This Scumbag

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Musician, engineer/producer and former employee at Beer Ritz in Leeds. Enthusiast of extreme metal and beer, which happily go extremely well together. Follow @BenCorkhill

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The BrewDog Saga: Is Punk Dead?

Tip of the Tongue

You are not worthy.
For a while now, everyone has been talking about BrewDog. The self-proclaimed Beer Punks have certainly caused quite a stir in the industry since their arrival a few years back, as we all know. Inevitably, as any well managed business should, they have grown year upon year and is now a household name in craft brewing across the world. But have they stuck to their controversial ideologies right the way through? Is there such thing as punk beer? Let's look at the obvious aspects of BrewDog. For a start, they do make some incredible beers, and also some not-so-incredible beers (but good ones nonetheless). They have received several awards, their beers are consumed internationally and they have created the strongest beer in the world not once, but three times. That's a pretty impressive track record for just four years of brewing. Whether or not the amount of hype around these guys is a product of their superior beers or their in-your-face, arrogant marketing techniques is a matter of some debate, but for now let's just agree that they do produce good stuff.
Tesco Finest American Double IPA

Declaring war on mass produced lager was pretty punk. Bottling beer inside stuffed animals was pretty punk. Using adjectives like 'explicit' and 'iconoclastic' in beer descriptions is pretty punk, I suppose. But - and sorry if I'm getting a little deep here - is describing yourself as 'punk', punk? Surely the entire concept of being punk is not to label yourself as anything, but allow others to label you according to what their rigid rules of society deem you to be… Yeah I guess that was a little deep, but hopefully it made sense. My point is, do you consider their ideology to be genuine or just a clever and exciting marketing ploy? 

Money Talks (and drinks)

Then there's the business side of their operation. Fair play to them, they've come a hell of a long way and done great things while maintaining their high standards of beer quality, but is producing a beer for sale as a Tesco home brand punk? The positive aspect of this is that it's probably introducing a lot of people to a great craft beer without them realising it; the negative is that it somewhat undermines their anti-establishment stance so carefully nurtured since their inception. Their latest venture, selling shares of the company, is one that has raised a lot of discussion. Most people I've spoken to about it have thought it was a great idea - to be honest I think I'd get involved if I had the money - but it's the phrase 'Equity for Punks' that makes me a take the kind of inward breath a mechanic would if your car was slightly damaged. The word 'equity' itself conjures images of being sat facing a financial adviser, nodding obliviously and giving the occasional "mmm…" as if you know what the fuck he's on about. As I say, I think it's a good idea with advantages for both the brewery and its customers/stakeholders, but you can't just sugarcoat what is blatantly a capitalist venture by sticking the word 'punk' next to it. Nor does hiring several models to dress like Nancy Spungen's nightmare and pose in London hide the fact that BrewDog is at the top of its game financially. Sooner or later, the ugly truth has to be faced that this brewery is getting bigger and bigger, and its reputation as an angst-fuelled anarchy machine is being somewhat eclipsed by a giant pound sign. James Watt described Equity for Punks as "punk rock to the banks' Celine Dion", but I can't help but think the guys are leaning more towards the comparison of Green Day to craft brewing's Sex Pistols…

I imagine this post will spark a bit of reaction, but I'm not slamming BrewDog at all. Aside from probably not being as in-the-know about them as many of you are, I think their beers are good, I hope they continue to do well and raise the profile of craft beer; but the question has to be asked whether they can convincingly keep up the anti-everything sentiment while conveniently using the tools of capitalism to do so. Perhaps it'll be up to us to decide for ourselves.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Odell St. Lupulin & Myrcenary

Aesthetics are everything folks!
Art Attack

Well, there was much buzz and the Beer Ritz Twitter feed was in overload again this week. That's because Zak popped in on Tuesday to, among other things, deliver us some cases of the most recent Odell imports! First let me talk about the artwork: just take a minute to admire these bottles. Odell are clearly a brewery that take immense pride in their beer (rightly so), and what better way to display that than by presenting their beers in the most interesting, unique and attractive ways possible? This brewery produces some really distinct artwork and labeling that you often just don't see these days. Odell's branding reminds me of a post by GhostDrinker last month, highlighting the importance of presentation. The Yanks are getting everything right at the moment, let's admit it. For example, although Buxton Brewery beers are obviously turning heads in the UK at the moment, I can't help but think their labelling is just too bland to do any justice to the delicious contents of the bottles. Same with Mallinson's of Huddersfield, while their next door neighbours Magic Rock are really making an effort and, in my humble opinion, attracting a lot more attention in doing so. So, if any brewers are reading, please take note that presentation counts for a hell of a lot; that's not just coming from me, it seems more and more evident that people are easily swayed by inventive and aesthetically pleasing branding.

St. Lupulin Extra Pale Ale & Myrcenary Double IPA

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to tasting these beauties. I love Odell's beers, and this particular night I was extremely thirsty for something pale and hoppy. The St. Lupulin was up first, pouring a nice clear golden colour with a pretty decent head (which unfortunately shrunk rapidly), showing obvious signs of lively carbonation. The aroma was very pleasant, dry hops at the forefront with some honey, soft citrus and a nice maltiness. That carbonation makes itself known immediately, also present is a mellow fruitiness and big, but unobtrusive, tasty hop character. The swallow left me with a lingering crisp bitterness, with hints of peach and apricot in the throat amid a slight grassiness. This is a good, refreshing summer beer with a nice overall floral quality in the aroma and taste. Worth the hype, but I will admit I expected a little more; still, would definitely buy again!

Onto the Myrcenary, and I was certainly very intrigued by this one. My experience of double IPA's so far has been altogether brilliant, and this one basically sells itself. Again, it poured a clear golden colour, but with a marginally bigger head and much softer carbonation than the St. Lupulin. It did present a very similar aroma, except for having a more full frontal hoppiness. My immediate thought as it hit my tongue was 'fruits, lots of them… but which ones?' I picked up some grapefruit, but there were more that I just couldn't put my finger on - tasted like something in between pear and banana (perhaps something like a kiwi?), especially noticeable in the finish. When left in the mouth for a few seconds, a lovely lemon citrus flavour starts seeping through and the swallow leaves a pleasant flowery bitterness in the throat. Big hop presence, good stuff. I enjoyed this one more than the St. Lupulin; it's a very complex beer with a GREAT aftertaste which is immediately fruity, leaving a long floral bitterness. What a beer!

If there's still any left at Beer Ritz, get your hands on some. I'm yet to try the Double Pilsner (can you just use that prefix on anything these days?) but judging by these masterpieces, I'm sure it will be another resounding success from Odell. Cheers to them!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Zak Avery Homebrew: Hopfen-Weisse

"That one's got my name on it"
Another beer post, another beer I've never tried. In fact, only a few have tried this one! This is Zak's home brewed Hopfen-Weisse, generously given away on a first-come-first-served basis at work. I was really looking forward to this as it's also actually the first proper home brew I've had the pleasure to try. Not to mention I was ambushed on my way home from work and forced (FORCED!) to drink two and a half refreshing pints of EPA at the Oak, paid for by my assailant/friend [delete as appropriate]. Needless to say my thirst for beer needed further quenching by the time I'd walked back to Woodhouse. It's a hard life eh…

A 'puddle of mud', but tasty!

This bad boy poured cloudy as hell with not much head, but with a rather strong immediate aroma, very interesting looking indeed. The smell was quite appetising, nice and citrusy. Bit of lime, grapefruit and a small amount of banana in there. As soon as it hit the tongue I got a really nice soft fruitiness, and lots of it. Initially it was citrus fruits, but towards the end of the glass the banana was really taking over. The mouthfeel was very good indeed, nice thick texture with a lovely soft carbonation, very inoffensive. There was a bit of a spice bite in the swallow, followed immediately by that banana rearing its not at all ugly head up the throat, accompanied by a hint of orange too.

Final thoughts: Deep down I wanted to be controversial and slag it off, but the truth is that this was an extremely pleasurable drinking experience, seconded by my housemates who both had a sip and seemed suitably impressed. This is an all round mellow, easy drinking beer that I would happily pay real life human money for - a couple of people have already expressed similar opinions on Twitter, so it's now up to the man himself whether it will appear on the shelves or not! A nice label (i.e. not people's names scrawled in chalk pen by Ghostie) would see this beer right. There are still many details I don't know about the brew though, the percentage for a start! But judging by its taste and my post-beer clear head I would say it's not overly potent.

Mmm, Orval... why not?
Keep your eyes and ears out for Zak's home brews then, because if this was anything to go by we have some ruddy good beers to look forward to. Nice glass of Orval to end tonight's festivities, what a beauty.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sense and Sociability

The Importance of Social Interaction

Bloke Walks into a Pub...

Over the past five years or so I have been meticulously developing and honing my social and conversational skills out of equal parts necessity, natural conditioning and, more simply, the love of social interaction. Let me introduce you to the old me: aged 17, I was still doing my A Levels and working part time as a pot wash at my local. Not being old enough to drink in the pub or work the bar, and at the time still a very shy lad, entering the bar area (especially the tap room) was always rather daunting - even though I knew who a few of the drinkers were and they knew me, we have never conversed, as back then age difference remained entirely relevant. This continued until the pub was taken over by a new management team. Not the kind of management team that ruin (ahem, typo, run) city centre pubs, this was a lovely family from Leeds who had taken on the lease and genuinely wanted to make a go of a village watering hole. Although they knew I was under age, they invited me to stop for a couple of pints after every shift; initially I would shuffle nervously into the tap room and try not to make eye contact with anyone, but it was only a matter of weeks before I was singing and dancing (seriously) away with the local boozers at silly o'clock in the morning (seriously). The average age in the room was probably about 36, but already in those short few weeks I had learned that age was just not important anymore.

The Half Moon, Collingham - where it all began...
So there the tale begins: in the pub. This was my awakening period as I transcended into the adult world. After my A Levels, me and a couple of my best friends avoided reality for a while by travelling the world for three months. This was a secondary wake up call as to just how important and enjoyable socialising is. I'm not talking all the "So what are you going to study? Oh really, sounds good (mental note: does not sound good at all)" bollocks, I mean forging real bonds and friendships that would continue to be relevant outside of the confines of overtly forced friendliness.

Mixing Business and Pleasure

For my musical/production aspirations, interacting with people is now probably the most integral part of my career progression. As a fan, I have tried contacting artists and bands before, and when I have gotten no response I have truly lost a little respect for the musicians in question. Fair enough, you won't get the time of day from a band plastered all over the magazines, but there have been much, much smaller acts I have contacted and received nothing from - I don't think that's on really. When someone from some far corner of the world contacts me with words of praise and support, it truly is a humbling experience and I make every effort not just to respond, but to stay in touch with them. Being in touch with fans on a personal level is an amazing thing. I have also met alot of people at gigs and festivals, whether I've been playing or just attending. Most of these people I now consider friends and am still in touch with regularly, and it certainly helps for getting gigs in and out of town. On the 'business' side of things, here at Beer Ritz we have a good relationship with our regular customers as well as more far-flung enthusiasts who like to stop by every so often. This is helped massively by the fact that Will and Zak both run very popular blogs and Twitter feeds (Twitter and its partner in crime, Facebook, of course play key roles in modern networking), which serve well to attract custom to the shop.

Don't be that dick
Suffice it to say, the old saying 'it's not what you know, it's who you know' is absolutely 100% true! Meet people, don't be a knobhead (unless you're genuinely just a knobhead, in which case you're a bit stuck), find some common ground, establish a bond, keep in touch and you'll open yourself up to a world of opportunities. Some fantastic things have happened to me over the years as a result (mates rates and so forth...), and it's now something I thrive off. My mum always tells me I'm just like my old man: among the various traits I've inherited from him, I now realise I am developing his ability to seemingly be able to bump into someone he knows no matter where he is in the world. So, I encourage you all to socialise, interact and network as much as possible because it really does come with a whole load of benefits. But be sure to make it genuine and on a personal level. Don't be the person that appears to know everyone but blatantly doesn't feel the need to make time for them, displaying thinly veiled false delight upon bumping into them, ignoring their messages and such. No one really likes that person.

Friday, 15 July 2011

UK Black Metal: Pushing the Boundaries

Putting the Foot (of Heritage) Down

Winterfylleth live at Metal Camp
What with Winterfylleth's recent excursion to Slovenia, I thought it was time to reflect on just how important it is that we are being represented on foreign fields by not just an underground UK band of any calibre, but a black metal band. There's no point going over the ins and outs of what happened with the recent UKBM explosion - we were all there, we all saw it happen; the question is did we, or the rest of the metal world, see it coming?

For years, the folk metal jollies were sweeping the nation (as well as most of Europe and America) which was all well and good, until there seemed to be in the air a craving for something a little more serious by nature. Picture the scene: a bikers' pub just outside Leicester. A few fairly decent folk metal bands have just performed, with a good reception, when six woad-painted warriors take the stage. At the time, they are known by name and reputation, but their praises are seldom heard being cried from the rooftops. What then ensues is a cosmic barrage of relentless black metal savagery coupled with beautifully executed ambient passages. Haunting riffs create cavernous depths from which the archaic screams of the past are heard, urged forward by the precision battery of war drums, enriched by the enchanting spells of synthesised mysticisms… You guessed it; this band is Wodensthrone, and I imagine that for many present, myself included, this is the first glimpse of what the most recent wave of UK black metal is all about.

Here in the UK, we seemed to be just that little step ahead of everyone else with all this. While our European counterparts and American cousins were mostly stuck comparing battle axe sizes, there seemed to a be a definite and noticeable subconscious shift in the way we were thinking about the scene. Folk metal and black metal had long been brothers in arms, yet slowly the dominant brother began to get more of the attention, attract more pretty girls (or, rather, bearded men) and generally find his way to the forefront of people's interests. Perhaps it was indeed our yearning for something that bit more complex, more deeply rooted and more revolutionary that black metal began to take the UK metal community by storm. Don't get me wrong, black metal has always had a huge underground following here, but this particular surge in popularity was being led by none other than our very own, home-grown breed of bands. It's hard to define the attraction; for me, I believe that what was so exciting about the emergence of this new wave was the overwhelmingly distinct sounds being created. Credit where credit's due, bands like Drudkh, Emperor, Negura Bunget, Wolves in the Throne Room (groups I consider to be firmly rooted in the more 'ethereal' side of things) certainly paved the way for what was being written on these shores, but the passion and ferocity with which our boys were delivering appeared to set us worlds apart from the largely stagnant worldwide scene.

All Inclusive Deal

Darlington's Old Corpse Road
For me, one of the most remarkable things some UK black metal bands seem to be doing these days is not giving a solitary fuck about going out of the way to look or act like a black metal band 'should'. Take Winterfylleth as prime example, with the guys simply rocking up in band t-shirt/jeans/trainers combinations - would that be allowed in the European black metal rule book? I doubt it, but they pull it off by simply playing music that is distinctly above average. There they are on stage, just four normal fellas playing incredibly well-written, passionate, intense music which carries itself. I often get the impression, without over-inflating our collective head, that perhaps we British are on a higher level of thought when it comes to black metal, that we appreciate it purely for its intellectual and emotional values; I'm not saying all Europeans are only interested in blasphemy and corpse paint, but hopefully you understand what I mean… This goes for UKBM fans too; I noticed at one point that black metal over here almost became the new 'in' thing to listen to. I remember at work once, a lad came in wearing a checkered shirt, skinny jeans et al - but underneath was a WITTR shirt. This guy would have looked pretty at home at some hipster gig (nothing wrong with that, like), and there he was brandishing his love for atmospheric black metal, shock horror! To see someone like that at a black metal gig in the UK these days is pretty commonplace; catch them at a death metal gig and you'd immediately think "scene poser wanker". Go on, admit it, you would. He didn't have a fringe though, to be fair. The point is, for a genre that has always given such a cut-off-from-the-world impression, we in the UK seem to have carved out our own little niche which is seemingly, and proudly, very much inclusive. Ironic, given the spiel that some over-conscious ignorant beings come out with whenever some of these bands are mentioned, eh? But I won't go into that old business…  

Fyrdsman 'Forgotten Beneath the Soil'

Another great aspect of UKBM, I think, is that there are just the right amount of bands doing the right amount of different things. Waving the banner with ferocity are Manchester (featuring all of one Mancunian :-P) boys Winterfylleth, sailing off to Holland and Slovenia to show them how it's done; cryptic Sunderland clan Wodensthrone are leaking early promises of their next album (let's hope it's as good as their debut 'Loss', widely regarded as the best UKBM release to date); stalwarts Iceni, Old Corpse Road and Cnoc an Tursa maintain their powerful presence on the underground gig circuit, building solid reputations. Dig a little deeper and studio-based Fyrdsman, Ealdulf and forthcoming Desolate Winds projects display incredible skills and true ears for pushing the boundaries of black metal, seldom broken by European bands (obvious cases excepted). And all these are only examples of the pagan/heritage-influenced ilk. More gothically inclined theatrics can be found in Victorian-themed Eibon la Furies and A Forest of Stars, who both display class and progression in equal measures. 

Of course, we all know there are many fantastic black metal bands doing things a little differently on the Continent, but in my opinion a large majority appear to be stuck in a cycle. To be fair, the current wave of UKBM might not even have come to exist without the influence of some of these groups, but our scene is upping the ante, it has to be said. As a nation we've always been bloody good at leading the way in metal - all in all I'd say we have a pretty good thing going, and it's only getting bigger.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Big Bad Yank

Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest

So, here we go with my first beer review - and what a way to start than with a beer everyone's been talking about recently (and which spent less time within the walls of Beer Ritz than a bottle of Crumpton Oaks), it's Sierra Nevada's Southern Hemisphere Harvest! The label, the bottle, the description - this beer presents itself as a huge deal in every conceivable way, which got me incredibly excited (admittedly, the bottle spent a while sat in my cupboard, but I was saving it for a special occasion). The buzz surrounding this ale in the build up to its arrival at the shop spoke volumes about what was in store, and I can reveal now that it certainly was not a lot of fuss about nothing…

This monster was desperate to be drank; as soon as I opened the bottle its aromas leapt straight out and rammed themselves up my nostrils with relentless ferocity. This roused my insatiable lust for beer as I emptied some of the bottle's contents into a Tripel Karmeliet glass - my latest vessel of choice. It poured a fantastically tempting light orange, with a lovely big white head which stood its ground nicely (long enough for it to pose for the camera, as you can see). It looked like it had a nice amount of carbonation. Man was I thirsty by this point!

Just look at this monster!
 Already I could tell that this was the real deal. The immediate big hoppy aroma also presented what I perceived as a fresh maltiness with a good amount of citrus in there. As soon as it hit my tongue, I picked up a nice soft fruitiness - I'm thinking melon, grapefruit and a very slight hint of apricot. The mouthfeel is incredibly smooth and, for lack of a more specific term, lovely! Nice and soft on the tongue, leave it in the mouth for a few seconds and there's some nice caramel hints in there. After the swallow, an immediate yet soft aftertaste of those ever-present fruits is noticeable in a dry, slightly bitter finish. That fruitiness once again comes back up the throat, accompanied by hints of pine reminding me of my all time favourite beer, Alba Scots Pine Ale; this, of course, is a very positive attribute.

At 6.7% this isn't massively alcoholic for an American beer of this immense nature, but what alcohol is in there is masked beautifully; it certainly tastes huge, but in various combined subtle ways… if that makes sense. It's amazingly balanced, and the consistency of the head is a big plus in my book. It has an overall light floral quality to it and is just generally a delicious pleasure to drink! In fact, I wanted to spend a bit of time drinking this beer, but it was too nice to put down for more than a few minutes. And even at the (relatively) low abv, after two weeks of taking it easy on the beer front due to the antibiotics course I've been on, I'll admit it did leave me a little light headed, and incredibly thirsty for more. I now wish I'd taken Ghostie's advice and bought two…

If you ever come across this beast, buy it. Over and out.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Beer Tasting...?

I am, by rights, a serious beer drinker. I mean this in the sense that I, like many others, drink more often than not for the sociability, the relaxation, the temporary loss of care for life's trivial pursuits, and of course for the taste of a good beer. This hasn't always been the case - who can honestly say that taste has been the number one priority since the very beginning of their drinking careers? Of course we used to use our fake ID's to buy 24 crates of Castlemaine XXXX, and of course we used to raid our parents' drinks cabinets for some naive drunken experience the moment they turned their backs. But these experiences, for me at least, were lessons in drinking, and eventually I grew up and into the mindset of simply enjoying a nice night with friends while getting suitably intoxicated, but not hospitalised. Some people, unfortunately, have still not learnt these lessons as you well know. But I digress - this piece is about drinking beer for pleasure.

As I mentioned before, I consider myself quite a competent beer drinker. But does this mean I am good at tasting beer? I personally don't think so. Don't get me wrong, I know what makes a good beer and could happily use recommendations to steer someone with less knowledge in the right direction and, as part of my job, I do this on a regular basis. However, articulating what I am tasting has never been my forte. Some people may, at this point, accuse me of having a wooden palette (re: Zak Avery's recent online war of words with one particular 'beer elitist'); however, I simply put it down to inexperience and the fact that only recently have I started to 'taste' beer (note that I am attempting to make a clear distinction between beer drinking and beer tasting here!). Yes, I can tell you what a beer tastes like to a certain extent, but I can't specifically pick out a hint of gooseberry because I have never tasted gooseberry. Nor can I pick up on subtle hints of orange peel, as I have never thought to myself that licking an orange peel would be a reasonable thing to do. Nor can I clarify what particular hops from a particular part of wherever are used in the beer, as I haven't sat down and tasted every single hop.

I suppose my main point is that beer tasting, and articulating what I am tasting, is something which I am developing a stronger interest in. Working at Beer Ritz is certainly an enormous benefit, as my colleagues are better versed in this subject than I, and are seemingly more than happy to offer pointers on how to hone my palette to different flavours. At the end of the day, I can certainly give you my opinion and recommendations on beers, but it may take some time before I can offer a detailed analysis. So join me, if you wish, on my tasting voyage across a sea of beer on the good ship Discovery. Feel free to offer your thoughts on my beer-related posts; but bear in mind that friendly encouragement is far better received than elitist attacks. Besides, "beer is for everyone… right?"

Happy drinking!