Tuesday 24 December 2013

Saisons greetings

Festive farewell: this one is already
making me feel Christmassy
And there we have it. The last beer is pulled out of the calendar and - deliberately I believe - it allows me one final pun before drawing the curtain down on this year's festive feast of beer. 

So I'll raise a glass to Sam, who has not only put together an impressive range of beers from the South West for me, he's also indirectly ensured I've stuck to my task. And I have to give thanks for the foil wrapping, which has just been brilliant. I've felt like a six-year-old boy unwrapping little Christmas presents every day for the whole month. Fantastic.

Just a few reasons why I reckon I've enjoyed this year's more than any of the previous ones. Not only have I lived the ethos and actually drunk one beer a day, I've come to fully appreciate the task of both compiling the beer list and working your way through them. Next year's should be a breeze.

In general, my frame of mind has been better than for a good few years as well, which may well have had a detrimental effect on the quality of the writing but hasn't half helped rekindle enthusiasm for a project that I was beginning to think had run its course.

What's made me think otherwise is the absolute plethora of copycat calendars out there. I'm flattered, of course, that others feel it's a good enough idea to emulate. And I've marvelled too at their inability to keep it going. It's really like watching a baby giraffe take its first furtive steps. I suppose it was always going to happen at some point, but we all know who had the idea first and some among those paying homage have doffed an acknowledging cap my way.

But it's made me all the more determined to carry on next year - hopefully with another 'mystery mix'. Although there is talk of making a calendar available for purchase next year so that people can join in should they desire. I'd be more than happy to forego the mystery should that come to fruition.

In the meantime, it's time to draw things to a conclusion, declare stumps and wave the players off the field. Thanks again for reading and sticking with it through the less interesting times. All comments, retweets, likes and other appreciative noises really are gratefully received.

Now, where's that Saison? Merry Christmas, all.

Beer: Saision
Strength: A totally fine, no really, it'll be OK 6.5%
Smell: Smells terrific. I can't pick much up, to be honest, as my nose is all but blocked, but what I can detect is gently fruity with a hint of spice. Christ, I sound like an actual beer reviewer.
Tasting notes: Brilliant. Just brilliant. So pleased this is the final beer as it really is a cracker. Heh. A cracker. Oh never mind. Bustling like Oxford Street the weekend before Christmas, it crackles away on your tongue like beery Space Dust (Google it if you're under 35). But once its shopping is done, a more relaxed demeanour takes over its features and it sneaks off for a rewarding pint. It then stays there, propping up the bar and smiling at the locals while getting ever more merry. Sure, it knows it'll have to scoot soon, but that's not going to spoil its moment as it dwells longer without ever threatening to outstay its welcome. Then before you know it, out into the cold winter's night it goes, making sure to come back and pick up its forgotten bags of Christmas gifts.
Session factor: It would be unwise, but what the heck? Bring me more. Then some more after that. Cheers.
Gut reaction: Who cares? It's Christmas. *burp*

Actual beer: Bristol Beer Factory Saison. Another beer out of the top drawer from this brewery. Must visit soon.

Monday 23 December 2013

Wet, wet, wet

Weather retort: cocking a snook at
so-called unpleasant conditions
Stormy weather. Storm damage. Storm in a teacup. All headlines I could have used today and all relevant given our current inclement conditions. Let's face it, it's pissing it down out there. 

But I won heartily and hands down today, so the wind can gust as much as it fancies. I'm warmed by successful Christmas shopping, recently ignited central heating and the kind of warm glow made possible only by hearty winter beer and fond memories.

I did a good stint at the coalface of festive purchasing this afternoon and duly rewarded myself with some seasonal refreshment. Blessed am I by the mores of my family and the proximity to shops that cater for them of good juicers. Reader, I didn't disappoint.

From Tottenham Court Road to Bond Street and then Charing Cross, I avoided the crowds and plucked Christmas presents out of outlets as would a heron picking at juvenile frogs. I took a similar approach to the hostelries and lunched well in three fine examples: the Draft House on Charlotte Street, the Harp in Charing Cross and, finally, the Lyceum Tavern on the Strand.

This latter inn is of particular relevance. Granted, it's now a shit boozer that caters almost exclusively to the hard-up, thirsty tourist. But wind the clock back nearly 20 years and it was the pub of reference for me and three others. We called it Bingley Reminder.

It reminded me of nothing. I wasn't there when two of the other three went fishing in the Yorkshire town of Bingley and ended up in a pub drinking Sam Smiths beer to excess, henceforth unable to function properly. I know nothing of the awkward bus journey back to Bradford they shared, jostling with fishing tackle and local people around difficult roundabouts to increasing hilarity. I can barely remember why we ever thought drinking D Pils was even remotely a good idea.

But that was our Wednesday evening for almost a year. Turn up, drink lager near a man who looked for all the world like Peter Shreeves and go home to own houses before 9pm because we were all unable to do much more.

I miss that. Not the incapacity, mind. Just the fact there are three other people in the world (so, London) who will do that at the drop of a hat and regularly. They've all grown up and tired of life, whereas I'm stuck here still clinging to nights from my 20s.

So it's great that I've now got a 10% swine of a beer to finish myself off with this evening. I'm currently fine, but I imagine in 330ml's time, I'll be back in the Bingley Reminder. Looking at dart boards and dreaming of former Manchester City managers.

It's what we all would have wanted.

Beer: Tripel
Strength: A quite frankly absurd 10%
Smell: Glue and bubblegum out of the bottle. Tramp-strength lager out of the glass.
Tasting notes: Apples. Apples everywhere. In all honesty, I can't think of a more fitting beer to have this evening than this one. It's ridiculously strong and has put me straight back to the evenings I referred to above. D Pils was a daft lager; this is a similarly silly ale. A mound of preposterous sweetness in a football sock of stupidity, it really only has one way to go. Downhill. Harti Weirather would be hard pushed to match its descent, even on the familiar slopes of the Hahnenkamm. Then it wallops straight into the glüwein like a German given free rein on New Year's Eve and deposits such a large dollop of sickly disappointment at the end that you're forced to try another gulp just to make sure. One for the ski resorts, I fancy.
Session factor: Oh, do come on.
Gut reaction: What with it being both lively and strong, this could have 'off work the next day' repercussions.

Actual beer: Sharp's Brewery Honey Spice Tripel. From the Connoisseurs range. Beer equivalent of dubplate culture. Yadda.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Adverse amber

AA rescue: less a soothing pint,
more cattarh catharsis
Blummen heck, there are only three of these beers left. Which is exactly how many days I've been feeling like I've been gargling neat lighter fuel washed down with a cocktail of hydrochloric acid over crushed broken glass. Then being garotted with a length of rusty barbed wire. 

Yes, still ill; still complaining about it. I'm doubtless in the same position as many others out there whose immune system switches off towards Christmas, allowing whatever hybrid virus is flying around to make a cosy home in their bodies. I personally blame the proximity to other people necessitated by commuting on London's 'great-for-its-age' tube system, but there are clearly countless other reasons.

The old me would have insisted this was just typical of my luck. That some malign influence has got it in for me and wants me to have a particularly shit time while all others are enjoying themselves. But I've come a long way in a year and am more than convinced that's a load of horse manure.

Some time ago, way back in the early days of my freshly imposed singledom, a friend trotted out a cliché - admittedly a new one on me - that went along the lines of 'for an arrow to go forward, it first has to be pulled backwards'. Although granted it was put more poetically than that. And I appreciated the sentiment (while kind of hoping I didn't really have to go backwards all that far). But at the time it seemed like yet another platitude doled out to make me feel marginally better about my circumstance.

This year has shown me how it can have some relevance - or at the very least that you can view things in that way. I've had a fair few setbacks this year, but for seemingly no real reason, I'm now in a much better place than I was at its outset.

Even today, when approaching what I see as the wall that marks the boundary between London and 'the country' - or Westerham Hill as it's better known - I initially became frustrated at the cars ahead being 'a bit slow'. This is less down to the latent boy racer in me and more due to the fact if I don't get a really good run-up to that hill in my clapped-out jalopy, I'm forced to go into at least second gear before the top. Instead of getting annoyed, I just slowed down. Waited till the cars ahead were out of sight, then got the gas down as required to get me up the hill. I wouldn't have done that a year ago. This is genuine, recognisable progress.

As is this year's calendar. Looks like for the first time ever, I'm going to stay true to the one-a-day ethos. I think this is partly because I haven't compiled it and I feel a sense of duty, but a lot of it is down to the fact I haven't been out (or stayed in) on the sauce so badly I've been unable to drink even one bottle the next day. More steps forward. This is good.

But what's better is that, after a weekend of mainly feeling a bit grim, I now have what appears to be a nice, manageable ale to douse the gullet fire and fade into Sunday night. Right now that's particularly welcome.

Beer: American Amber
Strength: A perfectly acceptable 5.8%
Smell: Hoppily goodness out of the bottle and like a Christmas cake marzipan out of the glass.
Tasting notes: Really not what I should be having with this throat of mine, but boy is it a whopper. There's very little I don't like about this beer and that's a surprise given I'm usually fairly ambivalent about amber ales. It rasps from the off like an over-revved combine harvester in a cornfield, spraying fragments of flavour about willy nilly as it tracks its course across the tongue. And straight down the neck, never once letting up and fizzing its way down as would a dose of drain-clearing sodium hydroxide. In my current state, it's actually hurting a bit, but I wager I'd love this if I were operating closer to 100 per cent.
Session factor: Devilishly high. Like prodding an aching tooth with your tongue, no matter how much it smarts, you can't help but carry on.
Gut reaction: I fear clearage. Best stick the bog roll in the freezer.

Actual beer: Wiper And True Amber Ale In The Pines. I'm glad I liked this. And a mere 5.3% according to the label.

Saturday 21 December 2013

In a glass darkly

Get stout: the time has come for
soothing beery goodness
Winter Solstice is great in many ways, not least it being the shortest day of the year so when it's not going well, you don't have to wait long until it's dark and you can hit the bottle. 

Today's been a stinker. Woke up to find someone had been sanding the inside of my throat with emery paper and filled in my nasal passages with the dustings. Not even two cups of coffee fired down on the bounce managed to wake me up properly, so I've been sitting in a catatonic state for most of the afternoon. Plus, the youngest daughter has been ill all day, only to miraculously recover now Strictly Come Dancing is on the telly soon. Now she's awake and excited. 

It's not been great football-wise either. Oldham succumbed to a feeble home defeat to Colchester, made all the worse thanks to an own goal opener. And to cap it all, the weather has been awful. Howling winds, horizontal rain and the kind of grey skies that make you wish the daylight away. All contributing to the feeling that it's almost certainly time to hibernate. Thankfully, there is beer. And it looks like a big, thick comfort blanket of one this evening.

Stouts are rapidly becoming my winter beer genre of choice. Two of my favourite beers this year were imperial stouts of some distinction - To Øl Liquid Confidence and Kernel Barrel Aged Blend Imperial Stout - and I've since had several more that have been sublime, including one from Brewdog, who have clearly got their act together in the last year or so.

There's something about the velvety texture, the coffee and dark chocolate flavours and the often sharp, lingering hoppy finish that make it a supremely comforting winter combination. And it feels good for you too, which I'll welcome today as I continue to cross swords with this lurgy.

Beer: Stout. Lovely stout.
Strength: A hopefully sleep-inducing 7.5%
Smell: What little of this I can detect through crippled sinuses smells like plummy Christmas pudding. Perfect.
Tasting notes: Just what the good doctor ordered, this. A perfect counterpoint to the bitter weather and rasping throat, this is a medicinal marvel that is pouring calming oils on the choppy waters of my gullet. It could almost be a glass of sherry liqueur, such is its upfront stickiness. It reeks of alcohol too, almost too much if I'm honest, but this is beatifully offset by the terrifically spicy finish. There is an overall feeling that what I'm drinking here is practically like food. It's definitely contributing to an overall warming sensation that I'm keen to perpetuate. Here's wishing I had another one.
Session factor: Not huge, really. I'd drink more, if only to carry on with the 'treatment'.
Gut reaction: Just had a fairly spicy curry and I'm pretty sure this is helping that too.

Actual beer: Bristol Beer Factory Ultimate Stout. Yeah. Good.

Friday 20 December 2013

Lighter grade of pale

Wan vision: I predict big things for
this ale in summer
Nothing much to report today save nursing a throat that felt like someone had been at it with a set of rusty razorblades. When called upon to talk, I made Tom Waits sound like a pre-voicebroken Aled Jones. 

Could have done without it today as there was an important project to get out and having to do it remotely wasn't easy. But we muddled through somehow and things are finally beginning to wind down at work, with only a day and a half left before we finish for Christmas.

Not long left on the calendar either. Just half a dozen beers before I can hang up my liver for another year. It's been an interesting one for me, what with not knowing what each day will bring and unwrapping each beer to reveal its identity as if it were a little Christmas present. I think I'd like to do this again some time.

Tonight's is a fairly weak pale ale, which I'm happy about. Although my throat would probably prefer a nice, thick, unctuous stout. Perhaps I'll wash it down with a teaspoon of honey.

Beer: Pale ale
Strength: An evening-soothing 3.9%
Smell: Honestly smells like a hoppy pint of Fosters. No one's going to thank me for that, are they?
Tasting notes: I was going to say it was inoffensive and slightly boring, but there's a terrific end to this that lifts it above the moribund and saves it from its opening, which really is slightly insipid. But it just gets better with time. I get the feeling you could serve this to a committed lager drinker and they wouldn't complain. Until the finish, when they'd wonder if someone had spiked their pint. I'm not giving this an unqualified thumbs up, mind. It's a solid pale that would be great on a summer day sitting by a river. Pretty good for a beer that's only 3.9%.
Session factor: Big. But not right now.
Gut reaction: It's not sitting well on that hunk of Lancashire cheese I just polished off.

Actual beer: Gloucester Brewery Priory Pale. I'll have some of that come the middle of next year. 

Thursday 19 December 2013

Slow down selector

Brett plucky: takes more than a dash of
daring to face this monster
Why is the last mile the hardest mile? So sang one Stephen Patrick Morrissey when asking the massed ranks of indiedom whether it was really so strange way back in 1997. Some 16 years later, it's still a fair question. 

Because faced with what could quite easily be dispatched in an enthusiastic evening, I'm now beginning to hit the wall. And this despite thinking this will be the first year I actually manage to keep it regular and drink each beer on a separate day.

Cumulative effect? Feeling the pace? Running out of ideas? Maybe all of these, but one thing is for certain. I'm beginning to flag just as the end is in sight.

Take this evening's beer, for example. An old ale fermented with brettanomyces yeast. Had this come out at the outset, I'd have been falling over myself and several other things in my haste to try it. But today, I'm almost resentful of its inventiveness. In contrast, I couldn't get enough of last night's low-strength mild.

Which begs the question, can you have too much of a good thing? Now I realise this calendar probably wouldn't exist were it not for the huge variety of interesting beers available out there. And that maybe I'd have done it for a couple of years, then binned the idea. Nevertheless, I can't help thinking a few more bland, standard ales would have been more than welcome at the business end of this year's crate.

This is, of course, a pathetically veiled attempt to elicit sympathy from the reader as I'm about to plunge into the unknown and slug back a hefty, most-likely challenging beer. Of potentially dubious taste at that. Worse still, I've a beery bash to attend later. Oh woe, etc.

Well with any luck, there will be a commercially available calendar for sale next year so you can all join in and try it yourselves.

Beer: Old ale with brett
Strength: A particularly unwelcome 7%
Smell: Like walking past the Sarsons' vinegar factory along a damp Lancashire canal towpath
Tasting notes: Hahahaha! It's a triumph and a colossal blunder in one glass. Yes, it tastes of a pretty good old ale and there is some interesting stuff going on with the yeast that gives it a Belgian flavour. And right at the end there's a distinct if miniscule flicker of '70s confectionery delight Caramac, which is always a treat for me. But always in the back of my mind is the thought this is a beer that hasn't just jumped the shark, it's riding bareback on the thing clinging on to its dorsal fin and doing a passable impression of a rodeo cowboy. That's not to say it's unpleasant; it isn't. In fact, it is perfectly drinkable. I just can't help feeling it could have done with an editor (thanks, Boak & Bailey) before it came out of the brewery.
Session factor: Fairly low as it's pretty hefty and takes a bit of effort.
Gut reaction: Worried about the wild yeast, I imagine this one could run and run.

Actual beer: Wild Beer Modus Operandi. Ooops. I had their Schnoodlepip earlier this month and it provoked a similarly giggly response. I think I like this brewery.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

When a mild is borne

Dark matters: an old man's drink
that looks the part
As the rains of a thousand Manchesters spatter the backyard to wash away the grime of the day - and leak into my badly designed Renault no doubt - so do I reach for another beer to soothe the pain of another tough shift at the coalface of life. 

In fairness, it hasn't been that trying, so the fact the beer is a low-strength mild is as fitting as it is welcome. Actually, apart from a bit of late evening fractiousness from the nippers, it's been pretty good, all things considered.

Work went as well as could be expected, I managed to do some shopping and the dinner I cooked was wolfed down with some enthusiasm. But all the running around has kind of taken it out of me and I'm more than happy to be sitting in my comfy office chair taking it easy and rattling out some not-particularly well-chosen words.

Still, as a couple of people commented earlier, we're only a week away from Christmas and, more importantly, seven beers away from the end of the calendar for another year. So far, I've managed to stay true to the one-a-day philosophy that underpins the blog (despite never having achieved that feat in the 8+ years I've been trying). Only one more serious test remains - the Caught by the River Christmas party.

Having scored a mild tonight, it stands to reason tomorrow's will be a stinker, so I think I'll have to sample it at work and 'speed blog' about it.

But before then, there is the tiny matter of a truly small beer to drink.

Beer: Mild
Strength: A piddling 3.9%
Smell: Christmas pudding out of the bottle; more like Bourbon Creams from the glass.
Tasting notes: Ah, mild. Long ago when the little Lancashire hill town of Oldham had its own brewery, this is the drink I would turn to. Principally because it was dirt cheap. When I started being served in the pubs, OB Mild was about 63p a pint. You could be fairly drunk for less than £3.50, so naturally I developed a taste for the stuff. I liked the nuttiness, the wateriness, the treaclyness (not sure that's a word, but stay with me on this). And I liked the fact no one else my age would touch it; here was an old man's drink for sure. I remember explaining it that way to a girl I'd convinced to go out with me after ordering a pint in a pub in Altrincham. She already thought I was too old for her; this sealed it without a shadow of doubt. But I wasn't bitter (heh). And after she left, I had a couple more milds for good measure and left the pub whistling. This mild has transported me right back there. It's a fine example of a creamy, dignified, brooding, working-class pint that cared nor still cares for what the good-looking girls of Cheshire think of them. I'd like more.
Session factor: See above for clues. If the entire calendar had been filled with this, I would not have minded.
Gut reaction: Mild by name, this is gloriously understated. This beer is my friend, for Godssakes. It's not going to cause trouble now.

Actual beer: Cotswold Spring Old Sodbury Mild. I'll be getting more of this soon.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Unholy trinity

Tripel whammy: could have done
without this beer-moth
Well if yesterday was bad, today took the absolute piss. The pointlessness of the work I do writ large and plastered all over the full eight and a half hours. Bar a couple of emails, I doubt I've actually written more than 50 words all day. 

The entire time was spent shuffling the odd bit of copy here and there, slightly tweaking design and forwarding stuff to people who really don't care or really shouldn't. Fantastic.

Pints after work never seemed so deserved. But it really made me think about the futility of this. And having heard a story this evening about some of the ridiculous hoops some of the new breweries now have to jump through in terms of food hygiene, I reckon I'm now qualified to talk about that.

All piss-balling about, really. For me, it's not the writing that takes the time, it's the sign-off process that makes Heath Robinson look likehe stumbled upon an efficient, logical way of working. For breweries, as I've discovered this evening, it's the food hygiene hoops they need to jump through should red tape have its way that, quite honestly, would close down more than 75 per cent of them should it be necessary to adhere to.

More about that at some other point, but for the time being, let's say I'm against this kind of thing. It's counter-productive, takes up too much time and will ultimately result in nothing happening of any consequence.

Which is exactly what will happen if I drink this beer and expect something to happen. It's a bloody strong Tripel that I really could do without right now. Nevertheless, it will be drunk. Because it has to be done. Like some kind of beer advent calendar red tape, it's impossible to ignore.

Beer: Tripel
Strength: An unwelcome 8.5%
Smell: Trampled apples and a bakery with a leaky roof
Tasting notes: OK, I'll declare interest here and say I really wasn't looking forward to this. However, just one sip and I'm hooked. Like a 1970s anti-smoking advert, I'm under the spell of the Tripel equivalent of Nick-O-Tine. This is delicious. A barrage of bubbles awaits the unwitting debutant and you think - momentarily - that it's going to be just like every other UK equivalent of a so-called Trappist ale. But no. Because clearly these guys have been adhering neither to the laws of beer nor those of the Food Standards Agency. In short, this is a beer that tastes like it's been made by real people dealing with authentic ingredients under realistic conditions. I couldn't give a monkey's whether they were wearing clinically approved white suits while they made it. This is terrific and, if the food Nazis have their way, a threatened product. Get it while you can.
Session factor: Too strong to be sessionable, nevertheless I'd stock up now for future reference.
Gut reaction: It has an reassurance the like of which can only ever be reliably reproduced by cod liver oil.

Actual beer: Bristol Beer Factory-Arbor-Harbour Brewing La Trippale. Three fantastic breweries coming together to deliver a brilliant beer. Hats off. 

Monday 16 December 2013

Noise from the black stuff

Tar baby: a bubbling young upstart
in a bottle
This will be a quick one, I expect. After a day spent fannying around changing the odd word here and there and talking about generating others, writing more now just seems like overkill. 

Some say it's a thankless task doing what you're supposedly good at for a living if it's not quite what you were hoping and that's something I'm definitely feeling now. Work involves writing things other people want you to write in a way they want it written. Before they then change it to something worse than it was before. 

I don't mind having my copy criticised or hacked to bits; it's something you have to get used to if you have designs on being a writer. Sometimes the subject matter is interesting, other times it's dull and it's your job to make it engaging. I'm pretty sure I can do that five days a week. 

The difficult bit is coming home and feeling any kind of enthusiasm for creating anything else - usually the stuff you're inspired by as well. Which is often how it feels with this blog and the other things I do in my spare time. Quite frankly, there are some days you get home and the last thing you want to do is sit in front of a computer tapping out more words that frequently feel - by that point at least - laboured and forced. I'm sure this would be far more entertaining were I a bus driver or something.

Tonight's update being a case in point. I feel like I'm going through the motions, so it wouldn't surprise me one jot if readers are struggling with this too. I console myself with the thought I'm nearly two thirds of the way through this annual marathon, but in the back of my mind there's the nagging thought that this really should be more entertaining. A showpiece. A calling card even. 

And it's not this evening. It's just all I can muster on what's been a pretty dull Monday. Not much in the way of drama happened in my world today. So an unispiring piece is at least accurate if not exactly knicker-gripping stuff. 

Hopefully the stout will provoke some kind of reaction that will lift this from the arena of the mundane. 

Beer: Stout
Strength: A mildly unnerving 6.4%
Smell: Darkness in a glass. Like I imagine a barrel of pitch would smell if it were turned into beer.
Tasting notes: This made a right racket when I poured it into the glass, but the fizziness faded fairly quickly. It's a similar story in the mouth. Brash as a dandy teenager in a pink plaid suit at first - enough to make your whole face crease up in a mixture of respect for the audacity and outright revulsion - it settles down briskly and behaves considerably more placidly after that. Like it had just met a member of the opposite sex it liked and immediately became introverted to the point of awkwardness. It still has a temper, mind. And as soon as it realises it's not wanted, it clears off sharpish with not much more than an 'uh' as a parting shot. 
Session factor: Not particularly company you'd want to keep, but nice to bump into every now and then. 
Gut reaction: Difficult to tell. They're unpredictable, these adolescents.

Actual beer: Towles' Fine Ales Ma Beese's Chocolate Stout. Comes in at 7% according to the label. Didn't get any chocolate in there at all, really. 

Sunday 15 December 2013

Serious drinking

Beyond a pale: a weak beer stuffed to the
gunwales with flavour
We're in recovery mode here at Beer Advent Calendar Towers. This involves hefty lie-ins, big jumpers, posh bread and cheese. And soon, more beer. 

I'm more tired than anything else. Having gone out on a few choice beers yesterday and little food, I imagined today was going to be one long hangover. But the drinks choice at the venue was so dire I pretty much failed to finish every one I bought. In the end, I just stopped bothering. Clearly having too much of a good time.

There does seem to be a pattern emerging here. Not for the first time have I bailed out early, so to speak, on what would normally be a full-on booze-a-thon. Might be that I'm getting too old for it all and can't hack the pace any more, but I'd prefer to think I'm beginning to eschew overindulgence to the point of generally being a bit of a twit in favour of being slightly more sensible.

Of course, time will tell whether I manage to pull it off, but I'm thinking of setting myself a New Year's resolution to only drink good beer slowly and in moderation. Which will hopefully put an end to the kind of raging hangover I feared I'd have today. I've a couple of events before Christmas that I can use as practice runs. See how the land lies, that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, we're only 10 beers away from Christmas Eve, so it's time to stop rambling, crack open this pale ale and start the countdown.

Beer: Pale ale
Strength: A liver-friendly 4.1%
Smell: A mite vinegary out of the bottle, in the glass it's a totally different bowl of fruit, tropical stuff at that.
Tasting notes: Not sure I can trust my somewhat furry palate right now, but what I can say is this should go some way to removing at least one layer of matter from my tongue. At first, it feels like someone's confused my mouth with a juicer and is twisting a half of grapefruit into it. There's a momentary lapse as they stop to grab another half and someone sneaks in with a slice of melon, then there it goes again. Pulp, pith and skin is rammed in there for good measure and you're left with the kind of tangy sensation that would have Jilly Goolden frothing at the mouth and unable to articulate.
Session factor: Dangerously high. This stuff would test my New Year's resolution mettle to its limits.
Gut reaction: I foresee no disturbance as a result of drinking this beer.

Actual beer: Moor Beer Company So'Hop. Down as 4.3% on the label and one of my favourite breweries, which makes me all the happier having enjoyed it.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Just like honey

Soft landing: a safety net of a beer that so
far seems to be working well
Some days things just fall into place, without any planning, and there's nothing you can do about it. Not that you'd want to, of course. It's nice when things work out well. 

Today has been one of those days, despite the inauspicous start waking up on the sofa with a badger's arse in your mouth. For badger's arse read 'red wine fur'. The loss of a few crucial wickets in the third test didn't help matters much either.

But it was uphill all the way since then. Couple of coffees kicked things off and all at once my needle hit the groove. Wandered to the tube station, whereupon the train arrived. Drove back from New Cross along clear streets. Found a parking space right outside the Kernel Brewery where I was doing my Christmas beer shopping. Picked up some great bottles there and at Brew By Numbers.

Drove home along eerily deserted streets, found a parking space right outside the door and have since lunched well. As I write this, I'm sipping on some Johnnie Walker Black Label freebies brought along by Andy, who is over from Canada bearing north American beer gifts and kicking the back doors of this weekend right in.

All this and I've managed to finally pay my outstanding VAT bill as well, so the bailiffs won't be calling round before Christmas. The only thing I haven't managed to do is get to the Caught By The River Christmas Market, but time slipped away too much. There will be others.

Tonight sees us head out to Siege Mentality at The Castle in Aldgate, a down-at-heel scruffy corner pub that allows the good DJs of Purple Radio to play records loudly till the very early hours. Tomorrow will be a struggle, but I'm not even thinking of that right now.

In fact, the only blot on the day's landscape is the beer I pulled out. A honey beer. Up there with Christmas beers on the list of 'stuff I could happily do without'. Fortunately I have a partner in crime with which to share it/on whom to palm most of it off should it be necessary.

As I said. It's all falling into place.

Beer: Honey beer
Strength: A piddling 4%
Smell: Like a Victorian urinal out of the bottle. Really. Much, much sweeter in the glass.
Tasting notes: My fears have not been realised. And it's lovely to have your expectations dashed for a change. Obviously thought this would be cloyingly sweet and barely drinkable, but some bright spark clearly decided they were going to make a mead crossed with pure hop extract, to the extent it's actually considerably better than the sum of its parts. Kind of reminds me of St Peters Pale Ale. It's a genuine pool ball in a velvet sock of a beer, weedling its way into your good books then coshing you round the back of your head while you're not looking. Then it's off, not outstaying its welcome and disappearing into the night.
Session factor: Higher than I imagined and at 4% it could easily be slugged back with fair abandon.
Gut reaction: For the first time ever, I really don't know. Not too gassy, light and hopefully unlikely to trouble the innards. Time will tell.

Actual beer: Skinner's Heligan Honey

Friday 13 December 2013

Porter, porter everywhere

Desk duty: had to neck this in the office
due to impending Christmas bash
Still somewhat embarrassed by yesterday's outbreak of possibly unnecessary 'beer honesty', I'm treading a little more carefully today, fortunately with a style I'm much more at ease with.

In fairness, it was one of those episodes straight out of the 'if something can go wrong, it will' book. I was more than happy for a home-brew or two to go into the calendar and Sam was perfectly pleased to oblige. And right there was when the accident began waiting to happen.

Somewhat worryingly, I haven't heard from Sam all day. I'm hoping this is due to him being busy what with the pre-Christmas rush and all and that my potentially over-the-top criticism was laughed off heartily over a bottle of the same stuff, with the thought: "there's nothing wrong with it," crossing his mind and quizzical brow*.

I really hope he's stashed one of the imperial stouts he's brewed in there because I know I like that and I can shower it with praise.

Who'd be a critic, eh?

I'm on more familiar territory with this style, just as it seems England's cricket team is finding its usual modus operandi. Holding the Ashes was good while it lasted, but I suppose it had to end at some point. And after the stick he got a few years ago, it's almost nice that the difference between the sides appears to be Mitchell Johnson. Although that moustache is ridiculous.

But enough of what's not been keeping me awake in the last few weeks and on to something that I hope will contribute to a sound night's sleep on the sofa this evening as I'm accommodating two mates staying over and can't rightly make them take the couch.

You see? I can be nice.

*edit: I have now discovered yesterday's wasn't one of Sam's beers after all. Thank fuck.

Beer: Porter
Strength: A handily manageable 4.5%
Smell: Like opening a big tin of Quality Street, breathing in the fumes from a cup of steaming cocoa or Shreddies on the barbecue.
Tasting notes: Oh this is good. A tidal wave of mocha bowls up the tongue before washing away down the shingle of your throat. It leaves behind a fantastically tangy flavour and I swear there's a hint of some smoked chilli in there somewhere. But what really impresses is the contrast with the smell. You're expecting a gentle pat on the head to say 'well done', you're given a sharp clip round the ear. But then the resulting sting turns out to be genuinely warming. I really like this.
Session factor: High. High, high, high, high, high. Ooh-hoo. As David Byrne would say.
Gut reaction: For some reason, what's usually a calming influence is today being a mite volatile. There may be trouble brewing.

Actual beer: Box Steam Brewery Funnel Blower. I've had a few of their ales and while the nomenclature can leave a lot to be desired (Piston Broke, anyone?), the beers themselves are really good.  

Thursday 12 December 2013

Festive fusty

Yule regret this: Christmas beer generally
leaves me cold
Bah humbug and all that. I've had a right bugger of a day, what with a three-hour meeting I could have done without and an awkward call to a client. 

Now I've got 10 minutes to write this drivel, drink the beer, review it wittily and head out to meet a couple of mates at my pub of the year.

It's been pretty hectic and there was a point midway through the day when I was suddenly plagued by self doubt. That lasted a good couple of hours and wasn't pleasant.

But then the call was made, the clients seemed relatively happy, nobody told me off and all at once the clouds lifted. I like it when it's that easy to change the complexion of a day.

More of this ridiculous 'speed blogging' tomorrow as I've got the work Christmas bash to attend. This is why keeping the calendar going is so bloody difficult. Too much to do in December, you see. So many beers, so little time.

Tonight's is a Christmas Beer. I hate novelty stuff usually and make no exception for these annual, overly strong Yuletide offerings. It'll be like drinking liquid Soreen Malt Loaf, no doubt. With treacle on. And some ground cinnamon for good measure.

At least I'll have the best of what the Draft House has to offer to wash the doubtless overbearing taste away.

Beer: Christmas beer. Ho bloody ho.
Strength: A festive 5%
Smell: Germoline. I knew this was a bad idea.
Tasting notes: Ah, it's as bad as I expected. There's an overpowering smell competing with the dankness of rotting ginger at first, then it kicks in properly and reminds me of John Cooper-Clarke's Kung Fu International, only in a curry house crossed with a local hospital. There isn't a proverbial snowball's chance in Hell I'm going to finish it, which I suppose is good given I'm in a hurry. In its defence, it's not as malty as I was expecting and once the initial assault on the senses subsides there's a pleasing bitterness about it, like an elf or something flailing your tongue with a sprig of holly.
Session factor: Fat chance. I'm not even finishing this.
Gut reaction: I don't think it'll be as bad as I was expecting given it's much lighter than I bargained for.

Actual beer: Spruce Moose. By the man who compiled the list, I think. If it's any consolation, I feel massively guilty. In my defence, I did say I really don't like Christmas beers.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Best bitter blues

Aptly monikered: a best bitter that
actually lives up to its name
It had to happen and today it has. Wheels have come off, everything's gone wrong and what's more I'm coming down with a cold. Yes, I've got the mid-calendar blues. 

There's no getting away from it. Happens every year. At least this year I've not had some romance-related catastrophe to deal with, for which I'm terrifically grateful. And I haven't even looked at the webpage hits plummeting, so it's not that either.

No, I think it's just the hectic schedule combined with the relentless regularity of beer drinking that's chipped away at the resolve from the inside and finally the whole thing has come crashing down around my ears.

Actually, it's not that bad. I'm just tired out and work is being a pain. There isn't going to be any let-up either. More social nights out are in the diary, clients are going to get ever more frantic and still I have a beer to drink and write about till Christmas Eve.

I know what you're thinking. This is 'First World Griping' out of the top drawer. Poor chap has to drink beer. Diddums. And you'd be right. The upside is, and I don't know how he's managed it, Sam has scheduled me a nice and accessible low percentage best bitter for this evening.

Reckon even I can stomach that without too much bellyaching.

Beer: Best bitter
Strength: A well-timed 4.5%
Smell: It genuinely smells like bread and butter. Specifically, the stuff you get at cheap cafés to dip in yer Minestrone.
Tasting notes: That is a really top-notch best bitter. I'm not going to bleat on about finely balanced malts and hops because that's frankly meaningless to a whole load of readers (assuming anyone's still persevering). What I am going to bleat on about is the fact it has a taste profile not unlike a boa constrictor that's eaten a gnu several hours ago. Smooth and sleek at first, it's then huge in the middle before gradually tailing off nicely at the end. I don't mind that it looks a bit dank, like sodden bricks on a hillside in Bolton. It's providing all that I ask from a best and isn't going to upset the delicate applecart that is my long-suffering liver.
Session factor: Big. This is slipping down like Franz Klammer*.
Gut reaction: Soothing. Calming. Warming.

*downhill skier from the early 1970s, for the younger viewers.

Actual beer: Bath Ales Barnsey. One of their better ones, I reckon. Improves over the course of a glass too. Good stuff.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Thirst Tuesday

Load of Yank: a fittingly uninspiring style,
American Pale Ale
Some days, there is nothing. And it's usually Tuesdays. No inspiration, no entertaining anecdotes, no news to report. Just nothing. 

That was pretty much the long and the short of it today. Save the Vice magazine Albums of the Year list, practically nothing amused me today. Work was average in that I was neither too busy nor particularly idle. I wasn't told off about anything. Nor was my outstanding contribution showered with praise.

In fact, possibly the best thing I can say about today is that I didn't get knocked off my bike. Truly, it has been the realm of the nondescript this mundane 10 December.

Although saying that, I did some top quality reminiscing about Mr Wu's Chinese restaurant at the bottom end of Leicester Square. For some unfathomable reason, it was an old boss's favourite lunchtime eatery. He was Scottish. Mr Wu's was an 'all-you-can-eat-for-a-fiver' buffet outlet. Make up your own minds. On the rare occasions I went, all I could eat was the 'vegetable suprise' and the egg fried rice. The surprise was finding anyting other than onions in the dish. It did good hangover-mopping stodge, though, and I suspect that was the real reason the old boss used to frequent the gaff.

I could have done with Mr Wu's today. Last night's trip to the Draft House on Charlotte Street - easily my pub of the year, incidentally - was ill-advised at best. A Schnoodlepip on top of that meant this morning was one of December's hazier ones. I still feel slightly queasy now, although that has been offset by the winnings I picked up from my old workplace on the way home.

And in another half an hour or so, I'm heading out again. To drink more beer. Sod what T.S. Eliot thinks, December is the cruellest month without doubt. Still, Sam's scheduled a kind one today, so all is not lost.

Beer: American Pale Ale
Strength: A perfectly reasonable and keyboardly pleasing 5.5%
Smell: A bit like yesterday's beer out of the bottle. And I don't mean the beer I had yesterday. Out of the glass there's a distinct smell of Granny Smith's apple. Or Timotei shampoo, I can't work out which.
Tasting notes: If I didn't know better - if only by the shape of the bottle - I'd almost swear this was St Austell Proper Job. Massively sharp hoppy hit the moment it meets your mouth, but that's where the comparison ends. After that it - I do beg your pardon - pales into insignificance. Rather fitting for today, then. Somewhat weirdly, the finish reminds me of taking bites out of snowballs as a child. Then it all goes a bit Liquorice Allsorts.
Session factor: Pretty high, although I'm not really convinced I fancy another.
Gut reaction: I get the feeling I'll be belching all evening, which isn't what's required, quite frankly.

Actual beer: Kubla Abora. Not bad, nothing to write about. 

Monday 9 December 2013

Brett a life

Open saison: just get on with it and stop
piss-balling about
Sometimes you just can't help but fail. You know you're doing it. There's every chance to avoid it. Yet somehow, almost uncontrollably, you lurch toward cocking it up royally despite all opportunity to get it right. 

That's usually a preamble to me moaning on about having yet again botched some kind of romantic liaison or fouled up a particularly involved project or other. But tonight, it's nothing of the sort. It's just the general feeling I have about how I sometimes approach things that I've already decided are going to be good.

Chances are I've thought about it a bit too much. Given it too much potential. Set the scene for a perfectly knit plan of action to unravel. In practically every walk of life, I'm guilty of this. I'm not sure why. It's almost as if I need things to go wrong so I can point at them and offer them as proof of how bad my lot is in life.

And if I'd only put a bit of effort in - barely any, really - things could so easily be hugely different. I've been wondering this about stuff for a while. Do I honestly court disaster so life will be more interesting? Would things really be so bad if I just did the simple things that meant shite could be avoided? Am I one of the world's eternal masochists? Doomed to nearly succeed and then muck it up at the last so I don't feel like such an achiever?

Tonight's performance has made me reflect on this. Because I've been looking forward to today's beer all day. A French Week of work was accomplished in a mere eight hours; all that was needed was to head home and write eloquently about a terrific style of beer probably done exceedingly well by a skilled brewer.

Instead, I went to the pub and fired down several complex-tasting beers that have in all likelihood muddied the waters for what's about to come. In exactly the same way as I asked someone out in the third year of secondary school - with a positive reply, I might add - only to proceed to accuse her of fancying someone else a bit later on. WTF?

I despair sometimes. Not at my life and its prospects, just at my own idiotic treatment of all that's presented to me. Plain daft. It's unlikely this seemingly innate behaviour willl change all that much, but it's nice to get it out there all the same. In 20 years' time, I'll look back and laugh.

But in the meantime, I best just go through it and drink the beer.

Beer: Saison (with Brett & spice)
Strength: A typically ambitious 6.5%
Smell: Brilliant. Like massively off Champagne and cinnamon sticks. Soaked in mouldly blood orange.
Tasting notes: Hahahaha! Where do I start? A more fitting metaphor I couldn't ask for. Tantalising, flirty, chatty, interested. I'm in here. So much so that I sidle over with a stupid grin on my face, ripe for the playing. I'm suckered in. They say some fish don't even need bait to throw themselves on the hook and I can fully imagine. Agape, I wait till it's set. I put up as much of a fight as would a prostrate bream on mogadon, so utterly bewitched am I by it's allure. There's only one possible outcome. Disappointment. Ruin. Railing at injustice and the cruel fickleness of the tempter. But hang on. What's happening here? Instead of the heat of embarrassment ringing in my rejected ears, I'm being asked back for coffee. Quite unexpectedly, this is shaping up quite nicely. Instead of wandering down cold, isolated streets flagging taxis that aren't there, I'm walking up communal carpeted stairs to the warmth of a first floor rented flat. Of course, I'll never tell. I'm a gentleman.
Session factor: Not sure I could handle that kind of excitement every year.
Gut reaction: It's given me the stomach to handle whatever is thrown my way. Bring it.

Actual beer: Wild Beer Schnoodlepip. Had this before on draft, but not in the bottle. 

Sunday 8 December 2013

The English Scheme

Ale seizer: I took one look at this and
grabbed it with both hands
Careful what you wish for, as they say; it might come true. Never got that one, really. Unless you wished you had an orange for a head or you wanted to be Piers Morgan, for example, why on earth wouldn't you want your wish to come true?

No need to write in with an explanation. Being out the other side of a marriage that was a horrendously bad idea, I know only too well that what you think you want might not turn out as well as you expect.

But for the last few years, I don't think I've wished for that much really. Not for me the world peace or several lottery wins on others' wishlists. I may have wished for the odd Australian wicket now and then or a decent first innings total and I'm fairly sure I've wished a reasonable amount of hours in the day away; maybe even a whole year.

Take today, for instance. I approached it with no expectations at all and without a shadow of a doubt it's been one of the most relaxing I've had for a while. Pottering and bimbling all through it and a relatively decent drive back from Seaford that didn't take too long. Now the kids are tucked up in bed and story-read, all that remains for me to do is hang out the washing, neck this beer and write about it.

In the spirit of nothing-too-demanding that's characterised my weekend, I hoped today's wouldn't be challenging. And pulling the bottle out of the crate put a huge smile on my face, since it's a lovely sounding, bog-standard, straight-up-and-down English IPA.

Couldn't have wished for better. Cheers.

Beer: English IPA
Strength: A cheering 5.5%
Smell: Honeysuckle that's been rained on from a great height. The next morning when the rain's stopped.
Tasting notes: Malt? Who needs malt? This is violent, bitter attack from the outset. Not unlike the current Australian cricket team, it's snarling, uncouth, scornful and quite frankly not particularly sportsmanlike. I rocked back like a bouncer-evading tail-ender after my first sip and the short-pitched barrage didn't end there. And while the hostility crackles around your tongue like an unrelenting sledging, you can't help feeling a modicum of grudging respect for a style that's been out-of-sorts for some years but looks like it's clawing its way back to reclaim some of its former glories. Hats off to it.
Session factor: Would happily share a few in the pavilion after stumps. Moreish stuff, this.
Gut reaction: Grow a pair, show some guts and face the onslaught. If you lose after that, well at least you gave it a shot.

Actual beer: St Austell Proper Job. Yep, terrific beer. If I'd had to guess what it was, I'm fairly certain I'd have got it right. Now if I could only find another close to hand. 

Saturday 7 December 2013

Stout task replica

Tough weak: might not be strong, but
it's full of flavour
Sometimes it's only when you stop you realise how much you've been doing. And today, after what's been a hectic week all told, I've hardly been able to function. Tired out. 

Had a long lie-in, did more than my fair share of lounging about and didn't really feel like I'd done anything at all till I put a few plates in my parents' dishwasher. Hard life, eh? Throw a large lunch into the equation and I'm surprised I didn't nod off for the entire afternoon. Seems winter torpor has set in early.

Luckily, I was press-ganged into taking the kids for a walk down the seafront so they could 'get a bit of sea air'. Or so my mum could get some peace and quiet if you ask me. I didn't blame her; they'd been running around like a couple of hyperactive blue-arsed flies on amphetamines.

So off we all sloped, unwilling. And while the sun still shone and there was the prospect of ice cream at Seaford seafront's finest kiosk, spirits remained high. As the clouds mustered, the temperature plummeted and even the most weather-beaten face on the south coast began to shut up shop, enthusiasm waned.

Heads bowed into the gathering wind, we marched back to the car via the briefest of paddles for the youngest in sodden shingle just out of reach of the waves. I don't think any of us have been so grateful for the somewhat meagre shelter offered by my ageing Renault Clio.

Since then, it's all been about sitting down and doing nothing. I've eaten too much, watched the football results come in and worn the seat of my pants out in this now-uncomfortable armchair. Reckon I've just about summoned up enough energy to open this bottle.

Beer: Stout, although not hugely so
Strength: A weight-watching 4.3%
Smell: Bit like inky vinegar out of the bottle, thankfully much smoother in the glass. Almost like a cup of Mellow Birds instant coffee
Tasting notes: Effervescent doesn't begin to describe how it pours. But that just adds to the overall picture here, which is one of a pint of weakened, beery espresso complete with 'crema' on top. While it may only be 4.3% - meeker than a current England batting display - it's packing a terrific amount of flavour. Mostly chocolate, but that's no bad thing with a stout. There's the standard, tangy cold black coffee flavour as well, but it's nicely rounded and inoffensive. At first, I thought this was a phantom homebrew Sam had sneaked in, but I'm not sure about that now.
Session factor: I want several more of these right away.
Gut reaction: Easing, calming and soothing. Exactly what I wanted today.

Actual beer: Glastonbury Ales Black As Yer 'At. A traditional beer, according to the label. Nice to enjoy something a bit old school.

Friday 6 December 2013

Garded welcome

En Garde: not a beer I'm keen to
cross swords with
In what's become something of a tradition over the years, today marks the first day of the calendar's official tour of the South Coast. That is to say, I'm in Seaford for the weekend. 

So I brought the calendar with me. Or, at least, the two beers I'm due to drink tonight and tomorrow. I was half thinking of swapping them round to have tomorrow's first - a gentle 4.5% stout - but given Sam helpfully labelled each bottle with the date it needed drinking, I can't.

That's no bad thing really, since it's nice to have some sort of discipline about these things and this year more than ever I'm determined not to miss a day or stray from the path. Conversely, I'd also really like a day off and would definitely not have chosen tonight's beer myself.

But speaking of tradition, as I was earlier, Biere de Garde is a traditional kind of amber French beer. Made in the Nord Pas de Calais region and with it's own Appellation d'Origine Controle, it's a bit like a Belgian saison, in that its generally brewed in winter or spring by brewers operating in farmhouses. While I hammered the stuff when I lived in Toulouse as it was pretty much the best beer I could get there that wasn't Belgian, it was never my favourite style of beer and that opinion's stayed with me to this day.

I do remember drinking rather too much of it on a New Years Eve at a friend's chalet in the Pyrenees. Made for blessed respite from the acres of stubby Kronenbourgs on offer. Or the industrial-strength Glüwein being cooked up by German aeronautics engineer Thomas.

It's usually got a shade too much malt about it for my liking and I can't say I ever detected much in the way of hop flavour, but that might be memory being dimmed over time. And who's to say this one - brewed somewhere in the South West - might not be a more modern twist on the old French classic?

Beer: Biere de Garde. Yes I know it's got a grave accent over the 'e', thank you, but I can't get this laptop to sort that
Strength: A brusque, northern French 6%
Smell: Like I've just trodden in a cinnamon stick bucket of over-ripe bananas
Tasting notes: With my tastebuds still tasting of stainless steel knives after last night's efforts, I'm going to need something to cut through that. Fortunately, this stuff's so ridiculously volatile - it took a good five minutes to pour and still has a massive head on it - the fizz alone should cleanse the palate. Sadly, looks are deceiving. Barely any of the bubbles make it to your tongue. A great big spatula of malt does, though. Some semi-skilled gorilla in blue overalls trowels an absolute shedload of the stuff all over the bottom and roof of your mouth like a dental assistant taking an impression for your new set of braces. First reaction is to gag, but just as you don't feel you can stand it any longer, a quick, downward jolt sparks a stab of sharpness that just about rescues the beer from being poured down the sink.I get the feeling the grimace I feel forming on my face once I swallow makes me look like a sour-faced cycnical French peasant who's just run out of Gauloises
Session factor: For me, low. It's really not my bag although it's a highly accomplished example of its kind.
Gut reaction: Quite pacifying, actually. I think it would go well with a nice ripe Stilton too.

Actual beer: Arbor Sauvin Non-Blanc. Brewed for Bristol Beer Week. Good brewery, but not a fan of the style.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Black of application

Black regret: something tells me I shouldn't
have had that last stout
The best laid schemes o' mice an men gan aft a-glee. Some Scottish bloke wrote that a fair few years ago and it rang true tonight as I necked another glug of Brewdog's Imperial Stout at my pub of the year. 

Having to give up being self-employed was a bit of a blow earlier this year. And it was a funny feeling to have the success of landing a pretty decent job appear like a failure. Still doesn't sit quite right after so many months being the so-called master of my own destiny, but a tremendous silver lining has been the close proximity of the Draft House on Charlotte Street.

By a long chalk the most 'pub-like' of any of that chain, it also has the benefit of being run by a man who not only knows his beer, he also knows me from a few years back. It's also just round the corner.

I've spent many a long hour in there and many more pounds since full-time employment coaxed me back into its clutches. Fair to say it's softened the blow.

And what was supposed to be a quick couple of halves to nullify the effects of a long, tricky day quickly turned into a few more. Did I blame it on the client? Did I blame it on the overtime? Did I blame it on the bollocking? No, I blamed it on the Brewdog.

Because my favourite bete noir (excuse the lack of accents, but I can't be arsed) of the beer-making world came out with an absolute cracker of a stout that I shared with a colleague, whereupon everything became right with the world.

Travails were forgotten, hours turned to moments and the entire day sloshed out of a 75cl bottle lovingly into a 33cl glass of natual wonder. Little wonder it became never my intention to stay so long on Charlotte Street.

Yet in the back of my mind was always the black IPA I'd hauled out of the calendar this morning. So I high-tailed it out of the best pub in the West End and moseyed on back. Not entirely sure my tastebuds are up for doing this justice, but one can but try, eh?

Beer: Black IPA
Strength: Bloody 6 point ruddy 2 per cent. Oops.
Smell: Just like a colleague. There's a mustiness that probably comes from too much exercise and not enough sprinkled water. Lived in, I think you'd say
Tasting notes: Properly difficult. I get the feeling this one's caught between several stools and will probably produce some in the not-too-distant future. What starts out as a gentle welcome soon turns into a fully fledged grilling under the sheer weight of several sacksful of toasted malt. I feel like I've fallen asleep open-mouthed at the exit of a grain silo and am ingesting roasted, ground barley in my sleep. Then some wag has decided it's a good idea to pour a whole jar of molasses into my cake hole to see if I can still breathe afterwards. I gulp at the last pockets of sweet, available air as I struggle for consciousness, but then a life-saving rope ladder of tang is cast my direction at the last minute and I grasp the fucker. On terra firma now. Gasping thankfully in exactly the same way as a landed trout doesn't.
Session factor: Not a chance. One is quite enough. Not on the grounds of quality, just on the strength of some things are best left as a one-off experience.
Gut reaction: Rumblefish.

Actual beer: Wiper & True India Pale Ale Black

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Best of the West

Bitter pill: but I'd gladly swallow another
Came off my bike this morning. Nothing to do with lorries turning left, irate motorists or seemingly suicidal pedestrians. Nope, just the wrong sort of leaves on the ground.

They say pride comes before a fall and it most definitely did today. I'd just deftly negotiated the gates that stop traffic going along Trinity Street in Borough - possibly the best I've ever done it and without deviating from the straight diagonal line necessary - when I welled up with a smug sense of achievement.

Moments later I was horizontal, caught up in the pedal straps and looking as prone as a drunk baby giraffe. Leaves. Hundreds of the buggers just lying around. As I steered out of the corner, my wheels just slid across them and I was down. A kindly pedestrian helped me to my feet and asked if I was OK. Stoically, I said I was fine, but I didn't feel it. The burn in my hip had already started. As I slowly pedalled away, even the nearby builders who'd witnessed the mishap without pointing and laughing asked after my welfare.

Which got me thinking. Perhaps cyclists aren't the pariahs we're made out to be. And, in fact, neither are drivers. Nor pedestrians. There was some good, honest humanity going on there and I felt much the better for it, despite my leg hurting like Hell.

So I've spent the rest of the day being nice. Got on with my work, smiled at passers-by when riding back, allowed people out of junctions while driving, laughing, joking with strangers and generally being a thoroughly pleasant human being. I took the kids to Tandoori Nights in Dulwich for dinner too as I'd been threatening to introduce them to curry houses for a while. They loved it.

As a result, I'm not even going to carp about best bitter - tonight's delight - being a bit of a tired, uninspiring style of beer as far as I'm concerned. Sure, it's OK when you're seeking a malty thirst-slaker, but doesn't excite much. I remember trying to persuade Evin from Kernel Brewery to make one and he point blank refused, saying he just wasn't interested in them. Fair enough, although I reckon he'd do a belter.

I'm just going to be thankful someone took the time to select it and enjoy a glass of something I've never had before. Go me. Perhaps I should fall off my bike more often.

Beer: Best Bitter
Strength: A distinctly ordinary 4.2%
Smell: Reassuringly normal, although there is a faint whiff of brandy snaps and pine needles.
Tasting notes: Really good, this. Pours more like a pale or an IPA than a best bitter and tastes that way too. First thing that hits me is that there's barely any of the overburdened maltiness that characterises many bests. In fact, there's barely any. Instead it's just a full-on, smash-you-in-the-face boxing ball of hoppy bitterness that pummels and rabbit punches your tongue at an alarming rate. And I swear there's a hint of Old English marmalade swilling around in there somewhere. That gets punched out too and you're left on the canvas, reeling and searching frantically for the corner stool. Impressive.
Session factor: I could easily have several more. Now. Right now.
Gut reaction: A bit gassy - it's well carbonated - but I can deal with that.

Actual beer: Butcombe Brewery Adam Henson's Rare Breed. Says it's a golden ale on the sleevenotes, which I'd agree with. Really nice, though. And more bitter than it claims on the label.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Weiss, weiss baby

Wheat heures: is this the right time
for a Weizen?
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. And this year, it's sooner. For on just day three of the calendar, I'm presented with something I'm not particularly relishing. 

I just don't like wheat beers. That wasn't always the case, of course. Around 20 years ago when they were just being introduced to the quasi-mainstream by Wetherspoon's, I thought they were brilliant. Especially that slice of lemon or, even better, a few pips of said citrus fruit they used to add to make it fizz even more.

They'd serve it in terrific glasses too - either a ridiculously heavy, oversize glass bucket that no ordinary man could lift with one hand or one of those that could easily pass for the World Cup. In fact, I'm going to pour tonight's into my own crystal Jules Rimet trophy to get the full effect. Though the lemon and pips can piss off, mind. 

But after a while, they began to grate. I think I probably had too many of them one night. Must have been the phenolic clove-like, herby flavour that did it. Or the huge amount of carbonation. Or perhaps the novelty just wore off. Who knows? Maybe it was just that I got fed up with too many people asking why I wanted a 'weak' beer. 

I don't bother with them much nowadays, although I can stomach the dark ones at a push. Which is probably a shame as I expect there are some really good ones. In fact, I know there are - I've been known to shower praise on Augustiner Weissbier and Wiehenstaphaner before and would gladly drink them again. In summer. Preferably in Germany in the shadow of some schloss or other next to a river running through a thick pine forest or something. 

Not in a small two-bedroomed place in Honor Oak in the middle of winter when I'm in a hurry to head out. Ho hum. I trust Sam hasn't got me the West Country's version of Hoegaarden.

Beer: Weizen
Strength: Honestly? A disturbing 6.4% Well, that's what's written on the outside anyway.
Smell: It genuinely smells like Woodpecker Cider out of the bottle. No word of a lie. In the glass, there's more nail varnish to the bouquet. Ha! I said 'bouquet'. 
Tasting notes: This has got all sorts going on. Have to say it's not like any Weizen I've ever had - perhaps it's a Weizenbock? Not sure. One sip and I'm wandering through the Black Forest after a wintery shower, crunching fallen pine needles and freezing snow underfoot and catching a rare glimpse of a roe deer. There's definitely something smoky and woody about this one and it's a real slow-burner too. Long after you think its snowball flavour has thawed, an impish woodland elf or somesuch comes out from behind a tree stump and jabs your tongue with an icicle of hops. I actually really quite like this.
Session factor: It's a little perfumed and smoky for too many at once.
Gut reaction: Surprisingly not bad. I expected a world of fizz, but it's much less volatile than that.

Actual beer: Ashley Down Brewery Walloon Wheat. Well I never. 

Monday 2 December 2013

Hoppy Monday

Soul porter: just what you need to warm
the spirits
Monday. The nadir of the week for many of us as we grapple with the reality that is going back to work after a weekend off. 

When my alarm went off this morning and it was still dark outside, the day took a turn for the weird. Nothing sinister. Just nothing particularly good either. It was hard work from the off. I felt tired after having a quite late night, then my bike seat went wonky on the way in, then I took ages to finish writing a feature that should really only have taken an hour.

Not even the goodies on offer thank's to the office 'Bake Off' were enough to ward off the ennui. Things didn't get much better on the way home as the seat was still playing up and for some reason Strava (the GPS bike ride logger) was glitchy and failed to record my journey.

And finally, having just typed out tonight's post, Blogger wanted me to sign in again, so I copied (or so I thought) what I'd written so I could paste it if I lost anything. Lost it all, pressed CTRL + V and nothing happened. Great. Half an hour wasted, with nothing to show for the effort. I'd claim it was really incisive and funny too, but what's the point? We all know that's bollocks. It only happened 15 minutes ago and I can't remember a thing I wrote, so it can't have been all that interesting.

In truth, I'm still feeling a bit ropey after the weekend too and would usually go without beer for a few days as a result. But I can't. I'm pretty much off the wagon till gone Christmas.

Fortunately - and this could be the turning point for the day - if there was one beer I'd opt for if I were doing the choosing, it would be a mid-strength porter. And that's exactly what I've got here, brewed I don't know where but doubtless selected with care.

Beer: Porter
Strength: 4.5%
Smell: Like rich, charred prunes soaked in coffee that's been laced with neat ethanol
Tasting notes: It's a reassuring warm woollen blanket of a beer that has quite possibly salvaged my day. Like an old friend popping round to pay you back the fiver they owe you after 15 years or more, this is as welcome as it is overdue. It pours out of the bottle like you're topping up with engine oil, but with a satisfying fizz by the end. It's a similar story on the tongue, when first up there's lovely, smooth, warming roundness the like of which pre-Raphaelite beauties used to peddle before a swiftly delivered, sharp, admonishing rap on the knuckles disturbs your reverie by way of a cart-load of hoppy bitterness. Nothing particularly complex about it, but a fine example of its type.
Session factor: Reasonably high, especially at this time of year. Not too strong and delightfully drinkable.
Gut reaction: Calming, soothing. Like an alcoholic Gaviscon.

Actual beer: Cheddar Ales Totty Pot (good grief). It's 4.7% - I suspect Sam was drinking when he wrote the labels. 

Sunday 1 December 2013

And so it begins

Wrapper's delight: Just look at the quality
of that cladding
What's the best way to prepare for a month-long drinking binge? A weekend at a health spa? Taking the waters of Bath? Or going to a beer festival sandwiched between two brewery visits?

So it will come as no surprise to regular readers that I'm again approaching the advent calendar with a bugger of a hangover. I can't even claim it as research, since I don't imagine any of the beers I drank yesterday will feature in this year's crop. In fact, they won't. All of them were brewed in London, now pretty much the world capital of beer.

It didn't used to be this way. A decade ago, when I first toyed with the idea of doing this, all you could muster in the metropolis by way of breweries was Young's and Fuller, Smith & Turner. Neither were particularly inspiring or interesting, but they served a purpose. When Young's packed up and headed north to Bedfordshire, it looked like Fuller's was all that was left in a city once famous the world over for its brewing.

Since then, there's been something of a renaissance. I've lost count, but there must be upwards of 50 breweries in London, at least half of which were at Spitalfields market yesterday flogging their wares. I did my best to keep them afloat, naturally. This was after a trip to Fourpure, the latest addition to Beermondsey's burgeoning brew scene. Of course, I clearly hadn't had enough after the market, so bimbled down to Redchurch in Bethnal Green for a few more. Unwise.

Now, having tried to sleep it off all day, I'm about to crack a (thankfully not too strong) beer open before heading out to a Belgian beer bar. Doubt I'll be able to fully appreciate the Roddy Frame gig lined up later, but you never know. So much for looking forward to this year's calendar, then.

Beer: Dunno, obviously. It's labelled as an American IPA
Strength: A mercifully managable 4.7%
Smell: Like a big bowl of ripe tropical fruit with just a hint of bubblegum
Tasting notes: Chewy. But then I expected that and I doubt it's the beer's fault. There's a ruddy great head on it as well, sticking out of the top of the glass like an alcoholic candy floss. Light and refreshing and with enough citrusy character to strip away several layers of hungover tongue clag, it's going down surprisingly well. But then I do like these kind of beers. Not too strong but with just enough swagger that you'd doff your cap to it out of respect. I can't work out whether the slightly salty aftertaste is down to this beer or the gallon or so I had yesterday.
Session factor: Pretty high. On another day, I'd happily sink a few of these.
Gut reaction: Belch-inducingly fizzy. Really quite volotile and I'll need my wits about me to keep it down.

Actual beer: Rocket Science Titan American Pale Ale. It is Rocket Science after all. Weighs in at 4.4% and is a pale rather than an IPA. Not bad at all. Based in Yate, apparently. Worth seeking out. 

Saturday 30 November 2013

Blind drunk

Foiled again: Secret Santa gone mad
*tap tap* Is this thing on? Yes, yes, so much for keeping the blog regularly updated, blah, blah. The road to December is paved with good intentions or something. 

But as St Andrews Day is celebrated around the flat-roofed estate pubs of thriving Scottish new towns such as Cumbernauld in the traditional manner, so the clock ticks ever closer to the annual liver-testing phenomenon that is the Beer Advent Calendar.

I've seen a fair few pale imitations tweeted recently, from the likes of BarChick, Darkstar and BrewDog Shoreditch to name but a few. Apart from thinking I really should have copyrighted this, it is quite flattering to have your idea appropriated by larger organisations with more clout.

No matter. You only need to look back through the archives or take a biopsy from my liver (if that's even possible - I'm no doctor) to see who's been flying the alcoholic advent calendar flag the longest.

And while I imagine some of these arrivistes have given their calendars a modicum of thought, this year the original and best has gone one better. Yes, just when you thought I'd run out of theme ideas, someone else suggests a challenge I'm all over.

A recently qualified Bristol-based beer judge and a good mate to boot, Sam Tait suggested doing a 'mystery mix' of beers for the calendar this year and has compiled a crate of 24 'Best of the South West' ales for me to drink/review/shower with praise/slag-off/delete as applicable.

The twist? Why the treacherous swine has only gone and covered each bottle in foil, thereby obscuring the label. So I don't know what I'm drinking. Each one will kind of literally be 'blind drunk'. Which will need a bit of faith on your part, dear reader, and no small amount of will power on mine. I'll also need to think up some way of presenting 'the reveal' when I peel off the foil and find out what it is I've been drinking. A video it won't be, but I'll have to do something.

Tune in tomorrow afternoon for the first instalment and find out. I'm genuinely intrigued at how things will pan out this year. 

Monday 27 May 2013

I wish they all could be Catalonian

Academic discussion: talking beer with Barcelona's
Steve Huxley
This time last week, I was sitting around a table in a small lock-up in Poble Sec, drinking quality best bitter and talking beer with Steve Huxley, a leading light in the Barcelona beer scence. 

Safe to say Steve is something of a legend in Spanish beer circles. Having opened what was Barcelona's first ever bar dedicated to good beer back in 1993 - only to see it cruelly closed down by the authorities just two years later - Steve has made it a personal mission to spread the word about decent beer in the city, the region and the country as a whole.

He currently runs the Beer Academy in Barcelona, which is where we're sitting drinking Steve's Brave New Beer. Since it opened, hundreds of eager beer brewers have attended to brush up on their homebrewing skills. It's a trend that's continued to grow apace since the mid 1990s.

We chatted about all sorts, from the beer scene in Spain to the current squabbling between CAMRA and advocates of keg beer in the UK and various points in between. A fascinating afternoon cut mercifully short by prior arrangements. Mercifully because I could quite happily have spent all evening and night drinking what was by far the cleanest beer I'd had in my week in the Catalan capital. And consequently missed my flight back.

I'll be writing more about my trip - hopefully something that will appear in a more esteemed organ than the dear old Beer Advent Calendar blog - but suffice it to say I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of beer available in Barcelona and its surroundings and the huge degree of enthusiasm for the drink on the part of not only those who produce it but also those getting involved in the scene. Huge thanks to Robin and Roy of Crafty Beer Tours for organising a terrific itinerary.

There were several highlights. My welcoming committee at the HomoSibaris bar on the first night, my visit to Cerveza Fort brewery and the subsequent lost afternoon and my trip out to the suburbs to visit a microbrewery/brewpub in Sabadell being among the most salient, if not particularly memorable.

Sadly, I didn't get to anywhere near as many places as I'd hoped, including the terrific Agullons brewery in Mediona or the Jazz Bar in Poble Sec right next to the Beer Academy. But that just gives me a damn good excuse to re-visit a great city with an emerging, exciting beer scene that's set to grow and grow.