Tag Archive: Essays and Alcoholisms


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 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

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.

Mostly.

Continue reading

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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Essays and Aphorisms: Shenanigans

Now you may get the impression from my writing that I am a very serious respectable journalist. Actually, that’s fairly unlikely, especially after the beer/sex act joke. Anyway, just in case anyone has made that mistake somehow I thought I would share some oddities from recent nights out.

It had been a quite fun night so far, my random writings and photo taking had resulted in a nice chat with the locals about what I was doing, and I had been making some recommendations of good whisky to try.

Then my good friend Dylan noticed they had something new.  Some weird Jeremiah Weed drinks. Now one was kinda ginger and root beer styled and the other Sour Mash kinda bourbon styled. I was wary, and those many whisky bottles on the wall kept catching my eye. However I am nothing if not open to experimentation. So my tasting note done I decided to join them in sharing two bottles of these new beverages between us.

Dylan and Will started on the ginger one, and made vague appreciative noises.

Huh, now that’s a phrase that looks wrong out of context.

Anyway.  I tried the Sour Mash one, reasoning it had a least a passing wave to my preferred style.
For feck sake why do I do these things?

It was as if someone had taken the vaguest whiff if bourbon and drowned it in water. If I wanted to ruin perfectly good spirits I can do that myself without having to get a fancy jam jar looking glass to do it with.  Shortly after my two amigos decided that the ginger one wasn’t actually all that either, something I could have told them a long time beforehand.  Then Dylan, very reasonably bowed out of drinking more than the small sample he had tried. With the reason being that he was the driver, leading to the following exchange

“God damn it, you ordered these pieces of shit and now you bow out?”

“Well yeah I’m driving”

“Ok. You have a good point. And we hate you for it”

“Well you wouldn’t want us to crash and die in a ball of flame”

“Yes, but only because that’s not the way we want you to die” “We have a list, a long one”

(DISCLAIMER: Despite the preceding piss take, we agree completely with Dylans choice and respect his decision. Drink driving is fucking stupid. Don’t do it. Seriously)

This was then followed by an example at the bar of exactly how bloody posh Bath is. A couple had come in and ordered Jagermeister Bombs, which if you are lucky enough to not know, is Red Bull with a shot glass of Jagermeister dropped in. By which I mean dropped in while still in the shot glass.

However this is Bath, so we couldn’t have that, no indeedy. Instead they dropped a shot glass of Woods 100 Old Navy Rum into a glass of Red Bull instead.  A concoction rapidly called The Bath Bomb, or The Bath Dambuster instead.

All with the Star Inn’s amused bartender looking on and joining the fun.

Anyway, then I ordered a measure of Dalmore 15. The silliness didn’t stop, but at least I had quality whisky to enjoy it with.

So why am I writing all this? Because it’s easy on a night out to get lost in the wonderful whisky and great beer and forget – booze is great, but it’s the people that make it special.

Here’s to all you out there. Share a glass with me would you?

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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The Drinkers Journey

I have before compared the craft beer scene to the local music scenes of old. Whilst both have gained worldwide publicity through the growth of the internet, the beer scene still relies on a physicality that the internet cannot provide. This is most obvious in the USA where many craft brewers brew solely for their own state, or in some cases their own pub. The most extreme cases result in much in demand beers such as “Pliny the Younger” being available only in certain pubs once a year, or the yearly bottling of Three Floyds “Dark Lord”. Even e-bay and its ilk cannot provide access to tap only rarities with any assurance of quality. Continue reading

  • For all the years English nobles spent trying to stamp it out, Whisky is the only class war I know that can cost 50K a bottle.
  • It turns out “There is a beer for everyone in the world, and it’s just a matter of trying different ones until you get the one you like” is not accepted in court as a reason for replacing baby milk with Tokyo stout.
  • Asking in a pub for “a beer” is like asking in a brothel for a “sex act”. Both show a lack of understanding of what you like, and are far too likely to end up with foul tasting yellowed liquid running down your neck.

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)

A Celebration of Whisky: A Counterpoint On Festivals

Whisky Shows and Beer Festivals can be a bit hit and miss, with my current view that they too often lean towards the miss category spelt out here.  However there is one show that has hit the mark every year, even if by that I mean only the two years its been going. The show is London’s Whisky Show.

Last years show came just after I had finished the aforementioned article and came as perfectly timed counterpoint. So what makes it so special?

Partly is the location, whilst not as amazing as the Guildhall last year the Brewery still lends a distinguished air to the proceedings, but that just sets the feel for the events within.

Continue reading

A Celebration Of Ales: On Beer Festivals and the Bath Pavilion Beer Festival 2009

It is an odd state of affairs that a good beer festival must be simultaneously about the Ale, and yet also must not solely be about the ale.

The first part is the easier to comprehend. Without the beer, a beer festival is destined to be nothing more than a gathering of oddly thirsty individuals and so it is the second part of that statement that I shall expound upon.

If a beer festival concentrates purely on putting on a selection of ales, it will find itself lacking despite whatever wonderful range it puts forth, for, especially in this day and age, the beer fan can find hundreds of world beers with nary but a willingness to type words into google. A good festival will have advantages in economy of scale in that they can present beers that would be difficult for an individual to gather without excessive overheads, and keg and cask ales can often taste significantly different to their bottle cousins that are more easily available, but still a beer festival is no more just a collection of drinks that a good tavern is.

A beer festival should not only provide the ales, but an area for enjoyment that is more than not only a home drinking session, but also more than would be available in a decent tavern.

On that note I shall move to look at this years CAMRA festival at the Bath Pavilion. Its selection of ales from around the UK was significant and well ranging, with over 70 ales, and a smattering of Belgium and world beers, plus some ciders.

In previous years there have been problems with security preventing people sitting on the floor, which when combined with the lack of seating available meant anyone with any disabilities or medical problems that made standing for long periods painful found the event less that hospitable, with little comfort shown by the staff and security. Thankfully this year, several chairs spread across the floor became evident, making for a much more hospitable environment.

This however did bring into focus the issue, that for a beer festival there was little in place to encourage and interaction between the many people who came here with a common passion for ale. Whilst, with effort or just by unusual habits (yet again, the taking of beer tasting notes sparked several conversations, including some friendly discussions with the somewhat bemused security staff) conversations could be sparked to discuss preferred ales, mostly the usual circles remained together.

However nothing seemed organised by the festival to help encourage this discussion of drinking habits. The festival would have benefited by maybe an area set for shared tasting of the same ale where drinkers could compare notes and thus help break people out from their usual discussion groups.

The beer program given on entry provided a nice guide to the beers, but in many cases failed to even list the style of the beer – which would seem, even more than ABV, to be the most important information to give.

Also with so many beers being local, getting some people capable of giving more information on the beer would have helped elevate the festival above being just an extra large drinking session.

Any representatives of the Breweries should surely be interested in promoting their ales to such a receptive public, and the information they could give on choices made in developing the beer, its brewing methods, and information on their smaller breweries, would have added a context to the ales that would have surely encouraged a more meaningful sip. Even the organiser giving information on why the chosen beers were ordered for the festival would have given an appreciation of the selection that was unfortunately lacking.

Aside from that even just charts showing what hops were used for which beers, to allow you to see trends between favoured ales or to compare when you find similar notes would add to the joy, and provide a single point to meet and encourage sharing of your newfound knowledge.

It is these lacking details that I referred to in the early paragraphs – without these, or other similar additions, we have but an overly large and less comfortable drinking establishment. Which, whilst impressive in its range, does little to add to the experience of the ale.

Similarly the provided music, which whilst perfectly placed on the first night – proved to drown out conversation on the second night, reducing, rather than enhancing the atmosphere

The festival itself was enjoyable more than this discussion would suggest, but in many ways it was a festival that only gave back to you if you pushed it to do so. Without such prodding it would not open up and become sociable, and thus remained just a collection of ales rather than a festival.

And thus is the crux of an issue, why does so often the ale festival forget that amongst the ale one should find some festivity?

So now I throw the discussion open here on how can these festivals become more, and provide more than just alcoholic refreshment?

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