The Real Beer Blog has caught my eye this morning. It appears to have been brought into this world of woe on 23 March 2005. A mere pup but a great start.
So, I am sent to the LCBO the other day in search of a flask o' plonk and I am thinking how useless the organizations' beer policies are as they appear to have stopped even providing their quarterly new seasonal selections. The last time new beers showed up was in late November. Sad state of affairs for the biggest procurer of drinks in the world.
Happy was the lad, then, who came across these two examples of the Belgian style gueuze, which has been described as follows:
Gueuze - a word derived from gueux, or begger - is a blend of lambics of different ages, bottled with a champaign-type cork to undergo a second fermentation. It ages well.Miachael Jackson in the first edition of his World Guide to Beer describes lambics as follows:"Beers of the World" by G. Delos (pub: CLB, 1994) at page 82
These spontaneously fermenting beers are produced by traditional methods in only a very limited area...called Payottenland, and its atmosphere is held to contain micro-organisms which promote the fermentation of beer without the assistance of the brewer. (at p.117)So they are rightly called "wild beers". I have never had a gueuze before though I have had a fair number of the fruit lambics like the little raspberry number I reviewed a couple of weeks ago as well as the cherry version called kriek... including one instance with the brew 19 years ago leading one Parisian barkeep to suggest that we Nova Scotians and the lads from Gascony ought to take out discussions out into the street. But I digress.
So a little pitter-patter of excitement welled up when I saw there on the LCBO shelf not one but two examples of gueuze. Apparently not as much excitement as the guy ahead of me who I was told bought 30 or 40 - which, pushing 4 bucks per 375 ml, was a sure sign of dedication. I was familiar with the line Mort Subite by Brouwerij De Keersmaeker to the west of Brussels so I popped it first. It smelled like a late harvest Riesling or Gewurztraminer white wine as I poured. Fresh, light and only 4.5%. It is brightly acidic but not tannic. I expected more of a sparkling beer but it still effervescent. It is like fruit juce without all aspects of the fruitiness - or perhaps sort of a cross between apple juice and orange juice but not in any forefront manner. Despite this fruity zing, the water is quite soft leaving a very moreish mouthfeel. There is a light bit of the oak cask in the finish, some green antiqued hops as well as the barley, wheat and corn. It is incredibily tasty stuff and quite unlike an ale or a lager. Beyond lovery. Beer advocates have trouble with this one but I think you have to consider that Belgians do challenge. Recently, commenting on someone who gave obvious offence taking the defence that they were merely being "ironic" - despite the implication of cynicism that word connotes - I suggested that such a use of irony was not unlike the defence of a brewer of a bad batch claiming "it's not off...it's Belgian!" You have to expect the new and strange from the Belgians and when you do it is wonderful.
So on to the St. Louis by Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck N.V. - the maker of Kasteel quadruple reviewed here last year. It is slightly cloudy and a little bit of an orange tint to the light butterscotch hue. In the mouth it is also fresh but bigger, perhaps sweeter with a drier oaker finish. I could not do better than to repeat the words of Naerhu, a contributor at the beer advocate's reviews on this beer from Osaka Japan:
White fluffy head on any amazing amber body. Light aroma of red fruit, maybe rasberries. Very lightly sour and pretty sweet. I can hardly imagine this to be a gueuze as sweet and friendly as this is. Where as gueuze normally tastes like how a unclean barnyard smells, this is bright and cheerful, zesty and clean. Very enjoyable.That being the case, perhaps these two examples of gueuze do not exemplify the style at all. Any input on this point would be very useful for its own sake as well as comment on the LCBO itself. Have they picked only two easy beers rather than great examples or the ur-gueuze? Are they treating us like gueuze mooks or possible future connoisseurs? Neither had any sediment which does raise questions when it comes to Belgian brews.
Gueuze. We can add more examples as the days turn to months and the months to years.
Some scientific studies just seem more interesting than others:
...new research in the April 2005 issue of Current Anthropology suggests that the story of how the food and drink arrived to the table is just as critical to our understanding of the past as the social behaviors at the table. Since alcoholic beverages were liberally consumed at many of these feasts (often occurring over several days), a sponsor often faced the daunting problem of assembling prodigious amounts of alcohol in the weeks preceding a feast. In this paper, researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara, consider certain traditional methods for making maize beer, barley and emmer wheat beer, rice beer, agave wine, and grape wine from a variety of regions around the world. By exploring the recipes used to make each of these beverages, they demonstrate how details of each drink's manufacture, such as shelf life, plant maturation, and labor crunches, offered challenges and opportunities to sponsors who attempted to organize their mass-production. They argue that "differences in the operational chains of food and beverages helped to shape feasting strategies by presenting both diverse processing challenges and unusual opportunities."I think its about line dancing, shooter bars and the mid-80s but I am not sure.
This is clearly the second worst witte beer I have ever had after the craptacular but generically, expansively called Belgian Witte - the yellow lollipop beer - reviewed last year and available under that link above. Sam Adams White Beer is not so bad that it is foul - it is bad because it barely resembles a witte. No bright citrusy tang of Hoegaarden, no light cloudy colour of Ommegand Witte, no lees upon which it sat or whipped egg head under which it sat like Blanch de Chamblay. It is something like a muddled fruit beer with far too much hop in the profile for a witte. If it is orange in colour, like some beer advocates allege, it is an orange found in an mid-August junior high locker clean out. Yet it is not foul and I never thought of pouring out the bottle.
Beer teaches. At least in the sense that you learn a few things when hunting for beer stories. Consider this latest decree from Vlad Putin:
A ban on consumption of beer in public places came into effect in Russia this month, but no one knows how effectively it can be enforced. President Vladimir Putin ordered the ban following months of parliamentary debates. Supporters of the ban, coming shortly before World Health Day Apr. 7, argue it could help rising alcoholism and indiscipline, particularly among the young. The new law bans consumption of beer in places like recreational parks, sports buildings, educational establishments, medical institutions and public transport. The fine for violation would be the equivalent of 3.50 dollars. Legislation passed in August last year had banned advertisement of beer. But consumption of beer, considered by many to be a soft drink, continues to soar.Compare that to a 110 year old prohibition that continues in part of Green Bay, Wisconsin:
In a city with an image of pubs full of Packer fans enjoying a pint while watching the game, one neighborhood has firmly stayed dry. Not an ounce of alcohol has been legally served in public anywhere in a three mile-by-two mile area on the city's west side where a 110-year-old law still bans the stuff out of fear that saloons might degrade the neighborhood. But area business leaders say the ban has crimped development. They hope voters opt to scratch the booze ban in a referendum Tuesday, when more than 20,000 residents will be asked whether to let restaurants and hotels serve alcohol.Obviously there is a lot of middle ground but it would be interesting to see 50 people from each land dropped into the other.
For as long as I can remember there has been debate about the smallest pub in the UK. For long periods, the Nutshell, in my home town of Bury St Edmunds has be proclaimed as that smallest pub. The other contender, the pretender to the throne, is the Smiths Arms in Dorset. The Nutshell is a timber framed Grade II listed building. The building itself dates back to the 1670's, previously being a newspaper shop, an ironmongers and a greengrocers before becoming a beerhouse in 1873.
The Nutshell is a bit like the Tardis, it appears larger on the inside than the outside. The interior decor is quite something as well. Coins of all nations and cigarette cards adorn the walls. Paper money is stuck to the ceiling, also suspended from the ceiling is a mummified cat. The cat was found behind a wall in a house in a nearby street. In times gone by cats were apparently walled up in houses, when they were built, to ward off evil spirits. You would need quite a number of visits to take in all therein.
Weighing in at 15ft x 7ft, it seats about ten people with room for about another half a dozen standing. After this it becomes all very uncomfortable, or cosy, depending on your point of view. This fine establishment, owned by Greene King, is currently run by Martin, a Goth/Biker type heavily into SciFi, and serving a mean pint of IPA. If you're ever passing through Bury St Edmunds it's on the list of must visit places (along with the Abbey Ruins).
I have had Smithwick's on pushed CO2 tap and think of it as that classic dreary keg ale Dave Line was warning about in the 1970s. In Chapter 11 of Pete Brown's 2003 book Man Walks into a Pub, entitled "Kegs, Casks and the Decline of Bitter" we learn what a kegged beer really is. It is not pretty:
Keg bitter is much more straight forward [than cask-conditioned]. It is filtered, pasturized and chilled, then sealed in a container and pumped up with carbon dioxide to make it more stable and consistent, and to prolong its life, so it stays in drinkable condition for months rather than days. Rather than yeast, it is the added carbondioxide that gives the beer its sparkel, the same as in fizzy pop or carbonated water. It is the stuff you see coming out of most pums on the bar. The keg is pressurized and gas is pumped into it to force the beer up the pipes. Keg bitter is, essentially, no diferent than a supermarket four-pack save for the size of the can.On tap, this fizzy pop of an ale is somewhat sweet, somewhat brown water. I have not had that many and many at all in recent years so I speak from recollection. But filtering removes tasty little particles of real stuff and pasturizing gives it that slightly parboiled feel. Without the yeast a brew like this is something like beer that never quite was.
So it is with some lack of a thrill that I approach the opening of the bottle I have yet to open, having written all of the above. It pours a big foamy head which resolves into large collapsing bubbles rather than a head. The first taste is soft of butterscotch with a dirty bitter edge. Aroma Dupontesque. A cloying taste is left in the mouth. That is about it. It is hard to imagine that 89% of advocatonians give this a thumbs up. It is also hard to imagine that this was made by Guinness.
500 ml bottle at the LCBO for somewhere between 2 and three bucks CND. Buy a Old Speckled Hen instead. If you want an Irish Red, find some Garrison Irish Red Ale from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
I have received a hat from Russia from John and electronica CDs from Electron and now I have received the gift of chutney, savory jam for those not in the know. From the Ale-Fan under his own shop's private label, beer2go. Just dandy with cheddar, an English pale ale and some of Fred's Bread's finest. Treats are good.
I bought the May 2005 issue of All About Beer, published for 25 yeas now out of North Carolina. The picture shown is of an earlier issues as the magazine's web site has not caught up to its current newstand issue. I seem to buy an issue every year or so which is a fair comment on my regard for it. It is an odd mix of ads for imports and reviews of micros with a nod to the macros in both the ads and reviews. It is unfortunately "authoritative" in the sense that a lot of grey haired guys who make money as beer consultants write columns for it. These are guys whose books I have read - and argued with in my mind - as well as Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing whose work I actually enjoy pretty much unreservedly. In this issue's "Letter from the Editor" we are invited to give the magazine our feedback in respose to the return of the publisher to full duty:
Daniel stirs things up wherever he goes, and All About Beer will be no exception. Over the next few issues, look for his passion for the best in beer to spill over these pages. You'll see the magazine move in some new directions. If you feel strongly about your magazine, pick up the phone: here's a publisher who wants to know what you want from All About Beer.Here are some of the things I would suggest without spending on the long distance:
- Ditch some of the "beer gurus." I was a little less than pleased to read a tedious reprint of a 1999 Michael Jackson article on hangovers, especially when it is written mainly about spirits rather than beer. Likewise a column on tasting chocolate and beer in Tokyo (I'll be sure to follow up those helpful hints) in an issue with a long article on beer and chocolate is not particularly good editorial selection. These writers do not in themselves have much to add to the beer fan's understanding after a few experiences with them - their repetoire of reusable adjectives are often quickly spent. A quite embarassing example of this is at page 48 the monthly section called "Beer Talk: World Beers Reviewed" in which plummy banal descriptions are used in the tasting notes such as "picture-perfect pour" or "pours like silk feels" or "the beer world's answer to an Australian syrah?" These are practically meaningless. Charlie Papazian, promoter of homebrewing and self, is the worst offender. Again, Garrett Oliver is the best for sticking to the relevant - words that describe flavour and aroma as well as food partnering.
- Be current. I wrote a review of Man Walks Into Pub in July 2003. Page 58 in a May 2005 issue is a wee bit tardy. Similarly, most stories in the "What's Brewing" section of short news items have already been posted on beer blogs - and they were posted there when you first read them, two months ago.
- Get more focused on the USA. It is too bad that such a large part of the advertising in the magazine, especially up front, is paid for by importing wholesalers rather than micros but that revenue interest does not mean that the readership is interested in yet another central European pilsner. Only a handful of readers will ever follow experiences in Japan or Poland featured in columns. Get into the field. The best of 2004 features too many brews from the same brewers. Very unlikely and it makes me want to cross-reference the ads. That Ommegang is the only New York State brewer represented in either the article on the top beers of 2004 (twice) or the one on 2005 Stouts and Porters (zero) is suspicious as well, the later tainted by its odd "85-89 points mean silver" form of scoring.
- Be intelligent. I can get most information in the magazine on the internet. But the article on US "malt liquor" was extremely well done and a topic I had not read much about before. Likewise, the trade focused revival of canning by smaller brewers was interesting and would likely cause me now to consider buying something interesting in a can if I saw it. Also, Roger Protz's article on changes at Grolsch in the Netherlands was specific and well written, despite the bad HTML that did not get picked up - ì and î appearing around the word "neighbour" in the middle column. A petty thing but compare it to the internet: I paid 5.99 CND for this specific slice of media. That is 15% of a month's total highspeed internet bill.