Sunday, 21 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 21st December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Backyard Brewhouse - Bad Santa 6.8%
21st December 2014

It's the final countdown!

No it's not the Europe song thank goodness, but the final countdown to Christmas, four days to go and counting. It is also the day of the Winter Solstice, or Mid-Winter, when the daylight hours are shortest and the night is longest. It is the pagan celebration centred around this day from where we get the word Yule, and from there Yuletide, which are though to have come from the Old English geola, or possibly the Old Norse word, jol

I had decided a while ago that some of my last posts for the Advent Calendar would be reviews of the year of sorts when I would take a look back at some of my favourite beer related things over the last twelve months. It is appropriate, for me anyway, that on the eve of the longest night that I start off with five of my favourite beer books of the year, mainly because it's on chilly evening like this that I love to curl of on the sofa with a book and a glass of good beer and wind down after the day's trial and tribulations.

I am a great lover of books, and books about beer in particular, although it by no means all that I read. Over the years I have amassed quite a library, but I'm always interested in new literary releases, much in the same way I look forward to new beer releases. I'm not a fan of the kind of beer books that spend their first quarter taking you though the ingredients of beer and brewing process in dreary detail as this is nothing more than filler as far as I'm concerned and don't want to be patronised in the first few chapters thank you very much, just get on with the reason I bought the book in the first place.

Thankfully none of these books do that, and I've enjoyed all of them because I have discovered many things in each that I didn't already know, talking to me in an adult way, all written by enthusiasts of the same things that I enthuse about, and I would recommend them all in a heartbeat. They were all released this year, and for the record I bought each and every one of them as, even though I do get beer sent to me to review, I haven't been sent a single book on the subject to write about. Without further ado then, here I five of my favourites.

The first book is Leigh Linley's Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer, and while not exactly a follow up to Great Yorkshire Beer, it is has many of the same elements and breweries, but obviously focussing only on their bottled output rather than the brewers and their core beers. Essentially there is a brief passage of the brewery itself before mini-reviews of some of that breweries bottled output, all in Leigh's engaging style articulated in a way that, even though I haven't met him, I feel like I know him. I'm positive that he's the kind of chap that I'd like to spend an evening down the pub with, and I'm sure you will too when you read this book, and if what you're drinking just so happens to come from Yorkshire then so much the better.

Moving upwards in scale from regional beer to that of a whole country, Italy: Beer Country by Bryan Jansing and Paul Vismara, chronicles the rise of Italian craft beer. By talking to the key players the authors reveal how difficult it was to get the movement started in the first place, particularly as their was no legislation for micro-breweries in Italy as there were no micro-breweries in Italy as recently as 1986. I have a passion for Italian beer having visited Rome in 2012, tasting some amazing beer and talking to some really enthusiastic people, but I didn't realise the story behind it and how determination, sheer hard work and a love of good beer and good ingredients had brought the scene so far. There are parallels here with the way that the craft beer movement evolved in the USA but to me this is more personal, probably because it is far more recent but mainly because many of the key characters are quite humble, incredibly focussed and most of all human. If you have any interest in Italian beer, or the craft revolution and evolution then you'll absolutely love this book as much as I do.

Taking a sideways and often irreverent look at the whole craft beer movement is Max Banson and Alan Mcleods The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer: A Rant in nine acts. Puncturing myths and deflating egos this book is a surreal ride, a rant against over seriousness and pomposity, and is the kind of book that I imagine that NateDawg or Glyn Roberts would write should they ever feel the need to do so. I love this book, although it is at times a little off the wall and occasionally hard to follow, because it makes think about myself and my relationship with beer, and particularly because it even quotes Tandleman at one point. There are links to websites along the way which will give you insights into the way the guys think and where they got their information from. It's very cleverly written and quite challenging in places, and if this is the kind of book you like then buy this immediately.

Moving on from the philosophical to something very factual and informative, the next book is Vintage Beer: A Taster's Guide to Brews That Improve over Time by Patrick Dawson. This has everything what you would expect and hope for in a book on this subject, covering the science of ageing, what beer styles age best and how different flavours develop and evolve over time. Whilst you might think that this sounds all a bit academic and dry I assure you that it isn't as the style is engaging and always interesting. I have a considerable amount of beer that I'm cellaring and whilst it was comforting to discover that I was doing quite a few things right, but I did make a few adjustments following some of the recommendations it contained. Part of my reason for ageing beer is to allow it's character to change over time and Patrick Dawson gives pointers as to when would be the optimum time to keep or open the bottles I have. If you have any interest in keeping beer for any length of time then buy this book, you won't be disappointed.

My final book, but by no means the least of the five is by the current Beer Writers of the Year Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey as they are known to the beer drinking community due to their excellent blog. Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth Of British Beer is a meticulously researched book that highlights the key players and situations that led us in the UK to where we are now and the current boom in craft beer and independent breweries. I have to confess that I found the beginning a little muddled but they quickly get into their stride and as the story evolves this is pretty much unputdownable, a rolling stone of a book that gathers momentum as it rolls from the early 1960s through to (almost) the present day. Much of the appeal of this book is that most of it is within recent memory, and as someone who has loved beer since the mid-1980s and became quite discerning early in the 1990s it find it incredibly easy to relate to. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and to find out the motivations and machinations as to how some of my earliest beer experiences came into being is a real joy. If you have any interest in beer at all, and why on earth would you be reading these words if you didn't, and if you haven't already got it then you must insist that this book is in your Christmas stocking while there's still time. Then, Christmas evening, pour yourself a beer and settle down to a very good book.

So there you are, my round up of some of the best beer books of the year. I did enjoy quite a few others, but limiting it to five was I thought the fairest and most succinct way to proceed.

Before I open today's beer, there is just time to give you the answers to yesterday's quiz questions:

1. Kriek or sour fruit beer

2. Weinhenstephan

3. Bush Noel

4. Cumbria

5. Lapin Kulta

Congratulations go to Thomas Marshall who after a couple of deliberate (!) false starts got four out of the five spot on. Well done there mate.

Today's beer is from the Backyard Brewhouse based in Walsall in the West Midlands, and a brewery I have to admit that I have not come across before. Since 2008, so their website tells me, Austen Morgan and Michael Bates have been experimenting with different combinations of hops and malts with a vision of creative an innovative and creative business brewing traditional award winning ales. I'm quite anxious to see what this is like so it's time for the best bit, the tasting.

It pours a dark brown with ruby red highlights and a thin bubbly beige head, it has the aroma of bitter dark chocolate, Chantilly cream, liquorice and figs, and it's rather inviting. Smooth with a medium body, there's a tiny tickle of carbonation over the tongue before it releases its toasty liquorice, aniseed and dry black coffee flavours perfect for a day such as this. As it warms the aroma becomes more fruity with raisin creeping into the nose whilst the taste becomes more burnt toasty and bitter with some fig notes gradually appearing, and this is all clean tasting and distinct when often beers of this type can be a messy and jumbled, a real testament to the art of the brewer. The finish is dry and toasty too wit some milk chocolate notes sitting cosily in the middle of the palate, this is a really lovely beer, the kind of gem I like to find amongst the general Christmas beer dross. Get a bottle of this if you're feeling bad this festive season as it will certainly do you good.

Before I give you today's quiz questions, I just want to mention the original artwork in the above picture. It is a commissioned sketch card from artist Roger Plude that I asked for from Nathan Ohlendorf's Dreamers of Darkness set back in 2010. I wanted a wicked Santa and was rather pleased with the result. I thought it went with the beer rather well so decided to include it. Let me know what you think as I may include more festive art that I own over the next few days.

Onto those questions:

1. Seeing as it is the Winter Solstice, which US brewery famously brews a 'Winter Warmer' of that name?

2. And staying with the theme, what is the name of the (5% bottle, 4.3% cask) Christmas pudding-like beer with overtones of raisin liquorice and wild berry fruits brewed by the West Berkshire Brewery?

3. I have mentioned God Jul in a previous question, but Norwegian brewery Nogne O also brew a beer that means 'Peculiar Christmas' in English. What is it called?

4. What style of beer is the wonderfully named '5 Rabbit Huitzi Midwinter Ale' brewed by Illinois brewers 5 Rabbit Cerveceria?

5. And finally, well it is mid-winter, which Suffolk brewery produces the seasonal bitter 'Mid Winter Gold'?

I'll let you look up the answers again as they are quite tricky, so best of luck with those.

And now, as always, the moment you've been dreading.

Yesterday's Christmas cracker joke met with a mixed reception so I'm hoping for the same today.

Are you ready?

Here we go.

What is the most popular wine at Christmas?

Do we have to eat all of these brussels sprouts?

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