Scotland: Paradox Springbank, BrewDog, Fraserburgh

1208“It smells like the granary when it’s filled.” I think that is what I was told but it makes sense.

It pours – imagine – rather deep brownish and has a rich mocha froth and foam. The nose in delightful. Fig and chocolate, milk and bread crust. Like a rich child’s breakfast in 1710. The mouth expands with both smooth and whisky sharp. Not Lowland, Campbelltown. Barely a “hodge yer whisht” from the land of my forefathers off the far eastern side of Arran. An amazing swishy mouthful of softness, grain, roast and shadow of burn. Batch 17 in the Paradox series. “Awfy braw” were Oor Wullie asked.

BAers don’t do subtle. The lips tingle from the water of life.

Book Review: Hops And Glory, Pete Brown (Part 4)

hag1Well, I finished the book on Wednesday watching kids softball practice. The short message really is that if you are reading this blog you should buy the book. Well written, informative without being stuffy, funny yet quite personal. Likely the best beer book of 2009.

And I checked. I didn’t make the credits. I didn’t think I would but you never know. You never know if you are going to see a note about the whack job who was emailing about the (Inter-)National Toast for Michael Jackson on 30 September 2007, a few days into the tall ship portion of the trip. But no. No, I got something better. On page 248, when he was ten days from Brazil, experiencing one of his lowest points of the entire trip what did he write?

…And even if I had been successful, so what? Who would actually have cared apart from a handful of blogging beer geeks? What was I going to do?

I was verklempt. When one feels like an utter loser and that one’s mission is a dud who springs to mind? Beer bloggers, that’s who. I am sure it was really thoughts of Knut rather than me that steadied our man Pete in that hour of darkness upon the high seas but it’s the general idea, right?

You should buy it. So, go buy it – still 50% off at Review part 1, part 2, part 3.

Book Review: Hops And Glory, Pete Brown (Part 3)

hag1OK, we have moved from page 145 to, what, 332? Yes, that’s it. So, I’ve work through almost central half of Hops and Glory this weekend – still 50% off at by the way – and our lad, Pete, has gone on a cruise liner, a tall ship to Brazil and then a container ship to India. As before there is a patch of the life of Pete Brown, then a patch of the history of the English beer trade to service the East India Company’s needs. Pete, beer. Pete. Beer. But then something funny happens. From 237 to 306 the pattern is dropped. Not much history. Mainly just Pete and his boaty bits.

“What was he doing?” thought I. If I use the hockey analogy and, being Canadian, I will – it gets a bit second period. A bit “boy not yet realized which girl he really should love” if we analogize to date movies. Which got me thinking about Tristram Shandy, that odd proto-novel-deconstruction thing from 1759 or so which I now know is just three years after “grog” was set out in British navy regulation. It’s an interesting book, Tristram Shandy, because it is self-conscious and is a bit about what a novel would be if one could not suspend one’s imagination or if one did entirely or something like that. Eighteenth century literature class was 26 years ago, you know. I’ll let you can judge the value of the academic investment. It’s also about the bleaker end of age of enlightenment as was, we learn, the East India Company.

Anyway, the point is that for 237 to 306, Brown takes us into his internal experience – into the doldrums of the sailing ship and then into the small heart of darkness that is the international shipping trade today – by seemingly forgetting to slip back into the history. It’s a good technique. It weighs a bit, wears a bit. But it still takes us along as if to say “it’s alright, Al, no need for you to ever go on a container ship from Brazil to India all alone for five weeks… I’ve done it… don’t bother.” Thanks Pete. I won’t. It’s off my to do list.

Book Review. Part 1. Part 2.

Friday Bullets For The Last Of Spring

So how did spring 2009 turn out? We hardly judge them, springs. They are a gift after the bleak second half of winter. They convey none of the foreboding that can even creep in around mid-July. It’s all give, give, give. Except it was cold. We had the air conditioning on for one day the whole time. I fully expect to be obviously sweating in public by the end of May. Not pretty but it’s what I’ve come to expect. Nature can be so disappointing.

  • Married Priest Update: but this time it’s OK.
  • I do hope they ban Cheddar soon in Quebec, too, as the particular tang of English cheese might also lend some support to the destruction of culture as we know it.
  • Zombie croquet
  • The level of dumbness that arises of not having a two-party state in the culture can be quite startling.
  • I don’t particularly have a hackle raised by the theocrats of Iran (subject to bombing any nuke-ish facility without notice) but the clerics do look a bit silly when they try to explain themselves. But I like this slogan: “Every single Iranian is valuable. Government is a service to all.” Nothing like a chill down the spine to clarify the mind.
  • I wouldn’t aim a missile at Hawaii. Not me. No good comes of that.
  • Heard on NPR this morning: the trillion dollar health bill adds up to three boxes of girl guide cookies per person per day. Plus it is an extra trillion over ten years representing a 100 billion annual increase on 2.2 trillion annual health spending. thought it was a trillion over one year. I am still not sure if it is net or gross costs. No skin off my nose but that waitress in Maine who said she was spending $650 per month on health insurance back around 1994? It’ll matter to her.

Must run. Learning day. Fridays are so much nicer when there is less learning.


The Problem With Averaging

This is the problem with averaging: June’s more than half done which means it’s almost over which means it’s almost July which means the year’s half done which means which means it’s almost over which means it’s almost 2010 which means the decade without a name is almost over. By this logic I am already dead but as the pace of the years picks up as – in where the hell did 2000-2009 as a ten year span go – that is exactly what seems to be happening. So In need a counter-pressure. I need to imagine the process in reverse where nothing quite achieves itself. Then I’ll slow time. It might be easier in the southern hemisphere. Simple.


Book Review: Hops And Glory, Pete Brown (Part 2)

hag1Well, I am up to page 145 of 451 and believe we have a romp on our hands.

Hops and Glory (now 50% off at is a very entertaining read as well as a better introduction to larger questions of British history in India than I had expected. The format of a chapter on Pete’s travel and then a chapter on India keeps it lively. I don’t recall whether the format is exactly what I recall from my reading of Brown’s 2006 Thee Sheets to the Wind but the cheery tone certainly is. You know, I am not sure, now that I look back, whether I actually did a review of TSTTW as opposed to just the Norwegio-Canuck interview. But like his last book, well, the man may well turn out to be a pain in the arse were we ever to meet in the corporeal rather than digital worlds – but he sure paints a pleasant portrait of himself as well as his struggles to undertake the journey.

Which is an interesting point in itself. Most travel books are about journeying to another place. But this book is a little more self-conscious as it is in large part a book about the writing of this book given that the book is about a task and an education and a telling all wrapped up together. It also tells the tale, at least up to page 145, of one of my favorite parts of history, the British Empire of the 1700s. The later Victorians get all the attention as far as I can tell but living in a city which was created in 1783 as a key westerly outpost of the same Empire it is interesting to see the similarity and differences in how British North America developed compared to British India.

In particular the vast scale of alcoholic celebration simply stuns the modern perspective. One of my favorite guys is William Johnson, 1st Baronet of New York and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Colonies, who may as well have set up my town though he died nine years before it was settled by refugee Loyalist troops and their families. His mastery of the New York frontier was based in large part on his ability to celebrate on a scale that the Iroquois nations could respect. Herds of Johnson’s cattle and cart loads of his rum were driven up the Mohawk Valley in the 1750s when parlays were called for and days were taken in the consumption of it all. Similarly, Brown describes how the social lives of those in East India Company were lived on a scale really quite unfathomable – let alone repeatable – to our times. In 1716, we read, one outpost of 19 East India company staff over just one month consumed 894 bottles of claret, 294 bottles of Burton ale, 2 pipes and 42 gallons of Madeira as well as 6 flasks, 274 bottles, 3 leaguers, 3 quarters and 164 gallons of various other forms of booze. I would say it boggles the mind but I think the mind would have been completely boggled by no later of the ninth of that particular month.

But Hops and Glory is not just dipsography. Brown’s struggles to figure out exactly why he’s doing the trip are honestly and humorously told. Which is why I am about to go turn to page 146. More later.

Book Review: Hops And Glory, Pete Brown (Part 1)

hag1A big lump came in the mail today. For someone who is used to packages with DVDs or even VHSs of 1970s sci-fi slipping through the mail slot, this package looked like a lump. When I opened it and saw it was Pete Brown’s new book sent from the publisher I knew it would be a good week after all. Monday evening rarely gives you that promise even one in June.

There was a sad moment, however, when I pulled out my invite to last week’s launch party. Sure, it was an ocean away and, sure, 6:30 pm is just after lunch my time meaning I would have had some very special explaining to do with both my family and my boss. But it would have been good to have had to try.

Who is kidding who? I can’t make it down the street most days let alone across the ocean. These days I am more of the curling up with a good book lump of a man than anything like my former “jumping on a plane with a backpacking” youth. And it does look like a good book. From the first few pages it appears to be about yachting. I am hoping he’s on the coal scuttle later, too. Good for Pete to stretch out a bit. There’s no money in writing about good beer.

Maybe I will hit him up for an interview like with the last book. What could I ask him? What would you like me to ask?

A Week With Softer Side Of German Brews


It was time to clear out a few obscure brews that have been hogging stash shelf space and I grabbed nothing but the Germans. I thought it was going to turn out to be about sharp hops of one sort or another, the sort of thing I ran into over two years ago. I was absolutely stunned when top after top was popped to expose another soft deep dark brown earthy complex beer of one sort or another. These beers were not particularly to a style or a region that I know of. I bought them at different times and different places without a plan and really without really looking. But it didn’t strike me as a fluke.

I’ve had simple German dunkels before and while I liked them I was not blown away. Too little a step up from black lagers. I was looking for more oomph. But I’ve had hints that the sorts of beers were within reach, liken when I had a Korbinian from Weihenstephaner. But this week was proof – everyone one a keeper. Here is, to quote Joe, my “vaguely pornographic list of bottles opened“:

  • Der Weisse Bock: by Mahr’s. Is this the greatest smelling beer of all time? Black cherry so thick it verges on licorice. All over a mat of pumpernickel. In the mouth, it is bright and sweet with the aroma flavours enhanced by a citric acidic zip as well as a decent level of grain texture. At 8.5%, heavy but not hot. The goat on the label is actually licking the foaming head off the glass. I would too if I had enough of these. So nice I don’t even feel shelted. Great BAer respect.
  • Moosbacher Kellerbier: By Private Landbrauerei Scheuerer. Appled barley candy, a little smokiness in the bitter. Not unlike low carbonation Scots ale like Caledonian 80/ but with a little zag of steel to the hops. Six months past the best before date. Bought at the Galeville Grocery some time ago for $3.69 a 5.2% half litre swing top. I am a big fan of the style this being my fourth. Solid BAer respect.
  • Bavarian Dunkler Weizenbock: by Brauere Michael Plank: Fabulous looking lively carbonated chestnut ale with a well hidden 7.5%. Very light on the usual weizen banana and clove but plenty of flavour date and thompson raisin under wheat grain and grass that adds up to a sort of black cherry effect when you look at it that way. Fresh and moreish even at this strength. Far less spicy than its style mate Adventus. BAers take this one another notch higher.
  • Schwelmer Alt: by Brauerei Schwelm. I got this for 1.90 USD somewhere. It pours a lovely bright chestnut under mocha froth and foam. On the nose, as big and malty rich as concentrated as opening a can of malt extract. Lighter in body that the nose would leave you expecting. A slight smoke note, a little metallic tinge, fresh water and tastes of dry fruit and apple butter. Massively moreish. Oodles of BAer respect.
  • Jubelfestbier: by Mahr’s. How many ways can I say deep chestnut ale with a mocha rim and foam. Another soft water malty gem. Scents of earthy dark dry fruit and cocoa. In the mouth, again, it is lighter than the smell might have suggested. Nutty brown malts, a nod to steel hops sitting very much below the profile. Chalky cream yeast. Again moreish. Extremely moreish. Just 4.9%. You could drink buckets of this beer. Huge BAer respect.

I had no idea. Easy drinking yet complex yet comforting beers. These are the sorts of beers you imagine good English milds and browns would turn out to be but those are really are lighter, more guzzlable. These beers are slower, reminding me of the Scots malty beers I got to try on the old tartaned family trips – though different again. Why aren’t these sorts of beers being made in North America? And if they are… where can I find them?

Is It A Mooing Monk Or A Cornval?

This is the second in my triptych of posts about blending New Glarus Spotted Cow with Belgian ales of note. In the first its blending partner was Duval and I came to like the 66.7% Spotted Cow 33.3% Duval ratio the best. Tonight? Who knows?

50% Spotted Cow – 50% Orval: On the nose, this brew is eerily like Oro De Calabaza from Jolly Pumpkin: musty brett, sweet malt and a touch of light plummy fruit. In the mouth, not so much with the ODC but not bad. The corniness of the Spotted Cow does not stand out so much as you might have thought as brett masks it well. But the sweetness is there and is well cut by the must and antiqued hops. Well worth doing to stretch out the quality.

33.3% Spotted Cow – 66.7% Orval: No. Not enough corn to assert itself above the brett making just for a weirdly diluted Orval with some off flavours. Don’t try this at home.

66.7% Spotted Cow – 33.3% Orval: Here the sweetness has more corniness standing out and the ODC effect is gone. Yet, it is still a brew with brett. The Spotted Cow stands out as a quality brew with none of the off flavours of the Orval heavy version.

Results? I am really surprised by the 50%-50% blend as it was what I had in mind but was way better than I could have imagined. It bodes very well for mixing Orval with other slightly sweetish beer as sort of a brett concentrate. Is that disrespect? No more than calling this blend a Cornval. Beer blendings that say bugger off to the barley bullies.