Grasping at the Twentieth Century as It Slips Away

We might be the first people to be experiencing the sense of the death of a time. In two years, this freshly-minted century will have raised its first 18 year olds.  There’s a change to the order of things. Perhaps it’s the death of the 20th century that we’re feeling.

Those are words written by Hamish Thompson in reaction to the news of the death of pop star Prince yesterday, but also addressing the bizarrely long list of celebrity deaths 2016 has brought, from Bowie to Victoria Wood.

The death of the 20th century. That’s a thought that hit us hard, and which rings true.

It explains the thrill of going to watch a retro-styled Star Wars film that was almost identical to the first Star Wars, which came out just before we born, when Harrison Ford was young and on the up.

It explains why, in the last few years, disposable concrete buildings that were at best ignored and at worst despised are now regarded with the same nostalgic fondness as was the Euston Arch in the 1960s.

All that concrete, pale-red brick, linoleum, muted Festival of Britain glamour… It was the landscape we grew up in, and now it’s disappearing.

It explains why in 2015 the BBC gave us The KennedysCradle to Grave and Danny & The Human Zoo — three weirdly similar programmes in which comedians attempted to summon the spirit of the 1970s as they were actually lived, while there are still people around who can recall the minutiae.

"Cradle to Grave" -- pub scene w. Peter Kay as Danny Baker's Dad, Spud.
Spud (Peter Kay) in a lovingly recreated London pub in Danny Baker’s autobiographical Cradle to Grave.

Maybe, getting to beer and pubs (at last), it’s why old brewery brands such as Magee & Marshall are being revived — your grandfather, with his war stories and Sunday best, may be long gone, but you can at least drink his favourite beer.

This anxiety over the passing of time is certainly behind our current obsession with estate pubs and theme pubs, dismissed for so long as diversions from the true path of ‘pubness’, and now almost all gone, along with many of those who remembered drinking in them when they were new, their Formica fresh and blemish-free. We find ourselves following leads only to discover that the person who commented on a messageboard in 2007 died five years ago.

The only complete surviving post-war prefab pub we’ve identified (thanks, @TenInchWheels) the Arches at Bradwell, we now learn (thanks, Lorraine) is scheduled for demolition.

Logo on an Arctic Lite beer glass.

We gather around us bits of tat (ephemera, if you’re being kind) because that branded pint glass or now useless pub guide are physical connections to a drowning past.

What we’re trying to do, in our small way, in our own field of trivia, is cling on to the twentieth century as it slips away — to grab what we can before there’s nothing left, and we find ourselves orphaned in this weird future, like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Magical Mystery Pour #7: Slaapmutske Dry-Hopped Lager

Magical Mystery Pour logo.The third of six lagers recommended to us by Berlin-based American beer writer Joe Stange is from Belgium, but bears little resemblance to Jupiler or Stella Artois.

This time, instead of using us as guinea pigs, he’s directed us to a beer he personally knows and enjoys:

I have always liked this one, another fine Proefbrouwerij product. The Beersel Lager for the Drie Fonteinen restaurant is similar and also dry-hopped, and I like it enough that sometimes I have one there instead of a gueuze. Which is deranged.

It has 5.3% alcohol by volume, comes in a 330ml bottle, and we got ours from Beers of Europe for a not unreasonable £2.39.

Our expectations, based on the information on the label, were that it would be (a) quite dry and (b) a little grassy, perhaps even hinting at Poperinge Hommelbier.

Continue reading “Magical Mystery Pour #7: Slaapmutske Dry-Hopped Lager”

Schrödinger’s Beer (non) Review: Cloudwater DIPA V3

There are some beers about which it is practically impossible to express an opinion and be believed, one way or the other.

They’re so talked-about, so anticipated, so venerated, or so despised, that nothing we say can add much to the conversation.

The Westvleteren beers from Belgium are one example, Batham’s Best Bitter might be another. But they’re fixed points in the firmament; others blink into existence and generate great heat, perhaps only for a few months or years.

The word we’re avoiding here is hype, perhaps because it gets thrown around too easily — people talking with enthusiasm about a thing you’re not interested in isn’t hype. It might be justifiable in this case, though, which has seen online beer stores issuing would-be-panic-inducing Tweets in anticipation of a consumer frenzy, and launch events. (It is still in stock in many places, by the way.)

"Schrödinger's Cat" by the No Matter Project.
Schrödinger’s Cat” by ‘No Matter’ via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

If we say that we were anything less than wowed by version 3 of Manchester Cloudwater’s Double IPA, we’re surely just inverted bandwagon jumpers, contrarians and grumps. We’re fighting the hype and thus still failing to judge the beer on its own merits. We’re those people who say with a flourish that they don’t like The Beatles and make you think, ‘Really? Even “It Won’t Be Long”?’ If we say we didn’t especially like this beer not everyone will believe us or will question our motives.

But what happens if we rave about it? If we list this fruit and that. If we say it is like nothing else we’ve ever tasted and that it blows similar beers from other equally hip breweries out of the water, that it finds a truly distinctive flavour profile in a market already crowded with IPAs, that it made us swoon?

Then we’ll be sheep, sycophants, mindless zombie fans.

So, we’re just going to leave the box here, unopened.

Us On the Subject of Bitter

Last autumn we wrote 1,500 words on bitter for the American magazine Beer Advocate and that article has just been made available free online.

For us, this was pretty much like writing about water, or bread, or the sun — that is difficult despite, or maybe because of, the apparent simplicity and familiarity of the subject.

Anyway, we were quite happy with how it turned out, and people on Twitter seem to be enjoying it. Here’s a good bit:

Today in the UK, Bitter is not a strictly governed style and beers bearing that appellation might be golden to red, drily bitter or honey-sweet, rich in hop perfume or rather austere. Depending on strength, they might be called “Ordinary,” “Best,” or “Extra Special Bitter (ESB).” It is easier, perhaps, to say what Bitter is not. Once the classy alternative to Mild, then the conservative alternative to trendy lager, it is now the preferred choice of the anti-hipster—not Double IPA, and definitely not fruit-infused barrel-aged Saison.

And asking nosy questions paid off here, too:

“Southwold Bitter is still our best-selling cask beer and its place as No. 1 is probably secure for some time yet, but it has been caught up by Ghost Ship [a hoppy Golden Ale] in the last few years,” Fergus Fitzgerald explains. “When I joined Adnams 10 years ago, Bitter was about 70 percent of what we did, but it’s now closer to 40 percent as we have expanded the range of styles we brew, and as tastes broaden.”

Sadly, since we wrote it last summer Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter has ceased to be a regular brew (Twitter) and is now seasonal only. When it comes to writing about specific brands beer is a moving target.

Tucker’s Maltings Beer Festival, At Last

It’s been running for 24 years but we only made it to our first Tucker’s Malting Beer Festival, in Newton Abbot, Devon, last week.

In the last few years when we might have gone, we’ve either been working or on holiday. But maybe we’d have made more effort if we liked beer festivals more, which we don’t, because:

  1. Eight different beers is about the most we can handle between us in one session so 250 is over-facing.
  2. Our two favourite places to drink are (a) the pub and (b) our sofa; hangars, barns, industrial spaces, town halls, churches, and so on, come way down the list.
  3. There’s too much flat beer, not helped by being served in unwashed glasses that get stickier with each passing hour.

Propaganda-style mural at Tucker's Maltings.

Having said that… Tucker’s Maltings was fun. It’s one of those events that isn’t just about beer, and that isn’t just popular with CAMRA members and tickers.

It generates a merry buzz around the town of Newton Abbot, a place which isn’t otherwise on the tourist trail — ‘It’s a funny old place’, as one attendee said to us — much as Walthamstow Village Festival used to in the days before full-on gentrification, or as Bridgwater Carnival does in Bailey’s home town.

There were faces we’d seen at other festivals (for example, a contingent from Cornwall CAMRA), gangs of young lads with sculpted quiffs and muscles on display despite the chill, ageing hippies, ageing rockers, ageing punks, rugby fans, a stag do or two, students from Exeter University, local dignitaries (Newton Abbot’s mayor is a venerable old gent with something of the German burgomaster about him), and teams of brewers from up and down the West Country in branded polo shirts having it corporately large.

People were drunk, in the 18th-century Dutch painting way, and occasional bouts of dancing, particularly that half-walk-half-boogie merry people sometimes do while carrying brimful glasses.

Whatever the spark of life is, the quality that puts the festiv- in festival, Tucker’s Maltings has it. We’ll definitely go again.

Disclosure: we paid for entry to Friday afternoon’s session and for beer tokens; Guy Sheppard of SIBA/Exe Valley, who is on the organising committee, bought us a half each while we interviewed him; and we were given free entry to the first hour of the session that followed.