Opinion and rants

The Session #123 – Do you even blog, Bro?


For this month’s The Session, Josh from Beer Simple is asking us to ponder whether the Internet has been a help or a hindrance to craft beer. 

For the most part attitudes to online interaction have changed significantly from when I was a teen and online activities were only just becoming part of everyday life. Telling someone you’d met a friend/partner online back then would have attracted suspicion and concern for your wellbeing, and online discussion of even the least niche of topics would have you marked as an anti-social nerd. Now, blogging and vlogging is actively seen as a desirable thing to participate in, especially by marketeers.

Their emphasis on individual expression of opinion as ‘authentic’ has created a new way of obtaining cultural capital – maybe your opinion *does* matter – and consequently to participate in these activities and have your ideas acknowledged has become aspirational in itself.  The beer community isn’t separate from this – I’ve met people who feel the need to blog in order to have their opinions validated, or to be acknowledged that they are ‘into’ beer. Conversely, I’ve talked to people who devote their time to discussing beer online who have a ‘do you even blog, bro?’ attitude. 

Whilst I don’t think that craft beer blogging is subject to the level of falsity of paid-for content that other, less niche interest sites are, the desire to be recognised as knowledgeable coupled with the thrill of being ‘liked’ online can also be seen as compromising to the quality and diversity of beer – e.g ‘Blogger X says this beer is great, and that more Brewers should be doing something similar, and they have loads of followers – should I say the same?’ ‘As a beer lover, all these people are saying this is great, I should probably try it.’ ‘I brewed this IPA and these reviews are creating a buzz for this beer, I’ll make something similar soon, with a twist!’ 

Sometimes, of course, good beer is good beer, and there are loads of great bloggers, podcasters and vloggers out there who are objective and distinctive.  I don’t mean to be critical of anyone on a personal level, especially considering I don’t blog that often – spare time being the main factor but also because I don’t want to be retreading other people’s praise, and neither do I have the guts or desire to criticise other people’s hard work. Being overtly scathing  isn’t always necessary, but healthy self-awareness and constructive critical thinking of trends and fads within beer is, even if you don’t write about it overtly. Whenever there is a chorus of praise for something, I also try and think about those who aren’t singing at all. 

The internet has given me a plethora of information – on styles, on breweries, on individual beers – as well as the ability to chat and make friends with people I’d never have ended up meeting without it, so I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. But, like most things, sometimes there’s a tendency to get swept along by the positives, to a point where the downsides get overlooked – and sometimes the internet acts solely as a cheerleader for beery causes or ideals, when a degree of detachment would be more appropriate.

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Opinion and rants

The Session #121 – Bock

This month’s Session is hosted by Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site who has nominated Bock as the topic of discussion;

‘The month of March heralds the start of spring, and March 20 is even National Bock Beer Day. So Bockbiers seemed like a natural fit for the month!

Don’t feel constrained to simply write a review of a Bock beer, though I’m certainly interested to read any reviews that come it. Some other ideas to consider:

  • Dig into into the history of the style—their ties to Einbeck, the differences in the development of Bocks and Doppelbocks, and so on.
  • Do any of your local breweries brew a Bock-styled beer? Seek it out and write about it.
  • Alternatively, interview your local brewer who brewed that beer; get their take on the style and why/how they brewed it the way they did.
  • Have you ever attended Bockfest in Cincinnati, Ohio? It just so happens to take place the first weekend of March—write a review for The Session!
  • There are already the styles of traditional Bock, Doppelbock, Maibock, Eisbock, Weizenbock (and Helles Bock and Dunkles Bock in the BJCP) guidelines. Just for fun, invent a new style of Bock and describe it.
  • Have you homebrewed a Bock or similar style? Tell us about it, and anything you learned brewing this lager style at home.
  • Bock puns!’

To be honest, i’m finding it hard to resist the final suggestion, but my pun gun has long been retired and i’ve tried to commit myself to writing something other than a straightforward review for this month’s post. Here goes, can’t bock out of it now….dammit.

My first thought when I saw the topic for this month was about as far removed from ‘craft’ beer as it is possible to get. My mind wandered back to 2005, when I was definitely not ‘into’ beer – pretty much every purchase I made would have been at the supermarket, and one such trudge through the aisles turned up something new, and to me at the time, exciting – Artois Bock.

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In 2005, Stella Artois was ubiquitous in the UK, far from being ‘reassuringly expensive’ it was seemingly in every pub, bar and chain swill house in the country. The attempts at marketing itself as a luxury, heritage brand had given way to the image of smashed Brits consuming it by the bucket load. As Pete Brown, who had played a large part in ensuring the success of original campaign to position Stella Artois as a quality, premium product in a sea of 4%-ish pale lager, wrote in 2008, Artois Bock had a far more authentic claim to the storied history that was being written for Stella, but the powers that be failed to recognise this and rested on their laurels, delaying the launch by 6 years.

By the time of its eventual release in 2005, the Stella brand had been tainted and recycled into a byword for Saturday night thuggery. It seemed like whenever an incident of drunken disorder was reported, the suggestion was made that it was fuelled by this particular ‘strong’ lager, even though there were plenty of other similar products on the market. Concern from alcohol bodies and the press about binge drinking was a familiar theme, and even at launch InBev were fighting off accusations that the introduction of a 6.2% ABV beer into the UK market was irresponsible.

Looking back at the concern and debate around Stella as a whole, and the launch of Artois Bock in particular, it seems odd, if not laughable when compared to what is readily available in many beer bars up and down the country in 2017. However, there is a peculiarly British obsession with ABV, and Stella’s original strength of 5.2% would have seen it fall firmly into the category of ‘loopy juice’. To launch a new style at this time, at a higher strength, from such a mainstream brand, with a reputation like Stella’s was going to overshadow any marketing, no matter how good the product. Even if it was a bold move by InBev, and actually one that tried to introduce new ideas to their existing market, it seemed a last roll of the dice in trying to position the overall brand as worthy. 

Unfortunately for InBev, it seems from the available apocryphal evidence that the product was also a bit crappy. My own memories of the beer are almost useless – i didn’t really know what it was, I preferred the Peeterman Artois (a wheat-based lager with coriander that was quickly dumbed down even further), and of course, it was 6.2%! I couldn’t have drunk more than a few bottles of that! Loopy juice isnt it?

12 years on, and while I still look in on the Bock family from time to time (Paulaner Salvator currently being sipped), it’s never really taken a place on the podium of styles I really savour. I certainly cannot argue that the stalled curate’s egg of a large macro trying to introduce a minority style into the mass market put me off persisting with Bocks – i just think I prefer my bread in solid rather than liquid form.

 

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Reviews and events

The Session 120: Brown Beer


For this month’s Session topic, Joe Tindall who writes at The Fatal Glass of Beer has nominated a tricky subject to blog about. I say tricky, because in the discourse of modern beer ‘Brown’ has become a inexplicably maligned descriptor, and brown ale as a style is often overlooked or derided.

Brown is what your parents drank. Brown is dull and lifeless. Brown is  unfashionable, and comes in clear bottles, from brands that no longer exist as independent entities, so passé that they’ve become a joke even amongst the communities that they sprouted from. However, Brown ales are also flavourful, rich, moreish, and despite the negatives, are still one of the most satisfying styles around, even more so when brewed with care and creativity.

My original intention for this post was to find a couple of the classics, and drink them side by side with some newer examples. I quickly realised that it would be a pointless task, mainly because the likes of Newcastle Brown and Mann’s have been reduced to pointlessness by a indifferent beer market and the financial pressures of supermarket discounting.

Also, as most contemporary brown ales available are jazzed up and trend-driven, a comparison would be uneven. So instead of digging up the time capsule and finding nothing but a mouldy newspaper and a badly spelled letter, I picked up two bottles that I thought would be at distant ends of the modern Brown ale scale.


Blackjack Brewery are one of Manchester’s new wave of railway arch Brewers, nestled up in the Green Quarter on the edge of the city centre. The River is a Farmhouse Brown that is billed as ‘far from ‘brown’ as it gets’. There is certainly a extreme funk in the air as I pop the cap, and a small gush of foam – the yeast in the bottle has certainly been working away – but the liveliness still sprays out a nutty aroma that screams brown ale.

To taste, I’m getting a lot of banana esters and also a sweet toasty cocoa. The yeasty, brett-like funk gives it an edge that seems a little strange, almost distracting at first, but as a counterpoint it works. I would have liked a bit more spice, perhaps, but it’s a good concept and pretty well executed too.


Odyssey Brew Co are a new, but increasingly lauded brewery hidden away in deep countryside between Hereford and Worcester. They’ve attracted a lot of attention for their range of aggressively flavoursome beer, and this imperial oatmeal stout fits in with that ethos.

My bottle is full of vanilla, coffee and chocolate, and is thick, with a sharp boozy finish – almost akin to a bourbon aged stout. However there is also that characteristic brownness underneath, with lots of sticky caramel and a gentle bitterness. My only criticism would be that on the finish the vanilla slightly overpowers the other flavours.

To be honest, my previous Odyssey experiences didn’t leave me reeling with excitement, but this beer shows why they’ve got a lot of praise. A real hefty pudding of a beer.

With these two beers, and others I’ve tried recently – North Brewing Co’s Bulkhead and Magic Rock’s The Stooge, both excellent from cask – there is clearly life in the style amongst UK brewers, even if the parameters of the style are being ever more stretched. 

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Opinion and rants, Reviews and events

Session 119 – Discomfort Beer

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This post is a contribution to Beer Blogging Friday where a host volunteers to choose a topic for bloggers to write about and then collates the responses.  This time,  Alec Latham has chosen the topic of “Discomfort Beer”, and contributions are focused on beers that challenged, disgusted, or changed the opinion of the writer.

Back in about 2011, I thought I ‘knew’ about beer, mainly because I’d successfully booked a trip to Brussels in 2006 and it coincided with the annual Brussels beer weekend – not that I knew it was on. My partner and I enjoyed it so much that we roped in a few others for a return trip the year after, and the year after that.
With these repeat visits, I had chucked back what I thought at the time were exceptionally strong beers, in a rather typically cavalier youngish Brit abroad fashion. We shared and tried a list of beers that I cannot recall in much detail, and I certainly didn’t really make any attempt to learn much about them at the time. Beer was beer, even Belgian beer. We laughed at the silly outfits of the brewers at the parade, and even made some jokes about the name of some bloke called Michael Jackson sitting in a tent with a load of books he was signing.

As the quote goes ‘the past is a foreign country’, and although in this instance that was literally true, it was my last visit to the Beer weekend in 2011 that demonstrates the figurative truth behind it, and which relates to the topic for this session.

‘One Boon Gooze please’, I said as I approached Boon’s stall. ‘Ok…coming up’ said the hesitant server who had obviously dealt with plenty of oblivious tourists ordering his produce that weekend, and pulling the same mystified/disgusted expression that was to wash over my face in approximately three minutes. My last few tokens of the weekend were handed over, and I looked forward to my last beer of the festival on a Sunday afternoon that had been mercifully dry, compared to the heavy showers of the other sessions.

One swift gulp later, I was wondering what exactly it was that I’d ordered. Was this beer? It smelt like sweaty cider and cheese, and it certainly didn’t taste like what I’d come to expect from Belgian beer – sweet and strong, with or without fruit. Even the Coconut beer we made our friends order as a kind of initiation tasted more palatable than this. Still, not being a person not to finish his beer, I persisted and finished my glass. I thought ‘I’ll take a photo of this, so I don’t order it again next year’, which is the photo above.

My perceptions and reaction planted the seed of doubt in my head – what was this? Did I just not ‘get it’? And so I started looking into the brewery, and then the style of beer, and who Michael Jackson was. Five years on and I know that what I was tasting was almost certainly Boon’s Oude Gueuze, which for a novice to the style was probably the worst introduction. However, it had the effect of prompting me to expand my horizons in a way that the Blondes and Bruins and syrupy sweet Framboises didn’t.

I’m grateful that the person serving me at Boon’s stall didn’t pause to ask ‘have you had this before?’ and recommend something less challenging from another brewer. It’s been much more fun learning about beer following that uncomfortable experience

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Reviews and events

#12DaysofXmas – Day 10 – Pannepot Reserva 2012

The end is in sight, and we’ve got two barrel-aged old ales to drink before the finale on New Year’s Eve. First up is the second beer of this year’s selection from De Stuise Brewing – Pannepot Reserva.

Named after a type of fishing vessel, Struise say this pitches somewhere between a strong dark ale and a stout, and the 2012 reserva is aged on French oak barrels for 14 months.

Poured, the colour is almost as black as a Priest’s socks, and with a strong initial fizz which forms a caramel tinged head. The aroma immediately brings to mind both strong dark chocolate and tobacco. I don’t think I’ve had a beer for a while that has such a formidable sense of taste before I’ve even had a sip.
The flavour stands up to expectations, full of sweet dark fruits, coffee and bitter chocolate. There is also a delicate carbonation that gives a winey dryness, and this helps add to the sense of luxuriance that emanates from the glass. Even more so given that this was a relatively inexpensive beer.

Becky is eyeing this beer eagerly, and I’ve passed the second half of the glass over to her. ‘I’m going to try and be sensible but I’ve already had a large glass of red wine, and I’m laughing at ‘caramel tinged head’. Anyway here goes…. I am guilty of judging a beer by its label and when I go to buy my beer I very much base my initial beer buying decision on the look of the can/bottle. This bottle is the beer equivalent of those 99p classics they sell in The Works and I wouldn’t have been drawn to it had I been choosing tonight’s beer.

I know what Gareth means about the initial fizz. It’s almost like eating one of those shit cola bottles that is fizzy for one suck then you’re just into the ‘flat’ jelly. The overall flavour is delicious, almost like a combination of coffee and red wine. This beer just goes to show you should not judge a beer by its cover and I will endeavour to change my beer buying habits.’

There you go, I’m a source of constant fun in this house as you can tell. At least the beer wasn’t laughable. Another excellent bottle, looking forward to hopefully more of the same tomorrow.

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Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 9 – Holy Oak

After a few days of eeking out a share each of a 330ml bottle, we’re back in big bottle country tonight, and the beer that I am most looking forward to of this year’s selection.

Gigantic brew out of Portland, Oregon and had their fourth birthday earlier this year, they prepared to mark the occasion by flying Magic Rock’s Nick Ziegler out in advance to brew Holy Oak – a barrel-aged kettle sour designed to mimic a whiskey sour cocktail. The collaboration must have gone well as Gigantic made the return trip to brew Special Relationship – a Manhattan cocktail-style aged beer – earlier this year.

I didn’t get round to tasting Holy Oak when it was originally released, and I also thought that I’d missed out on a bottle due to my own inaction. Luckily, Becky noted my interest and picked a bottle up, which has been sitting in our kitchen waiting for the right moment. Which is now.

A satisfying hiss accompanied the popping of the cap, which is usually a good sign, and the beer poured with a thick dense foam. The aroma is obviously max bourbon, but also sweet citrus. The sourness of the beer is pronounced but it balances the oaky bourbon by providing a sugary, tangy hit on the aftertaste. Which isn’t to say that it is overly sweet – it’s designed to ape a Whisky Sour and does so to a tee.

Even the mouthfeel is spot on – slight hints of a thick creamyness, which I would expect from egg yolk in the cocktail – and it isn’t  light, throwaway like a lot of kettle soured beers are. It’s one of those beers that demonstrates it’s creator’s methods with extra layers. I’m very impressed, not only with the end result, but also with the level of thought that must have gone into the process. I think Becky is also pretty happy with this one.

‘It used to be that when Gareth had a sour he would ask me to try it then sit tittering at the expression of disgust on my face. Now however I know if the style of beer I’m trying is a sour that it’s pretty certain I’ll love it and this is no exception. Again another boozy number on the nose and the whiskey taste definitely comes through. Not sure I could drink more that one glass of this one as it feels really strong and is certainly hitting the spot tonight. I best stop now though or I’ll have a ‘Gigantic’ hangover again tomorrow.’

It’s fair to say I’ve certainly not been disappointed with Holy Oak, I’m a bit sceptical of beers that seem to be aping a different drink, but the success of both this and Special Relationship have shown that amazing results can be achieved.

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Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 8 – Tsjeeses

Today’s selection is another Christmas themed beer, and we’ve gone back to Belgium for a beer by De Struise. Near neighbours to the monks at Westvleteren, De Struise are renowned for creating many well regarded beers, including Pannepot (more about that later in the week).

The story behind the name of this beer is that De Struise had been brewing Christmas beers for a few years without finding a good name, until one year the head brewer tasted the latest creation and exclaimed ‘Tjeeses, what a beer’. Nice story. The label also has an interesting reason behind the character’s shades, more info here.

The beer initially pours with a bubbly head, although all carbonation rapidly dissipates. The aroma reminds me of Madeira wine, as does the deep reddish brown colour. The beer is lagered on various fruits, and I’d hazard a guess that cherries and plums would have been used, given the bittersweet flavours. The alcohol does hit post-swallow but in a good way, and the aftertaste is nutty, with a bit of vanilla. I think with a bit more carbonation this would have been truly memorable, but I’m unsure if time in the bottle would help or not. However, for a Christmas beer this is hard to beat in terms of depth and flavour.

‘Yay I’m sober so actually appreciating this lovely beer! Looking at it in the glass you’d think it was brandy rather than beer and it’s very boozy on the nose. Lovely and warming like drinking a spirit. Unfortunately because it’s so good I’ve pretty much finished it before coming to write this but if you like a strong Belgian beer this will be right up your street. Just wish we had more!’

Another well received beer overall, seems like we’re having a pretty successful #12BeersofXmas this year, here’s hoping the next few days keep up this standard.

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