Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Beer Need Not Be Filtered. Options Must Be.

One of these days, on one of these sporadic and lucky visits to Britain, I really ought to get out of London. The problem with London is that there are too many choices. They overwhelm the Traveler with Thirst.

So you narrow things down. Same applies to anywhere with lots of beautiful places to drink. We can't see them all in one go. Time, money, livers, spouses -- these are finite resources.

Even those of us who get to London once or twice a year, if we are lucky, fall back on an old favorite or two. It's easier that way. When it comes to cask ale it's not a bad strategy anyway -- if the beer was in good shape there last time, there is a decent chance it will be today. Maybe.

(Interlude, for a confession: As a Traveler with Thirst I don't really care about British "craft beer." It's OK as a curiosity. As a journalist it's interesting. But these days you can get aromatic, bitter IPA nearly anywhere in the world. Even Costa Rica. Even Germany. Why would I drink that in the UK, which has its own, special, underappreciated thing? Yes, I can see how folks who have drunk brown bitter all their lives might be bored with it. I'm not.)

Also, you can't just go to beer pubs, right? I mean, London is an important city historically. There are things to learn. You have to take in some culture. Cultural experiences are important. That's why, when in London, you need to eat curry. So, we went to a curry pub.

We went to the Warwick Arms. I don't know if anyone else will mention this place to you. Maybe. It's a Fuller's pub, which is another nice thing that bores London beer people. I won't say that Londoners are bored with curry, because that is scientifically impossible. It's in the DNA. Of the cumin. But it could be that cozy pub in the front with an Indian curry house party in the back has a certain logic to British people. "Of course there are curry pubs, harumph," says the major. To everyone else it's just a marvel.

We drank a summer seasonal. The Beachcomber, maybe? To be honest we had been at the Great British Beer Festival all day. We were not qualified to judge it. The curry disappeared as if it were ambrosia. Cultural experience, that's the point.

Also, it was near our hotel. And that's another way to narrow down the options: proximity. I might want to go to the Southampton Arms and Gunmakers every time I'm in London (and I do). But THEY are on the OTHER side of town, and I am on THIS side.

So where are the neighbors drinking?

Monday, June 23, 2014

More Book Pimping: All Tomorrow's Parties.

Events! Happenings! Got a few more of them coming. At which I sell a book not yet technically available in the United States, vandalize it with my name and perhaps a poor joke or sloppy doodle, and we all taste a few delicious beers and have a good larf.

One of these might even become legendary. A thirsty belgophile event for the ages.

This Friday, June 27, from 4 to 7 p.m.: At the superb Brown Derby International Wine Center in my hometown Springfield, Mo., taking over their usual Friday beer sampling with Belgian fluids and chatter. Meet my random friends and relatives and other frequent liquor shoppers.

Next Monday, June 30, from 5 to 7 p.m. and maybe a bit earlier and a bit later: At the excellent Craft Beer Cellar in Clayton, Mo., a.k.a. posh St. Louis. Beers on tap and books and more jokes. Get a nice buzz then throw even more cash at Ryan and Brandon than you normally would.

OK, those will be fun. But sane. Ready for the preposterous?

Starting around 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 12, in Washington, D.C., the world-class ChurchKey is allowing several of Belgium's more interesting beers to take over the taps. And I will be there with books, and ink pens, and a little dongle-doodad that allows me to accept credit cards, and happy to talk Belgian beer with whomever.

The Good Beer Guide to Belgium Event Draft List:
3 Fonteinen Zwet.be
Alvinne Bolleville: Calvados Barrel Oak-Aged
Alvinne Podge: Bourgogne Barrel Oak-Aged
Blaugies Saison d'Epeautre
Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus
Cantillon Cuvée St-Gilloise
Cazeau Saison
De Dolle Oerbier
De Glazen Toren Saison D'Erpe-Mere "Speciale Editie"
De la Senne Jambe-de-Bois
De la Senne Taras Boulba
De la Senne Zinnebir
De la Senne Band of Brothers
De Ranke Saison de Dottignies
De Ranke XX Bitter
De Struise Imperialist
De Struise Weltfreude
De Struise Weltkrieg
De Struise Black Albert
De Struise Cuvée Delphine
De Struise Pannepeut
Des Rocs Grand Cru
Dupont Saison Dupont Cuvée Dry-Hopping
Ellezelloise Hercule Stout
Géants Goliath Triple
Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw
Hof ten Dormaal Special 14
Hof ten Dormaal White Gold
Jandrain-Jandrenouille IV Saison
Kerkom Bink Blond
Kerkom Bink Tripel
St. Bernardus Abt 12
St. Feuillien Tripel
Tilquin Gueuze
Val-Dieu Grand Cru

Nuts, right? Free admission. Pay only for what you drink and read.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Catching Up With America.

These are trendy now, I guess? Half/session/all-day/baby IPAs. And the like.

Forgive me if I don't scoff at the trend or argue that they really shouldn't be called IPAs (nonsense) or sweat over the exact ABV. They are useful and generally full of flavor. Malty ones will be next. Bring on the American milds.

So there is nothing new under the sun. We knew that already. Fact is, we wanted this. And we're finally getting it. A little more of THIS please. Not only THAT. Options. They had to expand upward into preciousness before they could expand back downward into plain old tasty drinking beer.

Now we only need to haggle about price.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's Summertime and the Schleppin' Is Easy.

Returning to the back end of this blog to scribble is like returning to a summer home that deserves more life. Smells musty. Time to blow the dust off the turntable, pull the plastic off the furniture, stuff it into the closet, heat up the grill, hold court on the deck.

Lots to say, but one thing at a time. As of yesterday we are homeless for two months. Betwixt postings. America seems like a fine place to spend that time. Very fine indeed.

Between some exciting new projects and quality family time, I will be appearing in a few choice places at choice times to plug a book. Oh, about that book: It's been out in the UK since March, and is available for worldwide shipping. For complicated logistical reasons I am too stubborn to understand, it is not officially out in the United States until October.

But I am in the United States. And I have books. It's like a sneak preview tour. So come find me.

June 11-13: Bouncing around the National Homebrewers Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. No official signing event for me, because it's not a homebrewing book. But I will be there with press credentials. (And books. And a fancy pen.)

June 20: Book signing and beer tasting at the superb Left Bank Books in the Central West End of St. Louis, beer provided via the righteous dudes at Craft Beer Cellar in Clayton. Idea is to match beers to a few choice discussion topics. Tasty politics.

June 27: Hosting/signing at a tasting at the Brown Derby International Wine Center in Springfield, Mo. A really excellent wine and beer shop in my hometown.

July, date TBD: A very exciting event in Washington, D.C., about which I can say no more just yet.

Watch this space. Bring a lawn chair.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


What's this guy about, anyway? Would this fly in the States? How do the Belgians call it kitsch and get away with it?

I suppose we could open the whole Zwarte Piet debate. Or maybe not.

I was struggling with how to describe this fellow. Minstrel statue in the stars and stripes? I don't know.

The fact is that this gentleman, for better or worse, happens to be standing in one of the most characterful and character-full little cafés in Brussels, the Laboureur.

Oh look, there's a character now. I'm not sure if she's waving hello or saying, "Do not take that fucking picture. They will think we are racist." Never noticed her until weeks later.

This is not the old Laboureur that used to be near Gare du Midi until about six or seven years ago. (Remember that one?) This is the one that has been on the corner of Rue de Flandre and Rue Léon Lepage for much longer. How long? My theory is that when Saint Géry came to set up a chapel on the Senne in 580, the Belgae already had the Laboureur set up. It was hardly more than a few logs and a cookfire, plus a jug of proto-lambic.  Over the fire they were frying parsley and hand-breaded shrimp croquettes. It was enough that the Belgae couldn't be bothered with chasing off the Christians. In fact on the wall there is a black-and-white photo of Saint Géry with the tribesmen, crowded out in front of the bar. They're all drinking Stella.

Sadly there is no proto-lambic these days, but there is a hardy list of 35 modern beers. Stouterik is there, Papegaei, Orval, Rochefort 8, Hoppus. To pick a few of the interesting ones.

There is an old numbered charity box on the wall. It looks like the place you'd insert your hotel key, and then never get it back again. Out front the neon is cool art deco, and the street artist Invader has left his little creature there.

You might call this a café populaire in French, but that doesn't mean it's popular. Even though it is. It means it's a bar for the common folk, the salt of the earth types. You might have guessed that by the name. These days the common folk around Rue de Flandre are not as common as they used to be. There are bright streaks of posh mingling with the workers and hobos. But they're all welcome here.

The Laboureur is inclusive, you see.