Friday, February 7, 2014

The Session #84: "Alternate" Reviews

What is The Session?session_logo_all_text_300

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. Over time, it is the hope — of me, at least — that a record will be created with much useful information about various topics on the subject of beer. The idea for the Sessions began with fellow beer writer Stan Hieronymus, who noticed similar group endeavors in other blogospheres and suggested those of us in the beer world create our own project. Here is Stan’s original thought process to start up the Session.

I have an intense dislike for beer reviews. 'Hate' is a strong word for me.

I hate beer reviews.

Why? Because what's the point. I didn't misuse punctuation there, that was not a question. It was an exasperated exhalation of words onto the page.

Some bozo who you couldn't care less about is passing comment on beers that you do.

I like reviews on beers from people whose opinions I value and respect. These people do not do beer reviews.

It's just not for me.

What's that you say? Isn't part of your website dedicated to beer reviews? Well you've come out swinging from the beginning, but you've gotten ahead of yourself. Mine aren't reviews really, they're more of a celebration of beers that I was enjoying at the time. There were no negative pieces. If I didn't like a beer it sure as hell wasn't going to be worth keyboard time from me.

It's so ball achingly boring, too. Everything is basically the same. This colour, this aroma, this flavour. ABV. IBU. SRM.

It's a little bit like AFL press conferences (yes, my other current pet hate).

As the coach is sitting down to the microphone you pretty much know exactly what he's going to say already.

"We're ticking all the boxes one week at a time."

Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Let's get back on topic.

This is probably the only format that could have roused any interest in the reviewing of beer for me, and that's because reviewing is banned.

If I may, I'll reiterate the guidelines for this particular Session;

"So for my turn hosting The Session, I ask all of you to review a beer. Any beer. Of your choosing even! There’s a catch though, just one eentsy, tiny rule that you have to adhere to: you cannot review the beer. 
I know it sounds like the yeast finally got to my brain, but hear me out: I mean that you can’t write about SRM color, or mouthfeel, or head retention. Absolutely no discussion of malt backbones or hop profiles allowed. Lacing and aroma descriptions are right out. Don’t even think about rating the beer out of ten possible points.
But, to balance that, you can literally do anything else you want. I mean it. Go beernuts. Uncap your muse and let the beer guide your creativity."

I have been thinking about this very topic, since a good friend of mine was enthusing about how perfume guru Luca Turin describes various aromas and fragrances with these complicated, yet removed, vivid and florid descriptions that were indirect but somehow imparted the characteristics of the smell with precise accuracy.

If Turin can do it with perfumes and colognes, why can't the very same methodology be applied to beer?

This is the reason why I have dusted off ye olde keyboard for The Session.

Without further ado, I will begin some ridiculous wordification to attempt this challenge.

You're 5500m above sea level. To achieve your goal there is a further 800m to scale. When you forecast conditions and planned for the many challenges that climbing the Andes might present, you had no idea of the mental demons that would be present, taunting you at every stage since you got to the 5000m mark. What line were you on? You'd set markers at regular intervals all the way up to keep track but when you look down you don't see a thing. Actually, when you look down it feels like you're moving away from the surface of the mountain, so let's not do that too much. Not coping well, this can be deadly. A short climb up and you'll find an ice ledge just big enough for a brief rest.

Like highway hypnosis, you have reached the ledge but have no recollection of how you got there. Some nutrients are absolutely essential so you hurriedly fossick through your backpack to find that you only possess two more items. They are the two most valuable items that you have been carrying, and now it is time for their utilisation.

With the one free hand you pull out a Mornington Peninsula Imperial Stout. You reach in again and extract a bulbous brandy balloon. The backpack in now useless. You feel it will be therapeutic to watch something you've lugged 5km up a mountain tumble down the side of the cliff face into the  abyss, but when you let go it disappears instantly due to the near nonexistent visibility.

The hissing of the bottle opening gives you a reassuring shiver down your spine, and even though you can see nothing else, your entire focus is consumed by the glass that now holds more warmth than anything you'd experienced since you'd begun scaling.

An emotion stirs from deep within you as you're transported back to your grandmother's farming property they owned when you were a young child, and when you smelled the chocolate brownies she made you always wanted to take one fresh out of the oven. “Wait until they've cooled down!” she'd say, but why? They were so moist and delicious that there was still melty chocolate in the centre of them when they were hot out of the oven. She always told you to wait, but she always gave you a piping hot sample, you know, just so you could test them and make sure they weren't terrible.

Reality check. No, you're not eating one too many brownies. You're precariously perched on a ledge made of frozen water and you have no supplies once that glass is empty. This is it. And my god it is cold.

The cold seems like it was so long ago though, because as this beer caresses your tongue it is a loving, caring, parental hug of warmth so reassuring that you reassess the task of climbing the remaining distance to the top as a medial task, purely a means to an end with the overall goal eclipsed by this revelation that reaching the summit means you can return to your loved ones.

Even after this much effort has been expended, this much physical and mental trauma has been imparted on this body, the pure warming joy of reacquainting with your loved ones at sea level is more than the required stimulant and nutrition to get you through to the end.

Sooo.... anyway. That's what it's like drinking an Imperial Stout from the Mornington Peninsula Brewery.

Oh also, it will help if you read those words via the voice of this man.

Please be kind. I'm in a fragile place after writing that.*

*Side note. I had a little sleep and now I'm fine. You don't need to be kind. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Gettin' Fresh With Y'all

Just quickly off the bat, if you're capitalising the first letter in each word of the title and you decide to use "y'all", do you capitalise the Y and the A? Or just the Y?

Interesting analysis material no doubt, but I've made my decision and I'm not changing it.

Anyway, this wasn't a digression because I hadn't actually started saying anything yet, so you can't have me on that, but I intend to start something right now.

So let's go.

There's no doubting the 'drink by' date on this fella.

I've been thinking about fresh beer. With the recent (and most likely ongoing...) heatwave oppressing us, I bet that's not an original thought in the slightest. But I mean fresh beer in a slightly different sense.

Luke Robertson's recent blog post about FOMOOB (an all too familiar phenomenon derived from Fear Of Missing Out, extended to Fear Of Missing Out On Beer) highlighted how common this is, and he embedded a great little movie short from the Russian River Brewing Company about the brewing and serving of their legend status hop bombs, Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger.

The only reported acceptable use of comic sans.
Pliny the Elder is packaged year round and has a published recommended 'drink by' date on it for maximum freshness and enjoyment. Some American uber beer geeks say that outside 2 weeks from the bottling date the aromas and flavour diminish noticeably. Some uber beer geeks tip it out if it's more than two or three weeks old.


Pliny the Younger however, is not packaged and is only available from the brewery bar when it is brewed once a year. And my goodness, do people lose their minds when this occurs. It's bigger than the sum of its parts. People travel from all over the country (some come from other parts of the world) to queue up at the bar door for five hours just for a glass of this immaculately fresh Triple IPA.

Stone Brewing Company also release an IPA that is created for immediate consumption called Enjoy By, in which the date is splattered across the label so there is no mistaking when this one was intended to be consumed. This one is a packaged monster so slightly more people will get the chance to enjoy this one.

In mid 2013 Feral Brewing Company brought out an Imperial IPA called Tusk that was brewed with a similar intention in mind and it was delivered to various venues around the country with the strict instruction to tap it as soon as it is received.

I was FOMOOB panicked enough to ensure I was at the Local Taphouse when they put it on, and it sure was enjoyable. If I remember correctly it was obviously hoppy and aromatic, but it was also quite tart and zesty and an all around delight.

When I was enjoying this and most likely pontificating on all the important aspects of life I remember having the thought: "This is the beginning of IPAs made for fresh consumption."

And how right was I?

Not at all. Wrong. Nothing happened after that. Bupkis. Nada. Zilch.

Actually, that's not completely true. Research has shown me that the Tusk got made again in September  2013 but only got sent to some WA venues and The Wheaty. Come on Feral, hook a Melbourne brother up with that tasty beverage.

But where has it been? Some people say we're IPA mad in the market at the moment, so why haven't more breweries jumped on this kind of idea? Now I know you're saying, that all IPAs and hoppy beers are enjoyable fresh and you get the same experience when you have a beer tapped fresh from the source, but I say that's not quite what I'm talking about.

I thought we'd see more breweries embracing the idea of brewing a beer that you can only have super fresh. It's on at the brewery, or a select bar as soon as it's received. There's no chance of a keg being tucked away into a corner, or bottles being kept by someone with the possibility of that beer being consumed when not fresh, or light struck etc.

Now please don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily believe that fresh is always best when it comes to beer. There are many hoppy beers that balance out with a good, robust malt bill and these ones take a little time for everyone in the bottle or keg to get along optimally.

Clearly though, it appears there is a place in the market for it and I am a little surprised that there haven't been a few more of these special releases around the grounds.

Who do you think would be likely to make such a beer? Ben at Bridge Road? Tim at HopDog? I imagine we'll probably see Tusk again at some stage, so we'll mark Brendan down for one.

Anyway, I've outstayed my welcome here and this post has run down to the ground, so this seems like an opportune time to leave the idea with you.

Adios muchachos.