Monthly Archives: January 2018

Digging, digging, digging

I wouldn’t normally devote a post to reviewing a single beer – particularly not a one-off – but in this case I’ll make an exception.

RedWillow Faithless is the generic name for the brewery’s short-run specials; most are variations on a theme of pale’n’oppy, but some are considerably further out there. Faithless 75 is described as a “Kviek[sic] Farmhouse IPA”; according to the brewery it’s made with “Sigmund Voss Kveik yeast”, which is a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae isolated from a sample of kveik – kveik being the generic name for the yeast strains used in Norwegian farmhouse brewing, as documented on Lars Marius Garshøl’s blog (e.g. here). (Lars is also responsible for the wider availability of Sigmund Gjernes’s kveik yeast. Incidentally, “Sigmund Voss kveik yeast” should read “Sigmund‘s Voss kveik yeast”; Voss is the district where Gjernes lives and brews.)

Anyway, here’s the keg taps at the Hillary Step, and here’s RedWillow brewing a “farmhouse IPA” with certified kveik yeast. Farmhouse shmarmhouse – labels like ‘farmhouse’ and ‘saison’ cover a multitude of sins, as perhaps they always did – and IPA shmIPA, but kveik? That, I thought, was something new and different, and I had to give it a try – even if it was keg filth. (But… is it key keg? If so, is it unfiltered? If so, might there be real-ale levels of yeast knocking around inside that refrigerated bag? I wonder.)

On ordering it, I had no idea what to expect – and that’s a very rare experience these days. The thought crossed my mind that I might be about to taste my new favourite beer – like meeting Ticketybrew Pale for the first time all over again. Perhaps I primed my own perceptions, but I was initially reminded of that very beer – despite the inevitable cold prickly qualities of keg beer, it gave me a similar sense of the depth of flavour of a malty best bitter, combined with the resonant depths of an abbey beer. (Oh, I’m just getting started here. If you’re not into purple prose and general Adrianism, you may want to give the rest of this post a miss.) I was impressed. I drank some more… and found the ‘best bitter’ fading out and a more assertive ‘rye bread’ character coming in. Toasted rye bread. Toasted rye bread, with… what was that… cocoa? (And it’s a pale beer.) Actually, not just rye bread, it’s pumpernickel. Pumpernickel and chocolate spread.

As an IPA it wasn’t exactly true to style, clearly, but as a beer it was really interesting. So I tried it again – but I tend to fit in pubgoing around the rest of my life rather than vice versa, so it was a full five days before I made it back to the Step. Not so much best bitter this time, more cream soda. Cream soda with sourdough bread. Cream soda with sourdough and an odd little funky yeast note, savoury, almost meaty. Marmite on sourdough… with cream soda. Alcoholic cream soda (you can probably get that these days). And over the cream soda, what was that? Not pear drops – not acetone – but pears; a definite overtone of pears. Pears, and then there was dark chocolate coming through; pears wrapped around dark chocolate; basically it’s pears Belle Hélène, to follow up your marmite on sourdough. The whole thing was only let down, as the other flavours faded, by a tongue-coating aftertaste of sour milk or yogurt; it reminded me (on top of everything else) of the Mad Hatter tzatziki beer I wrote about here.

What’s going on, then, when – in the course of a week – best bitter turns to cream soda and pears, when rye bread turns to sourdough, and when yogurt starts elbowing its way to the front? The obvious explanation is that the yeast – or something that’s come along with the yeast for the ride – is getting a bit lairy. This is why I wonder if CAMRA would say this is real ale, if anyone asked them. Either way – and even with the sour-milk overtone – it’s a fascinating beer, not quite like anything else I’ve ever tasted – and how often can you say that?

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Session #131 – 3, 2, 1

I dip in and out of ‘The Session’ – more out than in – but this month’s theme – supplied at short notice by Jay Brooks, onlie begetter of TS – caught my interest.

1. What should we call it?

Jay: what one word, or phrase, do you think should be used to describe beer that you’d like to drink. Craft beer seems to be the most agreed upon currently used term, but many people think it’s losing its usefulness or accuracy in describing it. What should we call it, do you think?

I’m not as fussed about ‘craft beer’ as a term as I used to be; I’m happy to concede that I know pretty much what it means in practice – probably a new-ish brewery, probably one of a fairly small range of styles (pale’n’oppy, stout, sour), probably keg and probably sold at a mark-up. It doesn’t wholly describe beer that I’d like to drink, though, particularly given that one of my beers of 2017 was Harvey’s Sussex Best. (Harvey’s might qualify under the US definition of a ‘craft brewery’, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)

What to call it, then – what one word or phrase can cover Harvey’s Best, Marble Pint and (for example) RedWillow Restless, an “imperial Vietnamese coffee porter” (8.5%, keg)? It is, in the immortal words of Flann O’Brien, “nearly an insoluble pancake, a conundrum of inscrutable potentialities, a snorter.” I propose a simple solution: call it beer. To put it another way, call the good stuff ‘beer’, and demand that what we call ‘beer’ is good stuff. This is what CAMRA is all about, as far as I’m concerned – not celebrating ‘real ale’ but campaigning for all ale to be real, for all beer to be the good stuff. As I wrote six years ago (time flies eh?)

Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the 70s – when the old hippies were settling down and starting businesses – but I’ve always bracketed real ale with real bread and real cheese. I don’t want to live in a world where most people drink Carlsberg and eat processed cheese squares on white sliced, while the cognoscenti compare notes about their muslin-wrapped Stilton, their wood-oven ciabattas and their, well, you fill in the beer. … My ideal world is one where everyone is eating and drinking good wholesome stuff – where cotton-wool bread, ‘cheese food’ and whatever it is they brew in Moss Side aren’t even available.

The good stuff is ‘beer’; ‘beer’ is, or should be, the good stuff.

2. Two under-rated breweries

This one will be a bit quicker, and won’t surprise anyone who’s read this blog recently. It never ceases to amaze me that Ticketybrew don’t get more attention. Apart from anything else, they exemplify some of the worst (and most fashionable) tendencies of contemporary ‘craft beer’ – the restless search for new styles, leading to a different lineup every year; the use of obscure or defunct styles that can’t be checked against the original (Mumm, Grodziskie, Invalid Stout); the weird flavour combinations (‘tea and biscuits’ mild, Marmite stout); not to mention putting practically everything in small bottles, regardless of style or strength. I tell you, if it was Cloudwater doing all this we’d never hear the last of it.

Ticketybrew’s apparent inability to catch a break when it comes to ‘craft’ credibility is all the more baffling given that the beer is – as a rule – damn good. Their core range starts at ‘rock solid’ and goes up to ‘classic’; I haven’t had many Dubbels or Blonds better than theirs, or strong English bitters that were better than their Pale. There’s not much point me recommending their short-run brews, but I can assure you that I have fond memories of that Invalid Stout, not to mention the Bitter Orange Pale and their single-hop Citra. There’s not much that Duncan can’t turn his hand to, stylistically speaking; the results are never less than good and often superb.

Apart from them, I tend to think Marble are under-rated. They had a bit of a wobble a while back, since when Marble watchers have experienced a couple of realisations – “hey, they’re good again!”, followed quite soon afterwards by “wait a minute, actually they’re better than ever”. I’m going to have to make more of a study of those BA bottles, but if the one I have tried is anything to go by Marble may be sneaking up on phase three – “this isn’t just good, this is good“. So that’s my second pick. I guess I should be choosing somebody newer (Wander Beyond) or weirder (Chorlton) or just plain overlooked-er (Manchester), but “under-rated” includes “rated highly when they ought to be rated very highly” – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

3. Three neglected styles

This’ll be even quicker.

  1. Barley wine. I love a decent barley wine – and you so rarely see them. (Although the 6% ‘white stout’ I had last night came close.) Brewers! More barley wine in 2018! I know you aren’t going to sell kilderkins of the stuff – stick it in a keg, I won’t mind. (I’ll just think of it as a very large bottle.)
  2. Old ale. Anything like a dark, malty bitter, but a bit stronger; anything in the range from Young’s Winter Warmer (5.2%) up to Old Tom.
  3. Mild, especially light mild; also especially mild called ‘mild’, which is even more of a dying breed than light ditto.

Thanks for that, Jay – thought-provoking and fun.