BrewDog with James Last



Beer is Art

A few days before Christmas, BrewDog released their fourth and final Abstrakt offering of 2011. It was a described as a ‘Deconstructed Blonde Imperial Stout’ and boasted an ABV of 11.8% – it was limited to 7902 bottles (or 6500, if you prefer to believe the website instead of the bottles) and like all Abstrakt issues it will never be brewed again. I was lucky enough to have an advance tasting when I was invited to attend a Beer Bloggers Event at the recently opened BrewDog Camden back in mid December. At the end of the tasting session, which included Punk, 5AM Saint and Scotch Ale, we were asked to don the rather snazzy blindfolds that we had been given (no blindfold, nor beer!)  While we were blindfolded James Watt told us that beer should embrace and challenge all the senses and that it should also battle against accepted conventions and perceived norms and while he was doing so we sampled the beer that we were forbidden from gazing upon. We were then asked to remove our blindfolds and instead of being greeted by a dark and brooding beer as we expected we were face to face with a bright and golden beverage… of course, as the mysteries of AB:08 were already fairly well documented, I knew what to expect…  as, I’m sure, did the vast majority of the people in the room but it was still a nice moment.

And, just in case anybody is wondering: yes, I returned my blindfold.

* * *

I was introduced to Voodoo Party by James Last via the WFMU radio show, Strength Through Failure – each week the show opens with the beautifully insane Mr Giant Man. After hearing this track a few times I decided that I needed to know who it was by, so I whacked a few lines of lyrics into Google… I received a very surprising answer: “Nah, it can’t be… James bloody Last… nah, nae chance!” But a quick visit to YouTube revealed that it most certainly was a song by James Last. Talk about battling against accepted conventions and preceived norms!

* * *

I must confess that the appearance of a beer doesn’t really matter to me. I know it is meant to matter and I can certainly admire a beer that has a pleasant colour and a good head but ultimately all the really interests me is the smell and the taste. In many ways the smell is more important than the taste – even as I type that I know it sounds a bit bonkers but I also know there are some beers that I have spent more time smelling than I have drinking them. Perhaps it simply a case of my sense of smell being more advanced than my sense of taste but when I inhale a beer I’m delicately bombarded with a far wider range of sensations and emotions and memories than I ever receive when I pour the same liquid into my mouth.

It's stout, Jim, but not as we know it...

So what does AB:08 smells like? It smells pretty damn fine – there is a lot going on and although not all of it is immediately noticeable if you take the time to have a good sniff I think you will be suitably rewarded. The first thing that struck was a lovely aroma of melting butter, white bread and homemade red jam – like treat time at your gran’s when you were a kid. There’s also a nice booze smell in the mix… the scent of whisky barrels mixed with rum and raisin ice cream and backed-up by the faint tang of coffee and whipped cream with a lump of brown sugar and a sneaky wee glug of Kahlua. A further, deeper inhalation reveals a nice hit of dried fruits soaked in orange juice and a subtle hint of strawberries topped with cracked black pepper. I’ve read a few places that the beer has a savoury aroma with some people describing it as like a veg curry or boiled cauliflower but the closest I got to that was a decent blast if freshly cut, slightly damp grass that floated in shortly after the initial bread and jam hit. All-in-all, a smell sensation.

The taste has the characterics I’d expect from a stout but they are far more subtle than what you get from the more traditional dark Imperial Stouts. There is a pleasant sweetness that is almost like apple & rhubarb crumble with custard but, of course, it is nowhere near the sugar rush that you’d get from a mouthful of hot pudding. There’s also nice hints of bitter orange and caramelised sugar that is just the right side of burnt. For such a high ABV (11.8%) the alcohol isn’t especially noticeable but there was an intriuging almond kick that made me think of Disaronno. It should be noted that I encountered the same problem that I have with most Imperial Stouts: Tokyo* – it’s such an astoundingly delicious beer that I instantly compare all other Imperial Stouts to it and as soon as I’ve done that I realise the error of my ways  but sadly always just a little to late… ho hum. AB:08 is a pretty tasty beer but I would say that it’s perhaps just a little bit too new and consequently thin. I believe it’ll benefit greatly from some cellar time… I’ll let you know in 6 months time if my belief is correct.

* * *

AB:08 and Voodoo Party have one very important thing in common: they shouldn’t work – arguably, shouldn’t even exist – but they do!

Voodoo Party

Voodoo Party is psychedelic-funk-soul dance classic. It must be one of the most criminally overlooked LPs of the 1970s – an absolute unsung classic…

It opens with the Santana’s Se A Cabo. As you’d expect, Last’s version is a more mellow affair – it’s less abrassive and has eradicated the self congratulatory guitar wank that occassionally plagues the original. You can easily imagine this being the theme tune to a 1970s police drama from the USA: Full-Time Cop Part-Time Bad Ass. There is a decent swathe of Last’s famous cheese that blends beautifully with a truly sumptous bass line.

Next up is the first of two Sly & The Family Stone classics, Sing A Simple Song. I love Sly Stone and I love his original version of this track. Last and his crew play this relatively straight and give us for a fairly faithful cover but they also manage to caress away most of the slightly sinister elements that always hung around the fringes of Sly’s music. The cover of Everyday People which comes a few tracks later follows a similar path and influence.

Two up-tempo slices of bongo inflused latin magic straddle the lovely and melancholic Mamy Blue before we slide into the song that brought me to this album – the aforementioned Mr Giant Man. Perhaps the greatest thing about Mr Giant Man is that it quite geniunely freaks out my girlfriend as it makes her remember previously forgotten half-imagined sinister TV programs from her childhood.

And then were back onboard the happy-latino-pschedelic-soul train for a couple of dance around the kitchen in your pants moments – yeah! woo! ah… the neighbours are watching again…

The third last track is a fantastic rendition of Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues. Naturally, it’s not a patch on the original but Last does inject enough of his own ideas and rhythms into his version that you can imagine Marvin would’ve been pleasantly surprised and impressed… or totally fucking pissed off and afronted !

The penultimate track is the most cheesiest-easiest-listening track on the album – even after listening to it countless times I still expect it to veer off into a rousing chorus of Up Up And Away, which wouldn’t be uwelcome.

And then we come to the album closer. This must rank up there with the most out-there moments of the 70s – it really is a psychedelic masterpiece… weird rhythms, sonic sounds, psychotic voices, crazy laughter and nutjob lyrics: ‘Voodoo Lady Love make your magic brew, come into my life, make me Voodoo too”. And it’s this song that especially encapsulates what BrewDog is all about, at least to my mind and tastebuds: trying things that people don’t expect and that really have no right working but with a bit of passion and luck and insanity it all melds together beautifully to create something unique and special… very much like James Last Voodoo Party!

… and I think Voodoo Lady Love would be a fantastic name for a BrewDog beer

* * *

… all photography by landells except Voodoo Party …


~ by landells on January 14, 2012.

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