Sunday 29 September 2019

Have green-hop beers lost the plot?

I was in Canterbury on Friday, visiting the city’s annual Food & Drink Festival, which also happens to coincide with the launch of Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight. I’d missed the previous two festivals due to clashes with family holidays, so it was good to renew my acquaintance with the event.

As in previous years the festival was held in Canterbury’s Dane John Gardens, which lie in the shadow of the city’s medieval walls. The event seemed larger than I remember it, occupying the entire length of this historic park, with a huge array of different food stalls, selling all sorts of tasty offerings. There was also the beers of course, along with a selection of Kentish ciders, plus various artisan gins and liqueurs.

As well as a large marque, with a bar featuring all the Green Hop beers available at the festival,  several breweries had stands of their own, offering keg and bottles beers, alongside their cask, Green Hop ales. I noticed stalls from Old Dairy, Goody Ales, plus a large tent for those who enjoy beers from Kent's largest, and Britain's oldest brewery - Shepherd Neame.

The only fly in the ointment was the weather, which was “changeable,” with plenty of passing showers along with the odd longer spell of rain, but the damp conditions didn’t
seem to dampen people’s enthusiasm.

Possibly with an eye to the weather forecast, the organisers had provided an open-sided marquee, which provided shelter for both performers and the audience on the “busker stage” and the Green Hop beers were also housed in a much larger tent than I recall from previous years.

So what about the beers? First, the majority of the cask offerings were Green Hop Beers, and I counted a total of 27 Kentish brewers offering their wares. It was disappointing to discover there had been a problem with local favourite Larkin’s, but it was made up for by the 4.2% Fuggles Bitter from Old Dairy Brewery. This for me, was definitely beer of the festival, and I know that several of my companions felt the same.

Old Dairy will definitely be one to watch in the Green Hop category at my local branch’s Beer Festival, which is run jointly with local Heritage Railway group, the Spa Valley Railway. The Tenterden-based brewery have won the Green Hop Beer competition at the festival, on at least two previous occasions, including last year, and from what we tasted on Friday, it would be no surprise to see them picking up another award.

Although the majority of the GHBs were either bitters or pale ales, there were a couple of green-hoped porters. To my mind anyway, the concept doesn’t work as well with dark beers, as it does with lighter ones. This is because the dry, roast coffee and chocolate flavours in beers such as porter and stout, tend to overwhelm the more delicate floral and fruity bitterness associated with pale coloured ones. In addition, the roasted malts used to provide both flavour and colour in darker beers, often impart a bitterness of their own. This can often be quite harsh and over-whelming.

This brings me onto my final point, which was that whilst all the green-hopped beers I tried on Friday were good, there was little to distinguish them from their normal dry-hop counterparts. Several of my companions said the same thing, and we think this is because over the course of  the decade or so that green hopped beers have been produced, brewers have become more adept at using hops in their natural “wet” state.

We all remembered that many of those initial green-hopped beers had a rich resinous taste, with an almost oily texture to them, (you could actually feel the hops resins coating your tongue and the roof of your mouth). Many brewers now seem to have cut down on the amount of wet hops used. We suspect they were adding them at the same rate to the brew-kettle, as they would the normal dried hops.

So by cutting the amount of green hops used to brew this uniquely seasonal type of beer, they have unwittingly removed the very characteristics that attracted drinkers to green-hopped beers in the first place. Effectively they have turned a unique and very time of year dependent beer, into just a another run of the mill and rather ordinary one.

This doesn’t detract from what was an excellent day out, and from a long weekend which showcases the very best that Kent has to offer in terms of food and drink. Combine this with the normally benign, early autumn weather, and the splendid setting of Canterbury’s Dane John Gardens, and you have a uniquely English experience, which is well worth putting in your diary.

Footnote: for details of the process by which Green Hop beers are produced, and the rules governing the times between harvesting and adding to the brew-kettle, please follow this link.

Please also be aware that similar “wet” hop beers are now produced at harvest time, in other hop-growing regions of the world, including Belgium, the Czech Republic and the USA.

It would be interesting to discover whether these beers have suffered a similar loss in the very properties which make them so special, and so unique.

Thursday 26 September 2019

A cultural morning in Krakow

So after the interlude which allowed me to catch up on a couple of domestic projects,  let’s head back to Poland, and pick up where we left off.

I slept well in my cosy and comfortable third floor hotel room, and whilst on wakening I was disappointed to see rain falling outside my window, I was determined to make the most of the coming day and not let the weather dampen my spirits.

I enjoyed a heart breakfast, which included scrambled eggs, cooked just the way I like them - soft, but not too runny, with some extremely crispy, and rather salty bacon to go with them. I knocked back several cups of coffee as well. There is something about strong continental coffee to really get one going in the morning, and whilst I hadn’t had a heavy night on the beer, I’d been feeling rather tired after my journey.

Having made a pre-emptive visit to Krakow’s old town the previous evening, I decided to head south towards the Wisla River and take a look at Wawel Castle. Together with the neighbouring Wawel Cathedral, the castle occupies a prominent hill overlooking the river, providing a strong point to prevent access to the city. It's worth noting that Krakow was Poland’s capital for several centuries and many of its kings and queens were crowned in Wawel Cathedral.
The rain was easing off as I headed up towards the castle entrance. I then climbed the steep row of steps leading up to the castle/cathedral complex. I queued at the kiosk to purchase a ticket. The state rooms were closed on that day, but it was free admission to visit the castle armoury and see the jewellery which constitutes Poland’s "national collection."

I have backed off from using the term “Crown Jewels” purely because much of the nation’s most precious and most treasured items of jewellery were looted, over the centuries, by successive invaders and occupiers. Life’s tough when you’re a relatively small country sandwiched between large and much more powerful nations!

Although entry to the armoury was free, my ticket was still at a set time. I therefore had a good walk around the main courtyard, plus the smaller inner one. I also stood on the ramparts, overlooking the river and the southern sector of the city beyond. The rain had stopped by this time, but the view was still partly obscured by mist and low cloud, which was a pity.

I enjoyed my look at the jewellery collection, even though many of the items on display came from neighbouring countries such as Germany and Austria.

The armoury was housed at a lower level, virtually in the bowels of the castle. The exhibits were interesting and there was some intricate work amongst the suits of armour. Some of the old cannons and massive siege guns were also well worth look, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t have to pay to view them.

I made my way down from the castle complex shortly before midday. My plan was to head in a roughly easterly direction to the old Jewish quarter in the district of the city, known as Kazimierz.

We will halt the narrative there because in the next part I want to write about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, and relate what happened to Krakow’s Jewish population. I also want to explain why I decided not to make the trip to Auschwitz, despite the fact that the former Nazi death-camp attracts over a million visitors each year.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Sunday lunch at Pevensey

I referenced briefly in the introduction to my previous post, about escaping down to the coast in order to get away from my over-running DIY task, and also just to enjoy a short break and charge our batteries after a busy week at work for us both.

Before packing up the previous evening, I’d roped a tarpaulin in place, over the apex of the shed roof. I was glad I did so, as there was some quite heavy rain just after dawn on Sunday morning. So, safe in the knowledge that my hard work would not be spoiled by the weather, and after a well-deserved lie-in, we jumped in the car and headed down to Pevensey.

The latter is a large village situated five miles north-east of Eastbourne, and one mile inland from the coast at Pevensey Bay. I’ve always muddled up Pevensey and Pevensey Bay, but for the record the latter is a relatively modern settlement which is built virtually on the shoreline, whilst Pevensey itself has origins dating back to the 8th Century.

Pevensey is dominated by its surprisingly large castle, parts of which survive from Roman times, when it was one of the “Saxon Shore Forts,” built to protect Britain from, you guessed it, the Saxons and other Germanic raiders. Although the old shore fort at Pevensey was later strengthened by the Anglo-Saxons, it wasn’t sufficiently fortified to prevent the landing nearby of forces belonging to Duke William of Normandy, in 1066. And we know what happened soon after that!

I’m pretty certain that I hadn’t visited Pevensey since childhood, when exploring castles, and other ancient ruins, was a favourite pastime of the Bailey family. My father in particular enjoyed this activity, and took my sister and I to castles up and down the country. I have a vague memory of visiting the one at Pevensey.

Pevensey Bay, on the other hand, is where, in more recent times, son Matthew and I spent many largely fruitless hours, attempting to catch fish from the shore. It was good father and son bonding though, and the settlement’s excellent fish and chip shop compensated for the lack of live fish nibbling away at the bait on our submerged hooks.

As mentioned, in the previous article, the purpose of our visit to Pevensey was to call in on Mrs PBT’s brother, and his partner, who were spending a few days in their campervan at the nearby Fairfields Farm campsite. Unfortunately, the glorious early autumn sun and accompanying warm temperatures, of the past few weeks,  had vanished to be replaced by grey skies and even some rain.

The change in weather did however, prevent us from being unable to sit outside when we reached our destination as, whilst the rain had eased off, a strong south-westerly wind was blowing.  Fairfields Farm is a medium sized and well-laid out campsite, although I have to grumble about it being the only site I’ve ever been to where visitors are charged to enter and park their cars.  The buggers charged us £4 per vehicle as well!

Eileen’s brother’s campervan is a medium sized Fiat model, which can accommodate three people. It is a replacement for his much larger Hymer vehicle, which was written off in a crash, caused by an inconsiderate driver, a couple of years ago.

We had the usual cup of tea plus a chat on arrival, before heading into Pevensey for Sunday lunch. I would like to have walked, and explored the village on foot, but both Mrs PBT’s and her brother were incapacitated in one way or another, so I had to drive us there instead. This unfortunately means there are no photos of Pevensey and its castle.

On the way, we passed Pevensey and Westham railway station, which provides a link from the campsite into either Eastbourne or Hastings. Our destination was not the 16th Century Smugglers Inn Eileen and I thought we were heading for, but the rather more modern Heron, in Westham High Street, where a table had been booked for 2.15pm.

The Heron is an imposing, but pleasant, late Victorian pub, which still retains a two-bar layout. The interior is finished in that contemporary, washed-out, pastel look, and is quite sparsely furnished. It wasn’t overly busy, but there was a family who were just finishing their lunch when we arrived.

A very acceptable pint of Harvey’s Best (3.0 NBSS), was served up by the friendly barmaid,  along with an equally good, roast dinner (turkey or beef). I joined the others for a dessert afterwards.

As I said, I would have liked an amble around the village, but we did take a short walk when we got back to the campsite. Consequently there are quite a few animal photos, to make up for the lack of village ones.
On the plus side, a pub which I probably wouldn’t have given a second glance from the outside,  turned up trumps by providing us with a well-cooked and substantial Sunday lunch, along with a very drinkable pint of Harvey’s; both enjoyed in pleasant surroundings. If proof was needed never to judge a place until you have stepped inside, then this was it.

We left just after 5pm, as Mrs PBT’s was starting to feel a little claustrophobic cramped up in the campervan. All thoughts of us owning such a vehicle evaporated with those feelings, but I think we would both go stir-crazy if we were cooped up in one for too long.

I took the scenic route home, heading up from the Pevensey levels towards Battle, via the villages of Ninfield and Catsfield. We both thought Pevensey was worthy of a return visit, for a proper look round; but next time, on our own!

Sunday 22 September 2019

Anxiety and alcohol

OK, so the shed roof is not quite finished, but it’s weather-tight, so after grafting for much of Saturday, I took Sunday off in order to drive Mrs PBT’s down to Pevensey Bay, near Eastbourne. Her brother and his girlfriend are staying in their camper-van, at one of the local camp sites, and invited us to join them for Sunday lunch, at a nearby pub - more of that in a later post.

In the meantime here is a lengthy, and rather personal article that I’ve been meaning to post for quite a while. I’ve kept putting off publishing it, as it’s a bit too personal in places, but leaving that aside, it concerns an issue which affects a lot of people, and is something which can have a real negative affect on them and their lives.

The subject I want to discuss in some depth is anxiety, but seeing as this blog is primarily a beer related one, I particularly want to explore the relationship between anxiety and alcohol. Before looking at that relationship though, here’s a short summary of what anxiety is all about.

Anxiety, or uneasiness of mind is caused by fear of danger or misfortune. It is a fear of what might happen in the future, but it is not a fear about something that is happening now. Understanding this simple summary goes a long way towards finding a cure for this often distressing affliction of the mind, which is an ailment which many people suffer from.

It helps to know that anxiety can be regarded as the space between the “now” and the “then.” This is the so-called “anxiety gap,” which in effect means being here, but wanting to be there. You know the feeling, you find yourself in an awkward situation; something you feel uncomfortable with. You would much rather be somewhere else, somewhere familiar, somewhere safe, somewhere you feel confident with, but instead you are faced with a situation or an event that is way outside your comfort zone.

We’ve all experienced these feelings, and nine times out of ten we can put them aside, rise to the occasion, sort out whatever it is that is bothering us, and emerged, unscathed on the other side. Sometimes though, this all becomes too much for people and they end up feeling unable to cope with what life is flinging at them. causes–

They retreat back into their shells and hide themselves from the world. Anxiety then develops into depression (the two are closely linked).  The worst thing about anxiety/depression is one loses interest in virtually everything, and things that once afforded the greatest pleasure no longer matter or seem important to the sufferer.

I suffered a particularly bad bout of anxiety for much of 2011. The condition was brought on by a problem that had been building at work, for sometime beforehand, which was then made worse by me blaming myself for not having taken action and dealing with the situation in the way I know I should have done.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but in the end, I cured myself. There is some really good self-help material out there on the web. I also attended some counselling sessions, arranged through my GP, which were very helpful. Talking through one’s problems, and looking for ways to deal with them, is always useful.

One thing the counsellor told me, is that people who go through these sorts of experiences, emerge stronger on the other side.  I have heard this from several other sources as well. I didn’t believe her  at first, but it didn’t take too long after my recovery to realise she was right. 

So if you do feel as though life is getting on top of you, and you are finding it increasingly difficult to cope, please remember there is eventually light at the end of the tunnel, and you WILL emerge from your experience a stronger an better person.

One final thing that is well worth taking note of, before we look at the relationship between anxiety and alcohol, is that anxiety is a fear of what might happen in the future, rather than what is happening now. Remember the future is then, rather than now, and our past has shown us we will have all we need in the future to deal with whatever situation arises,  in the same way as we have all we need now to avoid the situation arising.

Put simply anxiety is caused by not being present, and trying to live in the future. We cannot know what the future will bring, or what it will be like, even though we like to imagine that we do know. This means that the sensible thing to do is to live solely in the “now”, as it is the only thing there is. We cannot live in the past, because it has already happened, just the same as we cannot live in the future, because it has yet to happen. So the now (or the present), is all there is, and this is where we should try to always live.                                                                                                                          

Now I would like to say that I don’t suffer from anxiety anymore and to all intents and purposes this is largely true, but there is one exception. Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol, over an extended period (several days), does seem to bring on unwanted feelings of insecurity. This is especially true, late at night, when one has been away from home for a while, such as being on holiday or on an overseas business trip.

Waking up in a strange bed, in momentary unfamiliar surroundings and wondering where the hell you are, is not always a pleasant experience. All very silly really, but I know from experience it is my over-indulgence in alcohol that is responsible for bringing on these feelings in the dead of the night.

The feelings normally only last a short while and it doesn’t take long to regain my composure, but when I say it is the booze which is responsible, I know I am right. Two contrasting examples illustrate this nicely, as both involve trips away.

The business trip I made to Cologne back in March was a boozy affair. After a long, and some times boring day on the company exhibition stand, my colleagues and I tended to let our hair down in the evenings.  Each evening we would typically convene in the hotel reception and neck back a few Kölsch’s, before heading into town for a meal.

There would be more beers with the meal, and sometimes wine as well, then there would be the inevitable night-cap of a couple more glasses of Kölsch back at the hotel, before heading up to bed. I can recall at least two occasions when I awoke in the small hours, feeling really anxious with a feeling almost of dread, wondering where I was.

The feelings, which soon subsided, were similar to those associated with delays in getting to the airport and missing your flight or mislaying your passport. Groundless fears really, because if such events did occur, they wouldn’t be the end of the world and could be relatively easy to resolve (the lost passport might be a little trickier).

Now contrast this with my recent visit to China, where not only was I several thousand miles away from home, but I was in a large, sprawling city, in a country where relatively few people spoke English, and where even the alphabet was a confusing jumble of intriguing, but undecipherable symbols.

If there was anywhere to wake up in the dead of night, in a cold sweat, then China was surely the place and far more so than Germany, where things are much more familiar. Interestingly, not once did I have these feelings, despite the, at times, almost alien surroundings, and the fact I was the other side of the world.

I can only put this down to a very modest consumption of alcohol during my three days in the country, with just a few glasses of beer of an evening. I felt totally safe in China, and completely at ease travelling around by myself. What’s more, I slept like the proverbial log.

Now I’m not for one moment advocating giving up alcohol, but I’m keen to know whether there is a connection between anxiety and alcohol. Speaking personally, I’m not sure whether the link was always there, or if it just appeared. If the connection was there, I don’t think I ever noticed it, so it was quite surprising to discover that during my period of anxiety in  2011, I found that drink can have a dark side.

I initially found, that a beer or two helped me relax, but I then found myself waking the next day, or even in the night, feeling more anxious  than ever. I knocked the booze on the head for the best part of a year, despite at times really craving a pint. Sometimes I fancied a beer so much that I dreamt about it, and I can tell you that even in those dreams it looked really good and tasted even better!

That’s probably enough on the subject, but as someone who thought he was immune to such ailments of the mind, I want to end with a warning. Anxiety can and will creep up on you, but only if you let it. The trick is to remain vigilant and not let it in. See it for what it really is, which is an illusion.

Finally, endeavour to remain present as much as possible, and live your life in the now. The NOW is all that there is, because the past has already happened and the future is yet to occur. It is now, now and in five seconds time it will still be now….and now………and now!

Friday 20 September 2019

Fixing a hole

I’ve not been very productive on the blogging front since my return from Poland, even though there’s lots of things I’d like to write about. Not all of the ideas that are buzzing around in my head are related to my  visit to Krakow either, as there’s plenty of things occurring back home, it’s just a simple case of not having had the time.

It’s not work this time that is the problem, but rather a case of making hay whilst the sun shines, whilst at the same time taking advantage of the glorious September sunshine we’ve been enjoying. To elaborate. My garden shed is in urgent need of re-roofing, so the fine weather we’ve been blessed with, is ideal for such outdoor DIY projects. Consequently, since my return from Poland, it’s  been a real case of making use of every available daylight hour outside of work.

However, as DIY tasks often do, the renewal of the shed roof is taking longer than anticipated. I had to remove the old boards first, as they’d rotted through in places, but with rusty nails and screws to remove, this hasn’t proved an easy task.

This is the second time I’ve had to do this, the previous occasion being 13 or so years ago. The replacement roof lasted well until a storm earlier this year ripped much of the felt off.  This exposed the rot that had set in underneath. Neglecting to clear all the dead leaves out from the gutters, was the primary cause of this, as their presence had allowed water to accumulate and casing the damp to spread upwards, underneath the felt. It was only when the protective covering was removed that the true extent of  the rot was revealed.

The garden shed we inherited when we moved into our current property, 25 years ago, is quite a structure. For a start it’s much taller than it needs to be, and the height is compounded by the shed being several feet off the ground on concrete blocks.

As I said the shed came with the property, and whilst I have enhanced it over the years, replacing the roof involves working at height. Now I’m not a huge fan of working off a ladder, but with son Matthew helping me, you have to ask why it’s me up the ladder rather than him? 

After all, such tasks should be easier for someone in their late twenties than they are for a person like me in their mid-sixties. Matthew claims he is scared of heights, but doesn’t consider that I’m not keen on being up a ladder either, but someone has to see the job through, and by working most of last weekend, and every evening this week, the old roofing sheets have been removed and the new ones are in place. Now it’s just a question of  renewing the felt.

I must admit I’ll be glad when the job’s done, so I can get back to writing and other enjoyable pursuits, such as beer drinking, but with the weather due to break this coming Sunday, it’s been a race against time.

I gave the shed a miss tonight (Friday), as I’d literally run out of steam. This is not unusual for the end of the working week, but this particular one has been exceptionally hectic. With a key member of my staff on holiday, our monthly management meeting to prepare for, visitors across from Japan and attempting to secure a Russian-speaking interpreter for an audit we’ve got coming up next month, I was glad to close the door on the garden and retreat to the comfort of my home office and bash out this piece of trivia.

Normal service should be resumed early next week!

"Fixing a Hole" is the fifth track on the Beatles seminal album "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," released in May 1967; the so-called "summer of love."  It's quite a catchy number, but at the same time quite an annoying one. I'm sure most people of my generation will know it. 

It seemed an appropriate title, even though there was more than one hole in my shed roof!