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…

Super Bowl Sunday picking a winner

This is one of those in the sporting calendar which has a lot of traditions attached to it. The FA Cup Final used to have some of it, when we’d hear about how many kettles were boiling and toilets flushing at halftime. I have never experienced “Super Bowl Sunday” first hand in the US. Most of what I associate with it comes from various TV shows which have a Super Bowl themed episode. My experience tends to come from trying to stay awake and wondering if It’s worth the trade-off in terms of having to go to work the next morning, usually tiredness wins out regardless.

One of the most intriguing aspects besides the whole concept of the “halftime show”, is the excitement generated for the big budget ads shown during the countless interruptions to the game (again something we don’t get during our coverage of the game). It was an ad break during Super Bowl XXIX that the infamous Budweiser frogs first appeared and let’s not even go near “wassup” (an ad during Monday Night Football). Needless to say YouTube will have each one available shortly after broadcast and we can see for ourselves what the creative agencies pushing the macros have come up with this year.

Today’s match up sees the Denver Broncos with the best offence facing off against the best defence in the form of the Seattle Seahawks. I toyed with the idea of doing a sort of beer Super Bowl but it was hard to get some of the great beers from Colorado that were around last summer and autumn particularly those from Odell (who could forget deconstruction), Oskar Blues and Left Hand. I could have perhaps turned to Flying Dog, which has its spiritual home in the Rockies before escaping to Maryland. Rather unfortunately we also have a distinct lack of great beers on this side of the Atlantic from Washington State. I would have had to turn to Redhook, which would have courted some controversy from beer aficionados for its “Budhook” connotations. Perhaps we could’ve hand a Redhook v Blue Moon (if we took some of the seasonal collection) shoot-out.

So with time running out, I decided to opt for one beer only and one that reflects the game for me. This year’s game has an added twist because of the weather factor. It’s being played out doors for the first time in 42 years and the venue being New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the successor to Giants Stadium which of course was home to one of the greatest days in Irish sport. So much talk during the two weeks leading up to the game was about the cold snap (polar vortex anyone?) and the potential for snow. The most interviewed person was not Peyton Manning but the NFL’s official Super Bowl weatherman. Taking all this and the fact that I’m picking Denver for no other reason but having seen more of them this season, I have opted for Accumulation from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery.

I really like this brewery and am a fan of their iconic Fat Tire (amber ale) and their black lager 1554. They can really brew and perhaps like Sierra Nevada they’ve become a little bit of a victim of their own success in that people see them as too familiar. Just wait until they try their Rodenbach-inspired La Folie and other Belgian interpretations. They haven’t called themselves New Belgium just to be clever. I hope that they will soon follow their neighbours and also family-owned brewery from Fort Collins (i.e. Odell) to this part of the world. This may be sooner that we think, they’re expanding like Sierra Nevada with a new East Coast brewery in North Carolina.

Accumulation was the brewery’s winter seasonal and it’s a white IPA. Sure why not? Apart from the classic and black IPAs, Uncle Sam would be proud we now have the red and the white and all we need now is a blue IPA (A step too far? I once worked at the International Food Expo, which had a tribute to “blue” food). Now back to Accumulation, it pours a hazy light straw colour that was topped with a vibrant creamy white head that gave way for a thick band around the rim. There’s fresh citrus and pine on the nose. Amarillo and Mosaic are the workhorses here. It is initially bitter but allows some sweetness to come through. A mild and pleasant bitterness remains in the aftertaste of this 6.2% brew.

The brewery chose Accumulation for their winter seasonal to demonstrate that not all winter beers need to be dark. It might not be too your taste or you might prefer other styles, but in many ways it reflects our approach to American Football. Regardless both are increasingly popular at this time of year.

Post-game follow-up: Well that was a surprising result, no one expected the Seahawks to completely dominate the game and for the Broncos to capitulate like they did. Another surprise was the weather apparently was a balmy 7ºC at kick-off. The ads involved at one time Arnold Schwarzenegger playing table tennis, Anna Kendrick plugging Newcastle Brown Ale (still so popular Stateside), a puppy and a clydesdale (guess who?), as well as Don Cheedle and a llama because why the hell not?

I may have gotten it wrong about the result of the game but I watch it more out of curiosity than anything else but I still think Accumulation was worth the punt.