Paul Goes To The Laxfield Low House, Suffolk, England

[This post was written by Paul of Bury-St.E.]

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I’ve never been to a pub quite like the Laxfield Low House. First up that’s not its proper name, but it’s what the locals call it. Its official name is The Kings Head, an Adnams pub now, but it is the stuff of legend. I’ve known of it for a number of years but have never managed to get to it before now. Set in the rolling Suffolk countryside well into Adnams territory, the small hamlet of Laxfield is a picturesque gem, so it’s only fitting that it should have such a wonderful pub, and wonderful it most certainly is. The Low House is well off the beaten track.

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Largely unchanged since Victorian times this is like no other pub I’ve been in. There is no bar as such, you wander into the tap room, at busy periods you queue, which comes naturally to us British, and you order the beer of your choice from a selection of five or six, straight from the barrel. Delicious ! The taproom is one of those sort of backrooms that you just know stays at a fairly constant temperature all year round. Perfect for the keeping of beer. Whilst I was waiting to be served, the gentleman in front of me, blessed with a South African accent, ordered a pint of Carling. To the uninitiated this is factory Euro-fizz lager, also brewed in the rainbow republic. I wondered what drove people to commit such acts of gross stupidity, but then I suppose it’s just asking for trouble selling the stuff in the first place.

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It’s a pub of nooks and crannies; a number small rooms and snugs plus a restaurant area. A lovely fire was blazing on the Sunday we called in. Food was excellent. Dublin prawns for starters followed by a honey and mustard grilled ham chop. Unfortunately it’s a pub you have to drive to, and I was driving, so I only had the one pint. Adnams Explorer, a golden ale of some note. Not very ‘winter’, but it slipped down well all the same. There was a welcoming fire blazing in the grate of one of the larger rooms, an interesting mix of locals and tourists lingered, sipping well-kept ale. A welcoming air flows around the whole establishment. It’s appeared to be a pub for milling about, chatting and just plain soaking up the atmosphere. The walls are a busy mix of pictures, posters and rural artefacts whilst the floors are on several slightly different levels. There were a few rural artefacts sitting in chairs, chairs I suspect they occupy on a regular basis. One local character was hawking cuts of meat in the main saloon. Meat that was on display from the open tailgate of his estate car, conveniently situated opposite the front door. All an interesting slice of bucolic Suffolk life.

I want to go back soon. Better still I want to live in Laxfield.

Book Review: Brewed In Canada, Allen Winn Sneath

sneathWith all the reviews of whatever comes through the door I do, I should not forget some recent and not so recent books I have come to rely upon and give them an airing, too. Brewed In Canada subtitled “The Untold Story of Canada’s 350-Year-Old Brewing Industry” (a gift from two and a half years ago which was published in 2001) is one such reference guide that I pick up over and over when trying to figure out who was who where they were and what it was they were doing.

Sneath, the author, was one of the founders of the now departed Algonquin Brewing Company, one time holder of 1% of the Ontario beer market according to page 293. They made a beer called Hunt Club that was available in the mid-90s from Upper Ottawa Valley LCBO in one litre plastic bottles which was often seen in my fridge back then. Dandy stuff. Anyway, his real claim to beer historian fame as far as I am concerned is the one hundred plus page chronology at the end of the book in an appendix. This has served me well when I needed to confirm facts like PEI was the last province to end prohibition…in 1948!¹

The other 325 pages or so of this book is a standard history of the sort that pays more attention to the facts that have been gleaned than the sort that has an agenda in ordering those facts to make some sort of point as has been seen recently. It covers the early colonial period, the rise of regional breweries, the consolidations sparked by E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries, the Dow beer non-tainting scandal of 1966 and on to the world of micro-brewing. While this book is comprehensive and certainly a must-have for any Canadian beer nerd, the book has one irritating feature – as pointed out by Bodensatz, it has no index! This means you have to go over it again and again to recover that fact bumping around at the back of your mind but given the quality of the book it is not such a bad fate.

I am not sure but this one may be now out of print but it is worth hunting out.

¹ No wonder the moonshine is so good and plentiful there. I seem to recall the drill was to ask for “St. Augustus” when at a kitchen party.

Book Review: A History of Beer and Brewing, Ian S. Hornsey

I have been working thought my review copy of this 632 page paperback published by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the best part of a month now. It is fascinating. Likely the best book on beer I have ever read. Clear, comprehensive and incredibly well-researched, this book contextualized beer and related beverages in the cultural and scientific world contemporary to any given era from pre-historic cave dwellers to the modern era and CAMRA. Yes, insert your joke of convenience now…

It is this latter aspect, the context, that really is a treat. As we learn how beer and brewing evolved, we also learn about about such things as potting techniques, movements of peoples across continents as well as how scientific advances such as in the Enlightenment came about. I had no idea that Ancient Egypt was pretty much a society on the bottle all of the time or that the Stuarts in the 1600s were the originators of much of the alcohol related law that still exists today – including taxing drinking as a mechanism for reducing drunkenness…outside of the Egyptian-esque Court of King James I, that is.

This is such an expansive work that it is really hard to write a review of this length. It has a certain scale others I have read do not. For example, Hornsey describes 15 different peoples between the Israelites and the Celts over almost 50 pages to trace the likely route of beer making from its birthplace in Egypt and Babylon to north-eastern Europe and Britain at the time of Christ. In addition to such anthropology, there is plenty of archaeobotany where the stuff in the pot found in the grave or the newly uncovered early medieval basement as well as review of primary documentary sources going back to the beginning of writing. Also, this is a peer-reviewed sort of scientific text which both adds to its trustworthy completeness compared to some of the recent pop histories on beer as well as to its practical status as a benchmark against which other histories are measured. For the casual reader, it should serve as either a dispute settler in itself or at least as a pointer, though its extensive bibliography, to most solutions to the questions that can arise between nerds.

I may think of more to add later as I get through the last third of the book but I can leave it here by saying this is the best history I have encountered to date.

Village Games

I was sent off on a YouTube adventure by a kind reader of note who last evening sent me emails with videos of cheese rolling attached like this one and all these.

That got me thinking that maybe there were videos of the ancient pre-football village games that happen at holidays. And there were. Like Royal Shrovetide Football you can watch here. Kind of weirdly but appropriately put to music. I think this is that game explained on wikipedia. Here is another – this from Orkney. Again set to music. Here is a web page on that game. Nothing on Winchester College Football on YouTube yet.

As we start moving from the recreational and civic holidays of the warm half of the year to the traditional holidays of the darker half, I am reminded that village and community are interesting things which are not like suburbs, workplaces or shopping malls or even families. The internet will only create real community when this sort of game starts up, including people you do not necessarily like doing things together you do not necessarily understand because you must. Maybe it has and maybe it hasn’t. Maybe that is what the Kingston Society for Playing Catch is to be. I will only know if anyone gets the hat and even then likely not.

Reason #17 As To Why We Need Sponsorships

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This is what I am talking about. I would love to get a copy of this book but – wow! – one hundred and fifty-four clams. Don’t get me wrong. A History of Brewing in Holland 900-1900: Economy, Technology and the State by Richard W. Unger (2001) would fit very nicely beside his next following text Beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance reviewed back here with great gusto. In have a review request in to the publisher in Holland but am not holding my breath given that it is five years old. Yet access to this sort of research is vital to the workings of A Good Beer Blog.

So should you see an ad pop up sometime, this is why. Just saying.

Middle Ages Brewing By Shoe Cam

We had a bit of a beer blog break through as Gary and I met at Middle Ages Brewing in Syracuse NY as part of his day of two tailgates and my introduction to NCAA football. It was a perfect place to meet to start the day. Gary filled in when my camera’s memory card let it be known that it was not about to cross international borders this weekend. The effect was top notch shoe camera.

 

 

 

 

Let me start by saying, this experience is fairly foreign to Canada but not unknown. Middle Ages opened its doors on Saturday at 11:30 am. Gary was there at the bell and reports that there were a couple of dozen beer fans lined up with growlers to be filled. Once those guys were served, two happy gents behind the bar asked what we wanted and sold us – no, gave us free 4 oz shots of their excellent fresh ale. I tried their porter, IPA and the double IPA. All were as good as I remembered. So good I bought the baseball hat. I figure that if a brewer is good enough to go into business, make great ale and then give it to you for free, you ought to buy the hat. Note also Gary’s uncanny capture of the original portrait of the wench who wails. Gary also showed me the first beer blog award pottery component which now just needs me to forward the brass plaque for the 2006 award to be announced later in the year – though I already am pretty sure I know who is getting it.

 

 

 

 

I mention that I have not seen exactly this sort of thing in Canada before but I have almost seen it. In the days before the beer blog, I lived in the Maritimes and Halifax’s Garrison Brewery would serve all you want. But it had to be booked and was a private affair for attendees only. You got to pour and hang around asking the happy patient brewer lots of repetitive questions and also get a tour of the place but it was not a moment to meet other beerfans and you did have to stick around for the time booked. I like the Middle Ages approach better.

So a return for the tour is definitely in order as are more secret assignments with Gary and the shoe phone.

Beer Shop: Marché Jovi, Gatineau, Quebec

A run to Ottawa to see the Billy Bragg show on Saturday meant the opportunity to do a Sunday morning run to one of the better shops in Western Quebec for craft beer, Marché Jovi in Gatineau, Quebec. The shop is handy for anyone near Ottawa’s Island Park Drive and the bridge to the other side and sits near the gate of Gatineau Park.

Inside you are met with one of the tidiest depanneurs I have ever come across. I asked if I was able to take some pictures and, one bien sur later, was being escorted around the place by a very friendly guy in a dapper white grocer’s jacket. He was proud to show of the selection, let me know that there was new stock coming in and took particular pride in noting the selection of glassware – quite the thing for what you would think was a corner store – and the fact that the regular customers were quite knowledgable in their correct use. I also picked up a copy of the autumn issue of Le Sous-Verre: L’actuality de la biere!, a free craft beer newspaper out of Montreal…a review of which Google has butchered in translation here.

 

 

 

 

As Blork noted almost two years ago now, buying beer in Quebec is similar to much of the States. You can get your beer and your corn flakes and your milk all in one stop. Usually this means one large stack of macro brew – as it does most place in the states – but where the owners have imagination and the knowledge, you can create a small oasis like you find at the Galeville Grocery near Syracuse or in pretty much any place in Portland Maine. Usually it also means a walk in cooler.

 

 

 

 

Most of the stock was Quebec products including macrobrews (inlcuding Labatt Porter) but also many craft beer from breweries like Unibroue, Saint-Arnould, Les Brasseurs RJ, Ferme-Brasserie Schoune. Blork has already reviewed the white beer made by each of the last three. I picked up mixes sixes from Saint-Arnould and Schoune for ten bucks each as well as a couple of large format imports from Saint Sylvestre of France (on special for $5.79) as well as a 330 ml Floreffe dubble from Belgium. Interesting to note that Blonde d’Achouffe is being brewed by license by Les Brasseurs RJ and was included in their six pack.

I would definitely go again, especially with the indication that there were going to be additions to the stock on a regular basis. Clean and helpful with a good selection and good price. What ele could you want from a corner store?

Ontario: Neustadt Springs Brewery, Neustadt, Bruce County

neu3As I headed up from Stratford towards Owen Sound on a family tour, I knew that Neustadt was roughly on the way but I had to figure out the shift in the north-south concession lot roads from the north-west to south-east ones…and I got a little lost. South of Clifford on highway 9 I got my bearings again and soon was there. Watch out if you find yourself on School Road #7, though. I am glad I did find my way there as my whole family was treated to the sort of tour of Neustadt Springs Brewery by owners Val and Andy Stimpson, up and around the brewing equipment, that I really love and the others tolerate in return for all the other great things I do in life…really.

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You may recollect that Neustadt’s 10W30 is a favorite of mine. Well, meeting the couple that make this brew was a real treat and also an education. We were shown their special import New Zealand hops, asked to grind a few pellets and shown which ones have hints of kiwi fruit and mango. Dandy. We were also given some of the short run Manchester Bitter to try and had a few secrets shared. I found it an excellent light beer in something of the light mild tradition. You will note there was only a bit left when I thought to take the photo of the brew.

 

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After that, when the kids got a bit Dad’s-dragged-me-to-a-brewery…again, Andy said he’d take care of them and we all went off to the cellars. You see Neustadt is a 21st century micro sitting in and on top of a mid-Victorian brewery, the Heuther Brewery opened in 1868 or so and run by a cousin of the original operator of the now revived Heuther Hotel, another modern micro-brewery in Waterloo. In the basement we were shown the brewing area, the tunnels to the downtown area of the village as well as the one to the Victorian brewer’s home. We were also shown the air vents, below left, dug into the ground to keep the air sweet.

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Great stuff. So now I got to support Ontario craft brewers while picking up a dandy 10W30 glass and t-shirt as well as a bunch of bottles fresh from storage. In the fall they are putting on a porter. Worth the trip if their other beers are anything to go by. Here’s the BAers take on the beers.

Directions to Neustadt Springs

Book Review: Great American Beer. Christopher O’Hara

This is a handy neat smaller format hardcover that the publisher was kind enough to FedEx me this week. And I am glad they did as this is a dandy guide to its exact topic: post WWII, pre-micro revolution pre-branding US beer. The author gladly admits this in the introduction:

The antithesis of the recent microbrewery revolution in America, this was a time when the major beer powerhouses took control of the brewing industry and, in the grand spirit of American industry, relentlessly quashed the small, independent producers that relied upon local support. This story is about the Americanization of beer, where homogenized brands – grown through a mixture of political clout, industrialization, and marketing might – became the best loved, and most heavily consumed beer brands in the world.

This is an unapologetic book in a time of review and perhaps revision. As Ken Wells discussed in Travels With Barley, despite all the efforts and successes in the craft brewing revival, this is a continent of lovers of beer-flavoured water making that still the primary cultural phenonmena to be grappled with when considering beer.

This book tells the story not so much of how that occured as who was involved. And it does so with style and wit. It is a primarily a series of fifty 500 to 200 word essays on the individual brands that made up the wave of oneness that is macrobrewing, from Bud to Blatz to Utica Club. Because this is as much pre-brand as pre-craft, there are no discussions of those “Bud Draft Dry Light Ice” sorts of beers that popped their heads up starting in the late 1970s – the word Light…or rather Lite…does not appear in the table of contents. This is a book that argues for a golden age and makes a pretty good argument for it. Even with the eighteen page history, this is not academic tome or a deep dive into the culture but, as you can expect, that could be an issue which, once raised, might be legitimately greeted with a shout of “academic, schmacademic.”

The book heavily relies upon images of the collection of beer stuff collector Erik Amundson, which you can see at the web site www.taverntrove.com. This is good and well handled as the advertising, packaging and other flotsom and jetsom of the brewers played such a huge role in differentiating a homogenized product. It is presented attractively along with well-written, informative text providing a book for the beer fan not scared to be presented with the phrases like “trendy imports” and “craft snobbery”. I’d say get it.

Delaware: Golden Shower, Dogfish Head, Milton

An imperial pilsner. This is a sort of beer I never imagined I would need to concern myself with. Unlike stouts or pale ales with their history of bigness, surely no one would bother upping the game of brewing the steely king of lagers. No one told Dogfish Head from Delaware, however, and they went ahead and did it as they tell you about at no lack of length on their website, including this:

The big breweries are as guilty of any company in any industry of brainwashing the consumer through the sheer oppressive magnitude and breadth of their marketing efforts. They are selling a brand name and an image with such zeal that they have forgotten about the product behind all of this horseshit and hyperbole – the beer itself. Dogfish Head Golden Shower is the beer itself. A true Pilsner brewed with 100% Pilsner Barley, and impressively hopped using our self-developed continuing-hopping method. At 9% abv it’s also nearly twice as strong as the American, wanna-be pilsners made by the big boys.

If you have read my reviews here before you know I have questions about my relationship with pilsners. I respect the fact as much as the next guy that it is a noble and traditional style but then there is that metallic zing…or is it a zang…that fills my mouth as if I was chewing a quarter pound of four penny nails that have been laying around the shed. So I approach this beer with some trepedation. And some of the low rating BAer reviews are backing that up – like this one:

…Not drinkable at all. Really sad for such a great brewery. I dumped the remainder of my $12 bottle in the toilet, where it belongs. Don’t waste your money on this golden shower…

Yikes. I only paid $8.99 for mine but still. Intersting to note, however, that the highest BA raters consider many of the same elements but like them. I don’t know what to expect now.

The beer pours a very attractive bright burnished gold with a white head that resolves to a rim what with the low carbonation. When you shove your nose into the glass there is plenty of sweet apple and pear concentrate. The first thing I think of when I sipped was triple. It is sort of like a Belgian triple – candy-ish sweetness and all – but also with a fall fruit aspect like calvados. It is also thickish and does not have the overly metallic hop profile I feared – the hops are tightly herbal as much as anything. In fact, it is far more pale malty than anything else. And that is a remarkably well hidden 9%. The beer is not hot in the mouth but it certainly does warm otherwise.

Where does this beer fit in? It is a near neighbour to Belgian golden strong ales like Duval or triples like Chimay Cinq Cents with the white label – but without the bubble gum or candy floss notes Belgian candi sugar provides. A beer to contemplate the coming autumn. A beer to eat apple pie and vanilla ice cream along with, oddly enough. It would be interesting to have this beer condition in a wood cask as there is that butter and/or vanilla richness that could be umphed one notch for experimental purposes.