Your “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” And Other Beery News Update

The beery discussion this past week was woven with tales of travel. Don’t get me wrong. I think the whole idea of beer tourism is weird. If I travel, I save maybe 15 minutes every second day for thoughts about a beer. I like museums, beaches, shopping, seeing friends and family, wandering and napping too much to centre a trip around beer. But… that doesn’t mean you need to be like me. Going elsewhere to find new spaces to roughly replicate drinking at home and roughly familiar bars is great. And, as Nate above shows in the tweet of the week, it can be something that opens the door to lederhosen-based public silliness opportunities and “the best photo of me that’s ever been taken!” Which is good.

Jordan St. John went on one last Euro trip before the UK is, what, given the boot… turns its back? And he went to Brussels… which he found rather odd:

When travelling, you want to try to be positive, so putting this thought out of my head, I ambled along through bustling groups of tourists, instagramming along with them. It is in the nature of the tourist focused district to be reductive and sure enough every fourth store sold waffles and every fifth store sold chocolate. It took only a moment to realize that every sixth store sold beer and the dawning realization came upon me: “Oh, I’ve been rooked.” I’m not referring to the quality of the beers on offer, lest you think I’ve come unmoored. It is the depth, complexity, and overwhelming success that the brand of “Belgian Beer” has on a uniform basis.

Me, I was in Brussels for a week staying at a pal’s place in 1986 but stuck to the Jupiler and Guinness. Seemed all a bit heavy handed to me. Was told by a police officer in a long black leather trench coat to move along after the bars shut. Oh, and he had a machine gun. Still, Jordan also bought me a tie which I got in the mail and it was lovely so I thank him publicly. It says “Ind Coope Sales”! So his trip was not all for nuttin’.

Boak and Bailey have shirked their weekly new nugget obligations (again) while roaming around the land of lederhosen. I like this observation particularly:

Despite looking to British eyes like the garden of the nearby pub-restaurant, people were tucking into picnics they’d brought from home, unloading Tupperware and supermarket paper bags from rucksacks and baskets. (With typical German clarity, most of the beer gardens we visited had large signs explaining the rules pinned to trees: sure, bring your own food, but buy the drink from us, or be cast out of your community.) The garden itself also had a barbecue and a pretzel window. The chef tending the former rang a bell every time a rack of ribs was ready and seemed to be selling out, while even those who had brought their own tea were buying giant pretzels to go with it.

Travel writing needs more of this and less of the “my sponsor’s business is the best” stuff. Knowing where it is OK to have a beer in public and where you can eat a sandwich without offending is vital data.

Still on the travel theme, fellow Haligonian Rebecca Pate headed north to Iceland for an Arcade Fire show – and took a mo to report, as an aside to the main feature, on the state of the Reykjavíkjavíkian* bar scene:

The recent emergence of a craft beer culture in Iceland is tied into the country’s drinking history. Prohibition came into force in 1915 and effectively lasted until 1989. The original blanket ban on drinking became entwined with a sanction on beer specifically, as beer was closely associated with Denmark and the Danish way of life – it was therefore seen as unpatriotic for Icelanders to enjoy a pint. The day that the law was changed, the 1st March, is now celebrated annually as Beer Day (Bjordagur).

Perhaps most heroically of all, Lars went deep into rural Russia and undertook what might better be called “beer exploration” as opposed to beer tourism:

The village looked like any other village in Russia, really: a cluster of traditional wooden houses, neatly arranged in rows, with wide, grassy spaces (the streets) in between. The fields were ranged around the cluster of houses. We went down a couple of streets before finally we stopped in front of one of the houses that looked exactly like the others, except Marina was standing in front of it, waiting for us.

You know, every time someone writes a puff piece and calls their work a “deep dive” on social media I think to myself “that ain’t no frikkin’ deep dive – Lars is the deep dive.” Example. Note how Marina malted her own grain: “the malts are dried in a similar trough on top of the oven. So she makes very pale rye malts.” Which should be enough to put the  now well-dismissed “there was no pale malt before coke” fibbery to bed. The process is fabulously described. I want to now try this at home.

One last point on travel. Noticing a lot of people noting they are not traveling to the GABF. Is anyone still going? Why?

Not travel. I had this article about a new brewery in NH shared with me because of the headline but, as I also work in construction for a fair share of my time, this story is refreshing as it has the underlying theme of brewing beer as slowing down as opposed to adolescent manic passion. And the use of “local” rather than “independent” or other such PR claptrap is always good.

Fabulous footage of 1972 hop picking action.

And, finally, this sort of pointless picking apart of alcohol related health advice that is really verging on obsessive compulsive.  If you really prefer to die from a liver disease other than cancer, take comfort and keep pounding back the booze.

There. Another week’s update done. That was all very cheery, other than for the wee fibs o’craft stuff. As per. Want more? If Stan doesn’t pick it up again, if Boak and Bailey never get back from holiday you might want to check out what appears to be a German-sourced English language period update from Bier, Bars & Brauer now in its 23rd edition. Until next week , exeunt!

*No, really… it is… look it up… HA HA MADE YOU LOOK!!!

Paul Goes To Iceland And Drinks Beer

icel1a

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?