04 April 2008

Beer hunting with my mate

Darkness had fallen rapidly some time earlier but the insane traffic and hordes of people showed no sign of abating. We had been circling the busy square, with its mad tangle of flyovers and irrelevant traffic control measures, for about forty-five minutes, having spent the previous hour walking up here over thronged pavements and crossing some of the most dangerous junctions I've ever encountered. My only guide was a small scrap of paper where I'd scribbled an address. But Cairo doesn't really do addresses, which is why it took so long for me to finally admit that the brewpub just off Ramses Square didn't exist.

I turned to her and said "We passed a hotel just down that way. Fancy a pint?"

It wasn't until much later that I realised how lucky I am, from a beer-and-travel point of view, to have married the woman I did. Which is why I'm nominating Mrs Beer Nut as my beerpal for this month's Session. Beer-drinking friends often refer to having been issued a "pass" to attend events. I never have. I normally bring my pass-issuing authority with me.

Admittedly, our first date was a tour of the Dublin Brewing Company which she had organised, so that should have been an indicator of how things would go from there. She is inordinately tolerant of going the extra mile (or two, or three) with me for the pub that's "meant to be really good, according to a web site I read". As well as chasing a non-existent brewery through nighttime Cairo, this has meant getting utterly lost on Waiheke Island in New Zealand, crossing the ring of steel set up for the World Bank meeting in Singapore to get to the Paulaner Bräuhaus on the other side, and making the out-of-the-way train journeys which brought us to obscure microbreweries in Moss, Bodegraven, Leuven and Hilden. This is not to mention the endless sleeve tugging by which I've led her to brewpubs in otherwise dull parts of Paris, Vienna, St Petersburg, Seoul, Athens, Sydney, Lisbon etc etc. She was even amused to be literally the only woman on our packed flight home from Oktoberfest. Beer tourism is now an intrinsic part of our travel arrangements, where possible, and amazingly she doesn't seem to mind this.

Nor does she mind sharing once we've reached our destination. I'll normally give her first call on ordering interesting new beers, but there's usually quite a bit of give and take on how to divide the menu out between us. Having the extra palate is invaluable for blogging purposes as well -- she'll spot the grapefruit, or the tobacco, or the sherbet long before I will. I'm not running a formal two-hander, but let it be here noted that's there's almost always someone else's observation included with mine on this blog.

Oh, and she also has a tendency to attract pub cats, particularly in the low countries. She's pictured here with one of the residents of Toone in Brussels.

I hope, then, that it's not too on-the-nose for me to have picked Boon's Mariage Parfait as my beer for this post. Through the green glass, skeins of sediment can be seen drifting lazily through the beer, though none is deposited on the bottom of the bottled even though it has been sitting still for a couple of months.

It delivers all the varying characteristics of the lambic style all at once on the first sip. The sour bitterness, the matured candy, the grainy malt: all there in a big way and all making themselves felt immediately. The only thing it lacks is that astringent nitre brickiness one gets from the like of Oude Geuze Boon. Instead, this is a smoother creature, with all such edges knocked off. There's nothing about balance in the lambic job description, but this one manages to pull it off.

All-in-all it makes me want to be in Belgium. With the wife, of course.


  1. I am always very happy to see your beer mate tucking into very respectable brews at the B&C. And you couldn't be more right about the usefulness of a second palate. While my significant other doesn't indulge in beer very much, her virgin taste buds snap up flavours that I often over look.

  2. There are just not enough pub cats.

  3. It's Fuller's ESB at the moment. Can't get her off the stuff.

  4. I know, Ed. Makes you wonder how they make all that Coors Light in the first place.