Friday, 31 January 2020

Back from Two Years in the Wilderness With a Can of Imperial Stout

It's a little can that holds Imenso Imperial Stout. At 250ml it sits snug as a grenade between fingers and palm, thick 11% abv darkness within ready to fill its next vessel, no matter the size.

It's been two years since I last wrote about beer and, while not wanting to write a massive screed about my Fellowship Of The Ring-esque journey from not writing about beer to writing about it again, it at least deserves a sentence. That was the sentence, right there, and on this Friday night at the deathbed of a six week month I crack a massive grin and a small can and take a deep inhale of Imenso's aroma. 

Saturday, 17 February 2018

It Is Time To Drink Bargain Beer And Pay My Car Insurance Cancellation Fee


The process of writing a snappy "economy beer"-related title for this piece was torment itself. I couldn't use a made-up word like "Beeronomics" even though it sounded class in my head because a quick Google search told me there's a book by that name. 

Economical puns and wordplay related to phrases like "a rising tide lifts all boats" were typed down then erased with a groan. "A Sinking Pint Raises All Spirits?" Howay Ruari, you're better than this.

This week, beer bloggers Boak and Bailey dropped a short but effective article about the importance of calling attention to good beer available at a palatable price, in the light of ongoing debates on craft beer pricing and the fear of the £5 pint becoming standard. In these heady days of rage, of consumer boycotts and macro takeovers, a buycott movement is a refreshing, cool wind after a season of black rain. With this in mind, I swung by my favourite beer shop on a mission to buy a session's worth of beer, making sure that each can or bottle was in the region of the £2 mark, and shout out the best of the bunch.

Hell, maybe the whole bunch. It's nice to be your own editor.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Tramp Wine, a Vintage Piece

I wrote the following article in late 2014 for The Carouser Magazine. I recently found out that although it's still available on its website, for some reason the photography that I supplied has been taking down. 

Making it look a little bit shit.

Being totally not mad about it, and actually finding it funny, and actually maybe THEY are the ones that look foolish, I'm re-publishing it here, with the original photos (which I really enjoyed taking) and a few edits for fact checking and content.

Also it's nice to be back, actual content coming very soon!

Tramp Wine- Fuck The World

Tramp Wine. Bum booze. Eau d’Underpass. We’ve all had a go on it at some point, in one of its forms. Normally we stop our dalliances with hell-drinks like Buckfast and MD 20/20 in our mid-teens, when we knock the street corner drinking on the head and spend a few years getting lashed in our bedrooms. Failing that, we stick with these tried and trusted mind-erasers to the point that we end up living in a skip and having intense public arguments with ourselves about ghosts at three in the morning.

It’s time to once again slip the tiny bulletproof vest over my liver and descend into alcoholic perdition to remind myself of the horrors and delights of the tramp wine experience. 

If I’m not back by tomorrow, the ghosts have got me. Check the skip.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Walking The Beat Back To Gonzo Town, And The Book That Never Was

Earlier tonight I wrote a huge article that ended up being really self-indulgent, about how my drinking habits have changed and how I don’t go out much any more. Keeping it very simple, and consigning the fifteen or so paragraphs I’d written to Computer Hell, I’ve noticed from looking at my writing over the past few years I’ve tended to just do beer reviews sitting in my living room, on my own. My preview piece for the Plough’s beer festival in August of 2016, in which I took three of the beers that were to be featured home and drank them, is a very different beast to my coverage of the Rockliffe RFC beer festival in 2014, when I went there on my own, got pretty bombed and had a whale of a time. I like both of the articles, don’t get me wrong. I’m not disowning any of them. They’re all my dumb, ugly children.

Taken on its own this isn’t really a big deal. “Guy In His Mid-Thirties In ‘Not Going Out That Much’ Shocker” isn’t a headline that shifts copies. But when you hold it up against the fact that pubs are closing at a breakneck speed in this country, with CAMRA’s statistics from 2016 pointing to 29 a week being permanently shuttered, it looks kinda serious, because surely a beer writer should also be a going-out writer? A going-to-the-pub-even-if-nobody-else-fancies-it writer?

This time last year I was full of piss and vinegar and amazingly excited about writing a book in which I would drink in every bar and pub in the city of Newcastle in 12 months. This was going to be the apex of my work in the fields of “getting out of the house and doing stuff”. It all came to naught because by the rules I set myself it became an impossibly expensive undertaking.

Presented here is the first chapter, the only fully completed chapter. It’s rough and ready, but I’m posting it as a statement of intent that from now on I’ll be writing about beer in the wild again, as well as keeping up a steady stream of reviews written in my lavish and many-cushioned palace of decadence.

The book was going to be dedicated to the late Patrick Lavelle, my favourite lecturer when I was studying journalism, who taught me just how vital it was to know your patch and walk the beat. These are things I need to bear in mind more when I’m writing. Anyway, here it is.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Pumpkin Beer Hallowe'en Spooktacular

October is almost done. Samhuinn fires are lit to burn us into November as the Skeleton Summer draws to a close. Three offerings to the great pumpkin sit on this reporter's table. Three pumpkin beers to lead us into the cold months and maybe make a few people say "ugh, pumpkin, nah" and hit the "back" button.

The Fear, from Flying Dog, is first up. The strongest of the three at 9% abv, it promises pumpkin-spice devastation with label art that showcases perfectly Ralph Steadman's ability to illustrate fear and, indeed, loathing.

Smoke crawls from the bottle neck like a ghost girl from a TV screen. The spices with which this Imperial ale are brewed are present here, strong and musty. There is a cigar-box acridity, a mysterious buzz that sits perfectly with the outhouse paranoia sounds of Tom Waits' "What's He Building In There?". It looks at home in a skull-shaped glass, dark brown with a thin tan head. The first mouthful is an eruption of heat and glorious herbal stank and I wolf down three mouthfuls with the gusto of an ancient king about to face the sacrificial threefold death of wounding, drowning and burning. The alcoholic heat is reined in after this, the malty basslines and the keening choir of spices (loudest among them being cinnamon) drowning it out.

The beer is sticky, clingy, cloying and tacks itself to the tongue, sizzling there and numbing the buds with a faint aftertaste of bubblegum. Late-teens Jaegermeister memories return, and the bottle of Baba Jaga herbal liquor I still haven't finished after a decade broods at me from its shelf in my kitchen. 

The final slug contains a strong hit of liquor and liquorice, a medicinal suckerpunch to an open, glakey mouth. I jerk my head to the right, convinced I've seen something move in the hallway. It's just my hair. They don't call it The Fear for nothing, I guess.

There's a lot going on down at the bottom of Roadsmary's Baby, a rum-cask-aged 6.8% abv pumpkin beer from 2 Roads Brewing. A field of sediment, 3mm deep, sits at the bottom of the bottle. I crack my knuckles, limbering up to pour without filling my glass with murk. Steady. Steady.

The scent from the neck is led by the vanilla beans mentioned on the label, with squash and malt following thereafter and the rum scent holding a faint rearguard. 

The little glass skull this time takes on the hazy colour of a brass boiler plate, and a strong inhale from the glass brings out the rum cask scent. Another bottle on my kitchen shelf silently calls out to me, the ruinous bottle of Guyanan Rhum Agricole that a guy on my stag weekend gave me. I'm saving the last few mouthfuls for if I get married again or need to launch a rocket into space.

The carbonation is surprisingly strong on the first mouthful, a smokescreen under which the rum flavour advances and makes gains in the mouth, lips and tongue regions. While this all goes on, the scent within the glass shifts in favour of the pumpkin-spice aroma, and it's worth a good few minutes of steady inhalation, the kind of behaviour that might get you weird looks at a pub but is totally acceptable in your kitchen. Another few mouthfuls and a hazelnutty taste appears, and the alcoholic heat builds to solid "winter warmer" levels. 

For such a layered beer, with its strata of rum cask flavours, squash tastes and spicy buzz, Roadsmary's Baby leaves little lingering aftertaste after the glass is empty, leaving little palate-cleansing to be done before the final beer.

I have to underline the fact that Gary, the man behind Newcastle microbrewery Grid Brewing, is a mate of mine. I was just at his house last weekend taking part in the destruction of a lot of box-fresh American IPAs and DIPAs when I told him I was excited to drink Fall, Grid's pumpkin beer, and mentioned that my girlfriend Emma is a big fan of pumpkins and spice (I think she causes a blip on Starbucks' takings every October) and he was more than happy to sort me out with a bottle. In the interests of ethics, and because I've already had two pretty heavy hitting beers tonight, the bottle of Fall will be split between Emma and I, and she's going to give her opinions on it at the end of this post. 

Beneath a banner of heavy Gothic typeface, Fall makes its appearance, The crown cap is popped off and the beer within clamours to escape, foam adding a snowy mountain-top to the open neck. A smoky, clovey, spicy scent rises and I pour our glasses. A misty copper-gold with a little more haze than that which fills Emma's glass (mine was the second glass poured) turns to amber with a light behind it.

From the glass the scent remains a warming, fulfilling roasted spice, with the squashy pumpkin filling out on subsequent breaths. Smooth, spiced, and holding its own following two powerful beers, Fall has a cleaner, less herbal, less medicinal taste to it than The Fear and Roadsmary's Baby. At 4.8% it is almost-too-easily sessionable and its aftertaste lingers excellently, quietly upending the pumpkin cart and getting squash everywhere. The weakest in terms of alcoholic volume of tonight's beers, Fall's flavour still stands up after this reporter's head-holes have been smashed about by Flying Dog and Two Roads' tasty offerings. 

To end this entry, here's Emma's take on Fall. She's had more pumpkin spice lattes than anyone I've ever met, and she knows her pumpkins.


Hey, I'm Emma and I know nothing about beer, craft or otherwise. Time to share my much awaited taste experience!

Ok so first off I tried to smell it from the bottle but, I shit you not, it literally spooged foamy-ass bubbles right up my nose. So clearly it was very pleased to see me!

Forgive me if my writing seems a bit weird, above all else I went through two pens before having to resort to using a pencil to take my notes like a caveman. And I'm reading them off of my pizza box because too lazy to find a notebook. Although considering I'm using my phone's notes app to write this drivel up, I could have used it to write my notes down in. But this is what a sensible person would have done. God help us all.

I got to drink out of the pumpkin glass. An honour probably not deserving of this novice. But it's my glass so nyah nyah.

Anyway, when I finally could smell the bastard without inhaling beer head, I picked up faint notes of cinnamon and (obviously) pumpkin, the flavours some of us PSL loving people have come to associate with Autumn and the colder months. The colour in the glass made me think of a deep orange tea. Is pumpkin tea a thing, does anyone know? It should be. If it isn't.

After snorting it for what I assumed was an acceptable and professional amount of time, it was bottoms up time. I was surprised that it wasn't bitter as most of my experience with a lot of beers is a bitter aftertaste that drowns out whatever is meant to accompany it, but that could just be my taste buds not knowing what the hell is going on. It was quite thin and smooth, no leftover residue or anything like that, it went down lovely. 
Of course, the more I drank it, the more it tasted mostly of beer. But that's ok, since it's beer.

All in all, a satisfying seasonal beverage, would absolutely drink again. Maybe with Chinese food. That would be nice. 

Now Ruari, stop pissing about with this, your pizza's stone cold now.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Schwaben Brau- Clearer by the End of the Week

Blue skies herald the beginning of the weekend. Today September is dying hard, burning away into October with a summery curse on its lips. Friday night rolls into town beneath a retreating sun, wide eyed and thirsty.

This week I have been drinking beers from German brewery Schwaben Brau, which are currently on sale at Aldi branches throughout the UK. It's time for the final beer, a bright and clear Pilsner called Das Helle, to come chip away at the hangover that its cloudy sibling Das Naturtrub started up last night.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Schwaben Brau- the Haze Comes Down

A hazy beer for a hazy day, with a low Autumn sun cracking its knuckles and preparing to cause countless rush hour fender benders, Das Naturtrub from Schwaben Brau sits smug and cloudy in its half litre swing-top. The fourth of the five German imports currently carried by Aldi UK, and the second last in this little series.