Fyne Ales reveals new look and first canned beers

 FYNE ALES REVEALS NEW LOOK AND FIRST CANNED BEERS

Independent Scottish brewery Fyne Ales has unveiled an updated brand identity and outlined plans to introduce new products to its core range, including two canned beers.

Fyne Ale’s new look, set to be rolled out in the coming weeks, draws inspiration from its farm brewery status and rural location on a 4500-acre estate at the head of Loch Fyne. Not only will the brewery’s current core range, including flagship pale ale Jarl, be updated, but three beers have been added to the Fyne Ales’ year-round brews.

From December 2018, the Argyll brewery’s Workbench, a 5.5% IPA, and Easy Trail, a 4.2% session IPA, will be available in 330ml cans, and North West, a New Zealand-hopped lager will join them as a permanent keg offering.

“Fyne Ales has always been recognised for the diversity and quality of our beers, but the look and feel of our brand put us at risk of falling behind in this fast-moving industry,” commented Fyne Ales managing director, Jamie Delap. “We set out to create a new identity that better tells the story of who we are and where we come from, but also reflects our ambitions as a modern, progressive brewery.”

Fyne Ales partnered with Glasgow brand and design consultants O Street for the project, working closely with them to create the new look – each beer features stylised textures created using photography from the brewery’s farm estate, chosen to help tell the story of the beer and brewery.

“We’re proud to be a farm brewery; being a working farm in such a historic, beautiful and isolated location is part of everyday life at Fyne Ales,” commented Fyne Ales marketing manager Iain Smith on the new designs. “O Street has created a unique, striking brand identity that celebrates our provenance and we can’t wait to showcase it across our core beers and introducing Workbench and Easy Trail cans.”

Fyne Ales, which launched its small-batch farmhouse and mixed fermentation brewing project, Origins Brewing, in 2017, believes the new, more rustic branding will appeal to its current followers and new drinkers alike. 

The brewery also revealed details of three bottled limited specials which will debut with the new branding – Remote Parts, a 7% West Coast IPA brewed in collaboration with Cigar City Brewery; Perfect Silence, a 6.9% red IPA and an 11.1% bourbon barrel-aged version of Brouwerij De Molen collaboration imperial stout, Mills & Hills. All three will be available in 330ml bottles later this month, with Remote Parts also available in keg and Perfect Silence in keg and cask.

The new beers and updated branding will be supported with an ongoing sales and marketing strategy designed to increase brand and product awareness and increase the availability of the brewery’s beers. Activity begins today, with the launch of a new Fyne Ales website.


The Q&A Robert Middleton, Founder of London brewer Orbit

THE Q&A

Robert Middleton, Founder of London brewer Orbit

You’ve recently changed the brewery’s branding. Why?

We wanted our new branding to better represent who we are, what we stand for, our personality. We also wanted it to communicate all of that more strongly to the customer. We’re committed to making timeless styles with an eye for balance and finesse, we strongly value our independence and we love music. We really hope people love our new branding as much as we do.

Which beer of yours gets you thinking ‘yeah, I’m glad I am a brewer’?

That would have to be our Kölsch, Nico, which is our take on the traditional beers of Cologne. This beer has so much going on within it – it’s fragrant and light, with beautiful fruity esters from the Kölsch yeast, alongside herbal, slightly spicy Tettnang hops. Clean, balanced, dry and refreshing. Like Altbier, its an Obergäriges Lagerbier – warm fermentation followed by cold conditioning – genius.

What are you listening to at the moment and what is so good about it?

I’ve been hooked by the Lemon Twigs, Methyl Ethel and The Big Moon recently. Original, genuine, creative tunes with personality. Bands doing their own thing in the spirit of independent music. I’m off to End of the Road and Austin City Limits this year, so will hopefully discover some more new music.

You took a van around Scotland and visited loads of breweries — what’s your next expedition? Cycle about London and visiting pubs with Barclay Perkins livery still on them perhaps?

Brewing in London feels like a pretty exciting journey in itself, but we keep the spirit of travel alive with our annual team trips. Cologne, Düsseldorf and Bamberg have featured so far. Looks like Prague is the favourite next time around.

Do you think it takes a certain person to be a brewer and what is that certain something?

I got into brewing primarily because of the brewers I met on my tour. We probably all have our quirks, but share a passion for beer, a desire to create something special and a collaborative nature. It helps to let your heart rule your head most of the time.

Where are you going on holiday this summer?

Actually, we’re off tomorrow in our camper van Brian – star of the Scottish brewery tour. Probably head to France, but the joy of campervanning is that you can enjoy the journey without knowing your exact destination. A bit like starting a brewery.

First publishing in Issue 14 of Original Gravity.


Holding out for a hero

HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO

By Pete Brown

Moving from playground to boardroom to Instagram, Pete Brown charts beer’s journey from hero to zero and back again

1980s

“Did you see it? Did you see it?”

“Stop! Stop! We’re going round in circles!”

We all remember what it was like. You’re 12, and one of the most important veins of playground banter is repeating the latest sketch from your comedy idols. If you weren’t allowed to watch last night’s episode, you are no one. If you can remember more of the lines and catchphrases than anyone else, and get the funny voices right, you’re a classroom god.

Depending on your age, for you, it might have been Monty Python, The Young Ones, The Fast Show or Little Britain.

For me, it was adverts.

In the space between Python and the 1980s alternative comedy boom going mainstream, ads on TV seemed funnier than the programmes. Terry and June may have been critically rehabilitated now, but it was hell to live through the time when it set the standard for sitcoms.

Salvation came in commercial breaks. In the 1980s, it was considered rude to try to sell you something directly, so a good ad would make you laugh, move you or dazzle you, and then politely remind you of the product’s name at the end.

Beer ads bossed the box. Christopher Biggins was a Roman emperor sinking pints of lager; a young Jonathan Ross drank Harp to ‘stay sharp’; and back in ancient Rome, the slaves rowing on one side of a galley were refreshed by Heineken, while those on the other were given ‘another leading lager’, and our school playground had its latest catchphrase.

1990s

“Can we hero the product?”

Around the boardroom table, eyes roll.

Beer ads have had their teeth pulled. The Hofmeister bear has been shot with the fatal dart of regulation. His alleged crime? Being so popular that he made children want to drink beer. He didn’t make me want to drink beer; he made me want to do something far worse.

He made me want to work in advertising.

Fifteen years after chanting Heineken slogans in the playground, I’m in the boardroom of their ad agency. It’s my job to look after the strategic direction of the Heineken and Stella Artois ad campaigns.  

Advertising has a way of mangling the English language. It doesn’t have to invent new words when it’s happy torturing old ones. We often have conversations about who or what the ‘hero’ is in the ad we’re working on. Is it the housewife trying Daz instead of her normal powder? The frog in the Budweiser ad croaking out the brand name? Or could it actually be the product itself?

Inevitably, ‘hero’ becomes a verb as well as a noun. ‘To hero’ the product is to put it centre stage and forget the distractions. Unfortunately, each time we try this with beer, it stands there mute and awkward. No one knows or cares what ‘cold filtered’ means or what ‘dry beer’ is.

Just as I get my chance to work on them, beer ads start getting boring.

2000s

“What’s the point in advertising anyway?”

In the 1980s, there were two commercial channels. Now there are hundreds. Even if you could somehow make a great beer ad, the mass audience that would see it has now shattered into a million fragments.

Instead of wasting money on anodyne ads that no one will see, the great beasts of the beer world now spend their budgets on supermarket price deals.

Where beer was once chosen based on its image, it’s now chosen on price. Instead of being loyal to one brand, there’s a range of ‘acceptable’ brands, and people choose whichever is on the best deal.

2010s

“New England IPA is a product of Instagram culture.”

The words of Garrett Oliver flash across the global beer community thanks to sensationalist reporting of a chat about 2017’s most controversial beer style. Beer writers, bloggers and Instagrammers line up on both sides of a debate about the style’s validity. It’s the biggest argument over beer styles since the spat over whether ‘black IPA’ is a valid style.

Having left advertising and now written on beer for 15 years, I realise that heated conversations about beer styles have been a common theme across all my feeds since 2010. My last book was about beer’s ingredients. Every day on social media, I see professional writers and amateur drinkers alike trying to encapsulate the flavour of the beer they’re drinking.    

Finally, the beer itself has become the hero. The big, commoditised brands that once had heroic advertising still dominate market share, but they look enviously at craft beer, at the buzz of excitement around it. They remember what it was like, and make half-hearted attempts to steal the language of craft, to reflect in its glory. Beer is now bought and drunk on its own merits, rather than because of its manufactured image.

Or is it?

I’ve heard people recently saying that sour beers are ‘over’, despite the fact that there are more excellent examples available than ever. Beers that were once hailed as the world’s best on rating sites have sunk without trace, despite the fact that they haven’t changed. And then there’s the question of New England IPA…

Beer helps us express ourselves and mould our identities. It doesn’t need dancing bears and croaking frogs to do that.

The image of beer is as important as ever, even if it is now based on what’s in the bottle as much as what’s on the label.


First published in Issue 16 of Original Gravity


Beer meets ... cider

BEER MEETS CIDER

Several years ago travellers through the cider-lands of the USA (ok, Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw researching their World’s Best Cider book) came back with reports of hops being added to cider. Just like the reaction to some of the stranger tales in Herodotus’ Histories, hops in cider seem outlandish. However, since then hopped cider has become a familiar sight in the world of craft cider, a spearhead, perhaps of what happens when cider meets beer as this three exemplary examples show.

/ Mills Brewing/Oliver’s Cider, Foxbic 4.7%

Mills Brewing always brew with wild yeasts. For this one, they brewed a pale ale in the lambic style and then fermented it on Tom Oliver’s cider lees (the sediment from the bottom of barrels of fermented cider) for eight months. The result is gently tart, distinctly, without being too sharp.

PB / @MillsBrewing

/ Thornbridge/Brooklyn, Serpent, 9.5%

This started with a Belgian-style golden ale. Then the beer was put into wooden barrels and lees from Tom Oliver’s cider makers added. Lees? These are the naturally formed wild lees created in cider fermentation. After a year’s slumber the beer was bottle conditioned and the result is an elegant and eloquent beer that is tart, vinous, earthy, full-bodied and dry. ATJ

/ thornbridgebrewery.co.uk

/ At The Hop, Oliver’s, 5.5%

Hopped ciders can be pretty vile in the wrong hands, but Tom Oliver has an unequalled grasp of flavour and how to balance it. This medium cider, infused with cascade hops, doesn’t quite taste of cider or beer, but some quite wonderful third dimension in its own right. PB

/ oliversciderandperry.co.uk


Duvel’s Scottish origins

DUVEL’S SCOTTISH ORIGINS

When World War One ended, the Moortgat’s family brewery produced Victory Ale as a way of celebration, a beer that eventually morphed into Duvel in the 1960s. Katrien Bruyland tells the tale of this gorgeous golden ale and reveals a surprising Caledonian connection.  

Albert Moortgat was never expected to become a brewer. That was the job of his eldest brother Joseph, but then in 1914 Joseph passed away. After this sad event, the gossip in Breendonk was that the Moortgats would cease brewing. However, with a determination condemning him to a visionary’s life in Belgian strong ale, Albert swore: ‘Like hell we will!’

‘My grandfather was an open-minded, combative man.’ 

Veerle Baert-Moortgat loves to tell tales of “bompa” Albert Moortgat. A member of Duvel Moortgat Board of Directors, Veerle Baert-Moortgat keeps the fondest memories of the man who gave the beer world a strong blonde devil to dance with. ‘Until I was 16, I spent every weekend at my grandparents in Breendonk. On Sunday, we would rise early for a bike trip. After mass, the men went off to tour the village pubs. At the villa, across the road from the brewery, I waited for what I knew was next. Lunch waiting to be served, my aunt went outside to ring a bell. The men never responded. Every time, I had to go and fetch them. Even as a child, I knew the itinerary. If they weren’t in one pub, I continued to the next. I never failed to find them.’ 

Saint Arnold is the patron saint of Belgian brewers, while Gambrinus a legendary beer-loving king. In Duvel Moortgat’s 1984 comic strip story about the origins of Duvel, the heavens’ lack of tasty beer causes an angelic uproar. It follows paradise’s two biggest beer experts back to earth. Their mission? To find a beer to stop the angels’ mutiny. 

The official Duvel story on the company’s website doesn’t stray far from the romantic comic strip line depicting the family’s story in beer. In his quest to tailor a beer after the First World War, based on the popular ales of Belgian’s British allies, Albert is said to have embarked on an epic journey across the North Sea. In Edinburgh, Younger’s Brewery was said to having shared their yeast with the Belgian visitor, while the story claims Albert returned with the yeast in an aluminium milk jar. 

At less than 30 kilometres from Breendonk, John Martin already imported British beer in 1908. Ten years before the First World War, Younger’s beer was available in Belgium. The strong ale being live beer, it makes no sense that a technically skilled, perfectionist brewer would choose a time-consuming journey to harvest yeast in Edinburgh instead of cultivating yeast from a bottle of imported ale. However, Moortgat worked with Professor P Biourge, a world-renowned yeast expert, who is said to have combined several strains from the Edinburgh yeast to be used in Victory Ale. 

Albert was trained by the best. A skilled perfectionist with a penchant for cleanliness, nothing escaped his scrutiny. ‘He kept the brewery impeccable’, says Veerle Baert-Moortgat. His focus on hygiene would later land him a contract to bottle Tuborg. Surfing on the popularity of Danish luxury pils, Albert’s brother Victor sent Duvel samples to each pub that ordered Tuborg. Duvel boomed.

From dark and strong, Victory Ale became the pale blond and equally strong Duvel in the 1960s. The transition is mainly credited to Albert’s collaboration with Jean De Clerck, a professor of the University of Louvain brewing school. Meanwhile, the true story of Duvel is told by its yeast. The truth is still there for everyone to smell. The key? 4VG or 4-vinylguaiacol. While considered a phenolic off-flavour in bottom fermented beer, 4VG is well-known to aficionados of top-fermented Belgian style golden ales. Duvel has a subtle 4VG character. Leffe, being the quintessential example of 4VG beers, offers strong hints of clove or ‘sausage-type meat’ aromas.

Chris Bauweraerts is co-founder of Brasserie D’Achouffe, which Duvel Moortgat purchased in 2006. He suggests discerning noses will still be able to detect Belgian beer descendants of the original Younger’s yeast that, somehow, found its way from Edinburgh to Belgium. Raymond Moureau, who worked at Brasserie Grade, told Bauweraerts that Jules Grade – as Albert Moortgat years before him — went to visit William Younger’s in Edinburgh. He came back with yeast. Brasserie Grade both brewed Vieux-Temps and Leffe. Are Duvel and Leffe unsuspecting cousins? Both being of British ale blood, they most definitely are. 

 

Read Issue 20 of Original Gravity here


The Q&A: Kyle Larsen, Head Brew Siren Craft Brew

THE Q&A

Kyle Larsen, Head Brewer, Siren Craft Brew

Where did you brew before and what brought you to the UK?

I brewed at Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River, OR and before that at Full Sail Brewing also in Hood River. Well, Siren brought me to the UK really. I was looking to brew for an innovative and exciting brewery, preferably outside the states, and well Siren ticked those boxes. I hadn’t previously heard of Siren but they got a great recommendation from a colleague in the UK so I sent a resume and as luck would have it they were in the market for a head brewer.

What do you do if not brewing, fishing, racing fast cars, eating?

I hang out with my three kiddos and wife they are my best friends really. We like to travel quite a bit so currently I’m enjoying exploring the English country side. I also love making bread and mountain biking. Two things I try to do as much as possible but maybe not as much as I’d like.

How do you design a beer?

I generally design a beer by starting with what I envision the end product turning out like and then working backwards. I’ll write out a description of the beer first and then figure out what raw materials and techniques will get me what I’m looking for. After that I cross my fingers that everything turns out good.

Is Berkshire boring?

No not for me. I love the country side and traditional country pubs. The only thing missing is a good craft beer pub… luckily we are going to be opening a tasting room and event space at our new warehouse/barrel home so it won’t be long until Finchampstead gets even better.

In our love of hops we forget about water, are you a water bore?

Is that a small animal that? If so then yes!

You have barrels for wood aging, do you see a day when breweries ditch wooden barrels in a similar way as the great porter breweries did, or is this wowing of wood just a settling back into the past?

I think barrel aged beer is here to stay. Barrels are great for so many reasons I don’t see why I would ever stop using them. DN

 

/Sirencraftbrew.com


Beer & Cider Marketing Awards Shortlist

SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED FOR BEER & CIDER MARKETING AWARDS

The Shortlist for the 2018 Beer & Cider Marketing Awards has been revealed. Winners of the awards, which set out to discover and celebrate the UK’s best marketers and campaigns across the industry, will be announced at an event at London’s Truman Brewery on September 20th, 2018.

The Shortlist for the 2018 Beer & Cider Marketing Awards has been revealed. Winners of the awards, which set out to discover and celebrate the UK’s best marketers and campaigns across the industry, will be announced at an event at London’s Truman Brewery on September 20th2018.

The Shortlist of the awards, which are open to all brewers and cider makers with a presence and focus in the UK, is as follows:

BEST ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

Camden Town Brewery – Hells Lager – The Garage Soho

Thatchers Cider Company

 

BEST ONLINE COMMUNICATIONS

Bright Signals – Tennent’s Lager

Fuller’s Brewery

 

BEST BRANDING/DESIGN

ByVolume/Orbit Beers

Hiver, The Honey Beer

North Brewing Co and Refold

Designers: The Potting Shed Design / Client: Gareth Chandler – Winslow Brew Co.

Signature Brew

Small Beer Brew Co.

Zerodegrees Microbrewery

 

BEST PUBLIC RELATIONS CAMPAIGN

Marston’s Brewery – Beer Town Film Festival – Vital

Meantime Brewing Company

Old Mout Cider

Tribute Ale – We’re happiest in the pub poll

Wire and Tennent’s Lager – Making Mates With Influencers

 

BEST INTEGRATED CAMPAIGN

Bright Signals – Wire Media – Republic of Media – Lucky Generals – Tennent’s Lager

Innis & Gunn, Studio Something

Marston’s Brewery – Beer Town Film Festival

St Austell Brewery – Tribute ‘Quality Speaks for Itself’

 

BEST BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS CAMPAIGN

Charles Wells

Camden Town Brewery – Beer School

Content Coms

St Austell Brewery: celebrating five years of Nicholson’s Pale Ale in 2017

Thunderclap Creative – Pillars Brewery

 

BEST INNOVATION

Hawkes

Meantime Brewing Company

Small Beer Brew Co.

 

BEST NEW LAUNCH

Cave Direct Beer Merchants

Small Beer Brew Co.

Wye Valley Brewery – 1985

 

BEST USE OF SPONSORSHIP

Brakspear

Paolozzi lager, Edinburgh Beer Factory

 

BEST USE OF MERCHANDISE/POINT OF SALE MATERIAL

Camerons Brewery

Fourpure Brewing Co.

 

BEST CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY INITIATIVE

Brakspear

HEINEKEN / Star Pubs & Bars

Toast Ale

Hiver the Honey Beer

 

BEST TARGETING OF ALTERNATIVE MARKETS

Big Drop Brewing Co Ltd

Club Soda

 

BEST EVENT

Club Soda

Fourpure Brewing Co.

Marston’s Brewery – Beer Town Film Festival

 

BEST STUNT/GUERRILLA MARKETING

Badger Beer and Joint

Meantime Brewing Company

Tiny Rebel

—-

Beer & Cider Marketing Awards co-founder and Head Judge Pete Brown commented: “The spread of entries we’ve had this year was the best yet. Together they showcase a real broadening of creative ideas in the beer and cider market – and it really is in both beer and cider. After somewhat muted debut in the awards last year, cider has come through very strongly this year. The judges’ discussion was robust and yet mostly positive – it kept us busy well into the evening! There are going to be lots of insights to be learned from this year’s winners.”

The awards are run in partnership with national drinks supplier, Matthew Clark. Justin Wylde, Category Manager – Beer, Cider and Soft Drinks at Matthew Clark, commented: “There is no better example of an industry celebrating all that is great about beer and cider. Supporting these awards is important to us as it highlights all the creative work that goes in to showcasing categories that have grown in popularity and truly champions the marketing prowess of not only the big guys but the smaller independents doing incredible things to excite consumers to brands.”

For more information go to www.bestofbeerandcider.com

To buy tickets for the event go to http://beermarketingawards.co.uk/buy-tickets/


Safe

SAFE

We love the comfort and care that a pub provides, but not all of them are equal in the welcome they provide. By Emma Inch

I’ve pushed open a lot of pub doors. The flush of warm air, the growing babble of chatter, and the scent of beer-tainted wood have rushed towards me many thousands of times. But, as I stand on the threshold of an unfamiliar venue, even before my eyes adjust to the yellowed light, even before I lift my palm away from the door handle, the feeling that most engulfs me is often not one of comfort, but one of ‘will I be safe here?’

Some people achieve immediate contentment, even in a pub they’ve never previously entered.

They find relief in an anonymous corner where they can muse over a solo pint, or they boldly claim space in which to celebrate successes with friends, or share quiet intimacies with lovers. But the privilege of never having to wonder whether what makes you different will also make you the target of abuse, harassment or violence is a luxury not always afforded to everyone.

Throughout my drinking life I’ve been asked to leave a pub on the grounds that it’s a ‘family friendly venue’; I’ve witnessed a friend being ejected for giving his male partner a dry peck on the cheek; I’ve had a fellow customer shout homophobic abuse in my ear whilst the bartender calmly continued to ask me to pay for my pint.

Once, I had to shield my face from flying glass as the pub windows were kicked in by bigots outside, and I still remember the sharp, breathless fear in the days following the Admiral Duncan pub bombing, not knowing if it was all over, or who and where would be targeted next.

I’ve encountered whispered disapproval, open mockery and the saliva-spraying, salacious questioning that forms the threatening precursor to abuse should any query be left unanswered. Pubs have not always been safe spaces for me, and many — including, I’m saddened to say, a few of the pubs closest to my own home — remain places that I am simply too afraid to enter.

But, that’s not to say that all pubs are sites of fear for me. At times, the pub has also been a source of enormous strength. When I first came out as lesbian in the early 1990s, gay venues were places of great wonder to me. When I entered them, I found people who looked just like me — and people who looked like no one I’d ever seen in my life — and the pub became a location in which anything might happen: a meeting of minds, a brushing of arms and the promise of a beer-drenched kiss. I met many of my best friends and most of my partners in pubs, and I learned the importance of those spaces for bringing people together, offering validation, and creating resistance.

For a while I only drank in gay venues, always seeking them out if I went somewhere new. I could plot my way across the country, from city to city, via my mental map of the best gay pubs. Even in other countries, some in which homosexuality was barely legal, I sought out subterranean gay bars, sometimes ringing the bells on unmarked doors in order to be snapped into dark alcoves where my authenticity was appraised before I was allowed passage into the pleasures below.

In much the same way that we drew on music to comfort, unite and coalesce, those of us who were excluded also used those hot, dark, beer-sweaty spaces to gain some sort of affirmation. And, all these years later, as I enter gay venues, that feeling of strength is still there. As the beer pours into my glass, I feel the good humour, and, just sometimes, the anger that has protected me from the hostility of the world, and I understand that it’s not by chance that Stonewall — perhaps the best-known symbol of resistance to prejudice and hatred — is a New York bar.

Of course, I no longer drink exclusively in gay venues. Many have disappeared, victims in part perhaps of our new ways of interacting with the world. And, in common with many other beer lovers, I am forever chasing that feted brewery, the brand new beer, the brew that will make my taste buds dance outside my mouth.

And, as I re-draw my mental map of the country, I’m back to pausing at the door, considering my safety. I anticipate the shared glances between other drinkers, the trivial hesitation of the bartender’s hand, the almost imperceptible smirk, and the just-too-slow welcome. I jump at the soft shove as someone passes by me on their way to the bathroom, and at the visceral roar that goes up each time a goal is scored or a glass is smashed.

But, somehow, the worst of it is that even though in the vast majority of pubs I am not abused, and no one ignores, insults or ridicules me, as I leave I still sometimes feel like I’ve narrowly escaped something, as if just this once, I was permitted to experience that unequivocally benign harbour that draws other people in and holds them safe.

And I feel gratitude.

And I wish that I didn’t.


Beer Meets Love

Beer Meets Love

We’re getting all mushy in this feature, when beer meets, love. Ahhh

Love is in the air or has the neighbourhood prankster popped a St Val’s card through the post-box? Whatever, spring is also around the corner and our thoughts turn with the sure steadiness of a merry-go-round to love and romance and also a glass of beer at the bar. And just like love, beer comes in all shapes and sizes, in all kinds of moods and mazes, but whoever or whatever you’ve found to fall in love with, why not celebrate this sense of gladness with this trio of tempestuous romantics. ATJ

/ Siren Craft Brew, I Love You Honey Bunny, 6.3%

Love is the only answer when you’re faced with Siren’s self-proclaimed honey smoothie IPA (blossom honey and oats have gone into the mix), and you know what it’s rather good – lemon-yellow in colour, blessed with a juicy fruity nose. I took a gulp and uncovered more fruit, a smooth hint of sweetness in the background and a dry and bitter finish. / sirencraftbrew.com

/ Thornbridge, I Love You Will You Marry Me, 4.5%

Named after a well-known well known piece of graffiti in Sheffield, this blonde-hued beer has a subtle aroma of strawberry sweetness on the nose (real strawberries) alongside a hint of citrus, while there’s more strawberry on the palate alongside citrus, a refreshing tartness and a creamy mouth feel. An elegant thirst-quencher and a passionate pint. / thornbridgebrewery.co.uk

/ Marble/Fuller’s Gale Prize Old Ale, 10.9%

There’s a romance about Gale’s Prize Old Ale, a beer that used to be regular but then became a special occurrence when Fuller’s bought the brewery. With this expression, Marble has brewed the beer and left it to sleep in four separate barrels. This one has a kiss of Brett, dark fruit and the deep vinuousness of the barrel. / marblebeers.com


Of Belgian beer and mystique

OF BELGIAN BEER AND MYSTIQUE

Ardent Belgo-phile Joe Stange muses on the magic and fantasy that runs through Belgian beer

As a longtime atheist — sceptic, realist, whatever you prefer — the only ‘magic’ I know lies in those parts of the mind we have yet to understand. These can be uncomfortable areas to explore. They occasionally manifest in the real world, often through the creations of the right-brained or the intoxicated — or, in the case of the Belgians, both.

I’ve walked into hundreds of different Belgian cafés. They lean more eccentric than most pubs, to put it lightly, so we could fairly describe many as odd but charming. Beyond those, things can get really weird. A select few are more like sweaty obsessions than cafés. Upon entering you get a palpable sense that you’ve walked into a dark corner of someone else’s brain; you obviously don’t belong there and must immediately choose whether to turn around and walk out before committing to the experience any further.

The Velootje in Ghent is one of those, a thick, dusty hoard of junk and memories, with just a bit of space cleared for a few people to sit. It’s a work of art, in its way, a mishmash of cobwebbed antique bicycles, candelabras and Jesus busts in party hats. Authorities have closed it four times for sanitary reasons, though it serves no food whatsoever. The owner Lieven De Vos keeps several different beers in his fridge, but the only brand you get is whatever he chooses to serve you. The whole experience is as unsettling as it is entertaining. To say I recommend it would be an exaggeration. It’s not for everyone.

Another of these obsessions, less well known, is the Bezemsteeltje in Antwerp. This is on the Varkensmarkt, about 10 minutes walk northwest of the Cathedral. The café’s whole interior is layered in witches — mannequins, toys, masks, statuettes. They gaze into crystal balls and seem to cackle from the rafters. It is not a destination beer bar, though they tend to stock a few witch-themed ales. It’s worth the detour if you collect that sort of experience.

Belgium excels at fantasy. They know better than us that life is too short for the mundane, just as it’s too short for boring glassware, dull-looking beer, or a Sunday without a visit to the café. Thus fantasy finds its way into all sorts of beers and associated marketing. There are witches and elves and trolls and things all over the artwork — the labels, the breweriana, and in the brand names.

Many of these legends spring from local folklore, like the witches of Ellezelles, in the hill country of north Hainaut. The Quintine brewery there has long embraced the witch theme (I once visited to find an ad out front for a used broom — ‘only 600 flight hours’). The Quintine ales got their name from a 17th-century woman burnt at the stake for ‘witchcraft’ along with four other women; the real evil, of course, was superstition and those who used it to manipulate fools. Inevitably there is a medieval, horror-themed knees-up every year in Ellezelles to commemorate this grisly event. Meanwhile the town’s answer to Brussels’ Manneken Pis is a charming fountain named Eul Pichoûre. She is a squatting witch who relieves herself at a shocking velocity.

Mind you, Ellezelles is the same town (pop. 5,000) that decided — entirely on its own, since Agatha Christie never specified — that it was the birthplace of Hercule Poirot. To state the obvious, we are referring to a fictional character. Yet the local authorities can produce a birth certificate. It says he was born on April 1.

That’s the sort of nonsense that keeps me toiling happily in the mines here, in the decidedly un-lucrative field of Belgo-philia — part drunkard, part foreign ethnographer and cultural appropriator. I share this self-awareness to prepare you for what comes next: some dubious notions about Belgian art.

My impression is that the Belgians would be more into magical realism, but it’s just too realistic for them. Fantasy is their thing, and by fantasy I don’t mean wizards and dragons (although they like that stuff too).

I mean they are into the fantastic — anything goes, as long as it’s out there and detaches from the mundane. In Brussels there is even a Museum of Fantastic Art — full of weird and surreal objects — right next to the Horta Museum, a temple of Art Nouveau. Speaking of which, the very best of Art Nouveau architecture — born in Brussels, mind you — tends to look rather elvish. One of the best places to admire the style is the swooping interior of the brasserie Porteuse d’Eau (perhaps with a bottle of Lindemans Oude Gueuze, its own label drawn in Art Nouveau style). The fact that the place is an imitation only reinforces the theme. It doesn’t have to be real; it’s better if it isn’t.

Why be real, after all, when you can be surreal? Many of the surrealists, incidentally, subscribed to a method called automatism. The idea is to lose conscious control of what you are creating, and submit to the creations of your subconscious mind. Altered states of consciousness fascinated them. How often, do you reckon, were they sober?

The Belgian painter René Magritte didn’t embrace that method. His deliberate creations were more like visual poems, meant to create mystery. He said he did not intend them to ‘mean’ anything; they were supposed to be unknowable.

In Brussels, Magritte drank sometimes with other surrealists in the Fleur en Papier Doré, perhaps 10 minutes’ walk from the art museum that now bears his name. You can enjoy a tumbler of draught Oud Beersel lambic there and admire all sorts of odd things on the walls. My favourite is this scrawled bit of wisdom: Nul ne m’est étranger comme moi-même. No one is as foreign to me as I am to myself.

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Along with Tim Webb, Joe is the co-author of the latest (and 8th) edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide Belgium which is now available, £14.99. We think it’s rather essential if you’re catching the Eurostar to Midi.