Blogging and writing

Red Pill or Blue?

Aroxa 'off' flavour capsules

As promised, we bought an Aroxa ‘off’ flavour kit, and have now inflicted the first three capsules upon ourselves.

Each pill contains a small amount of white powder to be dissolved in a neutral beer.

Following the advice of various industry types, we used Budweiser as the base beer for this experiment. (Sweet, watery, like weak cordial.)

We were also advised to use way more than the prescribed dose to make sure the flavour is really obvious, so, instead of one litre of beer divided among ten for each capsule, we used 330ml between the two of us.

Using them feels a little unnerving, like taking part in a clinical trial — if we turn into slavering zombies and star biting people’s faces off, this is probably why.

‘Papery’ — trans-2-nonenal

Boak: Yes, just like eating paper.

Bailey: I’ve never eaten paper. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be tasting here.

Boak: Well, eat some paper now.

Bailey: Nom nom nom. Eugh! Nope, still don’t get it.

Between us, we identified this as, yes, papery, but also chalky and talcum-powder-ish.

We found it quite a subtle characteristic, even at a high dosage, and wondered if we would spot it in the wild.

We also  though it made Budweiser better — drier and more bitter.

‘Corn’ — dimethyl sulfide (DMS)

Phew! An easy one, and you can save yourself £££ on expensive capsules: it smells exactly like the murky brine from a tin of sweetcorn.

It didn’t seem to contribute much to the flavour, but the aroma was unmistakeable. Boak confessed that, probably because of the association of buttered popcorn, she had perhaps been confusing it with…

‘Butter’ — diacetyl

Margarine would probably be a better descriptor. Melt a tablespoon of something like ‘You Don’t Mean to Tell Me This Isn’t Butter?’ in a pan, take a good whiff while it’s hot, and you should get the gist.

We were pleased to note that we have been correctly identifying this (rather obvious) compound in beer for some time, and a particularly buttery pint of Blue Anchor Spingo from last year sprang immediately to mind.

It was unpleasant at this concentration, like eating Stork with a spoon, but we could also see that, in a smaller dose, it might have helped Budweiser imitate Czech Budvar convincingly. That is to say, it was not intrinsically disgusting.


Beer flavours we’ve sussed

Pints of beer at the Blue Anchor, Helston

Though we still struggle to confidently identify specific hop varieties, we have, we think, learned in the last year or so to spot a couple of specific flavours in beer.

First, there’s an acidic, bile-like tang that we’re pretty comes from an overdose of black malt in an otherwise relatively pale beer. It’s not especially nice — like a trailer for the indigestion yet to come. John Smith’s has it.

Secondly, there’s the taste of Nottingham yeast. In the wake of our yeast epiphany, we’ve become ultra sensitive to its effects. Nottingham is a fairly neutral strain and leaves, for want of a better phrase, a kind of ‘dusty hole’ (fnaar) in the flavour of the beer. It’s not exactly unpleasant but any beer brewed with it, we’re beginning to think, needs the hop and malt channels turned up louder to compensate.

It helps that, increasingly, brewers are open and honest about their ingredients and processes, giving us the opportunity to test our guesswork.

Next to pin down: a suspicion that we might be able to guess, with a bit more practice, whether a given British ale is brewed with soft water. Our water in Penzance is extremely soft and the beer we brew here, on the same kit, tastes quite different to the stuff we were making in London. There’s a certain sweetness in it now, regardless of how many hops we throw in.

Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Don't tell us what's funny

We’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about the subjectivity of taste and continued  the discussion last night over our Friday night beers.

Have you ever had a conversation about comedy where someone has tried to tell that something you like ‘isn’t funny’? We’ve always found this infuriating. If you laugh from your belly at an act, TV show or film, then that means it’s funny, full stop.

It might not be fashionable, and people might argue that it’s not clever, or well-made, or make any one of a number of other critical observations, but what they can’t say is that it’s not funny.

And, with beer, the equivalent non-negotiable reaction is probably excitement. If you find something exciting, that’s something no-one can argue you out of. They might question your standards — “You found that exciting? Really? Then you need to try…” — or note that the beer you’re buzzing about is exciting despite its flaws, but they can’t deny the thrill you felt on putting your nose into the glass and the stuff itself into your gob.

Check out Zak’s reaction to Rooster’s Babyfaced Assassin at 5:34 into the video here. You can’t argue with that, even if you think the beer is pretentious, elitist, overblown, etc..


Charity beer tasting in London

The charity Brainwave are hosting a beer tasting event at 7pm on 19 October 2011 at the Farmer’s Club in London.

It’s £35 including a buffet and the tasting will be hosted by British Guild of Beer Writers, er, beer writers.

Can you think of a better way to support a worthwhile cause than with a few beers and some nice grub?

For tickets or more information, email or call 07872 548450.