Thursday, 25 August 2016

Cramlington Festival Triple Threat

The universe creaks as the stars align. The August Bank Holiday looms and beer festivals are once more uncaged from their prison in the Shadow Zone and roam the Earth with impunity. Ravenous, they are, and legion.

The Plough is a public house in my home town of Cramlington (although I do have a bit of a laugh, off and on, about how I live across the road in East Hartford now) and this weekend a beer festival is happening there. For maybe two weeks Jamie, a friend of mine who works there (ring the nepotism alarm!) has been texting me updates on the increasingly "craft" roster of beers she's been putting together.

Into my hands, tonight, went three bottles from this list, a teamsheet of excellent beers both home and away, which puts Cramlington- a town remarkable for appearing in a Biggles book, and for Sting once working here- in an excellent beery light.

Eskimo Joe, from Fierce Beer, looks like a double hard bastard. For a start, the Fierce logo- a pissed-off looking hop, looks it's just about reached its limit for this shit. More obvious than this, though, is the fact that the label art features a polar bear in Inuit garb that is just straight up screaming, You know you're in for a good time when there's a polar bear on the bottle. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Live Beer Blogging From EBBC16

This was a live event, in which I and about 75 other beer bloggers and writers took part in live beer blogging from the European Beer Bloggers Conference in Amsterdam. I have tidied up a few grammatical errors and placed a couple of links I couldn't place at the time. Photographs were taken as I wrote but added later. 

Kompaan Brewery, the second beer I encountered this morning, are first at our table. We're to have five minutes with each brewery, and there are ten in total.

Caps are cracked on bottles of their double IPA, Handlanger. At 8.2% this beer's name translates to "accomplice"- a dangerous companion, the brewers say.

It pours hazy and the colour of dry and dead grass, if grass could blush. This is a good thing. On the nose, bright and pointed fruit. Bitter orange rules over the taste.

Oersoep Microbrewery  are at our table now. They labour over bottle openers as they uncork bottles of Brettalicious. Sour lime, mint, gooseberry and grapefruit scents levitate above the beer, a colour somewhere close to gold dust. Hazy and full of promise. The taste, subtle, refreshing and shimmering bright. Sourness is there, but a relaxed sourness Floral. The aftertaste puckers the mouth. I forgot to photograph this one.

Our next sample is from Maximus Brewery, a number named Saison 5. I'm feeling a little buzzed by this point, these delicious products lying comfortable on my breakfast beers. The requisite farmhouse taste is there but subdued, comforting and low in hop notes.

It is the colour of the early stages of a sunset over East Hartford; my home, and a village I suddenly miss terribly.

White Label from Brouwerij Emelisse appears at our table with an Imperial Russian stout and it's probably time to start living like a Tsar. Chocolate mated with whisk(e)y, or the former slammed into the latter, are the overpowering scents. Looking like an ancient biker jacket that has been liquidised, and tasting of smoky, bitter and ashen coffee, the black coffee of a hangover morning. There are torched caramel elements to the taste that suggest nothing less than an utterly evil Mars Bar.

Brouweirij Kees Barrel Project #05/2016 arrives. It pours beautiful petroleum for a glass filled with cassock-black beer. They leave the bottle. It's an oatmeal stout, lightly spicy and thick on the tongue. They leave the bottle. It's 10% ABV. This is the beginning of the descent, as I dive into a pool of smoky black milk.

It's time to revisit the work of Oedipus Brewery, whose Thai Thai Saison I experienced last night. This beer is called Swingers. a Gose beer (brewed with salt and way nicer than it sounds), soured with lactobacillus (what's up, chemistry nerds) and instantly both thirst and hunger inducing. Someone chopper out a Papa Johns to me right (Amster)damn now.

It hits the senses hard with bitter and bright premium flavours of gummi. Imagine craft gummi and you'e nailed it.

Brouwerij De Prael are another team that leave us the bottle. Their IPA lands on our table. It pours a filthily gorgeous conglomerate of dirty brass and peach in the shadows. The scent is grapefruit. It smells like the few months when, aged 19, I read a book about the Rat Pack and thought I was Frank Sinatra. There is wonderful grapefruit bitterness that crackles like lighting through the mouth.

In T-shirts that seep rockabilly sleaze, the Brouwerij T'IJ team arrive at this boozy speed dating event. They drop upon us their IPA. Dry hopped with citra and mosaic hops, I launch myself at it and pour out too much, vexing Mrs Beer Snob but making amends with a pour-out of mine to hers. The gold of sailor's buttons, again a scent of grapefruit, sharper than the last. Piercing. The taste crashes banana, citrus and more banana against the tongue


Number nine arrives! With a smoked porter called Koud Vuir (cold fire, how metal is that?) Bax Bier make their entrance. Tamer than the unhinged rauchbiers from Germany, it's sessionable if you can get away with the smoky flavour (and this reporter can, and so can you if you dig smoked meat of any kind, I GUARANTEE IT

Duits and Laurent Brewery, hailing from Utrecht, throw the final ball of the match with a wood-aged doppelbock, liquid bread for fasting monks as legend has it. It hits at 7.5%, the taste of the wood obvious, cozy, warming and wonderfully meaty. This medium rare beer has the aspect of well-loved leather, wingbacked and patrician. It really does feel like a meal in a glass, which is pretty good for this thirsty and now quite lit beer scrivener who hasn't eaten since he forced half a sandwich into himself at breakfast.

And with that, the beery speed date is over. A bus leaves at 17:45 to take us on a suicide mission to Jopen Brewery in Haarlem. Those of us who are about to drink (even more) salute you.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Lavender Black Berlinerweiss

The name rings out like a clean piano chord, through the heavy air of a smoky room.

A few years of the Northern Alchemy team naming their beers simply and efficiently, giving them monickers that tell the prospective drinker what they're buying into with minimal fuss, has given us Lavender Black Berlinerweiss. Functionality and simplicity has somehow generated the most perfect name for an Anglo-German, jazz singing, Weimar-era thriller protagonist.

A dark beer, in the Berliner Weisse style. Made with lavender. I pour her into a fine pilsner class, thin and elegant, the sharp citrus of her neck-scent still echoing through my skull.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Something Funny in my Glass- Boba Bubbles and Budget Beer

It's cool that we live in a postmodern world where a person far removed from the streets of Seoul can announce "I like Boba Juice" without sounding like they've recently received a head injury. Bubble Tea, Boba Juice, or whatever you want to call it (and I would probably bet money that a decade down the line there'll be a "craft"-esque pissfight over which descriptor is Right and True to use) is a thing that even colliery-terrace Mole Men like your correspondent know about. It's getting to be everywhere.

Manhua Cha is a startup company here in the North East, and they sling Bubble Tea by the barrel-load. Emma and I keep running into them at conventions and the idea struck both of us that it would be a good idea to put some of Manhua Cha's balls in my drink.

I am so, so sorry for going blue on this one. Forgive a Mole Man his indulgences.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Freedom Brewery's Prototype Pale Ale

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with single step", said the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. He got that right, but if a journey of any distance doesn't end with a beer it's a bit of a wasted trip.

Anyone who's been following this blog or my Twitter account knows that I've gone through a bit in the past three weeks. I've publicly documented my journey from being scared and injured and bordering on becoming a recluse, all the way to stomping merrily out of the house to buy beer. My blog has lost its beery focus for the past few weeks, with my initial and now-deleted post explaining that I would step away from writing for a while.

Now I'm back from the wilderness, and without any further fuss it's time to crack open a bottle of Freedom Brewery's new Prototype Pale Ale. I've missed (and I am going to enjoy) this.

Walk or Die! (Of Beer Thirst)

By God, that's a dramatic header image, isn't it?

I'm fully able to take the piss out of myself now. My sense of humour seems to have come back, along with at least some of the cocksure bullshit that frustrates the hell out of my girlfriend and probably most other people around me when I'm on form.

I'll get onto today's terrifying forced march through the deserts of East Hartford and Cramlington soon, but let's take it back a few hours before the monkey on my back pulled out its service revolver and made me get out and walk.

This morning I was woken up by a call from my work's occupational health department. I dry-mouthedly yessed and yepped and "I understand"-ed along with the physiotherapist for about ten minutes, pretended to both care about and be interested in what he had to say, and then put my phone on flight mode and sacked out for another four hours.

"I slept too long", I groaned, on awaking the second time. For the first time in three weeks I felt I had overslept; it seems my hibernation urge has died in its sleep. This is a pretty big deal for me, because although I started off my recovery wanting to make every moment of my time off count, I quickly ended up sleeping for up to 12 hours a day, and spending my waking hours doing very little.

There was a point in the last three weeks when I was literally scared of daylight. Now, I may like dark, rich drinks, own a black velvet jacket and be a little brooding and Eurotrashy at times but fucking hell, this was going full vampire and that's no way to live.

This afternoon, after Emma went to work, I cinched up my moonboot, took up my nana's walking stick that my mam really should have returned to the hospital a long time ago, and set out for Home Bargains. I was thirsty. I wanted beer.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Slow Recovery, Good Times and Guilt

I feel a little better after writing my last entry.

Remember how I wrote about my dark moods and my darkening sense of humour? My moods aren't so dark any more, my sense of humour slowly brightening.

I've managed to leave the house almost every day since last I wrote about the awful racket inside my head. I don't flinch from bright light any more, the horrible memory of regaining my senses in the sickly Newcastle morning light less intrusive than ever.

The pain comes and goes, rising and falling. I manage to ignore it most of the time, although it sometimes keeps me awake, and despite immobilisation and icepacks the swelling is almost unchanged from the day I got back from the hospital.

I'm still trying to glue my mind together after all of this, and a crushing feeling of guilt has crept in while I've been trying to repair my carcass. It has completely blindsided me.