Thursday, 29 November 2012

And Yet More Beer Tasting

I assembled a further 6 craft beers for tasting, none of which I had ever tried before. I tasted each of them from a glass; over a few days, mind, I didn't sit down and guzzle a six-pack. Then I scored them on a 1 - 10 scale where 1 means 'I'll never buy that again, yuck' and 10 means 'I've just ordered another 50 bottles'.

Here they are:

1. Little Creatures Pale Ale by Little Creatures Brewing Pty Ltd (Fremantle, WA), 5.2% alcohol.

What they say: "To enjoy this beer, drink it from a glass."

What I say: I did drink it from a glass; it had a modest head and a caramel smoothness that made it slide down easily. Pale gold in colour. I particularly liked the fact that it had a Best Before date.

Andrew Score: 8

2. Little Creatures Bright Ale by Little Creatures Brewing Pty Ltd (Fremantle, WA), 4.5% alcohol.

What they say: Nothing whatsoever

What I say: Almost identical in taste to the Pale Ale above. Very pale gold in colour. I actually preferred the lower alcohol content by the end of the glass.

Andrew Score: 9

3. Mountain Goat Organic Steam Ale by Mountain Goat Beer Pty Ltd (Richmond, VIC), 4.5% alcohol.

What they say: " This is a certified organic steam ale. It's the product of an all-natural brewing process that incorporates cool fermentation and a hit of wheat malt. The result is a palate cleansing ale. "

What I say: I prefer beer descriptions that don't pretend to be relatives of wine descriptions. I realised while I was tasting it that I should have tried this one and the Little Creatures Pale Ale side by side, as they are very similar in appearance and taste.

Andrew Score: 8

4. Mountain Goat Hightail Ale by Mountain Goat Beer Pty Ltd (Richmond, VIC), 4.5% alcohol.

What they say: " A good beer is a natural beer. The Hightail is bottle conditioned and free of preservatives. "

What I say: Don't tell you much, do they? In fact this is a traditional dark ale with a huge head (it took over 5 minutes to get all 330ml into the glass). Lovely dark amber colour, the taste is almost but not quite closer to a Bitter than an Ale. Its naturalness is evident by the amount of sediment in the bottom of the glass.

Andrew Score: 7

5. William's Organic Pale Ale by William Bull Brewing Company (Bilbul, NSW), 4.5% alcohol

What they say: " William's Pale is a true Australian brew. Clean fresh citrus flavours make William's Pale Ale smooth on the tongue, long on the quench and refreshingly easy to drink. "

What I say: 'Long on the quench.' Say what? In fact this is another Pale Ale comparable to the Little Creatures version. A smooth caramel flavour like the Little Creatures, the difference here is the colour, which is very pale indeed. As usual I didn't get any citrus flavous.

Andrew Score: 7

6. Cricketer's Arms Natural Long Brew Lager by Sundance Brewing (Melbourne, VIC), 4.6% alcohol

What they say: " Cricketer's Arms is brewed longer to deliver an extra dry lager. Made with sun dried Australian malt, Cricketer's is infused with Amarillo hops imparting an intriguing citrus character to the aroma and flavour. " Mind you, I had to get out a magnifying glass to read all that; you certainly don't want to waste label space describing your product, do you.

What I say: I took a sip and thought: "Hey, that's nice." So I took another sip and thought: "No, that's really nice." Then I set the glass aside, or thought I did, while I pootled off to do something else for a couple of minutes; when I returned the glass was empty: "Hey, who drank my beer?" Since I do these tastings home alone, there is only one possible answer to that.

I've subsequently bought a six-pack in the hope that I could get one glass to stay full long enough for me to describe the head, the colour, the aroma, the flavour. No chance. You're going to have to buy it yourself.

Andrew Score: 10

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Black Gold

I recently read a book 'Black Gold: A Dark History Of Coffee' by Antony Wild, published by Harper Perennial in 2005 (ISBN 1 84115 656 6). Antony Wild worked for thirteen years for the UK's foremost speciality coffee roaster, and is credited with introducing speciality coffees into the United Kingdom. He subsequently worked as a journalist and has written several books. In other words, he is well placed to know what he is writing about.

About the only person to emerge from the book with his reputation intact is Napoleon Bonaparte. Wild is especially scathing of empires and their corruptions. Here's a taste of what he has to say about the Americans:

" The Western Hemisphere produces two-thirds of the world's coffee and consumes a third of it. As the biggest single consuming nation (some 25 percent of worldwide production) the USA has, with impeccable economic foresight, regarded the countries of Central, and to a lesser extent South, America, as Uncle Sam's back yard. Although overt colonialism is making a comeback, the USA, until relatively recently, has adopted a covert approach to the achievement of its economic hegemony in Central and South America. Much of this was driven by two considerations: countering the threat of 'Communism' (or indeed anything with the faintest taint of socialism), and maintaining regimes 'sympathetic' to America and American business in place, which have in nearly every case been oligarchical or military. As the latter created the conditions in which the former flourished, there was always a fundamental structural weakness in the strategy, causing problems that could be countered only by ever more repressive regimes. Thus in support of this flawed approach these countries have witnessed, and continue to witness, an unending series of acts of state terrorism perpetrated by the USA in the form of interference in the electoral process through violence and intimidation, assassination, funding of guerrilla armies and death squads, illicit gun and drug running, and, when considered necessary, direct military intervention. " pp 232- 233.

It would have taken me 10 paragraphs to say all that, and the end result wouldn't have been half as lucid. Highly recommended reading.

Monday, 12 November 2012


A lot of Americans trumpet the idea that the USA is the home of the world's only genuine democracy, where decisions are made democratically (by vote) rather than by fiat. That this is not in any way true doesn't seem to deter them. It's not even true in California, where a heck of a lot that should be decided by elected politicians is in fact decided by referendum, thereby pretty much making the state ungovernable. It certainly isn't true for the USA as a whole.

You are probably aware that the USA recently voted in a presidential election. Pundits had been predicting for months that Barack Obama (Dem.) would defeat Mitt Romney (Rep.) by a sizable margin. When that is exactly what happened they all jumped onto their blogs to congratulate themselves.

In fact, the result was very close, and had the Republicans used the same polling day strategies as the Democrats it's quite possible that Romney would have won.

Here's the problem: in the USA, voting in the presidential election is optional (this is the case for lower tiers of government as well). Now some states are rusted-on Republican and some are rusted-on Democrat, and there's little you can do to change the outcome in those states, so everybody concentrates on the so-called 'swing states'. In addition to the usual blitz of TV ads and candidate speeches and rallies, on polling day both sides release armies of volunteers to go from house-to-house offering to transport voters to polling booths, thus capturing the apathetic who wouldn't vote at all.

This year the Democrats did exactly that in the time-honoured fashion (they might bribe voters with a free sandwich too, I don't know). The Republicans decided to adopt 2 strategies that were contrary to tradition: first, they held huge rallies in two key swing states (Ohio and Pennsylvania) on polling day, thereby removing vast numbers of volunteers to stand around for hours yelling silly slogans instead of transporting voters.

Second, and much worse, they rolled out a new computerised system based on mobile phones which would alert the volunteers to who had not yet voted, so they didn't waste time knocking on the doors of people who had already voted. The system was called ORCA.

ORCA didn't work, and large numbers of volunteers sat around doing nothing all day waiting for a phone call which would tell them where to go to collect voters. The call never came, and the phone number they were supposed to call to report problems with the system never answered.

It's quite possible that had the Republicans either used a system that had been properly tested in the real world, or alternatively decided to use tried-and-true methods, they could have scooped up enough apathetic voters to alter the outcome in enough key states for Romney to get home.

But even with the committed rolling out to vote and the Democrat volunteers scooping up far more of the apathetic than the Republicans, the eventual outcome was decided by almost exactly 50% of the electorate. So a whisker over 25% of eligible voters voted for Obama; as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad scathingly commented, that's hardly a mandate (although in his case his army of volunteers rigged the vote so he got 95%, which isn't exactly a mandate either).

It's reasonable assumption that people who are too apathetic to vote in a presidential election are going to be just as apathetic in other elections too. The historical trend has been that voter turnout in presidential elections in the USA has been declining from a high of 80% in the 1830's to a low of 50% in the 1920's, rising to 60% in the sixties and then declining again to the 50% of the present day.

So this what true democracy looks like, where 50% just don't care (or are too fat to get out their front doors)?