Fuller’s ‘1845’

Fullers 1845In response to the cold snap that’s covered most of New Zealand this week, last night I made mulled wine for the first time this year. A rich pinot noir, heated gently with water, sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves and a star anise, and a few sultanas. Rich, sweet, and very very warming.

Beer can do the same thing. Far more than a cold refreshing drink for drinking on a warm afternoon. As the nights grow longer and the cat grows more somnolent in front of the heater, my preference shifts from the likes of golden ales and pale ales towards porters, stouts, and “strong ales.” I’m always pleased, for example, to see Yeastie Boy’s Hud’a’Wa reappear around this time each year. And, though it is available year round, this is when I’ll look at getting in some of an old favourite, the ‘1845’ from long-lived English brewer, Fuller’s.

This is an elegant deep ruby red beer, all the better for catching the glow from a fireplace (or from a gas heater!) The aroma is of a boozy fruit cake or perhaps baked desert – toffee, dried fruit, maybe a bit of stewed apple.

Surprisingly, in the mouth, the feel is a lot lighter than the dark ale and aroma might suggest. The initial sensation is of sweetness, but as you swallow the ale the fruit comes back through, with a big, long, lingering bitterness.

While the colour and the spicy booziness may all come from the combination of malts and the 6.3% abv, there’s some genius use of Goldings hops going on here too to bring in the fruity flavours. This liquid fruit cake carries flavoured of dried orange and mandarin peel; which all comes from the hops. Quite remarkable in the way those sharp, bitter flavours play off with the malt to create something quite dessert-like.

The 1845 is a bottle-conditioned ale, where additional fermentation goes on in the bottle. I’m no expert in this, and I’m sure there’s other factors at play, but I can’t but help think that the yeast continuing to do their thing long after the bottle is sealed is why I’ve haven’t yet had a bad or ‘off’ bottle of this 1845, despite it travelling the world to get here to New Zealand. Each bottle has been rich, flavourful and delicious.

Or maybe it’s just because it’s a damn good ale. I’d love to see a cask of this turn up on these shores, so I could compare how it travels when cask-conditioned.

Certainly one to easily compare with a fruity, sweet and spicy mulled wine. Certainly an ale to drink in similar circumstances!  Like mulled wine; Fuller’s 1845 is very very warming, indeed!

The Eden House – Half Life (2013)

Despite being of an age where my teenage years could’ve been immersed in the 80s golden age of gothic rock, that style of music never featured on my radar. Instead, I started my teens with my head full of heavy metal and thrash, and by the end of high school was immersed with international bands such as Pixies and Sonic Youth, and acts from the local Flying Nun label.

Gothic rock, as far as I was aware, was what was listened to by those unattainable, unapproachable girls with the amazing hair and make-up; and was as mysterious as those girls.

Fortunately, a few years later I moved into a flat with someone who had a fair collection of gothic rock CDs. From his Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim CDs I quickly expanded my listening and collection, and it’s been a style I’ve loved since.

Half LifeThe Eden House draw a direct link from that era, with former Fields of the Nephilim bassist Tony Pettitt joining with This Burning Effigy’s multi-instrumentalist Stephen Carey to initiate a collaborative gothic rock project, drawing upon a range of further musicians and female vocalists.

With their third album Half Life, The Eden House have solidified around the core of Pettitt, Carey and former Nefilim drummer Simon Rippin. Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera provides angular guitar and walls of noise on a few tracks, and Bob Loveday provides violin and viola textures across the album.

The sometimes propulsive and darkly rocking, sometimes ethereal and throbbing music created by this core provides the backing for a range of superb female vocalists and lyricists, with Laura Bennett and Jordan Reyne providing the lion’s share of the songs (as well as being part of the band’s live line up on their recent tour).

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of Reyne, and it’s a joy hearing her singing outside of her more stripped back and looped solo material. Backed by an, at times, huge gothic rock sound of thundering drums, melodic bass and blistering guitar, the three songs she contributes are standout tracks. ‘Indifference’ has Reyne’s vocals harmonising with Bennett’s over a ominous, broad palate of eerie rhythms and reverb laden guitar sound from Manzanera, a perfect backing as it heads into one of those choruses Reyne does so well; her voice dripping with venom as it soars.

With ‘The Tempest’ Reyne’s singing over a thrusting, repetitive gothic rocker, driven melodically by the bass while the guitar slashes in from below, drenched in echo. It answers the question I’d never thought to ask: what if Jordan Reyne sung for Fields of the Nephilim? Turns out I quite like the answer.

But it’s ‘Butterflies’ that might be my favourite of Reyne’s contributions – perhaps because it adheres to a sound not too dissimilar to Reyne’s normal solo work? Layered and looped vocals, over a synth-heavy backing, with Reyne’s voice climbing from a whisper to a defiant, open-throated declaration of “you’ll get nothing from me.”

‘Wasted On Me’ is coming from a similar place, that dark, impetus-laden style of rock made famous by those big gothic rock bands of the 80s, and here Laura Bennett’s sweet, husky voice providing an ethereal timbre to the rhythm that makes it almost impossible to not to be caught in the otherworldly energy of the song.

Quiet moments abound, too, with songs such as ‘Hunger’ and ‘First Light’ seeing the album’s sound slip into a more electronic sound, with dark dance music rhythms. But the album is at its best when its layering the gorgeous vocals onto driving rhythms, melodic bass and reverbed guitars.

And Eden House are absolute best when the combine both those elements into a massive song like ‘City of Goodbyes,’ where dark and pretty builds into a crashing, throbbing gothic rock wall of noise, underlying some spine-tingling vocals from Anathema’s Lee Douglas.

Those are the core ingredients of the “classic” gothic rock sound, a sound that is still alive and well, and being used to create excellent albums like this. A sound that, as a track builds to chorus either beautiful or angry, can’t back raise the hairs on the back of the neck just as much as it drives your feet to move or body to sway.

You can purchase Half Life from The Eden House’s bandcamp page.

Beer match: 8 Wired’s ‘The Big Smoke’ smoked porter would suit this perfectly. The Eden House’s music makes me think of the dark, full, layered porter body, while the beechwood smoked malt taste makes me think of this album’s husky vocals.

Yeastie Boys ‘Pot Kettle Black’

Or, let’s do another post about food!

PKBI tried making candied bacon last weekend, for the first time. A discussion over beer became a food inspiration, which became an attempt at something that I knew from the outset would probably be harder than it sounded, but it seemed worth the risk.

Of course, I wasn’t just going to candy the bacon with sugar and spices. No, I had to get beer involved. And the first beer than came to my mind when thinking of something robust enough, sweet enough, yet bitter enough to do well with sugar and bacon was Yeastie Boy’s ‘Pot Kettle Black’.

Right from mixing some of this rich dark ‘American Style Porter’ (i.e., hoppy) with the sugar I knew the flavour combination could work wonders. There’s an aroma of orange and chocolate from this beer that makes me smile every time I pour a glass, and the addition of more sugar gave the smell even more of that “orange chocolate cake” sensation I always detect in hoppy porters / black IPAs. I wanted a tiny bit of a kick so I added a dash of a scotch bonnet sauce, mixed it all together, then brushed it onto some streaky bacon that had already spent 10 minutes in the oven.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. The aroma that emerged from the oven every time I opened the door to turn the bacon was amazing, but I could soon tell that I’d got something wrong in the technique or equipment area – probably should’ve used a wire rack instead of a slotted roasting tray. Too much of the bacon ended up burnt, the sugar and beer accelerating the caramelisation with the fat, rapidly creating crispy burnt edges on most of the rashers.

Still, what wasn’t burnt was pretty damn delicious. So, I’m going to have a bit of a think about this, and try it again one day.   And there’s other beers I can imagine would go well flavour-wise with bacon…

Pot Kettle Black is “a real foodies” beer, as the Yeasties say on their website. It’s great with food, and in food. The bitter-sweet, orange chocolate cake flavours go great in not only sweet foods, but also savoury.

And, so, I was considering my bacon failure, sipping on the ale while I did so, making some final prep for the meal I was also working on that afternoon. Inspired, as I’ve always been by the interplay between bright citrusy hops and the rich, black, sweet-and-dark malt of the PKB. It was an easy decision to make – I screwed the top back on the bottle of red wine I’d opened, and instead dumped the glass of Pot Kettle Black into the venison and mushroom stew I was preparing.

I may’ve missed out on the rest of that glass of beer, but the effect in the stew was well worth it. Where a red wine adds a tannic tang and a bit of off-sweet vinegar-ish flavour to this combination of meat and vegetables, the Pot Kettle Black added a full, rich earthiness, solid and robust.

The malt flavour carried all the way through to tonight’s meal, where I managed to eat two servings worth in one sitting. I blame the cold. As is usually the case with such dishes, spending a few days in the fridge had just intensified the flavours, and the play between the dark malt of the beer, the chewy earthiness of the mushrooms and the melt-in-the-mouth umami of the venison was perfect. There was a little touch of fruity sweetness from the hops hanging around the edges of each mouthful too, adding a delicious little contrast.

I’ve cooked with Pot Kettle Black a few times now, sweets and savouries both. Never let me down. A beer I love to drink, and too cook with. One of my favourites.

Yes, I’ve got a lot of favourite beers!

Jakob – Solace (2006)

Jakob  SolaceMy day job involves a lot of things, but the things I love most are where I get to put my earphones in, play some music, and get down to a good un-interrupted bout of research, writing or editing.

Over time I’ve found I prefer a few styles of music with each of those stages. Research and note-writing usually suits complex time signature, maybe proggy stuff. Bashing out the first draft of something goes easiest with something intense and rhythmic; maybe a bit of metalcore, or something propulsively electronic.

And for the editing, give me big, looming, post-rock. And when I’m really struggling to find a way through something, I’ll put on Solace, the 2006 album from Napier-based post-rock band, Jakob.

Solace seeps quietly in, with a repeating, reverb-laden guitar motif slowly building (the same motif that ended their previous album, Cale:Drew), before the drums drip in over a throbbing bass. Steadily, inexorably this open track, ‘Malachite’, builds. Further guitars are layered, subtly, adding texture and colour, hinting at vast vistas of sound that soon arrive as the melody changes to a jangling chord progression, waves of delay sweeping the shimmering guitar over a large sonic range.

It’s much the same throughout for the seven songs that make up this, their last album before going into a (reasonably recently ended) hiatus. Part of the pattern is that most tracks will fall into a lull, tumbling back to the opening motif before exploding into a massive wall of sound.

By the end of most tracks Jeff Boyle has opened up his chords and kicked down on quite a few pedals to lift his guitar sounds to a huge glittering slab of sound. Bassist Maurice Beckett’s adds a wall of distortion, and perhaps a few chords, to his sound, while Jason Johnston relaxes his often taut, coiled style to let the cymbals ring clear and long.

But if it’s a formula, it’s a massive sound that draws me in. Enthrals me and allows my mind to clear and soar, no matter what I’m doing. A sound I find uplifting, inspiring. Something that sends any distractions from my mind, leaving me with just this beautiful vista of noise allowing me to put nothing but the ideas and words I’m playing with front and centre.

When out walking Wellington listening to music, as I’m wont to do, I’m often scanning the skyline and clouds. I’m hoping for a play of light, the sun hitting a certain angle, a certain combination of hills, buildings and sky that speaks to enigmatic natural beauty.

That’s what this album sounds like, to me.

Solace

Like this

Jakob have recently been back in the studio, recording (at last) their follow up to Solace. I really can’t wait; they’re a band who has never let me down yet.

Solace, and Jakob’s earlier albums, are all available from their bandcamp page.

Renaissance ‘Stonecutter’

Renaissance 'Stonecutter', with browned cubes of venison.

Renaissance ‘Stonecutter’, with browned cubes of venison.

I love cooking. And I love cooking with beer. And not just drinking a beer while cooking – though that’s a pretty lovely way to cook! – but cooking with beer in the recipe. Spending a few hours in the kitchen with good music on the stereo, and a glass of something nearby with some going into the meal is one of my very happy places.

It’s getting a bit colder of late. And for me that means stews. Stews, chunky soups and curries, big robust single-pot meals, full of vegetables and flavour, with a bit of protein to hold it together, give it a bit of oomph. I love spending a Sunday afternoon making a big pot of something delicious, that’ll do me for lunches or lazy dinners during the week. Comfort food.

I’m particularly fond of venison. A bit of roughly chopped bambi, slowly braised with a pile of vegetables and some delicious liquid. You can use beef stock as the liquid; and of course will use red wine. Both are great, and I’d use either depending on what combination of vegetables I’m accompanying the venison with, but I also use beer – dark beers for this sort of dish in particular. And, one recent weekend while considering my Sunday stew I realised I hadn’t drunk Renaissance’s ‘Stonecutter’ for quite a while.

Stonecutter’s a big, rich, ruby-red Scotch ale. Big and sweet, with a big malty roasted toffee flavour buoyed along by a raisin-like fruitiness from some classy hops. I was blown away by it the first time I tried it five or so years ago, and I’ve been infatuated with it since (though I tend to drink their Elemental porter more these days).  But with its sweetness, it really is the ‘red wine’ of their range, as Renaissance describe it. Perfect for a venison stew!

I’m a bit lucky down here in south Wellington; the New World supermarket in Island Bay always has a good line of game such as venison, rabbit, and wild bacon. And, just across the road, one of the few stand-alone butchers left in this city sells my little special touch for such stews – a ‘Hunter’s Sausage’, a Polish-style smoked pork sausage, not to dissimilar to kielbasa.  After browning the floured and seasoned venison, I cook off the sausage like you would a lardon, releasing fat and a delicious smoky flavour that permeates the stew as you add the vegetables.

On this day went in some leek, celery, carrot and a couple of big richly earthy chopped swedes (I’d have preferred turnip, but none’s in season). Then back in with the meat, then most of the bottle of Stonecutter (and a bit of beef stock to raise the liquid level). The rich, sweet, ale, with its hints of caramel and spice melded with the flavours of the stew wonderfully. Sit back, indulge in the aromas, as you finish off the bottle of beer.

Then, a few hours later (stewing venison rewards a long slow cook, to get to that melt-in-the-mouth texture), serve the chunks of meat and swede with their delicious rich, sweet gravy with bread or (if, you’re like me, and avoiding grains at the moment) with some mashed potato. Enjoyed with another glass of the ale (you did buy a second bottle of the Stonecutter, right?), it’s a match made in heaven.

The Stonecutter perfectly suits rich, complex meaty flavours such as this stew. There’s a delicious bitter-sweet citrus aftertaste that cleans the palate nicely between mouthfuls of the rich stew and the sweet and warming malt of the ale’s body.

A great way to warm up as the nights grow colder.

Kasey Chambers – Barricades & Brickwalls (2001)

Barricades & BrickwallsBeen a busy week or so, hence the lack of bloggage, but here we are. Went out last night to a “town hall” meeting with Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, for a bit of, um, robust debate. But this is a blog about beer and music, not politics, so I’ll say no more about that. But it does provide a useful intro to how I first heard about Australian country singer Kasey Chambers, and how I came to buy Barricades & Brickwalls, her second album.

The first time I’d read Chamber’s name was in the acknowledgements of one of Michael Moore’s books, which I read like most everyone else did in that brief window where he seemed to be relevant (but, really, not so much). He thanked Chambers, listing her amongst the likes of Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen as music he’d listened to while writing, and the name stuck in my mind enough that when I was next down at the music store I saw this album on the country shelves and immediately bought it.

On the original Australian cover-art, Chambers is certainly an intriguing figure, for what is sold as a “country album”. In sepia-toned photos, she’s wearing a striking op-shop coat, with jagged cropped black hair, a lip piercing and smudged mascara around pale blue eyes. So to hear her singing voice for the first time is somewhat incongruous. With a high-pitched, nasally country twang she sings with a voice full of country music, including the heart-breaking slight-miss of the note that slips the song into a minor key.

On Barricades & Brickwalls, Chambers’ sounding at her best. The production is relaxed, and a bit raucous at times. The rockier songs have a bit of grit to them while, when she lets her voice soar in one of her aching ballads, the band sensitively pull back. On later albums Chambers has slipped more and more into a commercial Nashville sound, but on here she’s fully within the “alternative country” feel; stripping songs back to the rock and country roots of the sound.

She’s also paired with some great other voices on this album, either as duets or backing vocals. These voices provide a different tone and an excellent support for moments where Chamber’s voice needs grounding while she soars above. Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, and the iconic Paul Kelly all make appearances, while The Living End turn up on ‘Crossfire’ to help Chambers kick out the jams.

But while the rockier songs are great, Chambers’ milieu is more the country ballad, where her achingly keening voice can break even the hardest heart. In particular on two tracks that form the centrepiece of the album. ‘Nullabor Song’ is achingly lonely and vast, like the plains she is singing about, but my favourite moment of all is in ‘Million Tears’.   On this, Chambers sings with a heart-breaking clarity about the fear and hopes and desperation of falling in love with someone. Her voice is entwined with the husky twang of alt-country stalwart Matthew Ryan’s, and as Ryan layers swirls of guitar noise and feedback their two voices meld in a longing musical embrace. Beautiful.

Beer match: Chambers hails from South Australia, which means it wouldn’t be right to not suggest something from Coopers Brewery. There’s a lot to like in the beers made by what is now Australia’s largest locally-owned brewer, but while many will swear by their ‘Sparkling Ale’, personally I like the ‘Extra Stout’ even more. Dark, silky and with a nice little hop-edge around the edges, I think this’d be perfect to sup with the lights down low while Chambers’ superb voice breaks your just that little bit more.

Hopstock 2014 part 3

Or, final thoughts.

I wound up my little Hopstock odyssey on Saturday by walking back into town and visiting another bar I’d never visited before. Black Dog Brewery have a brewpub down on Blair Street that I’d heard some very mixed things about, mostly hinging on their ownership by DB and whatever that might mean for “craft beer.”

Well, I liked the place for the half-hour or so I was in there. It was a nice shady respite from a relatively hot autumn day for this town, with good music playing, bar snacks to hand, and a nice feel with the patrons being seated right alongside the shiny stainless steel of the brewing equipment. Their in-house Hopstock beer, ‘Fresh Hopped Kakariki’ pale ale was easy drinking and quite floral, if a bit light-bodied. It was advertised as an American Pale Ale, but I think what they mean is it was a pale ale in the West Coast style; i.e. hoppy.

I also tried their ‘Malinois’ saison-style before heading on my way, and was quite impressed.  They’d certainly nailed the bright effervescence that should come with that style.

Panhead’s fresh hopped ‘Vandal’ at Rogue & Vagabond

Then, off to Rogue & Vagabond, for my final beer of the 17 on the Hopstock 2014 card. Here it was the fresh hopped version of Panhead’s ‘Vandal’ imperial India pale ale. It clocks in at 8% abv., but scarily it doesn’t taste it. It’s crisp, clean and very bright, like a sunny autumn morning, and very easily drinkable. A nice beer to sit with and consider the beers and pubs I’d visited over the four days of this fresh-hopped festival. When not communing with Rogue & Vagabond’s mascot and true owner, the broad and characterful bulldog, Bruce.

It’d been a fun four days. Seeing groups of people wandering around between the bars, grasping their Hopstock flyers in hand, smiles and chatting, as well as others taking their time by themselves or with one other person. Great conversations had with bar staff I hadn’t met before, as well as the lovely little chats you have with another good beer fan you’ve bumped into while ordering the beer, and may never meet again.

With sixteen bars and hundreds of punters heading all over the city social media platforms Twitter and Untappd really came into their own too. You can see what others had tried and liked or disliked, where they’d been and where they were heading, planning rendezvous or changing your plans as news came through that one pub might be running low or that another’s beer was particularly delicious.

It also reminded me that I’m not really that much of a hophead. Sure, I do like a nice hoppy beer, but Hopstock reinforced for me that I really prefer beers that do more with the malt or the yeast. While many others raved about the big hop bombs such as Renaissance’s ‘Grandmaster’ or 8 Wired’s fresh hopped ‘Hopwired’, I was far more effusive about what Fork & Brewer did with the malt on their ‘Hopstepper’ or the sharp bit of spice from the funky yeast used by Bach Brewing in their ‘Autumnal Harvest Ale’.

As I’ve written before, it’s all subjective, and this was no more apparent in what were by far the two most extreme beers of Hopstock 2014. Bayland’s Waifly was ridiculously hoppy; tounge-strippingly so. I found it almost undrinkable. Yet I was not in the least surprised when it was rated by others as their favourite beer of the festival.

I got the chance to try the Waifly again from the beer machine / handpull at Golding’s later, which provided a good example of how the method of delivery can change the taste of a beer. With the softer texture and lower carbonation from the beer machine, I found the Waifly far more palatable, the middle-ground flavours of the malt lifted and bolstered to soften the smash of the hops to the taste buds. Oh, it was still hoppy as all fuck, but I found it far more drinkable and balanced with that pour.

But for me, I was most enthralled by the ridiculously cloudy and sour ‘Hopwit IPA’ by Mike’s. Extremely tart and sharp from the wheat and yeast, yet full of apricot and bitterness from a huge whack of hops. Confronting, but I thought it delicious. But a ½ star review on Untappd that simply said “What the ____? Why?”summed up other’s opinions.

Some I spoke to suspect it may’ve been faulty, but if so I’m okay with Mike’s making mistakes like this. Their ‘Strawberry Sour’ was the result of yeast doing unintended things, and was utterly delicious. And if the Hopwit was a similar occurrence, then long live Brettanomyces I say.

Bruce Robert Vagabond, master of all he surveys.

Bruce Robert Vagabond, master of all he surveys.

Each to their own, I guess.

I really loved Hopstock 2014. In particular the experience of travelling around the town, taking my time, visiting new bars, chatting to new people who all shared a love of a good beer. Hopefully it was as much a success for the brewers and bars, because I’d like to see it back again next year.

But, that said, I think four days and sixteen bars is about the right size, so if it does return I hope there isn’t the temptation to make it bigger than it was this year. More bars, even with the addition of more days, might be asking a bit much from one small city’s beer community. Or at least, this member of it.

Cheers!