Beer Matters

Monkey Business …

Many years ago my seafaring maternal grandfather brought a monkey home from Zanzibar. “Ginny” apparently adapted to life in England quite well (with the help of a little coat which Granny knitted her for the winter) and was wont to sit in the apple tree throwing apples at passers-by. By the time I entered this world Ginny had long since departed it and submitted to the attentions of the taxidermist, but some of my earliest memories are of taking tea by the light of oil lamps with Ginny staring at me from her glass case.

Zanzibar Anglican Cathedral and a blue monkey

You may well be wondering what this has to do with beer, let alone bells. As a result of my childhood encounters with Ginny, I had harboured a long-standing ambition to visit Zanzibar - and last month I finally achieved it.

As is often the case with such exotic places, the choice of beer is not vast. Whereas in recent years I have at least been able to report on a wheat beer from Madeira and a couple of dark lagers from Croatia, there is nothing much in Zanzibar but a few rather bland uninspiring pale lagers from mainland Tanzania (plus a few imported ones and the odd bottle of Guinness). It might have been tempting to say that any attempt to compare the different brands would be about as futile as discussing the relative musical merits of Rutland, Lincolnshire and Pudsey Major when you know you’d much rather be ringing a nice touch of Double Norwich. But I take my research seriously.

After drinking Kilimanjaro, Serengeti had a distinct twang of sweet corn or chicken feed, although the label assured me it was brewed with pure malt (it is not uncommon for African brewers to use “adjuncts” like maize, millet or rice). As I have noted before, the order in which you sample beers is not insignificant as the flavour of one beer can seriously skew the palate when tasting the next one. So on the Monday evening Mrs Bibendus and I devised a plan to plain hunt through the six permutations of Kilimanjaro, Serengeti and Safari over the next six days.

Needless to say the scheme came to naught. On Tuesday we discovered Tusker and on Wednesday, Ndovu – which obviously rendered the complexity of the task far beyond the scope of practicality. And by Thursday we had grown rather tired of all of them and taken to drinking cocktails at sundown.

… and Dark Arts

Back home the choice of beer is better than it’s been in living memory, with 1,442 breweries in the UK (Morning Advertiser, September 2014) - compare that with 40 years ago when the number barely reached triple figures.

You may have come across a new style that has emerged in the last year or so: black IPA. Actually it started in the north-west of the USA about four years ago but it’s only recently caught on here. This is a dark beer with all the strength and in-your-face hoppiness of an American IPA – a bit disconcerting when you first taste one since it looks just like mild, but I rather like the concept. Notable examples include Saltaire’s Cascadian Black and Dark Star’s Art of Darkness (although at a modest 3.5% ABV that could arguably be classified as a very hoppy mild).

[In case you were wondering, yes, I did meet some of Ginny’s distant relatives. And no, I didn’t see any bells, although there is one in the Anglican Cathedral in Stone Town. It was donated by the Sultan of Oman, demonstrating a spirit of generosity and religious tolerance which is still very evident in Zanzibar today.]

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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