prudent management given what alcohol actually does. Do you really need drinking at supermarkets and petrol stations? And who needs a "social life" at 4 am or 9 am? Is the teen aged clerk trained to cut the guy off at the gas station at 7:45 am before he gets in the car?
But Mark Hastings from the British Beer and Pub Association welcomed the changes. He said: "We've been saying for a long time that the result of this change would be a relatively modest increase in overall licensing hours, that 24-hour opening was an urban myth, and certainly 24-hour drinking would be an urban myth. What we're actually seeing is that at last in this country adults are going to be treated like grown-ups and given a little bit of choice about having a social life beyond 11 o'clock at night."
Your comments would be interesting on this one.