Local winter brews

The North County Times offers a roundup of the local beer scene, with many of our best brewers offering up specials for the short and chilly (by local standards) days of winter.

I have a fascination with fruit beers, as long as they don’t come out tasting more like pop than beer. I had long imagined that persimmons could be used in making a good beer. Now I know it is true. As noted in the article, Back Street Brewery (Ladera Frutal’s closest) has come up with Santa’s Little Fella, which “uses 70 pounds of locally grown persimmons and wildflower honey.” I can’t say for sure that I taste persimmon, specifically. But I sure taste the hops! It is one fine brew, and the hops and the sweeter ingredients certainly provide for a nice balance.

Czech beer is phenomenal

So says Evan Rail the author of the new Good Beer Guide: Prague and the Czech Republic. ((And he has a blog about Czech beer. Both these links I owe to A Good Beer Blog.))

And, of course, he is right.

It is very encouraging to know that, after an initial phase of brewery closures after the communist regime fell, the number has been trending upwards again. Proof that the market works after all!

And future travel note:

There was one beer I found in Pribor, which is Sigmund Freud’s home town, and they call it Freudovo pivo. You can only find it in that town, it’s a 13-degree dark beer, and it’s rich and chocolaty and malty – it’s more like a desert than or a Sacher-torte than it is a beer itself.

The stuff of dreams, for sure.

On the impact of tourism on the variety and quality of beers:

It’s definitely helped and I encourage every tourist to do his or her part. Please drink as many beers as you can and try as widely as you can to drink beers from different places.

Words to travel by!

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m feeling rather thirsty.

Beer is food

Inspired by the obituaries on Michael Jackson that I have just been reading, I was thinking about some of the great marriages of beer and food I have experienced. (Thinking about the great beers would occupy me for far too long!) Here are my top 3 meals (not necessarily in any meaningful order) cooked with beer from our travels, right off the top of the head:

    The salmon poached in witbier at In’t Spinnekopke in Brussels.

    The gueze sauce at 3 Fonteinen in Beersel. (No, I do not remember what was cooked in the sauce–it hardly mattered–and yes, there really is a place in Belgium called Beersel.)

    The Vepřové smes porter (Baltic porter that is) from Pivovar Pernstejn in Pardubice, Czech Republic. ((An image of this amazing brew comes up on the website. And, no, I do not eat vepřové anymore, but I am sure glad I did back then!))

I owe entirely to Mr Jackson that I found the first two places. I am very proud to say that I found the third on my own, and as far as I know, he never wrote about that place. If only he had had more time…

I stole the “beer is food” line from a young bartender who served my wife and me many a glass of Termanli Desert ((A weird name, yes, but I have the glass to verify the name. It is from LaÅ¡ko, which does not show such a brew anymore, though it could be the Temno, as that looks like it would be the word for dark. And, how ghastly that this fine brewery now produces a Bandidos Tequila malt pop. Ugh, but if it keeps them in business to make great beer…)) in Ljubljana in 1992 on our honeymoon. (Speaking of great marriages…)

More MJ

I noted with sadness last week the passing of “beer hunter” Michael Jackson, whose writings had a tremendous impact on my appreciation of great beer–at home and in travels in Europe.

The obituary in Tuesday’s Guardian by Roger Protz is nicely done. Some excerpts (though I am leaving out a lot of good stuff!):

The enduring legacy of Michael Jackson, who has died aged 65, will be that he elevated beer from the belief that it is a simple refresher to its true status as one of the world’s great alcoholic drinks, with a long tradition and deep roots in the history and culture of many societies… He showed … that beer comes in many styles and is often made with the addition of fruit, herbs and spices alongside malt and hops. […]

Jackson was born in Wetherby, Yorkshire, and he remained proud of his Yorkshire stock, though it was a stock that had a major input from the Jewish community of Lithuania. His grandfather, Chaim Jakowitz, had emigrated to Yorkshire from Kaunas. His son, Isaac, married a gentile, Margaret, from Redcar, and they had twin sons – Michael’s brother died shortly after birth – and a daughter, Heather. Isaac Jakowitz anglicised his name to Jack Jackson […]

The young Michael quickly developed a taste for rich home cooking, inspired by Jewish and eastern European traditions. […]

However far he travelled, he always waxed lyrical about the pleasures of a pint of Taylor’s Landlord or other good Yorkshire brews. [Yummmmm—MSS…]

As a beer writer, his aim was to encourage people to treat it as being as worthy of attention as wine. In arguably his greatest book, the Beer Companion (1991), he wrote: “No one goes into a restaurant and requests ‘a plate of food, please’. People do not simply ask for ‘a glass of wine’, without specifying, at the very least, whether they fancy red or white, dry or sweet, perhaps sparkling or still … when their mood switches from the grape to the grain, these same discerning people folk often ask simply for ‘a beer’, or perhaps name a brand, without thinking of its suitability for the mood or the moment … beer is by far the more extensively consumed, but less adequately honoured. In a small way, I want to help put right that injustice.”

He certainly did succeed in that. And, I never knew of his descent from either Yorkshire or Jewish stock, but both facts sure make a lot of sense.

Also recommended, the thoughts of Lew Bryson, who notes, “it was Michael’s sense of place that really made his writing so important to me. When MJ wrote about a beer, he wrote about where it was brewed and where people drank it, the look of the walls and the lay of the land, why the town was there and who the brewer’s father was.”

Lew further notes that Jackson believed it was “crucial to go to the place where beer or whisky is made to understand it.” Having gone to many places where beer is brewed–always with one or more of his books in hand–I most certainly agree.

RIP, Michael Jackson

The beer hunter will hunt no more.

I have used his fantastic guidebooks and other writings for years to explore great beers on my travels. I always considered it a real badge of personal honor when I found something world class that he hadn’t written about. That did not happen very often.

Mr Jackson taught us what a rich, complex, and varied drink the fermented malt beverage can be. And he got paid to drink the greatest beers in the world. I’d call that living a good life. But, at 65, it ended too soon.