Tag Archive: Essays and Alcoholisms


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.

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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?

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?

Sure

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

Care to join me?

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