Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Monday, 27 July 2009
After twenty or so years away I don’t know many people in my hometown of Barrow-in-Furness. One Barrovian I do know is TV’s Dave “Hairy Biker” Myers. Of course he’s a food geek in a big way but he’s also partial to beer, and lots of it, especially if it’s Belgian. I originally knew Dave as a customer when I worked for Utobeer at Borough Market. We had one of those “I know your accent” moments while he was buying some bottles of Kwak. I later interviewed Dave and his telly partner Simon King for Beers of the World.
I bumped into Dave at the weekend in the town centre and our chat drifted gradually to an almost telepathic “fancy the pub tonight?” meeting of minds. The pub in question was the Prince of Wales at Foxfield, ticker paradise, beer geek nirvana.
On the train on the way up we talked about Westvleterens. Dave hadn’t had them. I had. After a couple of pints to warm up our palates we started to browse the bottle list. I asked the barman if the list was up to date. “Er, not quite. It’s a bit obscure, you might not have heard of it. We’ve got some bottles of Westvleteren 8.” Crikey, we thought, this is an opportunity not to be missed.
Although, as a bar-owner, I’d stocked the full range of Trappist beers I’d never got round to doing a side-by-side comparison of Rocheforts and Westvleterens. I’ve long had a suspicion that Rocheforts are better and that Westvleterens, although utterly excellent beer, play a trick on the minds of drinkers by their rarity and cult status.
We all sampled the Westvletern 8 first – yup, we all confirmed, brilliant beer. The Rochefort 8 was opened, poured and passed around. Blimey! The fruit! The hop character! The malt! The finish! Rochefort had comprehensively trounced the Westvleteren. First round knock-out. The tasters: me; Dave Myers; Dave’s partner Lil; Lil’s son Serg and friend Ben Steel (big Rochefort fan) agreed unanimously – victory to Rochefort! I suppose, on reflection, a busy, bustling pub with lots of background distraction isn’t the place to studiously taste legendarily complex beers: the subtleties of WV may have fared better in quiet surroundings. Nonetheless the margin of victory was large.
We went on to enjoy several more beers and miss the last train back to Barrow (10.15pm). Dave Bailey had turned up and kindly offered to go 40 or so miles out of his way in his monster truck to get us home. Telly Dave and Lil invited us in for nibbles and a coffee. We tucked into an array of sublime smoked salmon, duck and chicken from the smokery at Haverigg Prison (you’ll be hearing about this in future). Forgetting the cuppa we sampled beers from Brewpub Dave’s very promising trial-bottling of his new beers. A “Red IPA” would seem to be a stunner but at 1.30am after a cracking night in the pub tastebuds were jaded. The drink moved on. Lil – who is Romanian – insisted we try a shot of the 60% abv plum spirit “Palinca”. It had turned into one of those nights. The kind of night you should have grown out of by the age of 25. It was brilliant.
[In the bleary cold light of the following day I found I'd left a note to myself: it said "Swinefever Ratzenberger". Go figure.]
Friday, 24 July 2009
I don’t generally post beer reviews on this blog. I can’t be bothered. Had ratebeer been around in the mid to late nineties when my appetite for new beer experiences was at its most voracious I think I may well have become an uber ratebeer nerd, not a ticker mind you, flavour was always the big thing for me, not the list. Although I’d been introduced to good beer in my teens it was until my late twenties that I became a fully-fledged beer geek – buying beer books, traipsing around obscure beer shops and planning jaunts around local beer availability.
Anyway, I’ve started this post with a digression. What I really wanted to talk about was ongoing, all-consuming quest to understand the psychology, economics, anthropology, sociology and a whole host of other ologies – pertaining to beer: who drinks what, where they do it and why they do it. At this point I'd like to work in a gag about "what makes people tick" but I'm not sure how.
And so it was when I had a week in Egypt back in April. After a couple of days on the tourist trail I realised I was rarely weeing, and when I did it was almost like passing honey (OK, too much information). I was very dehydrated. I was turning into a human prune. 35C and 12% humidity had got to me. Mad dogs looked on in admiration.
I got to thinking about alcohol’s role in desert societies. Islam – often described as “the religion of the desert” – prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Also, alcohol is a diuretic: it makes you wee more than you put in at the other end. Water is scarce in the desert (that’s what defines it as desert of course). Could there be a link between Islam’s prohibition and alcohol being a diuretic?
I’m a life-long atheist (I even had to leave cubs because I refused to go to church parade). Nonetheless I’m utterly fascinated by the phenomena of religions – in the same way I’m a-CAMRA-ist but fascinated by it. I think a lot about things like this.
Islam and Judaism share a prohibition on the consumption of pig meat. This isn’t coincidence. For a large part of human history, any many parts of the world pigs have been hosts to fluke (I’m more than willing to be corrected on this). Getting fluke from eating infected meat is not a good idea. Simply attempting to spread the word (“psst, don’t eat pig, pass it on”) to hungry, illiterate peasants wasn’t good enough. “How do we make the message more forceful?” thought some enterprising Rabbis and Imams. “I know!” they chorused “we’ll call it a commandment from god or the teaching of a prophet or summat.” “Yes that’s it – if you eat pig, god won’t be happy with you and he may arrange something nasty for you in the afterlife. That’ll do the trick.”
And so it came to pass that the prohibition on pig consumption gained its status as religious dogma. Being religion though, rationality is discouraged. Fluke has long been eliminated in most of the world so Middle-Easterners can now tuck into pork with impunity. They don’t. The rule has stuck. Religion’s like that.
So, back to Egypt. I had a thought. Could Islam’s prohibition on alcohol have occurred in the same way – leaders wondering how to deter people from drinking booze in order to prevent dehydration and preserve water supplies? I reckon so. I’m not sure how Judaism escaped the same prohibition though. Perhaps it was because of early migration into Europe where there was lots of water.
I’ll leave you to ponder. I’m off to the pub.