Gift giving is a dying art.
What the ruddy hell has that got to do with beer?
Give me this little left field introduction and I promise we will get to the beer.
So, gift giving. I can just about tolerate the Amazon Wish List thing, where you create a list of all the things you want people to buy you and they can go on and get something they feel is appropriate from that list; and as long as you don’t keep too close an eye on it, your presents can be a surprise.
Those lazy sods that simply send vouchers or cash might as well not bother sending anything. “I’ll get them a boots voucher so they can get themselves a fragrance” – the most pathetic of all the reasons for buying vouchers. If I want someone to have a fragrance I will go to the effort of knowing what they wear, whether or not they’re the type of person who deviates from a particular type or not and get them something I think they would like.
If you don’t like a person enough to apply that much effort then do not bother buying them a gift, it’s really not worth it. If you have too many people to buy for so to save time you get vouchers, cull that list so it’s shorter and you can make the effort.
The ONLY voucher I would say is acceptable to buy is one that allows a person to download digital media. For example, an Amazon voucher for someone to download a book or two to their kindle. But even that I feel horribly uneasy about.
My girlfriend has seen me age through three birthdays so far, well will do come the end of June. The first we had only been together a couple of months, “officially” for one. So the first she would have been unaware of my gift giving attitudes and was probably passed with a “you don’t need to get me anything”, so it is very much not included in this.
However, last year was a different story. She had a much better idea of my stupid idiosyncrasies and she absolutely nailed it as birthday presents go. Two days in London: one doing the ‘Route 37’ beer festival – three stops along the 37 bus route in London, sample craft beers, with stamps to collect along the way to pick up your own Route 37 Beer at the end. This was followed by rooftop crazy golf in Stratford, East London. Then on the Sunday a trip to Twickenham to watch England v Wales rugby test match. Lots of beers, crazy golf, hot dogs and international rugby – that pretty much sums up my perfect weekend and it was truly spectacular.
So this year. Well, I have already had my main gift from my girlfriend, although quite early it was unavoidable. Again, she absolutely nailed it for me. She had generously crowdfunded the start-up of a new craft beer venue in Milton Keynes, the Beer Bear. There are already a couple of Ale Houses, craft beer venues in and around Milton Keynes already: The Bald Buzzard, Leighton Buzzard; Woburn Ale House, Woburn; and the MK Biergarten, Wolverton. This is aside from local breweries that open themselves up to the public at weekends to sample their beer. The Beer Bear is the sister site to MK Biergarten and located in Stony Stratford.
The level at which my girlfriend had crowdfunded entitle us both to a private beer tasting evening at the Beer Bear and our names up on the wall as crowdfunder’s.
Now, because my missus is a sneaky so and so, I had no idea all this was going on. Even when one of her friends almost let slip about the whole thing whilst we were out in Croatia! So, we arrived into Stony on a miserable Monday evening, walking through the rain down the high street without a jacket as I had no clue what I had to wear for the evening. We rocked up to the front door of the Beer Bear and my face lit up. I then saw the ‘closed’ sign on the front door as my girlfriend made her way in and I was thinking “wait, what are you doing, it says it’s closed!” I then thought, it was a surprise get together, but as I entered I didn’t recognise a single face and then I genuinely had no idea what was going on.
“Are you here for the tasting evening”
My girlfriend answered with a resounding “Yes” and then I knew; and immediately began to look forward to an evening of beers.
The Beer Bear
A converted pet store, the Beer Bear almost has a café feel to it. A relaxed atmosphere where people go to try a huge variety of bottled and canned beer. They have 5 taps on that change regularly allowing customers to try tasters, half pints or full pints of locally sourced beers.
After choosing what you want to sample you can go and sit in one of the two rooms to begin dissecting your choice: hoppy, zesty, fruity you immediately become a self-proclaimed expert in beer tasting. But it doesn’t matter a jot if you know what you’re talking about or talking out your arse, as long as you’re getting involved in the experience.
The overriding reason why I prefer places like the Beer Bear or Ale Houses over traditional pubs is the clientele. I have never witnessed any fights, boorish behaviour or anything out of hand in these specialty places. It makes going out and having a few beers a completely more pleasant experience. Don’t get me wrong, there are times I enjoy having a drink to ‘have a good time’ and there are many places I can do that – these are not those places.
So, after stepping through the door we were told there was 10 minutes available before the tasting would begin if anyone wanted to get in a pre-tasting beer. I immediately plonked myself in front the taps to see what I fancied.
I knew I wanted draft over bottled or canned. I’m not a Sour Beer fan, I knew that already; I couldn’t start my evening off with a Stout; The Old Bloomer in my mind sounded a little heavy (I have no idea why); and I was a little apprehensive over a “Cream Ale”.
I know I like Pilsners and I was not disappointed at all, it slipped down in the time we had left so easily I almost asked for another to drink alongside our tasting beers!
Wonder Pale Ale
This beer is where I learnt my new thing for the day. Beer has an IBU rating, although very few indicate their IBU level on packaging. IBU refers to the International Bitterness Unit, a scale that indicates the level of hops in a beer and what gives beer its ‘bite’.
The Wonder Pale Ale, from the same brewery as my earlier Pilsner, was so tasty as beer goes. Great level of hops, I could drink this in pint form quite easily, almost as a session ale. I have also gone on to try one or two other beers by Maule Brewing Co. They’re all on my level as a beer drinker.
The Cream Ale
When I saw this one poured, I looked forward to it, and with the explanation of what a Cream Ale is. On the presumption my memory and now explanation is correct, a cream ale is one where two brewing techniques are combined to create a light and refreshing ale. This involves both brewing like an Ale and finishing off the brewing process like a lager and can often involve combining yeasts required for both Ales and lagers in the same brew to accomplish this. Apologies, the photo below is not mine, but one I found.
The ale itself was pleasant to drink, I could probably have a couple of pints of it before moving on. However, this particular beer very much had the taste of cream soda about it, and I’m not a cream soda drinker.
05|21 India Pale Ale
This is an offering from Brew By Numbers – a brewery that specialises in creating a large variety of “forward thinking” beers. The first number indicates the style, in this instance 05 represents an Indian Pale Ale (IPA) and the second number (21) represents the recipe or type. This IPA, was supposed to be fruity and using a combination of hops that produce a dry, wine like finish.
I have to say I didn’t get any of the above, and this beer is really one for the pretentious. I would personally be dubious of anyone that plucks out all of the flavours listed on the label. It was nice to drink, don’t get me wrong, almost session like. But if you didn’t have the label in which to go looking for flavours I personally don’t think you could pick them out.
It’s fair to say I wasn’t looking forward to this one. I had tried a sour before and didn’t like it. Anyone who has experienced the distaste of trying plain soya milk in an effort to deviate from good old cow juice will understand the feeling I get drinking a sour beer.
This one produced it sourness based on the fruit used in the brewing process, Grapefruit. In fairness to the beer, it tasted of Grapefruit. That was definitely the flavour. I just hated it, not the beers fault, just personal preference. But it was a source of amusement for our table as everyone tried to come to terms with it, except the one guy who loves drinking grapefruit revelling in his own delight and everyone else’s misery!
Call of Korriban – Black IPA
This is a weird one, say it out loud – “Black Indian Pale Ale”. How can that be so? How can a beer be both black and pale? But think about it. It’s fundamentally a pale ale style that is black. To a lamen like me I would say it’s a pale ale that has a stout twist.
Luckily for this moron that’s exactly what it was like. The first taste was that of a pale. That was then followed by a stout finish in the mouth. My girlfriend wasn’t keen on it, but she’s not a black beer drinker. I could happily have a couple of these before it became too filling, or too heavy. I would say I would struggle to tell the difference between a Black IPA and a Porter, but I am up for anyone (maybe the Beer Bear?) to educate me further.
The Kernel – Imperial Brown Stout
There was a reason this one was left until last. A big bold stout flavour can be the end of most and is certainly among the more subjective of beer types. This was no different. After the bottle we had of this I was almost gasping for something light and refreshing beer wise. It was tasty, don’t get me wrong, I could do a pint, but I wouldn’t go back for seconds.
Interestingly, we were offered chocolate brownie to sample alongside and the two flavours worked really well together. I’m usually pretty strict about mixing anything sweet with beer as I usually can’t stand it, but the beer complimented the brownie so well, it has opened my eyes to the idea of having stout with chocolate pudding when out for a meal!
I have been back to the Beer Bear since, partly to try more beers and partly to see if our names are being proudly displayed on the wall yet – they’re not. So, there will be another return journey required in the coming weeks to see if they have our names up, and to buy more beer.
I’m looking forward to having my mind blown with more combination of flavours, having my preconceptions blown out the water and sinking some regular favourites whilst expanding my beer knowledge. Maybe I’ll even get involved, who knows!