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Blessed by Playboy

My name is a mixed blessing. Its downside, as you might expect, is tedious exposure to the same not-very-inventive jokes, especially from people who imagine I have never heard them before. The upside is the odd eye-catching headline.

Playboy magazine just came up with THE JACKSON FIVE, and asked me to choose a handful of favorite beers for a mention in the issue datelined May (on the newsstands during the month of April: buy now, while stocks last).

A fun headline, that, and one that should be in regular use. (Feel free to suggest it to them, but don't tell them that we share a pint each evening in the Beer Hunter bar).

Playboy likes snappy headlines, and I have contributed a few myself. All those years on the headline shift in Fleet Street were not wasted -- and I learned a lot about beer during the evening break.

"The five best brews for summer" was Playboy's call.

"The five best brews for summer" was Playboy's call. "From anywhere in the world," they added. If you want an excuse to buy Playboy, say you are looking for beer advice, though my working notes (reproduced below) are longer than the story (on P48, "Mantrack").

When I successfully proposed a similar (but full-length) story, called THE SUMMERTIME BREWS, back in 1985, I daringly cited a Kriek and Anchor Wheat, but those were unsophisticated days. For the benefit of beer-deficient states, I found myself mentioning (albeit in passing) such exotica as Shiner, Tecate and Nordik Wölf (remember that?).

I always knew things would change. My first ever story for Playboy, in 1983, was called BEER CHIC. I guess I was predicting a phenomenon as much as reporting on it. I did manage to mention Chimay, German wheat beers and Anchor Steam, but they were balanced with more readily available (then) "super-premiums" such as Stroh's Signature and Erlanger. Despite my best efforts to cater both for early beer-geeks and Light Beer Loyalists, I upset both. The geeks objected to my having mentioned Michelob, while a Loyalist disputed my right to cite Geyer Bavarian Dark, from Frankenmuth, Michigan. That very old regional brewery folded soon afterwards. I hope the Loyalist is happy.

I get more response to my occasional items in Playboy than from any other magazine or newspaper. And you thought people only looked at the photographs...

The Jackson Five

"The Champagne of the North", said Napoleon's troops, describing the sharply sparkling Weisse ("white") wheat-beer of Berlin. It is served in glasses like over-sized Champagne saucers, sometimes with candy-striped straws. The beer is so tartly thirst-cutting that Germans calm it with raspberry juice or essence of woodruff. The city's Kindl brewery sends not only its Berliner Weisse beer but also the sweetening syrups to soothe the thirsts of America.

Another winey description, "the Burgundies of Belgium", is sometimes applied to the oak-aged red ales of Flanders. These, too, are sharply refreshing, with a taste that reminds some drinkers of passion-fruit. Belgians sometimes sweeten them with grenadine, but connoisseurs prefer them straight. The best known example, available in the U.S, is Rodenbach.

Wheat beers are different in Belgium. They are flavoured with Curacao orange peels and ground coriander seeds. One of the best I have tasted is actually made in the U.S., by the Brooklyn Brewery. It's called Blanche de Brooklyn. Crisp, dry, and deliciously drinkable. (Yes, blanche means "white" in French, but this beer is a hazy gold, like a summer's evening).

There is nothing more obviously summery that a fruit beer. "World champion" medals have been won by New Glarus Cherry Beer. New Glarus is a Swiss town in Wisconsin, but the beer is another Belgian-American love-affair. The cherries seal the marriage: they are from Brussels, Wisconsin. Perhaps that is why the fruitiness is so fresh.

The Anchor Brewery, of San Francisco, is famous for its Steam Beer, the first style of brew invented in America. The brewery also makes a strong, tawny, wintry, brew called Old Foghorn. Such a dense infusion of grains is needed for Old Foghorn that a second brew can be extracted from it. This is packed with appetising, flowery, hoppy, flavors, but light in body and low in alcohol. It's called Small Beer. That's more than a metaphor, Mr Shakespeare, it's a great little brew: so "small" that you can drink lots of it.

Published: APR 17, 2001
In: Beer Hunter Online

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