Saturday, 25 October 2014

Because it tastes good and smells enticing

Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories is one of my favourite cook-books, full of great recipes, musings on food and dotted throughout the book with compact capsules about some of the author’s favourite chefs and cookery writers such as George Perry-Smith and Elizabeth David. However, as I browsed through it this morning in search of something for the weekend I came across this paragraph that opens the introduction; it occurs to me that if I substituted brewing for cooking, beer for food and drunk for eaten then I would have my manifesto for beer.

‘Good cooking, in the final analysis, depends on two things: common sense and good taste. It is also something that you naturally have to want to do well in the first place, as with any craft. It is a craft, after all, like anything that  is produced with the hands and senses to put together an attractive and complete picture. By “picture”, I do not mean “picturesque”: good food is to be eaten because it tastes good and smells enticing.’ 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Revolution

Two books on beer in the next month, out there; one, November 17, World Bottled Beers, is a song of praise to 50 great beers, of which I will write further; the other, tomorrow’s the day, co-ordinated and co-written with Roger Protz, Britain’sBeer Revolution, a snapshot of now, David Hemmings at the lens, profiles of breweries and beers featured, the likes of which include the likes of Siren, Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Kernel, Fyne, Meantime, Fullers, Adnams, London, blogging, barley and plenty of people. We’ve tried to be vivid in our writing, tell the tales of the men and women who stand aside the mash, driven to derive flavour and savour from the beer they make.


It’s a book about revolution in which the old is overthrown, the new is brought in, amid the noise and chaos of the mob, the execution of the ruling classes, the constant rumble of the wheel of revolution as new victims are sought, the dissolution of the dissonant, the death of the dead. Well sort of.

Our revolution: a greater demographic of people drinking beer, drinking all kinds, unaware and unabashed whether it be keg, cask or drawn straight from a pumpkin; the Sven the Unready beard, the radioactive winkle-picker, the psychedelic short back and sides, the Dresden shepherdess drainpipe, who cares, I certainly don’t, the stuff I’ve worn in order to belong (jeans ribbed and unwashed for a year, for instance); the Sensurround of flavour, the taking apart of tradition and the snap crackle and pop of aroma; and then the digs at the old, the daubs of the walls of the old, the hauling in of the tribes, beer revolution.

It’s also about evolution: gradually, unperceptive, glacier smooth in its passage, the new beers and brewers emerge, the big parade passed by, an easy going emergence, here we are, saison, stoutly done, no fuss, no furore, here we are, new beers for old.

It’s also about devolution: we want to do a Belgian Quad so we’ll do it our way if you don’t mind, if it’s all the same to you, thank you very much; a Victorian mild, an oatmeal wild, a sour-smiled gyle, we did it our way. Devolution max.

Elocution: here’s a Pilsner, a Spezial, a Kellerbier, a Rauch, a Bock, a Dunkel, a beer that has nowhere to hide, the received pronunciation of brewing and beer, the hardest challenge a brewer can surmount, lager. 

Britain’s beer revolution has many faces, and no doubt some of its children will be devoured, but there’s no going back now.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Happy

I have seen these beers at the break of day. Commonplace, grey, staid and staying in the memory (for the wrongest reasons); a flash and a flush of bubbles on the tongue, a brisket of carbonic acid house on the roof of the mouth, the brief guff of sweet-corn on the nose (shake-a-leg there), crooked lagers croaking for customers in need of non-reflective refreshment. And it’s in this pub there and where these beers grimace at the bar-top, beery yobs leaning at the counter, come-and-drink-us clowns leering and cheering the nature of brinkmanship. And it’s to this pub I retire for a final beer before the night completely begins its progress towards the end. At the bar-top, having scanned the scowls of low-browed brands, a factory-handled Farange of brands that abandoned their homes in Burton, Glasgow, Northampton early one morning, I order a Guinness, a simple action, a stout that is purely one act, one note, irreversible in its decline, but now, at this time of night, in this part of town, it’s a beer that sounds chimes within the soul. Five minutes pass, the beer poured, the foam soared and then stopped and then topped and then passed past the sour-faced brands of crooked lager and I invest myself with a table and chair in the midst of this big chubby-faced club of a pub in which I feel myself both home and alone. A scattering of men, yes it’s mainly men, swapping tales of turmoil on scaffolds, down-he-went-broke-his-leg-like-it-was-an-egg, in a Yorkshire brogue, thick, yeasty, tarry-voiced, a contrast to the draught of Happy emerging like air from a juke-box that stands, hands on hips, bold as brass, beneath an altar-like scene of TV screen, upon which Gareth Bale, Alice-band intact, gurns and turns and shoots…but doesn’t score. Ah, the Guinness, creamy and in the theme of stout, watery coffee, a finish that fails to find a backer, a funder, a clouder, but in this ineluctable moment there’s something about this pub that brands me to it, that makes me want to join in and sing with Pharrell. Happy.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Beer with a view

A flight of pigeons, Venice echoed, Don’t Look Back, St Mark’s Square perhaps, wheel in the tight space above Christmas Steps, while the backbeats of some dance tune, I know not what, whirl from somewhere amongst the slow, jerky trail of Friday evening traffic down below the balcony on which I sit. A bruised gold glass of English — Bristolian — Pilsner stands sentinel-straight on my table as I watch both birds and cars make their different shapes in and above the space we call a street. I like Bristol’s Zero Degrees, I like the stainless steel vessels, the lagering tradition and the temptation of time; I like the quiescence of a brand that doesn’t really shout but still makes great beer (and wood-fired pizza too). As I sit and gulp my Pilsner, a glass of beer that brims to the rim with Saaz spice and niceness, its brisk and frisky character gambolling on the palate, and its bracing bitter finish putting me in mind of Zatec 12˚, I enjoy the view of an irregular roof-scape of turrets, chimneys and spires and another sip later, and a turn of the head, take in the contrast to the clean and angled shapes within Zero Degrees. Sometimes a beer with a view is all I need.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

In the US for the first time


In the US for the first time in the summer of 96. In Cambridge, on the learned side of Boston, and let’s go for lunch I said to my wife. A scan on the internet had suggested a brewpub, Cambridge Brewing, and in we went. Massive plates of enchiladas, beef slathered with cheese, and a flight of tastings, three beers (pale ale, amber, wheaten), to be followed by a pint of the brewery’s Tall Tale Pale Ale, my favourite, and as I wrote blithely in my journal later in the day: ‘a style of beer which seems to be very popular among the micro-brewing fraternity’. And looking at that day 18 years ago I have also written down Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which I seem to remember being more expensive than the local beers — it was a familiar beer and I vaguely recall feeling as if I was cheating by drinking something I already knew. During the trip I also had beers from Rogue, Ipswich, Portsmouth and Harbour Bay breweries according to my journal. My first American craft beers in America and later on in the year my first printed beer article in What’s Brewing. I now wonder if America was the catalyst that made me want to somehow articulate my own thoughts about the world of beer. Sounds familiar. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

It’s in London

It’s in London and it’s by a canal, a canal whose surface is a skin of softly spoken repression and has a kinship with the flutter of air that strokes and pokes the skin of water and sometimes makes the house-boats bump against each other like beasts at a waterhole.

It’s in London and there’s the tut-tut, looking-through-the-curtains rhythm of machines across the canal, the movement of hi-visibility yellow, the governance of the land as this part of Hackney Wick keeps being developed. 

It’s in London and there’s a van, and a man with another man, clanging kegs and casks, the lion and the lamb, the van picking up beer that’s ready to stake its reputation right out there on the Margate pier that London’s beer arena has become. Crate Golden Ale, a glowing glass of goodness that revitalises a style I, day to day, find so unawesome but Crate Golden Ale turns things topsy-turvy and makes me glad to have found it.

It’s in London and there’s a gleaming glass of dark golden beer, held in front of me, a refreshing zip and spritz on the tongue, an amber-sweet cloud of comfort that reminds me of lying down in a warm meadow, with a sob of hop and a Beretta shot of bitterness in the finish. Truman’s Runner.

And outside in the street a once pub, once called the Lord Napier, stands on the corner, blitzed —a word abroad in the manor 70 odd years ago — with colour and words spread across its façade, jam on toast, now closed, boarded and shut, a sign of the cross to Crate, where the van with the man and the other man with the kegs and casks of beer, the lion and the lamb, pick up the beer.

And somewhere in London, somewhere where the postcode signifies a city, someone sets up a mash tun and boom it’s…

Thursday, 4 September 2014

I’m in

On beer writing, or should that be beer-writing? So what’s in it for me, what’s the tin medal that I can pin on my sleeveless shirt when the day is done? So what’s in it for me to trim down words, throw down words, claw shapes like clown’s eyes and bring words along and place them on a blank white space with the idle hope that they make sense when posted into a box marked media? It’s only beer after all; this is the echo that reverberates through the known universe though I quite like the bounce back I get in the glass I have right now — raspberries, nine grains, pepper, a beer that repelled all boarders on first taste but grew and threw out all manner of intriguing shapes and words (Rubus Maximus if you must know, a deep skittle of musky, peppery,  fruity, tart and embracingly sour notes rolling down the wooden alleyway ready to strike all before them).

Talking? No let’s get this correct, I am talking, am going to write to be perfectly honest, writing then, about why I write about beer. Not, please note, evangelising, converting, offering consent and benedictions about beer — that will be left to the bereft who came briefly and recently to beer and thought a mission was needed, lessons be its name, in the name of the holy mash tun etc etc; no I don’t do it.

It’s an urge and a need to acquire the skill of a surgeon, to peel back the skin of beer, to see beneath, often to recoil and wait for the bus home but also to lie down in green pastures and summon up a total recall of why I started writing about beer and fell in love with it. It’s about miles taken, oceans and seas crossed, cities decanted into a notebook.

You can’t fall in love with beer, you can fall in love with the idea of beer, the ideal, the deal even, the seal that is stamped on your soul when you decide that writing about beer is something you might like to direct your life in the direction of.

And so I think, what do I receive when I ride like Paul Revere in the direction of beer, headlong into its embrace, letting it tread and trace all over my working life? Beer is more than an alcoholic notion for me, it’s a commotion in the soul, it’s the pub as coal, warming but on the verge of being extinct; but when it’s gone people will cry and smart phone their cries. Too late.

Beer writing. It’s people, it’s people who don’t get it right, who do get it right, who go off the rails, who rail against this and that; it’s people. It’s countries and of course it’s the cities and it’s the beers that the countries and cities inspire and fire up in the rush to sundering apart what has gone before.

And if I was being prosaic about why beer moves me enough to spend my working life writing about it I would say: people, the steeple like seriousness that is their history and its roots but there is also the Treebeard-like flexibility of each family who comes along and slaps the instinctive card down on the table and says yes, we are going that way instead of that way. 

In a continuation of the prosaic: beer has people, it has buildings, it has cities, it has countries, it has monarchs, it has a gastronomic tradition, both flitting between high and low and it is also the character at the docks with the much travelled suitcase as well as the stumbler in the station waiting to head off on a journey they’re not sure on as well as the secure-in-his-or-her station as they look through their wallet and worry not a jot; it is beer and it is clear that there is so much more to be said about it. I’m in.