The Mixed Six

Over the past 12 months, I’ve written about some fairly-serious topics: I wrote a contrary opinion regarding the state of beer quality in New Zealand (and another querying the validity of using beer awards as proxy marker for quality).  Then I dived back into a topic that I’ll champion until rigor mortis kicks-in: the difficult pursuit of moderation, and how standard drinks can help us get there.

I’m proud of each of these pieces.  They were important for me to write, and I’ll keep-on writing similar things.  But f*ck me – writing about this serious stuff has somewhat sucked the fun out of my beer writing universe.  When I started out it was all about the feel-goods: I wrote passionately about pointless things like mash paddles, and waxed lyrical about the Best Album to Drink Beer By.  Somewhere between hither and yon I forgot why I got into this in the first place…to write stuff that made me (and by extension others) happy.  

So since all this seriousness has made Jase a dull boy, I’ve decided that I desperately need to write something utterly pointless before I become a complete bore.  So here it is: something frivolous, dumb and inconsequential. 

And bloody good fun.

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So….let’s play a game, shall we?

Like me, you’ve probably noticed the relatively-recent proliferation of mixed packs – usually 6 (but sometimes 12) different beers from a given stable, all in one handy pack.  These mixed packs are a fantastic way to get to know a brewery from the comfort of your lounge, with several breweries regularly changing-up the mixture to keep things interesting (Mikes are doing fantastically in this regard).  I have no idea how (or if, for that matter) the breweries are making any money on something that must involve many additional hours of work to pack; but, annoyingly for the breweries, they really are fantastic.  It’s a genius way to attract people who are new to your brand, but don’t want to commit to just one of your drops (in case they don’t like it) – and since we beer nerds tend to have the attention span of a goldfish with amnesia, it’s also a great way to stuff some variety into our fridge with one pain-free purchase.

Anyway, back to our game.

As I was working-through a Rad Pack from my local brewery 8 Wired the other weekend, my mind wandered-off the beaten track and into a bizarre stranded-on-a-desert-island situation.  (This happens to me often; I try to keep the amount of time that I live in the real world to an absolute minimum.)  The scenario I played-around with was this: if I was castaway to an uninhabited Pacific Island, and a container-load of mixed-six packs just happened to wash-up along with me (some sort of bizarre beer-transport-shipwreck where I was the sole survivor…obviously), then what would I hope was in the six-pack?

I initially tried to fill the pack with individual beers, but this become impossible very early-on.  Choosing one Double IPA over another is akin to choosing your first-born over your second; not quite in a Sophie’s Choice kinda-way, but bloody difficult nonetheless.  And that’s when I realised that rather than choosing six favourite beers, it’s much easier to choose six favourite beer styles.  That way, the possibilities are much less harrowing: perhaps fifty of the mixed-sixes in the shipping container have Hop Zombie, and fifty have Superconductor.  It’s my frickin’ fantasy, and I’ll flip-flop if I want to.

So here’s the rules of the game: you need to settle on the six beer styles that you simply couldn’t live without.  Ignore ambient factors to do with the island: let’s pretend that the weather is fairly mild, but with plenty of warm days (for paler, refreshing things) and cold nights (for darker, robust things).  And let’s assume that the container has a self-sustaining refrigeration system.  (Fantasy, remember.)

By way of example, I’ve listed my mixed-six below – it took a while to settle on, but I’m confident that Desert Island Jase would be a happy-chappy.  The list starts with paler things and works up to more freaky things – but the order is otherwise irrelevant.

  1. Bohemian Pils. Going to a desert island without a simple, refreshing Bohemian Pils to enjoy at the end of a long day trying to teach myself to fish would be complete torture.  The style-definer here is the sensational (and highly-affordable these days) Pilsner Urquell: refreshingly-crisp bitterness, rich malt, and a wonderfully-subtle noble hop aroma.  Yumbo.
  2. Red IPA/India Red Ale. Without question my favourite beer style on the planet.  Red IPA – or India Red Ale, since things that are red can’t also be pale – is the beer equivalent of turning the bass and treble all the way up on your car stereo: it has all the caramel toffee of a big ESB, with the overt dankness of a juicy IPA.  What’s not to love?
  3. Foreign Extra Stout. This one was tough – my love of Porters and Stouts knows no bounds, but which among the infinite options should I pick?  Should I go with a small Porter or Milk Stout that I could sip all night in front of a beach fire, or a tongue-stripping Russian Imperial Stout that demanded attention?  In the end, I settled somewhere in the middle: Foreign Extra Stout has all the roasty-coffee and chocolate that a lonely castaway needs when the weather turns rough.  Guinness Foreign Extra, anyone?
  4. Belgian Dubbel. Of all the chewy Belgians, I dig Dubbel the most.  The distinctive esters of the Belgian yeast shine through, but not nearly as bright as the sticky raisins and boozy sweetness of the malt.  Le Trappe and Westmalle make excellent versions, but you can more-or-less wave a finger at the available range and hit a good one.  Flavour for days.
  5. Double IPA. Of all the beers on the list, this one was the trickiest to nail-down.  I knew that I needed a beer that was all about the hops – all killer, no filler – and a Double IPA fits that bill nicely.  I adore this style; but it’s also probably the most frustrating to buy as a consumer, since there are so many old and tired examples sitting on our retail shelves.  Perhaps more than any other style, the balance of a Double IPA sits on a knife edge: even after a few short months on the shelf (less if packaged poorly), the delicate hop compounds start to drop out; and after 6-9 months – which seems to be the median age of most that I come across – the malt sweetness that was balancing the initially-intense hop character is left standing naked in the wind.  Not so ka pai.  But since this is a dumb thought experiment – and thus anything is possible – I’m going to assume that my Double IPA was perfectly-packaged a week before the shipwreck…and then I’m going to drink it all in the first six weeks of solitude.  Moderately.
  6. Flanders Red. I was a latecomer to sours – and particularly to Flanders Red – but now I completely nerd-out on their fabulous complexity.  The slight aroma of a hairy armpit after a long run; the slap of a smidge of vinegar; the puckeringly-sour bite as the beer hits the back of your gob.  Lovely.  Rodenbach and Duchesse de Bourgogne are fine examples, but we’re also fantastic at making them right here in Aotearoa (if you find one, grab it; they’re pretty rare).

There it is, friends: my desert island mixed-six.  I encourage you all to pour a pint, kick-back in your favourite chair, and jot-down your own list.  If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, consider Tweeting out your list and tagging me (@jasegurney).  I really do get far too excited about this sort of pointless stuff – so I may make this an ongoing series by pulling-out the Rolodex and asking my brewing-acquaintances for their own mixed-six.  I feel a new project coming on…

www.brewhui.com | facebook.com/brewhui | Twitter: @jasegurney

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