Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Beering within the Islamic Crescent

I recently arrived for the first time in Saudi Arabia, got to say first impression were 'wow, its really hot' and 'wow there really IS lots and lots of desert and palm trees', then 'where's the blue sky went and why's the light kind of yellow'. Okay the third one's a question not an impression but you get the point?
I hope to get across just how different it is here and how big an impact Saudi Arabia has on the senses. The picture below is my current work platform. It took 7 hours on a small boat to get out to it and 4 hours across the desert before that to get to the small boat. This gave me plenty of time to think and listen to Pink Floyd on my pod. Two habits i enjoy massively.

One of the things I thought about during the journey is that arriving in Saudi Arabia had taken me to the 1/2 way point of an unplanned larger journey through Muslim countries. This journey started with my trip to Azerbaijan in June and continued with my holiday to Turkey in July and will continue to (possible) completion with my return to Turkey in October. This will be an approximate journey of 4 months within the Islamic crescent and 1 month in Scotland (heck, that sounds like a football score)! I've had a great time over the past few months and have managed to get back to my original view on Islam which had been slowly degraded and skewed by the media ever since those dicks thought it would be a good idea to hit buildings with planes. What's this got to do with beer I hear you ask? Not too much at the moment I reply.

Certainly in Saudi nothing at all as you can't get beer here apart from that poor twisted non alcohol stuff if you want to remain within the countries law. Azerbaijan and Turkey on the other hand are completely different kettles of kebab. With both being hot countries the predominant beer style is Lager. Lots and lots of lager, there are the usual imported suspects (Miller, Carlsberg etc). My preference is to stick to Turkish Efes Lager.

It’s Turkish, it’s exported to Azerbaijan so it was everywhere in these two countries (think Bud but with actual flavour). I tried draught, bottled and canned versions. A bit like Guinness (bear with me) in that all three products whilst looking similar on the shelf have a different taste.  My preference was for the draught version while my wife preferred the bottled. The canned version was nothing more than a whistle wetter!

 The Hops used in the brewing of Efes are Hallertau. I don't know which particular Hallertau hop or indeed the combination. Luckily I recently bought 2 kilos of vac packed Hallertau tradition hops and I also have some vac packed Hallertau Hersbrucker and do like to experiment. Before I go to the trouble of making a full on Efes type lager I will make a Pale Ale imitation to see how it turns out.
 With this in mind my wife and I went to the market while in Turkey and bought various spices. The ones that are going to find their way into the Pale Ale batch are vanilla pods (expensive) and dried red chilli flakes (hot). There is method in my madness (honest).
 My reasoning is that when I was drinking Efes (especially the draught) I tasted a subtle vanilla flavour almost as an after taste.

 It was a nice taste and I assume it to be a by product of the laagering process? I can't be sure but I think if I use two cut vanilla pods for the last 5 minutes of the boil and one chopped up as a 'dry hop' during the primary fermentation I can simulate(cheat) my way to the flavour I experienced. A bit of over priming on bottling and we'll have a kid on lager (maybe) type pale ale without the whole laagering process. The chilli idea comes from a disgusting encounter I had with a chilli lager in April this year. It was wrong in so many ways but I think it could be nice(ish) so i will have a trial in this pale ale. I am thinking ten trial bottles with 1 chilli flake per bottle ascending to 10 flakes in final bottle and then left over the Winter to sample next Spring?

If nothing else these ten trial bottles will be something different as will be the 'mainstream' pale ale itself. I find that so many pale ales in the UK rely on the 'citrus burst' to get across to the drinker. That's fine but it does get a bit old after a while. I hope this Pale Ale brings something different to the table. If I’m really lucky what it brings to the table might even be nice!

Just goes to show, who would have thought that beer inspiration would be found within the Islamic Crescent? I am returning to Turkey in October and will be taking a few of my Hot Matured White Star IPA's with me. There are a few expats whom I’d like to try them and also a couple of Turkish guys who I know haven't tried anything else beer related apart from Efes. Wonder if they'll like IPA?   

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