You might think it a little strange for me to interview my own husband, since I might reasonably be expected to know most, if not all, of his answers! But of course, Monday Meet The Blogger is about sharing the blogs I love with a wider audience. So please read on to find out more about Pete Drinks, a blog where Pete talks about beer, whisky and coffee.
Is there a story behind your blog’s name?
Not really; I started out writing guest spots on Kavey Eats and it just seemed the obvious name!
Why did you choose to blog about drink?
Honestly? It all came about because after a spate of food arriving at the house for Kavey to review; I (jokingly) asked Kavey why she never got offered beer. I was slightly horrified to learn that she had turned down such offers because she didn’t write about beer. She said she’d accept the next offer if I would write the review, and in the meantime invited me to guest post about beers I already had in the house. That sounds bad, because it makes it seem like I was only in it for free beer but actually I very quickly realised I just liked writing about beer and I didn’t care whether it was free or not.
The trouble with only making guest posts on someone else’s blog is that I soon found myself asking for yet another slot and being told that I’d have to wait a month. By that stage, I’d accepted that it wasn’t going to be a short-lived hobby so it seemed time to cut myself adrift and set up my very own blog.
Of course, the downside to that is that I don’t get to enjoy all the lovely traffic that came with being on a popular blog like Kavey Eats! [I didn’t pay him to say that! KF]
Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?
I don’t think the challenges are particularly specific to drink – they’re the same whenever you’re reviewing anything. You have to try and form an impartial opinion on something (the easy bit) and then put into words why you’ve reached that conclusion (the hard bit).
The other challenge is vocabulary; describing a beer (or anything else for that matter) is hard if you’re not in the habit of doing so – those first few cringe-worthy posts are filled with useful descriptions like “malty” and “bitter” which is a bit like describing the Antarctic as “a bit cold”; technically correct, but not exactly informative.
One of the joys of blogging is that it forces you to think far more deeply about what you’re tasting, and search for different ways to describe those tastes. I used to laugh at some of the Jilly Goolden-like excesses of tasting notes, but the more I try and understand flavour, the more I understand where she’s coming from.
The downside, of course, is that there’s always a small voice telling me that what I’m writing is unbearably pretentious twaddle when I begin waxing lyrical!
You mainly focus on coffee, whisky and beer. Why?
When I started, I was dedicated to beer, because that was what I knew most about (although not, to be honest, a great deal back then) and beer blogging appeared to be “a thing”.
It was over a year before I branched out into whisky, and that was largely caused by the large Drinks by the Dram parcel I got for my birthday. In many ways, that felt like going back to my initial days of talking about beer, because there was an entirely different palette of flavours to recognise.
Coffee came another year later; I’d tended to be a Nescafe Instant drinker to be honest, until I ended up working in an office where we had a coffee club – any time we bought a coffee we’d not tried before, Phil would demand our marks out of ten and we slowly built up a revealing list of our favourites. They knew I was a drinks blogger, so when they suggested I should add coffee to my repertoire, I took the plunge.
When you are pulling together a new review post, what are the similarities and differences when talking about coffee, whisky and beer?
The vocabularies and flavour palettes are different, but the basic questions you’re asking are the same: how does it smell? how does it taste? do I like it? and above all, why (or why not)?!
Many of your posts are about your home-brewing experiences. What are your top homebrew tips to share with a) a complete novice b) a kit brewer thinking of branching out?
a) Just go for it. It’s dead easy, it’s cheap to start out and beer comes out the other end. Buy a kit, and get stuck in. Ignore anything you read about water treatment.
I would suggest you resist diving into homebrew forums at all to start with; they are fantastic resources of information and opinion, but they’re also full of people who will insist that if you don’t do everything exactly the way they do, that your beer will be ruined, destined to go down the drain. It will scare you out of doing anything.
Above all, keep in mind that people were brewing beer in mud huts five thousand years ago, and they didn’t have digital thermometers back then. Sure, if you’re a commercial brewer trying to reproduce the same beer day after day you need to be precise, but for the novice home-brewer, you can get away with a lot of errors (trust me!)
b) Stop using kits! “Brewing” with cans of extract is a little bit like baking cakes with packet mixes – sure, it produces something roughly beer-like (or cake-like) at the end of it, but you’ve only been half-involved. This ties a little into the first part of this question, because I’d say that if possible, complete novices should jump straight into ‘real’ brewing from the beginning.
Brewing from grain gives you so much more flexibility, and really doesn’t make things all that more complicated. If you can make a cup of tea, you can make all-grain beer. And it’ll taste better.
What’s been the homebrew you’ve been most pleased with, and why?
That’s a little like asking a parent to pick their favourite child!
My Coffee Porter is an obvious one, because I got to brew it in a real brewery, sell it in a real pub and see real people paying actual money to drink it.
Have you had any homebrew disasters? What happened?
I’ve made plenty of mistakes – getting mash temperatures wildly out, managing to start a brew day without checking that I actually had all the ingredients and having to re-write the recipe on the fly – but things invariably work out ok. Beer really wants to be made.
Perhaps the closest to ‘disaster’ was the time I realised (at the end of the boil) that I’d forgotten to fit the hop filter inside the boiler. The hop filter is essentially a strainer that keeps the hops back in the boiler, and stops them from clogging up the tap when you’re trying to get all your lovely beer out.
After realising that just trying to carry on wasn’t going to work (the tap was so plugged up by hops that nothing was coming out) I eventually had to plunge my (thoroughly washed!) arm into still-rather-hot wort and fit the damn filter with the boiler still full.
Again, the beer came out fine at the end of it all.
For those who don’t have an understanding of the brewing process, can you give us a brief explanation of the process; a short dummies guide?
Beer only (normally) has four ingredients; malted grain, hops, water and yeast. It also has four basic steps:
- Soak the malted grain in hot water (65degrees, give or take) for an hour. This extracts the sugar from the malt, and gives you a sweet liquid (called wort).
- Boil the wort for an hour (after straining out the malt grain), adding hops along the way. Hops added at the start of the boil mainly contribute bitterness to the beer, while hops added later in the process (especially in the last 15 minutes) are more about flavour and aroma.
- Once the wort has cooled down (and you’ve strained out the hops), add the yeast. This is the bit that turns all those sugars into alcohol.
If you can make a cup of tea and boil and egg, you’ve already mastered the fundamental techniques.
As you also feature in many of the cooking posts on Kavey Eats, we must surely squeeze in some cooking questions…
What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?
Growing up, my cooking was limited to making cakes with my mum. It’s fair to say that we weren’t an adventurous family, food-wise so those cakes were limited to what was in Mrs. Beeton – Victoria sponges and butterfly cakes.
I’m not sure I could claim to be “inspired” to cook; at University it was more of a necessity than a passion, but over time being married to a foodie changes your perspective!
What recipe are you fondest / proudest of?
I’m not sure I’d describe myself as *proud* of any of my recipes; I mean I can produce tasty enough food, but I don’t see myself signing up to MasterChef any time soon.
The recipe that’s been most widely (and positively!) enjoyed is probably my Chocolate Porter Cake. I somehow agreed to take part in a Great Chocolate Cake-Off at Chocolate Unwrapped, and ended up creating a Devil’s Food Cake-based affair, liberally laced with Fuller’s excellent London Porter, in the sponge and the filling. And the cream on top.
It’s not the prettiest cake in the world – I still have the same design skills as I had when I was 8 years old – but it’s damn tasty.
I also had fun making up a paprika ginger beer recipe for a mixer challenge!
Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?
Short answer, no. The slightly longer answer is, I’ll usually seek out something different to the beer I’ve just finished!
Which single beer could you not live without?
Honestly, I’m not sure there is one. There are about a million different beers out there, and while I’d be sad if, say, Bristol Beer Factory’s Southville Hop was suddenly discontinued, I’m sure I’d find something to take its place in my affections!
Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?
I don’t get Pilsners. It’s not that I don’t like them; I just don’t see why they seem to be so revered among beer “experts”.
What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?
Cans seem to be very trendy right now; as with so many things, British breweries are starting to import the US concept of putting their beer into cans rather than bottles. Of course, beer in cans is hardly revolutionary – Special Brew has been in cans for decades – it’s something new for “premium” beers.
In theory, it’s a superior package – light-proof, more robust and far lighter than glass bottles. In practice… I’m unconvinced. I generally find them over-carbonated and while I’ll happily drink from a bottle sometimes, I just don’t enjoy drinking beer straight from the can.
I probably need to do more research.
What are your top three criteria for a great pub? Do you have a favourite pub? Why?
- Decent beer – by which I mean, (a) well kept, (b) not too damn cold, and (c) a decent – and changing – selection.
- Peace – going to the pub is a social experience; I want to be able to hear the people I’m with, not loud music or a blaring TV
- Food – having decent food means there’s a better chance of me being able to persuade my food-loving, beer-hating beloved to go to the pub with me!
Happily, our local – The Bohemia – ticks all those boxes quite nicely, and happens to be a brewery too!
What are the biggest turn offs for you, in the pubs you don’t like?
TV. I HATE pub TV. I loathe it. There are few things more likely to stop me from even going into a pub. I’d rather – MUCH rather – be in a smoke-filled pub than a Sky Sports-filled one.
How did you get into whisky?
Unlike beer, I haven’t always loved whisky. I put this down to my initial taste, in my teens, when I somehow acquired a small bottle of Teachers and decided that whisky was icky. To be fair to Teachers, I don’t think my teenage palate would have fallen in love with the finest single malt but the experience formed a firm belief that whisky was some sort of grain-flavoured sink cleaner.
Fast forward many years to the time we went up to Aberdeen to visit one of my wife’s friends. I’m sure we chatted and had a very pleasant time on the way in from the airport, but in my memory I’m convinced the first words this formidable Scots lady said to me were: “So, I hear you don’t like whisky, Pete. We’ll see about that!” – whereupon she opened a huge cupboard filled with an alarming number of bottles. A few were selected and pulled out onto the table; she is (and therefore, I am) a big Islay fan and decided that Lagavulin was an excellent distillery with which to start my education.
The rest of that evening is something of a haze. I do remember calling a halt to proceedings, having not yet even ventured past Islay, on the basis that I could no longer feel my face. Despite this, I was converted and have been on a voyage of discovery on the sea of whisky ever since.
What is your favourite style of whisky?
With that kind of start, I’ve always had a love of the big, powerful, smoky whiskies of Islay, and many of the other Scottish Island whiskies are the same.
That said, I’m developing an appreciation of bourbon too.
You’ve visited Japan twice in the last two years and enjoyed trying Japanese whisky. How does Japanese whisky compare to Scotch and what might be a good bottle to buy for someone who’s not tried any before?
It’s probably closer to Scotch than whisky from other countries, although they’re not generally big on peat. The biggest difference is that they tend to benefit a lot more from a drop of water being added to them – I suspect that’s largely because the Japanese largely drink whisky with water, rather than straight up as we do.
You’re a keen coffee drinker but have steered clear of the more pretentious side of coffeephilia. Tell us your thoughts on enjoying coffee as a regular coffee drinker.
There’s a lot of snobbery around coffee; as with everything I think it’s best to ignore what “the right way” is. For example, when I taste and review coffee I make it the same way as I drink it – in a big mug, with milk.
Now a coffeephile will tell you that a straight espresso is “the right way” to taste coffee and in a sense they’re right – diluting it with water and milk alters the flavour, but I don’t drink it that way normally. What’s the point in reviewing coffee in a form I never normally drink it?
What’s your top tip for an affordable tasty coffee to drink at home?
Buy an Aeropress; it’s the neatest, simplest device for brewing ground coffee. Then start working your way through the coffee in your local supermarket – there’s a huge range and something for everybody’s taste, and none of it very expensive.
For my money, you can’t go wrong with Taylor’s, and it’s often on special offer. Their After Dark remains one of my “go-to” coffees.
What are your thoughts on the increasing popularity of pod coffee machines?
Bemusement. Why buy a machine that restricts you to only drinking a limited range of (very expensively packaged) coffees? I genuinely do not get the point of them.
That said, I’ve never actually lived with one so maybe I’m missing something AMAZING about them.
Since I’m a travel addict, you get dragged around the world regularly…
What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a drinker’s perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?
Whenever I travel I’ve always got my eye open for the local beer; I don’t see the point of going to another country and heading for the nearest Englishe Pubbe for an overpriced half-litre of John Smiths.
Amsterdam was an impressive beer experience (largely thanks to some excellent pre-trip research not done by me!), although it’s hardly an exotic destination!
What’s the very first trip you remember taking?
Hayling Island, as a child. I don’t remember there being much beer, but I do remember an arcade machine that you could win bubble gum out of.
Where are you going next?
Washington DC. I’ve heard Americans can make quite good beer these days…
What three things can you never travel without?
Camera, Kindle and Kavey :)
Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?
I write more better.
Ahem. I write longer and more conversationally (sometimes to the frustration of my editor). I’ve become way better at self-editing. I’m even getting over my (incorrect) use of the possessive apostrophe in “it’s”.
Mostly, though, I just suck less than I used to. Writing, like everything else, is something you just have to do a lot – badly – before you learn how to do it properly.
What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?
Getting around to it. Once I actually sit down and start typing it’s pretty painless, but I’m very bad at the starting part.
What inspires you to keep blogging?
I just enjoy writing, and blogging about drink gives me the focus to actually put some words down, and the freedom to keep it pretty short.
Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates you from traditional journalists?
A lack of professionalism. And I mean that in a good way.
Journalists are, ultimately, bound by the person paying the bills – the publisher, the client, or whoever. Bloggers aren’t (or rather, shouldn’t be) so we can follow our hearts more easily.
The line is blurred because there’s such a wide spectrum of bloggers, from those who are just in it for fun – like me – to those who are looking for the book deal, the sponsorship deal, or the “real” journalism job.
The kind of blogging I do isn’t, in my mind, journalism. It’s standing on a box at Speaker’s Corner. I’m just talking about stuff I want to talk about – if someone stops and listens, that’s great but at the end of the day I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for me.
You grow fruit, vegetables, wheat and hops in your garden and allotment…
What do you love about doing that?
I like seeing stuff grow. I like how the garden and the allotment changes every day, even if it is just weeds half the time. I enjoy the tidiness of a freshly weeded bed (although that rarely happens!) and the peace of being out in the fresh air watching the robins watch me dig up worms for them.
Obviously it’s great to get real edible stuff out at the other end, but it’s the journey more than the destination that matters. If I was only in it for the crop, it would be cheaper and easier to go to Aldi.
What’s the hardest aspect?
Getting around to it. Once I’m there I’m happy to do the work, but I’m rubbish at taking that first step (I’m starting to see a pattern in these answers….)
What’s new on your list to grow next year?
Barley. I already grow hops, so the next logical step is to grow some barley, figure out how the hell to malt it, and make beer genuinely from scratch.
What are you absolutely loving cooking/ eating/ drinking right now?
I recently found a case of my homebrew Coffee Stout lurking forgotten at the back of the cupboard. That was a very happy discovery!
What’s the single most popular post on your blog?
By a considerable margin, my Alcoholic Ginger Beer tasting. I should probably do more things like that!
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Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.