3 Bottles + a Book: Heart of Gold, Shakespeare and More

Next week, I’m off to spend a few days prowling around the Mondial de la Bière, so I though it appropriate to begin this new regular feature with a Québécoise beer, one I’ve known since it was first brewed by a father and son team in Boucherville, Québec.

http://www.unibroue.com/i/right/beers/SGN_label_410X4354.jpgSeigneuriale was originally conceived as an Orval-esque ale, which it was, and a very good one, at that. Then Laflamme père et fils, who founded the brewery of the same name, sold to Sleeman and Sleeman sold to Sapporo and Seigneuriale ceased to exist for a long period. (In truth, there were several different Seigneuriales, including a Blonde and a Tripel. I’m assuming this is meant to emulate the original flagship brew.)

The revived beer pours a hazy golden brown despite having been refrigerated upright for a couple of days and displays a nose of brown spice, dried and baked apple and a light tanginess. The flavour begins with a hint of dryish caramel-chocolate, moving quickly to a drier, quite spicy and mildly hoppy middle with some fruity apple and banana notes, finishing very dry, modestly bitter and spicy. Not quite as I remember it, Seigneuriale is nonetheless a fine beer, but one thus far lacking the panache that I think would take it to excellence.

Bottle 2 is a beer I sampled recently in New York City, although it had travelled a long way to be there. Hitachino Nest Daidai IPA is a new one from Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery, and although I tasted it with Toshiyuki Kiuchi, the man behind the brewery, I must confess to being a bit uncertain as to some of the details to this ale. I do know that it features a new hop strain out of Germany, and I believe also some actual mandarin orange, the specific type of which I remain unsure.

The nose is curious, fruity of course, but also with an oddly sweet funkiness about it – nothing I’d associate with Brett or any other wild yeast, but more along the lines of an appealing mustiness. The body is so fruity my notes refer to it as being evocative of “a hop-infused orange juice,” which Kiuchi said was roughly what he wanted. Equally curious is the finish, which dries out quite thoroughly. I found the Daidai to be a fascinating and wonderfully flavourful ale, but I fear that in the U.S., at least, it will suffer from having the letters “IPA” on its label, since it’s a descriptive many will find quite at odds with the taste.

heart_of_goldAnd now for Bottle 3, one I’ve anticipated having for review since I first experienced John Hall’s “Deconstructing Forty Creek” tasting, in which he presents the different whiskies he uses to make his Forty Creek Barrel Select, including one damn fine rye. Heart of Gold is that rye, or rather, it sort of is and sort of isn’t.

A whisky-maker who operates as a wine-maker, it isn’t Hall’s style to make a straight rye, so what he’s done instead here is craft a “mostly rye,” with barley and corn whiskies to round it out and add some of that trademark Forty Creek softness. The advance tasting sample I received last week has hints of rye’s characteristic spiciness on the nose, but not assertive and peppery like, say, a Rittenhouse. Instead, it’s more herbal spice and peppery vanilla, with caramel and bitter orange notes. On the palate, it’s relatively soft and sweet up front, growing steadily more spicy as it rolls across the tongue, finally revealing and reveling in the raunchy, aggressive pepper-ginger-brown spice I associate with a proper rye.

Overall, this is a tricky whisky, one which lures you into a comfortable cocoon of vanilla and caramel before slapping you upside your head with bold and beautifully unsubtle flavours. Consider it an intro to straight rye, or perhaps the midpoint between bourbon and rye, or maybe just the cornerstone of what might become your go-to Manhattan. Reservations for numbered bottles – in Ontario only – begin next Monday, May 27.

This week’s book is the latest from Pete Brown, newly published and available in North America courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Now, I won’t lie, Pete is a friend of mine, but also a friend I consider to be a damn fine writer, and as such, if he had veered off his game with this, his fourth book, I’d be the first to call him on it. Luckily, that’s not the case here.

Originally published as Shakespeare’s Local, the book has been retitled Shakespeare’s Pub for the North American market and dressed in a pretty ghastly new cover. (I’m no great fan of the original, which is rather too busy for my aesthetic tastes, but the new one makes me expect the contents to be some sort of graphic novel about Shakespeare’s life, perhaps reimagined as a beer-chugging superhero.) Pete presents a synopsis over here, so I’ll leave you to click over to that while I relate what the reading is like here.

As with Brown’s other work, Shakespeare’s Pub has a distinctly English form to the narrative, both in many of the expressions the author uses and, necessarily in this case, with reference to most of the historic and geographic references made. In fact, unless you are a frequent traveller to London, I’d even go so far as to suggest that it’s a book best read with a map of the city at your side. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Caveat aside, this is a rollicking good read. Brown is a very personal writer, even when he delves into history, as he does here, and that makes Shakespeare’s Pub a book that ventures well beyond “Six Centuries of History,” as the British cover claims, to aspects of past and modern pub life, what it’s like to live in London today, Margaret Thatcher and some girl-pop group called Sugababes, and what can happen when two notable beer writers inadvertently wind up drinking at the bar alongside prominent members of the National Front.

Like Brown’s last book, Hops and Glory, this is a title that will be notoriously difficult to classify, kind of like a barrel-aged IPA fermented with a Belgian yeast strain and seasoned with rose petals. It’s historical, yes, but also beer-related, semi-autobiographical, sociological and occasionally comedic, especially when Brown lapses into his barely-controlled obsession with footnotes. Above all, however, it’s a fun and entertaining read, suited to the approaching summer reading season in a fashion that few histories can manage.

One word of warning, though: It will have you jonesing to drink at a London pub in general and a place called the George in particular. Or at least, that’s what happened to me. I leave for Heathrow on June 25.

5 Replies to “3 Bottles + a Book: Heart of Gold, Shakespeare and More”

  1. Bottles and books, what’s not to like?

    You’re dead on about that cover. I wasn’t crazy about the name change either, as if (North) Americans can’t handle the word “local” in this context. Wonder if I can order the UK version to my Kindle.

  2. Can I assume that is the George Inn? Yes, it’s a nice place, but, in the past two years, the interior was completely rebuilt. The outside is interesting and unique.

    If you want to experience a _really_ nice London pub, the Royal Oak is one of my favourites.

    However, there are many other truly fine pubs in London.

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