06 May 2016

Keep on truckin'

Session logoIt's a slightly worrying topic for Session number 111. Oliver Gray is asking if any of us keyboard warriors are feeling less enthused about beer blogging these days. A glance at the tumbleweed blowing through my RSS reader would suggest that some of us definitely are. Beer blogging is not what it used to be. Blogs are still being born but many die in infancy while numerous older ones seem to be suffering from terminal blogrot, that gradual process where posts become less and less frequent until there's the final one which begins "Hey! I've been bad at keeping this updated but starting today there'll be lots more regular posts!" and then you know you can close its eyes and draw the blanket over its face.

Not me, though. Oh no. I'm eleven years in and fighting fit. 2015 was my bloggiest year so far and I've just increased my posting frequency, for a while anyway, so 2016 might yet top it. Is anybody reading what I write? Don't know, don't care, that's not the point. The secret of my longevity, you ask? It's all in the blog's governing rules. Creativity loves constraints and all that. Having a regular publishing schedule is crucial: I used to agonise over whether I was publishing enough, or too much, and then I set myself a schedule and all that went away. I know there are slots to be filled, it's just a question of colouring them in with words. Words like "grapefruitish" and "under-attenuation": you know the words I mean. And then there's the thematic rule: every post is about a beer or beers I've never drank before, and contains my opinion of it or them. It means I'm never stuck for a topic, unless I'm stuck for a beer, and that has yet to happen. All the inspiration I need is in the glass in front of me. Write it down, stick it in the next available timeslot and boom: you have a regularly updated beer blog that runs for as long as there's new beers to try. Mid-life crisis? Sorry, too busy writing about beers for that.

Oliver does touch on a wider issue of the beer subculture: many people who are interested in writing about beer end up working in beer, and that changes the dynamic, while the industry itself (at least in the US where Oliver is) seems to be suffering a bit of an upheaval. It's hard to know where you stand as a fanboy blogger when your favourite brewery is liable to be snatched away from you by a grasping multinational, keen to share it with the rest of the drinking world. The horror! It can be exhausting to follow and I can see how a hobby based on beer might end up feeling like work.

Again, though, not for me. I still am a fanboy for all things beer and I don't think my enthusiasm has waned at all. Like, for example, I was really delighted to be granted a place at the Beavertown event that importer Four Corners organised at L. Mulligan Grocer last month. Brewery founder Logan Plant came to talk to the crowd, as did Nick Dwyer, the creator of Beavertown's highly distinctive artwork. And they're both very entertaining speakers, but I wasn't there for the banter.

Seven Beavertown beers were on tap, with freebie samples offered to attendees. Five of the seven were new to me, and sour featured big. The Phantom series is Beavertown's badge for Berliner weisse and gose and my opener for the evening was Pearvert Phantom, a Berliner brewed with pear and gooseberry. The latter is barely there, adding maybe a certain green quality to the tartness, but the pear is very apparent and gives the beer a soft, clean juiciness that I really enjoyed. The base beer has an assertive lactic sharpness and a strange sort of boozy heat which is not something I'd expect to find in the style, even when the ABV is a high 4.8%. There's a strange sort of aftershave musk in the finish too. A delightfully thought-provoking beer, this.

I followed that with Pom Pom Phantom, this one with grapefruit and peppercorn. Once again, only one of those is really making much noise, and it's the grapefruit: massively fresh and contributing a zesty bitterness to match the more thick and oily sort provided by the hops. Perhaps there's a touch of dryness from the peppercorns, but perhaps not. There's certainly no spiciness, which was disappointing. As a fan of the trend for lightly-soured hop-forward beers, I enjoyed this one, despite a lack of complexity. It did taste more like a thin session IPA than a Berliner weisse, however.

Oranges and lemons went into St Clements Phantom, as did a load of Lemondrop hops, but the sourness is the beer's driving force. The aroma promises a puckering tartness and that sting is the first thing to hit you on sipping it. The rest of the flavours queue up behind it and take their turns: heady, dank hop resins and then a palate-scrubbing jet of citrus. Though session-strength at 4.8% ABV, it's not lacking in body. This one is beautifully balanced and incredibly easy to put away.

They brought out Skull King next, an 8.7% ABV double IPA which demonstrates everything I don't like about the style. It's hot and heavy, sticky and sickly, sharply bitter at first but then succumbing to cloying orange cordial yuckiness. The aroma is nice: I'll grant it that, just don't put it in your mouth unless you want a tongue coated in revolting orangey sugar.

To finish, we got Spresso, a coffee stout. I had no idea, until just now when I looked it up, that this is an imperial stout, with a stonking 9.5% ABV. It doesn't taste or feel anything like that heavy. The aroma is an enticing mocha mix of freshly-brewed coffee and comforting chocolate. On tasting you get a rawer coffee experience: the oiliness of just-ground beans and the dry chewy roastiness of their outer husks. It tastes like the smell of walking into a warm coffeehouse on a cold day: a soul-infusing rich perkiness. No stout flavour? True, there isn't, but that really doesn't matter. Not a subtle beer by any means, but a fun one. And if beer isn't fun, what's the point of drinking or writing about it?

A massive thanks has to go to Four Corners for arranging the event and L. Mulligan Grocer for hosting and canapés. Much as I enjoy it when it's just me and the beer, it's also great to get a bit of colour in one's drinking life through events like this.

Right, that's today's slot filled. What's in the fridge for Monday?


  1. Anonymous10:02 am

    Wow couldn't agree less about the skull king, it's one of the best DIPAs on the shelves right now. Would have put it down as one of the less bitter and extreme examples also, similar to surrender to the void. Surprised you found it hot and over the top.

    1. I like to surprise. But I would definitely class it with Eight Degrees Millennium and Double Irish, and Five Lamps Make It A Double, in the hot 'n' heavy category. I thought Power of the Voodoo was a much better beer than Skull King.

    2. Anonymous11:53 am

      I tried Skull King on can and draught in the last month. Two very different tastings. The draught (@Alfie Byrne's) tasted like what you described. All sugar only a slight initial bitterness. Can tasted much closer to a DIPA sister of the TIPA Power of the Voodoo....

    3. ... which is what I was expecting. I guess that explains it, Anonymous. Craft, wha'?

  2. A thought provoking opening few paragraphs there John. I really enjoy seeing new beer blogs being set up and hope they all stick around. While you are the blogpost frequency king, I'm just glad I can find the time to do about 1 a month - I hope I haven't said "grapefruit-ish" too often.
    I agree with you on Voodoo. I love it too though yet to try Skull King.

    1. Oh I'm barely at the races compared to Simon. Once a month is plenty. That's what I'm trying to stick to with Stash Killer.