A few Twitter storms in a pint glasses last week, which evolved in classic Twitter style. Someone wrote something. Someone else responded. Others saw, retweeted, brought their own agendas and prejudices to the Twitter pile-on, someone external to the original argument took it all a bit too far, and so on. And that’s all I really want to say about that,
But, one of the storms involved someone tweeting their thoughts on Yeastie Boys’ ‘Rex Attitude’. Like “liquid nail polish remover” they wrote. And most offensively, they called it an Australian beer.
I’d been thinking a bit about The Rex lately. I’ve three days to go on my “sort-of-Feb Fast,” which was delayed starting, then interrupted by last week’s conference and a birthday party, but now winding down to the 28th day without alcohol (and other things. For health, you know).
So my mind’s been turned a bit to what beer I’d like to break the fast with. And I think I’d really like it to be a Rex Attitude. That insane heavily-peated golden ale from the Yeasties, that uncompromising smoke bomb of a beer. I love it.
Well, I love it now. I didn’t at first. Did anyone (apart from probably Stu McKinley)?
I went along to the launch of the beer at Regional Wines and Spirits a few years back, and immediately on walking into the room I could see something was afoot. I could see Stu standing behind a counter, carefully eyeing everyone’s reactions as they took their first sip. And, just behind him was Jed Soane, photographing as many first-reactions as he could.
And the first-reactions? Well, best see them for yourself on Jed’s The Beer Project if you haven’t already.
Me, I took a taster and, when Jed’s camera was pointing elsewhere, sniffed then drunk the golden ale that seemed to almost cling to the sides of the glass. Burnt rubber and a bit of iodine.
It was full-on, confrontational, and I didn’t like it at all. Very unusual flavours for a beer. I’ve since begun to explore Islay whisky, and I can now instantly link those smoky, salty spirits to what the Yeasties have done with this 7% golden ale, but back in April 2011 I hadn’t encountered those flavours before.
Before it even touched my lips it was confronting me. Rex Attitude fairly punches you in the face with a huge whiff like a bottle of iodine broken into a beachside bonfire. Smoke and medicine, almost ghastly. But then when it hits your mouth there’s this massive sweetness, warm and sticky, that tempers the obnoxiously strong aroma with a more delicious undertone. But, on that first taste, I found it very quickly replaced by an aftertaste that felt a bit like I’d imagine it would be like to lick the tar seal after a burnout has been done on it.
If it wasn’t for the strong sweetness carrying the smoke and medicine flavours I probably would’ve put the glass down and never tried it again. But I didn’t. There was something there, in the sticky sweetness and over-powering smoke that got me thinking. Got me thinking that I should buy a couple of bottles. Maybe not to drink, but perhaps to cook with. “Sweet liquid smoke,” you see. Could be useful…
And it was. The next weekend I cooked a pork-and-bean chilli and added about half a bottle of Rex Attitude to the pot. Worked brilliantly. The sweetness and smoke of the ale buoyed the chilli, garlic and tomato flavours of the slow-cooked chilli; the end result was less smoky than if I’d used chipotle, but was richer, smoother and more “blended” due to effect of the sugars in the ale.
I drunk the rest of the bottle while cooking the chilli and, better prepared, I could see what this beer was trying to do. Over-thinking, over-smelling, over-analysing is not this beer’s friends. Over-anticipation probably doesn’t help, either. But quietly drinking half-a-bottle while cooking, just sipping it into my mouth without thinking too much about it, it all made sense. Rather than burnt rubber, I was getting bacon. Rather than iodine, I was getting play between saltiness and sweetness of the deliciously thick golden ale.
That’s really the genius of this ale. Using the heavily-peated malt to make a golden ale rather than a darker beer just works. The massive smokiness of the aroma is utterly balanced when the drink finally gets into your mouth.
By the end of that half-bottle I was really beginning to enjoy it. So, of course, I had to open the second bottle. And by the end of that, I was in love…
For a while there in 2011 I’d drink Rex Attitude as often as I could find it in bars; often simply for the reactions you’d get from others when the aroma crept out of the glass, across the table, into their nostrils. Such a polarising beer, it wasn’t unknown for people to shift tables rather than smell it!
And many people still hate it. Try it once, and will never try it again. I can’t see where “liquid nail polish remover” comes from, though. If you’d asked me to associate that smell with a drink, it’d be cheap vodka, surely? Not an incredibly smoky ale…
But, yes, come Wednesday, I’ll be looking to have a beer after work. And I do hope that beer is a Rex Attitude. (Or, even better, it’s stronger, smoother, more sophisticated relative, XerreX.)
I’m looking forward to it…