Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Ageing (dis)tastefully

I've just picked up online a cheap secondhand copy of Vintage Beer by Patrick Dawson. 

The book includes includes the basics of conditioning beer for months, or even years, at home, from the right environment in which to store it (ideally a deep cellar, but failing that somewhere cool and dark where sunlight or rising temperatures aren't going to affect the taste of your beers) and the beer styles that age best (high in alcohol, dark and bottle-conditioned, so strong ales, imperial stouts, Belgian lambics and sour brown ales). 

The author concedes that, after a revelatory moment sipping a three year old bottle of Duvel, his first attempts at ageing were a disaster, and that many beers still taste best fresh, including IPAs (although Worthington's White Shield is noticeably different at varying stages of its development and, as David Hughes says in his book A Bottle of Guinness, Please, any bottle-conditioned beer is going to undergo changes over time, both good and bad - that natural variability is part of the experience). He also notes that other beers will never taste right until a few years in the cellar have knocked the rough edges off them, citing Thomas Hardy's strong ale (having only drunk it young, I concur).

My main problem with ageing bottled beers - whether Fuller's Imperial Stout or Vintage Ale, Courage Russian Imperial Stout, White Shield or Duvel - is that having bought them I invariably want to drink them, and the longest I've managed to keep my hands off them is a few months before Christmas and New Year, when I've raided my stash until the cupboard is bare (I suppose I need to misplace one and then find it a decade later). The other thing is that, as with fine wine, you really need a century or so to bring out some of the deeper flavours in these beers.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Labour's Lost Love

In the nine o'clock slot filled for the past few weeks by a history of the Premier League BBC2 last night broadcast the first episode of a new series about another modernising project created in the early to mid nineties with the self-proclaimed aim of moving away from a traditionally working-class base and image to attract more middle-class supporters, Blair and Brown: the New Labour Revolution.

The programme highlighted the differing personal backgrounds of the two men, prefiguring the personal rivalry and policy conflicts that would come to define their relationship in government, but conceded that there was very little that divided them in their overall politics. Indeed, beyond the polling and presentational skills of the press and PR officers hired by New Labour, and a centrist message consciously modelled on that of the US Democrats, it found it hard to identify Blair with any real interest in politics except a vague progressivism picked up as a student at Oxford in the early to mid seventies (where he admitted he was more interested in playing in a rock band than the industrial and social tumult of that decade) and later from his liberal barrister wife. Unlike Brown, who worked his way up through the ranks of the Scottish Labour establishment, he seems to have almost accidentally entered politics through a network of legal acquaintances, before discovering an eagerness to become first a MP and then party leader (you can easily imagine him having been elected as the leader of any of the three mainstream political parties).

In outlining the period before the creation of New Labour, the programme threw up a number of what ifs: what if Neil Kinnock had won the 1992 General Election? What if John Smith had led the party into the 1997 campaign? What if Brown had stood against Blair for the leadership after the death of his friend and mentor Smith? All unknowable of course, but we do in a sense seem to be back where we started in the eighties, with a soft left leader ousting a more radical, but electorally unpopular, one before turning sharply to the right, while apparently unable to land a punch on a Tory government with a large majority despite its mainfest failings.