Tuesday 31 December 2013

Healthy Living - Happy New Year

Here we are again. You know feel like a fat oink. You just know you ate too much of the wrong stuff at Christmas, you didn't do enough exercise and, well, let's not think about your liver.

A resolution, you know, that's the solution. We are all wicked and pursue an evil assault on our bodies. As a result the NHS is struggling to cope with all you damn evil unhealthy people. Diet, detox, give up smoking, alcohol, chocolate, fried food and everything else that is bad for you. Book into a gym, go for a run three times a week and get out those rust covered weights from the shed. Turn over a new leaf, it's the thing you must do, else you will die at an early age from some-thing-or-other.

Really? Well, I don't buy it. Sure, I do feel a little bloated after Christmas. I did give up smoking a few years ago, and I'm quite proud of that. Yes, stopping smoking will almost certainly mean I'll live longer. I also don't spend money on tobacco, what a waste on money that is. But if that's what you want, go on, why not?

Because we're told that unhealthy lifestyles cost the NHS money, that's why you shouldn't smoke, or drink, or eat bacon, or burgers. So, stop your damn smoking and drinking.

But wait. 70 years ago when the NHS was formed, we spent around 4% of GDP on the NHS. Today it is around 8%. It is forecast to get to approaching 13% in the next 50 years, depending on what forecast you look at. No one is forecasting a drop, not even those silly people that would like to make it so.

There are of course all sorts of reasons for this increase in NHS costs. The fact that technology is increasing in it's ability to treat previously untreatable illnesses. The fact that we feel healthcare is worth more than just money, so perhaps we should treat, if the technology is available, irrespective of cost.

Now, I'm not here to make some sort of political point over the NHS. I've no doubt someone will jump in the comments and do so, but I'd rather not get tangled up in that nasty little argument. Needless to say, funding what I believe to be a fantastic health care model into the future is a headache, and no mistake.

But, it does annoy me that we are told smoking, drinking and eating bad food is costing the NHS money. IT IS NOT. (FFS!!!!) - one of the reasons the NHS costs us more money is because people are living longer, due to the general public living healthier. We smoke less, we drink less, we eat more healthily, as a general rule. An ageing population, that lives longer due to constant mind control to improve healthy living produces an ageing population that has a greater burden on healthcare.

Back in the bad old days everyone smoked and drank themselves to death, mortality was greater, life expectancy was shorter. There were not so many old people around, clogging up GPs waiting rooms with ailments.

So, I'm off for a skinful, it's New Years Eve after all. Then next week I might go for a run or two, and try and manage my five-a-day, but I'll not bother with any of this silly detox nonsense, that's for sure.

"If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving, you don't actually live longer; it just seems longer." - Clement Freud.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Green Tea and Szechuan Pepper

In our home town, indeed in Cumbria as a whole, it can be difficult to get hold of some of the more esoteric culinary ingredients. I have recently developed a liking for green tea. I have for a long time liked szechuan pepper for use in various dishes. When we visited Manchester for IndyManBeerCon we had a look around China Town for such items.

And this is why I was sat opposite Yvan Seth with a carrier bag full of such items. "Are they for your next brew?" he asked "No, just for domestic supplies" I replied "Although......" 

It was one of those moments. I had been looking for something a little different for Rhetoric III for a while, but couldn't think of anything that hadn't been done before. OK, green tea has been used, and pepper in beer is not entirely new. But green tea and szechuan pepper...... that was worthy of thought.

I seem to remember that I possibly feigned disinterest in the idea, fearful that Yvan might take the idea away and apply it elsewhere before I had a chance to implement it.

However, a couple of weeks ago, armed with 5kg of green tea and 1kg of said peppercorns we made a great big wort of around 11301 - we're not entirely sure as our hydrometers can't get up this high. Cutting the wort with water to get into range leaves me with an amount of doubt as to it's accuracy of measurement.

This wort is now, as I type, down to less than 1050, and the yeast is showing signs of weakness at the approximately 11.5% ABV already attained. There should be some fermentables left in there so it's time for a packet of champagne yeast to keep it going. Besides, we're going to dump some glucose in there too, should get above 13% I hope, making a new Hardknott record for ABV.

Never mind ABV, whilst that is important, taste and aroma was what I was looking for. It's an IPA style beer. Normally at these alcohol concentrations I use a Belgian yeast, as it seems to do well. However, I wanted a cleaner flavour. Using a regular American Ale yeast should do the trick, but I had never gone this high with such a strain.

So far, although still mucky and heavy with yeast, the beer has a surprisingly clean favour. A hint of spice but none of that estery thing going on. No bananas or cloves. Good IPA feel, if a little lacking in bitterness. But the aroma is heaven. The pepper is perhaps understated, but there and somehow seems to lift the green tea to new delights. And a nice tingle on the lips.

The tingle is interesting, and I might just get into trouble for pointing out the Interesting stimulant effect it might have.

This beer, Rhetoric III, should be ready before the end of January. Look out for it.


1Yes, you are right, you can't extract sugar from either green tea or peppercorns. We did use malt, and malt extract and quite a bit of sugar too.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Freetrade Tap Takeover

One of the best pub views in the world has to be from The Freetrade Inn. OK, there are some over in our part of the world, with The Lakes on our doorstep, that trump it. But for an urban pub, the view over the Tyne, especially when the sun is setting, makes for a nicely augmented drinking experience.

Tomorrow night, Thursday, we are holding a tap takeover at this particularly delightful place. We'll have the great array of Hardknott Beers.

We will have, on keg - Vitesse Noir, Queboid and Colonial Mayhem and on cask there will be Infra Red, Azimuth, Code Black, Cool Fusion and Katalyst.

On a related topic, we keep getting asked about Hardknott Sooty, I think a little bit of history here might be useful. Sooty started out as a toy for one of our children. As such there was already a little bit of affection for the glove puppet. We have little idea why he happened to be in Ann's bag the day we went to the Manchester Twiss-up, I think we'd been having a tidy out of something and found him. Stuffed in the bag he later became useful to help attract attention of other twiss-uppers at Manchester station.

After a while he seemed to become engrained into Hardknott's line-up. We gave him his own twitter handle and he developed a rather entertaining persona, surprisingly easy for either of us to tweet as him without you lot guessing who was doing it. He attended several twiss-ups in the end.

Now, one slight problem was, as was pointed out by a curmudgeonly and pessimistic friend, that Sooty is a brand owned by some TV company or other. At first we didn't care, and even thought it would be a bit of a laugh if someone did try to sue our asses off. However, partly due to a decision to reign in a bit on anarchistic behaviour, and the real danger of the probability of a costly legal battle, we were already trying to think of a way of replacing his character with something else, but similar. We have still failed.

However, his fate was sealed one day at the first Leeds International Beer Festival. He was proudly sat on the bar, looking after things during that busy event. At the close, we couldn't find him anywhere. We can only assume some drunken reveller thought it a laugh to steal him. We have not seen him since.

A few people have asked for Sooty to come back. In particular some of the drinkers that are planning on attending the Freetrade Tap Takeover have asked. Sorry, although we could no doubt hunt down a new glove puppet, it'll never be quite the same.

Sunday 1 December 2013

The Inappropriate Censorship of Beer

It's that time of year again. I'll no doubt end up in Waterstones at some point in time looking for ideas for Christmas presents. I may also browse Amazon for books or even DVDs and the like. There is a high probability that on these occasions I'll be biased towards any books that are about beer, pubs or general food and drink. I can buy these things without any requirement for an age check.

Adverts for alcohol are not limited to viewing only by over 18s. Indeed there are adverts for many beverages during prime time TV and hoardings adorn many public places.

We have a fairly open and relaxed attitude towards sex in our house. You may feel this is a digression, but I believe this is relevant. Sex is important to me, probably more so than beer. Asking myself a crucial question; what if I had to choose between sex and beer? The answer would be fairly easy and quick. I'm not ashamed of this; it is a very basic instinct and without it none of us would be here.

I want my offspring to grow up to have a healthy and fulfilling life, and that includes satisfying sex. Sure, I don't want them to be promiscuous, but even if they do, I'd like to be here for them should they find themselves in any sort of trouble, whatever that might be. Most importantly I want them to be able to enjoy life and be equipped with knowledge to do so. Therefore, it is important to be able to share knowledge on all sorts of subjects, even those that might be seen as taboo in polite society. I therefore, at the risk of occasionally turning into Jim Levenstein's Dad, encourage debate on the subject.

Indeed, the most risky situation is the combination of alcohol and sex. The increased likelihood of risky activity, pregnancy, STIs and even the application of those dreaded beer goggles. "You're not the person I went to bed with last night, he/she was much more handsome/beautiful"

I sit in Ann's Aunties house as I type this. I'm using her WiFi. The first time I did this, access to my own website was blocked by her ISP. She had to switch ISP before I was able to access our website and blog when visiting her. You can probably imagine this annoyed me. I've also had occasions when borrowing WiFi in other locations for perfectly legitimate reasons, particular web sites have been blocked.

There are many occasions when using the internet to access information about the beer industry I come up against the irritation of the "please confirm your age" dialogue. Out of principle I always put the most ridiculous DoB I can manage. Often putting me at an age of approximately 113. It is of course obvious that any minor can do exactly the same thing.

Our ex-brewer, Alex Routledge pointed out on one occasion the ridiculous and pointless nature of this.  "The law says you have to be 18 to buy beer, not read about it on the internet" Indeed, this is one point that disturbs me. I don't want to discuss here at which point I think it's appropriate for my kids to have an active sex life, but obviously it would be after they reach the age of consent at the very least. However, I believe it would be most unhealthy if they were not educated about the subject before that time arrives. I firmly believe alcohol education is similar.

To carry the comparison between sex and alcohol still further, it is quite normal for teenagers to explore physical sexual response by themselves. Indeed I have a firm1 belief that it is essential for later healthy sex life to do so. Far from making them perverts it probably helps ensure a more likely success when they do find a loving relationship within which to enjoy such activities. I believe it is much more likely that abstinence and lack of knowledge produces frustration that in turn creates the monsters. Yes, sure, inappropriate abuse within a family group can later produce such monsters, but my own experience would certainly indicate that appropriate knowledge produces much nicer sexual partners.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want to underestimate the scary problem of young children getting hold of inappropriate material. Perhaps porn should be restricted in some way, although I'll be honest I'm not sure about that either. Certainly the problem of illegal activites like child pornography deserve some thought, although even then, censorship may not be the answer but appropriate methods of investigation to find that illegal activity and take appropriate criminal action against the perpetrators might be better. That might actually be easier through a more open system anyway.

I remain convinced that the continual erosion of the idea that small exposure to adult behaviour for young people is wrong, and even as has been suggested in the tabloid recently, evil, is actually detrimental to young lives.

I have long believed that introduction of controlled and supervised consumption of alcohol, and free ability to access balanced and full knowledge is healthy for good development into adulthood. Without this we are far more likely to see youngsters, at an age they can escape the clutches of parents or the law, drink to excess and have unsatisfactory sex in a bus shelter.

Young people, below the legal age, wish to drink alcohol and have sex. It is quite normal for them to want to do so. It is our responsibility as adults to guide and educate. To supervise2 and protect, but certainly not to inhibit completely.

My teenagers do drink. Mostly, I hope, this is under my supervision, and in moderation. They do go to parties, and whilst I believe there is adult supervision, It's not easy for me to check. Of course I could insist they don't go to any party unless I check, but if you've ever had the pleasure of being owned by a teenager you will understand how difficult that is. "Dad, do you not trust me?"

In reality I do trust them, partly because I believe we have instilled a sense of responsibility by carefully educating rather than denying. This is partly by sharing small, controlled and supervised family drinking experiences where appropriate. And, most importantly, with education. I feel that internet censorship is generally ineffective and if anything detrimental to my attempts at bringing my teenagers up as adults.

The plus point of course is that generally it is only the alcohol sites run by the great big multinational alcohol producers and their umbrella organisations that put age checks on their sites. This means that the new youngsters are much more likely to grow up with a more discerning approach to alcohol, if we believe that any real effect is realised as a result of such censorship.

None the less, it seems counterproductive to think that inhibiting under 18s from even reading on-line writings about beer is good.


1Sorry about that, wasn't deliberate, just happened.

2Although the direct supervision of your child's own exploration into being sexually active may be considered wrong.