Monday, 5 February 2018

What do I see in a glass of porter?

What do I see in a glass of porter? A barista-influenced cream-flow foam, 2-cm high, undulating in its surface, collapsing slowly, like the Roman Empire, a province at a time. What else do I see, a dark, dark, dark blackness, a dark night of the soul, a night in which the old moon is dead and the new is waiting to be birthed, a darkness of invisible hands and beasties imagined and conjoined, the lacing of the foam as it subsides coating the glass like a congenial virus, a puzzle of foam, a query, a cantankerous head of foam refusing to vanish. So what does it taste like? Burnt toast with a thin layer of butter and marmalade that suggests acridity, fruitiness and sweetness and then within nanoseconds there is a dryness that crackles and cackles like a coven of witches rehearsing for Macbeth; there’s a chewiness, an appeal for mastication, as well as a creaminess suggestive of softness and childhood. And what does it taste like? A cover disturbed, aromatics of mocha, chocolate, toast and fruit (cheap marmalade if caught from the other end of the breakfast table). Someone, and I cannot recall who, suggested that this beer could be closer to porter’s original outlook on life. I’m not sure, I will leave that to the beer historians and their soaked volumes of statistics from a time that went long ago. Whatever, it’s a damn good beer, unflinching in its approach to acridity, and dense in its character on the palate. Oh and I’ve been drinking Burning Sky’s Robust Porter.

Monday, 6 November 2017

The Links

The Links. I used to go for riding lessons at a stables opposite this pub when I was a kid. It has been here since 1898, but the stables went in the 1970s and a massive estate lolls and luxuriates where the horses once pranced, but the Links remains. This was a pub that was never on the circuit when I lived here or when I came back. It was too local perhaps, too manly, too boring in its beer choice (Lees) — but over the past few years I have been dropping in now and again and, on a recent visit for a family funeral, on the way into town for the wake, I dropped in and had a formidably refreshing MPA and later on the way back a pale lager from Regent, a brewery I once visited and thought ecclesiastical in its design. La Trappe, Moonraker and Manchester Star were also advertised, and, even though I was later told that the latter two were’t around, the choice (or the attempted choice) was a great example of how even my home town (where I grew up drinking Strongbow or lager top) has caught up with the times (it even has two breweries, Great Orme and Wild Horse, located close to where my father tried to set up an engineering business when I was a kid — it failed, inevitably). As for the Links the floor around the mainly solidly wooden bar was tiled, there were blanquettes, as buttoned-up as a gin-soaked vicar silent in his obsession, a bit formulaic, taken from a catalogue, perhaps, a sense of the senselessness of suburbia in the surrounding drinking areas, Welsh being spoken (a rare sound in my home town), and ‘make it a Christmas Day to remember’ posters scattered about. However, as a hurricane (I think it might have been Brian) raged outside, the bar felt like a fortress of Monday evening solitude, as glasses gleamed and the chrome at the bar-top shone with a ghostly kind of light and the memory of my late sister-in-law swung back and forth like the wind-swept inn sign in Treasure Island. I will go back when I’m next in Llandudno

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

A coaching inn in Topsham

Rat-a-tat. Ding-dong. Clip-clop. Here’s a train of horses sparking in the yard. Words that faded away at childhood’s end. Bow-wow, plip-plop, giddy-up. At the Globe, an old coaching inn in Topsham, in the small bar, on a beneficent Sunday lunchtime, while the rest of the place gets on with munching much of their Sunday lunch, I sit and return to a past I never knew in the company of a bottle of St Austell’s Big Job in my glass. Wooden floor, panelled bar, low-beamed ceiling, sound of coffee machine, hiss hiss, locals talking, laughter, the genteel gentility of an elderly couple with their wine at the end of my table (there’s a string quartet at 4 in the church across the road), dogs, chat, laughter once again, and a Gerry Adams lookalike with a Devon rogue to his language. It all reminds me of the Angel in Grantham in 1987 (or was it 1988?) when I first became aware of the lure of the coaching inn, as scrubbed up and polished an icon as it has become (especially the Angel). But here in the Globe I get a sense of what I first felt, a lapse into the past, a drop into history, not only mine but one that spans several centuries, whether imagined or real. There’s a mythic sense of a past that wasn’t probably that good — no money for starters, dreadful food, awful conversation — the honeyed tone of a theme park, Westworld, what-would-have-happened, alt-history, nostalgia, especially if it is Sunday, but still the lure of something that was once in this space makes me think and then I stop. And take another drink and bring myself back to now, which is where I want to live and the dog by the bar wags its tail and the elderly couple head off to their concert and I think it is time to have another beer (and is that the metallic sound of horses’ hooves in the courtyard? Probably not). 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


Red barley was used to make this beer,
it was chewy, full-bodied and rather enticing
After a visit to Carlsberg a couple of weeks ago I’ve been thinking a lot about trust. When various people at the brewery talked about the need to recall their origins, you know Emil Hansen, the good works of JC Jacobsen and so on (which suggested that they had forgotten who they were — as the last time I was there was in 2011 for the launch of a sodding advert and a meal), I thought, can I trust what you say; when I drunk a beautiful single malt lager that had been produced on their experimental kit, lightly fruity, delicate despite being 5%, uncomplicated but damned in the way it went down my throat, which was then followed by a beer that had green unripe barley as part of the mix (estery, grassy, clean), I thought about trust, would these beers ever see the light of day beyond the room we were in; and then there were certain phrases from people that acknowledged the revolution that craft had brought about, with almost like an air of sackcloth and ashes about it, mea culpa and all that, and as I drank the Jacobsen Yakima IPA in the brewery’s brewpub, I also thought about trust. And then several days ago Anheuser-Busch sacked several hundred employees from the High End subsidiary and I wondered what they thought of trust. I hope I can trust Carlsberg, I met some good people, and I respect the role it played in the development of beer in the 19th century, and I enjoyed the 1883 Vienna-style Dunkel-style beer that they are rolling out in Denmark (but not here), but I keep thinking about trust. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

I just want an imperial stout

Is this an imperial stout? 
So there I am in the tiny Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen, my first time back since 2011. It’s gone 11 and I want a final beer or two for the night. An imperial stout calls and on the blackboard behind the bar there are two imperial stouts chalked up. 

I just want an imperial stout. 


One of the them is brewed with Sahti yeast, which is rather interesting and has a soft vinous-like character, you know the jazz shapes that wine can give to beer, a roastiness and a sweetness and a sense of darkness reminiscent of the thoughts of a murderer planning their next killing. 

I just want an imperial stout. 


The other imperial stout is Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break, a collaboration between Evil Twin and Westbrook — it is sweet, soft, doughy, biscuity and gently roasty. 

Both of them are decent beers and inevitably get good marks from the teachers at Ratebeer, but as I sit there zoning in and out of the conversation on the next table (has Copenhagen become the new 1920s Paris given the amount of Americans I heard or saw?), that moment, that brace of beers, feels like an infantilisation of beer. Imperial stouts are muscular brutes, hammering away like a leather-clad smith on an anvil — now, they, just like the IPA, have become a laboratory for mad scientists, a dartboard randomly pinned, a ghost style perhaps. 

I’m not arguing for an interdiction on beer styles, after all no one made me drink these beers. Instead, what I felt in the Mikkeller bar was an irritation, an utterance of quiet despair, a flight from fantasy. And I was aware of a counter argument going on in my head, beers like this are an example of breweries heading for the open seas, the outer space of brewing imagination, the search for a god, a lodestar of flavour. 

As for me I remain genuinely torn by these conflation of beer styles — sometimes I think it is marvellous and creative and a mark of greatness and other times I think it is just Cheddar with chilli or a pizza with chocolate, baby food for adults. 

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The hanging hooks of a pub’s imagined past

Here we are in the Alexandra Hotel in Derby, a two-roomed trad pub that is always somewhere I make time for whenever I have time in Derby (maybe I’m also paying my respects to the late Simon Johnson as this was where the two of us ended up after a fun afternoon of drinking not long before he died). And so I sit with a glass of Pentrich Citra IPA (hazy, plumpish in its fruitiness and rapier-like in its bitterness) and there is a joy in my heart as I note the hooks that hang beneath the brow of the scuffed, dark brown bar. It’s a habit I have, a tradition perhaps, or maybe a nervous tic, but all too often when I find myself standing (or sitting) at a bar, elbow in a puddle of spilt beer and crushed crisps, I always put my hand beneath the brow and search for a hook, usually something on which I can hang my rucksack (just like the chap has done in the photo). It’s a neat little aid, a helping hand to the drinker, perhaps even a link with the kind of imagined past that some pubs are so adept at. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Ostentatiously opaque beer

Here’s a brief thought on the ostentatiously opaque beer saga, which seems to be excising so many fine minds at the moment. Last week, at a Mikkeller in Copenhagen I noted men and women enjoying glasses of ostentatiously opaque orange-coloured beers— they were sniffing like pros and sipping with ease and enjoyment. As I watched I wondered if these IPAs (of a kind) were the beer version of bucks fizz or sangria and then continued to ponder whether there was a time when wine purists went gaga over such a mix. This is a completely unscientific overview but from my observations (and at Warpigs as well) it did seem to me that a lot of women and men were interested in these kind of ostentatiously opaque beers and also that these drinkers were different from those who drink beer as a badge of honour. Perhaps it’s a case of these drinkers having a liking for ostentatiously opaque alcoholic fruit juice and breweries being businesses have to respond (recently I have heard from two brewers who were rather dismissive of well-received and popular beer styles they have produced — think fruit IPAs amongst other on-trend styles), so getting annoyed over ostentatiously opaque beers is a waste of time and effort perhaps. But back to the beers being drunk in Copenhagen, one of my favourite beers that night was a juicy and lustrous, muscular in its mouth feel, Dank & Juicy IPA at the marvellous Fermentoren (above). Ostentatiously opaque naturally.