Happy Birthday Michael Jackson and CAMRA! Without whom…

A couple of months ago, I was at the excellent Rake Bar in London’s Borough Market. It was a tasting involving BrewDog and their increasingly bizarre race to brew the world’s strongest beer. We’d reached the gloriously un-PC, Sink the Bismarck. There was a couple of student types there for the same event. I tried to eavesdrop their conversation. They were talking knowledgeably about BrewDog, cask ale, and American craft beer. I went up for a chat.

“Wow! You’re students. What the hell happened that you’re not drinking WKD or Magners?” I thought, but didn’ say out loud. Trying my best not to sound like their dad, what I did ask was how they got interested in beer. Their answer? Going to good pubs, rather than the usual student hangouts, and reading about beer. Oh, just like I did, then.

I’m betting two factors that brought our undergraduates to beer were the same then as when I was at uni, namely CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale, and Beer Hunter (and Whisky Chaser) Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson-related links

Read the tribute that announced his death in 2005:

Buy the book he inspired:
Beer Hunter Whisky Chaser: New Writing in honour of Michael Jackson

But above all, have a really good beer this week. If you can, go to a pub and order a pint of cask-conditioned ale, and raise your tankard in celebration of CAMRA’s 40th birthday and Michael Jackson: two real beer heroes.

Gatefold Club: The Blues and the Abstract Truth by Oliver Nelson

The Gatefold Club is a small group of people gathered together under Twitter to listen to an album and then comment on it. It’s like a book club for records. Every week, one “member” gets to choose an album from any genre for the listening enjoyment of the rest of the group. We then go away and listen to the album in its entirety, in silence, no shuffle. Rather selfishly, I’ve started with my own choice, but I promise to catch up! Actually, I did listen to the first ever Gatefold Club suggestion, Edwyn Collins’ KLosing Sleep, but I have lost my notes.

Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, from 1961, is one of those “classic” jazz albums that might pass you by, if you weren’t careful. It’s one of my favourites, and not least for the laid-back opener, Stolen Moments.


Oddly enough f or a Zappa fan like me, I got to know this Stolen Moments before the Zappa cover on Broadway the Hard Way. I love the contrast in solo-ing styles with Eric Dolphy’s outside flute fitting perfectly into the blues structure and making Nelson’s following tenor solo sound even more seductive and sonorous. It seems something of a surprise that Zappa’s band would know this; it’s a rather cool tune connected to 50’s jazz, but perhaps the discomfiting presence of Dolphy is what elevates it for Uncle Frank.

Hoedown’s melody starts off sounding folky, but it’s slightly off-kilter rhythm means it doesn’t sound hokey. Here, Dolphy has an alto solo is that gives the edginess..

The sound of this recording is wonderful and there is some beautiful stereo sound-stage effects that put you right in the front of the big (ish) band. Would that Steven Wilson could be persuaded to do a 5.1 surround sound mix. Love the echo of Stolen Moments in the outtro.

Side 2 starts (yes, I’m listening on vinyl) with a very laid back theme played by Bill Evans. The most overtly blues so far. Still, the form is stretched, which is the point of this whole album. Dolphy on alto again prevents any easy-listening thoughts you might have. Freddie Hubbard has solos on all but the final track. Nelson writes that he is like a Coltrane on trumpet, and you can see what he means.

The tune for Butch and Butch reminds me of an Ornette theme. Nelson claims it is boppish, but to me it is bop as heard post-Ornette Coleman. Only the rhythm nails it a bop feel. Roy Haynes’ drumming seems to be chasing it along like a butcher with a fly swat. Which he does on most of these numbers.

The final track opens with Paul Chambers bass theme, as he had opened So What some 5 or 6 years previously. the ensemble comes in with the real theme, which is like something from an avant-noir thriller. Another astonishing and unpredictable alto solo from Dolphy, that still somehow fits in with the comped chords from Bill Evans. Nelson’s tenor draws it all back under control, playing across the bar lines with held notes. Chambers takes a solo to mirror his opening of the song and then the ensemble simple restates the theme and do a sort of live fade to bring the album to an end.

Zappa’s version of Stolen Moments is bisected by a guest spot by Sting as the band shift seamlessly into one of his own compositions, Murder By Numbers. I’ve often wondered how that brilliant Zappa band came to play Stolen Moments in this way. The part of the story we do hear goes: Zappa meets Sting and invites him to play with the band. The conversation I assume must have swiftly moved to “What shall we play?” Did Sting offer up Murder… because it has a chord structure very similar to …Moments? If it does, Mr Sting would guess the seasoned jazzers in the Zappa troupe would surely have the chord structure at their fingertips and could seamlessly slip into the Police song (and back). They clearly did.

But whereas the Zappa band is driven by Scott Thunes rumbling, punchy bass, Stolen Moments and the rest of Blues and the Abstract Truth are driven by Roy Haynes’ drumming. This, I think is crucial to why the album sounds so good.

There is a seriousness with which Oliver Nelson teases apart the blues structure in these songs in search of a new angle with a familiar idiom. But Haynes keeps the whole thing swinging and playful. And that playfulness clearly rubs off on the soloists. It still sounds great.

Dessert and Beer: Raspberry Rum/Imperial Porter Cream

This winter dessert is so simple you’ll be almost embarrassed to admit how you made it. Winter dessert? With raspberries in? Yes! It is made with frozen raspberries, so it could be made all year round. The thing that makes it great is the beer.

Strong porters and stouts are fantastic with desserts, especially if there is vanilla or cream involved. So, how strong is a “strong” porter, and where do I get them? This Saturday, I made up this dessert with a Swedish Winter Porter that is 9.1% ABV. That’s about twice as strong as Guinness, but really it’s not that strong in the scheme of things. If you drank an Aussie Shiraz with your Sunday roast, it was probably in the region of 14%. Way stronger than the porter that goes into this recipe. The trick is, not to drink strong beers in pints.

I know, obvious really, but in the UK, we are practically obsessed with drinking beer in pints. “Fancy a pint?”, “Just going out for a pint”, etc. If you order a half, you are made to feel like a wimp. Or a driver. The 33cl bottle that went into this dish was shared between me and MaltCim. Alcohol measured in units can be misleading, in my opinion, but 9.1% ABV is less juice than your average Kabinett, but so much more flavour. And it’s the flavour we’re after.

The dark chocolate and roasted flavours of porters and stouts meld with the cream, rum and the slight tartness of the raspberries offset by the sweetness of the Muscovado, and the dark flavours that brings; it’s like a birthday cake you can spoon, and it takes 5 minutes to prepare. For a list of suggested beers, see the end of the recipe.

For 2 people:
A small box of frozen raspberries
A couple of rocks of dark Muscovado sugar, pounded into about a tablespoon’s-worth of powder.
A splash of dark rum.
1 dl double cream. Whip it, if you like.
1 33 cl bottle of imperial porter or stout of at least 7% ABV

Heat the raspberries and sugar gently together until the raspberries thaw and the juice starts to dissolve the sugar.
Remove from the heat and add the rum.
Mix gently and try to keep some shape to the raspberries.
Pour the mixture into two serving bowls, preferably glass.
Fold the cream to each dish, so you get a pleasing marbled effect.
Share the porter into two wine glasses, and serve alongside the dessert. You can put some in with the raspberries, but it’s really not necessary.

Here are some suggestions of strong (or imperial) porters/stouts that would work with this recipe:
Thornbridge Saint Petersburg Russian Imperial Stout (UK) 7.7% (Beer Merchants.com)
BrewDog Tokyo* (UK) 18.2% (BrewDog Shop)
The Kernel Brewery Export Stout (UK) 7.7%, or Imperial Stout 9% (Beer Merchants.com)
Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter (USA) 8.7% (My Brewery Tap.com)

If you live in Sweden, you might be lucky to get your hands on Nynäshamns Valvikens Vinterporter, but if not:
Nils Oscar Imperial Stout (Sweden) 7%
Nøgne ø Imperial Porter (Norway) 9%

(All subject to availability)
If you have any more suggestions, please let me know.

A Dram for all Seasons? Twitter Tasting of #anCnoc Whiskies

The classic images to place alongside a whisky are ones of windswept moors or waves crashing into rocks. Whisky depicted as the drink to warm you beside a roaring fire; preferably reclining in your best Chesterfield, in the drawing room. Bit clichéd, isn’t it?

Now, as much as I like the fiery pepper of a Talisker or the smouldering peat of an Ardbeg when a February chill gnaws at you the day after Spring seemed to pop its head out to say “Here I am!”, aren’t those standard images going to hamstring the sales of whisky when warmer days arrive?

Can we find something to suit Spring? Is there even such thing as a Summer dram? Of course! They’re just not that easy to spot, but on this latest Twitter whisky tasting (“Twasting”) of three anCnoc whiskies, I think we have contenders to drink alongside Vivaldi’s best-known work.

The nice people at Edinburgh Whisky invited me and a dozen or so fellow bloggers, writers and enthusiasts from across Europe, North America and Israel to taste three whiskies from the Knockdhu distillery in Aberdeenshire. The occasion: to launch their latest “vintage”, the anCnoc 1996. And to compare it with two of their more standard issue whiskies: the 12 year-old and the 16 year-old.

Ah! another Twasting to plug a new limited edition release from a lesser-known distillery, I hear you say. Why not? this is what Twitter is really good at.

Knochdhu You Know
Excuse me if Knockdhu has been your favourite distillery for years, but I think a little background, here. The distillery’s name is Knockdhu (pr. knock-doo), yet the whiskies are “anCnoc” (pr. a-knock)? The renaming took place 1994, to avoid confusing Knockdhu with the similar sounding “Knockando” distillery. Sounds like a Friday afternoon decision, to me,

Gordon Bruce, the Knockdhu Distillery manager, who is @anCnoc_whisky on Twitter, joined us for the hour or so we were tasting and kicked things off with the 12 year old, bottled at 46% ABV, the same strength as the two other samples.

I don’t normally go in for giving lots of tasting notes, because it’s such a personal thing, but here I think you get these selected tweets give you a flavour of the event, although they are not necessarily consecutive. And may contain non-standard spelling.

The anCnoc 12 yo
@anCnoc: Lots of tweets for fruity notes: pears

Me: @CashewLater Yeah, banana and vanilla. If you’re UK, Crunchie bars, anybody?

Me: @anCnoc_whisky Yes, it does really fall into the “elegant” category. Although what that is exactly, I find hard to define 🙂
@WhiskyTasting: @maltjerry I agree with that. Almost the dividing line between Highland and Speyside right there. This is def Highland

The anCnoc 16 yo
Me: 16 yo less sweetly malty nose than 12 yo. @galg Yes even more grassy at first. Then white pepper
@DurhamFanDan: 16yo Nose. Lemons. Not just plain citrus though, but sherbet lemons!
Me: @DurhamFanDan Yes, sherbert lemons. Also, I love the idea of finding a summery whisky.
Me (about adding water): Threre is a spicy pepperiness I wasn’t expecting this side of Talisker. No longer a summer dram for me, but hey, it’s February!

The anCnoc 1996 46%
@OliverKlimek: The #anCnoc 1996 really has a dry sherry nose
Me: Somewhere between amontillado and fino?
@ScotchNoob: …shortbread with stewed plums. Finish is savory.. copper pennies, browned steak, carmelized onions.

@Matlwhiskybar: I am thinking of Baked Beans. OK more complex but definitely some kind of spicy bean dish with meat.
Me: OK, cassoulet, then.

Four Seasons in an Hour
Tasting the anCnoc 16 year-old without water woke up my “looking for a summer whisky” mission; fresh and dry with a touch of gentle sweetness and spice. But one swallow does not a summer whisky make. And just like a Scottish Summer, a few drops of water can throw you back into a chilly spring day. The pepper and chili heat will see you through.

To call the fruits and sweetness of the gentler 12 year-old autumnal is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but it’s luscious mouthfeel might suit a cooler day. But to keep it, I’d steer clear of adding any water. This seemed such a different dram to the 16; it seemed they were from different distilleries.

Adding water to the anCnoc 1996, suddenly I could see the gap between the 16 and the 12 year olds.
The 1996 had some of the most surprising comments about flavour and smell I’ve read in a while. But if cassoulet, copper pennies and peanut butter sound odd things to have “in” your whisky, save it for winter to sip with a warming stew.

Links and extras
If you want to see all the notes, comments and links to other write-ups of the this Twasting, search on Twitter for #anCnoc.
The anCnoc website: http://www.ancnoc.com/#doc-ancnoc