Made it. Fourteen hours door to door to Uncle and Auntie's. Next day? Children down to the pub. Well, a pub. The Holyrood 9A in Edinburgh's Old Town. It's warm. The warmest room so far. Williams Caesar Augustus is a tasty pint. Very full for what would be a light beer at home. Tropical hops, sure, but a good malt backbone balancing them out... well, almost. A venison burger is coming. Half the tables, like ours, have happy kids.
Fabulous news out of England for those few remaining beer drinkers who enjoy the taste of beer:
With much of the harvest already in store, Robin Appel Ltd suggests the low nitrogen levels required by ale brewers have been achieved, with an average of 1.37 – 1.40 per cent against a five-year average of 1.65 per cent. Yields of Maris Otter barley, which normally average two tonnes per acre, look like running at nearer two and a quarter, with good harvests reported from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Cornwall. Maris Otter is winter-sown, and the damp winter and wet May have ensured good yields. A disease-free growing season has meant the highest ever planted area looked the best in years.
Granted, this might not be of much interest to those watching the North American adjunct market, those day trading in the cherry syrup markets and watching the after hours stemware trading but this should be good news, shouldn't it? I remember my first bag of Maris Otter like it was yesterday. While other pale malts smelled of grain, this was all summer fields and scything maidens. We cross the big water soon heading to hang out with family for a bit on the sunny south shore of the Firth of Forth. While there, I hope to avoid all contact with DIPAs, miss every bourbon barreled apricot saison and dodge all the pop star brewers. But, with any luck, there shall be the fermented steepings of Maris Otter with nary a cicerone in sight. Can it be done?
And, just to be clear, I have no plans whatsoever to visit the beer can tree of Aberdeen.
Some fret in recent days again about the number of US breweries as Stan summarizes neatly in his regular Monday links post. I don't find the discussion that vital given the source of the data so my only contribution was left with Mr B:
I would be more interested in craft sector total product stats than the number of breweries given the advent of the nano. Another 1,000 nanos will have little effect compared to ten more big craft branch.
Because we have no independent consumer-based interest group in North American and very little by the way of independent craft brewing business journalism, these sorts of numbers - 3,000 breweries! 20% of the market by 2020 for craft! - is all industry marketing nonsense or, rather, manipulation. It's like "collaboration" beers. People still seem to think these are not branding exercises with the sole goal to rake in cash. I know, we still like to pretend that (i) this is not business and (ii) the breweries are run by benevolent elves who only have the buyers interest at heart... but that is foolishness. Honestly, if beer didn't have alcohol in it do you think any buyers would believe this stuff? If you have doubts, note that in the recent crowd sourcing fiasco, the price dropped from $50 to $30 within a blink of an eye. How could that be? I think of all these things as falling under the same lesson the single preciously boxed beer teaches us. Adds nothing to the taste but 15% to the price.
I was standing again in a CNY shop yesterday and never before was aware of the price divide in good beer. There are craft brewers who make a $8.99 six-pack of astoundingly good quality and there are those who make $16.99 six packs of similar astoundingly good quality. They are inseparable products except perhaps for the degree to which the higher priced product is buttressed up with branding, package design, silly ideas like best before two weeks from now and other inventions created to separate the gullible from their money. I laughed out loud I am sure at the $29.99 being asked for this beer. Fortunately, it was gathering dust as no one was taking the bait.
What to do in such times? First, understand you are being taken advantage of by the unscrupulous sector of craft beer. Second, educate yourself and support those who reject this shameful tactic. Third, appreciate that even in messages like this there is an intention to sway how you approach the purchasing decision to your detriment. You may need to go back and read the posts and comments here and here from years ago to see where this all sprang from. It is all so unnecessary for the well informed good beer fan. There is such an amazing selection of great beers at reasonable prices which give the brewer a generous reward for their efforts that there is no need to find oneself at the short end of the sorts of unconscionable transaction being offered by some. We are lucky to live in such times.
Making well informed decisions about the best value for your drinking dollars is not easy in a marketplace where contesting the wisdom of the branding consultants is frowned upon. Gird yourselves well if you decide to take on the role of independently advised beer buyer. Be prepared to be told you do not and cannot understand, that there are costs which are hidden yet add 10% to 40% to your bill. Be prepared to be staring at six-pack in a gas station that says you are not worthy and think "screw off, loser" as you pass it up for something local, fresher, better tasting and cheaper.
Have you ever drank a beer that became a battle, more than an enjoyable experience? Maybe a beer that was far bigger than you had anticipated? Something you felt determined to drink, just so you can say you conquered that son of a bitch, and you are all that is powerful. Or perhaps it is something that is just so bad, all you want to do is slap it around a bit. Or maybe you were on the verge of passing out, but you just wanted that one last beer, and the valiant struggle between taste bud fulfillment and the velvety embrace of sleep that ensued.
That's quite a range of beery unhappinesses. Can I go there? Well, it's coming up on eight years since I wrote the "unripe Annapolis Valley Gravenstein green apple of my Nova Scotian youth gone mad with aspirations of manure pile. Quite plainly watery at the outset then acid and more acid...then one note of poo." That all sounds so much more appealing to me now. Forty-three has nothing on fifty-one. I generally don't write bad reviews of beer though I did pour out one of the earlier Allagash wine barrel efforts. Not to make the breweries look good or anything. It's just dull to get worked up about this bottle or that when the whole of the craft thing is so bizarre. Bizarre enough to make me write a book about it with Max.
I suppose over time I might have the reputation as something of a neg. Or at least a nag. But for the most part, I like good beer. I drink way less than I used to and am pretty pleased to have lived through a few passing fads. Triple IPA stupidity is pretty much done. Food and beer pairing is a bit wide leg jean now. Even gateway fruit flavoured "saisons" may have had their day now that the newbies who gravitate to them have turned to beers that taste like beers or - as often as not - turned to the next fad drink. People of beer are slowly but surely migrating back from the cliff edge and finding more and more time for well made beers of moderate strength that explore the water, the hops, the yeast and the malt. Good thing, too, for however many gaks I pour out, however many new adventures for Al and Max I have sketched out... beer is pretty good stuff. Why else would I have bothered with it?
So far, my favourite review of The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer² had been Stan's in which he asked the very apt question as to who exactly Max and I thought might buy the damn thing. Good point. But has been ever so slightly nudged into second place by this extremely long review which I can only make some sense of through use of the Google Translate's version from the original Swedish. Consider this:
It is no ordinary fiction book, then, but rather an imaginary journey through space and time. A fictional dialogue, mostly between Max and Alan, with literary ambitions. And with juicy box kicks directed at everything from "brainwashed ölnördar" to "CAMRA-Taliban". With beer constantly foaming around loose jaws, they end up in some mysterious ways in different times and places. Or, taverns, pubs, taverns, beer cellar and brew pubs most. They are discussing beer and health, hangovers, samarbetsbrygder, class perspective and eighty memories. They meet with students, doctors, hipsters, PR sliskon, brewer, fuzzy craft beer aficionados and a foul-mouthed Ron Pattinson . Most of all eyes the craft beer culture at the seams. Without mercy. It's damn refreshing to read. The book has received its fair share of proofs miss as misspellings, missed letters, etc., have easily overlook when they are similar to the aroma of a hop bomb with a morning fart, quoting Thomas Hardy and spurting out the quote that "barrel aging is to beer what make-up is to a woman. "
That is pure gold! Don't get me wrong. I understand this is not how the original reads in the original language but there is something so lovely about a review of our headlong romp though time and space that itself is weird. I wish we had discussed eighty memories. Maybe we will next time. You know, it is only our day jobs that keep us from such interesting writing. And I, if we are being honest, err... I have a confession about the typos. I love them. I recall saying "screw it, let's get it out" which, if you think about it is what a lot of... OK, some... craft brewers do all the time. So it works. Or it is a structural representation of our disdain. Or something. But back to the review. Think upon this:
Max and Alan gets called ölgurus and their reaction is almost something of a mission statement: "not so much gurus as observers." And that's exactly what they are. Observers. They may seem judgmental, but it's just a reality they depict. Their reality, certainly, but also a reality that can be difficult to see if you are in the middle of it. Think about it. Turn the gaze inward. Was a little self-critical and, not least, dare to have a critical attitude also such a thing called craft, micro, craft. There is much bullshit in the industry, to use the book's parlance. So clearly. Everything is not black and white. We should not dumb down ourselves or allow ourselves to be exploited "in the name of witchcraft."
Witchcraft? Why not? We ölgurus transcend these sorts of things, don't we. Anyway, if you like the book or you didn't that is not really the point. I love the fact that for a few it was the cause of reflection or even frustration and confusion. Well worth the effort. And if you are typo resistant, go to Lulu and get a paper copy there as I understand that 98% of the typos were removed from that version... for the sensitive amongst you.
²[...cough...] cult classic [...cough...]
News round ups are sort of the sweat pants of blogging. A pal calls sweat pants "give ups" and I suppose that might apply to my links posts. Yet, sometimes there are actually a number of things worth noting but not really worth going into in any depth around here. And, yes, I wait with rapt attention every Saturday for the BB version and Monday for Stan's. So, you decide. Am I watching a baseball game and doing laundry as I write this post half heartedly or am I really paying attention to the top news in the brewing world and sharing them with you... [ooh, Giants on first and second... game might get away from the Dodgers...]
=> I suppose we need to acknowledge the big craft botch of the week. Jordan and Max and Craig all posted about it, the co-author triumvirate. Me, I think of two things. First, I have not bought a Rogue beer since I read about their employment practices. Second, I stood in a Price Chopper in NNY last Wednesday trying to understand why a Stone mix 12 pack was $24 when all the other excellent craft mix 12 packs were 15-19. Needless to say, I passed. I may not be worthy (like anyone should give a crap) but that was simply not worth it - especially as, when you strip away all the noise, it is for the most part just very decent gas station and grocery beer with hundreds of siblings. I am sure they did not want to come away looking greedy and insulting but they sure have found a way.
=> Not a lot of people who have not earned the right have drained beer from the Stanley Cup. Note the Habs player respected the voodoo by using a straw.
=> By my count, ATJ has been writing an increased number of his wonderful vignettes on the experience of beer and pub lately. His finest so far is last week's "Brewery fresh" in which a cask arrives and then another.
=> Best news related to opening of Stone City Ales in my own hometown this past Friday goes to Jordan's tweet: "Mom is already dropping off beer to Stone City Ales in Kingston to get them to brew things she wants to drink. I've created a monster." I had a half-growler of their 12 Star session ale. Delish.
=> If you are going to compare beer and wine, you had best understand the wine side of the equation but seldom seen amongst the chatting beery consultant class. One example of many. The fact is that fleets of bulk cargo carriers' worth of sauvignon blanc have been delightfully downed with forest of asparagus since, well, since the Romans rules the known world. Wagner points us to the better approach.
There you have it. The weekend is winding up and I thank my lucky stars that I once again missed the TFOB. I love Mr. B's succinct comparison with the new fest in nearby Buffalo, NY. It's good getting past such things, now thinking myself too old to, say, hang food about one's neck... well, at least in public. Not that it's the worst thing in beer this week. No, this might be that. Or the botch. There. List's done. Stan's up tomorrow morning. When there isn't a distracting ballgame on.
Interesting to see that "craft beer" is such a post-2007 term - and one that has never quote achieved the heights that "microbrewery" did in the late 90s. "Gourmet beer" never did nuttin' for no one. Thank God. Glad to see "good beer" has the staying power that simplicity and accuracy assures. Play this game yourself.
Boak and Bailey asked themselves a mid-year, mid-life question: what do they like now? Sounds like a good idea. I'm just getting over a five week run of creaky ailments that have given me a new appreciation of my insides so this is just the thing for a third Monday evening in July.
First, I checked the evidence. What is really in my stash? Wine. Mainly red wine. Spanish Bierzo. French Côtes du Rhône-Villages. The local Prince Edward County whites. Vintage port. Ürziger. I buy Ürziger primarily to say the word. Quickly. Over and over. Back in the back, there's beer, too. Don't get me wrong. Two types. Beer for now and beer for some time one day. I hide Fuller's Vintage Ale on myself. I hide some from myself. A few final bottles of weird stuff. Funny what ends up back there in the dusty dark damp. I ended up giving away those Stone 5-5-5, 11-11-11 beers. Couldn't be bothered. Sorta dumb project, wasn't it. I tend to have around five cases of beer for another day and a couple for now. More and more, they are getting nudged by cider, too. So, fact established, I like a wide range of wines, beers and ciders.
Second, I like staples. I got some APAs and some IPAs. I don't buy collaborations or other special beers anymore. Too over priced. Too risky as to whether they are any good. Your experiment in brewing and price points? Someone else can be your guinea pig, thanks very much. Poor pleasure likelihood level. PPLL is bad. Abt 12 has a low PPLL. Its PLL is awfully high. So I have a few of those at all times. You never know when Ron might show up. Fact.
Third, my beer selections out might be bland, too. Last few weeks I've had a Brooklyn Summer, Saranac PA, Syracuse PA, Sam Adam Summer and a big Labatt Light. Why? It's summer of course. BBQ beers. Salad beers. Just back from baseball beers. We are spending 12 days in Scotland next month and I am hoping to sip the local equivalents if it's hot. As I eat langoustines. Or deep fried haggis. Who wants to think about drink too much when it's 30C? That's why the good Lord made Pimms and Cinzano. You throw in this juice or that, piles of fruit and cucumber spears. Mint leaves from the garden. It tastes like you intended. Another fact.
Fourth, when I don't have something I mostly dream of cider and perry these days. Oliver's aged perry from England. That one with the caged cork from Lebanon, NH, Farnum Hill. Of course, I can't buy them here. And I won't be in Albany until the autumn comes, the next nearest supply depot. Until then you take what you can get. I was liking Stutz cider from Nova Scotia fine but the local government store didn't keep buying it, preferring the sugar added, mass produced "premium" ciders to the real stuff. Maybe I can find some real stuff when I am over in Jefferson Co., NY on Wednesday. There's a lot of that when you live where I live. Scrounging. Stockpiling. Daydreaming. Planning. There is no denying the truth.
Sound dull? Check back when it's sweater weather. Even here by the big lake, I don't really even want a Belgian beer until it gets below 15C as the high late afternoon. Complex is over-rated when it's hot outside. Like a lot of things. Rebuilding fences. Mowing. Weeding. Painting the steps. Hedge clipping. Replacing... that something out there in the sun that's packed it in, too. Yish.
What a minefield this beer presents me. Not only do I know and like the brewer but his mother lives nearby and his auntie works where I do. How could I possible give an opinion unbouyed by positive thoughts? Then again, it's not like I am all Jim-junkety or anything. No need to stop using the bathroom mirror. Then, besides that, there is the question of what others might think of me - which can be odd and disconcerting - not to mention likely wrong. How dare I try something not conservative? But more importantly, what does it mean about this style? What does this beer in this place and time mean?
You will recall the the best expression of what style is was Jackson's first go at it, before he went bad Aristotelian creating the mess we live with today. Originally, a style of beer was stylized after an example, a great beer. I think it is fair to say that practically speaking that example is the Weihenstephen Berliner Weiss I wrote about for Session 19 - if for no other reason that for a long while this was the only example you were going to lay your hands on in North America. That is until micro went craft. So, is this homage or dommage to the style? Should I care?
The beer pours an effervescent clear light gold. No head at all. On the snort, you get apple cider and cow poo of the nicest kind. In the mouth, a light and lightly astringent texture holds flavours of apple, meadow grass, minerals like a good Mosel, fresh lemon juice, a little cream of wheat like a good gueuze and a little little something vegetative like fresh cabbage or cauliflower. A really lovely sipper and at 3.8% a beer you can sip for a good long time.
What a relief! No ethical qualms!! Priced at $7.95 for 750ml, this is about twice as much as the brewers hefty IPA Headstock, one of the best values in beer in Canada. The BAers give it lots of positivitay... which is good.
The scene: It is later in the afternoon on a Saturday in summer. Alan sits on a stool hunched at the dark end of the bar back near the hallway to the bathrooms. His face is bathed in the blue glow of the iPhone screen into which he stares. The bar room is busy but he does not notice. Only his fingers move across the little screen. An nearly empty pint glass sits by his right hand.
ALAN: Sure, Curator. Same again. Large glass, please.
BARTENDER: (pours beer sets down pint glass two thirds filled) Remind me why do you call me that?
ALAN: (looking up) You don't really care, do you?
BARTENDER: Not really. Just makes you sound a bit weird and pompous.
ALAN: (face in screen again) Better me than you, brother... (mumbles to himself as he thumb types) Sandwich tongs! Yes! That's it. (makes little snorting sound.)
Alan sits up, stretches and drains half his two-thirds of a pint of something strong and brown and Belgian.
ALAN: Was Max in today?
BARTENDER: (pausing to think for a second) Nope. Not that I can recall.
ALAN: (draining half remaining half of his two-thirds of a pint, digging for his wallet) Who's playing tonight?
BARTENDER: Against El Glorioso?
BARTENDER: No idea.
ALAN: You, you are a beautiful man... (stands up, drains his glass) Catch you later!