Mmm… What I Need Is A Big Bowl Of Thick Beer!

flemish1I knew this. I think I knew this anyway:

“This process is much like how you would do in a fourth-grade germination science project, where the grains would be soaked in water for about 24 hours, drained and then laid between sheets of cloth until they sprouted,” said Amanda Mummert, an anthropology graduate student helping Armelagos with his research. After germination, the grains were dried and then milled into a flour used to make bread. Streptomyces bacteria most likely entered the beer-making process either during the storage or drying of the grain or when the bread dough was left to rise. Nubian brewers would take the dough and bake it until it developed a tough crust, but retained an almost raw center. The bread was broken into a vat containing tea made from the unmilled grains. The mixture was then fermented, turning it into beer. The final product didn’t look much like the pint of amber you sip at your local watering hole. “When we talk about this ancient Egyptian beer, we’re not talking about Pabst Blue Ribbon,” Armelagos said. “What we’re talking about is a kind of cereal gruel.”

I knew that. Not that bacteria stuff. No, not that. Forget all that medical properties stuff. Look at that word “gruel”! I think there was reference to the thickness of 1500s gruel beer back in Martyn’s Beer: The Story of The Pint which I am surprised to now read that I blogged about seven and a half years ago. There is stuff in Hornsey about beer as gruel as well. Boozy porridge. So, how is it when we are presented with these supposedly authentic ancient beers, well, they pours like water or least an IPA?

More to the point, don’t you want to try some breakfast gruel beer? Couldn’t we make it like it was enjoyed back then? Not the contemporary southern African version for 12 to 20 but the big vat whole dang community serving sized pot o’ Quaker Oats meets Budweiser. If we look again at “Village Kermis With Theater and Procession” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger (discussed in in 2007 in terms of the pub game in the lower left) we see in the lower center the making of a big mess of something being sucked back by the crowd, right across the street from the joint I’d guess was the tavern. Have a look at the painting Bruegel maybe ripped off and the detail is even better. I am not suggesting we need to get all deep about this stuff but does anyone do a village kermis with gruel booze anymore – other than, say, in rural Romanian where I am pretty sure I will never find myself? Would people folk to such a legitimate recreation as much as for another thinly veiled faux stab at brand buffing? Apparently the children’s games scholars are already at it.

Paul Goes To Iceland And Drinks Beer


She: (In Icelandic) …he appears to be taking a photo of that beer…
He: (In Icelandic) I wish I had the daring to do such things.

Discounting Yorkshire, Iceland is the first Scandinavian country that I’d ever visited. I’m a chilly mortal. Why would I choose to holiday in the frozen north in February rather than jetting off to some tropical paradise? Easy answer. Two words. Northern Lights. Nature’s fireworks. ‘nough said! But it’s not all so obviously attractive. If you holiday outside the UK quaffing invariably means lager. I always find it laughable that you visit a hot country and, in the main, the ‘indigenous’ beer is all too often a bland Euro-fizz style lager chilled to buggery. But Iceland is a cold country and lager is a cold country beer so lager felt like the right and proper thing to be drinking.

icel2To the uninitiated (me) buying beer from a supermarket in Iceland can be a big disappointment. The beer looks like the genuine article with the usual sort of names you might expect to see in Iceland. I didn’t realise, until I got back to the hotel room, that the can of Gull and the can of Viking that I had purchased were only 2.25% in strength. Have you ever tried weak cabbage soup? It’s not pleasant but much more flavoursome than these two, well I hesitate to call them, beers. I managed a can and a half. Anymore and I think I would have lost the will to live. Apparently beer above 2.25% can only be sold in government owned off licences bars and hotels etc. I hadn’t seen the word ‘Light’, ironically printed lightly on the can. Let that be a warning to you!

On the night we arrived we’d tried a couple of beers, Viking and Þorra Bjor. We liked what we tasted. Pilsner beers of quality. I will return to these later. Iceland has a near zero tolerance on driving with alcohol in your system so I certainly didn’t drink in the day. A couple of evenings I stuck to vodka, which seemed appropriate for the environment. But we planned to have a sampling session on the last evening. This consisted of us going to the bar and working our way through as many beers as we dared. First up was Hrammur beer from Viking (Vifilfell Hf) 4.6% a light creamy lager that could just about be anything. Bland best describes it but the hint of flavour made it more acceptable than much of the mass-produced fizz we get in the UK.

icel3One beer in and our session was interrupted, “the lights are showing” went up the cry. Drinks in the bar were abandoned; meals in the restaurant were treated with equal nonchalance. We got our coats. This time it was for real. On the last night of our holiday the gods had finally relented and given us the most fantastic experience. I lost count of the amount of times I heard the word ‘wow’, including from myself. If you’ve not seen the Northern Lights then it is very hard to explain how they make you feel. They appeared as white cloud like objects that twisted and undulated changing to a glowing green and then back to white. Afterwards I heard someone describe them as awesome. For once this word was used correctly.

Nature’s fireworks over we returned to the bar to carry on with our beer quest. The next choice was Skjalfti a 5% beer from Brugghus; slightly darker than your typical lager this beer has mouthfuls malt along with a very pleasing beech nut flavour. This is a beer that has been brewed with love. Nestling under the surface is the Smell and taste of oak casks. It’s a beer that reminds one slightly of Innis & Gunn. So, nothing wrong with that then. Whilst I was enjoying Skjalfti ‘the lady’ was trying a wheat beer (one of her loves). Freyja 4.5% also from Brugghus is a wheat beer with pronounced floral notes, elderflower I think, with a vague cream of soda buzz and lemon pith (as opposed to the sharpness of lemon peel). This was not in the gutsy style of German wheat beers but seemed to lean to the Dutch/Belgium wit beer approach. Thankfully it had much more flavour than your typical Flemish blank Blanc.

Onward and upward we went organic with Islenskur Urvals Pils Organic 5%, another brewed by Vifilfell Hf. A pungent aroma of hops invades the nasal passages as you place the glass to your lips enhancing the drinking experience quite dramatically. This well rounded pilsner beer is fruity with a minimal bitterness. This is one class act pilsner. Þorra Bjor 5.1% the Þ is pronounced ‘th’ as in theosophy is a seasonal beer brewed for a recently resurrected winter festival. Its brewed to accompany what Icelanders we encountered referred to as ‘bad food’ By all accounts ‘bad food’ consists of fermented shark meat and sheep’s testicles plus other assorted left-overs. The bad food didn’t appeal to us but this malty, slightly bitter beer was a sure fire winner. Not dissimilar to a barley wine this was a worryingly quaffable beer. It’s probably just as well that the bar ran out of it before anymore could be ordered. Vifilfell also brewed this fine beer. The last offering, again from Vifilfell was the 5.6% Viking their flagship brew. And, yes it is pretty ‘flagship’! Vifilfell do seem to have perfected the act of brewing quality pilsner beer. It is a robust beer with a fabulous balance of hop on the nose and the palate followed up by a malt-rich mouth soothing finish. All in all our sampling was a good session.

I’d have liked to have drunk a lot more Icelandic beer but at around £5 – £6 for a 330 ml glass it is an expensive pastime. On the upside it makes you savour and enjoy the beer even more when you know you can’t really afford to neck it. Our visit to Iceland is the best holiday that we’ve ever had and we’d love to go back. The beer is great but the natural sights make the beer pale into insignificance. We were also impressed with Icelandair who we note also fly to Canada. We could be tempted. Do you need a piece on Canadian beer Alan?

Friday Bullets For Truck Week

It was “Truck Day” this week and so by extension this is Truck Week. Is February Truck Month? It’s not a bad idea. The beginning of the end of winter. You can see it in how the sun melts the road cover even if you can’t feel it in a skip in your step. A few short weeks are left. Lawns shall be mown. Pork shall be smoked. Did you realized it’s two weeks tomorrow that the first game of spring training is played? Life has meaning again.

  • We Do What We Want Update: if it weren’t so sad it would be a great Kids in the Hall script – ““It’s like we’re on CSI or an investigative forensic thing – who’s put the ‘not’ in. I’d like to know what your issue is,” she said then. “What is your issue?” Resign.
  • Deferring a political and cultural question to the Canadian Standards Association, safe keeper of hockey helmets and other consumer products is both startling innovative and wildly dumb.
  • See. Tail. Wag. Dog… See. Crisis. In. Right. Begin.
  • Make your own joke here: “Bay Street lawyers fear job losses.”
  • I really dislike suits but mainly because they look like really dull pajamas made of far too heavy a cloth.
  • Really? “This government has a hostility toward people who think for a living or people who write for a living…”?

Did you know a Bieber movie opens today? Spot man with pre-teen.


What Is Canadian Exceptionalism? [“Rimshot”!]

I watched a biography of Ronald Reagan on PBS last night and was reminded of a lot of things. He was my high school to my getting into law school. He did come across as an old stuffy bumpkin know it all as well as your favorite uncle. All anyone had to do back then was to say “wehhlll” and toggle his head to get a laugh. But he told a good story. And he used the phrase “self-government” in a way Canadians don’t understand. For us it is just about autonomy – whether a euphemism for Quebec separation or greater First Nations autonomy. But in the states, it means running your own affairs. It may also mean less government, more local government or a bunch of other things. I don’t really know. See, I am Canadian.

Over on Facebook, a beer blogging acquaintance supposed that there must be something called “Canadian exceptionalism” which immediately struck me as an oxymoron – like curling action. All I could think of was “Canada would be a greater nation except…” Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great country except we don’t talk about it. The very idea is a dirty phrase politically. We have other things to do. Ronnie Raygun would have talked about it. He had no issue with the idea of unity, purpose and a greater collective good. In that sense he is mirrored by Obama. He just didn’t see it as a function of government action. He did see it, however, as a proper government policy but one placing the function over into the private sector, aligning it with the responsibility of each citizen. Responsibility. He was no Randian.

Is there something or someone to blame for the drift from a paradigm that Reagan would even recognize let alone support? Did he create a backlash such that conservatism had to become what it is today, the neighbour of disloyalty, the ideological puritan happy to bring the house down, the disassembler? In taking apart the story of the other side did it also throw out the idea of having any story at all? Or have we just drifted of our own accord without anyone to give a better road map, tell a better story.


Canadian Conservatives Are My Kind Of Conservative

Political culture is a weird thing. It doesn’t translate well from nation to nation and leaving the words associated with themselves rather meaningless. Conservative or liberal? Anarchist or patriot? Who know what any of this stuff means? Yet, there are moments when you know that being a Canadian politician means there is one thing you can’t disapprove: beer.

Opposition Leader Tim Hudak says he won’t rule out bringing back “buck a beer” if he becomes premier this fall. “Many folks, myself included, look forward to that $24 two-four on the May 24 weekend,” Hudak told reporters on Monday. “That is now something that has passed under Dalton McGuinty.” The Progressive Conservatives are yet to release their official election platform, but Hudak says he’s committed to reducing the cost of living – and that could include beer prices. “I do hear from people who say ‘Come on, I can’t even get a buck a beer in this province thanks to Dalton McGuinty’s policies,” Hudak said.

Blame the government for the price of beer? Well, you can when the government controls the minimum retail price through a Crown owned corporation and making “recommendations”.Still, no social conservatism that tells us beer is bad… and not even fiscal libertarian conservatism telling us that the LCBO needs to be broken up and privatized. No, it’s the progressives v. the liberals up here for control of the centre… every election time… time after time. Will they actually lower the minimum price if they don’t get in? Hudack says: “We’ll have more to say in the time ahead about some of the ideas we are hearing from Ontario families”. I look forward to what my ten year old advises on this point.

Breaking News: Their First Beer Festival In 400 Years

Big news out of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England as they are reviving or at least reinterpreting a festival that ended back in 1610.

The ale will be in full flow at Lyme Regis when the town hosts its first beer festival in 400 years. A festival called The Cobb Ale started in Lyme in the 14th century and lasted for around 250 years. The annual knees-up was held to raise money for the maintenance of the Cobb but it was stopped around 1610 by the Puritans. Now three local brewers, the Mighty Hop Brewery and Town Mill Brewery, both in Lyme Regis, and North Chideock’s Art Brew, will revive the tradition for a one-day festival in March.

Friggin’ Puritans. They ruin all the fun. But there is fun – real fun – to be had and it is not some phony baloney made up thing. You know that’s true because the Victorians wrote about it. That clip way up above is from the 1856 books called The Social History of The People of the Southern Counties by George Roberts who spends twenty pages or so – from 327 to 346 or so – on the history of the Cobb Ale festival. It is great stuff.

OK, it may be an utter lie as might be the renewal but it is very entertaining. Martyn and other cleverer folk than me know more about this stuff but the very idea that something celebrating 1376 could be celebrated still is very appealing to me. I might take it so far that, for me, the distinction between “ale” as festival and “ale” as the juice that makes the community festive described by both Martyn and George above escapes me a bit in the light of the knowledge that they who celebrated knew the resonance of one meaning to the other. It’s a bit like “party” as both noun and verb in the sense that one parties at the party. Having an ale at an ale must have been all quite affirming.