‘The Place of Brewing’ – Zymurgy Magazine – July/August 2018

 

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“It’s often said that brewers make only the wort: it’s the yeast that makes the beer. Of course, since Emil Christian Hansen discovered how to isolate individual yeast strains, brewers have gained much more control over those single-celled organisms. But creative homebrewers in Great Britain are challenging the notion that yeast must be tamed and have produced a unique blend that draws on science, history, and the very ground on which they stand.”

Check out my account of the Great Brettanomyces Megablend in the July/August edition of Zymurgy, the magazine for members of the American Homebrewers Association.

‘Safe’ – Original Gravity Magazine – Issue 17 – July 2018

“I’ve pushed open a lot of pub doors. The flush of warm air, the growing babble of chatter, and the scent of beer-tainted wood have rushed towards me many thousands of times. But, as I stand on the threshold of an unfamiliar venue, even before my eyes adjust to the yellowed light, even before I lift my palm away from the door handle, the feeling that most engulfs me is often not one of comfort, but one of ‘will I be safe here?’”

Original gravityYou can read my most recent essay for Original Gravity Magazine right here.

‘Facing a Shining Future’ – Brew Your Own Magazine – March/April 2018

 

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When a determined homebrewer like Simon Pipola decides to organise a Home Brew Convention – the first of its kind in the UK – nothing is going to stand in his way…

 

“As every homebrewer knows, understanding more about how beer is created enhances the enjoyment of each and every glass.”

 

Check out my ‘Last Call’ column for US publication, Brew Your Own Magazine right here.

Taste the World – Part 5: Bock

With a swift kick from the billy-goat himself, my next dip into the menagerie of world beer styles is bock. Originally hailing from the town of Einbeck near Hanover, and apparently feted by Martin Luther as the ‘best beer known to man’, this clutch of beers, ranging from an comparatively paltry 6.5% to a boozy 12% abv were never going to disappoint in terms of character.

When a beer has been brewed with the sole intention of keeping people alive, you know it’s going to have a bit of body. In the seventeenth century the brothers of St Francis of Paula in Munich were granted papal dispensation to brew strong beer to sustain them during the fasting period of Lent. The result is the ‘liquid bread’ of doppelbock – a rich, caramel, malt-sweet beer made to satisfy the keenest of monkish appetites. And if you’re interested if it really is possible to survive on doppelbock alone, check out J. Wilson’s blog (now a book) ‘Diary of a Part-Time Monk‘.

Eisbock owes its existence to the fact that water freezes at 0ºC whereas alcohol does not solidify until -114ºC. As a result, removing the ice crystals from partially frozen beer (a process called freeze distillation or fractional freezing) leaves behind a concentrated and potentially very strong brew. Brewdog have used this technique a number of times in recent years to create beers such as Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% abv),  Sink the Bismark (41% abv) and The End of History (55% abv). Compared to these beers, my 12% abv Schneider Weiss Aventinus Eisbock sounds positively mild but, despite some mince pie richness, the alcohol warmth dominates in a way you can feel to right down to your toes. Definitely the kind of beer to have curled up in front of fire as a storm rages outside. And who knew lager could be that?

The full list of beers tasted is:

Helles Bock – Hirschbrau Hellerbock

Dunkles Bock – Monschoff Bockbier & Mittenwalder Weihnachts Bock Dunkel

Doppelbock – Paulaner Salvator & Weihenstephaner Korbinian

Eisbock – Schneider Weiss Aventis Eisbock

 

 

 

 

Do You Pass the Test? Or: what can 1980s lesbians teach us about beer?

‘Beer people are lovely people!’ and ‘The beer industry is a wonderful, friendly place!’ are things I’ve been told on a number of occasions since jumping boots-first into the scene a couple of years ago. And, for me, there’s a lot of truth in these celebratory statements. I spent the first two decades of my working life in an environment where I didn’t always see the best of how things could be. As a frontline social worker – and more latterly, a social work academic – I bore witness to desperation, deprivation, and sometimes degradation on a scale most would find hard to contemplate. I met many, many good people on both sides of the intervention divide – some of the bravest, warmest, creative, most intelligent people there are – and I have a lasting respect for them all. I also derived a great deal of satisfaction from my work, and felt immensely privileged to work alongside people in some of the darkest times of their lives. But, in terms of a joyful working environment, I can’t honestly say that it comes close to chatting over a mash tun in a breath-cloud cold brewery just as the sun is rising, or being handed the fullest, maltiest, fattest barley wine by a proud brewer with a grin so wide it must sting, or discovering a taste that will pin you forever to location, a time, an emotion, a memory that  will leave you changed.

But I’m lucky. First up, I’m an old-school butch dyke. I have a quiff and a comb, a pocket watch and a pocket knife. I don’t understand make-up and I sometimes get challenged when using women’s toilets. Men are occasionally scared of me, often confused around me, and regularly amused by me, but I’m absolutely not the kind of woman they want to sleep with. Secondly, I host a beer and brewing radio show, I write about beer for publications in which people want their brews featured, I won a British Guild of Beer Writers Award for Best Online Beer Communicator (I know – I’m shocked too), and I have a website, a podcast, a blog, and so – to my face at least – both women and men in the beer industry are lovely, and the environment in which I work is a wonderful and friendly place.

But I’m aware that’s not everyone’s truth. I don’t need to experience harassment in order to believe the women who tell me they are regularly harassed. I don’t need to feel the creeping nastiness of the belittling, objectifying, ridiculing, rejecting, grabbing, groping, saliva-spraying face of sexism, to know that it exists within the beer industry. I just need to see the dodgy pumpclips, engage with social media, and note the absence of women from many respected platforms within the industry.

But, as someone with a voice that occasionally grabs attention, if I see injustice, I also need to do something more.

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I first came across Alison Bechdel and her wonderful ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ comic strip in the early-1990s when, as a newly ‘out’ lesbian I would scour literature to find any representation of queer culture. In those pre-Internet days, Bechdel’s funny, inspiring and moving series, populated by a cast of lesbians and their friends, was one of the few places where a sympathetic portrayal of ‘women like me’ could be found. Complete with their interests, intricacies and insecurities, Mo, Sydney, Clarice and Toni, held a mirror up to the lives of lesbians all over the Western world, fighting injustice and celebrating personal victories, and all the time providing a community to those of us who were struggling to find a place in our own.

But it wasn’t until some years later that I realised that a 1985 ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ strip called ‘The Rule’ had spawned a way of looking at the world that could be useful across many parts of life. The Bechdel Test – clearly explained in this short video here – is a benchmark or litmus test used to assess the presence of women in movies. For a movie to pass the Bechdel Test it needs to contain three things:

1. Two or more female characters with names…
2. …who talk to each other…
3. …about something other than a man.

This sounds fairly straightforward but, shockingly, around half of mainstream movies – some of our most well-loved films – actually fail this test, including the original Star Wars Trilogy, Slumdog Millionaire, Avatar, The Avengers, Finding Nemo, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the complete Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and many, many more.

Of course, just because a film passes does not mean it necessarily advances women’s rights. The Bechdel Test doesn’t assess whether something is progressive or challenging: it simply assesses whether women are present in any meaningful way. And, in a world in which women’s voices are regularly silenced, the mere presence of women is extremely important.

Over the years, the Bechdel Test has been applied or modified to assess other areas of culture including literature, journalism and even software development. And from there I believe it’s only a short hop to applying it to the contemporary beer scene. It is vital for the future of the industry that women are present on discussion panels, leading or chairing conferences, part of magazine editorial teams, present in beer education, at the centre of judging panels, represented at the highest level in brewing or consumer organisations, and called on as the experts they are to be listened to and heard. Importantly, I’m not suggesting that women are invited into male-dominated spaces solely to talk about incidents of sexism, or what it’s like being a woman in the beer industry. Making time to hear those testimonies is important but they are not the whole story – remember in order to pass the Bechdel Test, women must be talking about something other than men or their experiences at the hands of them. Inviting women into otherwise male enclaves in order to give a ‘woman’s perspective’ is also patronising, reductive and ignores the intersectional nature of all our identities in which we are defined not only by our gender – be that male, female or otherwise – but also our race, age, religion, sexuality, abilities, and so much more. It also causes us to miss out on the vast experiences and knowledge that women have amassed in their chosen fields.

The contemporary beer scene is not alone in sometimes struggling with the representation of women, and there are many examples of great work in this area. But every time women are invisible in areas of influence, every time a beer is marketed solely at men, every time a ‘beer for women’ is produced, every time we have to remind people that women were the first brewers, every time a disagreement on Twitter degenerates into macho posturing, every time craft beer lovers are portrayed as people with beards, every time a woman has to justify why she likes beer, or why offensive beer names are unacceptable, every time sexist ‘banter’ is excused, every time beer fans are greeted on social media as ‘lads’, every time the ‘women don’t drink beer’ myth is perpetuated, every time the consumption of alcohol is accepted as an excuse for sexist, racist or homophobic behaviour, we all lose out.

Having trodden the career path I have, I’m not naïve enough to propose that we should all just be kind to one another. But, at the very least, we need to hear each other’s voices. And, as such, I will continue to ensure that each edition of Fermentation Beer & Brewing Radio is Bechdel Test compliant. And I promise to loudly celebrate anyone else who, within their own field of work, commits to doing the same.

‘Brighton Rocks’ – Original Gravity Magazine – Issue 15 – November 2017

Harvey’s Brewery and Brighton and Hove Albion FC are two of my most favourite things. And, a few weeks ago, I was given the chance to enjoy both on behalf of Original Gravity magazine.

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Brighton and Hove Albion FC are one of the few football clubs in the top flight of English football that serve cask ale at every match. With the number of pints served sometimes topping 9000 a game, that makes them a contender for the title of one of the biggest real ale outlets in the world.

In this edition of Original Gravity Magazine, I reflect on what makes Harvey’s Best and The Seagulls such a wonderful combination.

You can read and download the article (as part of Original Gravity – Issue 15) by clicking here.