Category Archives: The Session

Drinking with Levon: The Session

This post was originally going to be very different. The spirit of this Session, I felt, was more to do with stripping the ‘moment’ of beer down, and not elevating it to heights that maybe remain hard for people to relate to. The People’s Moment, if you will. I had a few ideas, and spent a few days kicking them around in my head, as you do. As it happens, I fear somewhat that I have missed the point entirely of what Pete was trying to achieve.

Anyway, this was entirely out of my hands. On Friday the 19th, Levon Helm died.

Now, unless you listen to The Band, or music of that ilk, you probably won’t know – or care – who Helm was. To me, he was representative of something; a simpler time, and a period of my life that I look back fondly on.

When I was younger, I played in a band. I played Bass and sang, and was lucky enough to call a quartet of men who loved the same music I did – mostly termed ‘Americana’ or ‘Alt.Country’ nowadays – friends. We’d hoover up albums by Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Richmond Fontaine, Iron & Wine, Ryan Adams and countless others, regurgitating them into our own sound. We were good, to be honest. It was a great ten years or so.

I remember one evening in our rehearsal room, tooling about with some covers, and we decided to try out “The Weight”, one of The Band’s more famous songs. We sounded good, as we were, right up until the chorus. The song, if you don’t know, has this gorgeous harmony on the chorus; a rotating, rough-but-beautiful cascade of words and melody – it stops you in your tracks and puts a smile on your face.

Of course, we failed horribly. We couldn’t do the song justice, so we left it, stumped by that magical moment. We were missing that one thing that The Band had – a spark. The harmony isn’t technically hard; but it needed to come from the heart. And we didn’t have that, I guess.

When Levon died, a part of that memory became more poignant; I didn’t remember The Band – or Levon specifically – but my mind rewound to that night, those laughs, those red faces, and those renewed respect for artists who remain true to themselves, living together, living for music, in the moment. It was the whole package; knotted together. The music is the man, and the man is the memory.

There was only one way I could pay respect to that. The albums came out; headphones on, beer poured; a Coniston Old Man Ale (A subliminal nod to Neil Young, perhaps?)  Eyes closed, its amazing what you hear when you really listen to something with a new impetus. The beer was good; it was fine. Rich, smooth, subtly strong; it seemed to suit the rough-hewn, salty feeling of The Band, a throwback to simpler times in an age of Psychedelia. I sat there for two hours, rocking in my chair, dog at my feet, beer in my hand.

It wasn’t maudlin; just me, a beer, music and memories.

The beer, ultimately, was unimportant. The feeling was what was important, the warmth of alcohol’s kiss ushering in reverie over any superficial style or ingredient. But I sat there, rapt, living in the past with a beer in my hand, and I’m sure many others did the same over the weekend. It wasn’t maudlin; far from it. It felt right at some point to acknowledge – in the best way I know how – a time of my life that I really, really enjoyed; with a beer.

At the opposite end of the scale, (and maybe more in line with Pete’s original vision), one of those ‘moments’ cropped up a few days later. I was in Sheffield, enjoying a lunchtime pint (Blue Bee’s Amber’s Nectar) at The Rutland Arms. The place was quiet when I got in, but soon filled up with people partaking in mammoth sarnies and good-looking pints. I sat at the end of a table, opened my paper to the sports pages, and started poring over the hype for the upcoming Manchester derby.

A few minutes later, a shadow fell across the table. A chap appeared, and sat opposite me. We looked at each other, nodded a greeting, and he did the same as me; opened his paper, took a gulp of his beer, and settled in to study his news in silence. Two men, enjoying a beer, with no obligations or need for conversation. If I could verbalise the feeling, the best I could say is ‘contented sigh‘.

I can’t boil down ‘The Moment’ in any definable way. There’s too many moments in life  – and Beer – to do that. That’s the beauty of it. There’s always a moment around the corner, everywhere, and it could be with any beer, with anyone, or alone.  Events transpire. So, that week, these were my moments. This time. 

*****

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community which was started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s nice archive page.

>Cask vs Keg vs Bottle vs Can

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The Session: It’s like a Royal Rumble of dispense.
This argument has been rumbling on for a while, and I doubt that I’m going to add anything meaningful to it apart from my own point of view. However, seeing as though one of my favourite blogs, Reluctant Scooper is hosting the session, I thought I’d wade in. Hey, that’s what the blog’s for, so here goes.
Firstly – Bottle vs Can. Along with the true identity of Jack the Ripper, or why people ever rated Rafa Benitez, one of the true mysteries of life is why brewers put beer in clear glass bottles. It simply makes for a badly-kept beer, and one that tastes, no matter what beer it is, like all other beers in clear glass. Skunky. Harsh. Oxidised. Yuck. In the grand scheme of things, putting beer into cans holds no great pain for me; I’ve tried a few average US Pale Ales in cans and enjoyed not only the novelty, but the taste of the beer too. Some purists argue that the can taints the beer; let’s get glass right first, eh? Bring on Canning, I say. My view will stay that way until I drink a beer that’s genuinely been ruined by canning – the process, that is.

As for Keg…well, I have to agree with what Zak says in so much as that I’d like to think it’s horses for courses; some beers suit being Keg-Dispensed, some not so. The turning point for me was when I took a trip to Edinburgh in 2009 and enjoyed a pint of BrewDog 77 Lager on cask at The Abbotsford. Lovely it was; but at the time – for the first time, I might add – that flash of ‘might be better served in Keg’ came across my mind. Since then, there have been many beers that I’ve enjoyed on Keg, and those that I wish I had enjoyed on Keg – such as SummerWine’s Project 6 IPA series. I know Andy and James are pro-Keg, but I really believe this. Powerful, aromatic beers that do well slightly colder are great on Keg, as are excellent lagers such as all-time-fave Moravka and, more recently, Thornbridge Italia. Foley’s Brewdog tap and North’s constant Keg presence means we are sorted in Leeds, and The Grove (Huddersfield) unashamedly flaunts Keg as a dispense system for their US range; and that’s not even mentioning BrewDog Aberdeen’s all-Keg lineup. It’s popular, and that’s just here. When I open the West Coast Good Beer Guide, and am flicking the pages, gazing upon row upon row of Keg taps, I’m slightly romanced by it. It’s not a fad, and there’s no need to be scared of it. It’s just another option.
Old Peculier from the wood? Stouts, lush, velvety Porters, fruity Ales and Brown Ales? Give me cask. Summer Ales, Weiss, Wits and Pales at a Summer Barbecue? Chill those bottles. The best dispense system for any beer is surely the one that suits it the most.
…By the way, if you’ve got the Good Beer US West Coast, flick to Page 97 and check out the Maiden Publick House. That’s what I dream of: a bar in woods, with neon signs in the window and a shitload of great beer. If I win the lottery, that’s what I’m buying. You’re all invited.

>The Session: New Beers Resolutions

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This month’s Session is being hosted by those lovely ladies over at Beer For Chicks. Reflecting on the last year and looking forward to the year ahead seems to be the theme, so here’s my scribblings and jotted-down-neuroses….

So – what was your best and worst of beer for 2009? Well, as the previous post suggests, my favourite beer of 2009 was a tie between Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch (available soon, be still my beating heart…!!) and Nogne-O’s awesome IPA. As for the worst beer…well, I couldnt possibly say. Taste is subjective. But i’m not a fan of Badger’s Golden Glory. I think it tastes of air freshener. Which is a shame, because I don’t mind Blandford Fly or First Gold.

What beer mistakes did you make?
I planned to do a round up of Supermarket beers during the summer, but with the exception of one or two, they were all so supremely bad that I couldn’t bring myself to post about them.
Also, I became too freindly with some Fuller’s London Porter in exceelent condition in York earlier on in the year, and almost missed my train home – which was important as I had a birthday meal to attend. I made it (just), but was so drunk that I could not enjoy the lovely Thai feastthat had been laid on. A shame – and I was well and truly in the doghouse that night.
What beer resolutions do you have for 2010?
One – to drink more in Pubs. Simple as that, to simply drink in pubs more. Not much of a hardship, is it?Also to provide more coverage on the blog for beer festivals and more small brewer interviews. That’s what’s important – not how many free lunches I’ve attended.

What are your beer regrets and embarrassing moments?
Beer regrets? Well, simply not doing more! There’s always beer festivals, events and launches that I can’t attend due to short notice or location. Working full-time can really be a bind on your beery adventuring. Embarrasing moments? Not any that I can recall! No regrets!
What are you hoping to change about your beer experience in 2010?
I have a gap in my knowledge when it comes to Italian Craft Beer, and as I’m visiting the North of Italy in September, I’m hoping to find some time out of my honeymoon to try some great beers. I’m incredibly lucky to have a partner who is very open to beer and my passions and is happy to indulge me!! I’m also going to try and see if I can avoid temptation to do the inevitable ‘World Cup of Beer’ posts in the summer. Really. It’s been done. Really Done.

>The Session: Love Lager

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When the Beer Nut suggested writing about Lager (or at least pale beer) for this month’s session, my heart sank. Surely I could find nothing to say; given the miniscule proportion of ‘Lager’ I actually drink.
Then I had a think about it. I do drink lager! On holiday!

One of my loves is The Mediterranean. Some of my fondest memories stem from long, long nights in Greece, Spain, and Turkey (when I was younger), and indeed the cuisine informs most things that I cook from April to October. And despite the Med being full of awesome, cheap and mostly bespoke wine, flowing like nectar from numerous visited wineries, there’s something to be said for a lager, chilled the hell out of, and sipped at a beach bar with the sand between your toes.

Glistening bottles of Mythos and Marathon in Greece, getting greasy from the rapidly expanding pile of prawn shells piling up at the side of my plate. Efes Pilsner, Amstel and Heineken in Turkey, washing down the beauty that is the proper Turkish kebab. And huge steins of Kamenitza and Zagorka in Bulgaria, their flinty sharpness cutting through all that heavy, Eastern European food. Hell, the Greek island of Samos had reasonably kept Warsteiner in most bars (seemingly a concession to the amount of Germans that swarm the place in the summer), and that beer in particular underwrote most of my memories of that holiday. And don’t get me started on Spain and Cruzcampo. I could die in a vat of that stuff.

Of course, at night I generally flit back over to wine, but for me, the scorching heat of a typical summer’s lunchtime on holiday does, as much as I wouldn’t want to admit it, bring me memories of a cold, frosty one. So, despite my Beer Nerdism, Lager has its place in my palate after all. Imagine if I finally got around to visiting Czechoslovakia, or Germany!
I recently tasted Taddington Moravka on draught and it was possibly one of the best ‘lagers’ I’ve ever tasted. It certainly got me thinking – am I missing anything else in this area of beer I know the least about? Looks like I’ll be a little more interested in the world of (the palest) pale from now on. It doesn’t have to be cheap fizz, and if it does – well, as long as you’re in the right place, it can be very pleasant indeed.

The photo at the top is of sunset at an awesome fish joint in Sozopol, Bulgaria. The terrace was on the side of a sheer clifface, the crystal clear Black Sea below. We drank steins of Zagorka lager, and accompanied this with plate upon plate of fried whitebait and mussels and mozzarella topped tomato salad. The plan was to start there and then move on for the evening, but we didn’t. We just carried on there. Sometimes there’s no reason to move.

>The Session: My Favourite Beer

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This month’s Session concerns my favourite beer.
My favourite Beer is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It may be uncool to say that, as a Brit – moreover, as a northern brit, surrounded by such good ale, but it’s true. I am a certified Americophile (if that’s a word). In my teens as a wannabe writer, my heroes were Charles Bukwoski, Hunter Thompson and Norman Mailer. Musically, I mostly listen to Americana, with Iron & Wine, Ryan Adams, Calexico and Richmond Fontaine usually on standard rotation on my Ipod. I love dusty pictures of roadside motels and diners (something you just don’t get over here), and in almost all artistic aspects of my life aside from sport, America plays more of a role than the UK. I don’t know why – I’ve even never visited the place.

In much the same way, the USA informs my love of beer. Like I said above, despite being surrounded by such great beer, I always find myself leaning toward the craft scene of America for kicks. Brewers like Dogfish Head, New Belgium and Rogue seem so experimental, so different that when I visit my beer supplier I can’t help myself but load up on what’s new from the Land of Hope and Glory (TM).
Even in homebrewing, something I am becoming increasingly more immersed in, my first beer wasn’t an ESB, or a London Porter; It was a California Common – using Anchor Steam Beer as a template. I think this all stems from my Sierra Nevada Pale Ale obsession.
I remember the first time I tried it. It was chosen simply on the colour of the label and design of the logo – and that I was pig-sick of lagers, or rather, what we call lagers in the UK. Upon pouring it, I smelled the sweet, bitter tang and knew that I was on the verge of something new. But nothing could prepare me for the taste.

On the sip, a decent, malt-biscuit body subsides to reveal flavours of – at first – boiled sweets and candy to me. Sweetness subsides to that famous Hop profile – lots of citrus, lots of pine. Then comes the bitterness, just enough to leave a long, dry finish that results in a massively moreish beer. Serve it colder and it’s sparklingly thirst-quenching; serve it warmer and it’s even more complex. Perfectly balanced, you wouldn’t believe it’s actually 5.6% abv.
I still stock up on it, and it’s my ‘go-to’ beer if it’s on tap somewhere. Just to try it. Just to see how they keep it. I’m like a crack whore with SNPA – I could be faced with a thousand taps and I would choose one beer that I have not tried and one SNPA.

It’s not just me – I can honestly say I have converted more people to beer via SNPA than any other beer. Many of my convertees now lap up real ale from good, honest UK micros all having their tastebuds exploded open by the ray of Californian Sunshine that is SNPA. Sierra Nevada are no longer small, or even ‘cutting edge’ now that the rest of the US has caught them up. It may not be esoteric, ‘extreme’ or even cool in this country – But SNPA is my favourite, desert island beer. Without a doubt. For me, and I suspect many others around the world, that first sip of SNPA was the start of something special.
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