A picture is worth a thousand words


Beer and pizza: the only pairing that matters

I'm keen on experimenting with beer and food pairings. I like to try out recommendations. I like to read books on beer & food. And, yes, one day I will get round to tracking down Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table. I like to wax lyrical about complements and contrasts, on occasion. I like to drool over Sean Paxton's menus. I get a kick out of discovering a pairing that lifts the a meal to another level of flavour.

But, in my heart of hearts, I know it doesn't really matter. Because there is only one pairing that matters. Beer and pizza.

I've thought before as to why it works so well, but could never quite nail the reason. Then tonight, whilst I was blowing the suds off a cold one,  waiting for the oven to ping, it struck me.1

Beer and pizza is the perfect pairing because it's whatever you want it to be.

It changes with your palate, your mood, the seasons, the special offers.

It can be the best of pairings and the worst of pairings. It can be luxurious, all hop-tickle and mozzarella drops. It can be brutish, all suds and chewy cheese. A pairing borne of wisdom or borne of foolishness. A pairing that results in belief or incredulity.  When you have everything before you and nothing before you, when your pairing can send you direct to heaven and direct the other way. 2

Everybody changes. Everybody hurts. But there's always beer and pizza. It's a pairing that I love now and know that it will keep exciting me and satiating me until the day I die.

1) What beer and pizza did I have tonight? Sheesh, if you're asking the question then you've missed the point.

2) Yeah, I bet Charles Dickens would have loved beer & pizza too


Bottled Up Special: Odell Brewing Company

The last dozen US-influenced, UK-brewed beers that I've tried have all ploughed the same furrow, riven with hops. Some have been sublime - Oakham Citra has already become hop lore in the UK - but others seemed misshapen in their one-trick/single-dry-hopped profile.

Which is ironic, considering that some of the tastiest US beers I've drank this year have taken their inspiration from the balance of traditional English ales. For some, the bittersweet line is there not so much crossed as trashed, equating it with a middle-of-the-roadness sense of unadventure. Thankfully, Colorado's Doug Odell understands flavour balance perfectly and executes it with aplomb across his range of beers.

Since 1989, Odell have been brewing with balance in mind; brown ales where sweet malts are tempered by an hop edge, IPAs with an aggressive hop showcase on a substantial malt base. These beers aren't often seen east of the Mississippi in the US so it was fantastic to have the opportunity to sample them here in the UK.

The IPA exhibited ballet-show balance; delicate touches, lilting floral notes, understated sweetness. By way of contrast, St Lupulin had a bitterly astringent nose yet maintained a zesty, perfumed palate and clean juicy fruitiness. The only problem with 90 Shilling was that it was so good I wanted to pour it on my cornflakes at breakfast - plenty of creamy caramel undercut by some hedge-berry flavours. Balance was taken to another level by the 5 Barrel Pale Ale, its biscuity base and soft herbal hops made for a great bottled pale that must be phenomenal served fresh on tap. As for Cutthroat Porter... all I can say is that I've never has a US porter that packed in so many subtle roasty/toasty/coffee/smoky notes and yet was still an effortless easy-going, thoroughly enjoyable beer.

These are beers that British brewers need to try, lest they forget just how fresh and exciting the 'old styles' can be. Many thanks to myBrewerytap.com for donating the beers.


Beer Bloggers Unite!

Some time ago I joined Beer Bloggers Unite, a social networking site for beer bloggers. And then totally forgot about it.

Well, I've had a glint of inspiration. I've launched a UK group where beer bloggers can share info, plan collaborations and blow off steam. If you have a blog and want to take part, go to the UK Beer Bloggers home page and sign up.


The Jaipur / Jolene mashup

Being phenomenally bored this morning, I fancied a challenge. So when Neil Bowness said on Twitter “whenever I see Jaipur, I want to sing it's name to the tune of 'Jolene' by Dolly Parton”, it got me thinking….

Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur
I’m begging of you please come join our clan
Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur
You should drink it just because you can

Your hoppiness is beyond compare
With body light as liquid air
With gentle malts and notes of pine and fir
Your flavour’s juicy tropical
All other beers are in your thrall
And they cannot compete with you, Jaipur

We talk about you in the pub
The other beers we always snub
We’re crying when your last cask goes, Jaipur

And we easily understand
Your somnific effect on man
Coz we know what he means to be Jaipured

Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur
I’m begging of you please come join our clan
Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur
You should drink it just because you can

We always have our choice of beers
But we are not mutineers
You’re the only one for me, Jaipur

We had to sing this song to you
Our happiness depends on you
And whatever hops that Matt chucks in Jaipur

Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur
We’re begging of you, listen to our plan
Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur, Jaipur
We’re begging of you; put it in a can!
Jaipur… Jaipur…


The Session #42: A Special Place, A Special Beer

The Session is a monthly collaboration of beer bloggers and writers who write from their own perspective on a single topic. Each participant posts their contribution on their site on the first Friday of the month, with The Session host picking the topic and summarizing all the contributions. This month's topic is 'A Special Place, A Special Beer'.

What could be easier than writing about beery places that are special to me? I’m finding them all the time. Last week may be atypical but still memorable; the brewery at Orval with beer tasted straight off the bottling line. Chimay Dorée in the Auberge de Poteaupre. The Westvleteren trio sat outside In de Vred. They were great beers in great locations, true enough, But what made them great places?

For me, a sense of place is greater than just physical location. It’s about interaction – who you’re with (or not); what’s happening (or not); what you choose to do (or not). Straining to hear Orval’s Francois de Harenne make himself heard above the grind of the bottling line. Laughing with friends as Chimay corks went literally ballistic around the gardens. Looking out over the flat Flanders fields and experiencing a sense of calm even when surrounded by a hundred plus drinkers. There's a true sense of place for me, something I’ll be reminded of whenever I drink those beers again.

But I’ve found a certain special place in the last few years that has revolutionised my attitude to beer. It’s the place that led me indirectly to those great Belgian beer experiences. It’s a place that enhances nearly all the beers I drink. It’s a place I love, a place I visit every day. In fact, you’re in that place right now. That place is the internet.

Not a physical location but a shifting network, an ebb and flow of information and attitude. An ethereal presence at my desk, my dining table, at the bar, in the festival tent, on a hillside. It’s all about the interaction noted above, only the assembly of likeminds and dialogue is via social media rather than face-to-face. It’s the virtualisation of latter-day café culture, where the sense of place is bound no longer by walls but by bandwidth.

When I drink a beer and mention it on my Twitter feed, on Facebook, on Ratebeer, on this blog, I get a response. Some want to share their enjoyment (or disappointment). Some want to enjoy a vicarious drinking experience. Sometimes I ask questions about the beer; sometimes they get answered. By loudmouths, by drunkards, by brewers, by drinkers. Sometimes by all four. Sometimes all four are the same person. I am drinking a beer within a community; that community is a place for debate and discussion and knowledge transfer and argument and agreement. It just happens to be on a phone or laptop rather than crowded around a table.

I’d like to think that Baudalaire would approve; "To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world". I bet he'd be LOL over Twitter. The internet is indeed a special beery place for me; perhaps because it augments the beer experience so much. Perhaps also because it's a place I can choose to leave at the push of a button. But not before I hit 'Publish Post'...


Schmoozing at GBBF

Most people have it easy at the Great British Beer Festival. Turn up, buy glass, buy beer, wear daft hat, buy more beer, buy suspiciously-long sausage in an undersized bun, drink more beer, cheer when a glass gets dropped, drink more beer, forget where Earls Court tube station is. But for some of us there's an early-doors manic session: the heady delights of Trade Day.

Before the thirsty public are unleashed, GBBF plays host on Tuesday afternoons to a motley crew of brewers, publicans, writers and other beery flotsam. There are the corporate suits, BlackBerried and braying. There are knots of brewers in matching sweatshirts, stood in packs around rucksacks. There are the punters from pubs and clubs and bars, the bar staff and regulars, the minibus outings. The occasional old man with a little-boy-lost face, an empty pint glass and a glazed expression at the overwhelming beer list. The table of geeks, all notebooks and serious demeanour. The mingles of writers and bloggers, Tweet-meeting and LOL IRL. And what I doing?

Schmoozing and boozing.

Meeting up with dozens of brewers, writers, bloggers, marketing managers, distributors, publicans. Swapping bottles, catching up on gossip, working out where the bodies are buried. Press-ganging friends into helping out on brewery bars. Flittering leaflets around tables of topers. Drinks on the fly with old friends, new brewers, consular staff and trade mag editors. And making introductions - brewers who've never met but could now have collaboration plans; landlords and distributors who both want to broaden the accessibility of quality beer.

Speaking of which, let me tip my glass in the direction of a few select tipples. Thornbridge's Craven Silk has a pleasant elderflower zestiness. Augustiner Edelstoff is probably the most refreshing spezial I've ever tasted. And there's probably no finer last-glass-of-the-session than De Molen's Tsarina Esra Reserva; packed full of peppery coffee and chocolate with cherry-berry notes under a vanilla veneer accompanied with a deft hop crunch.

The Great British Beer Festival is now in full swing until Saturday at Earls Court. My advice is: go early. The great beers won't last long.


Festival 'analysis paralysis'

A recent article over at Beer Birra Bier about beer festival strategy got me thinking. I know some beery bods who do treat festivals as if they were a military operation; notepad, pen/pencil, PDA/smartphone, water bottle, festival glass, spare glass, spare pen/pencil, bubble wrap for bottle purchases. A beer list cross-referenced to ratebeer/beer advocate/their own tick list. With coloured highlights to show rare/strong/foreign beers. With an annotated arena map to identify the optimal seating area; equidistant from the key bars, close enough but not too close to the loos, away from the band/the t-shirt stall/the grumpy old soaks who moan about the demise of British bitter.

Yes, I know these denizens of planning. I used to be one of them.

Why did I change? After all, I'm a natural born planner. Analysis may as well be my professional middle name. Perhaps it's because of those times when I was waiting at a bar to be served, listening to the protestations of other scoopers, watching them succumb to analysis paralysis. Too many beers on their list. Unable to make a decision on which to buy. A purchasing system thrown out by a beer not being ready/running out/never arriving.

I've seen scoopers spend a miserable half-hour trying to commit to buying a beer as their first, second and third choice beers fail to materialise. Seen them squabble over the last halfpint, plead to try green beer or the dregs of a titled cask.

I've set myself free from the tyranny of beer festival planning to the minutiae. Yes, I still have a broad-brush plan for GBBF. It goes like this;

- start with some kind of draught gueze/kriek
- chew the fat with whoever serves me and see what they think of the foreign beers on offer
- buy a US beer by a brewer that I've never heard of before
- ask around the tables to see what's going down well
- go with the flow. And don't forget to buy sausage and mash

Free your mind and the hops will follow. I hope...