Tarantino, cricket, and Danish brown ale

I have this friend Bill. He has very good taste. Remarkably similar to mine, in fact. Except that he has trouble with American beer. American craft beer, to be more precise. And to further narrow the confines of precision, he has trouble with American hopping.

It’s one of the few things Bill and I disagree on.

If I were to speak for Bill for a moment, I’d tell you there are fewer things he likes more than watching the England bowlers laying into the Australian batting while quietly sipping a perfectly presented pint of cask-conditioned ale. That is, Bill sips the ale, Broad, Anderson, and Swann do the laying into of the Aussies.

Not for Bill the citrus and pine attack of an IPA from the North West Coast of America. And especially not the grapefruit hop bombs of, say, San Diego. No, he is more in favour of what he might call the subtler charms of Felinfoel Double Dragon. A preference for the spinner’s guile over the fast bowler’s bombast. Good job the US doesn’t produce fast bowlers, or I’d make this cricket metaphor go even further.

I think Bill might like Mikkeller Jackie Brown, though. This is a Danish interpretation of a British classic beer style, with an American accent. But perhaps not an accent belonging to the air hostess – and would be heist-ess, Jackie Brown, of the 1997 Quentin Tarantino film of the same name. Nevertheless, it is big-hearted at 5.9% ABV, and well, brown.

I love Mikkeller’s wide range of boundary-distorting beers, and especially the IPAs, but a recent draft sample of the Citra IPA got a little “medieval on my ass”, to misappropriate Samuel L Jackson’s line from Pulp Fiction. I should send him round to talk to the cellarman.

Bill would not have approved, either.

A single bottle of Mikkeller’s Jackie Brown came as a welcome restorer of my faith. Newcastle Brown it certainly isn’t. Mikkeller’s take on brown ale is distinct: malt and hops: nutty, toffee-roasted malt backbone, on top of which the citrus hops sing as though in the corner of the kitchen, someone has emptied a bag of Sunburst sweets into a blender. (Or Opal Fruits – if you are old enough to remember The Beatles.)

Of course, being a Mikkeller, Jackie Brown is well-hopped with American hops. But as is the case with the best new European beers, the hops are integrated into a balanced whole. Jackie Brown wouldn’t kill Bill.

The obvious food pairing would be a chocolate dessert, but I’d like to try it with BBQ ribs, roast pork with a honey and mustard glaze (and chili?). Even though it’s not nominally an Easter ale, it would fit well into that Scandinavian tradition.

I wouldn’t mind another bottle as my Easter Egg, and maybe another for Bill while we watch England throw away a commanding lead on the final day against Sri Lanka. Would it convince him about American hops? Now, that would be the final test.

Links
About Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, brewer of Mikkeller. Not a brewery, you know: a cuckoo brewer, I call him.
Buy Jackie Brown from Beers of Europe UK.
More detailed tasting notes on my flckr page.

Meantime Yakima Red: a seasonal ale to straddle The Pond

Time was when British breweries had two seasons: Winter and the rest of the year. A winter warmer was always something to look forward to; especially if it was Wethered’s Winter Royal, or Young’s Winter Warmer. Times have changed, thankfully.

There was a time when American craft brewers would proudly proclaim on a label that their British-style ale was made with East Kent Goldings – English hop variety from yer actual East Kent. It was a symbol of authenticity referring back to the old-world traditions. And then they got into home grown hops – mostly from the Yakima Valley.

Then seasonals got seen as A Good Idea. A Winter seasonal was joined by the odd Springtime mild and a Summer golden ale, and soon Fullers, Harveys and others developed something of a year-round range. Something to keep the locals interested, but mostly beers within the same chapter of the Michael Jackson “Beer” book.

Yakima_red_500x290

A few brewers in the vanguard of the New Wave of What Some are Calling British Craft Brewers (NWoWSaCBCB) dared to venture beyond Chapter 2. One of these was the Meantime Brewing Company, founded in 1999 in, you guessed it, Greenwich. Meantime now have an impressively eclectic range of seasonal beers to add to their already pretty eclectic range of year-round beers. I was lucky to be invited to the launch of their seasonal for March and April: Yakima Red.

The launch was an understated affair in the brewery’s own Greenwich Union pub. No song-and-dance, just a tutored tasting led by Peter Haydon – one of very few accredited British beer sommeliers.  I say “understated”, but as well as the launched beer, we did get to sample most of the Meantime range. And I think somebody added an extra zero onto the food order.

Actually, straddling the Pond and an entire continent
The Yakima Valley in Washington state is more known for its wines than its hop growing, apparently. It is, however, the cornerstone of the supply of American varietal hops: Chinook, Centennial, Cascade, Citra, and others not beginning with the letter C, like Amarillo. And of these, five varieties have been used to flavour Yakima Red.

So, that’s the “Yakima” bit explained and the “Red” part nearly does it by itself. Yes, it’s a red ale (4.0% ABV), so it has a good wallop of crystal malt and a touch of German caramalt. And as is appropriate to a beer brewed on the Greenwich Meridian at 0 degrees, the beer is neither dominated by hops, citrussy, or piny, as you might expect an American craft beer to be, nor is it dominated by the digestive-biscuity malt.

The aroma of the hops stands out, rather than the bitterness: tropical fruit and mandarin, but it’s no fruit salad. It’s a very quaffable ale with a delicate spicy sweetness to the malt. The bitterness there adds balance, so although it’s not a big, in-your-face beer, it is very more-ish, and perfect for early spring weather. Perhaps a Sassenach cousin to BrewDog’s 5AM Saint.

It worked well with the food on offer, too, including the fish (goujons) and outstanding chips. It would be even better with meats that marry well with sweetness: roast duck, pork ribs, or a nice, thick slice of honey-roasted ham.

Unless you live in Sweden, (or perhaps Washington State), you’ll have to get to a Meantime pub* to sample it, as it’s not available in bottles in the UK. The good thing is, the Greenwich Union and the Old Brewery both have excellent menus, so you’re bound to find something to test out my food suggestions..

There’s a pleasing symmetry here, in these exciting beer times; in a happy reversal, it’s British breweries now who boast their beers’ US hops. Meantime’s Yakima Red adds to the growing Anglo/American special (beer) relationship, and manages to retain its Britishness. Drink it before St George’s day – it’ll be gone by the Fourth of July,

*There appear to be two pubs owned and run by Meantime, which you can find from the link. There are a dozen other outlets in and around London where you can find Yakima Red and other Meantime bees – subject to availability, natch.

Links
Meantime Brewing’s list of seasonal beers
Buy Meantime beers online from Beer Merchants.com
Hops Direct sells hops from Yakima Valley. Some great hop-info here.
More of my photos from the Yakima Red launch at the Greenwich Union pub.

Men with Odd-shaped Balls Drink Brains with Food, Shock

“Sorry I’ve come so formal”, said Simon, removing his tie. Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less. I had no idea what to wear, myself. I also had no idea who else was going to be there. Everybody else was in the dark-grey suit. Nice that somebody should care to dress for dinner, but all I cared about was it was a beer dinner given by Brains Brewery and I wanted to know what the menu was and how a range of thoroughly British beers would cope. Especially with dessert.

Simon wasn’t a solicitor, but Mark was. I told them I wrote about beer, they looked quizzical as I confessed my curiosity about what the choice of dessert beer would be. “Dessert beer?” I could see flit momentarily across their consciousnesses before they moved on to the more pressing subject of by how many points Wales would beat England by at Twickenham on Saturday. This was, after all, a dinner for The Wales in London club.

Brains_dessert_smallBrains_bill_and_melissa_cropBrains_duck_confit_small

We finished our welcome drink of bottled SA Gold, and followed it with a half of the cask version. (They preferred the bottled.) Before we could discuss the finer points of spear tackling or American craft brewing, we were called in to dinner. I found myself next to Bill Dobson, head brewer at Brains. Briefly, ex-Wales international centre and British Lion Tom Shanklin joined us, until he realised he wasn’t Beer Magazine editor Tom Stainer and went to find where he was supposed to be sitting.

Tom Shanklin’s seat was taken by Melissa Cole, beer writer and tonight’s beer co-MC with Bill Dobson. Melissa was also responsible for choosing the beers to go with each course. Something of a relief I’ll admit. You see, as much as I love and champion beer with food, I’m more used to a wider variety of styles than is usually available from a large-ish British regional brewer. Bill and Melissa guide us through each course pairing throughout the evening.

However, a quick straw poll of the assembled diners revealed that beer dinners were not the norm for the Wales in London members, unless several pints of Kingfisher were the chosen accompaniment to a chicken Madras. Best not to freak people out with a Rosé de Gambrinus lambic, then.

Here is the non-vegetarian menu and its chosen beer.

STARTER
Ham hock, Pommery mustard, and parsley terrine with homemade piccalilli.
Paired with:
Brains Milkwood

MAIN COURSE
Confit leg of Gressingham duck, fondant potato, aromatic red cabbage & sherry vinegar jus
Paired with:
Brains Bread of Heaven

DESSERT
Chocolate and raspberry mousse with berry coulis
Paired with:
Brains Original Stout

Brains Beers with Posh Dinner: The Verdict
The Milkwood was new to me, and the nutty and slightly spicy maltiness (from rye crystal malt), was a good match for the ham terrine. The beer has another slightly unusual ingredient in malted oats, which I imagine, contributed to making it feel a bigger beer than its 4.3% ABV might suggest. A touch of sweetness too, as a go-between for the piccalilli, which was refined and tart, but not like the famous jarred version that resembles toxic waste. Would a touch more complexity from a heavier hand with the hops been even better?

Duck confit just seems like perfect pub food. It’s slightly salty richness needs a beer to lighten the palate and quench the thirst. Melissa pointed out the cherry(stone?) note in the Bread of Heaven was a much better idea than overwhelming the meat with actual cherries. She was right. The red cabbage was a bit too much for it, but the oddly, the sweetness in sherry vinegar jus found the fruit in the beer, picked up the ball and ran.
“Bread of Heaven, feed me ’til I want no more! (Respons-i-blyyyy)”…

And so to dessert. I had almost guessed it would be a dark beer with chocolate, but I hadn’t guessed that Brains Original Stout was a mere 4.1%. Half the strength of the Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter I go on about in these pages (and as I did to Simon and Mark). Sensibly, the chocolate mousse with which it was paired was not so intense as to smother the beer, and I was so glad to see it served in a goblet rather than a boring beer glass. All the better to show off the coffee and chocolate aromas in the beer.

It worked then, I’m pleased to report. Not that I managed any kind of scientific survey, but from comments made during after-dinner speeches from honoured rugby guests Tom (Not Stainer) and Robert Jones for Wales, and ex-England full-back, now orthopaedic surgeon Jonathan Webb, I’d have thought this evening resulted in 100 or so more converts to the cause that drinking good beer with good food is a great idea. You don’t have to have outrageous beers, and you don’t have to wear a tie.

Links
Brains Brewery’s beer range
More pics and comments on Maltjerry’s flickr site
Melissa Cole’s Blogspot

A British Icon Smashed, or the Emperor’s new Glassware?

“Drivel, utter drivel,” commented “Chuffy” on 27th January, in response to a piece in the Guardian entitled “Calling time on the pint glass”. What was it that raised Chuffy’s ire? Another daily newspaper’s pathetic attempt at writing about beer? Hardly! The byline was Ben McFarland, current British Guild of Beer Writers’ Beer Writer of the Year, so at least some beer-informed people think he knows what he’s talking about.

But 990 people agreed with Chuffy. The comment earned him (surely it is a “him”) nearly one thousand “Recommendations” (Guardian-speak for “Like”). He was not alone in his opinion either: 997 people agreed with George999x, “You lot live on a different planet. Long live the pint glass!!” said George999x. Perhaps his likers included George001x – George996x, who knows.

Ben’s article dared to suggest that the standard pub pint beer glass, known as the nonic, is not the best vessel from which to appreciate the beverage for which it was made. Ben accuses the nonic glass is made for the landlord’s (and the brewery/pubco’s) convenience. He goes on to suggest it is ugly, not best suited to a lot of beers on grounds of flavour and aroma, and, it holds too much beer, he throws in, just to make sure there are no short measures.

Beer_glasses_detail_med

MaltCim shoots a selection of our glasses*

No prizes for guessing I’m on Ben’s side. Regular Nightjar readers might remember one of my non-resolutions/predictions for 2012 is to champion beer served in less than a pint. “Think big, drink small” I wrote. The late, great comedian Linda Smith is quoted in another comment, “A third of a pint? That’s not a drink, that’s homeopathy.” Funny, but a gross misrepresentation of homeopathy. However, if ever there were a subject worth grossly misrepresenting…

Smaller measures for bigger beers, is what I’m saying. And so does Ben, but he goes further, asserting that different shaped glasses bring out the best in different beers; especially those with plenty of aroma. But let’s allow that some people can’t or won’t care about such matters. Let’s talk about aesthetics, because smart-looking glasses sell beer.

Why did people suddenly develop a taste for Peroni? Their standard lager flies out of the taps at my local Ember Inn. Can it be anything to do with the glass? It’s seductive, sculpted curves, etched along its length with the Peroni logo.

I’d wager a mixed case of Kernel to a half-empty can of Fosters that there are crowds of people who would rather drink a Stella Vier from its continental pilsner glass than anything in a nonik. I bet your average young beer drinker – man or woman looks at the holder of a nonic glass and thinks, “Sad, old fart”. 

Of course, there are cool, branded pint glasses: Adnams and Ringwood have attractive pints that are a bit more than merely nonics with a logo stuck on. Of the national ale brewers, Fullers tries the hardest, with a different design for all of it’s major ales. But they are all pints. The wonderful ESB goblet: a glass for savouring an ale of 5.5% would be even better in a two-thirds measure.

So let me grant that Chuffy and George999x were partly right: the nonic is a British icon, but one that needs clasting. Pints will still be served, we will still drink them, but the nonic needs an extreme makeover. A new model army of brothers is needed in order to make beer of all styles more attractive in the pub, and acceptable on the dinner table.

Links
Ben McFarland’s original article in the Guardian: Calling time on the pint glass
Fullers range of pint glasses
Do yourself a favour and buy Kernel beers from Beer Merchants
The Nightjar’s Wishes for 2012

Glasses
Thanks to MaltCim for the photo.
Back, left to right: Fullers ESB goblet, Stockholm Festival 2009, Brew Wharf sampler, Stockholm Festival 2010.
Front: Lagunitas fruit jar, & private stock Gentle Giant etched US pint mug.

Burns Night: Honour Saved by BrewDog and Ardbeg Heavyweights

It’s time for me to re-think Burns Night supper.

I say this having got it mightily wrong this Burns Night. Forgot the neeps, decided to go with mashed potatoes and made a flour-based onion gravy using a dark-ish beer finished with some Laphroaig. BP would have been better off if they’d used my offering in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Cullen Skink? Culinary sink, more like. Honour was saved though, by the drinks I chose to accompany the supper.

Haggis_2012_med

I’m sorry to have almost let the haggis down, because, for this sassenach, haggis is about honour. It is not for me to talk about the honour of celebrating Scottishness, although every puddin’ chieftain sold south of the border honours Scotland. I can’t even really talk about honouring Burns. For all the poetry and the whisky, it’s the haggis that is piped in to the dining room as the centrepiece of the supper.

There’s no getting away from it, though, haggis is offal, and by placing our attention on such a dish we honour the beasts that went to make it. Lamb isn’t just about gigot.

It might be tempting then, to think about haggis as wastebasket food, but it is far from that. Haggis is big in flavour, big in texture, and great, hearty winter comfort food. To do it honour we need to encounter it at its best. Are the traditional accompaniments the right ones to make it shine?

In the tradition, neeps and tatties is a lot of stodge to go with something that is already padded with oatmeal. So you need something to lighten things up. I could happily leave the mashed or boiled potatoes for another day, and if you insist on the swede, then you’d better have plenty of butter.

And to drink? Burns Supper is one of the few feasts in the year where it’s not hard to persuade the most blinkered wine-is-best character that you are probably better off drinking some fruit of the malt. A proper haggis is deep and richly flavoured – and often strongly peppery. Whisky, is a given surely, but a big enough beer at the same time makes an excellent liquid foil.

Demon Drink
If I got the food combination wrong this time, at least I got the drinks choice bang on: a cherished, horded, one-last-bottle of the syntactically challenged BrewDog “bitch please” – their collaboration beer with American brewers Three Floyds, and Ardbeg Alligator – a mighty, special edition Islay whisky from Ardbeg, matured in new American oak casks so charred on the inside they are said to look like alligator skin.

The bitch please is certainly big enough: a barley wine made with peated Islay malt with the addition of magnificently un-Reinheitsgebot shortbread and toffee, and spiced up with an earth-spanning range of hops. If that wasn’t enough, the finished beer is then barrel-aged for 8 months in casks that once exchanged their tannic secretions with Jura’s malt whisky. Unfortunately, mere mortals can’t get it any more because right after I got mine, Valhalla bought the entire remaining stock for Thor and Odin. I heard.

Talisker is my first choice Burns Night dram. Not any fancy bottling either; the normal 10 year-old. That was my third oversight of the evening: no Talisker. I could have gone with the Laphroaig Quarter Cask I used in the gravy, but then I hit upon the Ardbeg Alligator.

The Alligator is a beast. Where Talisker has pepper and some sherried sweetness in its bracing saltiness, this Ardbeg has gobfulls of pepper, barely cracked, and chilli and ginger. This coming after a nose like barbecue glaze that’s dripped onto the coals.

And the haggis stands up to it all. It feels like its honour has been saved. Maybe this is all you need for the perfect Burns supper: a mighty ale and a beast of a whisky. And the words of Robbie Burns.

*********
I wish I’d gone with what Laphroaig posted as their suggested sauce: a simple cream sauce flavoured with wholegrain mustard, chives, lemon and “2 generous dashings of Laphroaig.” Quarter Cask works best, they say.

Robert Burns’ Address to a Haggis. in standard English
The Nightjar’s take on how BrewDog did Burns Night Supper 2011

The Ardbeg Alligator direct from the distillery shop.
You can’t get bitch please, but you can get Tokyo* from the BrewDog shop.

German Beer Purity Law: “Reinheitsgebot” on Wikipedia

No Resolutions, no Predictions: 6 Wishes for a Maltier 2012

Who was it that said, “I never make predictions, and I never will!”?  Well, it wasn’t Charlie Brooker, Guardian columnist and TV’s Screen Wipe writer, scourge of the mediocre. And despiser of new year resolutions, it seems. In his column on 8 Jan he says of resolutions, “You think of something you enjoy doing, and then resolve to stop doing it, thus giving them the longevity of a Christmas tree withered by a month of central heating.”

Mikkeller_ny_med

January does though, give at least the idea of a clean slate. As I toasted in the new year with a bottle of Mikkeller Fra… Til.. dark winter ale, I thought about what I would like to see and what I would like to change in 2012. So, no resolutions and no predictions…

 1. A bigger range of bottled beers in pubs
Especially pubs serving food. OK, most of the point of a British pub is to drink the fine draft beers. Increasing the range of bottled beers will allow a pub to serve a much greater diversity of styles to suit the dishes they serve. Take a leaf out of Leeds Brewery/The Midnight Bell collaboration, as seen in my post on Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain programme on Channel 4. And pubs: offer beers you can’t get in the supermarket. You’ll be able to charge more. And while I’m on that subject…

2. Hike the price of good (craft) beer
in pubs
What do you mean the Chancellor already did? Leave the ordinary stuff alone. but make good cask and craft keg reassuringly expensive, to recall an old campaign. Well, a bit dearer, anyway. What do you mean people will just stay at home and pay supermarket prices? What do people pay for a bottle of Becks in a pub, £3.50?  That’s like seven quid a pint. For Becks. Don’t even get me started on wine. Stand up for being the premium products they are. I’d much rather more money went to the great small breweries we have in the UK. Excellence should be rewarded.

3. Think big, drink small
When it comes to the bigger beers, pints are for wimps. Yes, that’s right; it’s halves that are for the daring. And thirds are for superheroes. Don’t chicken out and have a pint for your man/womanhood. Your brain, liver, and palate will thank you for that half of ESB. You can then “afford” a snifter of Magic Rock Human Cannonball. If only pubs and bars had more third pint glasses… Wait a minute; Ember Inns already do, for their tasting racks. (Three thirds for less than the price of the pint.) You could even do a round of two halves for standard strength beers. That is, until two-thirds glasses catch on. Daily mirror article from November 2011.

4. Breweries: tell us what’s in the bottle
“Brewed with the finest malt and choicest hops.” It says on far too many labels. Stop it now! Whisky is hardly better: “The purest water flowing down through the glens.” Rubbish. What if my headlines said: “Written with the most descriptive words and crafted punctuation”? Oh, and while I’m dealing with imprecision, stop this “Brewery Conditioned” nonsense. Beer: is it pasteurised? Filtered? Whisky: is it coloured? Chill-filtered?

5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers
When it comes to malt-based beverages, supermarkets are, on the whole, beige with the odd touch of inspiration. And because their ranges are a bit slow moving, you are way better off buying the beer and whisky you really want to drink by going to specialist online beer and whisky shops. At the same time, you get to support the real artisans of malt. Unless you live in Sweden, in which case, you’re more-or-less already catered for. Jammy gits.

My Brewery Tap’s Pick-and-mix range
The Whisky Tasting Club

6. More food and beer together

Writing and talking about Beer with food and cooking is the best way of introducing people to the diverse world of beer styles. I received an honourable mention in the Beer and Food category from the British Beer Writers Guild in December, and this made clear for me a direction for The Nightjar in 2012. I recommend you go to or give a beer dinner; I certainly will.

Damn!, I nearly made it through the whole post without a prediction. Sorry Charlie.

 

Malty Gifts for Christmas. Part 3: Whisky tastings

Sometimes it’s not easy being a whisky lover. And at Christmas, it can be hard to know what to buy for the whisky lover in your life. Have they got this whisky already? Will they like it. I have just the thing to solve this problem: how about buying a whisky tasting?

The sites I’m recommending here put together a selection of specialist and often rare whiskies in 30ml or 50ml bottles. Miniatures that you often can’t get anywhere else.  It’s both a try-before-you-buy, and an instant whisky tasting session.

Master_of_malts_burns_night_med2

The whiskies on offer are interesting – and the ones I’ve had have been really good – that you cannot fail if you buy a tasting set for a whisky lover. A couple also offer subscriptions for regular delivery of tastings.

Master of Malt I recommended last Christmas, you may remember. They also provided the whiskies for a tasting at a Burns Night dinner I conducted. Sets are mostly in the £20-£40 range, but can go quite expensive. I’d be particularly interested in the Staff Favourites set, which includes a couple of Islays, a cracking bourbon and a fantastic Japanese.
Master of Malt

The Whisky Tasting Club is run by Whisky Magazine editor Dominic Roskrow. The lucky citizens of Norwich have had the privilege of his live tastings for a while now, and this site has grown out of that. You can buy individual tastings or subscribe to receive regular tasting sets through the post, saving on delivery charges.

I had their Islay Festival set, and it was outstanding. Some sets you might expect to come across: Regions, Highland, or verticals (one distillery), and also some interesting ideas. Get Wood “explores the range of influence that wood (the cask) can have on a whisky”. 5 samples for £25+p&p.
The Whisky Tasting Club

In a similar vein is The Whisky Tasting Company, who also do subscriptions and a range of gift sets. I’ve not tried them out yet, but it seems they have a good many samples from the excellent independent bottlers Old Malt Cask, which is a very good sign.

Hurry! Last orders very soon!

Previously…

Malty gifts for Christmas. Part 2: Books about beer

I have three beer books on the go at the moment; all would make great presents: Great British Pubs, by Adrian Tierney-Jones, CAMRA’s Book of Beer Knowledge, by Jeff Evans, and the somewhat controversial Oxford Companion to Beer. (Links to UK Amazon below). 

Xmas_beer_books
You might have seen Adrian Tierney-Jones’ beer columns in the Daily Telegraph, for which he was recently awarded British Guild of Beer Writers Best Beer Writer in National Media. His book: Great British Pubs as well as evidently being a work of passion, is a carefully thought-through book, neatly divided into themed chapters (Beer Range, City Pubs, Riverside Pubs, and so on). It is inspiring in me a wanderlust for the grandmother-of-all pub crawls. £14.99 RRP, or try Amazon.

Jeff Evans’ book is subtitled Essential Wisdom for the Discerning Drinker. It is a smaller volume but packs a huge number of beer-related facts into its pages. At £7.99. An ideal stocking filler; I have trouble wresting it from MaltCim. Here is the Amazon link.

The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Garrett Oliver, has caused somewhat of a stir in the beer writing world. It is encyclopaedic in nature, has been years in the making, has 920 pages with over 1100 entries written by 165 different contributors. The controversy stems from disagreements over omissions and errors. As someone who has spent a career in various forms of technical communication, I’d say in a first edition work of this nature, this is Bound To Happen. There’s no escaping though, it is a fascinating and essential read for anyone interested in beer. £35.00 RRP, or somewhat cheaper here.

But, but… the book that has really made a difference to my appreciation of beer, and to a large extent, what I write about on The Nightjar, is a book that came out years ago, but which I only first read towards the end of 2010. Nevertheless, I keep going back to it: Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the pleasure of Real Beer with Real Food.
Really, this book deserves a post to itself, so I’ll leave you with a link to the Kindle Edition, £8.99. The current “proper” book copy is bulky, despite it’s flimsy soft cover, and if you’re serious about pairing beer and food, you need to be able to carry this around with you. You don’t have to have a Kindle: get the Kindle reader app.
Come back for Part 3: Whisky

Malty gifts for Christmas. Part 1: Beer

Beer and whisky gifts for Christmas proved a popular post last year, so here we go for 2011, beginning with some special beers and soon to be followed by some of the best beer books this year.

On the case

A good many breweries have online shops and special selections for the season, but I wanted to bring a couple to your attention that you might not be aware of.

Summer Wine Brewery, from Yorkshire, who in choosing their name are clearly hedging their beverage bets with an eye to global warming. Nevertheless, SWB are brewing beer for the foreseeable – and jolly fine it is too. They have a Festive Case of 24 330 ml bottles of a range of styles from a modern IPA to “Double Black Belgian RyePA”, all for £54.

I might have to include a chocolate fireguard with my next recommendation, as it’s a very limited offer, and might already be sold out. Bristol Beer Factory‘s 12 Stouts of Christmas is the culmination of a year-long project to produce 12 different stouts (would you believe). At £48 including delivery, they are bound to go faster than huskies in the snow.

If you miss the boat (sledge?), you could go for the Mixed Dark Case instead. It has some of the 12 Stouts, or you could choose your own case and include the likes of the Glenlivet cask-aged stout.

Online shop My Brewery Tap is an outlet for craft breweries. They have some mixed cases too, and also a few special bottles that would make a great gift. The 52-week UK beer club is a brilliant idea. Every quarter your chosen recipient receives 13 different, well-chosen British “real” ales. A gift that gives all year for a very reasonalbe £110 plus a Tiny Tim of a one-off, 6-quid shipping charge.  

A more affordable idea is to choose from the pick-and-mix selection, which would allow you to give one or two special beers to several friends and maybe keep a couple for yourself. Or perhaps go for a 1.5 litre Chimay Magnum Grande Reserve. Complete with champagne stopper, it would light up any New Year’s Eve celebration.

London’s The Kernel Brewery is probably the hippest in the UK at the moment, having just walked away with Brewer of the Year from the British Guild of Beer Writers. I couldn’t find a ready-made mixed case for you at that other online bastion of great beer, Beer Merchants, so I’ve made one up: a Mixed Kernel IPA Kernel, IPA ANR, 7%, Kernel, IPA Black 33cl, Kernel, IPA Citra 6.6% 33cl, Kernel, IPA Double Black, Kernel, IPA Nelson Sauvin Citra, 7.1%, 33cl, Kernel, IPA S.C.G.A.NS 7%, 33cl, Kernel, IPA SA.NS.NZC, 7.2%, 33cl, and Kernel, IPA Simcoe Centennial, 7%, 33cl.

Back soon with some ideas for books about beer.

To Jonas: On seven years of good luck – a whisky in celebration

To my brother-in-law Jonas,

December 8, 2004 I saw you just after you came round.
“Nice haircut,” you said.
“You’ve seen better days,” I thought.
But then again, you didn’t look bad for someone who’d just donated a kidney.

Today is the seventh anniversary of that haircut and also your heroic gesture. It changed your sister’s life – my wife, and no doubt, has made my life immeasurably easier.

A whisky is on its way today to you as a token of gratitude for this year; another healthy one.

Here’s to you, and to all who have done as you have, thank you!

Skål!
Jerry

To anyone else reading this, if you haven’t done so already, please sign up to be an organ donor.