Thursday 24 December 2015

So long and thanks for all the beers

Partizan b-grade: not quite top of the pile,
but worth a slug in a different season
In the spirit of keeping things brief and not putting people off with the essay they encounter before getting to the nitty-gritty of the beer, 200 words is all there is today. 

That's where I'm comfortable. As a journalist, I can do succinct. Today has taught me that's an enviable skill. When amends come back from client adding 500 words to original copy, you know how valuable it is.

It's one I've neglected. These preambles have grown ridiculously since I started this out as a simple 'you should try this' guide to beers you should try. It became personal, doubtless due to my circumstances and the obligation I felt to confess all to an ever-dwindling audience.

But it's run its course. For the final five years of my marriage, I needed somewhere to turn. Since that unholy union ended, I wanted somewhere to sound off. I no longer need either.

So this will be the last outing for the beery 'dear diary' I've been keeping for the last 10 years. It's now time for something else. Thanks for reading and following my somewhat drunken meanders through the dark days of Decembers. Stay tuned for news of what comes next.

Beer: Partizan Lemongrass Saison
Strength: An easy-to-handle 4.4%
Smell: Satisfyingy lemony, which is no mean feat given the fact my traditional Christmas Eve cold has kicked in.
Tasting notes: Perhaps I've been drinking too many stronger saisons recently, but this tastes a tad on the watery side. While it's got subtlety and nuance, it lacks the oomph I'd like that would send my approaching illness on its way. Instead, I get a moist, soft handshake of a beer that should really have been told long ago it needs to be firmer in its greeting. That said, it paints an enchanting landscape, albeit watercolour. There's a deft hand at the brush and each change in flavour or empasis is done with some aplomb. But I don't want a watercolour; I want at least acrylic on canvas. While nice enough, it's one to cool down with on a summer bike ride rather than to settle you in to a windy winter's night.
Session factor: High as a kite flown in a dainty but substaintial breeze.
Arbitrary score: 120,106

Numbers game: a saison for another season,
but you need to be match fit
Beer: Brew by Numbers Amarillo & Orange Saison
Strength: A this-is-more-like-it 5.8%
Smell: A basket of oranges, as wielded by one Nell Gwyn
Tasting notes: Made maybe half a mile away at most but a world away in terms of flavour. But not necessarily in a good way. There's oodles of tang and bite, almost like it's half time at a 70s pub football match, but where the Partizan was all suggestion and implication, this one is foot-stamping, tub-thumping insistence. It's considerably more robust, but in an effort to regain balance, it seems to have tottered off in the opposite direction with an overly generous helping of orange zest that tips it over the wrong side of too sharp. Again, I quite like it, but holding back on the citrus might have made me feel less like I was drinking a Terry's Chocolate Orange laced with MDMA.
Session factor: This is much more 'end of a long, urban yomp in a rainy Belgium' than a midsummer 'refresher', so you'd call it a day once you'd dried out.
Arbitrary score: 123,456

That's Orval, folks: this Belgian Trappist
Ale proves a fitting finale
Beer: Orval
Strength: An appropriately spot-on 6.2%
Smell: A great big old Christmas pudding of a beer soaked in ever-so-slightly too much booze
Tasting notes: This really is the daddy of them all. What a beer to finish on. If there's ever a beer that could furnish me with such an apposite full stop for this calendar as Orval, I'm yet to drink it. Known severally as a palate cleanser, a beer for all seasons and (my favourite) a 'gateway sour', Orval really does have something for everyone in it. From the looks of it, this is a standard bitter, but bring it up to your face to drink and you're soon disavowed of that foolish notion. Your tongue does get a tiny glimpse of what could pass for a standard bitter, but then the yeast kicks in. It's the flavour equivalent of being at the top of a roller-coaster just about to descend. The palate tries in vain to brace itself against the incoming adrenalin rush, but really, it can do nothing about what's to come. Whoosh! You plummet into mouldy orange gully. Whooah! You hurtle round salted syrup curve. Shitting Bastard! You loop the loop of intense, insistent bitterness. Ahhh! All subsides into a quivering mess of giddiness as the flavour finally releases its grip and plants you squarely back on terra firma. Again... again...
Session factor: Tim Peake is low-level in comparison.
Arbitrary score: 240

Monday 21 December 2015

A pair of Bristol's finest

Rye smile: this saison's been fashioned
by a consummate professional
Amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it, eh? Today I have recovered a lost hat, eaten dinner, hung up some washing, done some more, moved some stuff around in my flat and contemplated the sheer amount of other stuff I still need to do before the next month is through. 

Exhausting. This, of course, got me thinking about stuff I haven't done. Like sent Christmas cards in time for the last post (again) and told British Telecom of my imminent flat more. I'll get on to it, I'm sure. If I put my mind to it.

I've also not managed to keep up to date with this year's calendar, though I aim to rectify that this evening. And for the first time since I left the marital home, I haven't penned a 'Shadows and Reflections' piece for Caught By The River.

Should you be unaware of this excellent website, every year they ask friends and contributors to submit some words on what has moved them or otherwise throughout the year. Mine are usually laden with misery and regret. Last year's was uncharacteristically upbeat, despite the setbacks I endured.

This year? I just don't know what to write. It's been a pretty weird year all told and I'm not sure I can do it justice. Neither am I sure I want to. Sometimes, things are much better left unwritten.

The same cannot be said for this calendar, however. And it certainly isn't going to write itself.

Beer: Wiper And True In The Rye
Strength: An all-too-familiar-this-year 5.5%
Smell: A fine blend of mashed barley and a piney undercurrent I always attribute to mosaic hops
Tasting notes: (looks at label) Oh, mosaic. The old nose can still pick it out, it would seem. It works well in this wonderful example of a farmhouse ale. For some reason - and it might be my imminent cold - all seems perfectly balanced here. Like a deft punter poling his way along an oilslick backwater with an envelop of new lovers for cargo. Despite all the tumult of the raging rye, the hullaballo of the hops and the yaw of the yeasty current, all is above-water swan serene in this beer's world. As natural as the Breton shirt and straw boater he's spoiling on this delightful summer's day. Not even the Tannoyed 'come in number six, your time is up' sullies the scene. The dry land of the finish is only too welcome after such a display.
Session factor: Loftier than an upper first.
Arbitrary score: 555,555

Magnificent mouthful: Millionaire makes
mincemeat of moribund milds 
Beer: Wild Beer Co, Millionaire
Strength: A mercifully meek 4.7%
Smell: Most unlike the shortbread its name would suggest. More like Marmite and murky molasses
Tasting notes: It feels like a mild, but this could so easily be the oilslick backwater described above. Dark, mysterious, full of obscurity. Massive Millionaire Shortbread flavour to start with, like you've mistakenly drunk your post-beer snack instead and are just on the point of chomping into your glass of beer. As the weir-induced scum subsides and the thick, foamy head gives way to a more tense surface, a malty brackishness takes over and signals the calming of the once-disturbed eddies. Beer as river, skulking away softly into the gathering dusk.
Session factor: This is neither cascading waterfall nor dallying delta. Mid-river medium at Millthrop, but none the worse for that.
Arbitrary score: 684

Sunday 20 December 2015

Tardy annual

Collaboration elation: never underestimate
the power of three
Amazing how prescient some posts prove to be, eh? Only the merest hint of potential trouble filling in the calendar, but boy did that come true. This year seems to be proving tougher than most. 

Funnily enough, the beer I picked out on Friday would have been pretty easy to handle, it only coming in a small package and not being particularly strong. But by the time I got back from the Christmas party, drinking beer was more or less the last thing on my mind.

Can't say I felt particularly fond of the idea yesterday either. Which leads me to believe I might well be getting a bit old for this malarkey. When I started this calendar, I could still just about shrug off a hangover and cope with at least one beer. Not now, as the evidence of this weekend shows only too well.

I promised myself a fallow year next year and that's increasingly looking like the likely scenario. But since there are only a few more days of this year's left, I'd better start catching up, hadn't I?

Beer: Brew by Numbers/Oersoep/Rooie Dop 3 Is A Magic Number
Strength: A perfectly acceptable 5.5%
Smell: The beer equivalent of pine-fresh Flash
Tasting notes: When the carbonation dies down all too quickly, my heart sinks. This one could be hard work, think I. Not a bit of it. Instantly sharper than a set of Global kitchen knives, this one goes from gooseberry to lemon to grapefruit quicker than you can say: "I wonder how this would go with pancakes?" The lovely thing is, it doesn't need a huge amount of carbonation; it's got all the armoury it needs to spread a delicious citrusy glow throughout your rapidly puckering mouth. Terrific.
Session factor: Shard-like.
Arbitrary score: 3

Saison's greetings: festively fantastic stuff
from the Belgian masters
Beer: Saison Dupont
Strength: A hefty and potentially necessary 6.5%
Smell: Bubblegum that's been left on the bedpost for some considerable time.
Tasting notes: Truly a prince among saisons, this gently wafts a dizzying lacuna between sweet and bitter so that you're never quite sure where to taste it on your tongue. Roll it around your mouth and you're uncertain where it sits best because, frankly, it's lovely anywhere. I had thought my own homebrewed saison was one of the best I'd had this year, but the Belgians know a damn sight more than I do about making this style of beer and it shows here. Subtle and powerful in equal measure, Saison Dupont lets us amateurs know just how far we still have to go to produce something as special as this. If you want a reference point for saison, look no further.
Session factor: Giddyingly high. Another one of those I'd drink many more of if I had them to hand.
Arbitrary score: 301,521

Thursday 17 December 2015

There she gose

Feathered friend: Bianca proves way classier
than her Eastender namesake
After a long, hard day at the coalface of writing case studies for new models of care in the National Health Service (no, it's not privatisation. Really), there's nothing I feel I deserve more than a damn good beer. 

Today has been one of those slogs with which I suspect Sisyphus was all-too familiar. Wading through massive Excel files of interview transcripts, scouring 160-page pdfs of project reports and poring over tables and tables of statistics to build a 600-word case study you know is going to be pulled apart by lesser copy writers is pretty soul-destroying and incredibly thirsty work.

OK, it's not like I've been breaking rocks in a chain gang or anything, but throw in more Southern Rail incompetence and cattle-truck London Overground carriages for the journey home and I'm just about done in.

Thankfully, barring one or two things, I've pretty much completed the Christmas shopping and am not yet broaching the subject of packing to move house, so all that remains of the day is to kick back, flip the cap off a nicely chilled bottle and enjoy a relaxing evening in.

Tomorrow promises more of the same, but as it's the work's Christmas meal, there's only half a day of it before slightly forced merriment takes over. I'm quite looking forward to it, to be honest. There's the prospect of an irritable colleague receiving a distinctly unwanted present in the Secret Santa, which will amuse at least two or three of us no end. Well, if he didn't complain about it so vociferously, it wouldn't happen.

I've a feeling tomorrow's update might be a bit late and incoherent if last year's do is anything to go by. Tune in then to find out.

Beer: Omnipollo Bianca
Strength: An uncomfortable but not unwelcome 6%
Smell: Suspiciously like a yoghurt and mango sandwich.
Tasting notes: I'll get to that in a minute. Once this massive head has calmed down a bit. I poured this with great care and attention to detail, but sadly the carbonation levels mean the glass is half beer, half head. And there's still some left in the bottle, about which I'm not overly pleased. Oh well, sometimes you've got to risk a tickled nose to get to the sweet liquid, eh? And boy does this reward that endeavour. It starts out like crystallised, sugared, intoxicating citrus fruits that envelop the tongue in their full-bodied lusty embrace. Though the tang is never far away, it's beautifully offset by an unctuous feel that coats your entire palate thanks to its frothing effervesence. And just as it's about to lay down the funk and ruin the experience, an army of lemon-wielding bubbles beats a rapid retreat to the back of your tongue and sets down its salty, acidic weapons in an act of unnecessarily violent surrender.
Session factor: International Space Station high. I'd willingly drink this by the bucketful.
Arbitrary score: 514,121

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Damson in distress

Forbidden fruit: there's really no going
back after a taste of this beauty
Like London buses, you wait ages then two turn up in a row. So it is this evening with the calendar as I muster up just enough enthusiasm to give today's beer a go. 

Not like I need much encouragement. I've written lots about this brewery and still think it's one of the most consistently interesting and high-quality beer producers. And that without ever having achieved real consistency in its beer.

Of course, I'm talking about the Kernel. A pioneer in many respects and, most recently, in that it decided to break the hideous chain along what is now quite happily called the Bermondsey Beer Mile. I once joked with the owner about calling it Beermondsey and you could see the look of horror etched on his face as he just about managed a smile. Doubtless knew what it was about to become.

I'm glad he's only doing bottles on a Saturday now. It may irk some people, but as I've written in other places, the whole scene was becoming a 'golden shower mile' of pissed-up partygoers bent on belting back the most potent beers in as short a time as possible before urinating in some poor sod's front garden. It had to end.

Fortunately, as a brewer, not a great deal has changed apart from the volume now put out. Deservedly hugely successful, it's frequently at the top of my list of brewers who make things I want to drink. Probably because they stick to making things they want to drink as well.

This one's another sour. Well, I'm a sucker for them and am hoping this lives up to what, on the label at least, promises to be delicious.

Beer: Kernel London Sour Damson
Strength: A mouthwateringly enticing 4.3%
Smell: Funnily enough, a load of sour damsons. Who'd have thunk it?
Tasting notes: It almost doesn't seem like a beer, so prevalent is the fruit and searing sharpness that shreds any semblance of what's been consumed before. It's possible the sourness outweighs the damsons, but really, who's counting? This is terrific. It is not going to last long, which is pretty handy considering I could do with an early night but maddening because, once it's over, I'll be left rueing not spending more time with it. It's just the right side of lightweight but provides enough body to at least convince you you're drinking something of substance. The first brush with it convinces you you're on to something, but you can't quite put your finger on it. Then you fall heavily under its spell. Then it pushes you away and you imagine you can quite happily do without it. But you know in your heart you're wrong. You want more and quite by chance, it gladly gives you that, becoming increasingly precious and wheedling its way under your skin till, in all honesty, you can't begin to believe you could ever live without it. The way it lingers long after you think you've left it just makes you wonder what on earth you'll do when it really is all gone.
Session factor: All day, every day, any day.
Arbitrary score: 741,310

Denmark thrill

Twisted citra: a hoppy horror (in a good way)
from the Danish doyennes
It's just about possible I can squeeze in two tonight so I'm properly caught up with everything. I like this. I really don't like missing days or getting too far behind, so this is good. 

What's also good is that this beauty popped its little head out of the calendar this morning and brought a big, beer-drinking grin to my face. Colour me a huge fan of Mikkeller and their Spontan range (spontaneously fermented. With wild yeast. Think 'really tangy') in particular.

First taste of it was a good couple of years ago at the terrific Draft House on Charlotte Street, foisted on to me by the 'beer gateway' that is former manager of the place, Max Chater. I couldn't believe what I was tasting. I bought a bottle on the strength of one sip despite its staggeringly steep price tag.

It was a Spontanpeach and tasted like nothing I'd had in years. Utterly beguiling. I took my bottle and sat outside at one of the tables supping on it quietly and reverently and marvelling at the passing crowds. I was to have a few more, which the pub no doubt delighted in. Much more so than my bank manager, for example.

No matter. Today's promises great things and was considerably cheaper from the joyous booze, chilli and records outlet that is Hop, Burns and Black. You can build some things up too much, but something tells me I won't be disappointed here. Let's see. And be sure to tune in later when I might have managed a second today.

Beer: Mikkeller Spontandryhop Citra
Strength: A delightfully prim 5.5%
Smell: Remember those stink bombs in little glass capsules? A burst one of them. And iron filings.
Tasting notes: Hahaha. Forget about the smell, this is hilariously good. Starts out by forcibly prising open your upper and lower jaw, wrenching your tongue out slightly and using it as a lemon juicer. Sits there watching as your face grimaces in abject agony while you're simultaneously unable to scream. It hasn't finished, though. No. That would be merciful and that's not what this malevolent miscreant is all about. Once it's squeezed every last drop of its plunged lemon out onto your now-blighted tongue, it turns the spent citrus fruit around and grinds the rind right against the roof of your complaining mouth, cackling maniacally as it does so. As if to add insult, it then smooths everything out with the pith, rolls your tongue back into your now utterly confused mouth and smacks a gentle half-snog of citrus on your quivering lips before buggering off into the night.
Session factor: More. I want more of this. Though the above might sound hard work, it's really highly pleasurable. Though perhaps that's just me.
Arbitrary score: 18,451,612

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Bag back, bad back, Borussia Mönchengladbach

Single fault: not sure the carbonation
levels were quite right here
Apologies for the no-show over the last couple of days. Sometimes you're just completely incapable of drinking beer, let alone writing about it, and that was definitely the case on Sunday and Monday. 

It's probably too soon to start drinking again and I was seriously considering giving it a miss for the third day running, but having been reunited with the bag I lost last week, I'm in the mood for a tiny celebratory. Lets hope it doesn't put me out of kilter for the remainder of what promises to be a tough few days any way.

Fair to say I'm still sporting a few aches, but the hope is they will be alleviated by the addition of a bottle or two of good beer and a few more paracetamol. That will still leave me a day behind schedule, but I really don't want three beers this evening. No chance.

I realise I do crap on at some length about how difficult this calendar is to keep up regularly, so I'll try and wrap these up swiftly and hopefully put the brief hiatus behind me.

One comment I did get at the weekend in response to me moaning about how hard an undertaking the calenar is was that these preambles might be a bit long to maintain readers' interest, so let's get on with it, shall we?

Beer: Redchurch Brewery Wild Isolation
Strength: A modest if slightly unwelcome 5.4%
Smell: Sarson's vinegar with just the merest hint of pear drops
Tasting notes: Wait a minute; I need another sip of that. Nope. None the wiser. This one's really difficult to describe. From the smell, you're expecting something rasping with even more sting at the end, but what you get is something that for all the world tastes like it was originally destined to be an IPA. It's sherbert fountain at first, Bramley apple crumble in the middle and unripe green olives at the end. Now that might not sound the most complimentary of reviews, but really, this is quite an achievement for a beer. Just because it gives you something you weren't expecting doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, right? The unexpected can be pleasantly surprising as I recall. Unfortunately, as the fizz subsides (and there really isn't enough of that from the outset) the taste takes on a more earthy flavour (as does the smell). Not one I'm overly delighted to be drinking.
Session factor: Initially massive but fading to just above average.
Arbitrary score: 141,512

Top Ranke: this Wevelgem stunner is one
of the best of the season
Beer: De Ranke Saison de Bottignies
Strength: An unappreciated 5.5%
Smell: Shandy Bass. It really smells like Shandy Bass.
Tasting notes: It does not taste like Shandy Bass. In fairness, it doesn't really taste like a saison either. But it's ruddy delicious. In an instant, I am a returning farmhand just back from a back-breaking stint in the barley field ready and gasping to slake an incredible thirst. Immediately I drink in musty oak-beamed barnhouses filled with shafts of dancing sun dust, old bales of hay and oily smelling agricultural equipment that's lain unused for a good 50 years. The first glug slices through my drying tongue as a sharp plough would churn up the fields I have just worked in a few months' time. It mellows like the approaching autumn's fruit and gently fades in a golden haze of the now-setting sun, lulling me softly into the night and the coming winter months. God, this is good.
Session factor: Considerable. If I were feeling better and had a few more bottles of this, they'd be cued up in the fridge as I type.
Arbitrary score: 151,216

Saturday 12 December 2015

Baggage mishandling

Reverse mokko: expecting it to be bad,
it turns out good
It's good to know no matter how sensible you think you've become in your old age, something will happen that reminds you just how much of a clown you can still be. 

So last night, in my haste to get back and update the calendar, I left my bag behind. The truly annoying thing is, I don't remember where. It might have been in the pub. It could have been on the train home. But leave it I did as there is absolutely no sign of it this morning.

The thing is, I wasn't particularly drunk last night, if at all. I'd left at a decent hour and was back home in time to cook dinner, drink the calendar beer, update the blog and still be in bed long before midnight. So the only explanation is that I quite simply forgot to take it with me when I upped and left. Either the pub or the train; I don't recall.

Irritatingly, the pub I was in is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so I can't check with them. And I daren't even begin the painful process of dealing with Southern Rail's lost property office as the last time I did this (yes, it's happened before), it was such a Kafkaesque nightmare I lost interest in the really rather nice leather bag I'd mislaid.

Fortunately, this bag doesn't contain anything particularly valuable. In fact it only has in it a large tupperware box that had housed my lunch earlier in the day. But annoyingly, it's the only bag I possess suitable for carrying around a computer, which means I can't take this laptop to the Social as planned to live blog today's beer from that excellent venue's annual Christmas market.

Instead, I'm sitting at home feeling a bit daft and contemplating this bottle of milk stout that I hadn't planned on drinking till at least a few hours later. Now I have to have it before I leave the flat. Oh, never mind, eh? I can think of worse ways of passing a Saturday afternoon.

Beer: Summer Wine Brewing Mokko Milk Stout
Strength: A slippery 6%
Smell: Like a 100-year-old snug that's been used to store apples for the duration.
Tasting notes: It pours like Coca-Cola and, for a fleeting instant, I almost believe that's what I'm drinking. But the belly borborygmus burbles otherwise. It is rather sweet, though, and I swear the delicious, thick, treacly malt is providing a much-needed boost to the blood sugar levels. I involuntarily let out a quiet belch of appreciation. This is really pleasing. Having eaten heartily at lunchtime, this beer is acting as a dessert - sickly sweet at first but with just enough hoppy bitterness to make you imagine you're chowing down on a rich chocolate tart. I can't stand milk; I properly gag if I try to drink it. But this really is delicious.
Session factor: Not particularly high, but that's probably no bad thing.
Arbitrary score: 215,213

Friday 11 December 2015

Bitter experience

Sharp practice: a sour beer that delivers
more than meets the eye
The mid point. The difficult third. The part when you question why. The overwhelming sensation of nausea as you return from yet another pre-Christmas get-together no longer in need of a beer. 

It would be so much easier to go to bed. Lie down and forget about it all. Smile willingly as another day's chore floats off into the ether of your imagination; that same imagination that thought up this ridiculous idea in the first place.

Over the years, it's been around this time I've had to stare at myself full in the face and wonder why I do this. It hurts. It's not a task lightly undertaken. Frankly, it's really fucking hard. I met an ex-colleague after work for 'a couple' of pre-Christmas drinks and that obviously escalated. No more beer is needed.

And yet there it is. A bottle of beer staring accusingly at me wondering when I'm going to get round to drinking it and, more importantly, write about the bugger. It's around this time of year I start feeling those little bottles are the enemy. They represent the daily dose of labour through which I need to go. They line up like a 24-strong army of mocking little shits, just waiting for their chance to cock a beery snook at my everyday life.

Quite often, I feel like they will win. Like they've faced me down and they'll emerge triumphant the day after I was supposed to drink them, smugly sitting there in the crate and quietly thinking to themselves that they were the one to derail the project.

Well, they're wrong. No matter how difficult it gets, they're going to be drunk. I may appreciate them less than I would have given a clear palate, but they're having it and there's no question. Tonight's sour probably thought it had a decent chance of survival this evening. It is wrong.

Beer: Kernel London Sour (Barrel Aged)
Strength: A mercifully mediocre 4.1%
Smell: Unnervingly like a seasoned pub urinal that houses 'Lemon Zest' fragrancers.
Tasting notes: A classic Berliner Weiss with little to shout about but everything to insinuate. Where the Kindl Weiss earlier this month failed, this one succeeds by picking up the baton and not only running with it but ramming said baton right where the sun doesn't shine. Because it has body that can not only accommodate said baton, it's more than willing to accept it too. I'm uncertain as to what kind of barrel it was aged in (though I'll guess at a white wine), but whatever it was, that aging process has breathed life into what could have been a total wet fart of a beer. It's not one of Kernel's best offerings, granted, but over the course of a mouthful, you at least feel like you've had some attention paid to you.
Session factor: Dizzyingly high. Top of the Shard levels of drinkability and with a low enough alcohol volume to make you feel like you're on an eternal beery dumb waiter.
Arbitrary score: 161,510

Thursday 10 December 2015

Blue sky drinking

So it gose: a philosophical beer
that makes you wonder
I do not want to drink this beer. It might have taken 10 days, but finally, I've reached that inevitable point in the calendar. I do not want to drink this beer. But I will. I will. 

This got me thinking. Thinking about whether or not things that were once good are now bad. It feels like they are. I just got back from a Roddy Frame gig and was stricken by the feeling I was in a bubble of nostalgia, but actually, in reality, it wasn't the real world.

Granted, the Cadogan Hall will do that for you. But something about the whole evening seemed backward looking and that, in truth, I was looking on at something that had happened a long time ago. I suppose I was, especially given the setlist and the fact I was sitting with someone I met more than 30 years ago.

The whole thing made me wonder whether I'm existing in a permanent state of looking backwards and wondering at how it was all so much better then. And I came to the conclusion I am and that I should stop.

People quite glibly say you should live in the here and now. I wonder whether they do or they just trot that out so you think they sound like they've worked it all out. I'm not sure anyone can just live in the present, when so much of how you are is shaped by the past.

And I wondered at this blog; whether or not it was still doing what I set out to do all those years ago. I'm pretty sure it isn't. I wondered whether I'd do it again next year and thought I might not want to.

But I will. I will.

Beer: Siren Craft Brewing Blue Sky Blue Sea
Strength: A modest 5%
Smell: Quattro. Remember Quattro? If not, look it up. It was a soft drink in the 80s and this smells exactly like it.
Tasting notes: It tastes just exactly how I want a drink to taste right now. I can't give it any higher praise.
Session factor: Astronimical
Arbitrary score: 170,469

Wednesday 9 December 2015

No pop, no style

Under pressure: a lack of fizz might
have done for this porter
Today has been a big day in which I put into action a decision I had pretty much already made and started the long, potentially painful process of moving flat. 

It was the last rent hike that did it. An extra hundred quid a month out of a fairly meagre salary that needs to go a long way just wasn't sustainable in the end, so back to the old flat it is. Now I've made the decision, I do rather wonder why I hadn't done it earlier.

There's no mistaking it, though, it's going to be a squeeze. An accusation that couldn't be levelled at the one-and-a-half bedroomed place is that it's spacious. Not even estate agents in their wildest imaginations would venture that far. So there will be a fair bit of chucking out to be done before I decamp. Never mind. It's about time I got rid of some of the cack I've been carrying around for the last 10 years or so.

Obviously, I will need a trip to IKEA as well. I'm not sure you're even allowed to move flat without heading therethese days -  by law. Current plan is to hit it in the festive perineum, if you'll pardon the phrase. For those not in the now, that's the bit between Christmas and New Year. The thinking is it'll be less busy then. What does the panel think?

Earlier this evening, I had a quick drive past the old gaff. There's something of a hefty construction project going on a couple of doors down, which I hope is'nt anything to do with subsidence. It probably isn't. What I have noticed, though, is that the area has become considerably more well-to-do. For what seems like the first time in years, I appear to be moving to a fashionable, up-and-coming neighbourhood. Estate agents have even appended the word 'village' to its name to lend it even more cachet.

The local green (yes, a green. Get me) boasts a range of traditional shops, a few new arrivals aimed at the new arrivals, three pubs, a bike shop, some quality takeaway joints, a specialist beer shop and, oddly, two establishments where you can top up your tan.

Personally, I'm most looking forward to the curry delivery place. I think I've still got the loyalty card I had for it somewhere about. It did (and I hope still does) some of the most generous, tasty, not-to-salty curries around for only just more than it would cost you to make it yourself. That's the first meal in the new old flat sorted, then.

Beer: Pressure Drop Strictly Roots
Strength: A wholly unnecessary 6.5%
Smell: A particularly dusty cardboard box
Tasting notes: Would that the contents were as good as the label, which looks like Pete Fowler may have had a hand in it. What's billed as a dandelion and burdock porter doesn't seem to get anywhere near either. Maybe it's because this bottle is really light on the carbonation (there's no need to pour carefully as the label suggests), but what could in theory be a really good beer seems to fall flat. In an alarming development, the dustiness of the aroma drifts quite obviously into the flavour, but thankfully that's washed away by the all-too-watery finish. I don't want to be unkind about it - it's entirely possible I've a duff bottle - but this one's not doing it for me. I've had Pressure Drop beers that are much better than this, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Session factor: Pretty low on the strength of this bottle. One or two at the outside as a warming, fireside nip, but that's about it.
Arbitrary score: 10,116

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Over the Boon

Lame Lambic: old ones aren't always
the best ones
As the great Elvis Costello once sang, I just don’t know where to begin. Despite four early nights characterised by uninterrupted sleep and modest-to-low alcohol consumption, I feel absolutely drained. Why?

Wherefore such debilitating tiredness? I’m at a complete loss to explain it. I’m not ill (for once), I’ve been eating well, I’ve been taking my vitamin supplements and I haven’t been overindulging (for once). By rights, I should be full of beans, shipshape, Bristol fashion and a whole host of other suitable metaphorical clichés that would fit this deserved state of being like a glove.

Instead, I can hardly function, struggling out of bed, zombie-ing my way to the office and chucking down outsize mugs of coffee like there’d been a run on it. Post-lunch is worse; my neck is sore following several bouts of ‘wagging’ (head lolling to the side due to seeming narcolepsy followed by a swift jolt upright on realisation) while my eyes would no sooner be open than Donald Trump would invite a family of Jihadists over to his place for afternoon tea. I swear I yawn more than I speak during the afternoon.

Naturally, I’ve discussed the condition with my colleagues, not all of whom have been overly sympathetic. The general consensus being I should just shut up and get on with it. So much for health and wellbeing at work, then.

Fortunately, one voice stood out from the murmurings of disgruntlement. That of my creative team co-head Colin, who suggests it could all be the result of not having been to the pub often enough over the past week. Now, I’m no doctor, but he might have a point there. Save a swift visit to The Rake last night, I haven’t been down the boozer at all this month. I didn’t go this evening either and shan’t be going tomorrow, Thursday or Friday.

I must be ill. And there can be only one cure.

Beer: Oude Geuze Boon à l'Ancienne
Strength: A truly unwelcome 7%
Smell: White wine vinegar aged in sherry barrels and finished off with a side helping of bear bile (I reckon).
Tasting notes: Perhaps it's because I'm tired or a mite glum or because Southern Rail saw fit to piss-ball me about on the way home this evening (and on the way to work, for that matter), but this is not hitting the spot I thought it would. I'm a huge fan of Lambic beers, but this one isn't cutting the mustard. In that it doesn't really taste very much of mustard. My tongue had prepared itself for an onslaught and all it got was the Gueuze equivalent of a lukewarm, damp flannel. While it does what a Lambic should, that is, make you feel you've just chomped down on a lemon burger, it doesn't quite deliver quite enough tang as I'd like. Which leaves me feeling somewhat deflated and wishing I'd bought a Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze instead. Oh, it'll do; of course it will. But I'm padding disappointedly away with the smack of rejection burning my ears a striking shade of crimson.
Session factor: Average. Almost impossibly average. More average than average merits.
Arbitrary score: 101,526

Monday 7 December 2015

So farewell, then

The Good Life: Surbiton's Big Smoke
is a quality porter
Sometimes there's very little you can say or do. You're just at a loss for words. Today is one of those days and I hope the few I trot out here today aren't glib or out of place.

Yesterday evening, I learned one of the people who is a regular fixture at London's The Rake bar, as indeed I am, died. Quite suddenly and without warning, one of the friendly faces with whom I frequently joked and shared pints with was no more.

I'm not going to pretend I knew him particularly well; I didn't. But I counted him as one of us. One of the faces at the bar. One of the many I know there with whom I can chat and discuss beer and generally smile or giggle at some of life's ridiculousness. One of the select few who you can bump into when you haven't arranged to meet anyone and strike up - and hold - a proper conversation with about whatever comes to mind.

Glenn was a thoroughly good bloke. A gent. More than happy to buy a round at the drop of a hat, which he did for me the first time I met him - just because I knew people he knew. He had a deep knowledge of beer and could be relied upon to have an opinion about pretty much any beer or development in the scene as would come up during the evening's witterings.

I think I still owe him a pint. I'm sad I won't be able to buy it now. We've lost a good one there. I went along earlier this evening to raise a glass to him. The beer I'm about to drink is to say thanks, not only for the beer, but for the snatched bits of chat and laughter I'll remember him for.

Cheers, Glenn.

Beer: Big Smoke Dark Wave
Strength: A fittingly decent 5%
Smell: The snug bar of a well-frequented boozer the morning after.
Tasting notes: Oh, it's good enough all right. It's got pretty much everything you'd expect from a porter. Chocolate and coffee and a mild but insistent fruitiness; just enough to get the zangers going. I like the way it doesn't shout at you; its voice has all the timbre it needs to be heard above the general hubbub. And it's not one for monopolising the conversation either. It'll chip in when it needs to or when it has something useful or interesting to contribute. Nothing more. This is not a beer that's overly fond of the sound it makes, but it knows what it's talking about and delivers that in a wry, disarming way so you're always interested no matter the subject. A thoroughly good egg of a beer.
Session factor: You could happily spend a long evening by a fire swapping anecdotes with it. Whether or not that would pass muster on a 15-hour coach journey is anyone's guess, but at a pinch, you'd give it a whirl.
Arbitrary score: 120,615

Sunday 6 December 2015

Having a meh

International donut: Ich will
nicht ein Berliner
The French have a phrase for it. Well, French cycling commentators at any rate. A way to describe an otherwise indescribable day that sees a cyclist previously in contention for victory put in a performance so dire it all but derails their campaign. 

Jour sans. Literally a 'day without'. It's been one of those days. Nothing doing. A great big fat duck egg of nowt. And as it draws to a close, I'm struggling to think of much I've really managed to get done today, save this update. And even then, that's not much is it? As I'm sure you'll agree by the end of it.

It's not that anything's gone wrong or that I've lost interest or inspiration. On the face of it, I'm still pretty chipper, especially so for this time of year. It's usually around about now I get crises of confidence due to plummeting hit counts, but I've given up bothering with the analytics this year. It's nice to see where people have visited from, but the numbers are pretty irrelevant to me these days.

But some days are just meant to be grey. This is one. If I'd been at home, I'd have spent the entire day in bed, punctuating it with visits to the lavatory, the odd raid on the larder or fridge and the occasional cup of tea or glass of water. Much television would have been watched, possibly not all of it particularly educational.

I can't say the weather's helped, unless its purpose today was to ensure I cowered indoors away from the elements. It's the kind of weather the Scots have more than 70 words for, I expect. All the wrong conditions and in completely the wrong order. Not even dramatic enough to at least go out into to see what all the fuss was about (though I realise that's not always desireable too, Cumbrian readers).

Despite doing next to nothing all day - the Everyman crossword notwithstanding - I still feel utterly wiped out. Stricken with the kind of torpor only large meals and the stuffiness of constant central heating can bring about. I've absolutely no energy at all. My get-up-and-go got up and went.

Can this beer help? Well possibly. It's a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool German Berliner Weiss to which the good burghers of that city would usually add a flavoured sweet syrup. I shan't be doing that; no siree. But knowing my luck, it'll work only too well, exciting my tastebuds and injecting enthusiasm in to the evening with the result I'll doubtless be unable to get off to sleep later on.

This post was brought to you by Unlucky Alf.

Beer: Berliner Kindl Weiss
Strength: An utterly ineffectual 3%
Smell: The fur of a cat that's fallen into the loo.
Tasting notes: I can tell why the Berliners put syrup in this. Rarely have I had a beer so completely lacking in body it makes a stick insect look a little on the portly side. There is absolutely nothing to this except a fleeting sharpness that doesn't even have the legs to make it all the way through to the finish. It's the beer equivalent of a pamphlet printed on 40gsm paper, so devoid is it of substance. If it has anything about it at all, it's that at least it has the decency to be of modest alcohol content so it won't take up too much of your time. You could pass the most strict drink-driving tests after several of these, without doubt. Shrinking violets are positively loudmouth in comparison to this beer. It's almost an anti-beer.
Session factor: You could drink a bathful of this without realising you were in any way consuming alcohol. But you wouldn't want to.
Arbitrary score: 7

Saturday 5 December 2015

Shift 'n' stout

Hard work: might seem easy at first,
but a bit of a slog over time
Application. Graft. Dedication. Sticking to a task. Diligence. Focus. Putting a bit of elbow grease into it. Effort. Pertinacity. Getting off your arse. 

Sadly, most if not all of these things and qualities have been distinctly lacking in my life to date. Almost from the word go I've been a bit, well, lazy really. I think I learned quite early on that I could get away with doing the bare minimum and still achieve OK results, so I stuck with that as an MO. From primary school tests through O-levels (yes, I'm that old), A-levels and a University degree, I've somehow managed to sail through with only a modicum of effort.

When the world of work beckoned (or rather, when I was finally forced into it due to a dearth of funds), it was a bit of a shock. All of a sudden, there seemed to be so much to do and barely any time to fit it all in. I hated it. Over the years, I've got better at dealing with it and have perfected the art of working quickly and efficiently. But it's still not something I'd choose to do if I didn't need the money.

But a funny thing has started happening and I'm not sure how it's come about. While increasingly giving less of a shit about stuff that pays the bills, I've become a bit, how to say it, assiduous in many other areas. I'll happily write almost 7,000 words every year on this blog, with scant reward and little recognition. I throw myself at freelance projects with the enthusiasm of a Labrador puppy on first spotting a puddle. I've even started looking after my shoes properly.

And today, I rewaxed a coat I bought earlier this year that was in desperate need of it. Spent a good three hours carefully applying wax and working it into the fabric. Methodically. Evenly. Paying extra attention to the seems, shoulders and upper arms while avoiding contact with the lining. The coat now looks brand new. It'll last years if I keep this up.

I'm wondering what's next. Which aspect of my life will now benefit from my new-found industrial outlook? I'm genuinely looking forward to finding out.

Perhaps I'll start taking care about my appearance; dress a bit smarter. Maybe I'll look after my finances better; with less of a can't-take-it-to-your-grave mentality. Will I finally sort out that frightening mound of unopened letters from the bank, energy company, mobile provider, etc.? Who knows?

One thing's for sure - I'm going to make short work of this beer. First Kernel out of the calendar this year and one about which I've heard good things. Just need to work out whether I can be arsed to give it a write up.

Beer: Kernel Dry Stout Citra
Strength: A piss-easy 4.7%
Smell: A stupendously rich plum pudding with a faint dusting of ground almonds.
Tasting notes: It's dry all right. I love everything about the way it just floats majesterially through the opulent foyer of your mouth cracking sardonic funnies as it goes to the utter delight of all assembled. An incisive wit and as devastating in its put-down as it is uplifting in its flattery, this beer is probably as close to Noel Coward as you could possibly want to encounter. But all good things must come to an end and that's where this one falls over. What should, for me at least, be the point at which all the different strands of entertaining badinage come to a head and deliver a knock-out punchline, this comes out with such a non-sequitor as makes it difficult to wonder whether it was just making it up all along. I'm not desperately disappointed, just a bit taken aback.
Session factor: Pretty good given its modest strength, but too many WTF moments might make for an awkward evening.
Arbitrary score: 11,393

Friday 4 December 2015

Cometh the sour

Marmite moment: a beer you either
love or hate. Or just quite like
In a move sure to disappoint the regulars, today has been an absolute delight. And this despite the 6am start, the now regular tardiness of the morning train and a fairly arduous drive to the south coast.

Whether it’s the fact my new boots arrived this morning (well, I had to go to the local delivery office, but still), the people of Oldham firmly flipped two fingers up to the racist overtures of that flagrant fear-monger Farage or the fact I’ve nailed at least 50 per cent of my Christmas shopping already and it’s only early December, I don’t know. But I’ve been around the block enough to know I need to surf this wave of positivity while it lasts.

This year has been such a genuine curate’s egg of a year I don’t know what to make of it. But maybe that’s the point – don’t make anything of it. Just be and enjoy the good bits.

Navel-gazing done for the day; now for the beer. In keeping with the year’s seeming theme, Wild Beer are a bit of a mixed bag of a brewery. And I mean that in a good way. Some of their output is sublime, while some leaves me a bit nonplussed. But that’s precisely what you’d expect from such an experimental outfit. If I liked them all, it would be a bit weird.

Today’s is a case in point. I think it’s fantastic, but then I’m a huge fan of sour beers. I love the way they catch you unawares. I love the way the sharpness seems to jump-start your tastebuds, jolting them awake upon contact. In fact, the whole experience is a wake-up call, from the first pop of the bottle top through the Champagne-like sound of its bubbles as you pour to the rasping effervescence that still tingles on your tongue as the flavour fades away. A real alarm clock of a beer.

Others I know can’t stand this style, though. I’ve witnessed friends’ faces grimace in sheer disgust as they physically recoil after one small sip, reaching for anything they can lay their hands on to assuage the astringent pain burnt acid-like on to their palates. The weirdos.

Anyway, I first tasted this elixir of the gods at the Independent Manchester Beer Convention – easily the land’s best beer festival – in October 2014. An instant hit; I could have stayed with it all night (though obviously I didn’t). Sadly I wasn’t to have another till Monday night, when I was interviewed by the Beer O’Clock Show, who kindly sponsored today’s calendar entry.

So a small confession – I’ve already had the beer. It wasn’t even in December. Thankfully, I felt guilty enough to have to go out and buy another (from the very excellent Hop, Burns and Black store in ‘upmarket’ Peckham). Disaster averted. Things are looking up.

Beer: Wild Beer Sourdough
Strength: A pretty weedy 3.6%
Smell: Robinson's Lemon Barley Water mixed with Merrydown Cider.
Tasting notes: Bowling out of the bottle like a dose of Alka-Seltzer on steroids, it marches straight up to the spot on your tongue marked 'sour', leans purposefully on the bar, calls 'shop' to attract the barman and orders five pints at a time, which it then proceeds to down, in one, one after the other, methodically, taking the same length of time for each and at perfectly timed regular intervals. It's only been in five minutes and already it's a regular. Quite frankly, it ain't shifting for anyone. But then without warning, it just turns on its heels and slings its hook. Gone. A complete whirlwind. The beer equivalent of Lord Flashheart in Blackadder Two. High impact; not going to stick around too long. Terrific stuff.
Session factor: Higher than an ace, you say? Yes I do.
Arbitrary score: 121,504

Thursday 3 December 2015

Rodenbach the years

Belgian Bottle: this red ale punches
way above its weight
A cracking night’s sleep, a pleasant surprise delivered by this morning’s calendar and the long-awaited return of my US Fender Stratocaster appear to have put me in a stupidly good mood today.

I realise that will disappoint some readers, but as they’re probably only too aware, there’s plenty of time left for that to change. Sure as our current Government is composed of a bunch of greedy, corrupt, warmongering, amoral inadequates, so will my humour nosedive like a Paveway bomb raining down on innocent Syrian civilians before the year is out.

But such are the vagaries of the Beer Advent Calendar. On one of the most depressing days of the year so far (and there have been a few, haven’t there?), I seem to be breezing along without much in the way of worry. I almost dare not wonder why.

Better, then, to concentrate on the glorious, festive-looking bottle that greeted me as I peeled back the calendar flap this morning. Though I couldn’t see, I swear its crimson glow lit up my face in much the same way as a box of Terry’s All Gold did to grateful 70s housewives who featured in the in-no-way-sexist advertisements of that era.

I remember the first time I tried Rodenbach. Wandering a mite drunkenly from Toulouse’s Place Saint-Pierre along the raggedy cobbled backstreet of Rue Pargaminières, I double-took what looked like the greatest bar in the world. And to this (at the time) pub-starved, mildly intoxicated seeker of a half-decent beer in a confirmed wine town, it turned out it was. For a time, at least.

On entering La Tireuse, the Pink City’s only dedicated Belgian beer joint, I was faced with a pristine 20-strong row of gleaming silver beer taps and a chalkboard menu of such bounty I could scarcely take it all in. I knew maybe three or four of the thirty-odd advertised ales and stood rapt and awestruck at the bewildering choice in front of me. This was just unheard of in Toulouse - the best you could usually hope for was a choice between Pelforth and Heineken. 

Like any man in my situation and condition, I surmised the only way to deal with this was to work methodically, so I ordered the first beer on the list. Rodenbach. I knew nothing about it and was totally unsure of how it would taste. I don’t think I’d ever experienced anything of the Belgian red style by that point in my life, so it was a gamble.

One that paid off several times over. That night, after that first face-puckering slug, I stayed faithful to my new-found red friend. It was a sensation every time I sipped, its sour cherry base drawing me repeatedly into its welcoming tangy finish.

La Tireuse became my regular hangout after that. A comforting cubby hole of a place away from the growing madness that was my stint in the south of France. I must go back one day to see if they still have Rodenbach on tap. I’m sure they must.

But in the meantime, I’ll settle for this one in the comfort of my own home.

Beer: Rodenbach
Strength: A nondescript 5.2%
Smell: It smells like a dark hessian sack of wild Morello cherries left in a wooden barrel and soused in vinegar for the last 10 months.
Tasting notes: Yes, yes, I know the Grand Cru is better, etc. But just one gulp of this and I'm back in the Languedoc staring out of an oak-framed window and contemplating a falafel sharwarma from the Lebanese takeaway over the road. The smell makes you expect something bold and vicious, but this one's much classier than that. A silver-tongued rogue who flatters, defers to your superiour intellect, takes great pains to point out your handsomeness, laughs heartily at your jokes, fêtes you at every turn, urges others to marvel at your excellent countenance while all the time loosening the chain that fastens your expensive pocket watch to your waistcoat and ferreting it away in his pea-coat along with the wallet of yours he's already filched. The knave. Properly sneaky but you can't help admiring its nerve.
Session factor: It was much higher back then. I've been fleeced too often to enjoy its company as much these days, but its still worth the occasional indulgence.
Arbitrary score: 31,000

Wednesday 2 December 2015

What keeps you awake

Hats off: a spritely stout that's
maddeningly moreish
So tired. Wired. Distinctly uninspired. Despite being weary, lethargic and frankly not all there, I seem to have gained a spring in my step that I just can’t explain.

Whether through over-excitement about Christmas or due to a lingering worry in my heart, I could barely sleep at all last night. Took ages to drop off then pinged awake at 2am on the back of a faintly disturbing dream. Barely to even snooze again before it was time to get up.

In the past few years while wrestling with insomnia, I’ve taken to having the radio on at a low volume on my bedside table. Hearing the varied voices of the World Service warbling away in the background being infinitely preferable to the consistently troubled voices in my own head wittering and sniping their way through another sleepless night.

Most of the time, it works perfectly. Some suitably dull programme about the amount of arable land per head of population in Upper Volta (or some such crud) will usually have me drifting off soon enough.

But as if saving itself up to be a part of some perfect insomnia storm, the World Service was incredibly interesting listening last night. From 2am till way past 5.30am, it was one thing after another: an interview with a woman bringing justice to Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Tracy Chapman on how she became famous overnight, Hardtalk with the leader of the Rwandan Democratic Green Party, a feature on new technology in publishing and a programme on civil unrest in Burundi.

Now I realise on the face of it not all those subjects sound desperately riveting. But to me, during those hours, they were genuinely fascinating. Obviously. And clearly much more important than getting a decent night’s sleep.

By rights, I should be utterly knackered now. Though not too taxing a day at work, there’s still been plenty to do. But for some reason, I’ve had more natural exuberance today than for some considerable time.

And I can’t work it out. There is no reason for it. I haven’t had anything approaching good news. Various communications sent have fallen on unresponsive ears. No damsel in shining, err, armour has come to sweep me off my feet and whisk me away to her castle. My numbers have certainly not come up.

So it must be this. Maybe the mere act of putting this annual blog together has kept my energy levels up on a day when I really ought to have been completely out of gas.

Or maybe it was the prospect of drinking this beer, which is from a brewery new to me. Perhaps that's it. The fleeting whiff of something unpredictable, something new, something surprising. Smelling salts for the day.

Beer: Mad Hatter Brewing Nightmare on Bold St
Strength: An interestingly poised 5.3%
Smell: Coffee ice cream, Bailey's and just-baked rye bread smeared in Marmite.
Tasting notes: This is really up my street. So much so that it tastes exactly like the tribute to Kernel's Export India Porter I brewed last year. And that is no bad thing. There's a pretence at sweet, thick, creamy maltiness as you first drink, but don't let that fool you. It won't last. Like an ill-advised love affair, this one's about to turn sour. Not sour as in 'off', mind. Just dark, bitter, cold, unfeeling and with a steely temper quite unlike that which greeted you at the outset. As the spiteful words and cold looks of hoppy tang rain down on your unsuspecting tongue, you yearn for release. But it won't come. No. It'll linger long till you're ready for another swig of succour. And glutton for punishment, you're unable to resist its siren call.
Session factor: Not particularly high. I mean, I'm all for a good time and that, which this more than provides, but these kind of delights need only be encountered every so often.
Arbitrary score: 151,211

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Sour feast, London

Manc heavens: a north-western sour
fit for the Shakespearean gods
Violent sneezing. Hacking cough. Nose running fleet and fitfully as a fleeing Thomson’s gazelle. A general sense of unease; worry even. Bad-tempered clouds and a wind that whips the lingering vestiges of sleep straight out of your streaming eyes. Late trains. The kind of mithering melancholy only several years of perpetual solitude can provoke. An overwhelming sense of impending loss. Doom AND gloom.

Why, it can only mean one thing: the first day of the Beer Advent Calendar. Regular readers will recognise this unenthusiastic beginning. My annual dipping of the toe into dipsomania is usually greeted – by me at least – with a good degree of, well, fear, quite frankly. It’s a daunting task and one I’m sure not many people appreciate. Drinking a beer a day is one thing; it’s quite another to write 500+ words a day about it as well.

But this year, more than ever, I’ve found it genuinely difficult to muster up the gusto for what has been an admittedly diverting project over the years. This will be Beer Advent Calendar number 10 and the eighth I’ve posted on this blog.

In the beginning, it was just a few words on a now-defunct internet forum. It was easy. A swift ale followed by some hastily thrown-together tasting notes was all it really required. The whole thing kind of fell into place, almost by accident.

Kicking off the blog meant a bit more work, but nothing overly onerous. A picture or two, some more words of introduction, but it was an enjoyable hobby after all, so no real hardship.

As time has passed and the beer scene has developed into something quite out of step with that which existed at the outset, the blog has become increasingly an organ for me to sound off about my woes or otherwise rather than about the beer itself. I’m not entirely certain whether that’s still working for me or anyone else.

And this year, a tipping point has been reached. Now, every commercial beer retailer or brewery with an enthusiastic if perhaps unoriginal marketing bone in its body has jumped aboard the beery bandwagon and started flogging their own versions of Beer Advent Calendars. They’re everywhere. Some sellers have even had the gall to urge customers to ‘accept no imitations’. Oh the irony.

So it feels like the whole thing has run its course. Not only that, it seems as if the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. I don’t know whether I’ll do this again. As the Rolling Stones once sang, this could be the last time.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, eh? Still the small matter of 24 beers to get through. Christmas starts here.   

Beer: Chorlton Citra Sour
Strength: An unexpectedly formidable 5.7%
Smell: Lemon-tinged pine fronds nestling delicately amid a bed of freshly fallen snow.
Tasting notes: So much like burnt Marmite I have to give it another taste to make sure. On second sipping, it's more of a tart rhubarb crumble laced with laid-down gooseberries, the juices of which have caramelised and bubbled through the crummy, biscuity topping due to slight over-cooking. Ah, nothing a good dose of custard couldn't fix. But that nostalgia-ridden revelry is snatched away by a spiteful, snarling teenager gleefully pouring table salt on to the slithering slug of your tongue. One who watches on, mouth agape and grin widening, as every semblance of moisture is leeched out by the sodium chloride avalanche he (and it's obiously a he, and wanton at that) has visited upon you. But in a good way.
Session factor: Quite high, actually. It's the drinking equivalent of a chain reaction. You drink, you become thirsty, you drink more, repeat al finale.
Arbitrary score: 18,215