Session #65: So Lonely

This months Session (65th in the series) is hosted by Nathanial Southwood and invites us to share our thoughts on drinking in solitude “…How do you feel about going to the pub alone? Do you feel it’s necessary to be around friends to spend time in a pub?”.

The moment before I push the door open and walk to the bar my preoccupation is with my order.  I scan the taps first, then the fridges if needs be and I order a beer.  If this is a planned trip I will reach for my book, if I just happened by the pub then I will find a newspaper, failing this I will ogle my phone screen and catch up on a few blogs.  If I am there alone for the minutes before a friend arrives, and if the atmosphere encourages it, I will talk to whoever serves me for longer than the obligatory “beer please….thank you“.  This is not always a good idea and I’m getting better at reading the signs.

I don’t drink alone in the pub that often, but when I do I’m not thinking about being alone, I’m not thinking about what others think of me, I’m thinking about beer and about relaxing.  Sadly these days I do have to think about relaxing before I can achieve it…..and relax.

I know there are people who shudder at the thought of drinking alone in the pub and I can understand how images of solitary folk propping the bar up and gently swaying to the beat of the till, could persuade a newcomer to a bar to take one look before turning and leaving.  If you disagree with these people then consider Harry Hope’s depiction of a bar in The Iceman Cometh.

The patrons, who are all men except for three women who are prostitutes, are all dead-end alcoholics who spend every possible moment seeking oblivion in each others’ company and trying to con or wheedle free drinks from Harry and the bartenders. They drift without purpose from day to day, coming fully to life only during the semi-annual visits of the salesman Theodore Hickman”.

Sadly, there are bars similar to this 100 years on from Harry Hope’s inspiration, and drinking alone in these conditions doesn’t bear thinking about.  If you’ve read the book or seen the film then you’ll know that this kind of life doesn’t bode well.  Drink Aware message over, I still believe that if you pick the right place, be in a positive frame of mind and enjoy the quality of the beer rather than the quantity, then drinking alone doesn’t have to be lonely.

Session 63: Magic Moments

This months Session (63rd in the series) is hosted by Pete Brown.  He’s chosen the topic The Beer Moment.  I’ll try my best to get this done without tripping over my ego, but can’t promise anything as I am one of those human types.

“…the Beer Moment.

What is it?

Well, what is it to you?  What does that phrase evoke for you?

That’s the most important thing here.  Switch off and float downstream, what comes to mind?  Don’t analyse it – what are the feelings, the emotions?…”

Beer ‘moments’ happen as often as I let them happen.  I can select, open and drink a beer with as much care and attention as I choose.  Other bloggers have written about this before and I agree that our enjoyment of a beer can be as much about the environment and company that we drink it in, than it is about the beer itself.  I have these moments all the time, but when I don’t have a beer epiphany I tend not to read too much into it and move on.  The ‘anti-beer moment’ is dangerous territory and can quickly escalate into a nasty bout of unweildy negativity’.  This is not a happy place and I try to keep it quarantined for the most part….but we’re all allowed our bad days!

As a homebrewer I find my beer ‘moments’ are most apparent to me when a beer makes me sit up straight (figuretively speaking, unless of course the brewer recommends that the beer should be enjoyed sat up straight), I want to know how the beer was constructed and could I brew something similar myself.  At this point in my life beer is many things, but predominantly a creative influence.

Beer in, ideas out, repeat...

Cheers Pete, great topic for discussion, something I could have written a lot more on, but wanted to try and stay focused for once!

Session 61: What Makes Local Beer Better?

This months Session (61st in the series) is hosted by Hooiser Beer Geek‘s Matt.  He’s chosen the topic What Makes Local Beer Better?.

‘Local’ in the literal sense must mean the same thing to most people, a geographical area, a street, village, town, city or region.  At a push local could actually be a nation if you are talking globally. But local can mean so much more.  You don’t have to be from a locality to enjoy a product from one of it’s population.  However, it seems there is ever increasing importance placed on local produce.  Tapping into customers emotions and sense of identity is a small part of the marketing machine which parts us from our cash.  We value provenance and honesty in the products we buy, we like to support local business and enjoy the sense of pride this can evoke in our sense of local.  We often have a romantic notion of ‘local’ from our childhood; the local sweet shop, fish & chip shop etc.  In our late teens we might adopt a local Public House where we know all the regular faces, be part of a pub quiz team and may even be asked “your usual?” by the landlord as you approach the bar.

However, ‘local’ can have negative connotations of segregation, insular thinking and have a blinkered effect on anyone not already aware of the bigger picture.  Businesses and brands can unintentionally create barriers and push people away.  Slightly off the point, but that scene from An American Werewolf in London as David and Jack seek refuge from the foggy moorland in the local pub, The Slaughtered Lamb.  If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know that the pub falls silent, drinks are held in suspended animation while all eyes are turned on the outsiders as they stand nervously at the door.  We’ve all been there!

This is a local shop for local people, there’s nothing for you here! – League of Gentleman

It’s important to retain a local brand or identity but equally important to remain part of a wider group, attracting ‘outside’ interest and while keeping your loyal customers.  Physical distance is no longer a serious barrier to communication or collaboration (see.Twitter).  No longer do we need to fear what’s not on our back doorstep, or wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming about the construction of the  new road to London, linking us to doom and the destruction of our ‘local ways’.

When I look back at my spending habits when it comes to beer, I realise that the type of breweries I’ve been interested in has not so much shifted, but more that my awareness of what is available to me from my locality has changed.  Local to me is West Yorkshire (UK) and if I was goaded sufficiently then I would say ‘The North’, and as we all know, West Yorkshire has a healthy crop of breweries capable of keeping a beer lover amorous.

As an added point, while I was writing this post, I was aware that my reference points are ‘local’, exclusive to those from the UK, television owners or those with an interest in film.  But maybe this is the point that Matt is playing devil’s advocate on? ‘Local’ doesn’t mean you can only enjoy or comprehend beers from the town recorded on your birth certificate, and ‘local’ doesn’t necessarily make a beer “better”.

The Session #59: I Almost Always Drink Beer, But When I Don’t…

This months Beer Blogging Friday, or #Session (No.59),  is hosted by Mario Rubio over at Brewed for Thought.   The topic is: ‘I almost always drink beer, but when I don’t…‘, a tough one when all you drink is beer.  So, I opened a beer and wrote this.

My initial thoughts on this lead me to choose an alcoholic beverage next in-line to beers throne.  An alternative take on this would be to write about a soft drink.  I drink tea and coffee like most other people, but aside from a short fling with coffee appreciation I couldn’t write about it convincingly (but here’s a guy who does).  So then, booze it is.  I’m feeling my way with beer and can get by when needing to talk about it or writing the odd review, but I’m no boffin.  My next ethanolic enchantment would be with whisky/whiskey or perhaps wine.  I know very little about either but it doesn’t curtail my enjoyment.  In fact the not knowing anything actually enhances my enjoyment as I’m not over thinking the drinking.  Simplistically put, comparisons could be drawn with the drinking and sharing of beer and wine and I regularly enjoy wine when there is a family occasion or meal, whereas I regard whisky as a solitary past-time.  When I reach to the back of the cupboard for a bottle, it generally signals the end of the evening.  This isn’t to say that whisky isn’t suited to sharing, of course it is, it’s just that my personal consumption is limited to the odd glass and it’s usually when everyone else has gone to bed.  I’d go as far as saying that the thought of a whisky session scares the life out of me, and I happen to know a couple of people who would quickly coerce me into a world of pain (naming no names – but for the UK readers, one works as Mr Foleys and the other at Beer Ritz – you know who you are).

What writer's block?

My favourites? well I’ve lived a fairly sheltered life and have only made supermarket purchases to date, but with what I regard to be excellent examples, then I have no reason nor the means to look any further (yet).   Single malt choices would be Talisker 10 yr and Jura 10 yr which give me the option to go peaty or sweet.  For whiskey or bourbon my pick would be Woodford Reserve, I just love it.  As an in-betweener, I have recently found Bruichladdich Rocks to be a pleasant, easy drinker (in moderation of course).  I’ve done my best here to raise a glass to drinks that I know very little about, but I do genuinely enjoy them as a luxury drink and it’s safe to say that they would always follow a beer or two, afterall you can only have one true love.

Thanks to Mario for hosting and I look forward to reading the round-up!

Cheers, salute, sláinte, jamas, bottoms up!

The Session: A Christmas Carol

This months Beer Blogging Friday, or #Session (No.58),  is hosted by Phil Hardy over at Beersay.  His chosen theme is A Christmas Carol.  Here’s my small silver coin of a post to be wrapped neatly in the plum pudding blog round-up.

This will be my first Christmas as someone with a real interest in beer.  I’ve always enjoyed a beer at Christmas and I’ve been homebrewing for a couple of years now, but this year will have an additional focus when it comes to charging my glass.  First and foremost Christmas will always be about family to me, more so now I have my own kids, but now I will reserve a small part of my Christmas to a celebration of malt, hops and yeast.  The sentiment of sharing should win through and there is always the argument of “any beer will do” – something Leigh (The Good Stuff) gets across rather nicely in his post.   I will most likely share some bucks fizz, sherry, champagne, wine, port and whisky (not all at the same time) but when the household falls quiet and I put my feet up to reflect on the day past and the day ahead, then I prefer to put some thought into the beer I will enjoy.  Just to add that I am learning that if I put thought into my beer choice in advance, then I don’t get as hung up on it during the drinking.  It’s my opinion that taking stock of the day, or the year (which is often the case as the year draws to a close), can be enhanced, not in a drunken stupor, but in the way that our senses invoke memories past and effortlessly build new ones to enjoy in the future.

It’s probably no coincidence that beer is typically brewed a lot stronger at times of celebration and Christmas is no exception – this is not to say there is no variation in Chrismas beer.  Also, before anyone argues the point, I’m only too aware that with a renewed focus on beer and in brewing innovation, that strong beer is available all year round, but for me a 10% IPA won’t cut it for this time of year.  Well maybe just the one then.

The Chrismas beer we know today is of Germanic and Scandanavian descent, with links to both pagan and religious festivities at Yule time, Yuletide or Jul.  These days we are used to seeing a heavily marketed approach to beer labelling, but essentially the beer is true to its roots and in most cases will do justice to the occasion despite the cartoon santas and elves.

Christmas is something I re-evaluate every year, as one celebration is in full swing I find some time to think of the possibilities for the next.  Evaluation sounds so formal but you catch my drift.  One romantic theme I play around with is of visiting Sweden at Christmas time, something about the kid in me wants to experience this but more so for my sons (honest).  Without being sanctimonious and appreciating that the festival means different things to different people, for me there are Christian undertones and the Swedes manage a nice blend of religion, tradition and, well… gnomes delivering gifts!  Getting back to the beer.  I purposefully picked up a bottle of Nils Oscar Julöl 2009 during a recent trip to The Grove Inn.  I plan to drink it a little closer to Christmas, but will probably write some tasting notes up for anyone who’s interested.  

The Nils Oscar Company, Nyköping, is regarded as a leader in the new generation of small Swedish breweries and have read enough to know I wanted a good excuse to hunt some down.   Waitrose stock their God Lager which is a lager more typical of the fresh, malty beers associated with Swedish breweries, but they do also produce a range including barley wines, imperial stouts and saisons.  Julöl is their 7.7% abv Christmas beer (Jul means Christmas and öl means beer) and it’s a beer that suggests to me that despite their recent diversification to American inspired Pale Ales and alike, they are in touch with their heritage.  With a strong farming tradition and unbroken family ties with the business way before the brewery came along, Nils Oscar farm their Tärnö Manor estate, growing the oats, wheat, barley and rye (they even have their own malting plant) which they then use to produce their beer at the Tärnö Brewery & Distillery.  A tidy mix of tradition and modern innovation to ensure they know their beer.

So there we have it, my Christmas past, present and future (of sorts).  So I will raise a glass of Nils Oscar Julöl to my family and friends this Christmas and affirm my dream to travel to Sweden.  Did I mention that their Christmas dinners include turkey, roast beef, ham, cheese, pate, pickles, meatballs and riced-porridge with raspberry jam? (and cold herring and jellied pigs trotters for the kids).  If you don’t happen to have a Nils Oscar beer in your cupboard, then just mix your own drink – Swedish style.  A Mumma is a traditional Christmas beverage made by mixing some dark beer, light beer, port wine, and something sweet (sockerdricka or julmust); commonly spiced with cardamom.

Other beers in my cupboard for Christmas include: Dupont Bon Veoux, Ridgeside Insanely Bad Elf, Samichlaus, Durham Brewery Temptation and homebrew.

All is left to say is Merry Christmas one and all, and remember “every time a bell rings, a beer geek gets their wings“.