Thursday, 27 March 2014

Beer Review: Halcyon

I'd been saving this for a special occasion and, well, one arrived. Still thinking about one of the oddest day trips I have ever taken (see these entries) and whatnot along with finishing a tranche of marking at crunch time meant that it was special occasion enough. Tonight then I bring you: Thornbridge's Halcyon Imperial IPA.

The picture, of course, is not my garden. Would be lovely if it were. Would you like to be knowing more?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Beer Tasting: An Introduction

Not quite a cultural exchange as I supplied all the ale, but it did serve as my drinking partner's first foray into beer reviews. I have to say that I am becoming very enamoured of tasting beers in the company of others and, preferably, trying the same ales at the same time so as to compare notes. We must do this again some time!

First: Slightly Shitty Slow-Brewed Summer Stag, Pete's Piss Brewery. ~4.3% ABV. Summer Ale.
It smelled sweet, fruity and light but lacked the citrus-y tang one associates with hops. None of the spiciness of yeast or the mustiness of malt, more mulled than sharp. It poured ginger and auburn with a depth to that colour suggestive of wood but without a head, some froth, with a light and eminently acceptable carbonation by dint of being bottle conditioned rather than added under pressure. In tasting there was a subtle hint of limited yeast that was instantly replaced by a summery light malt, filling the space in the taste, before fading to the bittering hops to finish it off. After-taste was agreed to be acceptable, mainly hops. Overall, this was a surprisingly standard, uncomplicated ale that worked well to explain the rudiments of beer tasting to my companion.

Second: Wild RavenThornbridge Brewery. 6.6% ABV. Black IPA.
Smelt very much of chocolate fondue (in the words of Sierra). Oranges and berries were present but wrapped in light milk chocolate melting over a naked flame. Poured very dark, living up to the title of black ale without masquerading as Guinness or Murphy's. As advertised, there was a beige head that filled quickly without fuss. Plenty of carbonation but this seemed less added and more conditioned from the bottle (at least if my own ale is anything to go by). Tasting revealed a hoppy start with a definite tang of exotic fruits before an edge of chocolate malt, surrounded by more citrus hops (the bottle suggested pineapple and that seemed pretty close) that was not a little unlike Um Bongo. Then there was a hops explosion that changed character so many times it was impossible to nail anything at all down. So... the 1980s in a glass? Willow found it "too full of flavours for a beer" and my drinking partner agreed that it was almost impossible to separate out all of the flavours. Everyone agreed that it was "intense" and buddy and I were glad we were on halves or trying to track the different influences would have driven us mad.

Third: WainwrightThwaites. 4.1% ABV. Pale Golden Ale.
Opening allowed a yeasty spice mingling with dank musk to escape, a hint of citrus working its way through and hanging around nonchalantly, but the dominant sense was one of the yeast. Poured very much a ligher coloured ale, dark straw, with almost walnut-like tone and warmth to it. Everyone agreed that the taste was "nice" without further elucidation at first. It had the banner across the bottle and Willow announced that it very much lived up to it: "It is exquisitely lovely golden ale!" Definite yeast opening with the initial carbonation as it wallows around the tongue that slowly gives way to the malt that has the barest hint of caramel. the after-taste was telling in that it was a clear indication that this was our first mass-produced ale of the session. Not a bad thing, but, in the company of the evening, it wasn't doing the ale any favours.

Fourth: Black Sheep Ale, Black Sheep Brewery. 4.4% ABV. Bitter.
Crisp and musty vie for control on opening with heavy and yeasty tones shot through. However, the sad fact is that the aroma is very much a reminder that the ale is mass produced in a way that was simply less obvious with the Wainwright and missing altogether from either my ale or the Thornbridge addition. Why? It is dominated by the added CO2. Taste was rapidly adjudged as being "not as much of an adventure" as Wild Raven by my companion and "not bland, but samey enough to be in the background" by Willow, adding: "sharper than the Wainwright". Our newb added that it was "less yeasty". It was definitely the fizziest of the evening and the taste was weak enough that it was murdered by the mere memory of Wild Raven. I was disappointed as I do love this brewery and really rate their ales, but on the evening this just faded and reminded us that it was totally manufactured with a forgettable after-taste that borders on being 'generic'. It's dark and nutty colour with fine head, alas, promised far more than it could deliver.

Fifth: Business As UsualDerby Brewing Company. 4.4% ABV. Amber Ale.
This had a smell that was dominated by a mellow malt that almost left us with the sense of Horlicks (helpfully suggested by my companion's wife). The bottle claimed a toffee aroma and there was certainly an edge of that involved. Suffice to say that it wasn't so much a hoppy ale as it was a malty one. It poured with a minimal, almost white cell like, fizz and a businesslike head. From the first sip it was clear that this lacked the industrial level of carbonation seen in Wainwright or Black Sheep Ale and that lemon and lime citrus hops would play a large role. My drinking partner announced it "one of his favourites so far" and joined Willow in pronouncing that the taste was 'fresh' and clear (as one would expect with such sharp hops). Indeed, the hops very much forced the malt into hiding for much of the experience but there was enough to prevent an overpowering souring of the taste. A very strong showing for the last ale of the evening.

In the event, my drinking partner and Willow were unanimous in their praise and choice of Business As Usual as their preferred ale of the evening. For me, I thought it was very good but paled against the Black power of the Wild Raven. We all agreed, with varying degrees of sadness, that the weakest showing was Black Sheep Ale. It was simply up against some of the better ales I have tasted of late and thus out-classed by all but the Wainwright, that had the advantage of being light and spicy.

My happiest moment of this evening was the fact that all present agreed that my ale was good enough to edge into third place. In such august company I think I can safely call my first brewing attempt a success!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Return to Auschwitz

Apparently one long rambling post on the experience wasn't enough. So, I'm going to pick up where I left off (on the way to Birkenau/Auschwitz II) and see where it takes me. I wouldn't blame you if you don't read past this introduction.

In other news, I am avoiding marking and may or may not manage to get round to writing this evening, because I know you care. Oh, have you checked out the 1066 Game? You ought to.

Would you like to know more?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

My Day-Trip to Auschwitz

Most of my blog-posts where I babble about what I did on any given day have a pun-tastic title. I... well, I didn't think that this was a pun worthy thing. Yes, I did go on a day trip to the area we know as the concentration camp of Auschwitz. I know that I spoke about it already in my review of the Wake and I know that most people don't come here to listen to me spout.

Nevertheless, this is part of my experience and, to be honest, this is part of how I cope with things. I record them and that is part of my processing. I'm not sure that what follows will be coherent, let alone interesting, and I'm absolutely certain that it will be less amusing and uplifting than my posts on the beers that I drink and review. It will also be accompanied by some of the pictures that I took on the trip. If this ain't your bag or you don't really wish to observe just how I deal with stuff that is difficult then you don't need to click on the link below.

Would you really like to know more?

Friday, 14 March 2014

Book Review: the Wake

At Christmas my wife bought me a book that I've been babbling about for a good year or so. It's taken three years to come to fruition and I am now the proud owner of the Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. An odd book that bills itself as a post apocalyptic novel set one thousand years ago and, in that, I can't argue.

I love the way that he has chosen to write this in the ghost language set halfway between Old English and modern English and, I think I've said before, I should love to emulate that a little more. And Kingsnorth clearly knows his stuff, he has studied linguistics well.

Would you like to know more?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Beer Review: Jaipur

No special occasion but I was bored and I am getting depressed by marking. So, I plumbed to have a beer and I plumbed to have one of the ones that were gifted to me when I was up in Leeds because, well, why not? After some hemming and hawing I decided that I would go for the Jaipur because it was closest to my hand as I reached over the breakfast bar.

So, this would be my second try of something from the Thornbridge stable. At this point I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that proper beer cannot be found in my local supermarket and so resigned to the fact that, sooner or later, I'll have to start ordering in crates of the stuff from proper breweries. Luckily this one is in Bakewell and I may be able to turn up in person.

Opening this showed a brief hint of carbonation and the aroma hits you straight away. This is very hoppy - seriously fruity tang in the air that is both citrus and a host of blooming flavours, like a bouquet of fruit! It is very alluring. The colour on pouring is straw and mellow with it, bright and clean and cheerful. Plenty of fizz but the sort that reminds me of being bottle conditioned rather than artificially carbonated. Head is big, vigorous and bubbly - and it sticks around too. First taste does not disappoint - it promises much hoppiness and there are plenty of hops. Hordes of hops. I can see why it was so loved by the person that gave them to me and I can see why it is a nice ale all round.

As the sips continue it softens from a fairly harsh fizz with plenty of hops to a soft malt taste that works around the edges of that hops explosion and makes it slip down more easily. At 5.9% ABV this is no slouch and the taste is pleasingly in line with the punch. You aren't going to mistake this for something light and fluffy but nor are you going to call it firewater and never touch it. It is pleasant and helpful, as an ale ought to be, and wonderful at cleansing palates. I had had curry for tea, a packet sauce with pre-tandoori-ed chicken pieces, and the harshness of that meal was carefully and soothingly washed away by the tones of this proper straw IPA.

Enjoy this whenever you like, but most appropriately on a warm day with a good set of spicy food or a barbeque. Have a couple to hand in case you want to experience a second or, as I am forced to do, daydream about getting in a crate of this, in a selection of course, and having the time to really kick back and sample several in an evening. I would love to follow this up with another beer but know that if I do I shall regret it when I need to do more marking in the early morning and when I don't have another beer another week as a consequence.

It is definitely time I start ordering in crates.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Beer Review: Old Empire

After my last foray into the world of bottled beers I was beginning to wonder if my experience in Leeds had soured any chance I had of enjoying non-craft ales. Indeed, had I become as much of a beer snob as I am a curry snob? The answer, by the way, is probably yes. Heigh ho. Tonight I thought I would try another beer I got in for Christmas and whose services were not required in the event, Marston's Old Empire. An IPA, which was a good augur given how many times I tried them last year, and a strong one.

Upon opening I anxiously tested the aroma. This is not one of the lovely Thornbridge ales that my host from Leeds had gifted to me (I'm saving them for a special occasion - either having all three on an evening or because I feel like it, both would be special). I was not immediately electrified by the yeast-based smell, travelling with the barest hint of hops without any real fruitiness, but I was reassured that this would have something more to it than the Shambles Bitter. Colour on pouring was good and pale, as IPAs should be, but lighter than the straw of the Wild Swan. First taste belied the 5.7% ABV and went straight to a light and musty spice that one usually associates with yeast, though I confess that I didn't make that connection right away. There was plenty of that to go round, fuzzing away at the edges of the rest of the experience throughout without being overpowering. A light malt followed, but did not hang around as it wasn't really the star of the show, and was in turn succeeded by some light citrus before fading to a bitter and yeasty aftertaste that was not unpleasant.

In this sense then, the ale does well, the taste fills the mouthful and the colour matches what one would expect. The head was a solid one. Obviously the carbonation was artificial in the main, lacking any bottle conditioning that I have discovered I enjoy, and thus a little on the fizzy side but that wasn't a huge issue and didn't dent the enjoyment of it. As the pint progressed the taste mellowed, still with that yeast in the background adding spice to it, but the carbonation dimmed more to allow the beer to shine through a bit more. Something to remember with this one: let it stand a bit before supping. The flavour is rewarding enough and held its own against my evening meal of salmon pasta bake so it is probably enough to withstand even stronger flavours if not a decent curry.

Enjoy this as part of a meal, though I would counsel it needs something more than a fish pasta bake. If meat is your thing then this could go with something like a dark rare steak or, if not, try a mushroom based nut-roast with plenty of pepper. A curry would go well with it, something like a bhuna or even a jalfrezi but probably not something stronger like a biryani or dhansak. Be warned though, the strong yeast will leave you with the munchies. I was going to combat with further beer but settled, eventually, on Rochester Grape Juice (another Christmas leftover). In short, thank you Old Empire, I may be a beer bore but at least I'm not an awful beer snob, Shambles Bitter was that bad.