Beery Weekend

One of the best things about working in the industry is that going for a weekend boozing counts as market research.

That is why last weekend B & I were able to justify spending 2 days in York and 1.5 in Bristol (Fri-Mon). We didn’t manage a week away just the two of us this year for various reasons but taking some time off in November is really good for him given just how stressful December tends to get and we really needed to curl up together a bit. Unfortunately it also turns out to be quite expensive to take a city break at this time of year.
Nonetheless we grabbed a train up to York on Friday morning and arrived at the York Tap in time for ‘lunch’. The plan was to hit a few pubs in the afternoon, check-in to the B&B, then head back out for dinner before doing some tourist things on the Saturday (with a few more pubs) and heading to Bristol first thing on Sunday to find a few more pubs that afternoon/evening, amble round on Monday morning and get back in time for me to have dinner and a cosy evening in with W.

In total we went to 13 different pubs and I estimate that between the two of us we drank 42 different beers… so though we were mainly drinking thirds and halves and didn’t ever really get drunk I definitely felt I earned this week’s dry day!
There follows a more detailed summary/review if you are interested:
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Each to their own

In my early twenties there were 2 key mantras in my life “An thou harm none do as thou wilt” and “Safe, Sane & Consensual” – as I’ve got older I’ve learnt to appreciate some of the interpretative difficulties that both of those propositions face [too many and various for this time of night] but there remains a fundamental truth that they embody and which needs to be applied to every part of life including beer choice…
If no one is getting hurt, and you aren’t being coerced then it is entirely your choice what you feel like doing right now.
That means drink if you want to drink, or don’t touch alcohol on thursdays, or only have sex with black men between 4 and 7 on sundays or whatever.  And more than that it mean no one should be criticising you for your decision not to drink alcohol or to drink.. shock horror Fosters… or to sleep with midgets for money or count your sexual partners on your bedposts.
I might [read: do] think that Fosters is worse than Satan’s urine flavour-wise and I might suggest that is bad for a lot of people’s health but do you know what, in the end actually if you want to drink it that isn’t my decision to make.

When it comes to choice of beverage I see a lot of snobbery going on where people are judged according to their drinks choices and it upsets me (it especially upsets the me who both buys £20 bottles of beer and £1.10 tinnies..) because your favourite ain’t necessarily right for everyone (e.g. why privilege peaty whiskies over briny ones..) but  to be honest I am more more worried about the pressure we still put on people to drink alcohol, or more alcohol
One of the worst things I see in my profession are the people pushed by their social group into “just one more” – people pressured into consuming alcohol for the sake of social ease. It leads to people drinking and driving, it leads to people getting ill or upset and it is not safe!
Second, though not far behind that, on my pet hates  is people being ridiculed and stigmatised for their choice of drink – now [fair disclosure] part of the reason this bugs me is that invariably the guy being torn to shreds is being accused of being girly or gay for not wanting x drink (which ya’know as a queer gal is kinda irksome) and this kind of bullying is Not Cool and not only do I worry because it can lead to people not being as safe as they should be and inhibiting their choices because of the power of alcohol but also it rather bugs me that someone gets to feel like they know better about what someone should put in their body..because weird though it sounds [e.g.] ‘you need to drink vodka or you are weak’ isn’t just emotional bullying when it comes to the kind of coercion, the buying it anyway and pushing and pushing til they drink it is the kind of mentality that leads to rape…. its what you want (or i think you should want), its the socially acceptable thing to do, if you don’t you are boring, rubbish, not my friend….etc etc.

Its not ok.

It is not ok to tell someone what they want to drink because it is their body and their choice; they shouldbe able to make their own decisions, to enjoy it and want it and not be too damaged by it long term… and I think any mentality that says otherwise is dangerous.

Mud, Beer and Sleep

My local beer festival isn’t really the 20 firkins in a village hall, a tea urn and the school choir variety.. more the 500 different ales and 200 ciders/perries in 2 marquees with hog roast, a noodle bar, trade session, pub games and pro bands style.

I’d like to think that even though not everything was finished and despite the rain keeping some people away it was a success. As an annual event it is an occasion where people who don’t see each other get a chance to catch up. People sing and dance and try new things. I know that the Pub Games section had another record breaking year and I know that the judging of the National Cider and Perry awards was well received but what I really hope is that plenty of people went away with good memories.

Like other CAMRA affiliated festivals it is organised and staffed by volunteers of varying skills, abilities and dedication. This year it would be fair to say that a number of my friends and acquaintances who are involved in this rather monumental task were tested to the limit. Mainly by the rain, but also by the non-appearance of a large proportion of the volunteers.
As the rain came down and the pools of water built up on the flood plain we use to accommodate punters, those too fool-hardy and dedicated to hide indoors dug trenches, lifted and carried scaffolding, sorted lighting, bars, and  tables, bashed stuff with mallets and generally worked their socks off. Then once we opened the same people (for the most part) dashed around fixing problems (there were lots – do not ask about the sewage drainage) and put on their smiling public-facing personas, and finally a handful still standing took everything down, picked up the litter and cleared the field to return it, albeit rather more muddy from the 15000 people who turned up to drink, to the council.
Some of those volunteers didn’t stop in between 15 and 18 hour days for 2weeks and of course some volunteers turned up and sold beer for 4 hours and left again. I fall rather comfortably between the two extremes; a couple of days of set-up with rather less physical lifting than usual hampered as I have been with my crutch and both working at the festival and at the pub. W did a little less and B somewhat more – from each according to their means so to speak.

Despite the rain and the slog and the fact we were chronically under-staffed I do like working at the festival. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing it as more than a drinking game, I like the sense of achievement that goes from taking an empty field into a venue of public entertainment. And lets be honest I like the fact that I work hard enough to never pay to get in and never pay to drink and even have enough tokens to bring bottles home with me. I just need to remember I am not as young as I once was and need more rest these days.

So do you volunteer for anything? Particularly anything that feels completely ridiculous and leaves you exhausted but plays to your strengths?

El Dorado Rum and Beer

Another Sunday another drinking session..

This week we learnt about Guyana and demerera rum.
I have developed even more of a longing to go to South America – and guyana: rum, cricket, pretty girls..what’s not to like? Sometimes I wish I had any talent with taste mixing or the balls to work as spirit rep.
El Dorado is an interesting distillery and its own rum has a pleasing amount of variety (ask the rep Steph about the variety of stills they have for making the different age signatures) and depth. I think I will always consider it a little sweet for my taste, although perhaps that is more to do with the fact my heart still belongs to whisky than a critique of the rum. Sorry folks, my mental tasting notes are pretty slim on these ones.. I can tell you that the 3 year-old (which is a white) is surprisingly complex and doesn’t burn the throat; and that the 8 and the 15 both have a distinctive vanilla and coffee warmth.

In other news, next month it will be my turn. I will be giving a talk on ale. At the moment I am trying to draw up a list of must-trys and would-like-to-show-off beers. (any suggestions?) In part it is a matter of working out how much beer non-specialists will drink and what expectations they might have … It is also a matter of trying to work out what free stuff I can get my hands on.

Whisky Blues and Back to School

Tuesday was an odd day. I went to see my new therapist for the second time and later on I went to a whisky tasting and ended up drunk and maudlin.

To start at the beginning, so to speak, lets talk about my counselling. (feel free to skip to the bold section below where I talk about Dalmore)
I have always been a little dubious about the process of trying to uncover the unconscious feelings that influence our feelings, thoughts and behaviours – not because I don’t think that such things exist but because I think that the process of making such things conscious alters them. Similarly whilst I would never want to deny that my past experiences have shaped who I am now I would also choose not to dwell on their impact both because I am more than the sum of these experiences but also because in remembering them I also reinvent them. [yes I have spent a lot of time reading and analysing postmodern discourses of self and narrative – modern academic get over it]. Nonetheless in moving beyond CBT I know that I must embrace the process of more traditional therapeutic models and I hope that I can re-evaluate if not actually who I have been then at least my image of myself as it is projected over the past.

So yesterday after gently steering my counsellor past the topic of relationships we moved to a discussion of my experience of school. It was hard  to try and recapture my thoughts and feelings about my education. On the one hand I recognise that I had a privileged and smooth ride and on the other I feel no sense of nurture or positivity associated with the learning itself.
My secondary education was at a fee-paying all-girls school. I was a weekly boarder. It was not rough, bullying and criminal activity were low-grade and I was mostly oblivious to it, though perhaps more involved in the oddities of group warfare than I would care to remember. The school was moderately academically focused but not exceptional and had a respectable reputation for sports, music and drama. I was (with the exception of music and art) good at most things but not the best.
Overall it was sheltered and intensive not cruel but not encouraging. I don’t really have bad memories but it was interesting to consider the impact of the attitudes of fellow students and teachers to my attitude to myself.

On a (related but) separate topic – it rather seems that I get maudlin with a certain amount of booze. For no particular reason other than quite a lot of whisky and quite a small amount of self-esteem I reduced myself to floods of tears and a small piece of misery alleviated only by sleep. It doesn’t happen so much any more but still I am capable of tying myself up to such a point I can only see my failures as a person and the ways in which I let people down. This must be really annoying for everyone else. sorry.

On the other hand I did try some really very nice whisky. We had a rep for Whyte & Mackay come and talk about Dalmore.

(No emotional stuff from here onwards – except wistfulness for bottle I may never afford) The Dalmore core range consists of the 12, 15, 18 and newly (re)released cigar malt. Although not a whisky I was familiar with growing up it has undergone a strong branding process over the last few years (look for the 12pt ‘metal’ stags head stuck to the bottle) and is now a comfortable (neither extortionate nor cheap) go-to drink.
The 12 year old is fresh on palate, a reasonable alcoholic nose. reviewers have made a lot of the orange flavours (jokes a bout marmalade and breakfast whiskies ensued) but what I noticed was the dry cocoa finish.
By contrast the 15 is positively sweet. Rather than being a blend of liquors aged in white oak and sherry cask (like the 12) this is started in the white oak and then finished in sherry (with the blender mixing different sherry casks to get the balance) and as such the sherry is much more pronounced giving an almost vinous feel. Overall our verdict was that this drinks more like a rum and whilst if your wallet allows you might knock some back whilst deciding what you actually want to drink it perhaps isn’t something for a hardened whisky-drinker.
The 18 goes back to a more classic taste. It is clearly reminiscent of the 12 but with more kick and more depth, partially through the additional sherry flavours which have softened and are less overpowering than in the 15 (though the aging process is more similar to the 15). I could and would drink a lot of this.
However star of the evening must go to the cigar malt. Complex like the 18 although drier (harking I think to the sense of smoke without being smoky) it is more unexpected, warm and fruity. I really could imagine drinking this fireside, post-dinner with a cigar..

I like whisky.

Ale and Fine Whisky

I will get to the fun part of the post in a moment, but I will first offer a little flavour of my weekend..  I planted potatoes and seeds with my wife, went to a memorial service and worked. As you may imagine, the joy of further building our garden together and making the steps towards new life was a bittersweet counterpoint to the memorial for a life cut short by cancer. It wasn’t the best or worst memorial I have ever been to, whilst it was beautiful to hear the choirs Gill sang with performing for her I could have done without the lecture on the doctrine of the resurrection.
So anyway..

  • Ale: This weekend marked the launch of our local Ale Trail – an annual event organised by the local CAMRA branch to tie-in with the town beer festival. The premise is simple; a booklet describing 28 pubs within the district is published and punters go around ordering halves of ale or cider (or an appropriate designated driver drink) in order to get stickers proving their devotion, in return for completed (to over the minimum level of completeness) booklets sent to the organisers they are granted entry via special queue to the beer festival and entry in a prize draw. The pubs get free publicity and some unusual trade – it sounds idyllic right?
    In some respects of course it is, but I for one could do without the politics involved in the choosing (and omitting) of pubs whilst still retaining the right to think that the selection contains a fair amount of dross. I also really dislike the growing tradition for massive opening weekend pub-crawls – have I mentioned that I don’t like drunk people? And finally pathetic though it sounds, drinking a half pint really does feel like a token effort from some of these people rather than genuine increase in trade which equals hard work for me and little to no gain for the pub.
  • Whisky: – This weekend did have however a drinking highlight in the form of our drinking club’s monthly meeting. This time focused on Scotch and particularly the Islay variety. ‘Twas an educational round of comparative samples indeed with a couple of cocktails and slideshows from our hosts’ trips to distilleries thrown in but the highlight for me had to be the limited hard-to-find tasters: Caol Ila Moch, Bowmore Tempest Batch 1 and Lagavulin (Limited Edition/distillery only release) Cask Strength 2010.
    It is hard to offer tasting notes (I’m a drinker not a hardened tasting expert – my palate just ain’t that nuanced folks). But in short the Moch was grassy and fresh for an islay, leading to a quaffable light smokiness, the Tempest was disappointing for a limited expression – sweet but not as complex as I hoped, on the other hand the lagavulin was indeed all I ask from a lagavulin plus the extra alcoholic kick but without more sobriety and a careful comparison of each of these with their standard editions I feel ill placed to judge

Could I have a straw please?

In a sophisticated cocktail bar in the UK, style dictates a minimalist classic image for a drink and bright-colours or umbrellas indicate a kind of 70s/80s over-blown tackiness reserved for Club 18-30 cruises..
I am a martini and old fash kinda gal with emphases falling on long, deep flavours and showcasing of base spirits, light on sugar and light on ice.

But yesterday I was delighted to receive a large glass (I forget the name of the shape – but think Belgian Trappists)of Gin & Campari topped up with sparkling bitter orange with 3 straws one sporting a flamingo topper and a stirrer featuring a naked woman. Why? Because I am on holiday and ridiculous decadence suggests a fabulous lack of care.

Sleeping is good

Ok feel calmer now. Sleep helps

It almost always does. I am still hurt and not sure what to say about it to the people involved but I feel less outraged and more in control of my head.

Time to get on with other stuff then…Drinking Society birthday Party tonight and then its footnoting formatting for the mrs and thesisville.

Stout #2

CAMRA has this to say:
Porter & Stout
Look for profound dark and roasted malt character with raisin and sultana fruit, espresso or cappuccino coffee, liquorice and molasses, all underscored by hefty hop bitterness. Porters are complex in flavour, range from 4% to 6.5% and are typically black or dark brown; the darkness comes from the use of dark malts unlike stouts which use roasted malted barley. Stouts can be dry or sweet and range from 4% to 8% ABV.

I grew up on best bitters; draught Bass, Redruth original, Sharps’ Doom Bar…my first forays into Stout were to the realms of Murphy’s and though perhaps it wasn’t love at first sip there were certainly tinges of lust. Once I was of legal drinking age, had cash to spend and a wider range of pubs and beers to choose from I began to refine my tastes.

Honourable mentions must go to:

  • Dark Star: Espresso Stout,
  • College Green: Molly’s Chocolate Stout
  • Grand Union: Stout (Brewery now defunct)
  • Dwan: An Dubhain (also defunct)
  • Brewdog: Paradox Arran
  • Isle of Skye: Black Cuillen

So what are you drinking?