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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Funky Cool Medina



The day I finally finished Shakespeare's Local and pressed 'send' to the publishers, I was combining my final proof read with a  few long overdue brewery visits.

I spent the morning and early afternoon in Ilkley, at the ambitious new brewery that's turning heads after just two and a half years and already straining at the seams of the new brewery site they moved into last year.

They're quite shrewd, brewing a range of beers spanning from the light session beers beloved of the archetypal Yorkshire drinker, through to some pretty kooky experimental beers.

No prizes for guessing what they wanted to brew when they invited both me and Melissa Cole to brew within a few days of each other.

This was a proper 'Collabrew' (that's my new word) in which I got to have real input into what we were brewing.  Ilkley wanted to brew a dark saison.  We both love saison for the hints of spice and farmyard funkiness they offer.  The thought behind this brew was sod hints, let's go for full expression.  So we used a saison yeast, lots of pale malt, a hint of crystal and a bit of torrefied wheat and dehusked carafa malt, aiming for a target strength of 6% ABV.

We then got a bit of the wort and started muddling different varieties of hop in the glass, trying out different combinations. The Ilkley chaps wanted to stick some New World hops in, and I was looking for something with an orangey nose to complement everything else we were about to bung in.  We settled on Saaz hops for bittering, and Amarillo and Summit for aroma.

Finally, near the end of the boil we added 2kg of dried orange peel, 300g of ground coriander, 150g of ground ginger and 60g of grains of paradise - an intense, aromatic peppercorn.

This was going to be a big beer, the kind of beer that would walk up to a bar and get served before you, even though it was your turn.  The kind of beer that, if it was a dog, and you took it for a walk, would pull you along disobediently, hunkering down and dragging you with its muscly forelegs.

When I tasted it after the boil, the spices didn't quite punch me in the face, but they did bunch my collar in their fists and hold me up against the wall.  Taste memories of North Africa flashed through my brain, and I jokingly tweeted that I suspected we had just invented a new beer style - Moroccan Saison.  And so Medina was named - a beer to warm the heart on cold Saharan nights, a beer whose rugged boldness would not suffer fools.

It didn't work out like that - at least, not quite.

No one quite knows what happened in the fermenter.  Wonderful things happen in fermenting vessels all the time, and our understanding of what and why is still hazy at best.

As it matured, our bold, spicy beer became smooth, sophisticated and urbane.  It took a degree, started reading the classics and listening to Mahler.  When it came out the other end, it was still big and powerful - it would still muscle to the bar and get served before you.  But when it did, it would say, "No, I believe this gentleman was here before me."

The finished beer suggests exoticism and travel, but with a refined air.  It's incredibly smooth and silky, more like a chocolate porter than a saison.  That must come from the dehusked carafa - unless someone bunged in a load of chocolate malt when no one was looking.  But it's amazing what a difference it made given that this dark malt made up less than 5% of the total malt bill.

That smoothness opens out into a gentle, subtle but rounded fruitiness in the mouth, with a touch of vanilla.  And then, the spices build in the way they do in a very good curry - gentle at first at the back of the mouth, then slightly more assertive, a dry, peppery spice that gives the palate a definite but quite polite buzz.

Melissa brewed a similarly outlandish 'rhubarb saison' called Siberia, which I got to taste briefly at Craft Beer Co when my beer launched there a couple of weeks ago.  I was a little hazy by that point (Medina is 6% and very drinkable, and I always make the mistake of thinking I'm drinking less of beers like that by drinking halves) but I remember it being deliciously fruity and aromatic.  You can read a little more detail on that at Melissa's blog.

I was very chuffed to hear that Medina had sold out before it had even left the fermenter, and it's been getting great feedback from those people lucky enough to get hold of some - I managed to get another pint down at the new Cask Pub and Kitchen in Brighton at the weekend.

What I liked most about these experimental beers was the sense of fun that went with them.  We had a great time brewing them and I certainly had a lovely time drinking them.  They're not the most 'out there' beers I've had in recent weeks - I'll be talking more about some other ones very soon - but I've been really enjoying pushing the flavour boundaries.

There is a degree of cynicism about beers like this in some quarters, and doubtless there will be a few outraged trainspotters either denying that a Moroccan Saison could ever exist, or struggling to find the right place for it in beer's ever-expanding taxonomy.  Sod them - it was a great beer to brew, a great beer to drink, and it makes people happy, so I'm happy too.

Doubtless there is a little bit of Emperor's New Clothes around some experimental corners of beer production - as Tandleman recently averred.  But I've recently been enjoying both experiments such as this, and the joys of the traditional session pint.  There's so much binary, black-and-white thinking in the beer world (even the sub-editors of the above piece misrepresented it as an attack on experimental beer, when if you read what I wrote, it's patently not).  We all love talking about how beer is such a wonderfully diverse drink.  What on earth is the problem with diversity?  And what's the problem with stretching that diversity further?  If it's a bad beer, it's a bad beer.  Maybe it'll be a good one next time.

Thanks to Ilkley for allowing me to co-create a very nice one indeed - I hope they brew it again soon.

17 comments:

Real Ale Up North said...

Excellent post Pete. The beer sounds superb and cant wait to try it. I was invited to the Ilkley brewery a few weeks ago. Stewart Ross was the perfect host.They brew some excellent beers.

Phil said...

There's so much binary, black-and-white thinking in the beer world

No there isn't.

Craig said...

pete, you done a fantastic job describing what I would call the James Bond of beers.

Jordan St.john said...

Is this collaboration brewing with beer writers a new thing in England? I've been doing that for a year or so. It's fun because beer writers have just enough distance to think of things that might not occur to a brewer. We ended up doing a staghorn sumac saison that we called Manitou.

http://saintjohnswort.ca/2011/08/18/so-you-want-to-be-a-brewer-st-johns-wortcheshire-valley-manitou/

DJ said...

So that's 450 grams of ground ginger then.

Pete Brown said...

Whoops - that should have been 300g of ground coriander. And I've corrected the bit about 'terrified wheat' as well.

Blimmin spellcheck.

Mystal said...

Why put a picture of a mosque on the beer?

Alex said...

@Mystal, to provoke comics like this one: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2012/04/11/

Pete Brown said...

Mystal,

How do you know it's a Mosque?

It's an image that evokes North Africa/Morocco.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

fink it’s a minaret actually… ;-)

shakil_90 said...

If it looks like a mosque and has a minaret what do you expect people to think, that it's an alien spaceship? Combine that with the name - the 2nd holiest city in Islam - and it's bound to offend. Perhaps a little common sense wouldn't go amiss, regardless of the intention. The name Medina and the image of a minaret aren't the first things people associate with N Africa, a camel however would be.

Pete Brown said...

Just spoken about this on the BBC Asian Network. I'm not going to get into a lengthy discussion about it because I don't think it merits one, but here's what I've got to say on the point about causing offence.

If you're a Muslim, you think of 'Medina' as a holy city, and I respect that. However, I didn't even know Medina was the second most holy city in Islam until this morning because there's no reason why I should. If you're not a Muslim - and most people in the UK are not - you don't think of a holy city at all, but of dense city centres in North Africa, specifically Morocco and Tunisia, where there are a great many city centre districts called medinas - and where, incidentally, beer is sold because alcohol is legal in those countries.

So which meaning of Medina are we linking to?

Well, given that it says 'Moroccan Saison' on the label, I don't think there can be any doubt that we are referring specifically to the word in its north African sense not its Muslim holy sense. (In Arabic it literally means 'town', not 'holy place' or anything like that).

The word has two meanings. And while Islam has one set of associations with the word, I'm afraid it doesn't own the word or have a monopoly on it. Given that we have very clearly pointed out that we are using the word NOT in its Islamic religious sense, I completely reject the idea that there are reasonable grounds for Muslims to take offence.

Furthermore, this beer is only available in a handful of pubs - places you wouldn't expect to see very many practising Muslims - and on my blog, which, again, I wouldn't expect anyone who is a strict, practising Muslim to have the slightest interest in reading. So I think you would actually have to go quite far out of your way to take offence at this beer.

If we were deliberately trying to cause offence - as some have argued - we could have done so much more effectively by calling the beer 'Mecca', or even 'Mohammed'. Of course we never would do such a thing, because that really would be offensive, and because we genuinely had no desire to create any offence. And anyway - I don't think pissing off a large group of people has ever been noted as a particularly effective selling tool in any market.

As for why we chose Medina instead of other words like Marrakech, Casablanca, Souk etc - we could have, and we did kick a few alternatives around. But we chose Medina precisely because it was the word that most strongly evoked the sights and sounds, and more importantly the smells and tastes, that make a trip to Marrakech so wonderful, and which this beer so strongly recreates.

As for the image - it reflects a generic, romantic sense of place. I don't think it looks like a spaceship. I don't think it looks like a mosque. I think it looks like the kind of image anyone would use to evoke a sense of place, whether you were talking about the Arabian Nights tales, Aladdin, holidays to North Africa or the Middle East whatever.

author said...

As someone just noted on my site, in Spain there is a beer called Mesquita (Spanish for Mosque) freely available in supermarkets. No Muslim has yet decided to take offence at that Mosque beer.

I believe this Medina controversy just reflects the opportunism of certain UK Muslim "community leaders" who saw a chance to make themselves feel important by stirring up a bit of trouble.

As Pete says, you'd really have to go out of your way to take offence at this. It is sad that some people think it is worth the round trip.

Anonymous said...

Amazingly, no-one here has mentioned the Tone Loc track "Funky Cold Medina", which is clearly alluded to in the beer's name. I trust that those who are offended by this beer will also contact Mr Loc to demand that he withdraw his disgracefully titled record from sale.

MadProfOldfield said...

Pete, glad you enjoyed your time in Ilkley. The beer sounds fantastic I cant wait to try it. I tried some of Melissa's Siberia last night in Bartat in Ilkley and it was fabulous.

Regarding the naming, no one has mentioned that Mecca has been a gambling brand in the UK for as long as I can remember.

Some folk will find offence in anything. A tiny bit sad how narrow minded people can be.

Xavier said...

@Pete Brown

Exactly. And Muslims offended by this is either ignorant at the fact that medina is a generic word meaning town (ie, there are many medinas is north african countries) or they just intentionally want to make trouble.

Shame really, this type of bullying attitude among muslims does more damage to their own community than anything else.

Rock & Roll Doctor said...

Hi Pete
Drank a lovely pint of this beer in Old No 7 in Barnsley on Tuesday.
Very good indeed.
Had to put my glasses on to read the pump clip before I realised what it was called I was attracted to the word Saison myself didn't take anymore notice other than the fact I like Ilkley Brewery beers and read your blog
Cheers
Rock & Roll Doc