August 6, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Thirty-One)

(View previous instalments here)

Well here we are, the big “three one”. What an event. In bingo land, this would be “get up and run”. In Rome, XXXI. 31 is the number of regular polygons with an odd number of sides that are known to be constructible with compass and straightedge. It’s the third Mersenne prime, and it’s the atomic number of Gallium. So I think we can all agree, that this is a most auspicious occasion.

While I have been back from holiday for two weeks, it’s taken me a while to get round to writing these up, so you’ll see from the photos that there are a few more holiday beers to get round to.

Drop Bear – Yuzu Pale Ale

This pours a very pale golden colour with a very faint wisp of a head. It smells a bit like icing sugar. The flavour is hoppy, true, but also very complex. It’s quite the barrage of unfamiliar flavours, but they’re all in a pleasing balance. Something about it’s sourness reminds me of a cheap lemonade – you know, the sort that is probably not made with real lemons – and that flavour comes through more and more, the more I drink of the beer.

Free Star – Prime Time

This was an impulse purchase from a farm shop near Matlock. It’s fairly pale and clear with an odd and unnaturally creamy head. The smell seems young and underdeveloped, with some wortiness and also an odd and indescribable fruitiness that feels strangely exotic. On the whole, I found myself terrified of taking a first sip of this, and my hesitation proved well founded. This stuff is vile. There’s a strange incongruous fruity flavour, like the green one out of a pack of chewy sweets, or the “banana” flavoured thing that has never seen a banana but contains something called isoamyl acetate or its ilk. No-one in their right mind would drink this unless they felt like they had done something bad and needed to be punished for it.

Paulaner Weissbier

I reviewed another Paulaner once upon a time, and was not terribly enamoured of it, and indeed struggled to finish it. I approached this beer with some caution, as a result. As you can see, it’s deep orange and cloudy, with a syrupy texture and a head that is thick and yoghurty. The smell has that heavy biscuitiness common to beers of this type. The flavour of this one ain’t bad, I found it a lot less dense than the hefe, and managed to finish this perfectly palatable beer, no problem.

Mash Gang – Stoop

This is an American pilsner with a clear medium golden colour and a very healthy head. The smell gives off a slight sourness, married with a pleasing fruitiness. The flavour gives a nice initial hit of refreshment, but it was then followed by an aftertaste that I found a bit harsh and bitter, so sadly I have to say that this particular beer is not one that appeals to me.

Big Drop – Coba Maya

I’ve started to actually look forward to trying Big Drop beers for the first time, because they’re generally either amazing or disgusting, and so it kinda feels like a low-stakes sort of gambling. This one has a robust head and a deep golden colour. The smell is lightly malted and very appley. The flavour of it is absolutely superb, though the aftertaste does feel a little confused and perhaps not very well integrated with the rest of the experience. On the whole though, smashing little drinky.

July 31, 2021

Get in the sea

Long story short, we were on holiday last week in the Peak District with my mum, she broke her hand and I had to drive her back to Armpit. She’s in a cast and I’m stuck here for a fortnight opening jars and ferrying her around.

On the upside, she lives 0.31 miles from the sea. Back in March she joined the self-styled local Mermaids, and took to swimming in the grey North Sea. Here’s what it looks like on a good day in the middle of summer:
A photograph of the sea, mostly beach. It looks a bit cold and grim.

Not to be outdone, I took a couple of dips in a pleasant inland lake in Berkshire on the hottest days of the year. It was 26 degrees in the water and there are buoys to mark the course. You really can’t get lost in a lake.

When mum arrived in Derbyshire last week, we had a semi-spontaneous swim in the River Derwent just below Chatsworth, which was rather lovely. It reminded me of the river of chocolate in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so dark and slow that we couldn’t make out which way the water was flowing. We were in the middle of a heatwave and the chocolate river left us refreshed for the rest of the day.

And now here we are in Armpit, a forgotten seaside resort that does not participate in national heatwaves. Mum can’t swim because she’s got a cast up to her elbow, but that doesn’t stop her egging me on. She took me down to look at the sea on our first day back here, and I shivered on the beach while her swimming group showered her with condolences and kindness. The sea did not look inviting, but the enthusiasm of the Mermaids really did.

Day two, this time I’m wearing swimming gear and I’ve got my float (you always need a float in the sea). The waves are up to 2 feet, but 6 seconds apart, and this is judged acceptable (there is a clever app for surfers – if it says it’s good for surfing then it’s too rough to swim). Nervously, I walk down to the sea with one of mum’s buddies, thinking I might go up to my knees. This is my rear view:
Two old ladies walking towards the sea, as if to swim in it

And it turns out to be bloody brilliant. A cold shock as the water hits your warm bits, and then the body quickly adjusts. The tide was in so it was a swimmable depth, a little bouncy but not unpleasant. The Mermaids bobbed around, gossipping between occasional bursts of crawl, and a small group hung back to support a nervous newbie. I swam out beyond the breakers and looked back at Armpit from a new perspective.

The next day the sea was flat and the tide was out so it’s a long walk before it gets above your waist. It was still no inland pond in Berkshire, and all the better for it.

The next day, after a night of heavy rain, there was sewage in the sea so no swim; also I had to take mum to have an op on her hand, pins and stuff inserted.

Yesterday evening we Mermaids gathered on the beach, despite the app saying it was a good day to surf. Waves over 2 feet and 2-3 seconds apart, and two beginners who felt they would probably only paddle. But we know we won’t get in again for nearly a week, according to the app, so we brave it anyway. The breakers knock us down as we edge our way crab-like into the sea. Near the shore, they slam into your chest, knock you down on the sand. Further out they smack you in the face and try to pull you down. If we were more nimble, we could ride them into shore. Beyond the breakers, we swim up the rising waves like brave little boats being tossed around the ocean, screeching and spitting out saltwater, laughing until our jaws ache, until we are dumped back on the beach and start to feel the cold.

There is absolutely nothing like a swim in the North Sea.

July 20, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Thirty)

(View previous instalments here)

Well it turns out that being on holiday in a self-catering cottage gives me ample opportunities to chip away at my “to review” stash. In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been terribly surprising really. Had I been more bold, I could have easily finished off the entire backlog by the end of this week, but sadly I didn’t bring them all with me.

Mikkeller “Henry Gose Lightly”

This beer is fairly pale and clear with a good lingering head. The smell is a bit pineapple (“totally pineapple” – Karen) with a bit of something else sour in there. Maybe rosehip? The flavour is tonguesmashingly sour and acidic. If that’s your sort of thing then I’m very happy for you.

Coast – Idaho 7 IPA

This one has a pale straw colour and is slightly cloudy, with a compact but generally pleasing head. I couldn’t really detect anything of interest in the smell – it’s perhaps one of the most neutral-smelling beers I’ve ever known, though I had just come in from a game of tennis, so it’s possible that my scent receptors were currently asleep after a barrage of sweaty people and those pungent rubbery grips that you get on tennis racquets. Karen took a sip, as she so often does, and remarked that “it tastes like something’s died on your tongue.” Seemed a bit harsh to me. I thought that it wasn’t so bad, it’s fairly hoppy and refreshing. There’s a flavour of some obsure fruit in there that I wasn’t able to identify. I consulted the tasting notes and it says tropical fruits, mango, grapefruit. Yeah, might have been one of those.

Adnams – Sole Star

I had a particular interest in this beer because I really want to like Adnams Ghost Ship Alcohol Free, but failed to find myself being thrilled by it, so hoped that this one might deliver. It’s got a lovely deep ruby colour, and is clear with a hint of head. The aroma is also very inviting, with maltiness and a nice warm berry aspect too. The flavour has some promising proportions, but is let down by being a bit watery and metallic. I gave it to Karen to sample and she very nearly made “the face” but not quite. She said “interesting aftertaste. Floral.” To my surprise, she then went back in for another sip, and this time left me with “malty”. I really did think that this beer would make her pull “the face” but I think she’s starting to get accustomed to beer. Maybe she’ll never pull “the face” again.

Kloster Andechs

As I was pouring this beer, that deep cloudy orange colour and thick creamy head, coupled with the hearty biscuity fruity aroma took me right back to one of my favourites, Maisel’s Weiss. The flavour also bears a striking resemblance, though on balance I would definitely take the Maisel’s over this any day, as this one does have a hint of something fishy that works against it. Still a superb beer though.

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  • "I'd just come in from a game of tennis," as if he'd swaggered in still wearing his whites... - Karen
July 18, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Nine)

(View previous instalments here)

I’m doing my best to keep up with the beer reviews, but the next month’s AFBeerClub box is imminent, and I will soon have another swathe of new beers to review, to add to the small pile that’s already in the garage. But this is my problem, not yours.

Nunc “Hops Monster”

This beer is quite pale, and as you can see from the photo, very thin and fizzy. It’s a kombucha beer, like the Nirvana Ananda, and so it has a very weird sour smell, with a medicinal quality. I passed the glass to Karen for her thoughts. On the smell: “straw and honey”. On the taste: “I quite like that.”

I feel that this beer has a certain pleasing mellowness to it, but also some weird sour corners, and the taste of antiseptic is offputting. This one’s tricky to rate, I’m going to score it thusly, but only just.

Ilkley “Virgin Mary”

The name of this beer has got me thinking about some of the language that we often use when describing alcohol-free alternatives to conventionally alcoholic drinks. I haven’t quite built up my precise thoughts on that yet, but I can’t help feeling like someone somewhere’s trying to insult me. Good luck with that, pal, by now I’m an expert in the art of taking insults.

This beer’s got a nice deep colour and a very promising creamy head. The smell is also very smooth and refreshing. With hopes high, I took a sip, but the flavour didn’t quite deliver. It’s not bad, but there’s a harsh note in there that’s interfering with allowing the natural flavours to fully develop.

Omnipollo “Konx”

Omnipollo are the brewery behind the utterly revolting Nyponsoppa so I cracked this can with some trepidation. This beer is pale and cloudy with a lovely creamy head, and a strong sour smell, though quite well balanced with an easy freshness. The flavour is very pineappley but to me it also tasted like sour vomit, which, in case this is not implicit, is not a desirable flavour to me. Karen liked it, surprisingly, and thought that it was not sour or bitter at all. So while she didn’t exactly say “mmm, yummy vomit”, I can understand that, because I suppose that that’s a very difficult phrase to say.

Lowlander “Cool Earth Lager”

What does it look like? A medium golden colour with a thick pillowy head. What does it smell like? Sweet and floral and highly fragrant. How does it taste? An exotic flavour with a serious and hearty maltiness with a hint of citrus. Karen took a turn at this one: “hmmm, if I gave it time, I think I could get used to that.” Bernard also swept in, as he increasingly does with my alcohol-free beers these days: “I like it.” Yep, I’m happy for this one to join the pantheon of alcohol-free lagers that I come back to again and again.

July 1, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Eight)

(View previous instalments here)

It’s all gone a bit bonkers. First off, the AFBeerClub box this month contained nine beers, none of which I’ve had before. This already gives me a lot of reviews to work my way through. Couple that with the fact that Karen and I have been on holiday in the North of England, which has exposed me to opportunities to try a few more alcohol-free beers that I haven’t had before, and I’m now almost 100% certain that I’m not going to have caught up on the review backlog before the next AFBeerClub box arrives. Which means that this month’s will spill over into next month’s, and I’ll start losing track of which ones came in which month’s box, and it’s going to be utter chaos. Chaos. What fun we’ll have.

Bowness Bay “Swan Zero”

The website claims “handcrafted in the English Lake District” but the brewery is actually in Kendal, so if you’ll permit me a little pedantry, the claim is actually fallacious. Karen and I were struggling to book a table for a Sunday evening in Grasmere, and ended up in a slightly shabby (and not in a cute way) bistro. When we walked in the door, everyone was staring at the wall-mounted television above our heads, blaring out the football. Oh shit, it’s a sports bar, we thought. Leaving seemed like a risky proposition, as there were so few other options. The menu didn’t look too good either – the food options were things like chicken tikka massala, and the only alcohol-free beer was (pinches nose) Becks Blue. But things took a turn for the better when I investigated the bottles of locally-brewed beer on the counter, and one turned out to be an alcohol-free one! We also discovered today’s special was cumberland sausage and mash, which made us a little happier (though the mash turned out to be something that has passed through many stages of life since it was last a potato).

The beer is quite pale, with a head that lingers nicely. The smell is fresh but does have a little hint of something peculiar that reminded me of a swimming pool. The flavour is excellent though, nice and refreshing and crisp and fairly well hopped. There’s always something satisfying about going on holiday and drinking a local beer, and it’s something I’ve sadly had very little opportunity to enjoy in recent years.

Mash Gang – Spiritual Journey

This one poured with a crazy head. I initially only managed to get the glass about 1/4 full, and took a photo for laughs, with the intention of taking another one for the blog post. Unfortunately it looks like the second didn’t get saved, so the first one is what you get.

The beer looks pale and cloudy with a very sour smell. I found the flavour to be quite harsh and a bit fusty. Karen wants to get more involved in this beer reviewing malarkey, so she took a sip too, made “the face”, and then gave me her assessment, which is that it is a bit “herby”.

Ambar – Tostada

This is a dark and malty beer, reminiscent of some of the malty lagers I’ve had like the San Miguel and the Brooklyn Special Effects. It was perfectly drinkable, but felt a little lacking in presence, as if there might be a great beer in there but it had been watered down by 50%. Karen’s thoughts: “it has a tartness; a little tang.”

Warsteiner Fresh

This has a pale to medium golden colour, and smells like a robust lightly-malted German pilsner should. It’s slightly fizzier in the mouth than anticipated, and the flavour has a little biscuitiness to it, but on the whole it delivers what it promises. Karen says “that’s quite beery, isn’t it?” Do you think she might be losing interest in this whole beer-reviewing malarkey already?

June 22, 2021

Pandemic Legacy: May (Part One)

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost April twice in a row
  • There’s zombies now


Opening the mission briefing pack for May, it’s mostly good news. We can now set up roadblocks to prevent the spread of the Faded when outbreaks occur, though these do make travel for player characters more difficult as well. We also have a new character, the Colonel, who can kill zombies, albeit slowly, and who isn’t hampered by the roadblocks. There is a small increase in the infection rate of the Faded – now, whenever a player draws a city card that corresponds to a Faded city, one Faded figure gets added to the relevant city.

We also now have an additional optional objective, which is to have seven quarantined cities at the game end. There are now three optional objectives in total, and we now have to complete two of them.

The initial allocation of disease cubes seemed fairly balanced, though with perhaps slightly more in the black region. We selected our characters – Susan continued to play as Wei, the Dispatcher, and Karen as Ewan, the Quarantine Specialist. I chose Derek, the Operations Expert, and Gammidgy selected the Colonel, who we have named K*D (pronounced “Custard”) and we gave him a relationship of “Rival” to Derek, which means that when one of them plays or discards a city card, the other can immediately pick it back up at a cost of any two city cards.

The game got off to a fairly unlucky start, as an epidemic card was drawn on the very first turn, and the Kinshasa card popped up again, causing an outbreak before we’d even gone halfway around the table.

We were feeling stressed already. We decided to slap some military bases down in Cairo and Tokyo so that we’d be able to make the best use out of the Colonel’s abilities.

An outbreak in Mexico City came along soon after. Both the yellow and black regions were starting to look a bit troubling, and to be honest the blue disease wasn’t looking so controllable either. However, we were gradually managing to get the colour sets together, and by the time the second epidemic card came up, we nearly had a full set of black cards in Ewan’s hand.

The cure for black finally arrived, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. We started to feel a shred of confidence, though we all knew deep down that an epidemic was due soon.

When the epidemic eventually landed, it was in Sydney. So far in the game, we’d been mostly ignoring the Faded cities, as they hadn’t been giving us much trouble, but suddenly we started to pay attention. An outbreak in Sydney could lead to Los Angeles turning to the green side

Little green guys in Sydney having a party

This was soon followed by outbreaks in Paris and Montreal, and nearly every blue city on the board had at least one cube on it.

Outbreak in Paris

Ewan picked up a scar when a Faded appeared unannounced in Tokyo. They now have to discard a city card whenever they leave a city with 3 cubes of the same colour.

Ewan’s new scar

Gammidgy realised that he’d been underutilising the Colonel’s special abilities, so started making a beeline for the hotbed of Faded activity. The inevitable outbreak in Sydney occurred before anyone had a chance to do anything about it, and Los Angeles is now the latest victim to the zombie virus. However, we have been working on the cures – the relationship between Wei and Derek has been especially useful at funnelling city cards, and Derek has been running around the globe lobbing blue city cards over the fence into Wei’s hands. With blue cured, and black eliminated, all that remains is to cure yellow and complete one more optional objective, and the game is ours. The most attainable of the optional objectives now seems to be the one to get military bases in all six regions – we already have three covered, so three more shouldn’t be too hard.

The Colonel was then hit with a huge spate of bad luck. He ended his turn in Taipei, an ostensibly Faded city but with no Faded figures in it, with the intention of then setting out on his next turn to do some good. But an epidemic card turned up, and you guessed it, it was in Taipei. But we were close to winning – Wei had the 5 yellow city cards they needed to find the cure, and we only needed to place two more military bases for the optional objective. We were potentially a mere two or three turns away from victory!

Colonel K*D is surrounded!

But eventually the weight of the Faded got too much to handle. A cascading outbreak originating in Manila meant that outbreak marker once again blasted off the bottom of the track, and the game was over. We now have two cities with “Fallen” status in that region, and to be honest at this point in the campaign it feels like a miracle that it’s only those two.

For our game-end upgrades, we picked the following two:

  • A starting military base in Madrid. We’re starting to see the benefit in military bases, in terms of optional objectives, roadblocks, and fast travel. More military bases is good.
  • We have allocated the “Pilot” character upgrade to Colonel K*D. They now no longer have to discard a city card when taking a direct flight – they do have to have the correct card, but they retain it in their hand.

It was getting late, so we decided to wait until our next playing session to start our second attempt at May.

We have now lost three games in a row. We had fun, but it would be even more fun if we were able to win sometimes. Are we playing this game right? It seems very hard. Maybe we’ve misunderstood the rules. Maybe it’s supposed to be a fiendishly punishing game where losing repeatedly is the expectation.

June 15, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Seven)

(View previous instalments here)

As is often the case these days, all of these beers come from this month’s AFBeerClub box.

Lervig – No Worries Lemon

The “No Worries” range seem to be a recurring theme – this is the third that I’ve tried, and both the default “No Worries” and the pineapple variant scored max points. This beer poured with a colossal head, it is quite cloudy, and has a very tangy smell that is almost exactly like a good robust traditional lemonade. The flavour is reasonably well balanced between a hoppy IPA and a lemonade, which is expertly done, however I’m unconvinced that this works as a concept. Even in tiny quantities, the lemon is bold and dominating. I feel like the end result is a drink that will be unsatisfying to those who were hoping for the refreshingness of a good lemonade, and unsatisfying to those who were hoping for the reassuringness of a hearty beer.

Good Karma – Culture Shock

Difficult can to take a photo of, as the artwork wraps around it so much. The beer is very pale with a good head, and smells a bit like lemonade, though unlike the No Worries, it’s the sort of lemonade that you get in pubs that doesn’t actually bear any resemblance to lemons but you call it lemonade because that’s what you’ve been told it’s called. The flavour is like a sort of grapefruit/elderflower mix, quite delicate but also sharp. It’s not really a beer, more of a quirky soft drink, and it’s making me realise that perhaps I need to make some changes to how I do these reviews, because I seem to be spending an awful lot of time writing beer reviews for things that are beers inasmuch as tomatoes are fruit.

Maltgarden – Free Sunset

This drink is nuclear orange and its head dissipated almost immediately, though it continued to bubble away happily. It had a very tangy smell that reminded me somewhat of the Nyponsoppa, which was a bit of a concern. Thankfully, this drink is nowhere near as obnoxious, and is actually a fairly pleasant concoction that blends mango and coconut. At no point did I even feel remotely like I was drinking a beer, and a 330ml can (rather than an entire pint) would have been plenty.

June 9, 2021

Cooking alphabetically around the world Part 3

In the previous episodes, there was chicken, there was rice, there were meatballs. This update will include all of the above. We are going to go back and fill in some of the letters we missed, and plough on through S, T and U. The next few dishes were planned with a lot of input from Bernard, who has taken an interest in geographical cuisine, and this is to be encouraged.

S: Swedish Meatballs with potato pancakes
I recently acquired a spiralizer, the proper sort with feet, which sometimes makes amazing super-long noodles, and sometimes just burps out little crescents. For the potato pancakes, I started with a Swedish Raggmunk recipe, but couldn’t resist spiralizing the potatoes, which meant that it came out as a massive rosti, instead of neat little pancakes. A lot of internet recipes allow you to adjust the number of servings, which when cooking for a family of three often means ridiculous quantities such as 0.67 of an onion, and because they almost universally work in cups, I have to do a lot of guessing. So that’s by means of explaining why the batter for the potato pancakes was far too thin. I ended up pouring it all into the pan with the potatoes and hoping for the best, so when I turned the pancake, I poured uncooked batter all over the hob. Both the meatballs and the pancakes needed to be fried at the same time, and you can’t make the gravy until the meatballs are cooked because you use the meat juices. All of this was so complicated that I didn’t even think about some sort of vegetable element, and had to hurriedly open a tin of sweetcorn just to ease my own maternal guilt. Served with cranberry instead of lingonberry sauce, this meal was a massive faff to make and an even bigger faff to clean up afterwards, so although it turned out to be delicious and rather substantial, I didn’t enjoy making it and would in future just buy ready made swedish meatballs, which are after all widely available.
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