Saturday, March 5, 2011

A beer to marry
Renato Redentor Constantino

I haven't published anything lately even though I've been writing. I've also been doing a bit of pushing with a few pieces of work I'm focused on but that's about the only stuff that's been coming out for the consumption of some.

Since the schedule's all messed up, I've built up an impressive backlog of great stories and things to share, and I need to take them off my chest bit by bit, just so I feel less flattened by the crush of narratives that have accumulated over so many months.

So here's one, about bubbles of truth. Because it's true. The first town on this planet that legally recognizes human-and-ale marriage, I'd go there straight away to ink my vows.

I think I'd marry a few beers in one go, but I'd plead against beer monogamy and ale divorce - the aim is to spread the romance.

So here's a beer that got me cross-eyed. This one deserves to be called extremely wonderful. It's called the Palo Santo Marron, it's made in one of the Himalayas of brewing, Dogfish Head Breweries of Delaware, and it left my list of all-time greats all messed up.

Erstwhile incredibles perched on top of my list tumbled down to great but less than spectacular when I tasted this rambunctious, impressively complex unfiltered brown ale.

The amount of flavors that the makers managed to swirl in so naturally left me speechless after the first sip. Espresso, chocolate, a lighted panetela cigar, vanilla, a burst cherry -- and this was before the finish, just before the rush of carbonation transforms the original flavors into new variations of aroma and liquid and air. A smoking, humid, sweet jungle at dusk; a liquid experience.

Filipinos have a biblical word for awesome -- susmaryosep. I'd use it on Palo Santo Marron each time.

Yet the most amazing thing about this beer is its alchemy. Throughout the magic of bursting, rushing flavors, you don't taste the alcohol, which is mind-boggling, considering that Palo Santo Marron's 12.0 % AbV.

It has always been the ambition of Dogfish Head, "to make beers so potent and unique that they couldn’t be judged by ordinary standards." The thing is, they keep achieving their vision.

It's going to take a lot to knock off Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA from my top three, and the quadruple Rochefort 10 by the esteemed Trappiste brewery of St. Remy in Liege, Belgium. The former's 18.0 % AbV and as an insane IPA registers 120 international bitterness units (IBU) while the latter registers 11.30% AbV. I think Palo Santo Marron, which has a 50 IBU rating, can sit comfortably with these two other lovelies.

Sam Calagione, the chief mad scientist of Dogfish Head, had sent John Gasparine, a beer hunter, to Paraguay to track down Bulnesia sarmientoi, a willowy tree sometimes called ironwood. “I told him to get a shitload,” said Calagione. “We were going to build the biggest wooden barrel since the days of Prohibition."

It was Gasparine who hatched the idea. After all, "Dogfish was already aging some of its beer in oak barrels. Why not try something more aromatic, like palo santo" which is considered one of the two or three hardest woods in the world.

The wood "felt disproportionately heavy," said Calagione, "as if subject to a stronger gravity—one part wood, one part white dwarf star." The barrel was eventually built at a cost of "about a hundred and forty thousand dollars—three times the price of the oak barrel beside it." According to Calagione, “If Dogfish were a publicly traded company, I’d have been fired for building this.”

It's a great, great beer, and great brews deserve great writing, so if you're keen, dive into more details. Read the New Yorker's Burkhard Bilger's excellent take on Calagione and the rise of the only revolution - a great one - that the US is leading in the world today -- craft beer.

I don't use the word "revolution" lightly. Truly, a huge number of Americans are creating magic even as I write this. There are a few places in the Philippines -- liquor stores and bars -- that more and more frequently push the right beer brands, such as the products of Rogue Ale, a brewery with groovy brew pubs like the one in San Francisco that I went to a number of times in December and which together form another hugely interesting story that I need to write, one day, maybe soon, or maybe not. Yet. Whatever.

For now I'm celebrating Palo Santo Marron. I bought my first four-pack at the same Chinese deli in Rockville, Maryland where I met another love, the 120 Minute IPA, last year.

I had the Palo Santo Marron with my good buddy, Sze Ping, in a dinner hosted by Athena and Patrick, last February. It went really well with caldereta and the samosas cooked by Sunita Dubey, who joined us with her husband.

I got about three four-packs in Feb. I consumed two of these in Maryland and brought one pack home. Last night, I opened a bottle for Kala, in anticipation of the coming lurch to Berlin and a hello to fellow beer hunter Daniel Mittler. A sip later, she said, "Susmaryosep."  #





Friday, December 25, 2009

December 25, 2009

Happiness to be a beer nut in the Philippines. Nuts about beer and beer with nuts, and at times just plain nuts, depending on who you talk to, that may just be a typical sketch of a Filipino. It's a good opening to a last review for the year -- too few and infrequent throughout 2009, yes -- but it's been a good 365 days for sampling great brews.

Kala and I went to Prague some months ago, thanks to mileage accumulated over the years courtesy of our work, which flies us frequently to new horizons with the inevitable return to homebase bedraggled and worn down. In my case, the best description I've come up with is feeling like a worn-out pencil stub, which can still make marks on paper but which can't write anything legible anymore.

We thank the deities, however, for the wares of other lands, in this case the breathtaking capital of the Czech Republic.

So here are two, plus a different kind of beer bubbly, which we'll start with.

BEER SHAMPOO -- If there's a single piece of evidence needed to demonstrate I'm rather favorable to beer, this one's it and it's a splendid sort of crazy.

Introducing the Pivni Vlasovy Sampon, beer shampoo manufactured by Prague-based Manufaktura, which specializes in original beer cosmetics.

Two-thirds of the hair goo are already used up, which goes to show that this shampoo's a pretty great product. It has an incredibly unique fragrance, a bitter-sweet scent that's almost delicious, and a tiny amount makes the senses glow, the scalp feels clean and once you rinse your hair almost smiles and says "Happy!" There's been nothing like it that I've experienced before. You know it's shampoo and yet you get sweet flavor-fragrance. My only regret -- why the heck did I give away four bottles and kept only one to myself. And why didn't I get beer soap and bath salts and beer hair balm? Nyek.

Kala and I had an incredible time in Prague, a deserved week spent continuously walking around the spectacularly photogenic city, awestruck by the architecture and the multitude of aesthetic expression whether you look up or down or side to side. Swiveling your head can be surprisingly rewarding, especially in Staro Mesto, the old town.

Yet Prague is more than just about photographable sights. There's such a thing as the Prague experience and there's no better way to try out a facet of this through Czech beer and Prague's great beer cuisine.

There's something seductive about the beer of Czech craft breweries. What makes many of the fine Czech beers stand out? A certain piquancy, bitterness and tartness, courtesy of the way humulus lupulus is used -- cannabinaceae, or common hops. In a typical large Czech beer there's about 1.2 1.8 grams of hops.

AMBER -- Among the finer examples of Czech brew pubs is Klasterni Pivovar Strahov along Strahovske nadvoti, where we sampled a fine example of Czech beer, called Sv. Norbert Jantarovy (5.3% AbV), a special amber beer. In my Prague notebook, it says "probably ... the best amber beer ever" that I've tasted. "Bitter, very hoppy -- again, a really clean finish."

It was a midday stop after non-stop strolling on the morning of the second day of September -- a whole day of walking around a district of Prague where we encountered a preserved sad Dodo near the Cabinet of Curiosities and Prague's Xyloteca, which carried books with spines made from the bark of the tree described in the book.

Sv Norbert's a bottom-fermented all-malt medium-bitter beer inspired, I think, by the Vienna-style lager and Bavarian Marzen. The color's close to Marzen and the bitterness is quite Viennese. Usually brewed in March, they make the beer all year round since the monastery has cooling machines. At my favorite virtual wateringhole called Beer Advocate, the rating's equally nice, ranging from B- to A. Not bad at all.

The place looks great, with the copper vats inside the restaurant, just beside the bar. Reviews from other beer nuts cite slow service (Kala's complaint as well with the brewery resto) but the interior is really beautiful (check out the 360 degree look here) and the food is very good. I took home a couple of the pub's beer mats -- beautiful, linocut-type design of the plant life that gives beer brewing its glory.

Beer cuisine's a constant on the menus of many Prague restaurants. I ordered grilled chicken in dark beer with gerkins, and it was superb. The chicken was roasted well -- crispy on the outside and tender white meat, and the sauce was just the right thickness, the flavor accompanied by a dark beer's bitter-sweet qualities.

"HOUSE OF THE LITTLE BEARS" -- My first craft brewery experience in Prague gave me one my most enduring memories of the great city. The place is called U Medvidku along Na Perštýne in Staro Mesto. It's a hotel and pub and restaurant all in one, and the place is a veritable house of memory.

The brewery dates back to 1466 and, though it encountered a number of closures - the last one during the dark times of Stalinism - it's been up and about for some time, enthralling visitors and Prague regulars. The pub has an incredibly deep interior, with several floors framed from above by original gothic ceilings and elegant, soft, haunting lighting.

My first beer there was called "Old Dog" (5.2% AbV), a clean, fragrant semi-dark lager with a delicate lace head. I really liked it - typical Czech beer with a clean finish and the right bitterness.

Kala and I ordered Smes syru nalozenych v oleji a pive (or in the language of Earthlings, "assorted cheeses doused" [soaked is more like it] "in olive oil and beer".) The beer's not pasteurized and has a high dose of vitamin B and is recommeded as "a nutrition supplement", especially for different health remedies.

U Medvidku is described as "the smallest brewery in Prague" and its main hall is the site of Prague's first cabaret. In our last visit, Kala ordered the Old Dog and I had the brewery's centerpiece, X33, a 12.6 % AbV beer that is probably the most full-bodied beer I've ever tasted, comparable to Rochefort 10 though its sweetness prevents me from hurling X33 to the very, very top of my beer pantheon. But definitely it will belong to my "amorphous top fifteen."

This is truly a beer that comes close to drinking liquid cake and the strength and body and the beer's zooming berries makes it stand out, the flavors strong, the bitterness familiar.

On it's label -- "Made of water, barley, malt, hop and years according to the partially preserved prescription of the brewery that was at this place 500 years ago".

The label also carries the message "Don't drink alone" due to the beer's high alcohol content, but I think the original creator surely meant X33 to be consumed with company, a beer to be celebrated, especially with the roast boar that I ordered - really gamey and with just the right saltiness, which combined well with the spinach and potato dumplings (a Czech regular on the menu). Kala ordered a great trout, which was a very good companion to Medvidku's amber beer.

I got myself a green Old Dog shirt and I've taken to wearing it very infrequently, so as not to wear it out too early.

So that's it for now. A Czech beer-ender to a tough, almost painful year that was made lighter and more colorful thanks to the genius of brewmasters.

Thanks for dropping by. #

Photos by redster.

Monday, May 18, 2009

MetroHIM, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2008

Originally titled BREWS KO:


I’m a beer hunter, and I’ve been on the happy hunt for over two decades.

I’ve come across many of the weirdest beer creations ever created and I’ve also sampled some of the most beautiful, deliriously fascinating brews ever crafted in the modern world.

Have you ever tasted beer made from ampalaya? What about rose beer or green beer infused with spirulina? Ever had hemp beer? Beer made from chocolate or bananas? Have you ever tried ale of such exquisite quality that it can only be described as liquid cake giving off perfumes of cinnamon and clove?

It’s a magical world.

When I think of fine beers, I turn full-fledged Catholic and think of the great Trappiste beer Rochefort 10, brewed in St. Remy, Belgium. I think of the ancient brewing tradition of Ethiopia and Mongozo Brewery’s organic line, such as Quinua Beer. I think of Kinshimasamune’s Kyoto Hanamachi, a dry alt-beer, and I think of Brouwerij ‘t IJ’s great Amsterdam bio-triple Zatte. These are beers of love, but mind you there are legions more out there waiting to be experienced.

Oftentimes we judge beer for confused reasons. I’m a beer nut but I tell you it’s not always about aroma or flavor; sometimes it’s just the sense of place or time that a brew engenders. Beer Laos, for instance, tastes dismal until the Mekong is in sight. Then there are memory beers such as San Miguel Brewery’s unparalleled Pale Pilsen.

There’s more to life than just tea-like lager but you need to know where the right Philippine menu or grocery shelf is. Here’s a couple that can give you a head start. I chose the outlets based on their accessibility and I selected better beers that I felt were representative of certain styles - think of them as baselines, which means quality can only go up.

Beer from Belgium at Unimart. Belgium has thousands of different beer brands. More importantly, it has a vibrant microbrewery tradition. At Unimart (Greenhills Shopping Center, San Juan), you can get both. Go for Leffe Brune, but if you can’t find it, look for Leffe Blonde. Feel happier, however, if you come across the Trappiste beer Chimay Red, which sometimes pops up at the grocery.

The Leffe brand originated from the Abbey of Leffe brewery, which dates back to 1240, but the multinational giant InBev now owns it. Some consider the industrial lager Stella Artois (also owned by InBev) to be the representative Belgian beer, but any self-respecting Belgian would gag immediately upon hearing this. With its roasted, caramel flavors, fruity aromas and smooth finish, Leffe Brune is a good start. At 6.50%, this beer will deliver the basic complexities that you can’t find in Southeast Asian beers. On the other hand, if you see Chimay on the shelf, grab one and feel blessed. There are only six genuine Trappiste breweries left in the world, they are all from Belgium, and all of them are excellent, though Chimay, which the Cistercian Trappist monks have been brewing since 1862, is to me the least excellent among the Trappiste beers. I find Chimay Blue (alc. 9%) the most complex. Unfortunately, I think only Chimay Red is sold in the Philippines, Chimay beers are top-fermented, re-fermented in the bottle and are not pasteurized. At 7%, Chimay Red has a creamy head and delicate plum-like scent with the right amount of bitterness, which is what distinguishes it from the more common Leffe brands.

Go ‘German’ at Santi’s Deli. Every now and then, this celebrated deli carries the bottles of two brands. One is the fine Erdinger Weissbier, a 5.30% wheat beer that’s actually more Bavarian than German. The other is Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier (5.50%).

To be clear, “hefe” means yeast, and “weizen” means wheat. To be even more clear, both Erdinger Weissbier and Paulaner’s Hefe-Weissbiers are cloudy, and that’s what makes them great. Erdinger is a nice wheat beer that is predictably cloudy and with the right tartness. Erdinger Weissbier is not the best wheat beer by far but check it out. It will be a revealing experience. The same is true with Paulaner’s Hefe-Wiessbier, the dunkel (dark) version (5.30%) of which Santi’s sometimes imports.

Check out Czech beer at Grappa’s. And finally, try out the micro-brewed beer by Pivo Praha in Grappa’s. The branch I used to favor, particularly for its service, was the one in Morato, which has since closed down. But visit the branch in Greenbelt and order the weizen on draught for a taste of really fresh wheat beer. Also on draught is the dark version, which I find too cloying and thin, and the lager which is watery. #

The Sociology of Beer (And Other Brew-hahas...)

BLUE, maiden issue
Grab some gravitas next time you have a beer

Let's be clear about a few things.

1. Contrary to popular rumors, this country is not going to the dogs. It's going to world-class thieves who are stealing absolutely everything, including dog chow.

2. It's high time we go for groovy. Lolita Carbon for President, and Sugarfree and Radioactive Sago for the entire Philippine parliament!

3. Although the ballot you cast may not always get tabulated in this country, believe me simple things still count. Next time you hold another bottle or glass of beer, don't just drink it. Enjoy it and give yourself and your beer a little more respect. You hold far more power than you think you have, and the brew in your hand actually holds the memory of entire civilizations. It's completely true.

There's a perfectly legitimate theory held by scholars such as Dr. Delwen Samuels that beer may have come first before bread, which to a beer-fan kind of conveys almost transcendental wisdom. Anthropologists like Thomas W. Kavanagh have even wondered "whether the desire for a secure supply of beer might, in fact, have motivated people to intentionally cultivate grain crops and settle down." In fact, according to the late Michael Jackson (who was the first to wear the mantle "Beer Hunter"), "the world's first known recipe, on clay tablets, appears to be a method for making beer."

The cultivation of grain such as barley and wheat took place alongside the development of things such as art and language, all marks of nascent civilization and not long after, the domestication of similar beer-enabling crops spread out from the Mesopotamian region. In the hotter south, Jackson tells us, Africans began brewing beer from sorghum and millet while Asian peoples in the wetter east did the same with rice, "leading to the production of sake in China and Japan." (Yes, sake is more a variant of beer than 'rice wine', since it comes from a grain.)

Did you know that the earliest evidence of written language, which comes from the Uruk people, "was used primarily for counting and measuring important things, like beer"? The Code of Hammurrabi, for instance, named after the King of Babylonia, contains rules regarding beer and taverns, such as fixing fair rates for beer and requiring female brewers (yes, macho drinkers, the brewers were all female at the time) "to bring disorderly customers to the palace to be summarily punished."

Beer has long had roots in all things spiritual across entire regions.

The Egyptians adopted Isis, the quintessential Nubian earth-fertility goddess, and called her "the Mother of all Goddesses, the Lady of Green Crops and the Lady of Beer." According to Fermenting Revolution, the celebrated book written by brewer and beer scholar Christopher O'Brien, the mythology of Isis later merged with that of Hathor's, the goddess who greets the souls of the dead in the underworld and who is the subject of a hymn where she is called "the Mistress of Inebriety without End."

According to the Kalevala, "the ancient Finnish account of the creation of the world," three women brought about the birth of beer, the initial preparations of which fell flat until one of them "combined saliva from a bear's mouth with wild honey," which caused the beer to ferment and foam.

In the Norse paradise of Valhalla, the Viking god Woden "entertained the dead with war stories" over pitchers of ale that "streamed from the udders of a mythic goat named Heidrun."

Closer to the spiritual home of most Filipinos, did you know that St. Luke the Evangelist "is the first beer saint and one of the few to be formally recognized as such" by Catholic Church?

Apart from his duties watching over prostitutes and seafarers, jolly-man Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus, is also officially listed by the Catholic Church as a Patron Saint of Brewing. There is even a really rare beer named after Holy Nick - Samichlaus Bier - brewed originally in Switzerland. At 14 percent alcohol by volume (% AbV) - unusual for a lager - Santa's brew is made only every December 6, his feast day, and bottled the following October.

I've tasted a really luscious beer named He'Brew: The Chosen Beer (10% AbV) made by Schmaltz Brewing for the niche Jewish market in New York, which my wife brought home for me in 2006 from Brooklyn. The He'Brew bottle occupies a special place in the Kamuning Republic, which holds the entire beer bottle archive that will one day pass over to Rio (nine year-old boy) and Luna (five year-old girl), better known for now as the kids of Red and Kala.

The Kamuning Republic's beer collection is the alcoholic journal of my beer adventures. It started with seven bottles, most notably Bass Pale Ale, which I brought home after my grandfather and I (his treat) went to the unfortunately quick-lived Planet Beer bar in Makati to celebrate my graduation. The collection has grown since to an (almost) fully annotated 400-bottle collection (already much vetted due to perennial space problems).

The Kamuning Republic has all of the best beers that I have tasted, such as Rochefort 10 (AbV 11.3%), an incredibly complex beer brewed by Belgian trappiste monks and which tastes as if you were drinking liquid cake. There is the spice-heavy Hoegaarden Grand Cru (8.5% AbV), which has a distinct finish of nutmeg and cinnamon. There is Zatte (8% AbV) a signature drink of the great Amsterdam microbrewery Brouwerij 't IJ. (In the name of world peace, try this beer.)

The Kamuning collection is also made up of a lot of beer given (with contents intact...) by generous friends such as Kirsten Macey, who introduced me to Little Creatures (5.2% AbV) - a stand-out, very full-bodied pale ale from Freemantle, Australia. The amber-bottled Banks (4.7% AbV) from Barbados, West Indies, on the other hand, is part of the pasalubong from award-winning reporter Maki Pulido after she did a show on the Filipino crew of a luxury liner plying the Caribbean.

Kala gave me a couple of beers last year after she attended an assembly of reproductive health advocates in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - a country with a beer culture that is unsurpassed even by Europe, and where, with exception of devout Muslims, "virtually every woman brews beer."

"Beer is part of everyday Ethiopian life," O'Brien tells us. There, beer drinking "doesn't go on behind closed doors, exclusively by men... Kids get the occasional sip. Grandma and Grandpa get a healthy jug full. Women drink as well as men."

O'Brien makes a singular contribution to drink, scholarship and radicalism in his book when he reminds readers about the distinctly women-based origins of beer-making. His approach is radical and grounded and gives great resonance to his call "to bring back the ale in female." O'Brien surveyed a wide range of beer literature that includes, for instance, the work of Judith Bennett covering the transition of brewing from women to men in England in the period 1300-1600. "Biology has nothing to do with women leaving brewing," Bennett asserts. Instead, based on evidence she has gathered, "cultural ideas about women gradually gave brewsters a sleazy reputation."
Bennett leverages "a large literature in late medieval and early modern England that depicts brewsters as filthy, disgusting workers, as women who produce polluted ale and cheat their customers." Interestingly, said Bennett, "There's no literature like that about male brewers." Her point should be familiar to some Philippine drinkers - there remains a very strong notion, for example, that Filipinas who drink as much and as frequently as men today are looked down on or considered 'easy' or of loose morals. But there's no such thing when it comes to male boozers.

There's more to beer than just suds. At least there should be.

Each year, around 350 billion 12-ounce servings of commercial beer are brewed globally. Unfortunately, more than one in five are produced in the US. The corporate colossus, Anheuser-Busch (AB), America's largest, produces one out of two beers sold in the US, and its most popular brand is called Budweiser. (It's a tragedy, actually. Some of the greatest beers of the world are produced by US microbreweries who truly, passionately love beer making).

You would know, if you're the type who goes through business periodicals or the business section of regular dailies, that there's been a brewing global corporate melee courtesy of the bid of European brewing giant InBev to acquire AB. InBev owns today some of the world's biggest brands such as Stella Artois and Beck's.

If InBev gets its way, it will become the world's largest beer maker. Among brewers and drinkers who take beer quality seriously, though, such an event is likely irrelevant, taste-wise. Both companies represent not just the continued take-over of smaller, local breweries but also the process that O'Brien calls the blandardization of beer. And he's right, of course. But of industrial, crappy beer - as bad and as farcical as the current Philippine government - we will need another article altogether.

Cheers! #

1. Roger Protz, The Taste of Beers: A Guide to Appreciating the Great Beers of the World (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1998)
2. Christopher Mark O'Brien, Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World (New Society Publishers 2006)
3. Christopher Mark O'Brien, Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World (New Society Publishers 2006)

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Ale Mary full of Taste
An April plunge

Let's hear it for stand-up beers. The beers that count - the ones that remain on your mind long after the last great trickle of scent and taste in one enduring gush guzzle.

First up, one of the very best I've tasted in a long while, courtesy of Beerhunter Daniel Mittler (whose latest new and old finds are on display on the top photo of a tiny part of the beautiful Berlin home he shares with Kathrin and Noni.) Stortebeker Bernstein-Wiezen. This is a beer that surprised me, since it's quite hard to be in the German weizen class and be above this really wide but well-maintained quality strata. There are a lot of bad ones of course, but in general there's a wide range of really good weizen beers. But this one had a distinct personality, a unique flavor kick, which was that the banana scent and finish was so exquisite and elegant that it just stood out of the many wheat beers I've had. That's no mean feat, considering that most good weizen beers usually have a taste that carries the herbaceous plants of the genus Musa, while the bad ones end up with a silly plantain flavor. This one -- you knew you were having beer but the fragrance, the carbonation and the finish -- it all added up to an organic class act, with the 5.3% abv making for a fine bio beer that really deserves a standing ovation. I really wonder why no one from BeerAdvocate has reviewed this very good beer.

I had it in Berlin with Daniel, seen here with that other sunshine of his life, baby Noni. Daniel-san has sampled many bio beers and weizen brews, and he agreed with me completely that this was a really nice one.

If you've had good wheat beers you'd know what a "banana finish" means. Think Hoegaarden Wit beers, and think ordinary. Stortebeker's product is as good as that very name - a German privateer who led the Victual Brothers' piracy enterprise in the 1390s and who, after his capture, legend has it, asked his executioners to grant mercy to all the comrade pirates that he'll manage to walk past right his head was lopped off. Stories said he did traipse past his brothers but they were all executed anyway. There's even a statue to honor his memory in Hamburg. We of course can remember him through this beer. (Without losing our heads.)

Mind you, the word "pirate" means many things, especially during its ancient heyday -- a buccaneer's almost the same as a privateer, but they're not exactly pirates or at least not the same as Blackbeard or the ocean brigand Anne Bonny, who were pirates for a different purpose and who were not sailing and pillaging under the flag of private or state interest. But that's another chapter in a book I'm writing and there's another time for that.

Next up, Mort Subite's Original Geueze, a 4.5% Belgian lambic that's a classic thirst quencher and soul-satisfyingly good. I had this very good beer with Mae and Maia, in Sloterkade, Amsterdam one night and though it wasn't as the label said it was -- mort subite, or sudden death -- it was certainly a very memorable brew.

We sampled four different Lambic beers that night and Mort Subite's was the first one, and it really sort of gave the rest of the bottles a very difficult time. It had good body, which was surprising too given the familiar lightness of many lambics, and as a geueze beer it was complex enough with just the right tartness and bubble. It was a bit different from most gueuze styles as it tended to be on the sweetish side and the tartness was not authoritative. But it surprised me in a good way and its yeastiness was very subtle and it was like, having had it just before dinner, I immediately thought "I should have had this for lunch a while ago."

A few GP diaspora friends of mine from Facebook immediately wrote in to agree with my initial thoughts - Jim Thomas for instance wrote in to say he had it all the time once upon a time, and Tonya Hennessey exclaimed "Yummy" while the wizard John Carella reminded me to drop by De Wildeman (which I did again; this bar deserves a separate post later, perhaps with the help of Padma?). This is a nice gueuze, very reliable in the mouthfeel it gave, and it reminded me why lambic beers, especially the gueuze style, should be on the minds of all campaigners worth their salt, because it's based on the premise of spontaneous fermentation and wild yeast and bacteria endemic to the region where it's brewed.

Last but not the least, we have what I'd consider the great Mary from Brouwerij de Prael (The Pearl, in English). Mary packed a 9.6% abv and it had a stand-out flavor that has come to be a hallmark of good Dutch beers. I had it with Ginting and Harris and I believe it dislodged the already really good Zatte of Brouwerij 't Ij from my all time list of fave Dutch brews. It had more bitterness, had more body, and it had a finish that I didn't think could top the Zatte but which clearly surpassed it after I had my first drink. It was a bitter-sweet, almost red triple that was named after Mary Servaes, who the brewery says is also "full, soft and outspoken." That's just what Mary was to me, and Ginting agrees with that it's really a very good beer, and we both preferred it over De Prael's Johnny and Andre and Heintje, which both deserve a post another time.

The brewery's located in one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam the Oudezijds Voorburwal. De Prael says "as long ago as 1300, [the] canal had a beer quay where wooden ships unloaded beer from the south of Germany." It was here that "the first breweries were later established." De Prael named their beers after Dutch singers of popular 'life songs' and the brewery "offers people with a history of mental illness work of a clear and honest nature."

When do we apply eh?

De Prael's labels -- beautiful.

Thanks for dropping by... #




Friday, January 30, 2009

Redster's Ottawa lurch

I enjoyed the company of Kretz and Tea in Washington and not Ottawa. But I want to start things by showing the pics, to remind myself of forgetful stupidities.

Saw them both in early October last year. Beer was on the agenda obviously. But. But. But.

Forgot to bring home the gorgeous red bottle of Rogue that Kretz is holding... If you want to know whether it tastes good or not, don't ask me. The evidence is written all over Senyor Kretzmann's face.)

I also forgot to bring home the Jinx beer bottle Tea's holding (&#&#$*!), which was another really fine beer that I have to review another time.

Long before the Obamarama blingfest, a real revolution has been actually blazing paths in North America -- the fermenting revolution.

The bottles held by Kretz and Tea are testimonies to the new world that the US is offering to all who drink beer, which you may consider as the global (and far from silent) majority.

Same's true in Canada of course, though you have to be ready to drop previous biases, or misimpressions. Just like Heineken is not (by far) the representative Dutch beer, so should you not conclude that Labatt or Molson Canadian or Moosehead define what Canadian beer really is.

A literally small example is Stuart's Natural Session Ale, a really good light beer produced by the craft brewery Scotch Irish Brewing based in Ontario and named after Stuart -- a Scottie that "lives, plays and digs in Ottawa".

I found the 3.7% AbV Stuart's session ale to be particularly refreshing, especially after a long day walking along one of the main streets of Ottawa in chilly late September. It's brewed in the English ordinary bitter style and it comes in a small, 341 ml. amber bottle that's probably almost big as the Nokia N95 mobile phone when slid open. If you've seen the small green Victoria Bitter bottle from Australia, or the bottle of Red Stripe lager from Jamaica, that's almost what Stuart's looks like.

I like beers that come in small, exquisite bottles. Easy to pack in the bag (just chuck it in!) and you already have a whole day worth of complete nutrition, with a taste that can make the clouds go away. It's great with chips and has a smooth, fragrant finish. It's "the first and only organic beer brewed in Eastern Ontario" using certified organic malts and hops; no preservatives or additives.

Ottawa's beer scene is quite interesting, even though I found the bar scene not as active as I thought.

In many of the Ottawa bars I visited, draught beer came out of really geeky spouts, as you can see from the pic.

The draught beer on offer in the places I visited though were not particularly exciting, though I did like the cloudy pint of Rickard's and the usual meal-in-a-glass Guinness stout on offer obviously from a bar that calls itself The Aulde Dubliner...

Fascinating to me was the place mysteriously called The Beer Store, which served beer...

It looked like a firm that enjoyed great business, as I saw, while walking along one of the proclaimed bar strips of Ottawa, a humongous truck worthy of a well-planned, professional highway robbery hit...

I've only been to Canada twice. Once in Vancouver over a decade ago, and last year in Ottawa. I'm most certain there's a lot more beer adventures waiting for me in that vast land. #
Friendly Files with the Beer Files

Paths change and we all get to take a few detours down the road. Sometimes the surprises are fascinating, but it not always scenic.

I am thankful for liquid grain fermented with memories of good times past. Here's a toast to people who remained faithful to the mug, the glass, the bottle and the perpetual next round. When the day was long or when the night plodded on this year, I thought of them.

What are you doing right now SP? Still holding that skewer? I remember - winter in Beijing, cold nights, hot coal, embers, smoke, stupid jokes, jokes that should get anyone thrown out of any room except that they're just so completely stupid you have to laugh at the ideas; so stupid we can't remember any, and I remember staggering back many times to your place, or to another small dingy joint, for a final round. Ripe, cold sliced tomatoes or cucumber with salt and sugar and frash garlic? The Yi Li milk in the morning that probably has us doused in tremendous amounts of melanine? Morning music that makes a sunny day cloudy and the air so still. Cobwebs and melancholy, and memories of snoring like the droning sound made by busted pipes of busted old socialist plumbing of yesteryear. Peppercorn -- a bazillion peppercorns with a piece of oil-soaked fish in the mouth, and a piece of rabbit beneath a mountain of chillis. Yanjing beer as fireman.

In my mind are old photos I've never seen. Feifei is driving big red trucks, sitting on the pastoral dreams of Kaming, floating on his dad's silly jokes. There is the terrace of your high home in Beijing, open air, where you are holding up the young tiger and you are both gazing down at the hutongs, past and future opening up and you see farther than your eyes can reach.

What about you Arthur Jones? Still carrying that Beer Chang mug? We slurred our speeches once upon a time too many times and it's still not enough, the last time being at that fine place, that old place by the park named like Looney Tunes where the locals get their happy greens with their beer suds. I remember what you said then. You said Na told you. Get everything out, chop chop chop, pound pound pound, ready the salt, ready the pepper, put those fermented fish things by your side, make sure there's a pinch 'o sugar to sprinkle; no need for any meat. When the oil's piping hot and the smoke's billowing out like it was a happy, sweating chimney, throw everything in and stir like crazy. Half a minute later take it all out and serve in a clean plate and make the world a happier place. Remember AC-DC live? And that white girl who took to the stage, grabbed the mike and sang a Whitesnake song? She sounded like a virus alarm on the PC but she was happy, and so were we with the rounds of Singha.

What are you doing right now Daniel? We've done two already and it's a great start; I hope there's more.

Last time I saw you you left me three special brews. I think the things people do with hops represent countries far better than what any of those silly farts sitting in parliament do. There's more to life than fizz. Don't you think the world would be a happier place if trade returned to its barter stage? For the Alligauers I would have paid you four sand dollars and you would have been rich beyond your means.For your mountain coffee - organic, as you prefer - I would have asked for ten bottle caps and a box of crayons.

What's your idea of precious?

Raise your fist again and open the door, enter; that's what you do. And the calling just don't get more militant than the Proletaryat,
right after consuming hot Polish honey beer at the big dark square and walking on cobblestones. The story should be worth telling even after a decade: "It was winter when we manned the barricades, under the cross-eyed gaze of Karl and Vladimir Illich and a bemedalled general we couldn't identify, except that he looked Soviet and looked like a bureaucrat, which sounds redundant." We sat on nifty chairs with a red star where the buns meet and we sipped our Zywiec and there were plenty of young folks smoking and drinking and smoking and drinking, and you were trying your best to keep swallowing more pilsen and to show that you did not mind the fumes. But people do tend to notice other people when they stop breathing.

I remember the bartender lady looked kinda evil and it felt weird because she had this horrible lion toy thingy beside a dark fuschia piggy bank just in front of the taps, as if they were totems placed there to ward away do-gooders, and I think if she suddenly popped her mouth open to show she was sucking on the corpse of Tweety Bird I wouldn't have been surprised. I'm not sure you noticed.

The world's changed a lot and it's remained pretty much the same. I see you right now riding a train, and it's a long tranquil ride. I see you leaning on the far side, an elbow propped on the foldable table and I can hear the noise of the rails, a rhythmic mechanical chant, and suddenly the whoosh of another train going in the opposite direction, and you're looking out the window and the carriage rocks from side to side, as if caught in linear ripples.

Fields pass by like plates getting rapidly rinsed in a sink. There are two dozen plates; one, two, three, four, five. Light poles are flying, then streets, cars, houses, trees, then it's another station, then tenements, the coast, blue sky, more fields and more plates, another train station, buildings, highways, children boiling out of schools and rushing to meet playtime. Parks, farms, windmills, stadiums, convention centers, and then the train slows down and carriage mouths open to disengorge passengers who step down gingerly. Train conductors peek out, a whistle is blown; conversations splinter. One day soon it won't be just a book or your laptop resting on your lap. There will be a kid and there will be four eyes staring out, quietly watching the big blue sky, thinking of Kathrin and escalators.

Martin Baker Boulangerie. Towering figure who always looks up. Hard-nosed cupcake. Lava-man with the perpetual heart of a teen-ager. (Which is why she likes you.) What have you been up to? Right now I am replaying in my mind a Hong Kong stroll we made when we decided not to stop by Boris the Ukrainian's dreadful dive. We made a pit stop in a place with fluid jazz, where I ordered an Irish meat stew, which was every bit Irish except that the dish wasn't drunk and so you and I had to compensate and we walked out and hunted for another place - a cold roof top where a bald boy got married and while it rained we had rounds of wheat beer till the waiters called for last orders. I remember the hiccups, which felt like a small squirrel was stuck inside the diaphragm and it kept bouncing and bouncing and bouncing. I saw you again in a blues place where I finally met the woman who made you swoon. So never mind the Lionel Barts. You went to rock and lurch because it's past the time to hawk one's pearly, which you know, because you'll always be a flag unfurled, with your fleas and ants on all the time, and pretty soon it's time to soap and lather.

Here's to Ginting, a Westmalle among ten thousand Heinekens. The old year is drawing to a close and we are all going to be sustained by the things that connect. Nasi goreng past midnight in cold, cold Amsterdam after the long boisterous dinner at Marta's. Just like Filipinos, with early morning lugaw or arroz caldo after a good binge. We did Vondel Park one day, with Trappist beers in tow and we met this Dutchman playing with a Swiss version of a gamelan piece. He had a weird name -- Trevor Namaste -- as if he was eager for a new start, one of those who had met modernity and discovered there was nothing inside. The music of his gong though was beautiful, but the spot we had taken was better and we watched a whole swarm of people enjoy the sun on the open field and Tri took pictures and gave out kreteks. We'll do that book soon. Think good thoughts. I do. Let's have more blueberry.

Mae and Maia. Maia and Mae. Maiabird and Melindamae. Amsterdam opened its secrets to me when we criss-crossed the channels and cycled with no destination in mind and I realized things were not so secret. There was always time to watch people and to taste new things, always time to laugh at something. I'd get lost all the time and I'd get rescued all the time, because I always had time at Erste or at the living room terrace at the third floor.

Old Church and the flesh trade, Albertheijn and Waterloo Plein, herring sliding down the throat, vegetables, fruits and another slippery herring. A steak place called Che run by young Yugoslavians, grapes from the vine, Kurdish fare, Cafe Weiteringstraat. The margins coming to centerstage. We watched a legion descend on Brouwerij 't Ij to sun themselves on the street, besdie the canal and beneath the great old windmill. It was Zatte, Natte, and Columbus -- and the special Cosa Nostra Ducks, those murderous mallards who escaped from the National Geographic Asylum for animals with sick minds who tried to slap, bite, peck, stomp and drown a poor quack for being a stool pigeon. Never saw a duck try to drown another duck before; ducks biting the neck of another to plunge its head underwater. We threw small rocks, big rocks, twigs, branches, a brick but the violence would not stop. Then the victim wriggled frree and floated, gasped for air, paddled briefly then flew away, and there we were till the brewery's closing wondering what the heck we saw. Was Padma there?

Wonderdays. Soul food that keeps giving. #

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Beer Files; for Daniel

It's a shame Daniel and I did not have another day, or even a few more hours. We would have been able to complete a good trek in search of natural beer that Madrid had to offer.

I'm not sure that we would have found the brew Daniel's been looking for -- San Miguel Eco, which I featured some time ago in a quick piece on memory beers -- I'm certain we would have found time for Magister beer, which is, like Naturbier, within Plaza Sta. Ana, though few meters outside the main square along Calle Principe.

It has a sign that announces the place loudly from the street. Cerveceria Magister, home of natural craft beer, or in Spanish, Magsiter, Naturas Cervezas Fabricas.

Aside from organic beer, another come-on pulls in customers and maintains regulars, I think: tapas gratis, or free tapas.

The tapas served with your natural beer does not look nor taste free. In fact, it's quality tapas, put together particularly for the beer being served. I had morcilla (blood pudding with rice sausage) on bread, a slender chorizo, a jamon iberico each with a fried quail's egg on top on a slice of toast. I think Daniel would have loved the variety, which included lots of cheeses and eggs (can't remember if Daniel eats huevos...)

I ordered the rubia first, a 5.5% unfiltered Pils, which I found very refreshing though it was quite basic compared to the blonde brew of Naturbier. But I have to say that I would still drink it anytime, on a hot or cool day, especially with Magister's famed (well-deserved!) tapas. They go together, and unless you've been there and have had both, it's hard to explain...

I passed up on another tostada, which was a bit thin and too sweet, though I was told a few shades less sweet than the caramelizada (which I did not order anymore). Others before me gave Magister's tostada brew more negative reviews.But I did get the brew called autor, which is the brewery's seasonal beer - a specialty beer. An 8.2% unfiltered double bock, this one had a strong finish, was dark toned with a thin head. I was a bit frustrated by the minimal fragrance that I usually associate with bocks, unfortunately. Maybe it's because I was having it too late in the year, in May? I'm not really sure. I would definitely recommend the place to any beer enthusiast -- the bar's first rate and the servings are generous, though the young bartenders were quite annoying in their swaggering, unlike the older guy who appeared to be supervising services.

What a difference a few hours would have been.

I wonder what Daniel would have thought if he realized that we had literally passed by a statue erected in honor of the tribune of duende, the great Spanish heart and poet named Federico Garcia Lorca.

In 2004, myself, Kala, pops, mom, Tiny and Yami made a pilgrimage to Lorca's house in Granada, where everything, from his bedroom to his piano to the Lorca family's living room was arranged the way it would have appeared before Lorca was murdered by Franco's Falangists. If you ever get to read only one of his poems in your lifetime, what a loss that would be, but still look for Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias. It gives only a tiny sliver of Lorca's poetic range, but you can have a small serving of his power. Another great poet, Edward Hirsch, actually crafted a huge, huge part of his book The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration based on Lorca's work.

The monument was life-size and bore Lorca's likeness, including the expression of Lorca's bronze entirety -- caught in the middle of a step, gently casting free a dove. He had a gaze that was fixed afar, as if he was in mid-contemplation. It did not help that there was a weekend fair in Plaza Sta. Ana, which meant Lorca's memorial was surrounded by stalls. But there he was, as Kala patiently reminded me.

I took so many pictures and was enthralled till sundown by the work, rendered by the hands of the sculptor Julio I. Hernandez in 1985-86.

If Daniel had a few more hours, further down Calle Principe we would have ran into the corner of Calle De Leon and Calle Cervantes. There is an orthopedic shoe shop at the corner selling beautiful espadrilles. Beside it is the house occupied by the novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra from 1606 until his death in 1616.

If the name Cervantes does not ring a bell, I suggest you try running into a wall to get a buzzing gong-like sound going in your head, after which you can try reciting the following words slowly - "Don Quixote, great, great, great novel. All hail Rocinante and Sancho Panza, I promise to buy Red three pints of beer."

Thanks to Kala, again, who pointed out the Cevantes place quite early.

There is a plaque there in honor of the novelist, and words are inscribed in bright gold letters on the road remembering the great author. I caught a few pictures of tourists, looking at the inscription on the road and up at the apartment windows - like me, they were also actually hunting down the last abode of the writer. Despite two false starts (Spaniards I talked to kept telling me the house was in Valladolid, and I am sure I did not make my questions clear), Kala insisted that the house was there, and it was.

When I finally reached the corner, I sat down on a granite bench and I saw a dirty street, unfortunately unkempt and littered with household debris. But what did it matter?

Cervantes was there once upon a time. Myself too. #