Archive for July, 2012

July 25, 2012

The Italian Job

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks for me, in terms of both tweeting and blogging.  Simply a case of there not being enough hours in the day and too many things going on at the same time – I’ll go into that in more detail in another post soon.  However, a major reason is because I was lucky enough to go to Rome two weeks ago for a conference.

Now before you start getting too jealous, this was for work (i.e. non-beer-related work) purposes with little opportunity for free time outside the conference agenda (no, honestly, that’s true!).  Even when you did have some free time Rome itself was actually some 15 miles away from the overpriced hotel in which we were holed up.  However, the opportunity did arise for a few hours in the city itself, and as would be expected I made the most of this time to sample a taste of the growing craft beer scene in Italy.

I’d seen favourable reports on Rome’s beer opportunities, with Mark Dredge’s Pencil & Spoon blog being particularly useful preparation.  A few minutes with Google Maps before I left and I established just how close three highly recommended venues were, so once I got into the city and left some colleagues cooing at the tourist sights (which I’d seen on a previous visit) I headed off to find Open Baladin.

The limitations in detail on the free map from the hotel became obvious as soon as I got within a couple of streets of where I knew I wanted to be.  It took a few circuits of the narrow back streets though until I found the one that I was looking for – on the map, for future reference, it is the unmarked road between the two other unmarked roads…

Nearly empty when I walked in, it was cool and refreshing compared to the fairly sweltering heat outside.  A vast array of bottles behind the bar, and taps upon it, greeted me and it took a few minutes to take it all in.  Sitting down with a menu I felt it only right to plump for the house brewry, and settled on Baladin’s Nora – a 6.8% Saison.  It was a good start.  Refreshing, just slightly tart, a fine example of a style I am beginning to really get into.  Of course it didn’t last long, and so back to the menu for another look.  Having already decided I’d try as many different Italian breweries as I could I moved onto an IPA, with LA9 (6.5%) from L’Olmain – nothing wrong with it but nothing special I’ve since concluded (as on checking my notes it didn’t drive me to write anythning further at the time!).  Time for a third beer, to be my final one here, and it was back to a Saison style.  My eye was well and truly caught by the description which my rudimentary mastery of the Italian language seemed to tell me was a Black Saison, and when it arrived indeed it was!  A collaboration between Extraomnes and Toccalmatto, Tainted Love (4.7%) tasted all Saison, but was definitely approaching black in colour with a malty aroma.  Possibly not quite as tasty as the Nora, but another delicious beer all the same.

With some reluctance I dragged myself out, and headed on just across the river to Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa (aka the Football Bar).  I was glad I decided to tear myself away from the beer selection at Open Baladin, because there were some crackers here too.  A much smaller, cosier bar panelled in wood as opposed to the open, slightly industrial feel at the previous venue, I felt quite at home here.  Tipopils (Birrificio Italiano, 5.2%) was on the bar giving me a chance to try this beer which I’ve seen raved about.  It was nice, and better than many pilsners I’ve tasted, but didn’t exactly set things alight for me.  So that gone, I moved along to yet another Italian brewer, Brewfist, and their Spaceman IPA (7%).  This was a marked improvement, and is a beer I’ll keep an eye out for in the future.  It was overshadowed though by what followed – D’uvabeer (brewed by Loverbeer at 8%) was a sour ale and I loved it.  A dirty, cloudy, raspberry red in appearance, and a gorgeous tangy taste, I think I’d have stayed for a second if time wasn’t running out, my appetite building up, and the bustle of Bir e Fud calling me from across the street.

So, I picked my way through what was becoming an increasingly busy Friday evening street scene and found a space inside the bar where I could see the beer selection and order some food.  Back to a Saison with Duchessa by Borgo (6%) and followed by Rehop IPA from Toccalmatto (5%).  This was definitely the top IPA from my selections of the evening – it cut through the strong flavours of tomato and basil from my plate and asserted itself forcefully but deservedly onto my tastebuds.  Really good stuff.  Too quickly though it was time for one last throw of the dice, and I plumped for a nice light(!) Imperial Stout to finish off on.  Verdi (Ducato, 8.2%) was a fine bold beer and a pleasant way to finish off a tour of 9 Italian beers from 9 different brewers.

So, conclusions?  Well I’d now love to go back and spend some more time discovering the craft beers of Italy not least through the bars of Rome, and would advise anyone visiting there to call into one or more, and make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to appreciate it!  The two highlights were Rehop and D’uvabeer, though in fact I’d quite happily drink any of the beers I tried again, and again, and again.  Clearly Italy knows a thing or two about making good beer, and in Rome at least there are some great places to sample them.

As a footnote, I had to double-take as I wandered back past an off-licence window, when I saw various bottles of Hardknott and other UK beers lined up on the shelves…

July 6, 2012

The Session 65 – So lonely…

There are two ways to drink alone: by yourself, and with other people. I enjoy both but prefer the latter. The initial setup for this month’s Session, by NateDawg27, suggested that I’m not the only one, and this was backed up by some of the early comments on that post.

Maybe you’re wondering what I mean. Well, I often choose to sit in a pub by myself, enjoying a pint and maybe reading a book or newspaper. But although I’m on my own, I’m also not. There’s always something going on around you, a cross-section of human life passing through and bringing the place to life. I can rarely avoid a bit of people-watching while I’m there – if you haven’t tried it maybe you should. It can be fascinating. Other times you may end up chatting with staff or even other customers – there on your own, but not really alone.

Or you can shut off completely, lose yourself in your drink and anything else you’ve got to focus on, and then you’re much more by yourself. There are times when this suits me too, but I usually end up drifting back to observing what’s going on around me pretty soon. I generally prefer drinking alone with other people.

There is definitely a bit of a stigma with being out in the pub by yourself, and i think this is because it goes against the stereotypical drink with mates – that’s seen as the “normal” or even “correct” way to go for a drink by many and so those who are happy to break from that are seen as strange or sad.

But that leads me to my main point. The title for this Session was “so lonely”. I’ve not talked about being lonely, just about being on your own, which really isn’t the same thing. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you are lonely. And, conversely, just because you are with other people doesn’t mean you aren’t lonely.

Sometimes that drink with a group can be one of the loneliest drinking experiences. If you’re on the fringe of the group, maybe you don’t know everyone or don’t have the relationship that you can see others have, it can be very easy to feel excluded, or feel that you’re missing out on the rapport and relationship others have. It doesn’t even need to be a large group – three is quite sufficient on the basis that conversations tend to work between pairs and there’s always one person slightly left out.

So we should be careful not to confuse drinking alone with loneliness. Don’t assume that person over there drinking by themself is lonely. If they are taking up the only available table why not ask if you can share it – they’re not necessarily waiting for someone like you to turn up so they can latch onto a new best friend in order to fix their loneliness. They’re probably just enjoying their drink, their own company, the buzz around them – and will generally be quite happy to share the pub with you.

I shall carry on enjoying drinking by myself from time to time. I’d prefer not to be lonely though. And certainly not drinking because I’m lonely!

July 2, 2012

Seeing past the Rhetoric

It is probably inevitable that a beer release heralded with a little bit of hype, controversy and showmanship is ultimately going to result in some disappointment, and last Saturday night I found exactly that.  This might sound strange to anyone involved in, or following, the OpenTheRhetoric hashtag on Twitter, and even more so if you read my own tweets on the subject that night.

The thing is, I really wanted not to like this beer.  And if that wasn’t going to happen then I could at least be a bit unimpressed.  The hype and controversy I referred to harks back to a little competition where a number of people, myself included, were selected to receive a bottle before its official release, to hold onto until it was deemed ready.  This was all wrapped up in a discussion on integrity, in particular of bloggers, and provided further fuel for discussions at the European Beer Bloggers Conference.  There were spin-off debates about sending bottled beer out before it is deemed ready, and the risks that involved and of course it was also a canny little bit of marketing, making sure Rhetoric got plenty of attention!

So, on opening my bottle I was disappointed that I couldn’t leap up with a loud cry, proclaiming my integrity intact and picking fault after fault.  To say, there you go, sorry, it was free but I don’t like it and I don’t mind saying so.

Instead I was welcomed by a captivating aroma, full of rich dark fruits and dominant but not overwhelming alcohol.  At the time I mentioned rum and raisin – that rich alcohol-steeped fruit scent – and there was something else too.  Something citrussy, but dark, rather than lemony-light.  The flavours lived up to the aroma with a fruity richness and warm alcohol burn.  That citrus was there again, tangerine came to mind, but one having been roasted to darken the skin and bring out a slightly bitter caramel edge.

For a beer of 10.2% the body was much lighter than expected, giving the overall effect of a Christmas pudding with all the heavy stodginess taken away and just leaving the light but rich flavours behind in a very drinkable form.  Condition-wise, it was fine, bearing in mind that a fair amount of the bottle-conditioning was while it was in my custody.  It would be interesting to compare (and would have been even more interesting as a direct comparison) to see how my bottle compares with one that has spent longer at the brewery in better controlled conditionsk, but there was certainly nothing wrong with this one.

Overall I think the Hardknott team have done a great job with this experimental beer.  I wouldn’t say it was perfect, and I’m sure there would be things that would be changed if it was brewed again.  I can’t really say either that it was a leading example of a Belgian Quad style because I don’t have enough of a baseline to compare that too.  Was it the best beer Hardknott do?  Tricky that, because I haven’t tried them all, and is it a fair comparison? I don’t think so – there’s too much of a time and place thing with different beer styles.  However, I enjoyed Rhetoric enough to order a couple more bottles.  Ideally one to leave for 18 months or so to see how it ages.  The other one I could have now, to compare how the brewery conditioned bottle compares to my own, or alternatively hang on until this Christmas when the flavours will suit the occasion just perfectly.

In the meantime, Dave, damn you for disappointing me in such a delicious way and I look forward to seeing what Rhetoric Edition II is like!

For the record, yes I received this beer for free, for which I am very grateful, and have tried to remain objective.  I’ve ordered (and paid for) two further bottles, because I felt it was worth it.