I recently read a Facebook post that appeared to be by Belfast record shop owner and label starter Terri Hooley. The post drew attention to a mini-review of the film of his life, Good Vibrations. The review was on a site called “Letterboxd” (a social networking/microblogging site for film fans) and only said:
The ultimate proof (if any more was needed after he put Saving Mr. Banks on his year-end top 10 list) that Mark Kermode has become an old, whiny, out-of-touch, middlebrow and sentimental fart.
Mark Kermode had named Good Vibrations, which is a lovely low budget film based on Terri’s own anecdotes about the liberating effect of punk on himself and the teenagers living through the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, as one of the best of last year. In the Facebook post, Terri was angry about Mark suffering the “backlash” that he had expected from the film but hadn’t yet experienced.
Good Vibrations is not flawless as films go, not least because of its limited budget, but most people will find themselves swept along in its humour and amiability and appreciate Terri’s fundamental rightness in supporting music’s redemptive effect in a situation sorely lacking in redemption; a Northern Irish Twenty Four Hour Party People with less knowing playfulness but higher stakes.
But there will be exceptions and, in 2014, some of those people will decide to tell the internet when they didn’t like it. When they decide to do so, they will tend not to consider the possibility that someone who invested more in the end product than the cost of an online rental might read it. Like Terri, for example, for whom it is essentially the end product of his entire life, along with introducing John Peel to the Undertones (and selling me a Frank Zappa bootleg 14 years ago).
The reason that I’m writing this on a near-defunct beer blog is that it reminds me of the situation regarding beer. The craft beer industry is full of people who have a really close connection to their product, take pride in their work, will be genuinely hurt by online criticism and consequently annoyed by it, especially when that criticism comes from people who appear not to know what they’re talking about. Except it is also the case that the people who are criticising them aren’t usually claiming to express an expert opinion, but are merely venting the feeling that they didn’t get value for money from the beer they bought, which might have been an actual problem of quality, a misunderstanding about what the brewer was trying to achieve or possibly even an utter failure of palate.
I am in no position to criticise a brewer for what they are trying to do when occasionally they fail to achieve it, and consequently don’t have a lot to say these days. I would be more willing to criticise a larger brewery for trying to piggy-back on the shoulders of many smaller brewers and launching “craft beers” that merely devalue that already-amorphous term, if the whole situation didn’t fill me with inertia.
But, I suppose, if there is a moral to be taken for brewers it is to listen to individual criticisms, be open to their validity, but also be prepared to dismiss them graciously and/or silently if they obviously have no merit. The product will, over time, probably speak for itself. The risk of the alternative is to be Ricky Gervais, railing against “critics” and turning everyone else against you in the process.
Finally, I would recommend that you watch Good Vibrations. It’s a craft film if ever there was one.
“3.5%” on a bottle label can be a depressing thing for the drinker to see. If I know nothing else about a beer other than the ABV, if I see 3.5% I assume I’m in for something lacking in excitement. A mild. The most boring of brown bitters. A thin stout. Even where “New World hops” are advertised, you wonder if they wouldn’t rather be starring in something better, like a respected actor taking roles in artless films to pay a tax debt.
There’s a small number of good examples of New World-hopped low ABV beers, but most are primarily cask beers and don’t carry over well to bottles, if they even try. In particular they feel thin and dry, which can be fine, but not if you have a taste for big oily, sticky American IPAs. I’ve yet to try a passable 2.8% pale ale.
But sometimes you need something tasty in a bottle which will not challenge your sobriety. For that I recommend Howling Hops Oatmeal Pale Ale. I know, it sounds awful: 3.5% porridge pale. An albino oatmeal stout. From Hackney, no less. But instead, what you get is a crisp citrus-hopped beer with a remarkable amount of body, and if you didn’t know better you might place it somewhere north of 5.5%.
I assume it’s down to the oatmeal. If it is, perhaps oatmeal is the magic bullet for low ABV pale ales. If it isn’t – and remember that I know less about the science of brewing than most people reading this – forget all of the above. It’s still a really good little beer.
Craft beer has recently become, if not ubiquitous or always readily available, then certainly a trend of which people are increasingly aware. There are a number of examples of mainstream breweries and retailers, with varying success, attempting to capitalise on that popularity. There are also some new breweries that, on closer inspection, give the impression that they don’t quite “get” what is special about craft, but think that the concept might sell.
Against that context, and admitting that craft is an amorphous concept at the best of times, it might be easy to overlook genuinely interesting new breweries in all the noise. However, even before trying any of their beers, I was already reasonably confident that Northern Monk Brew Co would subscribe to my own concept of craft because of the involvement of David Bishop, familiar to beer blog readers and Tweeters as keen homebrewer and blogger @broadfordbrewer. You can read about David being approached by a prospective business partner and his progress with the brewery on his blog. You can also read an interview with co-founder Russell on This Beer Blog.
Their first beer is an IPA which was brewed in cuckoo/gypsy manner at Hambleton, which will be the provisional arrangement, along with some interesting collaborations, before an actual Northern Monk brewery is complete. Northern Monk had a launch party last week at The Sparrow in Bradford. I wasn’t able to attend, but did pick up a couple of bottles from Friends Of Ham in Leeds.
IPA is basically the core craft style and I’m happy to say that New World IPA is a great example of what it is intended to be. The first impression is excellent, with a lovely fresh aroma of pine and apricots. The taste is well-balanced, with a nice mix of fruity sweetness and a good lasting bitterness. It’s tasty but not so characterful that it wouldn’t seem “sessionable”, which could be a little dangerous for a 6.2% beer that doesn’t come across as that strong.
Regarding his short term ambitions, David has said:
So what do I want to achieve? I want to support my family and I want to do that by getting paid to do the thing that interests and excites me: brewing beer. How I go about doing that is also important to me and I need a game plan. Over to Stuart:
“The apparent conflict between idiosyncrasy and balance brings me to the question which I ask myself today. Am I trying to get a number one single or win the Turner Prize? Does there need to be a compromise?”
As a brewer just starting out I want to brew decent, tasty beer. I want the beer to be good enough to allow us to brew a second beer and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I want to do the best I can, but I’m not aspiring for a number one single. Not yet!
So now that we have that first beer, it’s gratifying that it tastes good, the branding looks good and the blurb is refreshingly free of utter marketing bollocks – the reality is that for a new brewery the branding is probably almost as important as the beer. The bottle isn’t covered in geeky detail about ingredients and IBUs but that’s all on the website.
On this evidence I’m very happy to say that Northern Monk’s first beer is more than good enough to ensure that people come back for the second. I very much hope that they do, not just because I like David and want him to make a living doing what he loves, but because, more selfishly, I want to drink more of his beer.
See another (better) review of New World IPA on Booze, Beats and Bites. Details of the first places that you might find Northern Monk beers in bottles and on keg are on their Twitter (@NMBCo) and Facebook pages.
This week I went to an evening of rare Brooklyn Brewery beers organised by James Clay in advance of their pop-up bar opening on The Calls. The new venue isn’t ready yet, so the event was held in a beautiful open air location by the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Rodley, on an amazing sunny July evening.
It was one of those occasions that documenting might have got in the way of enjoying, so I won’t give you tasting notes for the various barrel-aged Brooklyn “ghost bottles” we tried or attempt to recount Garrett’s stories. He was in great form though: as charismatic, passionate and funny as ever, even leading a sing along with the bluegrass band. I did manage to get a few photos though, so here you go.
Full disclosure: the beer, cheese and entertainment for the event was provided by James Clay and Brooklyn. One of the owners of North Bar paid for my taxi home. Free scintillating conversation and tolerance of my inebriated ramblings was provided by members of the Leeds on- and off-sales community and other bloggers. Basically I’m a complete freeloader. Garrett Oliver’s hat appeared as itself.
See a selection of more artistic photos from the evening by Mike Watson here.
James Clay, importer of some of the best American, Belgian and German beers to the UK, have succeeded in an application for a licence to open a “pop up” Brooklyn Brewery bar in a warehouse on The Calls in central Leeds, despite police objections.
The bar will be in a currently empty warehouse at 20-24 The Calls, about 50 metres from BrewDog Leeds and 100 metres from The Stew & Oyster (Calls Landing). The licence application documents, which can be read here, show similar objections from the police as were made in the BrewDog licensing saga, to opening any new bar close to “an area which is an alcohol related crime hotspot, Call Lane” and the same “appreciation versus inebriation” arguments.
The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that representations were made to the sub-committee that the bar was to attract, “the well-behaved and “discerning” drinker, prepared to spend £7 or more on a pint of speciality beer“. A representative of the West Yorkshire Police stated that, “People with money still have the ability of causing trouble when inebriated.” Surely not.
The bar is stated to be temporary, although it is not clear for how long it is expected to operate. The licence is restricted to Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Interestingly, it was stated that the bar is “a temporary arts and cultural space used for the purpose of marketing“, that it is primarily an exercise in promoting the Brooklyn brand and may operate at a loss. However, at £7+ a pint I assume the loss won’t be made on the beer.
I’ll be interested to see how this pans out and whether the set-up will offer something different to the existing craft beer bars in Leeds. When I read about it, I initially thought of the regular Friday evening “happy hour” sessions held in the brewery in Williamsburg when we went there in 2010 (see photo), with picnic tables, plastic glasses, beer vouchers, pizzas delivered to the front door and ultraobscure beers. I assume that this new venture, “pop up” as it is, will seem a little more permanent, but who knows? Spit and sawdust can be pretty hip.
Andrew Graham Dixon’s new BBC4 series The High Art Of The Low Countries started this week with an episode on Flemish art. You can’t understand the history of art in isolation from the social and economic factors that influence it, so the programme is also a fascinating and enjoyable general background for anyone considering a beery trip to Bruges, Ghent or Brussels.
Partly to introduce the importance of religion and monasteries to the development of the Low Countries, Andrew also visited the abbey at Orval and discussed beer with Brother Xavier. You can view that short section from about the 9 minute point on the BBC iPlayer at this link, which will be available for the next 18 days. However, I would encourage you to watch the whole programme.
Whilst we’re on the Low Countries, I missed North Bar’s Lowlands Beer Festival, but when I called in this week the fridges were still packed with great Belgian and Dutch bottles, both traditional and modern. We enjoyed an Emelisse TIPA and Viven Imperial IPA and finished off the keg of De Dolle Bos Keun, all of which took us back to our trip to Bruges, as recorded in these posts. Andy Mogg has also posted about his trip to Bruges here.
First image from The Arts Desk.