Thursday, 14 April 2011

Community Matters

In the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, many buildings have been damaged. This is nothing compared with lives lost, but it still has a big effect on the civic community. People identify with buildings; be they churches, cinemas, schools or theatres.

Children are sharing schools; they are taking it in turns to use the classrooms and facilities, causing great disruption to the parents who have to drop them off and collect them at odd times, and putting added pressure on public transport already coping with infrastructure challenges, but at least education (and some semblance of normality) is being continued. Iconic buildings such as cathedrals and art galleries must be demolished or rebuilt as they are structurally unsound.

The Christchurch Repertory Theatre, where I performed in a prodction of  Emma in 1998 
Dramatic socities have to cancel their productions as the sets are damaged, the theatres condemned, and, in a couple of horrific cases, the actors are dead. There is hardly a person in Arrowtown who doesn't know someone affected by the earthquake. Local schools are innundated with Christchurch refugees; anyone with family and friends in Canterbury has had extra visitors, and we all share their grief and anguish.

The day the 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck, I had a rehearsal planned for the evening. I am directing a play for the Arrowtown Entertainers who perform annually at the Arrowtown Autumn Festival. Usually I don't allow the outside world to intrude on the rehearsal space (check your daily woes at the door; we are here to work), but looking at the glum faces around me and feeling shaken myself, I knew I had to address the situation.

Putting all this into perspective, you have to wonder - does theatre really matter? I think so. As humans we draw strength from the support of our neighbours and community. Theatre is community by its very nature; individuals working together to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. I believe that theatre and the arts in general raise us to another level. And community spirit is clearly evident in local theatre productions.

Meanwhile in Britain, David Cameron's party are busy slashing the art's budget. There have been a few howls of indignation from the left wing press and the thespians themselves, but mainly this has passed under the bridge with barely a ripple. I was disappointed, but not suprised. After all, what else would you expect from a party that infamously declared, "There's no such thing as society"?

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Eighth Blackhurst Beer Festival (Part Two)

Continued as promised...

Beer Number Six - Schöfferhofen Hefeweizen (Germany, 5%)
Try saying that three times fast before and after drinking a bottle. This wheat beer rates quite highly in random lists of ‘my favourite beer’ and is apparently ‘quite savoury and spicy for a wheat beer’. Actually I have very little to write about this beer as the only comments I can find on the internet are in German. The only German I know is ‘schnell, schnell; achtung, achtung’ and, ‘ve have von the vorld cup more times’ – and it didn’t say that.

This beer is a wallflower at the alcoholic drinks annual ball
Cloves; wheaty
Fruity, dishwatery; someone dropped an orange in the sink and left it there for three weeks
Sieved through fish! Add to a fish pie – it may improve it
Like Robert Mugabe; separating the wheat from the chaff
Six kids in a bath leave a cleaner, fresher taste than this fish-soaked communist ‘must have or die’ national drink
OMG – who left the fish in? Radioactive!
Yes please!
Cloudy, like Invercargill; made with aftertaste in abundance
Didn’t like it – nutmeg flavour
Cloudy, frothy and strong – I had three sips but I still wouldn’t say I liked it
Yeast for Africa, maaaan, and cloves – I bet the monks made this; cheeky little monk ees
Wheat beer with lots of head – ooh er, Mrs
Foggier than a North York moor
Baked trout with coriander seed aka dirty fish and chip shop oil what’s been emptied in the sink

Another polarising beer - you either like wheat beer or you don't - this garnered a total of 69 points and ended up seventh overall.

Beer Number Seven - Tuatara Hefe (NZ, 5%)
Beer reviewer Neil Miller writes, ‘One to shake up your beer preconceptions is the Tuatara Hefe (5%). Hefeweizen literally means “yeast in wheat beer” and the suspended yeast gives the beer the characteristic (and desired) cloudiness. The classical aroma and flavour characteristics are there – vanilla, banana, juicyfruit gum and spicy cloves. Challenging to some palates, this beer is spritzy and quenching.’ And we like Neil Miller so we’ll believe him.

Strong fruity lager
Too fruity, spicy –ick!
Is this what they call eggnog? Would go with an omelette
Tight, like the nuns in the monastery where it was brewed
Rustic Norwegian flavours flow favourably throughout
A befitting tribute to the Belgian Beer Cafe in Christchurch – angelica aftertaste
Serve with mussels and chips
A great beer which is then strained through Spaz’s used running shorts to add extra body and those bits that get stuck in your teeth
Brewed in old miners’ socks; strained through his undies – didn’t like the look of it; it tasted even worse
Overtones of vomit
Sweet and apricoty – this would be a good beer to have in the fridge because my husband hates it
Fizzy – nice and strong
I want to say nice and light and really tasty but, well, 30% isn’t a pass, is it? Not heavy enough to pin me down

So, we can conclude that my friends are not really wheat beer drinkers, then - this beer came 8th overall with 67 points.

Beer Number Eight - Belhaven Wee Heavy (Scotland, 6.5%)
Wee Heavy is a style of beer also known as Scotch Ale. Scottish beer used to be rated on the invoice price of ale per barrel based on the shilling currency; ‘wee heavy’ would have been known as 160/-. Strong ales were typically sold in bottles in ‘nips’ of 6 fluid ounces which equates to 1/3 Imperial pint. These ‘nips’ were also known as ‘Wee Heavy’, hence the origin of this term.

The Beer Advocate explains, ‘Scotch Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown in colored brew. Compared to Scottish Ales, they'll be sweeter and fuller-bodied, and of course higher in alcohol, with a much more pronounced malty caramel and roasted malt flavor. A low tea-like bitterness can be found in many examples.’

Meanwhile, the Belhaven website opines, ‘It may have come from a right old recipe but Wee Heavy fits the bill today as much as it ever has. It is a classic Scottish heavy but has a lightness of flavour and a great reddish colour in the glass. A beer to be sipped, savoured and fully respected. Cracking stuff if we do say so ourselves.’

Chocolate bitter – very full and warm flavours
Now we’re talking! Malty, sweet chocolate, roasted malt, soft finish
Would put a gloss on your coat
Cocoa, caramel, thick as Paul Faulkner and equally harsh on the nose
Sweet desert beer – heavy German tang; European flavours hand heavy in the mouth as an aftertaste
A confusing number much like Morris Dancing – inexplicable
Sweet, darker, malty, sitting on top of my pie and peas
Pure liquid wonderment
Malty and sweet – bring it on!
Malt vinegar, but sweet and brown and fizzy – oh, and yucky
Darth Vader turns good – chocolate, molasses and treacle
Dark chocolate
Smells like a student flat in Castle Street – tastes like sweet liquorice and malt; a tad too sweet to have a session on though

Ladies and gentlemen; we have a winner. No one ranked this beer lower than five, and it was the only beer to score over a hundred (only just, with 101, but that makes it a 7/10 average).

Beer Number Nine - Chimay Premiere (Red), (Belgium, 7%)
Chimay Red is a Trappist beer brewed by the Cistercian Trappist monks to go with their cheese since 1862 – probably not the same monks, although possibly the same cheese. All Trappist beer is sold only for financial support of the monastery ‘and good causes’ – clearly such as the BBF.

When sold in the 75cl bottle, the Chimay Red is known as Première. It is a top-fermentation beer (see  Coopers Sparkling Ale) and is noted for its coppery colour and creamy head. The (interestingly translated) Belgian website notes, ‘The taste perceived in the mouth is a balance confirming the fruity nuances noticed in the fragrance. Its taste, which imparts a silk sensation to the tongue, is made refreshing by a light touch of bitterness. To the palate, the taster perceives a pleasant astringency which complements the flavour qualities of this beer very harmoniously.’ I imagine the translator moved on from this website to the latest Stieg Larsson novel.

Bit fizzy; very tangy; old socks
Smoky; hint of possum urine and old goldfish water finish
Ah, now that’s me!! Sit on the deck and drink all day
Soda stream – get busy with the fizzy
Vitamised, carbonised, yeast-flavoured, mouth-staining shit; not to be used if you plan t kiss a female
‘Beers Fizz’ – an 80s band; making my mind up...
I like beer
If this beer was human it would be called Kevin and drive a Ford Capri Ghia
Rainwater left to rust in a 23-year-old 44 gallon drum
Aromas of apples, and indeed has flavours of burnt apples
Nuts! Well, you’d need to be to drink this
Muddy, murky, strong apples
Looks like a badly-poured home brew – very malty and far too sweet

Very disappointing after the last offering - I think we were all expecting more from the mighty Chimay - however, this limped in equal last with 58.

Beer Number Ten - Epic Porta Marillo (NZ, 7%)
The cheeky chappies at Epic (producers of New Zealand’s finest IPA in my not-so-humble opinion) co-operated with America’s Dogfish Head brewery to create a new brew for Beervana in August 2010. The beer, Porta Marillo, is an ‘imperial sorta-porter’ made with tamarillos. These weird fruit are an acquired taste (you have to eat them as part of your citizenship test); they have been roasted over Pohutukawa wood to impart a smoky flavour to the beer and Southern Cross hops are used.

The beer was launched commercially as a festival ale in November 2010. According to Wellington blogger, Nick Churchouse, it’s a sort of ‘Christmas carol in a pint glass – looking like a beautiful dark Christmas Eve, sparkling with all the promise of the Star of Bethlehem’. He may have had one too many. Can there be such a thing? Discuss...

Heavy, dark, molasses and coffee
Dark roasted espresso – nice bitter; Ay, that’s loverly, chuck!
It would make me shit through the eye of a needle
Cuban cigars and wet dog
Like the Irish: thick fluid, arrogant, ignorant and leaving a bad taste in the mouth
Stouty but thin
Bicarbonate of soda, or green lipped mussels
Luke, I am your father
Blacker than a bailiff’s heart – lovely sarsaparilla
Delicious malty and Irish with a hint of liquorice
Bitter stout with a very strong flavour – good for your daily iron intake
Gives me a headache – too much aniseed
Very dark
Roast toasty winter night with beef and oyster stew – Aged in port barrels?

So the other Kiwi beer came fourth overall with 83 points, although three people rated it their favourite beer of the night - more than any other.

And that's it for another year...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Eighth Blackhurst Beer Festival (Part One)

For various reasons, this year's Blackhurst Beer Festival occured later in the season than previous sessions. There was plenty of beer to be had, however, and we offered our 'discerning guests' a selection of ten brews from nine different countries. This is what was said:

Beer Number One - Peroni Leggera (Italy, 3.5%)
From the people who brought you Nastro Azzuro (as tasted at BBF VI) comes a new (launched in Australia in 2009) lager with the same crisp taste but fewer calories and carbohydrates. Peroni’s chief brew master, Roberto Cavalli claims, ‘Peroni Leggera is like a flamboyant Italian socialite; stylish in design and impressive in taste.’

The marketing department confirms that it is targeted at ‘20-34 year-old premium beer drinkers’ and that it is ‘an easy-to-drink, non-filling, sociable beer’. It seems that you can drink as much of it as you want to without getting full, or pissed. Some might ask, what’s the point?

Very hoppy; light, tangy European lager
Light, kind of florally. If this were a perfume it would be CK One - Inoffensive
Good nose and dry finish (bit weasely piss)
Nice smell, I think it had a taste?! – Good with whitebait
Smooth, like my patter, with a kick in the balls to follow
Looks and tastes like sun-baked cat’s piss
Cheaply made from seawater imported from Japan
Need a lime or at least several more glasses
Very light colour and tatste; rather like sex in a canoe (you know the rest)
Weak, like a southern fell runner
Hoppy, like a sporty wee grasshopper
Smells edible, but I couldn’t eat a whole one
I think maybe this is a lite beer because it doesn’t taste of much
Fizzy and light on flavour
It’s a Weimaraner; a little scatty but good looking
Light coloured; quite bitter; very fizzy; lager
No, no, no, no, no – keep it away!

Interestingly, this was the most divisive beer of the evening with four people voting it their least favourite and two voting for it as their favourite. I guess it depends on your position on light lager; overall it beer came in equal last of the evening with a sum total of 58 points (out of a potential 140).

Beer Number Two - Quilmes (Argentina, 4.5%)
Quilmes is a province in the city of Buenos Aires. It is also an Argentinean lager ‘brewed from local barley and hops and purest Patagonian water’. The brewery (founded in 1888 by Otto Bemberg, a German immigrant) has 75% of the beer market share in Argentina. It sponsors the Argentinean national football team and polo team – the colours of its labels are Argentina’s light blue and white. With a pedigree like that, it’s probably good at hand ball and penalties too.

No colour, no aroma, a taste reminiscent of pencil sharpenings – are you sure this is a beer?
Very average; almost like beer but not quite
Yum! Another pint please
Good with blue cod
Fizzy; may cause gas
Euro style from the homeland
Rich in yeast and organic filtering matter
We know now why Mexicans drink tequila
Money’s on the honey
Smokey aftertaste; medium strength – like Paul Garvie
This tastes like the beer my parents forced me to drink when I was a teenager – no wonder I don’t like beer
Blonde and tasty and fresh like a sunflower dipped in jelly crystals
Honey coloured like an old tart’s backside
Not much on the nose; watery, bitter, squinty; Ivana Trump of beers – would not drink again
Light, fruity, easy drinking –very good

With a total of 77 points, this beer took the fifth spot of the night - it was the only beer that didn't rate as anyone's favourite.
Beer Number Three - Flying Dog Tire Bite Golden Ale (USA, 5%)
Being an American brew, this beer has pretty good (albeit overtly macho) marketing. The Flying Dog website quotes Hunter S. Thompson: ‘Good people drink good beer’, and features artwork by Ralph Steadman – the brilliant political and social artist and cartoonist. He blessed the brewery with the statement, ‘Good beer; no shit’, over which they waged a four-year long court battle with the Colorado Liquor Board over their attempted censorship of the phrase. (The slogan ‘If you’re lucky your bitch will look this sexy after twenty years’, referring to the twentieth anniversary of their Raging Bitch Belgian IPA passed without a murmur – see what I mean about the machismo?)

 The brewery was established in Aspen, Colorado in 1990 after a dozen ‘under-qualified and unprepared’ mates completed ‘an amateur mountaineering expedition’ up K2. Drinking beer after surviving this trek George Stranahan noticed a picture on the wall of a flying dog that had been drawn by a local artist. He writes, ‘Now, we all know dogs don’t fly, but nobody told this particular dog it couldn’t fly’ and so he adopted the symbol of the flying dog with the mantra, “it is amazing what you can achieve if nobody tells you that you can’t.”

The beer is brewed in ‘kölsch’ style – this is unique to the Cologne area of Germany where they used wheat and lager yeast to lighten the colour and increase the dryness.

Smells like horse urine; tastes like water from a school swimming pool – Blurgh!
First taste – eek! But it grows on you, like a fungus – nice finish
Hint of something – I will think of it
If Toblerone were a beer, this is it
Suspiciously cloudy quickly followed up by an earthy sub-taste; pleasantly palatable – a beer developed for all classes with a slightly nutty undertone
Mmmm, wants a curry
That’s more like it – liquid honey
Slight sharpness; easy on the eye; amber gold
Fresh and summer; hint of something citrusy
A hint of oranges on the nose and a suggestion of yeast
Cloudy like my mind – delicious honey tones
Whoever peed this has been eating asparagus with a side of slightly rotten apples

With a total of 89 points, this was the third favourite beer of the evening.

Beer Number Four - Coopers Sparkling Ale (Australia, 5.8%)
Thomas Cooper was a stonemason in Adelaide in 1862 when his wife asked him to brew up a batch of ale from an old (Yorkshire) family recipe to help cure an illness. Like a good husband, he did so and, due to the fact that his beer was made from pure ingredients (malt, hops and water), the doctors were soon recommending it to all their patients – this could explain a lot about South Australians. Coopers is now the sole remaining family-owned brewery in Australia.

Coopers Sparkling Ale is apparently ‘the pinnacle of the brewer’s craft – The ale by which all others should be measured’. It is an English-style golden ale and it doesn’t sparkle at all – in fact it has a distinctive cloudy appearance due to the sediment being left in the bottle. Coopers use no preservatives or additives during the beer making process; they use the top fermentation method, meaning that during fermentation the yeast interacts on the beer’s surface. The secondary fermentation process (which occurs in the bottle) is what gives it the cloudy appearance; little clumps of yeast suspended and swimming in the bottle ‘like a snow globe, but more fun.’

According to beer reviewer, Syrie Wongkaew (she of the snow-globe comment), ‘The initial taste is fruity without being sweet. The aftertaste is very bitter and dry. The beer has a good, full body. Although it is an ale, it has the light colour and intensity of a lager. However the beer's fruity aroma and cloudiness gives away its ale heritage.’

Either this is very cloudy or Spaz hasn’t washed the glass properly
Cloudy, heavy, strong pale ale
Very nice – fruity, hoppy, bit premature on the finish (needs Viagra)
I think if I had a night on this my mouth would taste like I had eaten a dead possum
As sharp as a fly landing on a razor blade using its balls for brakes
Is the cloud actually from a mushroom via Japan?
Aftertaste like a quick-moving pale mass as the chicory base lingers more than the cement
Slightly dubious cloudiness
Sickly sweet, ugly aftertaste, like Paul Garvie
Wheat – made by the monks up on a hill above the city of Munich
Everyone will love this, cause I don’t
A little bitter bugger, and smelly like my sons after a game of footy
Not much of a smell – blackcurrant flavours
Hoppy, but lacking on the follow-through; might drink again but would depend on what else was in the fridge

71 points placed this beer in 6th place overall.

Beer Number Five - Charles Wells Bombardier (England, 5.2%)
Wells & Young’s advertise their Bombardier as the drink of England; ‘the quintessentially English pint’, brewed with ‘the ripest hops and more malt per pint than other premium beers’ – which sounds like marketing flim-flam to me. They use ‘pure natural mineral water’ from their own well, sunk by Charles Wells himself and claim ‘this water is so good we could bottle it and sell it for the table but we choose to save it for the beer itself’.

 Their other beers are a golden ale (Burning Gold) and a porter (Satanic Mills), and they are the official beer of English Heritage. I bet Al Murray’s pub landlord would drink this if he weren’t a lager drinker. (Apparently he ‘flirted with bitter but came back to the gold stuff after about four months of gastric complications’.) Wells & Young's have been campaigning to have St George’s Day declared a national holiday for the past 15 years. So far they have had no luck, but their beer is still quite nice.

Blackcurrant – is there a dash of Ribena in this?
Darker, cocoa aroma
Malty smooth – nice finish; would drink again
Smells like raw cake mixture or kahlua – still a bit bitter – ok with cheese sticks
Meaty, like a meat pie in meat pastry with a side of meat
Like my wife: splendid confirmation; great body; light sweet smell; fab lingering aftertaste; an arm wrestling beer
Smart little number; I’d call it Spaz – zippy with a winning finish
Distilled by virgins, poured from the vat over a virgin’s thigh, bottled by virgins, pure as the driven snow
Hops galore – I’m gonna grow long ears and a small tail – and malty, but not too sweet
No smell – easy to drink – cut grass with no aftertaste – weird!
Butterscotchy – yummy, yummy in my tummy
Dark bitter
Bitter finish with residual sugars; might drink again, but only after finishing everything else

This racked up 91 points to make it the second favourite beer of the evening.

To be continued in another post...