Tag Archive: Essay


 Back In Japan!: The Japan Drinking  Scene.

So Japan and beer. Not words that you tend to see together in the international press. In fact from conversations I have had, a lot of Japan doesn’t seem to know they have a growing craft beer scene. Now Japan and Whisky, the world has got its head around that. After quite a few awards you would have to work very hard not to notice it. Their local beer however is still a well-kept secret for the most part.

That is however changing.  So here we have, based on my short visits, an outsider’s view on the Japan drinking scene.  For any locals of Japan who read this, feel free to correct any mistakes I make. This is based purely on what I saw during my travels and I claim no great expertise.

The first thing that seems odd to an outsider is the opening times. In the UK the lunchtime pint is a thing of tradition, going around America I found places serving at ten in the morning and the refrain, “Its five o clock somewhere!”.  In Japan most craft beer bars didn’t seem to open until 17:00/18:00 hours. On the other hand they did then run to obscenely early o clock in the morning, so it is a trade-off.  You will find some bars, usually brew pubs, doing a short lunch open, but for the most part I would advise to keep bar drink hunting to the night and plan to other things in the day.  You will be in Japan therefore I will presume that this will not be in any way difficult. Continue reading

Minimum Price
It’s that time again. The time the press has to decide between demonization of the drinking youth, or cries of nanny state and tax grubbing governments. Actually, usually they don’t have to choose, contradictory opinions that should cause significant amounts of cognitive dissidence are the norm in a hell of a lot of papers. If they can cause outrage then consistency is an optional extra.

So what am I talking about? The proposed introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol in drink in most of the UK. I say most as Scotland with it’s devolved powers has already put forth a 50 pence per unit minimum price. It’s being held up at time of writing (1), but is further ahead than the rest of the UK’s proposed 45 pence minimum.

Now there are a lot of people claiming this can, or can’t work because of many reasons. That minimum price won’t deter drinkers, in a similar fashion to the fact that high cigarette costs are not deterring smokers, that it’s just another tax for the government, that it will boost the quality beer of beer. A lot of claims, very little evidence being given for most.

So what is the evidence then? In an unusual step for what is normally an opinion piece I’m going to be doing a quick trawl of the net for the evidence and see what I can find.
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America. Or more precisely the USA. Possibly the most wrongly maligned beer country in the mind of the general populace and one of the most sought after beer scenes by aficionados. The land where prohibition took place, and one of the largest craft beer scenes in the world. 50 states, each at least the size of Britain and with at least as much cultural variance between them as between Britain’s member countries. How do you even start talking about that?

Well first I’m going to pour a pint. Not because I want a pint. Ok, not just because I want a pint, but also it’s the first interesting difference. The USA pint is smaller. 568ml for UK compared to 473ml for USA.

Which explains why you lot in the USA are all lightweights who think you can drink more than you really can.

I jest.


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Drinking in the Shadow of the Five Rings

The Great British Beer Festival. Usually the highlight of the year for London beer drinkers, where they would congregate at Earls Court. This year, well someone decided to run some small piddling athletics thing called the Olympics in there so we got shunted over to the Olympia.

Seriously I’m fairly sure there are more people who have a pint once a week than there are people who do exercise one a week. That’s all I’m saying.

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It’s a common problem.  Anything far away looks cooler.  It’s why people spend a vast fortune heading to other countries to spend time looking at art museums, architecture and scenery, cooing all the while.  These self same people oft completely ignore the museums, architecture and scenery 5 minutes walk from their house.

All of which is a somewhat round about way of saying that after going on brewery tours in Belgium and Scotland,  I finally went over to the Bristol Beer Factory for a tour recently.

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Essays and Aphorisms: The Environment.

It’s never been hidden where I’m doing my tastings, from the half hidden kettle in the corner and a bottle of mouthwash, festival kegs or pretty barmaids, it’s always there in the photo.  More than that I try to add in music listened to and the like, and I always have an urge to add more, to say what’s going on, the weather, who’s around, and so on.

Why? It’s hardly because any of you care if I’m buck stark naked, drinking whilst urinating from the top of the Empire State Building onto the appreciative crowd below. (Or maybe you do, if only to be glad that I’m not doing that and thus giving you a mental image you can never rid yourself of)

At the most basic it shows how much attention is being paid to it, a pint in the pub with mates is likely not going to be as lovingly examined as a bottle drunk at home in front of the fire, so it will most likely be somewhat less leisurely as to not be completely anti social.  Though again, a group gathering with a shared set of pints discuss and laugh, sharing the moment and the tastes, sparking conversation and ideas that would have never occurred before.  But there’s more to it than that.

So again why –  why the where, the who and the when? Because it alters things, much as we would like to claim a pint is a perfect thing of wonder, and as a perfect thing, it cannot be altered from its perfection,  that is quite frankly, bollocks.

A beer is suited to a time – there is no point breaking open a Good King Henry after six pints of lager, nor should an Aventinus Eisbock be appreciated in the midst of a football match crowd – but more subtly, a Hopback Summer Lighting seems out of place at winter, and the delicious subtleties of Oakham Asylum weep in the face of a greasy burger. A cold room is the bane of a subtle whisky, the list is endless.  On the other end of the scale annoyingly there is the sickly sweetness that too many beers take on in a heat wave.

In face of all that, it’s important to let you know what’s going on, as it is a warning of what variations may be introduced, why possibly the review may be less than reliable for your experiences; if favourable, in what condition you should enjoy it (and yes by that I mean that Hair of the Dog beers are perfect when one is experiencing them sleep deprived, in Japan, after a pimp has unsuccessfully tried to get you into a club of questionable purpose).

Everything adds in its own elements, Brewdog Punk IPA is not just perfect with a bit of Propaghandi and one of my favourite appreciation beers. Its punch of flavour doesn’t need your attention to be obvious, so it can be appreciated when your mind is on taking the piss with mates over a fucked computer lying in thirteen pieces on the floor.  Ulvers music complements any (normally high ABV) beer that leaves you staring at the ceiling entranced, and lost in intricate subtleties, and Tesco Value Lager is perfect for giving someone a vision of what hell may be like if they don’t change their ways.

So its important to know, and yet so often overlooked, are you in a pub cadging free drinks from strangers by giving them improvised tasting session, or arguing with some racist twat. Are both events one and the same? (Answer: Yes) Did the anger at such ignorant viewpoints combined with an appreciative crowd lead to somewhat more verbose waxing loquacious about beers in the vain hope to impress the crowd (Answer: Probably).

All these change how we approach a beer.

Yet we ignore it

So let’s call to memory, in 20 years time as your favourite beer passes your lips, remember that night, the perfect game, the lost or won argument, the friends and the loved ones.

Let’s drink to drinking being something more than just drinking.

(Thanks to Tanja for doing the editor work on the article)

Making An Event Out Of A Drink :

So why the hell do tasting notes, for beer of all things? Isn’t all that summer field and flowery language unbearably pretentious.

Probably, but who cares.

There’s a world out there that views beer and even whisky as a way of getting hammered and that’s all. There are innumerable pints going down peoples’ throats as if marking time until they get into their coffin. Repeating worn out motions, each iteration looping until it’s worn a hole into the background. Watching it seems like a visual representation of stuck record skipping through the same motion again and again.

Compared to that we could all take a little pretension or whatever insult people are using these days. Because alcohol should be enjoyed in whatever form it takes, because time in the bar should be about more than a desperate attempt to make sure you ended up getting more drinks bought for you than you bought for others. Furthermore going back to the bar every time to the nauseously familiar tap whilst speaking no more words to the human being serving you than necessary is pissing away a life in a death of a thousand banalities.

So yeah I’ll take a bit of pretension.

So what does a tasting note do, that alters this banal monstrosity of an existence? A simple combination of pen, paper and a drink in hand.

It’s a lesson learnt by sports, businesses, shows and religions the world over. It makes a simple occurrence an event. To add a touch of ritual and pomp to a moment. The simple indulgence in making the normal and mundane interesting is something worth spreading to all elements of our life. We face many “mundane” moments in life for every one of wonder, by making these mundane elements fun and interesting is to reclaim them from their simple roots and enhance our lives.

It’s paying attention to the moment, a drink that would otherwise pass un-mourned to its porcelain grave now is examined in every detail, being aware of what you are doing and why. When time is unexamined it floats by so quickly, unrecorded and forgotten- to take time out and examine the item you are drinking to consider its taste, smell, character, is to take in new details. This makes this moment different from every other and to thus tie it to a memory that sticks where otherwise you would have a hazy sameness.

It’s also the aforementioned moments of interest – ok, your going to look a tad odd taking photos of beer and asking bar staff if they mind putting the whisky bottle on the table so you can take a photo. But if you’re worried about looking a bit of a fool you’re never going to do anything interesting. Nearly every endeavour starts with looking a fool whilst you work out what you’re doing. Grasp those moments and laugh with them rather than fearing them.

So what do you benefit in response? Conversation, interest, so many bar staff and patrons have found interest in this peculiar hobby of mine and thus have started conversations of the difference between a stout and a Porter ,on the Santa festivals in Denmark, A discussion with a designer of a roller coaster. People have fished out details of local microbreweries, beer festivals and events. All for the cost of doing something that might look a tad odd. I’d say it’s worth the cost.

All this and I’ve not even yet mentioned the fact that you will probably try a lot of good drinks.

Was this whole article a bit overblown, pretentious, filled with hyperbole and bombastic representations?


But what would you expect, it was written by someone who does tasting notes.

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