Football & beer is a balancing act

The new football leagues across are kicking off during the month of August (Sheffield Wednesday thankfully started with a win) and the new English Premier League season starts this weekend. This is not going to be a post about beers and their local teams but rather an emerging trend afflicting both beer and football, the lack of balance.

I had the opportunity to attend a tasting given by Doug Odell recently (more on that later this month) and his family-owned business produce wonderfully balanced beers out of Fort Collins, Colorado. This got me thinking about a number of beers, seasonal or otherwise, that are simply lacking in something. A fair few were using hop assertiveness as a sort of masking-agent in a similar manner to over seasoning a pasta sauce to cover up or more likely to compensate deficiencies. Now, this is where the comparison with football comes in.

Over recent seasons there’s been a rise in the number of goals scored in football matches (see below). In the Premier League for instance, the average has risen from approximately 2.5 goals per game to 2.8 since 2006. In the past three World Cups, it has been a rise from an average of 2.3 to just under 2.7 goals per game. More goals are being scored and worryingly less of premium is now placed on defence. The imbalance within teams can be seen. Take for instance Robin Van Persie and his £24 million transfer to Manchester United back in 2012. The club appears to have calculated in some sort of Moneyball-esque fashion that his 26 goals that title-winning season would more than offset the deficiencies in their back four.

EPL

Fifa

Beers can go one way or the other. They can be too sweet or eye-wateringly bitter but what makes a good beer is balance, a true skill and craft brewers often refine this through trial and error. We can see some of our favourite beers evolving over time but sadly the obverse is also true, how often can we read how some perennial favourites of old are no longer the same (Duvel anyone?). Balance in beer can be subjective of course. Hopheads for instance go looking for the bitterness, although they don’t want to search to hard; they’d rather be hit up front and have it continue right through to the end.

Balance in both beer and football depends on its constituent components. One doesn’t have to sacrifice itself for the sake of another however. A team that can score a shed load of goals and defend well can be a force to be reckoned with. The art of defending is not the same of playing defensively.  It can be the same with beer. Hops, malt, yeast and water can work together in harmony. Take a superb IPA like Magic Rock’s Cannonball, which has got the much desired hop aromas, flavour and bitterness in abundance but is importantly balanced by a sweet malt base. It brings out the sweet citrus flavours. Some of the newer European IPAs are swapping caramel and/or biscuit bases of their American cousins in favour of clean bodies that emphasise the freshness of the hops used. The same rings through with the use of other additions to beer (e.g. herbs, spices and fruit) and their respective impact on other ingredients. Too much coriander in a Belgian Wit for instance and that’s what dominates.

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So last week I finally cracked open a bottle of Vote Sepp from BrewDog, a single hopped wheat beer with hibiscus flower. It’s the latest in their line of beer satirism and Ryanair-like tendency for self-promotion. Their target this time is “tireless football führer, Mr Blatter”, particularly due to the farcical awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar (not just because they’re in the brewing game).

The beer is apparently “best served from brown paper envelopes to aid drinking with greased palms” but I only had a trusty tasting glass at hand. It poured like sparkling rosé, which raised some eyebrows from fellow customers. The head can be best described as a dollop or two of cream. The aroma consisted of floral notes. Thanks to the use of the Motueka hop, it drank dry and flowery. There were lemon and lime flavours too. However, it lacked the anticipated tartness and was more watery than flavoursome as one would hope from the addition of wheat. It was a beer that was lacking and thankfully trying this in Probus Wines, Paul suggested trying it with a squeeze of lemon juice to see how it would be with a higher level of tartness and it undoubtedly improved.

The beer is far from the promised “perfect balance of tartness, bitterness and body”. Was this the final satirical poke from the BrewDog boys?  Fifa, the Blatter-headed organisation, which manages the beautiful game is intensely disliked due to accusations of bribery, fraud and the like? Is it similar to watching the Premiership on Sky Sports that tells us the very game was a cracker even though we watched it with our very eyes and came to a different conclusion? If it is, then fair play to Fraserburgh’s finest for pulling it off, otherwise this beer is simply living off their hype. Some of these releases, while small batched, put me off their better balanced beers in terms of Punk IPA, the often under-appreciated 5am Saint and of course Hardcore IPA.

But with the new season upon us, one can only hope the quality of the football and the beer will improve through achieving better balance…

The Red Devils: bitter in victory or defeat thanks to the USA

Ahead of tonight’s match between the USA and Belgium in the second round of the World Cup in Brazil, I thought what better way to mark this game then by doing a piece on the transatlantic knowledge exchange of hops. This is the first of two pieces I’m doing on hoppy Belgian beers. This piece focusses on the Tripel style with the anti certainly upped in terms of hop usage. A lot has happened since Urtherl Hop-It first burst onto the scene back in 2005.

A popular standard bearer has to be the excellent La Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel The beer pours a hazy golden colour with lemon and herbs on the nose. It’s a case of initial sweetness meets dry bitterness, thanks to the addition of Tommahwak (houblon being the French word for hops).  There’s a good bitter bite in the huge finish. Good on draught but better in the bottle. Beer lore has it that this beer from the Ardennes took the mantle of the bitterest Belgian beer title away from Orval. Following on from Brasserie d’Achouffe founded back in 1981the beer itself being sold for the first time in 2006, new and old breweries have been pushing the boundaries for beers much as new breweries around the world have been doing for brewing traditions in their countries.

Sometimes it's good to be bitter
Sometimes it’s good to be bitter

Achouffe is part of the Duvel Moorgat collection of breweries, which owns the likes of Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York. It also owns Vedett, a beer known more for the different photos on back of the bottle (making the drinker the star) rather than for a memorable drink. The beer became fashionable in Brussels about a decade ago and so it is surprising that it too has come out with an IPA. Billed as a 6% abv “extra ordinary” IPA, it pours a clear golden colour. It is topped by a fair amount of Belgian lace. There are plenty of tropical fruit notes on the nose. It drinks bitter and fairly sweet with the prerequisite bitter finish. However, it is slightly lacking in the body and makes this beer nothing extraordinary.

Vedette "Extra Ordinary" IPA
Vedett “Extra Ordinary” IPA

Last but not least is a beer for tonight’s match between the US and de Rode Duivels, les Diables Rouges, die Roten Teufel (one mustn’t forget about the small German-speaking area) or to us, simply the Red Devils. Duvel is one of the more instantly recognisable Belgian beers out there and perhaps this has affected the level of respect shown to it. It remains a good benchmark for Belgian strong golden ales. However, to regain some of the interest in Devil beer (Duvel being Flemish for devil), they produced an extremely limited edition triple hop version back in 200. Amarillo was added to the usual hop mix of Czech Saaz and Styrian Goldings. Due to the campaigning of a Belgian beer club, the Lambikstoempers (they collected 17,000 signatures through a Facebook campaign), the beer was brewed once more in 2010. Thankfully by 2012, it was decided to make Tripel Hop an annual limited release but changing the third hop variety used in each edition. Besides Amarillo, versions with Citra© and Sorachi Ace have also been sold.

Sensory overload with Duvel Tripel Hop in a "ballon"
Sensory overload with Duvel Tripel Hop in a “ballon”

Duvel Tripel Hop 2014 features the powerhouse addition of Mosaic. This is a hop that packs in as much of the hop aromas prized in new world hops. There are lashings of citrus, tropical fruits, herbs and pine. However, it’s grapefruit that emerges successfully from the fight with the pear and pepper aroma from the beer’s yeast. The Duvel glass, the “ballon” makes drinking the classic Duvel a real pleasure but this glass comes into its own with Tripel Hop. The collective aroma from the beer becomes pleasurably intoxicating, all the more with the artistry in the glass due to the pour of Duvel. A light golden colour topped with a spectacular head. It initially drinks dry and slightly bitter. Duvel is known for being sublimely effervescent but this version takes it to another level and becomes sherbert-like in the finish. Intriguing for a beer that comes in at 9.5% abv.

Regardless of who wins the match tonight, it’s interesting to know that both countries’ supporters are thankful for the brewing traditions of the other.