Friday 30 November 2007

warm piss

Piss. We all have it. In its natural, fresh state it's always warm. That's the easiest way of telling if the lager bottle you're drinking from has been weed into. Anything above room temperature, I would pass on.

Only once, many years ago, have I been confronted with a penis-refilled bottle. I know who was to blame: Matt. Luckily, I realised what had happened after just three mouthfuls. Perhaps the sick grin on his face tipped me off. It couldn't have been the smell, because, as we all know, drinking straight from the bottle kills the aroma.

A party in Leeds is where it took place. Matt and me were terrible party crashers. "Were you invited?" "No. You're really lucky we came." That was another party. Matt threw up and then covered his pool of sick with a rug. Happy days.

Warm piss or cold piss? Which is better? Room temperature and not too heavy on the bubbles, that's how I like it. So either let the Bavaria Pils warm up or Matt's piss cool down. That's my advice.

Thursday 29 November 2007

out of the can

I rarely buy beer in cans. Europe isn't exactly overflowing with quality canned beer. It's usually only the pissiest of lager or a bland ale pretending to be nitro-dispensed keg. Neither feature much in my purchasing fantasies.

There are some good arguments for packaging beer in cans - preventing light damage, for example. But somehow a can lacks the aesthetic appeal of a bottle. And I can't get the negative associations out of my mind. I've only recently come to terms with buying bottled beer. Cans will need several more decades to gain my acceptance.

That said, I have drunk a few this year. This is what I've had out of the can.

Bavaria Piss. When I was desperate on the way back from an outing with the kids. I bought it at one of the imaginatively-named Kiosk chain of snack counters that you find in Dutch stations. Luckily it was ice cold and I was ice pissed. One of the advantages of taking the kids along is that they can guide me home when my brain takes a holiday. It teaches them self-reliance and independent thought. That's what I tell Dolores. And social services when they finally catch up with me.

Whitbread Gold Label. The beer that confused me about Barley Wine. Purchased, if I remember correctly, in Balderton's Kwik Save. I drank these (a pack of four) nice and warm. Much better than I expected, to be honest. Strong beer is essential when staying at my brother's. Yet perversely the shops within in walking distance sell almost none. The few available are crap. I expected only historical interest and inebriation from Gold Label. That it was a quarter-decent beer was a bonus.

Carlsberg Special Brew. My credibility must now be bouncing along at snake-belly level. The choice in Balderton keeps getting worse. A couple of years ago I could get Guinness FES. AT the risk of sounding like a total alky, given the choice between a piss-weak crap beer and a strong crap beer, I'll go for the latter. You would have thought that the change from oh-so-classy Kwik Save to Sainsbury's would have improved the beer selection in the closest supermarket. It didn't. Hence the Special Brew. I'm not sure I'd bother with this one again. Really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, unpleasant. In comparison, Gold Label is Courage Russian Stout. But I did finish the whole four pack. Not that I derived any pleasure from it. The alternatives - sobriety or drinking double the number of crappy weak beers - were just too horrific to contemplate.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

Real mane ismy

Anagrams aren't my bag, man. Bluey-grey, corduroy, DDR-style bags are my well . . . bags. Even I can work out the one (anagram, not Ossitüte) in the title. Just. Even though I wrote it.

How do you think this blog thing's going? Is there a point to what I'm doing? Should I continue?

Just thinking aloud. Life has been showing me its angles and their relationships. I was working up to a joke there but my vocabulary hit the shoals. "Thank Stalin", you say, "He must stop."

I'm around halfway through my "Earl list" posts. An interesting experience. (That's how you describe 5 years fighting with FARC guerillas or trying to get from Paris to London with only 8 francs. Stuff of underwear recolouring proportions.) Ratings-wise, they're a great success. They are a great success.

Non-literal interpretation, I thought. That's what they expect. Playing with the titles and twisting them to my own perverse ends has to be fun. That was the plan. How has it gone?

Big day tomorrow. . . . . . . . . 25 hours.

Let's hope one of the 27 is mine.

Dutch Bar Snacks (the "bitterballs" question)

Customer: "Do you have bitterballs?" Barman: "No idea. I've never tried sucking them."

Dutch pubs do some things very well. Not buggering up the interior with cheap, crappy renovations is one. Letting my kids in is another. And let's not forget the almost universal availability of Westmalle Tripel. (For those days when you need to reach oblivion fast.) Korenwijn. That's a good one, too. Though I had promised myself not to reveal the pleasures of jenever in case it got too popular and the price went up. (Even Bols Korenwijn is eminently drinkable. Not a patch on Janssens 1 year old Rogge, but still drinkable.)

That's not too bad a list of positives. But there's one thing Dutch pubs are (in general) crap at: food. Given their average size, I can understand why few sell hot meals. The snacks aren't great, either. Tostis (toasted sandwiches), sliced osseworst, cubes of cheese - that's about it. If you're lucky, the cheese will be decent. Many beer pubs have Trappist cheese. My son Andrew finds that a bit too stinky for his taste. He prefers jonge or belegen Dutch cheese.

Larger pubs, especially those going for the after work trade, often sell hot snacks. In Holland that means fried things. Dim sum, mini spring rolls or bitterballs. My favourite are the dim sums. Depending on my level of starvation, I will also tuck into the other two.

What are bitterballs? A sort of kroket. I know your next question: "What's a kroket?" It's a staple of Dutch snack bars. You can spot them drying out under the lights in the coin-operated hatches in Febo. Basically they're a breadcrumb tube filled with gravy. Sound yummy, don't they? (I shouldn't get too nasty. One of my guilty pleasures is a "broodje kroket" - a flattened out kroket in a spongy industrial white roll.) Bitterballs are mini, spherical krokets, about the size of a golf ball and ever so slightly less edible.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

How To Shop For Beer In Holland

Shopping for beer is suprisingly easy in Holland. If you're happy to drink Trappist or Duvel. Which I am. Supermarkets, off-licences and specialist beer shops all play their part in providing the innebriate easy ale access.

Dutch supermarkets, while stocking far fewer brands that their UK equivalents, have a much higher porportion of drinkable stuff on their shelves. My local Dirk van den Broek (a budget chain) sells maybe 30 different beers, but these include La Trappe Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel, both Westmalle beers, Duvel and Grolsch Weizen. Around 1 in 4 drinkable isn't a bad ratio. Even in large, up-market British shops I struggle to find 7 beers worth supping out of the hundreds (mostly industrial lager) brands on sale.

I'm especially lucky when it comes to buying beer. (Or any other sort of alcoholic drink, for that matter.) I live just around the corner from an excellent off-licence, Ton Overmars. Whisky and wine are his specialities, but he still manages to stock around 100 beers. Including my essential staples: St Bernardus 6, 8 and 12 and Guinness Special Export. For everyday use, I need to stray no further.

For those with more exotic tastes, The Netherlands is reasonabley well-served with specialist beer shops. Amsterdam has two excellent ones: De Bierkoning and De Gekraakte Ketel. Both are in the centre and easy to find even for the doziest of tourists. Sadly, the Amsterdam branch of Bert's Bierhuis closed years ago. The one in Utrecht is still thriving, however. It's on the edge of the old city but is opposite a beer cafe, Ledig Erf. Just south of Amsterdam, De Schans brewery has a pretty decent beer shop (but sadly nowhere to drink).

Most essential is the correct bag. I recommend a bluey-grey, corduroy, DDR-style bag. It's what I always use. The extra thickness helps protect beer from shocks (or putting down too hard on the pavement) and the structure help keep bottles upright. The original wore out years ago, but my wife has made several more to replace it. One of the many advantages of marrying someone from the East.

If you're buying beer for immediate consumption, you need to pay attention at the supermarket checkout. The girls on the till have a nasty habit of laying bottles in their side and rolling them down the conveyor. Pretty much guaranteed to disturb the yeast.

In summary, supermarkets are fine if you're not too fussy, in most big towns you should find an off-licence with a better selection, for the really picky, a visit to Amsterdam or Utrecht may be needed.

De Bierkoning
Paleisstraat 125,
1012 ZL Amsterdam.
Tel. 020-625 6336

De Gekraakte Ketel
Raamsteeg 3,
1012VZ Amsterdam.
Tel: 020-6240745

Wijnwinkel-Slijterij Ton Overmars
Hoofddorpplein 11,
1059CV Amsterdam.
Tel: 020-615 71 42
Fax: 020-615 01 99

Speciaalzaak De Schans
De Schans 17,
1421 BA Uithoorn.
Tel.: 0297-522106
Fax: 0297-522107

Bert's Bierhuis
Twijnstraat 41,
3511 ZH Utrecht.
Tel. : 030 - 234 1339
Fax: 030 - 234 3166

Ledig Erf
Tolsteegbrug 3,
3511 ZN Utrecht.
Tel. : 030 - 231 7577
Fax: 030 - 234 2229

There may be some disruption to my usually excellent service this week. I'm upgrading my PC. My hard drive is pathetically small (20 gig) and almost full. Twin archive visit next week will provide way more photos than it has room for. I'll need to reinstall the operating system. (Well, Dolores will.) And you never know what problems this might cause.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Dutch v. Belgian Oud Bruin

Dutch Oud Bruin has escaped the attention of most beer stylists. Sometimes mistaken for the Belgian beer of the same name, it's about as different as you can imagine.

Dutch Oud Bruin
Low in alcohol (2.5-3.5% ABV), bottom-fermented and sweetened with saccharine, I can understand why it doesn't feature in microbrewers' portfolios. Not that the Belgian version is much more popular, but it has the "extreme" tag that drags in a few parcel-pullers. Both are brown in colour. That's about where the similarity ends. Dutch Oud Bruin even gives a lie to half it's name by not being old.

As was the case across northern Europe, the first lagers brewed in the Netherlands were all dark. Münchners mostly, but sometimes the darker Kulmbacher style. Well into the 20th century Münchners formed a significant part of the Dutch beer market. Marginalised by the unstoppable advance of Pils, they disappeared in the late 1950's or early 1960's.

It's confession time. I haven't had a chance to analyse properly the material I have on Dutch beer. So excuse me if my tale is a little sketchy in places.

In the 1930's, Heineken brewed three dark lagers: Beiersch Bier, Münchener Bier and the seasonal Bokbier. (And possibly Tafel Bier. I don't know what colour that was.) No beer called Oud Bruin. So it seems the the Oud in the name refers neither to the age of the beer or the age of the style: both are young.

"Van Brouwerij to Bierglas" by F. Kurris, 1948, pages 20-24, lists the following Dutch beer types: Lager, Pilsener, Dortmunder, Münchner, Maastrichts Oud and Breda's Bruin. So an Oud and a Bruin, but no Oud Bruin. What is mentioned is Jong Bier - a Lager (a weakish bottom-fermenting beer of 9º to 11º Plato) that underwent secondary fermentation in the cask. To disguise the presence of yeast, it was coloured with caramel. It was also sweetened with saccharine. There was also bruin Lager, sweetened and coloured Lager without yeast.

The first mention I've seen of Oud Bruin is a Heineken label from the 1950's. It seems reasonable to assume that this was a renaming of the Lager. Some breweries - De Ridder, for example - still used the name Donker Bier for their Oud Bruin until relatively recently.

What's intriguing is that while at the full-strength level (5% ABV) the dark version, Münchner (in latter years Pils coloured with caramel), died out, at the weaker strength (3.5% ABV) pale Lagerbier has died out, but the dark version still survives. Don't ask me why this might be.

The first time I tried Dutch Oud Bruin is still fresh in my memory. It was in 1982 during my first trip to Holland with Harry and Johnny Ash. We were in Deventer. Most of the pubs didn't sell anything but Pils. I was really excited when, after asking what else they had, a barman told me that they had a bottled dark beer. My excitement evaporated after the first sip. Even for a hardened Mild drinker, it was ridiculously sweet and watery.

During my attempt to taste every beer brewed in Holland, I renewed my acquaintance with Oud Bruin. OK, they are too sweet, but I found most breweries Oud Bruins much better beers than their Pilsners. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I'm pretty sure it isn't complimentary about the quality of Dutch Pils.

Belgian Oud Bruin
I always support the underdog. With a recent revival in the fortune's of Gueuze, Oud Bruin is one of Belgium's most threatened styles. There are very few left and most are made in tiny quantities. I'm sure that you all know this already, but I'll say it just for completeness. Belgian Oud Bruin is a standard-strength dark beer, soured during secondary fermentation in oak vats. It's probably coloured with caramel. I know that Rodenbach is.

Oudenaarde is spiritual home of Oud Bruin. There used to be four breweries in the area producing it: Clarysse, Roman, Liefmanss and Cnudde. My personal favourite was Felix from Clarysse. A bit sweet when young, it aged beautifully becoming nicely balanced after two or three years in the bottle. Though the brewery closed several years ago, the beer continues to be brewed by Verhaeghe. It isn't quite what it used to be.

Liefmans have bumped up the strength of Goudenband so much - it's now 8% ABV, that it isn't really an Oud Bruin any more. I haven't seen Roman Oudenaards for quite a few years. It wasn't that great, but it would still be sad if it had disappeared. Cnudde has never been easy to find. They only brew a handful of times a year and the beer is only available on draught. And only in half a dozen cafés in Eine.

Friday 23 November 2007

Two of my favourite things

Julie Andrews, Julie Andrews. Bum, it doesn't work for me.

It's been a difficult week. Details bore won't you with. (Construct your own sentence from these five words.) I couldn't say that I was glad to be back in the UK this week. About the only plus point was being able to collect the box of beer that Brewdog had sent to my sister's address. Quite reasonably, they hadn't been up for sending samples to a freeloading blogger in the Netherlands. But a freeloading Dutch blogger with a UK delivery address was fine.

On more than one occasion, I've admitted to being a total tart. Ignore that. I'm honest as the day is short. No, that's not it. I'm as long as the dog is honest.

Barrel ageing. It's all the rage. Until today, I'd only had two and I hadn't cared much for either. Doubts had begun to swell my sad, little brain. Was barrell-ageing just a stupid, pointless fad? (That's a multilingual bad pun that only my scandinavian readers might get.)

In the words of the great poet Neil Diamond, "I'm a believer". I've just cracked a Brewdog Paradox Islay and it's a cracker. It combines two of my Julie Andrews things: Imperial Stout and Islay whisky. Not carcrash but gestalt. Really, dead, dead good. You won't get a precise review, because that's outside this blog's mission statement. You should try it. I seem to have a couple of different versions in my freebie box. Lucky me.

You may have got the impression that I'm a reactionary old twat instinctively opposed to anything new. That is true. Most of the time. Take my endorsement of this beer as an uncharacteristic attack of contemporaneousness. But an honest one.

Tuesday 20 November 2007


I like to use Oettinger as an example for one of my pet theories: that it's possible to brew crap beer while sticking to the Reinheitsgebot.

You might claim in their defence that Oettinger's beers are cheap. Yes they are. And it's pretty easy to tell that from drinking them. Minimal lagering times (maybe they wheel the crates through a lagering cellar - it certainly doesn't taste as if they stop moving whilst in there) and cheap (in the low-quality sense) ingredients.

I haven't got a good word to say about them. They epitomise what is going wrong with German beer. Overcapacity and low prices are forcing many breweries to cut corners in order to survive. Hop extract is one of the worst culprits in debasing German beer. I have a particular aversion to it, but unfortunately can detect it all too easily. In pale hop-oriented beers like Pilsener, it's particularly offensive. If you want to see how it messes a beer up, try Oettinger Pils.

During the scramble to buy up East Germany's brewing industry, I found it apt that Oettinger got hold of the Gothaer Brauerei. Their beers were about my least favourite from the East. Somehow, Oettinger managed to make them even worse. That takes real skill and dedication.

Monday 19 November 2007

Bubbles in my Beer

I grew up drinking cask ale. (At least in beer terms. In childhood I grew up drinking water.) Bubbles have never been that popular with me.

I don't mind the odd bit of carbonation. But rising bubbles are the sign of the devil. That's why I always try to remove as many as possible before my first sip. I've just been de-gassing some Maredsous 8. It's almost ready to drink. . . . sound of swizzle stick twirling in beer . . . No, still too gassy . . . . twirl, twirl, twirl . . . Much better. The texture of Tetley's Mild, that's what I aim for. Univac-served, of course. That whacks out almost all the dissolved CO2.

Carbonation in pub-served beer is more problematic. I don't always have a suitable de-gassing stick. I sometimes use my finger. Not the most hygienic solution. Especially after a shit-throwing session.

Some of the best beers I've ever had were barely carbonated. Several Courage Russian Stouts. A couple of Harvey's Imperial Stouts. There's another beer that stands head and elbows with those two: RIP. I probably shouldn't say this. But I'm nototriously indiscrete. I was recently at De Molen, having a chat with Menno, the brewer. He let me try a freshly-bottled version of Rasputin he's developping. Fan-blooming-tastic. Though he apologised for the lack of conditioning, I thought that it went well with the style. Beer always tastes best when served by the brewer.

"The squat is a lower body exercise used in strength training. It is also a competitive lift in powerlifting and an essential movement in the sport of weightlifting."

I understand that. I do know squat. It's the rest of my knowlege that's woefully inadequate.

Friday 16 November 2007


Left to myself, I wouldn't have written yesterday's post. Not that I don't like giving the BJCP regular kicks. I prefer doing it a different way.

It's fortunate that I didn't publish (in my pathetic internet way) more stuff earlier. The last two years have provided enough for several feasts of my own text. We all like to think of ourselves as rational. At least I hope we do. I wouldn't want to live in a world full of consciously irrational beings. Sounds like hell. Or Swindon, as it's more popularly known. Honest self-crticism is the embodiment of rationality.

You may spot which of my posts have been helped by a beer. Or one and a half. One and eleven sixteenths, top. Crap jokes didn't score that highly in my poll, I recall. Time to be pedantically literal.

Laughs aren't always easy to get. I have a couple of guaranteed ways, here in the Netherlands. This one never fails around these parts. Colleague: "Why don't you cycle to work?" Ronald: "I can't ride a bike." I then explain that no, I wasn't crippled in childhood and that my parents didn't belong to some weird anti-cycling sect.

Dutch bikes, especially junkie bikes, can be primitive. Stadsfiets, omafiets - that's what they call them. They cost - when purchased from a genuine, certified junkie - (coincidentally) exactly the same as a bag of smack. (I had worried about including any d**gs words in this family blog. Then I realised that the CBI, or whoever else might be tracking my communications, couldn't possibly pick it up. Try searching for "smack" in a not-really-allowed-state-altering context and see how much you find that's relevant.)

Primitive Dutch bikes don't have hand-operated brakes. You have to backpedal. But I don't. I can't.

Let's try less literal. I'm big enough to admit when I've been wrong. Not really. I'm big enough to fill a whole chest freezer. If filleted.

"Was", "I", "wrong". They sound best in a certain order. And it isn't when the first two words are flipped.

Crap jokes. I remember. My memory isn't what it was. You want me to spend more time in the pub with my kids. Who am I to argue with the great ..... (substitute the country of your birth) people?

Stumbling, but not quite yet prone in the gutter, I approach the conclusion of this post. I promised Alexei that I would have time for him at exactly 16:44. By the highly-inaccurate clock over my right shoulder that's the time . . . right . . . . now

Dolores is bribing the kids with money. I have another 43 seconds (they cost 10 euro cents per 12 seconds). I hope that I've been honest enough to admit that I've been wr

Thursday 15 November 2007

Things I like about the BJCP style guidelines

I've gone for another easy one today.

There's so much good about the BJCP style guidlines, that it's difficult to know where to start. Here's a try.

  1. They start at number 1.
  2. They are innovative and forward-facing. (I got that one from "Management bullshit for idiots".)
  3. They cement the beer world in the mid-1970's - just when I started drinking.
  4. They inspire insights like "this beer is too roasty for a Porter".
  5. They don't mis-define Czech lager styles. They don't realise they exist. I promise not to tell them about them if you don't.
  6. When I'm bored at work, browsing them provides endless amusement.
  7. They are imaginative. They've invented whole families of beer styles. Think Scottish Ales.
  8. No-one in Belgium pays the slightest attention to them.
  9. They combine Belgium and France (styles 16 A to E) - something the Congress of Vienna was determined to prevent.
  10. They finish at number 28, having used all the integers from 1 upwards.

Tears of laughter prevent me listing any more. Tears, at least. Just the boring sort: tears of despair.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Going to America

It was 22 years ago today. (Or thereabouts. My visa is dated October 23rd 1985.)

The papers for my visa application arrived while I was in Brno. (The most important four weeks of my life were spent on a summer school learning Czech in Brno. I improved my Czech enough to be able to read Kundera, had more money than I could spend, met lifelong friends and found my wife.) J1 visa, I think. Some fiddle it was, thought up by the dodgy agency I worked through. A work experience visa it was supposed to be. We were just plain old ordinary wage slaves. I hope they don't decide to come after me. The agents, I mean. The mafia are pussycats compared to contract agencies.

October 28th 1985. I've just inspected my old passport more closely. That was the exact date I arrived in America for the first time. In Newark. How aposite.

My first beer in America - I can remember it crap - was an Amstel Light, in some soulless midtown bar. A beer that was totally immemorable yet I still recall what it was.

In the 1980's, the British were the IT job tourists. BONY bought in a gaggle of us.

I lived on Staten. In a neighbourhood as dull as dull can be. Where the buses do run, but the streets have no pavements. The looks I got, walking home with my shopping. The Recovery Room was one of my local bars. We played darts there. Me and some of my British workmates. The beer was crap. I drank bottled Heineken.

Darts. British blokes. Beer. Manhattan. In the mid-1980's this spelled "Manhattan Brewery" . Not literally. Obviously.

Our office was downtown. If I hadn't spent the last 30 years boozing every day, I could tell you the exact address. Washington Street, possibly. We could walk to the Manhattan Brewery. Which is exactly what we did. At least once a week. Playing darts was the general excuse. I was glad to have the chance to drink something handpulled.

One night, after the darts, I got to talk to the brewer. I was impressed. He was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I wonder what happened to him?

This was my first going to America. More happened.

Sunday 11 November 2007

Parenting a beer obsessive

I never got to share a beer with my dad down the pub. He died when I was 14. It's one of my greatest regrets. Maybe that's why I'm so keen on taking my own kids to the pub.

Mum and I shared plenty of pub time. From Montego Bay to Sydney. But I only ever saw her tipsy once - after drinking rum punch in Kingston. Tea was her drink of choice. Rum and black, on a special occasion.

Being the mother of a beer obsessive isn't easy. I should know. I dragged my poor mother around so many smoky pubs. She rarely grumbled, even though her asthma left her gasping for breath. "Ronald, don't you think you've had enough?" That was her catchphrase. "Just one more, mum, then we can go." That's what I want to say to her now: "Just one more, mum, before you go."

I didn't get that last beer with her. But I'll drink every beer now as if it were that one lost last beer with mum. This sip's for you, mum. I'll be thinking of you every time I lift a glass. And when my feet become unsteady, I'll hear your gently chiding voice: "Ronald, don't you think it's time to go?" And you'll be right, as you always were.

I don't believe in god. Or heaven. But if there's one person whe deserves heaven, it's my mum. I hope I'm wrong and she's sitting there now, smiling down at me. And saying "Ronald, ............"

Friday 9 November 2007

Parenting tips for beer obsessives

Today is a momentous day. It's the day I start working through my list.

I'm glad I came up with the idea. It means I don't have to worry about thinking up themes or titles for a few weeks. After five months and 177 posts, all the inspirational fluid has been drained from my brain. Of course, the problem has just been displaced. I still have to think up the words to fit the title.

Let's start with an easy one: parenting tips for beer obsessives. I like to think that I have a gtreat deal of useful personal experience in this area.

  1. Catch them young. I started taking my kids to the pub before they could walk. That wasn't too bad. The trouble started when they could walk. Andrew had a habit of running off down Gravenstraat when I took him to Cafe Belgique. At first, it freaked me out. Would he disappear into the crowds? I used to chase after him down the street, until I realised that was what he wanted. Then I just used to let him run. He always came back eventually. As he became older and lazier, gave it up.

    At 9 and 11 my kids are completely used to pubs. And beer festivals. I don't have to drag them along any more - they come willingly. Sometimes they are even keener than me. "Can we go to the pub please, dad?" What more beautiful sentence is there in the English language? It makes all the initial effort seem so worthwhile.

  2. Buy them food. Food is a great way of bribing kids. It's even more effective than money. Something that takes a while to eat is best. They longer they're chomping away, the more time you get to drink undisturbed. Germany is good. The Brauhauser of Cologne and Dusseldorf always have chips and sausages. Amsterdam pubs don't offer much in the way of food, but there's always a bakery close by stuffed with doughnuts and eclairs. As are the kids after an hour or two.

  3. Talk to them. Not paying attention to your kids in the pub is just asking for trouble. That's why I usually don't meet with anyone else while they're along. When they realise that the pub is a good place to get quality dad time without him being distracted by his computer, they get much enthusiastic about pub visits.

  4. Go to the toyshop first. It gives them something to fiddle with while you sneakily order a jenever to complement your beer. Though lego is unsuitable. I know. I've been down on my hands and knees searching for an errant piece amongst the fag ends.

  5. Let them try your beer. Kids don't like the taste of beer, so they'll soon give up asking. Well, all kids except Alexei. He got a real taste for Tripel Karmeliet when he was a toddler. Though I never let him drink more than half a glass. I have a 50 euro bet with Andrew that he'll drink a whole glass of beer before his 18th birthday. We both think that we're onto a sure thing.

  6. Teach them how to play spoof. It's a great way of keeping them entertained that costs nothing and needs no special equipment. It doesn't interfere with your drinking much, either.

  7. Drink strong beer. Then you don't have to spend as long getting to the point where you don't care what they do. Or go in for two fisted drinking - strong beer plus jenever. That gets you to the don't care zone quicker than you can say "kidnapped toddler".

  8. Don't live in Britain. Trying to work out which pubs in Britain allow kids is a nightmare. The majority don't. Thankfully, I live on the Continent and can take my kids along to any pub.

As you can see, I've managed to seamlessly combine beer drinking and responsible parenting. "I'd rather drink a beer than be father of the year." That's my motto.

Thursday 8 November 2007

More Guinness

Why two posts today? Because I forgot to publish yesterday's ("How can I be sure?"). And you can never learn too much about 19th century Guinness. At least that's what I reckon.

These are the gravities of the main Guinness products in the 1800's. The weakest - Porter - is considerably stronger than today's Extra Stout. FES, on the other hand, is pretty much unchanged since 1860.

You may have heard me dream of Guinness producing a bottle-conditioned version of Special Export, the 8% version that's sold in the Benelux. I was pained to discover that this was the first type of Guinness to be pasteurised, way back in 1930. Guinness paid for a pasteuriser to be installed in John Martin's bottling hall. Given that strong beers are still usually bottle-conditioned in Belgium, this seems slightly odd.

I would start a campaign for Guinness to make a naturally-conditioned version of FES or Special Export. Either would be wonderful in this form, I'm sure. But I doubt Diageo would be interested. They're too busy launching slightly tweaked versions of draught Guinness. It's a lack of imagination and daring typical of large brewers.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

How can I be sure?

How can I? Be sure of what? A fair way to eliminate the surplus titles for my list. Alphabetically? By word count? By character count? Randomly?

It's going well today. I nearly have my quota of question marks. A few crap jokes and Stalin references and this will be a regulation post. (I do have my rules, you know. I've determined the exact number of characters in each post for the next three years. It's based on a complex mathematical formula. I won't bore you with the details, but it involves my shoe size, the phase of the moon and the public bar price of Tetley's Mild on the same date 25 years previously. The punctuation (number and type of) is calculated from the day number in the Babylonian calendar and the distance between earth and Io on that day. That's why my sentences are so short. The algorithm generates far too many full stops.)

All the packages from Britain I'd been waiting for arrived yesterday. The 2005 Statistical Handbook of the British Beer and Pub Association (one of my favourite books), the issues of Private Eye I reordered because someone here couldn't be arsed to deliver them the first time, "The Tetley Brewery, Leeds" and a July issue of Private Eye. The post here is very post-modernist. The last four issues of Private Eye have been dated (in order of delivery) October, July, September, July. I wonder what happened to those from August? (That's all the questions marks for today. I now either have to be assertive or to do some re-editing.)

Tomorrow. I'll start using titles from the list tomorrow. If I can think of a way of weeding out nine. Pin. That's it. I'll get the kids to stick a pin into a printed list of the titles. The ones they hit, follow William Patrick Hitler into obscurity.

. . . . .

. . . . .

. . . . .

. . . . .

Right. Andrew's pin has decided. The lucky titles are:

Brettanomyces: The Musical
Floaters (The Good Kind)
Floaters (The Bad Kind)
A Day Without Details
Going to America
Alternative grains
out of the can
warm piss
Base malts now and then
Things I like about the BJCP style guidelines
Parenting tips for beer obsessives
Fruit and vegs that should not be used in beer
Bubbles in my Beer
Dutch Bar Snacks (the "bitterballs" question)
Dutch v. Belgian Oud Brun
How To Shop For Beer In Holland
Archeological Evidence of Long Term Beer Aging Pre-1850

These are the unhappy losers:

It Was Like That When I Found It
Debbie Does Den Haag
Average Maltsack Corn Counts, 1857-1913
Double IPA: say it one last time
Why Grimbergen blonde is a good beer
The Reinheitsgebot is a joke
Belgian Brewing Logs, pre & post WWI
Beer ads 1910-1920
Ron's Favorite Crap Jokes (continuing series)

A shame. Some of my favourites have missed out.

Just like Earl, I'll work through the list in no particular order. I wonder where I'll start. (Bum, I have to leave this incorrectly punctuated, because I'm not allowed any more question marks today.)

Tuesday 6 November 2007


The votes are now in for the most thrilling polls since the referendum on American independence. Wait a second, they didn't actually vote on that one, did they? . . . Since Lady Di was elected princess. That's wrong, too. (My son Alexie asked me last week how he could be elected king of Europe. I told him becoming a Stalin was the best a pleb like him could hope for.) Since Hollyoaks was voted Best Chester-based Soap Opera. Dead exciting.

First down, the what you like reading in my blog. I expected "nothing" to feature more prominently. Remember, this poll was for entertainment only. These are the full results:

What do you enjoy reading in my blog?
statistics 9 (27%)
numbers 4 (12%)
beers from the logs 13 (39%)
crap jokes 6 (18%)
clumsy attacks on the bjcp 15 (45%)
reports of me pub-crawling with my kids 17 (51%)
nothing 1 (3%)
about yourself 2 (6%)

I'm disappointed so few of you like my jokes. To win you over, I'll be posting lots more. You'll grow to love them.

Mike will be delighted with the winner. He loves me taking the kids along. "If you have to." "Not again!" Don't worry Mike, the boys will be on every future trip.

I need no encouragement (and little excuse) to attack the bjcp. Mandate accepted.

How many entries should my list have? (explanation of the question)
3 3 (14%)
17 3 (14%)
19 7 (33%)
37 2 (9%)
53 6 (28%)

A late run for 19 robbed longtime leader 53 of victory just minutes before the poll closed. What a shame. I only have to use 19 of your suggestions.

These were submitted:

Brettanomyces: The Musical
It Was Like That When I Found It
Floaters (The Good Kind)
Floaters (The Bad Kind)
Debbie Does Den Haag

A Day Without Details.
Average Maltsack Corn Counts, 1857-1913.
Going to America.
Double IPA: say it one last time.

Alternative grains
Why Grimbergen blonde is a good beer
out of the can
warm piss

Base malts now and then
The Reinheitsgebot is a joke
Things I like about the BJCP style guidelines
Parenting tips for beer obsessives
Belgian Brewing Logs, pre & post WWI

Fruit and vegs that should not be used in beer
Beer ads 1910-1920
Bubbles in my Beer

Ron's Favorite Crap Jokes (continuing series)
Dutch Bar Snacks (the "bitterballs" question)
Dutch v. Belgian Oud Brun
How To Shop For Beer In Holland
Archeological Evidence of Long Term Beer Aging Pre-1850

That's 28 in total. Nine too many. Any ideas for elimination criteria?

Monday 5 November 2007


The latest issue of Olentusiasten (the magazine of the Danish beer consumers' organisation Danske Olentusiasten) arrived last week. Ninety two pages of full colour. It makes most other EBCU members' organs look like Sniffin' Glue (apologies for the punk reference that only people born between 1955 and 1962 will understand). It's a sign of how quickly the beer scene has developed in Denmark.

In the late 1990´s, there was very little decent beer, with the exception of a few locally-brewed porters. Mostly your choice was limited to Carlsberg or Tuborg pils.

The turning point came in 1998 with the foundation of Danske Ølentusiaster , Denmark´s beer consumers´organisation. Their success in attracting members and educating the public is an example to campaigners everywhere. Specialist beer bars began to appear: Charlie´s, Gulliver´s, Tatoverede Enke. At first they concentrated on imported British, Belgian or German beer. Not surprising, as there was very little Danish beer worth bothering with. But with consumer demand and retail outlets established, microbreweries followed. A trickle of good beer turned into a flood.

In 2000, there were a mere 18 breweries, of which around half were controlled by Carlsberg or Royal Unibrew. In the last 7 years these have been joined by 80 new micronbreweries and brewpubs, leaving Denmark with an impressive 92 breweries (if you're wondering about my arithmetic, some breweries have closed in the intervening years) for its 5 million people. That's the equivalent of 5,500 breweries in the USA. Another 50 breweries are in the planning stage and there are 11 "breweries" who get their beer brewed elsewhere.

Here in Amsterdam, de Bierkoning has finally started stocking Scandinavian beers. I filled my bags (did I ever tell you about my special beer-carrying bags? No? Don't worry, one day when I'm desperate for material I'll tell you all about them) with Stout and Porter on Saturday. I'm drinking a Nils Oscar Imperial Stout right now. Very nice. I know, it's Swedish, not Danish. I'm saving the Olfabrikken for tomorrow.

Saturday 3 November 2007

Guinness and roast barley

A couple of comments about yesterday's post have prompted me to investigate roast barley, patent (black) malt and roast malt.

In "Guinness's Brewery and the Irish Economy 1759-1876" by Lynch and Vaizey and it says this (talking about the early 19th century) on page 158:

"For example, roasted barley was a good substitute for roasted malt, but its use would have evaded the excise on malt."

This is from "Guinness 1886-1939" by S.R. Dennison and Oliver MacDonagh page 11 (again talking about the first half of the 19th century):

"The brewing processes changed little over the century. It is necessary to go back to 1819 to find a mildly revolutionary change in the introduction of 'Patent Brown Malt'."

"it shall not be lawful for any Brewer to have in his or her Brewery, or in any Part of the Premises connected with his or her Brewery, any raw or unmalted Corn or Grain" -- Duty on Malt (Ireland) Act, 1813 (section 10). (Thanks for this quote, beer nut)

It seems to me that:

1. Irish brewers weren't allowed to use unmalted barley in the early 1800's
2. Guinness used roast or patent malt
3. Guinness was an early adopter of patent malt - Whitbread didn't use it until several decades later

This has left me wondering exactly when Guinness started using roast barley.

Going back to "A Bottle of Guinness Please" by David Hughes I think I've found the answer. On page 74 it says that in 1972 the Guinness Park Royal brewery in London brewed extra Stout from a grist to 70-71% malted barley (I uppose it means pale malt) 9-10% roast malt and 20% flaked barley. On page 75 it gives the 1983 Park Royal grist - 60% pale malt, 30% flaked barley, 10% roast barley.

The bjcp say this of "dry" Stout: "The dryness comes from the use of roasted unmalted barley in addition to pale malt, moderate to high hop bitterness, and good attenuation." So I suppose pre-1980's Guinness wasn't true to style. I wish I'd known that at the time. Then I could have marked bottle-conditioned Guinness down.

Until yesterday I had assumed that Guinness had been using roasted barley for centuries. Once again, how wrong I was.

Zythophile has dug up even more interesting information about early Guinness grists in Bristol-fashion Guinness and the roast barley question.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Irish Porter, London Porter

I was gutted when the Guinness archive told me that they don't let anyone look at their brewing records. How was I ever going to get evidence about Irish Porter and Stout. How did they differ from their London cousins? Was there a difference, other than mere strength, between Irish Porter and Stout?

I was beginning to accept that I might never get answers to these questions. The archivist had suggested I try looking in the two histories of the brewery ("Guinness 1886-1939" by Dennison & MacDonagh and "Guiness's Brewery in the Irish Economy 1799-1876" by Lynch and Vaizey). As it happens, I own both. And neither has details of the compostion of their beers.

Along with a no smoking section, it was the bookstall at last weekend's Bokbier Festival that interested me most. I've told you my weakness for beer books. When we buy a new bookcase there won't be piles of them on the living room floor any more. At least for a while. The stall had a couple of Dutch brewery histories that I didn't own and a big glossy volume called "A Bottle of Guinness Please" by David Hughes. It looked like a compilation of old Guinness advertising from the cover. But you never know, so I flipped through its pages. I found a few of the thing I most love - tables of numbers - so reckoned it was worth 40 euros of my money.

It was only when I had chance to peruse it more dilligently at home that I noticed what was on pazge 71. The malt bills and hoping rates for all Guinness's beers in 1883. Words cannot convey my joy. Obviously someone had looked at the brewing records.

I'm a generous type. I don't keep this sort of stuff to myself.

It was sort of what I expected. Mostly pale malt with 5% roast malt for colour. Though I hadn't foreseen the 10% amber malt. Sure enough, no brown malt at all was used. The similarity of the grists for Porter, Stout and Export Stout didn't surprise me either. Breweries liked to keep things simple in the 19th century.

Some claim that the difference between Irish Porter and London Porter was the use of roast malt. As you'll see from the tables below, this doesn't appear to be the case. Some London brewers used black malt for colouring, others also called roast malt. But they They all used brown malt. Whitbread were still using it in the 1950's.

To answer another of my questions, there's no significant difference between Guinness Porter and Stout, except that the latter was more heavily-hopped.

I want to commission beers to be professionally brewed

Don't be obvious. Approach subjects obliquely. That's what my creative writing tutor would have told me, if I hadn't left school at 13 to be become a merchant seaman.

Being semi-literate hasn't stopped me fantasising about creative writing classes. Amongst other things. (No. Not that, you dirty-minded bastard. Go wash your brain out with soap or I'll tell your mum. A 1942 Newark pub-crawl was my dream.)

More likely, perhaps, than my oversophistication, is the lack of professional brewers amongst you, my loyal readers. I like to think of us as a family - jealous, resentful, bitchy. And incapable of understanding each other.

I want to get a couple of old Whitbread beers professionally brewed. It sounds quite fun to me. And I'll be paying. So is anyone interested?