Monthly Archives: August 2013

34×34: #11 – Try 10 British Beers

I suppose it is fitting, being me, and living where I do, that the first goal I accomplish off the 34×34 is drinking a lot of beer.

I don’t really like beer. I’m a Bud Light kind of girl – weak, watery, but it gets the job done.

I’ve been amazed by the range of beers on tap here in England, though. Most bars in New York have your standard selection of American beers, with some German and whatnot thrown in for good measure. You basically always know what you’re going to get. Or maybe I just wasn’t going to the right bars.

But pubs in London offer a huge selection of small English brewery beers, never the same at two pubs. It’s always an adventure, you never know what will be available.

I tend to drink a lot of cider – which is the best part of English pub life, that cider is always on tap (you’ll be lucky to find it in a bottle at home). It’s sweeter, which suits me.

I’ve been wondering what the differences are between ales, stouts, lagers, bitters…it’s not just beer here. It’s a whole subculture I don’t understand at all. I’ve been looking to take some kind of course that explains it all, but nothing has come across my radar that is satisfactory, and finally a friend explained it to me thus (he drinks a LOT, so I trust him, but jump in if you have a further explanation of the nuances):

Most beer is lager: light yellow, fizzy, cold, and dispensed through taps. Ale is darker, not fizzy/thus flat, and kept at room temperature. It is stronger tasting, savory even, and dispensed through a hand pump (I had no idea there was a difference between taps and hand pumps. I am learning things, kids). Stout is black, and also dispensed through a hand pump. Wheat beer is cloudy yellow, flat, and cold.

All of which is really interesting, except I still can’t differentiate much in terms of flavor. It all tastes like, well…beer. I wanted to have really intelligent notes for each of the ten I tried, but mostly they tasted the same to me, unless they tasted really gross. That is about as sophisticated as my palate gets: “I can tolerate this,” or “ewwwwwww.”

There was no methodology to my drinking. I just tried to order new things whenever I went out, branching out beyond my cider fixation. Frequently I picked things based on having cool names, but sadly that rarely translated into a cool flavor. Anyway, here are the ten I tried, with any accompanying notes I managed to write down:

1. Buxton Spa Pale Ale: This one was so righteously bitter that I couldn’t even finish it. Probably my least favorite of the ten.

2013-07-04 18.58.45

2. Meantime London Lager: No notes. It tasted like beer. Bitter and heavy but not unyieldingly so.

3. Adnams Ghost Ship Pale Ale: Chosen for its awesome name. It was nice. Medium dark/copper in color, bitter but drinkable.

2013-08-02 17.54.56

4. Seafarers Ale: I drank this at a couple different pubs when there wasn’t anything new to try, so clearly I was okay with it. Not great but all right.

IMG_0302

5. Fuller’s Honeydew Organic Beer: I was hoping this one would taste like honeydew, but alas. It didn’t even taste like honey, which is apparently one of the main organic ingredients. I switched to something else after having a pint, so clearly not that great to me.

IMG_0303

6. Sambrook’s Wandle Ale: Again I just liked the name. I wrote down that it was “darker,” but I don’t know darker than what. And probably I just thought it tasted like beer.

7. Cornish Coaster: I have this minor obsession with the idea of Cornwall, so would like to say I enjoy beer that comes from there. But I don’t think I was able to finish this one, although that might have just been because I had had five or six pints already that night.

8. Moor Top Pale Ale: I have no notes. Clearly not a leader among the pack. Just something to try. I believe I switched back to cider immediately after.

9. Redwell: Well, I thought I took a picture of this and I have the vague idea it was indeed reddish, but I have no idea. I remember thinking it was crisp and lighter than most beers, and drinkable.

10. Young’s Hummingbird Pale Ale: This one was probably my favorite, I drank four pints in rapid succession. Even though it didn’t really taste like passion fruit like the tap claimed, I still thought it was light and tasty.

So there you have it. It’s not much of an experiment, but it is that ever important kick in the pants to try new things and broaden your horizons. I’m embracing the culture I live in and trying to understand what’s important to them.

So go forth, and quest, friends. Try something that you know you’ll think is gross. You’ll be a better person for it. And keep trying, because you never know when you’ll stumble onto something not half bad (the British are also teaching me to be litotic. It’s okay).

For now I’ll probably go back to drinking New Zealand sauvignon blanc. And maybe this really good Scottish cider called Thistly Cross. That was a new experience too, and a high alcohol content one to boot. Or Pimms, this beer and lemonade thing that comes with fruit: delicious and nutritious!

IMG_0375

There are always options. It’s a beautiful drunken world.

Advertisements
Categories: 34x34, London | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Adventures with Vouchers: Flapper Brunch

Summer in London: it happened, folks. It’s just now starting to think about autumn here, but for about a month or so it’s been hot in London. Gross hot. Sticky hot. Don’t touch me hot.
I love it.

And this is exactly why we have seasons, people. I have never been so giddy or grateful for suffocating and sunny weather as I am having gone through the doldrums of this past abysmally grey (look, I’m turning English! Stockholm Syndrome is setting in) winter.

However, sweat-your-balls-off weather is probably not the ideal time to play dress up.

Also, I don’t even LIKE dress up (that’s fancy dress to all my thousands of British readers. While I love the word “fancy,” and give the Brits props for usage, it is still not an appealing activity to me.)

So why on earth would I book a dress-up flapper brunch, a period in fashion history not particularly kind to a curvy lady like myself?

I do not know. I am addicted to vouchers. And absurdity.

And brunch.

But back to the heat. By the time my friend K and I traversed the city and the environs of Hammersmith to the Betty Blythe Vintage Tea Room, our clothes were damp and molded so thoroughly to our bodies we were not too enthusiastic about clothes in general. When we discovered our reservation had not gone through, and the downstairs brunch room was closed because of an electrical outage, we didn’t much care. The sweet pinky French lady at the counter offered to let us dress up and sit in the window on the ground floor, but we politely declined.

I was kinda disappointed – the dressing up was the whole point of this surreal experience – but honestly, there was barely a fan blowing on us. I was too hot to care about anything except shoving food in my mouth hole after the long journey west.

Which is what happened: a pot of English breakfast, a pink lemonade, pain au chocolat, granola and yogurt, and more toast than you can shake a stick at. All for GBP7! Impressive and delicious.

IMG_0363

After a good long chat and bellies now full, the French girl let us go downstairs to play with the available stock of flapper clothing for a few minutes. It was mostly just accessories, and we spent ten giggly minutes trying on hats and headbands and gloves…not a huge selection, but it was actually good fun and we got some nice photos. And none of it would have made the actual eating feel any different – can you even eat while wearing a hat? I think those two activities are mutually exclusive. And clearly trying to eat in elbow length gloves would have ended messily and with much embarrassment – so I’m totally fine with how it all worked out.

We totally won this one: Vouchers: 1, Me – 2

I’m not ready for fall. Come on London gods, let’s keep up the atrocious, debilitating heat just a little longer…at least until September.

A selection of silly, be-hatted photos:

IMG_0350

IMG_0354

IMG_0355

IMG_0353

IMG_0358

IMG_0361 v2

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Writers Named David: Rakoff

People probably get tired of me going on about my obsession with writers named David. I have a tendency to be a broken record with things I love. Sedaris. Foster Wallace. Rakoff. I recently read books by a Farley and a Lipsky that were both also excellent (though to be fair, the Lipsky book was a transcript of a conversation with Foster Wallace…)

A year ago today, David Rakoff died, so I hope you don’t mind if I let my record skip a little longer…

I met David Rakoff once, in February 2011. Just for a minute, at the end of an event in Brooklyn. I hadn’t read his books yet, I’d only heard a few of his pieces on This American Life, and his rhyming couplets stuck in my mind – mainly because I hate rhyming couplets, and yet the two poems I’d heard him read on TAL were beautifully crafted and erudite. They were touchstones of how to live gracefully in this awkward and fragile human world. At this event, I was ogling Ira Glass (like you do), trying to get a picture, and I didn’t take the time with David that I should have, that I would have if I had already fully immersed myself in his canon the way I have since. But while Ira was running around, trying to get something done, David looked at me fully, he was present with me. I had the strangest feeling that he would have gladly been a friend and mentor to me, if only I had asked.

Little did I know at the time. Once I read his books and listened to more of his TAL work, I often thought of writing to him, of telling him how much I identified with his work, but I procrastinated. And now it’s too late. When I read that he died last year, I burst into tears, and then kept bursting sporadically throughout the day. I felt like I knew him, even though of course I didn’t.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, about how nonfiction writers who insert themselves into their work shape who they want you to see – so that you can feel like you know them, like they understand you as no one else ever has or ever could, like you could really truly be friends. That’s a gift, though a somewhat disingenuous one. Who knows if these writers truly are what they say they are…well, I guess that could be said of anyone.

The thing about the Davids is this: Foster Wallace is just brilliant. He elevates me, challenges me, and yes, seems to worry about the same things I worry about as far as what it means to be human, or lonely, or connected. He had so much roiling inside him, no matter how much he struggled, it seems like it just couldn’t NOT get written. Sedaris was born into a family just begging to be written about, which is not to diminish his talent, because he uses his own special alchemy to embellish his familial lore into art.

But David Rakoff is me. He had to fight for his words. He wasn’t born into a goldmine of stories, though I suppose being gay – and a Canadian in America – gave him some inherent material. But this is the man who said, “Writing is like pulling teeth. From my dick.”

I so perfectly identify with that sentiment, relevant body part or not. It seems like David got a later start in his writing because he was afraid to try for many years. He had to go out and find stories, he put himself in weird situations, he did things he didn’t want to do. He forced himself to experience, and grow. Often the endgame was disappointment or indifference. But he tried.

I live in “afraid to try.” I’m still working on getting to “tried.” I admire the journey he took from one to the other. I get it so hard.

That’s what it seems like he did, anyway. That’s how he presented himself, or a facet of himself. And if he exaggerated that part…well, he made himself completely human. I wanted to know him better. I don’t know if that’s dark magic or not, but if only I could get that kind of emotional truth right.

People always tell me I’m too hard on myself. Someone suggested that I imagine a child, or a pet, or something that I would always treat gently, and try to treat myself like that.

I am on the fence about babies and I have never had a pet, so instead I imagine David Rakoff. I think he might have been a little hard on himself too. And he is certainly someone who deserved to be treated with generosity and kindness. In the minute I met him, he gave that to me.

Writing is like pulling teeth. But when I get frustrated and want to give up and find a nice 9-5 job and never, ever think about being creative again, I think of David, who can’t write anymore. I imagine taking up the torch for him. I can’t pretend to be a fraction as smart or witty as he was. But I can continue to make myself better, to strive to get where he was, and to honor him by emulating him, by writing the kind of stories he might have written.

Anyway, that’s just how I feel. Go read his new book, it’s all rhyming couplets, and I’ve heard it’s amazing. I’m putting it off, delaying the gratification, but you should buy it.

The world misses you, David.

David Rakoff

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.