Samos Muscat Wine Harvest report

Samos Muscat Wine Harvest report  

August 2019 (finally written up from notes March 2020) ahem.

Well, I arrived here on the Greek island Samos a couple of days ago, picked up my hire car from Dimitri’s ‘rent a wreck’ and then, straight to the vineyard harvesting hook in hand? Er no, ‘et in Arcadia ego’…….

Liastos wine tasting

Tasting the Liastos 2018 with Nico Vakakis

There is the small matter of last year’s harvest still being in barrel.

It’s at Vakakis Winery and it tastes great!

But…. when to bottle; (it’s too late to get it out of barrel in time for this year’s batch); how to get the label to Greece and approved in time, (all possible, just) and how to tie down transport to make sure it gets into the UK before Brexit day.

Then oh, great glorious bggeration, we need to make a few amends to the label. – The geeks who worked on my laptop a couple of years ago (helpfully and without being asked) upgraded the O.S., so Adobe CS Suite doesn’t work on it anymore. Worm brains! It’s only on my old 10 ton Mac in England. The amends are too much to explain to the printer back home, so I’ll have to do it all here…… somehow.

I ask Nico Vakakis the winemaker, who to use. (I don’t want to bother him cos its harvest and famously winemakers exist on about 2 hours sleep a night for the entire vintage). However, he gives me a lead, I ask them about it, they say email them, I email them from a cafe 100 yards from their office in Karlovasi, and there’s no response; maybe they’ve gone to Mykonos on holiday or more likely can’t be arsed to do any work….. yes, it is hot.

Speak to Lynette about this, who is in England. She has a great idea, why not see if the Adobe new version software, (nearly 500 quid a year) has a free trial or offer – YES IT DOES!!! Triumphantly, I head to a taverna for octopus and ouzo and broadband…. What could go wrong now?

The ‘Non Harvest Report’ starts…

The octopus didn’t turn up, I think they had to go and buy a frozen one from the supermarket and defrost it…

Sitting outside the Taverna, oh bliss, I try to deal with Adobe on line…… going round and round in circles but then I find a number and ring it and wait and wait….. “Oh Adobe, wonderful company, how is will this subscription service bloatware be better than the neat In Design DTP that people used actually to own?”

TWO and A HALF HOURS LATER…..

Moi: “Robot. Let me to speak a human!”
3 ‘specialists’ later, I am becoming ragged and the broadband bandwidth in the taverna is very narrow.
Moi: “I’ve already paid and gone through that hoop, twice…… (I hiss). I’m just trying to confirm my account…… my guess is that the system has recognised that the credit card is UK based and I am in Greece and therefore it thinks I am a terrorist money launderer.”
Specialist: “The Adobe Acrobat you ordered is now live for you to use”
Me: “Well if I have that’s news to me…. I’m ordering In Design. I never asked for Acrobat. I asked for In Design”. (AAAARRRRRG!) “I’m trying to try out this new version when I’m on holiday (sic) on a very small project. So far, I am seriously not impressed and have wasted most of an afternoon on something that should have taken a few minutes”.
Specialist: “Let me transfer you to a specialist”… zzzzzzzzzzz – line goes dead.
me: Aaaarrrrrg. Yes, very, very quietly this time, for I am truly losing the will to live.

Yes indeed, this IS a harvest report!

I try again, this time I get through to a useful young lady in India…. She can ring me back in 2 hours.
ME: “YES THAT’S FANTASTIC!”

I believe her. Yes because I want to get in the sea. The sea! The sea! To Thalassa! To Thalassa! I’ve been in Samos for a day and a half and haven’t been in the sea yet!

So, drive like a maniac to the other side of the island. (You must understand that Samos is a Mountain Island with roads resembling Swiss passes before they had motorways). So up, then down the other side of the pass, ring the Co-op to order a new oak barrel, dive in the sea, quick swim and retire to MIKE’S PIZZA CAVE, who have the best internet in the fishing village of Ormos.

YES BINGO! – Someone has done something and In Design downloads…

So now only to redesign the label, get it approved and printed, bla, bla, bla, swim, eat, ouzo, CUT SOME GRAPES!

Sunset on Samos

Beautiful Sunset – the island was on fire!

Samos non-harvest report (Part 2)

26 August 2019

It’s been HOT; HOT even for a Greek August. There’s been a hot wind too, which is unusual. Last night there was a fabulous sunset and I thought, is that smoke? No-one said anything about it.

But yes, there were serious forest fires here in Samos, you might have seen them on BBC News. Hundreds of acres of forest went up in flames and the wall of fire threatened the main tourist resort, Pythagorion.

However, that’s the other end of the island and here it seemed that no-one knew or particularly cared….  I drove the length of the island on the north coast (hunting for a barrel!!) and saw no sign of any dislocation. I only discovered because Manoli, who I’m harvesting with, supposedly tomorrow, has disappeared. He’s involved in the Island Administration and has, I learn, been up all night coordinating the evacuation.

EOSS Samos

One way of drying the grapes! (for EOSS Nectar)

After that, gosh, well back to wine matters: on the island most of the harvest is in, just some of the highest vineyards, a little bit of red and the last of the Liastos (Passito sweet) is still to be done. (EOSS was drying grapes in the winery car park). Reports about quality vary, there’s been a fair bit of mildew, but our vineyard looks good. With very careful selection, we can have fabulous quality.

Missing barrel sorted in the end. Label done. Truck gearbox repaired ….. We’re up very early tomorrow morning to cut grapes and will have them out drying in the sun by lunchtime.

Samos non-harvest report (part 3)

27 August 2019

Laying out the nets for the grapes

Delayed again…..

The grapes which looked lovely are now looking dangerously over-ripe for making a good Passito / Liastos and I can’t pick for another 2 days. To make a great Liastos, you need to harvest at optimal ripeness when the full aromatics have developed but before the acidity falls away.

You can make a wine with the same sweetness by doing a shorter period of sun drying with the over-ripe grapes, HOWEVER you won’t have the freshness and brightness, nor will the short sun-drying develop the flavour in the same way, and, the all-important antioxidants probably won’t develop sufficiently to protect the wine and allow it to be made without sulphur.

Sod it.

My back-up plan was to make a ‘Vin Doux Naturelle’ using some organic, high-grown fruit. It’s made in roughly the same way as a Port, hitting unfermented must with some strong alcohol to prevent fermentation. This wine would be a lot cheaper and would have ‘SAMOS’ appellation too, whereas my Liastos ends up as ‘Wine of Greece’. I was going to make some of this anyway, now I’ll probably make more. Not wildly happy, but things will be OK.

Late Afternoon. I’ve had a discussion with the Oenologist at Vakakis Wines. As I thought, if we add in some very high grown fruit harvested at 12.5% EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE! – They will bring acidity and freshness and lower the alcohol a bit. And what’s more I can have the amount they reckon is right on Thursday, conveniently, just after we finish picking the old vines. – Well, rooty doot toot! Back in business!!!

29 August 2019 

Finally we pick.

Manoli looking a bit pissed off about the mildew

Manoli and I start early, soon after sun up while it’s still cool.

We go first to the lowest ‘old vine’ terrace which has given us fabulous quality before. But something has gone wrong in the last few days. Where we expect to see bright golden grapes, everything has a dull look. Mildew has struck!

These gapes just aren’t up to it for Liastos. We need gloriously ripe, perfectly clean grapes. We pick our way through the vineyard, finding a bunch here and there.

Heartbreaking. Manoli isn’t happy. He says “These grapes aren’t good enough for you Tim”. I say “Maybe they’ll be better higher up”.

They are, a bit, and we manage to pick a few boxes that look pretty good. So we go to the highest spot up near the press house. The hot weather has brought these on, and they’re golden and good. We pick a few boxes too many expecting that when we come to sort them a lot will be chucked.

Then straight away, and it’s really important that there is no delay, we take the boxes to a terrace with no vines and here we empty the boxes onto the plastic nets lying on the ground.

Muscat Grapes drying in the Sun

Selecting only the best grapes

I do a quick sort through, throwing anything that looks obviously bad – but there wasn’t much to discard. I think we were so aware of the problem that we’d picked well. I smoothed the bunches out so they were only one deep, not all mounded up and we left them to roast in the midday sun.

And boy was it hot by now!

 

3 September 2019

Sun-drying the Muscat is progressing nicely…. All MOG (Material Other than Grapes) removed!  I moved some grapes that were raisined and ready into the shade, some onto upside down ventilated boxes so they get air while being sunned and some that needed to go further were left just lying on nets on the ground in the full Greek sun!

Checking the taste of the Liastos Muscat

The 2 batches, one from old terraces up around Platanos and the organic batch from over 1800m on Mount Ambelos are amazingly different in flavour. The Platanos grapes have a lovely rich character which intensifies as they dry.

(This year though they were a bit over ripe at harvest and acids are probably a bit on the low side).

The Mount Ambelos grapes (lower down) have a fresher, more lively character. A few bunches were too green and weren’t ripe enough and the flavour didn’t improve as they lay in the sun – these have been ditched.

We press tomorrow.

4 September
And so we did…. First we took a reading and the potential alcohol looked a little low though at about 20%, and some of those high grown green grapes looked a bit under ripe and unraisined, probably not even 15%. We pressed a little juice and the taste was really good. The green grapes did bring a vein of freshness, but not a character you want too much of. So I swapped some of these grapes with Manoli for some more seriously ripe ones. Fair exchange – he gets a bit more freshness and I get sugar!

Then the hard work started…

We rolled up the mats and forked the raisins back into the boxes. Carried the boxes to the press area (well Manoli did, I just stacked them). Then forked them into the newish electric crusher-destemmer, about twice, depending on how dried they were, (well Manoli did, I found useful things to do moving empty boxes and around and getting rid of the stems).

Working a basket press is a 2 man operation: one pours in the grapes, the other makes sure they go in the press, smooths them down etc. Then, when the press is full, half-moons on the top, a couple of wooden blocks in place. Then crank away. Well Manoli does, I hold the press, which is the easy job, at least to start with.

When it’s pressed down some way, spin the bar back up, blocks and half-moons off, in with another couple of boxes. Crank down, spin the lever back up, half-moons off – not easy now. Bolts off the side of the press, yank off the two sides of the ‘basket’ and we have a pillar of crushed grapes, looking just like a fluted pillar from a Greek Temple, except it’s green! – It’s my job to pull it apart.

Then, we reassemble the press, putting the basket back on the base, slide in the bolts to hold it together and fork back in the pressed grapes, push them down more grapes on top, then put on the half-moons again. Then the really hard work begins… to wind the press down now. Each twist, then finally each click, takes serious application of muscle and weight.

And we repeat this again and again.

And this is when the really sweet juice comes out. Most of the time in winemaking, it’s the first pressing that’s the best; with Liastos / Passito, it’s the very last.

The juice, well it seeps out of the side of the press, through the wooden slats, then trickles onto the tiled floor. It then runs across the floor and down a plug hole then out through a pipe onto a crude filter made of muslin (actually it’s one of those Greek lace curtains). This catches any pips, skins and bits of pulp; the juice drops down into a concrete hopper.

And that’s it!

No enzymes, no acid, no centrifuges, no filtration and no deboubage (settling). It will go straight to barrel and no yeast will be pitched either.

Except, this year being this year, (of course) nothing was simple. The juice had to be moved immediately to Vakakis winery before fermentation started and got into barrel there. BUT there was too much juice, I would need another small barrel and everywhere was about to close for the weekend. Fortunately, I remember I’d seen one in the Co-op store in Karlovasi, so down to Karlovasi I bomb in my much abused hire car with 2 large full must containers on the back seat. Grab the barrel and zoom back up the hill to the winery to get the must into barrel.

Except, there’s no-one there……. and I need to get the must containers back to Manoli urgently as he needs them. And I can’t find anyone. Eventually, the caretaker comes and shuts the place up for the night.

5 September 2019
Next morning, I’m at the winery as early as possible and we fill the barrels. In the past we’ve used gravity, but this time we have a nice new low suction-pressure must pump. Then, jet out the wretched must containers, say my goodbyes, bomb back to the vineyard on minor tracks through the forest, dump aforementioned wretched must containers at the vineyard, then another Swiss mountain pass down to the sea.

I then have that “juice is in barrel, last minute extra barrel is in the winery, must containers are washed and back at the vineyard, flight is in 2 hours-time at the other end of the island” moment, floating in the Aegean…..

 

In which we explore Craft Beers in San Diego

San Diego, capital of the West Coast Craft Brewery movement.

February 2020

We’ve been on the USS Midway, the WW2 Aircraft Carrier Museum and are now trying to get to 30th St, North Park, which is perhaps the centre of Craft Brewing in the city, thus perhaps the centre of Craft Brewing on the West Coast, thus in the USA etc etc…. Problem is, no taxis and we don’t do Uber, (part of our luddite boycott of big-tec, Amazon & co).

It’s after midday, we’re on holiday AND we walk past a bar. Lynette points this fact out and that it’s illegal under our holiday rules. Actually, I point out, it’s not a bar, but a brewery….

It’s the Bolt Brewery, which is on our list, so in we go.

Very friendly, very helpful – golly my first San Diego brewery.

I choose ‘Party On’ IPA. It’s mid-weight, light amber, very seriously hoppy and slightly orangey. Very drinkable, yes I’d have another please….. The hoppiness was, as I said serious, (almost OTT). Our food turns up. San Diego grub takes its cue from South of the Border and we have decent Shrimp Tacos and Cilantro Shrimps.

I try a sample of Bolt’s Anniversary Ale, which is thicker textured, higher ABV and bigger and less subtle than the ‘Party On’ IPA.  Ultimately, I find it less satisfactory; it’s a bit gloopy. Lynette tries the Pilsner, which is OK and kind of ordinary larger-like, rather than being definitively Pilsner-ey, which to my mind would be very dry and very fresh.

Interesting that the IPA is lower alcohol than other ales on the list, I would expect India Pale Ale to be a higher alcohol beer….. All of the beers are good though, these gripes are just definition issues. And the barman was super helpful about other good places to go and called a taxi to take us to 30th St, Northpark.

There are 150 odd breweries in town, so I suppose we might be back in a year or so’s time if we lived here…..

A Diversion

We’d already had a couple of craft beers from larger scale outfits on the commercial edge of ‘craft’. Pizza Port ‘Chronic Amber Ale’ and Ballast Point IPA.

Pizza Port Chronic Amber is a mid-weight amber, it’s supposed to be a bit ‘English’ but also some hemp seeds that well known ingredient in English Real Ale are added to the brew. Well, you wouldn’t know it was supposed to be ‘English’, nor would you know it was laced with dope….. It just wasn’t that special, and really was only one up from mass produced American beer. No, I’d rather have had an Anchor Steam or even a Coors, but not a ‘Coors lite’ or anything with ‘lite’ in its name.

The Ballast Point was heavily hopped and just didn’t have a fresh or pleasant aroma. Ballast Point is the granddaddy of San Diego Craft Breweries, so we may have been unlucky, then again, hard-core craft drinkers view them as a sell-out. Whatever, on another visit to San Diego I’d like to go their Home Brew Mart, which was seminal in the rise of Craft Brewing here.

It’s over 30 years since I took that much notice of the West Coast Craft Brewery scene, or Micro-Brewery scene as it was called then. That was 1989, and we weren’t really exploring beer, it was just collateral damage when we were setting up our first California Wine Tour.

At the time, Arblaster & Clarke had been running the Campaign for Real Ale Travel Club. We ran beer tours to Belgium, Düsseldorf, East Germany, Poland, various parts of the UK. So, I started planning a West Coast Micro-brewery tour. The CAMRA beer tours fizzled out, which I regretted somewhat and the West Coast Micro-brewery tour never happened, though I got to visit a few micro-breweries and even spent an evening in the San Francisco Anchor Steam Brewery.

1989 CAMRA Tour at Poperings.                                 (Us looking young at the top)

However, Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours kept on the ground-breaking Belgian Beer tour, which I seem to remember was called “Trappists and Tripels”. There was something just so EXCITING about these weird brews, which including spontaneous fermentation beers, beers made with added cherries and spices and yes, sour beers.

Of course, since then, we’ve seen those spontaneous fermentation Lambic beers debased and flavoured with syrups. We’ve had alcopops and now cider has come to mean a hideous sweet fruit drink…… so I find it almost difficult to recapture that innocent excitement of the first time one tasted a Kriek Lambic.

Tim with a flight of famous Belgians!

News of what the Belgians were doing arrived here on the West Coast, where anything is possible. There are now many hundreds or possibly thousands of small breweries in the USA and innovation and experimentation is the name of the game. Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law that allows only water, barley, hops and yeast as beer ingredients, (yeast was late addition), came to be viewed as a 400 year aberration.  

Hops, Cherries, Limes, Honey, Raspberry, Strawberry, Hibiscus, Coriander, Apples, Blackcurrant, Blueberry, Apricot, Peach, Pineapple, Oranges (of various types), Orange rind, Guava, Coconut, Watermelon, Agave, Grapes (of various varieties), Coffee, Peanut Butter…… In fact, just about anything that might conceivably be fermentable (or indeed not) could go in the brew kettle.

The fruit beers that fire people up here aren’t ‘girly’ sweet fruit infusions, they are ‘sours’. They are made with lactic ferments, perhaps using cultures taken from the sediments of Belgian Lambic bottles, and perhaps infected by Brettanomyces yeasts too. The hazy or unfiltered beers that 25 years ago were viewed as extreme are now considered tame or worse mainstream and commercial.  (Our natural winemakers have nothing on these extremist craft brewers).

Diversion even further….

There is something in this ‘ferment anything’ trend, really there is. In his “Ancient Wine” Patrick McGovern postulated that early wine was often not made just from grapes, a drink he describes as “Grog”, seems according to the evidence, to have been concocted from a mix of fermentables including grapes, malt and honey.

Ancient Brews by Patrick McGovern

Ancient Brews by P McGovern

Since then, he has developed the thesis that this ‘Grog’ wasn’t an accidental or improvised beverage, but a drink made to recipes with the mix of fermentable ingredients, herbs and spices, maximising the inebriating effect and having particular flavours. In his more recent “Ancient Brews. Ancient Brews rediscovered and re-created” he explored these brews from the dawn of history to come up with viable drinks. And yes indeed, McGovern worked on these with Dogfish Head Brewery, one of the leading US Craft Breweries, albeit not a San Diego one.

Reaching back into the past is one way to search for the truly profound.  Yes, I confess, I too am a natural ancient-booze maker, but I stopped short of going back to the neolithic and stuck with the Romans (or maybe the era of the Archaic Greek poet Hesiod). I also stuck with grapes and clean flavours. But why not reach back further or go closer to the edge? When you’ve been faced with a diet of Miller lite and Bud, who can blame people for wanting something extreme?

Our taxi to 30th St turns up; the brewery corridor, the epi-centre.

First to Belching Beaver

The Belching Beaver

‘Dam good times’ they promise and have another very helpful barman. Peanut Butter Milk Stout is the iconic beer here.

However, I feel I should try a yardstick beer first. A bit like when I’m weighing up Sicilian Gelaterias I go for the lemon water ice, here in San Diego I opt to try the IPA, specifically the ‘Mosaic Double IPA’. Lynette goes for ‘Here comes Mango’…. I was very happy with the IPA, a bit extreme perhaps, but good. Lynette was OK with the ‘Here comes Mango’; but compared to the best Belgian fruit beers, it was just OK. However it didn’t have the intensity and she didn’t think mango and beer were a match made in heaven.

‘Peanut Butter Milk Stout’ – delicious. Rich, slightly sweet and delicious. Apparently, this is based on the English Milk Stout style. I can’t remember if peanut butter in an ingredient in Milk Stout, but it’s been a while since I had one, maybe 30 years.

30th St San Diego, Fall Brewing

Still we had to move on, aiming vaguely for Fall Brewing.

I’d tangled with Fall Brewing’s Crystal Mess IPA the night before. It’s a first rate West Coast IPA with a massive bitter dry hit of Crystal hops and a name that’s just maybe a pun on ‘Crystal Meth’, another dangerous and potentially addictive substance. Fall Brewing, which looks more like a showroom, warehouse or garage than a bar is about 15 to 20 minutes up the road from the burping Beaver and it brews on site.. 

At the Bar, Fall Brewing

We lined up a ‘flight’ as follows:

Industrial Accident, (great name!),

Your Pretty,

Magic and Delicious,

Watermelon Sour,

Googoo Muck IPA.

‘Industrial Accident’ – Very hazy, complex nose with obvious hoppiness and scent of apricots. Fairly bitter-hoppy on palate with a nice sour tang bringing freshness and interest. Loved the name! Yes I would reorder it too.

‘Your Pretty’ – Fresh, pretty, lively hoppiness. On second look not that clean and a bit lacking excitement. OK though.

‘Magic and Delicious  Pale Ale’ – Seriously hoppy nose. Mid-weight and a bit exotic but with its feet on the ground. Long citrussy finish. The more we tasted it, the more we liked it.

‘Watermelon Sour’. – This beer stank. The predominant aroma was old socks, hmmm and a bit of vomit. Surprisingly then, we tasted it and the palate was refreshing with a sweet / tart balance – but then I caught a whiff of god knows what again. I’ve never come across a beer that has a whiff of buteric acid while still in the glass…. I’ve looked up this beer and it gets really good reviews. For me though, it is comes from where ‘natural’ and ‘faulty’ collide. My notes add “clothes peg job”.  Lynette hated it from the start. I gave it a fairly low mark then downgraded it…

‘Googoo Muck Unfiltered IPA’. – Hazy, very hazy golden liquid. Fruity, complex hoppy nose – dried fruit, pine, hay. Fresh palate – Fall Brewing seems good at “fresh”. Not excessively bitter for the hoppiness (so maybe dry hopped?). Fruity tart-apple finish. Really, a wonderful summer drink, this beer got our highest scores of the day.

This small brewery seemed to sum it all up, some stunning beers and a couple that for us were misfires. Is this experimentation? If so, then great (!) all oddities forgiven OR, alarming prospect, were some of the weirder flavours just what the local craft beer drinker is looking for? I have a feeling that it’s both.

Fall Brewery: “This is not my beautiful Wife Pale Ale”

And here’s the thing, if you don’t just bin Reinheitsgebot, but declare it to be heresy, what are we to make of beers that have aromas of pine and citrus? Do we think that these characters come from sophisticated use of hops or from armfuls of pine-needles, lemon zest or, god forbid, aroma concentrates?  As long as the Craft Breweries are run by fanatics and craftsmen this may not matter, but once Private Equity or the Big Brewers get involved, you know what will happen.

Hmmm. So that was that, just a walk back to our hotel. Yes indeed, San Diego is a city you can walk in!  Then, oh dear, another brewery, so we blunder in…

This was Poor House
Poor House Brewing

Poor House Brewing

A brewery, not just a tasting room it is, complete with fermentation tanks on the edge of the drinking area.  There are a couple of pool tables (but no one is playing) and several large screen TVs showing basketball, which no-one is watching.

I’m trying to decipher my notes, which are written on a beer mat. Darned thing has a lot of print on the front and is near black on the back. Don’t they know that beermats are for writing things on, like to do lists, poems, business plans, beer notes.….  My scrawl goes round and round the beermat in circles, which is nothing to do with this being the 4th brewery of course. A couple of weeks later, it could be enigma code.

It’s difficult to get attention, the barmaid is chatting to friends or bikers or regulars, but eventually we’re served (in an off-hand kind of way). This is certainly unlike any of the other breweries. Everywhere else the staff couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful, telling us lots of stuff about the beers with great enthusiasm, soliciting our opinions and freely giving advice. Maybe we’re too old or something for the crowd here.

We decided to go Belgian and order ‘Dying Midwestern’, which advertised itself as a “Belgian-style Blond Ale” and ‘Dead Man’s Dubbel’. The Dying Midwestern was OK, but a ‘Duvel’ or a ‘Hapkin’ or an ‘Arabier’, it was not.

By the bar, Poor House on 30th

More problematic was ‘Dead Man’s Dubbel’ which was wildly over-hopped; in Belgium surely only the ‘Poperings Hommelbier’, an exhibition beer that was designed to show off Belgian hops, has anything like this level of hopping. Certainly, no Dubbel is like this. However, if you forget it’s supposed to be a “Dubbel style”, it’s enjoyable enough. There’s some Belgian-ness to it in its aroma and weight and there was a good after-taste.

After this I have an ‘OG’, which is billed as a “Belgian Strong Golden Ale”, (not “Belgian-style” note). Yes, it is kind of Belgian-style and reasonably decent too and the hoppiness is under control and again the aftertaste was good.  Of course, it was too cold.

Dubbel, Saison, Amber, Death, Belgian. Words thrown around as though they are no more than a collection of letters.

And then it struck me, and then we realised the problem, (and it wasn’t just about the Poor House beers), ALL of them were served too COLD. Reinheitsgebot might have been binned as a concept but the American First Amendment of Beer, that it should be COLD, remains inviolate.

And perhaps, because the beers are going to be served so cold, they have to be exaggerated in order to taste of much. But maybe in the end this was our problem, not the beers’ problem. After all, I don’t whinge that German beer is too cold and I’m happy to accept even Retsina for what it is. So maybe there’s something in us and we just can’t take the New World for itself. I have the same issue with the likes of Screaming Eagle and other Californian wines.

After this little flash of self-knowledge, there seemed little point in asking anything about the beers or the outfit, so we slip out without paying the service charge and go off into the night in search of something to eat. “Middle-aged Brit skinflints” the bar-girl might have thought.