Life Begins At The Hop – 2 “Home-Brewed” Stouts

I have learnt there’s a magical spot at the hop. Come with me to the church on the corner the hop.

There’s nuts and crisps and ccc cola on tap. A good time had by the boys and girls at the hop.

Tell me what do you say? Tell me what do you say?

I tell you, life begins at the hop, boys and girls.”

(“Life Begins At The Hop” – XTC)

(Video courtesy of  “mondoprune” on You Tube)

Not that I’m stuck in some kind of Nick Hornby, High Fidelityesque mindwarp, but I do sometimes wonder “Who ARE my favourite British band of all time?” Once I accept that (Radiohead apart) there isn’t really a new UK guitar-based band that I have much time for, since…about 1980, I fall back on New Wave and pre-Punk rock music.

Almost every time, I end up with XTC. Never coming closer than a #10 single “Senses Working Overtime” (an excellent recent Pale Ale from Revolutions Brewing  BTW) and a #5 album (English Settlement) in the UK – they never sold the volumes that their inventive pop music deserved in this country whilst enjoying considerable commercial success on the other side of the world (#1’s in Australia, New Zealand and – of all places! – Japan with “The Mayor of Simpleton“)

From “White Music” in 1978, all the way through to “Wasp Star” in 2000 (the companion piece – and guitar led counterpoint – to 1999’s utterly lush and orchestral “Apple Venus”), there’s barely a missed beat. The greatest of shames is though, that due to the overwhelming stage fright suffered by co-frontman Andy Partridge, they ceased to tour in 1982. A great loss on my part, as I never got to see the band live. They continued to record and (following a major dispute with their label Virgin which lasted 6 whole years) self-released “Apple Venus” & “Wasp Star” before eventually, sadly, the two mainstays, Partridge and Colin Moulding drifted apart.

Get onto Spotify and listen to albums like “Skylarking” & “Oranges & Lemons” or delve further to “Drums & Wires” or “Black Sea”. Still sounding great after 35 years.

Without trying to sound TOO self-deprecating, it never ceases to amaze me when people send me beer to try. It goes without saying, that it also gives me massive pleasure when this happens too! A wee while back, Connor Murphy – he of the justly lauded “Beer Battered” (and rather cheekily subtitled “The Manchester Beer Blog”! Fight! Fight! Fight!) – passed me a couple of bottles of beer that he had brewed himself. A few weeks later, I was the proud recipient of another bottle of self-brewed ale – this time from Dave Harrison-Ward of Macclesfield and the rather nice “home-brewing” blog “Brews Implosion

Now then. This term “Home Brewing” and its derivative “HomeBrew” in no way does justice to the beers that people like these guys are making. Full malt mash, whole hops and a lot of inventive techniques and ingredients means that the beers made by the “Amateur Brewers” (my favoured term) of today, couldn’t be any further removed from the swill produced in the 80’s by the likes of my big brother, that led to lengthy seating on domestic thrones the length & breadth of the land!

In short – they’re making good stuff, which, if you’re not snoring already, you can read about ….now.

IMAG1065

Guatemalan Insanity Stout – Macc Brew Co (Dave Harrison-Ward) – 5.8% abvCoffee Stout (Recipe here)

I like Coffee Stouts being a fan of DarkStar’s excellent Espresso and having raved about Bad Seed’s amped up interpretation! But maybe next time, a little earlier than 9pm eh?

Black with a tan coloured head and good gentle carbonation giving up a very distinctive coffee aroma. This beer was really smooth and full-bodied thanks to the flaked oats in the malt bill. The initial chocolate malt sweetness leading quickly into a warming coffee bitterness which itself remains in the mouth for a while, coating the sides and eventually yields space to a quite hoppy coffee aftertaste which is more than pleasant.

A damn fine beer. Would willingly pay good hard cash for this. Just hope it doesn’t keep me awake! (It didn’t – I’ve recalled the hitman, Dave!)

IMAG1067

Chocolate Orange Imperial StoutConnor Murphy9.3% abv – (The name gives the style away, eh?)

With fresh orange peel and cacao nibs added in the secondary fermentation, AND my favourite hop in Amarillo, you know that this is going to be a “Ronseal Beer” right?

A deep black beer with a creamy tan head that is stubbornly clinging on! A full on chocolate & orange aroma! Really big body to this – as an Impy should be.

Holy shit! Can Orange be resinous? First flavour to assail is bittersweet orange with piney stuff following swiftly. Then we get to a bitter chocolate, then a roasted malt note, the chocolatey orangey sweetness carries throughout the beer and down the glass but isn’t cloying, just delicious, finishing with a surprisingly resinous orange herbal grassyness, like the best amarillo.

Nice warming feeling as it sinks too. As an Imperial should! I’ve had this a while. It would probably age well.

Superb. Would happily pay good hard cash for this too!  I’m not going to score these against each other, they are both fine beers in their own rights. Different styles for different stages of an evening. But both tug at my strings, being dark!

Both beers get the best thing that I could say. I’d willingly pay cash over a bar for both! Both full of flavour, with good body and mouthfeel.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know very little about what makes a commercial pro brewer,  but, to my uneducated taste buds, these beers are wasted just being drunk by their makers in their own front rooms! Good effort fellas!

On that note…’til next time…

Slainte!

(Music & Title inspiration courtesy of a rather excellent pint of Revolutions Brewing’s “Senses Working Overtime” at Joshua Brooks. Music & Beer eh?)

(PS : The only competitor to XTC for me, being another band of the same era, but cut from a different cloth, Magazine)

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