Tag Archives: IPA

London: That Happened

12 Jul
cask ale is good mkayyy

cask ale is good mkayyy

So I’m sitting in my hostel in Brussels right now.  I just got off the train from London and I’m running on about 3 hours of sleep.  I don’t know what to do besides deliriously blog about London, because I can’t get into my room for another 3 hours.  This hostel, Meininger Hotel, beats the shit out of London’s Phoenix Hostel.  That’s just a fact.  I’m not complaining; The Phoenix had a bar and all, but this place is huge, hip, and has a giant bar and really good Belgian beer just everywhere.  I am definitely giving it the thumbs up.  It was also only around $20/night or something stupid like that.

Anyway, London.  I had a weird experience there, because I didn’t feel like I wanted to take part in any of the typical reindeer games.  By that I mean I didn’t want to go back and look around at palaces and guards and crowned jewels and shit.  They’re very cool and historic, but I checked them off my life about 9 years ago and felt little need to re-do any of those tourist attractions.  And let’s be serious: would I rather spend money to go on a glorified Ferris wheel (the London Eye) or beer and food.  That’s not even a question for anyone with whom I’d associate.

So the day I got into London, I just sort of randomly chilled out and ate a sandwich and drank Jack and Cokes at a nearby bar to try to cope with jet lag.  It worked out alright, and the next day I felt pretty good.  I guess that was Monday.  On Monday, I putzed around London to get a feel for where everything was and went shopping.  I have a budget and all that good shit, but that didn’t stop me from blowing around $200 on a really cool scarf and shirt at a sick boutique I found.  Oh well.  I never think of it as spending.  It’s just investing in my personal brand.  It’s all just accounting (making categories for spending to justify everything).  I digress.

Monday night, I met up with my friend, Giselle, who I’ve known since the good old days of pre-school.  She is spending her summer interning for an English bank, so we met up for dinner to catch up at a random bar.  We didn’t eat anything quintessentially English, and since the bar had little in the way of interesting beer, I went to my go-to gin and tonic mode.  Anyone who was excited for me to go to London and immerse myself in the mysterious, sexy traditions of real ale is probably face-palming hard right now (because I totally have an abundant following like that).  Don’t worry though, all you fans out there; after dinner I made a small pilgrimage.

Since Giselle is currently “real person” status, she went home to go to sleep like a responsible intern.  I decided to check out a pub recommended by Time Out London for its cask ale.  The Jerusalem Tavern.  I was being lazy and defeatist about figuring out the tube situation, so I splurged on a cab over.  When I got there, I walked into this cramped hole-in-the-wall bar at which an Italian bartender (Italian Stallion, to be honest) was busy flirting with a Spanish girl at the bar.  In a very English comedy kind of way, an average looking English dude came to take my order while the picturesque couple switched to Spanish and ignored everyone else in the bar, even though Italian Stallion was on the clock…So average dude’s name was John.  John the bartender became a fast friend that night, since I am now That Person Alone At The Bar.

After my first pint, the St. Peter’s Best Bitter, I was ready to talk beer with Señor John.  All the cask ales on draft there were from St. Peter’s brewery.  And try them all, I did.  John was very chill about letting me taste the beers first, just as any bartender might be, but a taste tended to be about 4 oz of beer.  Over the course of the night, I bought 3 pints of beer but probably drank 5. It wasn’t my fault; John said from the outset that English cask ale is meant to be had about 10 of.  That just kind of sat at the back of my head the whole night.  The beers I tried included the Best Bitter I mentioned, a St. Peter’s Mild, a St. Peter’s Porter, a St. Peter’s Grapefruit Ale, a St. Peter’s IPA, and a St. Peter’s Ruby Red Ale.

The beer I was most surprised to enjoy was the grapefruit beer.  I like fruit beers, but I’m wary of them, because they often taste bitchy. This grapefruit ale was actually really refreshing and citrus-y.  I think it was cool because the smell of grapefruit really livened up a pale ale that was being served close to room temperature.  Maybe I should take a second to introduce the idea of cask ale, for those of you who don’t know the ways.

Cask/real ale is a style of beer rooted in English tradition.  Basically, instead of a brewery force-carbonating and kegging their beer, the brewery will “prime” their beer with sugar and yeast to facilitate natural carbonation, and then the beer will be served out of a cask in a direct draw pump.  That means the beer continues to change over the course of its useful life, drying out more toward the end, and morphing flavors slightly over time.  The beer is not refrigerated, so it comes out closer to 60 degrees F–something offensive to many people who aren’t used to it.  Those who appreciate cask ale are said to think of its changes like a change in the weather.  Maybe the ale isn’t as good one day over another day, but it’s just a fact of life.  John definitely had opinions about which beers were doing the best the day I was there.  It’s kind of like aged cheeses, if you can think of it from that perspective–sometimes a harder, crumbly bloomy-rinded goat cheese is good, but of course everyone loves it the more it ripens and gets all gooey and dank and delicious.  These are living foods, so we have to recognize them as such.

After drinking those beers in addition to other classic English cask ales, I joined the side of the divide that likes cask ale.  It reminds me of a Spring day; it’s not cold but not overly warm.  It’s refreshing but not overtly quenching.  Restrained hopiness and maltiness allow you to just sit and think about other things as you drink it as opposed to getting punted in the mouth by an American Double IPA, for example.  That’s what this beer is for.  Drinking while hanging out and shooting the shit with friends or getting some work done.  Or if it’s too early to start drinking and you don’t want to admit you’re about to start drinking anyway.  Most of them hover around 4% ABV, so they really are sessionable beers.

So after I drank more than my fair share of cask ale (learning happens fastest in total immersion), John gave me a free Scotch quail egg, since I had the drunk munchies.  I walked around for a bit after leaving before going home and noticed that the bars and clubs in London close pretty early.  It seemed last call was mostly around 1:00 AM.

The next day, I wandered aimlessly again during the day.  However, I stumbled upon Regent Park, which was a really nice walk.  Later that evening, I had a dinner reservation at St. John, a restaurant I’d been dying to go to since I was about 15 or whatever.  When I got there, I found the interior pretty cool if fairly bare-bones.  I sat down and perused the menu for a while before inevitably ordering the famous bone marrow with parsley salad in addition to mussels with cucumber and dill.  I originally planned on drinking beer with the meal, but the restaurant’s beverage list was 100% wine, so I decided to just let the beer thing go for a night.  I ordered a glass of the house Bordeaux to start, just because I was being super indecisive.

I have to be brutally honest: that wine was really pretty not great.  Besides it just being a little simple and too high in acid, the restaurant really served it too warm.  That was a sad experience for me.  The next glass I ordered, a Provencal red, was better but also far too warm.  Why, St. John?  Why?  Anyway, I didn’t let the wine get me down.  The food was delicious.

The mussels dish was really fresh and so up my alley.  I don’t know what to say about it besides…how could chilled mussels with cucumbers, dill, capers, and vinaigrette be bad?  It was definitely one of those dishes that reminds us that simple is often better.  So did the bone marrow.  What is better than hot, fatty cow substance spread on toast with coarse salt, parsley, shallots, and capers?  This is one of those dishes that’s kind of not fair.  I mean, when you have bone marrow, it’s kind of a gimme.  You just put it in the oven and know someone’s going to have beef fat dripping down their chin with a stupid smile on in a short period of time.  That’s just a life fact.  And I was the goof smiling that night.

On my way to dinner, I was having a cynical discussion with myself in my mind about the institution of dessert.  Where did it come from?  Why do people want to eat random sweet food after having a full meal?  “I want diabetes after I finish my dinner,” said no one ever.  Well…the answer came to me in the form of eccles cake with Lancashire cheese.  It was my waitress’s suggestion.  Looking back, I just don’t quite know what happened.  It came out with the Balvenie 12 year old Scotch I ordered, and I kind of just went crazy on it.  I’ll admit it was my first time with an eccles cake…But I will never see life the same again.

It’s just a pastry filled with spiced dried currants, but it was so damn good.  With the cheese, it was just so fucking delicious.  It reminded me of the holidays, but I don’t even care it’s July right now.  Any time my mouth is like twerking after eating something, I’m open to the situation.  Anyway, I left feeling like a whale.

The next night, I went out to some bars with a group of girls from my hostel.  It was a good-ish time, but I spent about $90 on drinks without successfully getting trashed, and these betches were a little crazy.  Not that they could out-drink me or anything.  Definitely not that.  I just didn’t expect a group of 26-year olds with lives to act like they were in high school.  It made me question all those young teachers I had in elementary school.  Were they out hooking up with random dudes at bars while I was at soccer practice on the weekends?  I shudder to think.  Anyway, moving on.

Yesterday was my last day in London, and I just didn’t do much of anything.  I had a beer and a sandwich only to make up for the previous night’s wonky spending situation.  And then I went to see “Thriller,” this Michael Jackson musical.  By myself.  And that is when I knew it was time to leave London.

The moral of the story is: cask ale is good and don’t expect 26-year-old girls to know shit about life or even heavy drinking for that matter.

Hello, Brussels.


My Hero in the Dog Days of Summer: Beer

7 Aug

Oh, beer.  How you are cold on a hot summer day; how you add flavor to the final days of this season.

I’m not talking about Keystone Light or any related beers produced in the piss style.  This summer, I have been enjoying various beers made with care in microbreweries across the U.S.  Of course, there’s nothing better than a nice cold one on a hot day, but for me, the flavor is just as important as the temperature (as I hope is the case for most people).  Admittedly a stout girl (with respect to the beer–not my size), I tend to lean towards the heavier beers.  However, any beer made well that has great flavor is a friend of mine.  The wheaty hefeweizens can be lighter and less heavy. Meanwhile, certain IPAs have made turned me into a believer; I used to find IPAs on the cliche side.  I have also developed a passion for red ales, with their deep, alluring hue and equally pleasing flavor.  All in all, my summer with beer has been a good one.

Let’s start with my old time favorite: Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout.  I couldn’t ask for more in a beer.  Sam Smith’s (Do you mind if I call you Sam, Samuel?) is a dark, delicious beauty.  It’s malty flavors are deep but not overpowering, not too sweet, and not too heavy.  The beer is toasty, as if it wants to comfort you from all your troubles.  And it is just plain tasty.  Recently, in a cheese and wine/beer pairing I did, I paired Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout with Stinking Bishop cheese.  The combination was intense–a bold beer with a super-bold cheese, but most of the tasters said that without the beer, they would not have liked the cheese.  It was a match made in heaven!  Just like a couple can look cute as long as one person is a looker, Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout can make many interesting flavors sing.

Now, onto wheat beers–those bready yet light beers so well suited for summer.  Although these beers are sometimes too bready tasting for me, they also hit the spot when I’m looking for a light and less sweet brew.  One of the nicest wheat beers I’ve tried this summer is Magic Hat’s Circus Boy (brewed with lemongrass).  It has a light lemony scent that harmonizes perfectly with the wheaty taste.  Perhaps my favorite thing about Circus Boy is that it isn’t too wheaty.  Some beers taste like straight up bread, while Circus boy offers a pleasant hint of bread.  In the end, this edition of Magic Hat is a perfect example of how a hefeweizen can be welcome on a hot, unbearable day.

Now for my summer lesson: IPAs can be much more than a lightish-hued beer with mad hops.  Two great IPAs, albeit IPAs unlike many others, are Bear Republic Brewing Co.’s Hop Rod Rye IPA and Piraat Ale, by Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Belgium.  Both of these beers have intense flavor, powerful levels of alcohol, and the ability to turn a boring day into a great one.  The Hop Rod Rye IPA is darker with a small head, and as it names suggests, the beer is made with a higher percentage of rye.  It tastes hard core; the slightly bitter and spicy flavors remind me of the divide between lovers of white bread and lovers of rye bread.  Certainly, those white bread fans are out drinking a very light and crisp IPA as I, a fan of dark rye bread, would relish tilting back one of these Hop Rod Rye’s.  Just as a good dark rye is a bread of survivors, like the many Eastern Europeans who have eaten it in trying times, Hop Rod Rye is the beer of the man who knows what flavor, hardiness, and nourishment will get him through the tough times.  Hop Rod Rye is a friend of mine.

Onto the Piraat Ale.  Admittedly, I bought this beer for three reasons, two of which were silly ones: 1) I like pirates, 2) 10.5% alcohol by volume.  The third reason, that I like Belgian Beers, was relatively legitimate.  I was pleasantly surprised by the beer’s flavor when I tried it.  The beer was bitter with hints of citrus.  It also had a beautifully hazy orange color.  When I looked up the beer online, many beer fans had commented that Piraat Ale seems more like a Belgian tripel than an IPA.  Well, either way, it was yummy.  So yummy that a forty went down smoothly, with its not-too-complex yet enticing taste.

Last but not least, the red ales.  This style of beer is basically a trap.  Not liking red ale is nearly impossible, no matter how much a person claims to hate beer.  With its caramel undertones, hypnotizingly rich color, nuttiness, and light fruit notes, how could anyone be a hater?  After trying Red Rooster Ale, from Heartland Brewing Co., my sister (not a big fan of beer) claimed to like it!  Another red ale I tried recently was Red Rocket Ale, by Bear Republic Brewing Co., the same brewers who make Hop Rod Rye.  This red ale is a bit different; the label describes it as a “bastardized Scottish style red ale”.  It is bastardized.  When very cold, the nut and caramel flavors take a back seat to citrus and flower aromas and a bitter, bracing flavor.  However, when the beer begins to warm to cellar temperature, the sweet nutty and toffee notes become more apparent.  Flavors of butter and oranges seem present on the palate no matter what the temperature, however.  For me, this beer is like an interesting boyfriend: it has good qualities that endure, but it’s always surprising you with interesting complexities.  Go buy this beer now and enjoy it with a good gouda cheese, french fries with malt vinegar, or even pecan pie.

Damn.  So many beers and so little time.  Are you a person who “doesn’t like beer”?  I suggest you retract your badittude and get your ass on trying some truly hand-crafted microbrews.  Not only will you be doing yourself a favor, but you will be stimulating the American economy with your purchase.  Now get to it!  And for those of you who need no cajoling to get your beer on, I hope you try some of the suggestions I made; they aren’t to be missed.