It means nothing to me…or does it?

It means nothing to me…or does it?

To cut a long story short, if beer is punk then cocktail beers could be the new romantics of our time,
as Anthony Gladman discovers

 

Above the houses a long line of human figures is silhouetted by lights, bright in the rainy dusk. They stand on the raised platform like statues looking down from their niches as I approach from below, a pilgrim nearing his journey’s end. A train speeds behind them. In the archways beneath there is a taproom.

I have come for cocktail beers. The bar in the arch next door serves actual cocktails. But here I am, glasses spangled and misting, ordering a kettle sour that’s been made to taste like a martini at half the price and a fraction of the ABV. It’s one of two cocktail flavoured sours on tonight. The other is inspired by a Manhattan. Both are available by the pint for masochists or the unwary, but I’ll stick to a half. I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather be having a pale ale on cask or a proper martini next door.

Often, when a beer tastes like spirits, it’s the result of hunkering down in wooden barrels and picking up the ways of the previous occupant. That’s for the heavy-hitting beers though. This one is fresh and dainty. It swirls with lime and botanical flavours, its sourness tempered. Without knowing, I ask myself, would I guess this was meant to be a martini?

People come, people go; a post-work parade ducking out of the rain for one drink on the way home. The young woman at the other end of my table sniffs over her novel, head resting on one hand, elbow on the table. A bearded 30-something pays for drinks with his phone. Which of these drinkers are those cocktail beers for?

Cocktails are adult playtime writ large. Creative, showy, sophisticated, exotic. And strong. They’re not for workaday drinking. Cocktail beers have got my mind muddled. This martini beer, I could be disappointed that it’s not a cocktail or I could embrace and enjoy it for what it is: an homage. A fun experiment. A brewer’s flourish. The trill of a violin breaking free from dutiful scales and arpeggios.

New to the table, a mismatched couple grinds through a bad first date. He asks what her favourite thing is only to take the piss out of it. His conversation brims with ego and extremes. Everything he asks her is secretly about himself. Is my drink all about the cocktail or the beer? It leaves me with more questions than answers.

I try the Manhattan sour next. It is a deep ruby red, lustrous and enticing in its glass. It has more or less the mix of flavours you would expect; the vermouth and bitters plus a cherry on top, but no whiskey kick.

I drink. I muse. The red concrete floor is stippled with black. Distressed trestle tables. Bare wood and corrugated white steel. The rumble of wheels overhead. Oversized bulbs dangling on thick black wire. My tongue explores a tooth and finds a ghostly maraschino cherry. It’s in the aftertaste that these beers really pull off their trick. Phantoms of spirits whirl around my palate. Chimeras of mixed drinks conjured by the brewer’s art. Castles in the air. Gone as fast as they appeared. Leaving just an impression. It’s clever, but is it good?

 Before too long the couple are both hiding behind their phones. Then come accusations of mansplaining, more forced attempts at humour, and finally an apology of sorts. They’re gone five minutes later and I still don’t know what I think of the beer. It’s clever, certainly. And pleasant to drink. And without play and experimentation nothing moves along. Still I’m left feeling that cocktail beers fall between two stools.

 Then again why not? The place has dozens of taps, a couple of hand pumps, fridges. There are plenty of beers here that ‘taste like beer’. Why shouldn’t there be one or two that strain at the leash? No one’s forcing you to drink them.

Eventually the coming and going slows. Drinkers settle in for a Thursday night session, grabbing chips and burgers from the food truck outside to line their stomachs. I head back out into the rain, the ghost of a manhattan on my lips, cocktails swirling in my mind.


Gateway to heaven

Gateway to heaven

Much is made about gateway beers, though what about punk as a gateway music to a world of different sounds, movies, authors, and even clothes styles? That’s what Adrian Tierney-Jones reckons anyway

 

I have of late come to the conclusion that punk is what Blue Moon is to beer. 

It’s a gateway music, whose noise and fury and DIY ethos opened up my mind and many others’ to different sounds, aspects of culture, movies, authors, clothes styles and just a way of living your life. It was not a full-point but the opening of a book, a chapter, an essay, a song cycle. And then I went exploring. 

When I now listen to the music I worshipped after ditching flares and long hair for Levi’s drainpipes and a spiky, short-haired barnet, I just hear nostalgia and music that set me on the way. Yes, there’s a certain frisson in hearing the tinny dramatics of the Clash’s first LP or the drone of the Buzzcocks’ Boredom, but it’s my youth and I’m not young. 

More positively, I also hear music that brought me to Joy Division, Franz Kafka, semiotics and Elizabeth David (I was already with the Stooges, MC5 and Motown). Heaven knows I might have been miserable without punk’s clearing of the way and still be listening to prog rock (gulp). 

All this is why I have never felt that destroyed or bothered when a certain Scottish band, sorry I mean brewery, does something its fans declare to be un-punk (talking of which Punk IPA seems to have become a gateway beer). Was it John Lydon who yelled at the final Pistols’ concert: ‘ever got the feeling you’ve been had!’ Mind you, PIL’s Metal Box was fantastic. I digress. 

What do we mean by gateway beers? For some, they are beers that are not explosively flavoured and certainly not on-trend opportunities for Instagram or Twitter, though some contrary souls might like the idea of letting the world know how down with the people they are as they pose next to a man-sized can of Blue Moon (surely there must be one). 

So that means gateway beers are mass-marketed beers, produced by a large brewing operation? Anheuser-Busch as EMI, Heineken (think Maltsmiths) as CBS. That’s easy and worth a punk-like sneer. However they can also be part of a smaller brewery’s portfolio, a seductive outreach to the beer-drinker who always plumps for a pint or glass of the same. 

They can be beers as different as the aforementioned Blue Moon’s Belgian witbier, a pleasant and inoffensive thirst-quencher, or instead Thornbridge’s Tart, an ideal starter sour beer for anyone who pulls a sour face at the very idea. 

Without punk, though, would we have had Burning Sky, for instance (there might be no Original Gravity either or dirty burgers). For founder and owner Mark Tranter, punk ‘was about doing it for yourself, about being able to take control and operate independently, to make what you want to make, regardless of outside influences. I also liked the sort of misfit nature of it, the ideas, the music, aesthetics and the fact that although the first wave of punk quickly became a commercial operation, what happened afterwards was more of a network of friends, going DIY, fans doing fanzines.’

Which was presumably why he left Dark Star and set up Burning Sky, whose beers are some of the most creative and boldly flavoured in the country. Could the likes of Coolship #1 and Saison à la Provision be called gateway beers? Possibly, but only In the same way Cantillon Gueuze was my gateway to that most enigmatic and envious of beer styles, Gueuze.  

On the other hand, I would like to think that Tranter’s custodianship of Hop Head down through the years made it into a gateway beer. Punk as what Hop Head is to beer? That’s more like it.  


The imperfect smile of beer

The imperfect smile of beer

About to ’gram that beer and post it online? Don’t. Beer, like punk, like the beer-drinker, is imperfect and that’s the way Jessica Mason likes it

 

I’ve poured out a beer and set it upon the table beside its bottle. And, although I can tell that this composition is visually pleasing, my lonely beer looks back at me, despondently. The shadow, created by the glass and the sunlight from a nearby window is beautiful. No one can deny that. Aesthetically, the scene is perfect. So perfect in fact that I immediately photograph it.

But beer isn’t about all of this, is it? It isn’t about staged images. Beer is the opposite. It’s chaotic enjoyment. It’s chatter. It’s the spill of a pour. Or the way a flavour can linger and dance on your tongue and provoke a memory or a thought that can make you stand up, leave a room or talk and talk and talk with enthusiastic glee. 

Beer is not a flat image. It is too multi-faceted for filters. It’s the eye contact made over clinked glasses. It’s the start of the evening. It’s the end of the night. A comfort for a lonely heart. A day trip for the taste buds. Beer has the unique quality of reflecting real life (with all its ups, downs and sideways glances) with a fistful of emotions that can raise a smile. It isn’t neat, or preening. It’s why I like it so much.

So, I destroy the scene. And, suddenly, with its positioning now not being choreographed for anyone else but me, it makes me beam an anarchistic grin. My glass leaves an imperfect ring of wetness upon the table. And, I put some music on. Loudly. I’ve heard it once said that imperfection is a form of freedom. And it is something that I can’t seem to forget.  

I’m not keen on sparseness. I find it lacks the authenticity of the accidental. I find it clinical. And a little contrived.  Others, I know, find clean empty spaces calming. Orderly, in fact. Some say that kind of thing helps them to relax. But that isn’t the case with me. I’d rather loll on a battered sofa than perch upon a high stool. And I wonder — am I part of a misfit generation? Part analogue, part digital: a contumacious anachronistic punk. Someone who longs for the confines of an old boozer more than the pretension of bar glamour. A place where things make sense.

I miss the winding of spools on that once much-loved mix tape. Or doctoring the errant tear in a cigarette paper with careful Rizla origami. I look for the imperfections. Always. Because, I want to see life in everything. In beer. In people. I want the unvarnished truth. The unfiltered and the honest.

I look around my tiny kitchen and it makes me smile. Pans hang, books crowd shelves, the wooden table surface is uneven. An immortal voice belts out gravelly lyrics from a nearby speaker. There is distortion. All of it is over-the-top delinquency.

And my beer waits. Its head quivering amidst the din. It looks appealing. And I love this beer, I really do. It’s asymmetrically exquisite. Soft and full. Rich and moreish. All the contradictions. 

Pour yourself a beer now. Any favourite beer.  Your favourite beer. And reread from the top. Each time a sentence begins with a word someone might have declared against the rules of grammar, take a sip of your beer. And allow yourself a mutinous grin. 

Because we’re renegades. The lot of us. We are rule-breakers. We are beer drinkers. And, sometimes, simple is dull. And tasteful is, paradoxically, empty. And it is no bad thing to crave a little florid complexity now and again. Especially if it keeps life interesting.


Making beer on the Savage Mountain

MAKING BEER ON THE SAVAGE MOUNTAIN

Mountaineer Alan Hinkes OBE is the only Brit to have climbed all 14 8,000 metre peaks, and a beer aficionado. He remembers elaborate plots to find beer in Pakistan, and home brewing at 5,300 metres

The region above 8,000m on the highest mountains in the world such as Everest and K2 is known as the ‘death zone’. It is the most inhospitable environment on the planet, impossible for human beings to survive there for more than a couple of days. Life expectancy can be measured in hours. The oxygen-depleted air is too thin, the atmospheric air pressure too low. Being at extreme altitude is unpleasant and dangerous, and the ability to tolerate suffering and hardship is essential. There is very little anyone can do to help or rescue someone from the death zone. It is too high for helicopters. In the death zone you are on your own.

Usually beer is a long way away both physically and in my desires when I am climbing an 8,000-metre mountain. However, back down in base camp, on the trek in or in Kathmandu it is another matter. A relaxing beer can be a tonic to the soul, or a taste of success after a successful climb.

The savage mountain

K2, known as The Savage Mountain because of its tragic reputation, took me three attempts over three years. On the first attempt I abandoned a summit bid to rescue an injured climber whose partner had already died. On the second attempt I backed off five hours from the summit because I thought the conditions were too dangerous and the snow and ice slope was about to avalanche. And it did killing a climber and badly injuring another. I have always said that no mountain is worth a life, coming back is a success and the summit is only a bonus. I climb to live, not to die.

Back in base camp after my success, I shared a few cans of European beer with some Dutch friends on another expedition. They had portered a 25kg load of beer 14 days from the road head to base camp. The cans of Kronenberg and Heineken were very welcome on the bare glacier ice of base camp at 5,200m.

Most ascents of K2 are from the south Pakistan side of the mountain. Pakistan is essentially a beer desert, with no bars or pubs except in the Embassies and High Commissions in Islamabad. Ironically there is still a brewery there. The Murree Brewery was established in 1860 and still produces the Murree Beer. It’s very difficult to procure and the process involves obtaining a permit as a non-Muslim. Sometimes I would visit friends in the diplomatic area and join in Hash House Harrier runs – always ending in a beer session – usually cans of Australian VB, Fosters or, if I was lucky, bottles of Murree. I remember it as a light amber beer in a clear glass pint bottle, easily drinkable and refreshing.

Home brew at 5,200m

My second expedition to K2 was to the North face in China – and there is plenty of good beer available in China. This expedition was in the 1990s and most of the beer was in 600ml green or brown crown-capped bottles, allegedly made with German collaboration. The expedition was to be five months long and involved 12 days of trekking, so we decided to brew our own beer at base camp at 5300m.

We took in home brew kits, some extra hops and powdered malt. The temperature at base camp can drop to -20C but inside the mess tent where we brewed the beer, it could peak over+20C. The logistics of brewing were difficult; we had to boil the wort in batches over kerosene stoves. Once the yeast was pitched, we nurture the fermentation in a big dustbin sized blue barrel, usually used for chemicals and keeping loads dry en route. It was a challenge trying to keep the fermenting beer cool inside the mess tent if it was a hot day and then having to insulate it with spare sleeping bags overnight. It was worth it though and we enjoyed freshly brewed beer in one of the most remote places on the planet, in the Karakoram Mountains of Central Asia. Sir Francis Younghusband and all those chaps playing the Great Game in the late 18th and early 20th century would have been proud of us. Indeed, they were beer fans too.

In 1895, the British mountaineer Albert Mummery was the first to attempt a 8000m peak, Nanga Parbat, which is now in Pakistan. En route to base camp, in the wilds of the Indian sub-continent, he came across an acquaintance Colonel Bruce who had a case of Bass Pale Ale with him. They drank the beer and did what chaps do. Try finding Bass Pale Ale now or any other beer in that part of Pakistan now. How times change!

Not that I’m beyond a bit of willing when it comes to beer. On one expedition, to Makalu the fifth highest mountain in Nepal, I helicoptered a couple of cases of local beer into 5,600m. OK, it wasn’t just a beer drop; I was having food supplied too, but sometimes on a sub-zero night at base camp I would mull over a mug of beer; a relaxing, soporific nightcap at high altitude.

For me, a pint of beer after a day on the fells or rock climbing on the crags is almost an institution. It is refreshing and isotonic, it contains minerals, iron, vitamin B, fluid and carbohydrate (in moderation of course – a gallon of beer will negate any of benefits!). It’s hard to beat a good day out in the hills rounded off by a nice pint of beer, cask or craft – no matter what the altitude.

8,000 Metres: Climbing the World’s Highest Mountains by Alan Hinkes is out now, published by Cicerone.


LONDON FIELDS BREWERY – ART BEER VISUALS

LONDON FIELDS BREWERY – ART BEER VISUALS

Join the London Fields Brewery team for the return of their craft beer art exhibition, Art Beer Visuals (ABV), where a number of artists and breweries from across London will be exhibiting their work, in partnership with Kill Me Now gallery. 

With the first edition focusing on international breweries and artists, the second ABV will focus specifically on London breweries, with a strong emphasis on graphics and design. Each London brewery in the show has collaborated with an artist to create an artwork, which will be on display and available to purchase from the two-day event at London Fields Brewery’s Light Arch. London Fields Brewery has joined forces again with London based pop artist and psychedelic illustrator Luke Mclean. Other breweries included in the ABV2 event include; Affinity Brew CoBrick Brewery, BeavertownMondo Brewing CoSignature Brew and Wild Card Brewing Company, to name a few.

Special edition cans and bottles of the beers related to the artworks will also be available to purchase. London Fields Brewery and Brooklyn Brewery beers will be served throughout the evening, as well as specials and small batches beers from the other breweries at the event.

To set the atmosphere on the night, a special crew will be on the decks throughout the evening.

 

Details:  

Date: Thursday 27th and Friday 28th June

Time: 4:00 – 11:00pm

Venue: LFB Light Arch, 369-370 Hemsley Pl, London, E8 3SB

Price: Free


Read Original Gravity Issue 22 here for free

READ ISSUE 22 FOR FREE HERE

Our ‘Flight’ edition takes to the skies with some of our best writing to date. Take a look

Flight: there are several meanings to this issue’s theme. You could, like Katie Taylor (p22), go on an airplane, but given that she’s scared of flying the crowded airport bar is a refuge, her last chance to drink a beer on solid ground. Then there is the idea of fleeing somewhere, taking refuge, which for Laura Hadland (p20) is the post-work railway bar, a liminal space that provides enough breathing space and perspective to put the working day to bed peaceably.

Finally, from a personal perspective, my flight to Paris (p18), fleeing a broken relationship and a crap job, would bring me face to face with a beer style that years later would still call out to me. Add to this Nottingham (p28) and Pete Brown’s defence of intoxication (p26), as well as our usual reviews and whimsy, and there’s an Original Gravity that can be a much-valued companion in your flight from day-to-day life.

Ad astra.

Adrian Tierney-Jones, Editor

 

 


ANATOMY OF …. BOCK

ANATOMY OF … BOCK

There’s something so comforting and willing about a bock’s capacity to please the palate. It majors in malt, holds back the hop and summons up the sight and sound of an ancient Bavarian tavern whose regulars drink and sing deeply before sleeping the sleep of the just back in their neat farmhouse. Darkness is its friend, dark chestnut or dark amber, though Hellerbock is a light-coloured bock with a nod in the direction of noble hops (you could also argue that it is really a Maibock). It’s a beer you drink in half-litres, rather than thimbles. It’s also a noble beer, with which monks allegedly subsisted on during Lent (much better than water and crackers I suspect).  ATJ

STRENGTH

Traditional bocks usually flex their pecs between 6-7.5%, as do Hellerbocks, though a Doppelbock is a usually a beast of a beer up to 9%.

FLAVOUR

Given the use of Munich and Vienna malts, bocks are toasty, creamy, smooth and chocolaty, with a hint of mocha and/or caramel; hop bitterness is low and the finish can often have a subtle sweetness.

APPEARANCE

Aside from the gold-hued Hellerbock, traditional bock seeks darkness as its friend, ranging from a dark copper to a chestnut brown reminiscent of a well-aged sideboard that a relative left to you.

HISTORY

Einbeck in Lower Saxony is the place where it’s generally thought bock first emerged in the Middle Ages, though in the 18th century it become more associated with Munich and the beer for local monks.

AKA

Many of the stronger bocks such as Celebrator (see below) have a ‘tor’ added to the end of their brand name.  

FOOD

A very adaptable beer style, which can be swigged on its own, or served alongside a grilled sirloin; bock is also good with cheese, something like a well-aged Gouda or Gruyere.

WHERE TO DRINK

If you can find a pub or bar that treats German beer serious, then bock should be present in winter. A small but growing number of Brit breweries make a bock.  

WEIRD FACT

The best-selling Portuguese beer in the world is Super Bock, which as anyone who has been to Portugal knows is a – wait for it – pale lager.


The Art Of Beer ... High Weald Brewery

THE ART OF BEER … HIGH WEALD BREWERY

England was forged on the iron of the High Weald. Where today are serene woodlands, gentle hills and commuter towns, The Weald once panted the puff of bellows and breathed the fire of the bloomeries and blast furnaces. The wealth of Wealden iron was first identified in prehistoric times, and its use was hugely expanded during Roman times with more than 100 sites around the Sussex & Kent Weald. By the 1600s, the industry was in full swing – England needed cannons, and the ochre stone of the Weald provided it. The fuel for smelting this iron was charcoal, which had an abundant source in the area’s heavy woods.

Today, it’s more often steam carrying the smells of barley and hops that waft into the Sussex air. In a part of the country curiously lacking an abundance of breweries, Andy Somerville saw an opportunity to expand his part-time nano-brewery High Weald, and in November 2015 he launched his three core beers in bottle. Chronicle is a delightfully drinkable 3.8% Sussex Bitter and Greenstede (the original name of East Grinstead where the brewery is based) is a golden ale at 4%, but the one that first caught our attention at the Great British Beer Festival is Charcoal Burner, an lucious oatmeal stout.

“The High Weald has an old, ancient feel to it,” explains Andy “It’s an evocative name and I wanted the artwork to reflect that. And it’s important to look good. You’ve got to pull them in with the art and then hook them with the beer.”

The brewery were already using a hammer and anvil as their logo, but it wasn’t until designer Will Parr showed Andy the potential for the brand by adding a distinctive character. “We went for the most out-there option he presented,” says Andy. “It had skeletons riding chickens – who could resist that?”

Will had worked with many breweries, creating some of the most identifiable beers on the shelves, before setting up Studio Parr in Sussex. “I started out on my own in order to talk directly to some of the UK’s most exciting craft brewers, I saw something in the early labels of High Weald that I liked, but more importantly the beers were really good.”

Charcoal Burner is a great oatmeal stout, full of flavour and life, and the first that Andy and Will worked on. “The area is so rich in history that we could build on to add in characters,” explains Will. “All of the stories on the bottles are based on Anglo Saxon folklore. It could be a battle or the wheat workers being chased by the ‘charcoal burner’.  A quirky English lion was too good an opportunity to miss to use for Chronicle and the skeletal characters we have are reminiscent of those in Anglo-Saxon folklore, but we have a bit of fun with them. Those on the Chronicle label are having a piss-up in the brewery!”

High Weald’s beers are resolutely English. “We’re using really good English hops,” Andy says. “They’re more complex and the flavours change and develop. English hops are more of a watercolour than modern art. And there are some really interesting English hops coming through, such as Jester. We’re looking at doing a 6% IPA with tons of English hops, and also a hefeweizen. With every beer, we want to tell a different story”.   DN

/  highwealdbrewery.co.uk

/ studioparr.co.uk


The big picture

THE BIG PICTURE

The Big Picture is a series that focuses on one single image. It doesn’t have to be beautifully shot, but it tells a story.

You’re never far from a pub in London, but some stand head and shoulders above the rest. Every summer my friend Lee and I spend a weekend exploring the capitals boozers and bars. Sometimes we’re disappointed, but more usually

we’re reassured by what we find. Sometimes we’re even enraptured – as we were by the Nag’s Head in Belgravia. It’s in a mews round the back of the corkingly posh Berkeley Hotel, all toffee-coloured panelling, faded Punch cartoons and dangling brass nick-nacks. This a freehouse with a fondness for Suffolk legends Adnams, pulled from century-old Chelsea china pumps by the charming Noreen, pictured here. It’s singular, eccentric and a very welcome escape from the draining bustle of central London. It’s a pub where one swift pint can easily become several slow ones.  

You may know Gareth Dobson as Teninchwheels from Twitter. He’s also a beer and brewery photographer / beershots.co.uk


HOW TO JUDGE BEER

HOW TO JUDGE BEER

You’ve been to a meet the brewer event or punctiliously taken notes at a beer festival and then like Saul on the road to Damascus you realise you would like to learn how to taste beer, appreciate it, know what you are talking about and become a beer judge. So what do you do?

Of course, you could take a course with the Beer Academy with its How to Judge Beer module; you could take online papers with the BJCP (Beer Judge Certificate Program). Or you could read a lot of books and blogs on beer and find out how beer writers and bloggers get to become judges. It’s not rocket science, but experience and knowledge gained from brewers and other writers can be as worth as much as any certificate (my first judging gig was in 2000 and I was placed next to Michael Jackson — no pressure then).

Here in a few words is an idiot’s guide to tasting beer, which you might or might not want to carry on forward. So how to taste it, how to know what you’re looking for? Is it as easy as falling off a log or something more ambitious? Surely, say those with a penchant for a pint, beer is a matter of mere swigging, a matter of hanging out with your mates, taking a deep draught and declaiming Brian Blessed-style, ‘by God that’s a good pint’?

That’s true to a point — pontificating on the white pepper notes in your glass is the sign of a show-off. However, the beer drinker can have a discerning palate as much as the wine sipper.

Here’s how

1 Look at the beer. It should be clear (unless it’s a wheat beer or unfined).

2 Judge a beer’s condition by assessing its liveliness — let it dance lightly on the tongue.

3 Note the beer’s colour, which varies according to the malt used.

4 Swirl the beer around to release the aromas and perk up the flavour. Malt might suggest dried fruit, coffee beans, biscuit, smoke, Ovaltine, chocolate, toffee or caramel. Hop-led aromas are fruity, resiny, aromatic, citrusy, peppery, herbal, spicy, lemony and floral. It’s possible to pick out Seville orange marmalade (sometimes lime), juicy grapefruit and tropical fruits such as lychees, passion fruit, mango or papaya). With stronger beers yeast esters add their own complexities such as tropical fruit, banana, apricot skin or a spritzy feel.

5 Taste the beer. Concentrate on the flavour sensations you pick up. Some beers come bearing plenty of fruity flavour, others boast rich, malty savours. What is the essence of the beer in your mouth? Is it smooth, tingling, grainy, thin, acidic or chewy?

6 Does it make you want to reach for the sky when jotting a score? If it should then congratulations, you have just tasted a winner.  

For details on the Beer Academy’s judging beer courses for to www.ibd.org.uk/about-us/beer-academy; meanwhile details on the BCJP can be found at www.bjcp.org.