February 25, 2020

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Ten)

(View previous instalments here)

Brewdog Hazy AF

I initially tried this at home, as Karen stumbled upon a can and brought it home for me. Since then, I have also been to the Brewdog at Clapham, where they serve this on tap, and had a couple of pints there.

It has a fairly intense grapefruity smell, and is indeed as hazy as its name implies. It’s a fantastic little drink, with just enough tanginess and sourness to be exciting, but not so much that it’s a cause for concern.

As we were leaving the pub in Clapham, my sister (who is also a regular drinker of alcohol-free beers) remarked that she’d had a good evening, and while most of this is obviously down to the sparkling company, she did mention that another contributor was that she hadn’t felt like she was “missing out” in the beer department. In terms of flavour, the Hazy AF doesn’t feel like it’s a compromise.

Carlsberg 0.0

Karen and I were on our own in Belfast for a couple of nights, so we took the opportunity to get out in the evening and sample the local nightlife, with a particular goal to take in some live music. Our first stop was The Harp, where the beer was Carlsberg 0.0 (a very drinkable lager, comparable to Heineken 0.0) and the music was two men of pension-taking age playing crowd-pleasers such as “Delilah” and probably “Come On Eileen” on acoustic guitars to an uncomfortably large and well-lit albeit packed room of incredibly drunken people who were dancing around and bouncing off of everything (a very unenjoyable experience, comparable to being kicked in the knackers repeatedly by a horse made out of bricks that bears you a grudge).

Kinnegar No. 3

We wasted no time in putting some distance between ourselves and The Harp. As we approached The Sunflower we were initially slightly concerned by the cage around the front door, but I peered through the window and it seemed perfectly welcoming within so we went inside. The experience was the opposite of The Harp, both in terms of beer and music.

They had a couple of alcohol-free beers on offer and I went for the Kinnegar 3 as I’d never heard of it before, and I suspected (correctly) that this might be pretty hard to get hold of back home, and I might be waiting a long time for my next opportunity to try it. This beer is a very tasty hoppy IPA and I eagerly slurped up a second one, while Karen steadily became more stocious beside me as she had had a G&T in The Harp and two ciders in The Sunflower.

The band in The Sunflower were a quirky group sat around a table playing Americana/Folk music. One of them had a fine gravelly singing voice that reminded me of the guy from Gomez (hey, remember them?) While the songs that they played weren’t your typical crowd pleasers, they played with soul and we enjoyed being there. No idea what the band were called, I tried to find out afterwards but fishing in such obscure waters was an impossible task.

Birra Moretti Zero

This was another one that Karen picked up for me. If I had one criticism of this lager, it’s that it felt a little more fizzy on the tongue than my tastes would prefer. Other than that, it’s a very good lager. It has a little of that sweet malty flavour, but less so than the San Miguel, for example. I also detected a little of that medicinal tang that comes across in wheat beers. I could very comfortably drink this again, though I’m not sure if it’s “wow” enough to join the shelf of my personal top-performers.

In the next instalment of this review series I shall attack the spoils of my latest visit to The Grumpy Goat, where I came back with six – yes, SIX! – alcohol-free beers that I’ve never tried before. This is going to be so awesome.

Pete
  • Comments: 2
  • Alfi was the name of the band on the poster we had seen in town earlier, but I don't think... - Pete
  • I'm pretty sure the band was called Alfi. - Karen
February 19, 2020

Pandemic Legacy: January

First and foremost, this is not a blog post about Coronavirus. Well, not directly. This is a blog post about a board game! There will be spoilers towards the end of the post, but I’ll let you know when they are coming, so you can safely keep reading until then.

Introducing The Players

For a while now, Karen and I have been meeting up with Gammidgy and Susan for a board game session every now and then. At the end of our last such meetup, Gammidgy waggled around a copy of Pandemic Legacy, which is a game designed for a group to play over multiple play sessions, and a plan was born.

First off – what’s Pandemic?

Pandemic is a co-operative board game for 2-4 players. In it, you work together to control and find cures for 4 infectious diseases. The board looks a bit like a Risk board, but the gameplay is actually fun. Each game takes no more than an hour, and each playable character has their own special ability that will impact how responsibility is divided. If I were to level one criticism at Pandemic, it’s that, like a lot of other co-operative board games, your opponent is the luck factor. At the end of a game, you often find yourself thinking either “that was too hard, we never stood a chance” or “that was too easy, we barely had to try.” However, this is only a mild criticism – it’s not so bad that you ever find yourself losing the desire to finish a game.

So what’s Pandemic Legacy?

Pandemic Legacy is a special version of Pandemic with the same core gameplay rules. However, these rules will change with each subsequent game you play. Some of these rule changes are ones that you are able to control, and some of them happen automatically as part of the “story”. At the end of the story, which will be between 12 and 24 games, depending upon your win ratio, your game board and playing components will be indelibly marked, bearing the scars of your gameplay experience.

Looking at the contents of the game box, most of it is secrets yet to be unwrapped. The main story is contained within a specifically-ordered deck of cards, but there are also eight mystery boxes, each presumably containing extra playing pieces, which are to be be opened up in response to triggers unknown, and also many mystery dossiers which are like advent calendars in their impenetrability.

San Francisco is looking a tiny bit unstable at the end of our first session

January

Yesterday we convened for the first session of the Pandemic Legacy marathon. After lunch, we punctured the cellophane and started to unwrap. Since neither Gammidgy nor Susan had played Pandemic before, we followed the suggestion in the rule book to initially keep the “Legacy” components in their plastic, and just play some regular Pandemic until we were all up to speed. We lost our first game and won the second, though we realised that we’d actually been cheating slightly by not playing a rule correctly, so we played (and won) a third game to be sure. With this done, and half the afternoon already gone, we extracted the rest of the playing pieces and prepared to play Legacy proper. We continued playing with the same characters that we’d used for the first three games, which were as follows:

  • Gammidgy played as Eric, the Medic, who can treat the disease (ie remove the little disease cubes from the board) more efficiently than other characters. This character’s strength is getting into areas where the diseases are thickest and mopping them up in record time.
  • Susan played as Wei, the Dispatcher, who is able to use their own actions to move other characters around. The most useful feature of the Dispatcher is that they can move any character automatically to any other city that contains a character, which is a movement that players can’t normally do.
  • I played as Shannon, the Researcher, who can share their research (ie the components needed to discover cures) more efficiently than other characters. This character spends a lot of their time meeting up with other characters to give them these research components
  • Karen played as Moira Rose, the Scientist, who can find disease cures more efficiently than other characters. Similar to the Researcher, this character spends a lot of time meeting up with other characters, though with the goal of receiving research components instead of giving.

In any board gaming session, there’s always one person who is nominated as the “rulesmith”. This person reads the rules to the rest of the group (pausing as appropriate when someone leaves the room or decides to start talking about knitting) and keeps the rule book by their right elbow to refer back to when edge cases and questions arise. It made sense for me to carry out this duty yesterday, as I’d played the game before. However, the knowledge that this was a linear experience, so once we started playing we wouldn’t be able to easily restart, meant it was important to get it right first time. A lot of pressure for me there.

The game’s story is divided into 12 months, which explains the name of this blog post. If you win a month, you progress to the next one. If you lose, you get one retry, but if you lose a month for the second time then you just move on to the next month regardless. So the minimum number of games you’d play would be 12 (if you win every month first time) and the maximum would be 24 (if you lose your first attempt at each month). The game mechanics contains a self-adjusting system, so it will get easier if you are losing, and harder if you are winning.

At this point, if you have played Pandemic Legacy before, or if you aren’t really a board gamey type, then please feel free to continue reading. However, if you’re now thinking “this sounds fun, I should get this” then it’s probably best if you go away now, as here come spoilers. Sorry to lose you. Have a good week.

Still here? Cool. Let’s form a tight little conspirative huddle, now that there are fewer of us around. Everyone dig into your bags and produce your chocolate covered raisins or whatever snacks you’ve got secreted. We’re the inner circle. Sssshhhhhh…

So the first game began pretty much like a regular game of Pandemic, with the usual goal to cure all 4 diseases. However, there was one adjustment – upon the second “epidemic” event occurring, we were to turn over the next card in the “story” deck and read it. Epidemic events can be fairly catastrophic, but you’d usually expect to get 3 or 4 of them during an average game, so to all intents and purposes, that second epidemic was a certainty.

We proceeded with the game, with that little purple reminder token hanging over our head like the sword of Damocles. The tension was palpable, but the game was going okay. One or two of the cities were starting to look a little unstable, but a win looked likely. There weren’t too many of those little coloured cubes left on the board. And then, the second epidemic event happened. Gammidgy is the nominated “storysmith”, partly by dint of being sat closest to the game box. He turned over the card and started to read.

Bad news. One of the 4 infections – whichever is currently the strongest, in our case the red one – had evolved and was now incurable. Our jaws dropped. Not only that, it was now also harder to treat, requiring an extra action point. We were instructed to open one of the windows on one of the dossiers, which exposed a sticker to be applied to the board to remind us that the red disease now had this special status.

At this point, we panicked a little. If memory serves, by now we had cured the black disease, and we were near to having cures for the blue and yellow. But red was in a bad way, and was suddenly a whole lot more urgent. We re-strategised as best we could, but were unable to prevent cascading outbreaks of the red infection, and we lost that game. A couple of the cities in the red zone are now already in a state of riot, and my character (Shannon, the Researcher) was actually in one of the cities when an outbreak occurred, meaning that they are permanently scarred. On the upside, we managed to completely eradicate the black disease, which allowed us to apply a positive mutation modifier to it, meaning that it will be easier to cure in all future games. The game permits you to apply two upgrades at the end of each game, whether you win or lose. With the positive mutation to the black disease as our first choice, for our second we chose to give Eric (the Medic) the capability to treat the disease in adjacent cities without needing to move to them. This seemed to be a very strong upgrade that would be especially useful in managing the red disease.

The red disease is now incurable, but the black one is a little easier to cure

We immediately began our second attempt on January. From the outset, our new strategy took into account staying on top of the red disease. The Medic and I went over to the red zone to manage the situation there, while the Dispatcher and the Scientist worked tirelessly on finding cures for the other three. The cards were in our favour this time, and we found cures for black and blue very quickly, with yellow following not too soon after, before too much damage could be caused.

For our two end-of-game upgrades, we chose to build a permanent research station in Tokyo, and also to convert the Hong Kong city card into an optional special event card, as it struck me that since we no longer have a reason to collect red city cards for finding cures, we might as well try to get some other use out of it. We do now need to protect Tokyo though – if it suffers more than one outbreak, the research station will be lost and we’ll never be able to build a research station in that city again.

Considering it’s only the end of the first month, the state of these Asian cities is troubling

At the end of the January session, I must admit that I’m a little concerned. It’s good that we won on our second attempt, and we have some very useful new upgrades, but we are left with two cities in a state of rioting, and the Researcher has a permanent scar. There is no way to make a city more stable, nor to remove a scar from a character. The die is cast. But this is the fun of the game. With any game, when you lose, you can examine why that happened, and develop strategies for avoiding that situation in future. This is no less true with Pandemic Legacy. However, with a more conventionally-structured game, you have a conversion ratio of 100%. There’s no residue leftover from the loss – you can convert every shred of it into new strength. But with Pandemic Legacy, there is some residue. It’s not a completely fresh start. Our game is always going to be slightly harder as a result of the fact that we didn’t manage to completely avoid outbreaks in the first game. We can’t undo that. We can only try harder to prevent it happening again.

Pete
February 6, 2020

In Memoriam

Tonight please raise your glasses to the fabulous Maisy who yesterday completed her ninth and final. She joined the household in 2008 and I think it’s going to be a long time until we get accustomed to arriving home and not being greeted upon arrival.

Pete
  • Comments: 3
  • It's the not tripping over her that is hard. - Karen
  • oh, so sorry to hear that. Ours came to us in 2007 and she's such an integral part of our ... - swisslet
  • You'll be tripping over her for ages. Sorry to hear your news. - graybo
  • Comments: 2
  • It's not a competition, my sweet. - Pete
  • I mean, I could make another, bigger pile of notebooks that are in use for various matters... - Karen
January 28, 2020

Birds

Recently I seem to have been taking lots of photos of birds. This is partly owing to a visit to the fantastic London Wetlands Centre at the weekend, and partly because my Yule present from Karen was a photography session at the equally brilliant Feathers And Fur Falconry Centre near Twyford. I felt it only fair to share a few of my results here. I hope you like them.

Amos (Long Eared Owl)

Bournville (Kestrel)

Pip (Little Owl)

Milo (Harris Hawk)

Norman (European Eagle Owl)

Herons

Puna Teal

Egyptian Goose

Pete
January 27, 2020

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Nine)

(View previous instalments here)

Lucky Saint

A new cinema has opened up in our town, and imagine my delight to discover that they offer an alcohol-free beer that I hadn’t tried before! Sadly I wasn’t bowled over by this one – it had an odd sourness that tasted, while not exactly metallic, still somehow inorganic. Still, it’s not hideously undrinkable, so I probably would consider purchasing this one again under certain situations.

Bitburger “Drive”

After the film we went round to a nearby thai restaurant which I haven’t been too for a while. And for the second time that day, I was presented with the opportunity to try a new alcohol-free beer. Sadly, my hopes of discovering a new favourite beer were to be dashed again. This one reminded me of those nasty cheap European lagers that come in “stubbie” bottles which you can (if you are so inclined) buy in supermarkets for less than it would cost to buy the equivalent volume of bottled water. For years I’ve had a policy of avoiding that bottle shape, just to be on the safe side, and so I feel quite irked that this piss has sneaked in under the radar. At the time, I decided that I definitely wouldn’t drink this one again.

However, a few weeks later we were in Staines and the restaurant that we went to for lunch offered only this as its alcohol-free option. I was feeling generous, so decided to try it again, and strangely this time I enjoyed it a lot more. It was served a lot colder, which I think may have helped its case. After lunch we then went off to some nearby shops to buy about eight packs of chocolate-covered raisins, which has been one of the recurring themes of this month.

St Peter’s Original

I read an article recently about how St Peter’s have changed the recipe for their alcohol-free beer, so when I saw a bottle on the supermarket shelf with a new label design, I felt I should give this one another go. Whereas the previous recipe was a sickly syrup of unfermented wort, this new one is nowhere near as bad. Yes, there’s still a lot of that unfermented worty flavour apparent, but I’d now rank this one on a similar level to the Old Speckled Hen. It’s definitely far from being one of my favourites, but it’s no longer the laughing stock that it once was.

Big Drop Stout

While I was grabbing the St Peter’s from the shelf, I also saw this, which is another beer that I tried long long ago, and hated it because it smelled and tasted like stale cigarette smoke. I was feeling generous so I grabbed a bottle to give it another try. I found it a little bit less repulsive than first time, but that stale quality was still there and finishing the drink was a challenge.

Adnam’s Ghost Ship

Rounding off the trio of beers that I tried a long time ago, I purchased a bottle of Ghost Ship, one of the first alcohol-free beers that I ever reviewed on this blog, to see if my opinion has changed. My biggest revelation is that my sensitivity to that “metallic” quality that I complained about a lot in my early reviews has apparently gone way, way down. This might just be because I’ve become accustomed to it, or maybe there was something affecting me at the time that caused my brain to interpret certain flavours as “metallic”. Who knows. Either way, I still find the Ghost Ship to be a bit thin and underwhelming, though to be fair I don’t think I’ve found any alcohol-free beer in this sub-genre that does a better job.

Big Drop Hazelnut Porter

It’s become something of a regular routine for us to walk into town on a Saturday morning and grab a drink and a cake at one of the various coffee shops around the place. Our town centre has been undergoing lots of redevelopment lately (witness the new cinema, for example) and so there are a few new options on offer, with more to come.

Last weekend we walked into one place, did a few quick sums and came to the conclusion that there’d be no free tables by the time we got to the front of the queue, and walked out again. As we started to move towards another coffee shop, we noticed that the bar next door had a small sign outside offering cake. Interesting, we thought. Maybe we can find everything we need in here? So we went inside and as soon as I saw the range of alcohol-free beers on offer, I knew we’d be staying.

The cake system wasn’t quite what we were expecting. The barmaid said basically that we can choose any cake from the place next door (the place we were just in) and she’d pop round and get it. So Bernard toddled off with her to make his selection while I contemplated my drink options.

I eventually settled on this. The hazelnut aroma is intense and carries over great distances. The flavour doesn’t quite punch with the same weight, but it’s pleasant and well balanced. Like so many alcohol-free beers, it’s lacking a certain body. If this was coupled with a creamier mouthfeel then I would need to create a new scale to score it. So alas, it merely gets top points.

Coast Hazy IPA

One perk of the site going down over the weekend and me needing to rewrite this review is that I’ve been able to squeeze in the latest addition, which was consumed after the previous post had already gone “to press”, as they say.

This one poured with a very lively head, as you can see from the picture. The smell promises citrusy sourness and an exciting tanginess. Flavour-wise, it resembles a slightly toned-down version of the Nirvana Ananda which is made by blending one of their pale ales with green tea kombucha.

An interesting little drink, probably a bit of an acquired taste to most, and not something that I’d want to drink frequently, but it’s something to make a nice little change once in a while.
I’d also like to take a moment to highlight that it’s almost exactly a year to the day since I published the first post in this series. In that year I have sampled, and reviewed, 39 different alcohol-free beers. I find myself wondering if I even drank that many different beers in the preceding year.

Let’s see what 2020 brings.

Pete
January 26, 2020

Strange And Unexpected Outage

Those of you with eagle eyes may have noticed that the site was down over the weekend.

On Thursday evening I wrote my latest installment of alcohol-free beer reviews and set it to publish on Friday morning. On Saturday morning I wondered why I hadn’t noticed a notification appear on Uborkabot and checked the site manually, only to discover a hideous error message. Upon further investigation, all of the database tables corresponding to the WordPress installation were utterly missing. No wonder the site wasn’t working.

Everything’s now been restored from a backup, so that’s good. However, it’s still an utter mystery how the tables got deleted. It’s not like last time, when I accepted full responsibility. Well, sort of. I think that the UI designers of Movable Type, which we were using at the time, perhaps dropped the ball a bit too.

Anyway, upshot of all this is that the tables are back but without knowing how they got deleted, I don’t know how to prevent it happening again. And the beer review blog post also got lost, so that needs to be rewritten. But I’ll do it, I’ll do it for you, because I love you.

Pete