The Fizz Weekly Update – The Valentine’s Day Edition (2020-02-14)

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Week 1 in Sydney is almost up, and it’s Valentine’s Day. As is tradition, David and I don’t celebrate, but since we’re staying in a hotel, going out for dinner will be inevitable. We’ll settle for cheap and cheerful, and probably get a little tipsy on some pints at one of Sydney’s many pubs. But if you’re not a curmudgeonly sort and do plan to celebrate, I suggest you follow the sage words of Dan Savage and Fuck First

Sydney has been a mixed beer bag, all things considered. We’ve tried a few spots thus far (Bucket Boys & Batch Brewing being my favorites) and a few breweries (Garage Project & The Grifter are stand-outs). I did a quick scan of the 199 breweries listed on the Independent Brewers Association of Australia, and got some interesting data (despite the fact that a number of breweries I’ve had don’t show up on this list). So here’s a few notables: 

  • Breweries are concentrated heavily in three states – Victoria (60 breweries), New South Wales (50), and Queensland (33). This mostly maps with population density – Sydney and Newcastle in NSW, Melbourne in VIC, and Brisbane & Gold Coast in QLD.
  • Sydney (at least) feels a bit behind on the curve. They’ve just moved into sours as being the hot shit thing of the moment. Most everybody favors fairly weak, low-hopped pale ales and basic lagers. They’re ok, but nothing stands out. 
  • Within Sydney proper, if you’re in the area, you must visit Marrickville. It’s about 20 minutes outside of the city proper, but it’s absolutely worth it, both from a beer and coffee scene. Also, Public House Petersham is worth a visit to see Gizmo the beer cat. He’s 20, diabetic, but absolutely chill AF: 
David is still getting over jet lag. I think Gizmo was admiring his commitment to naps. 

In this issue of The Fizz, we’ve got a few bits on Australia, thoughts by @totalcurtis and #beertwitter on the Portman Group ruling against Brasserie De La Senne, a new book by Michael Pollan on the power of caffeine, and the almost-return of those chalky Necco conversational hearts we all got as kids. Not gonna lie, I’m keeping this one short as I’m too busy exploring Sydney and all its glory. 

So I wrote a thing on the lessons I learned from Dryanuary, especially around relationships. If you’re interested in whether relationships are stronger when couples drink together, you might want to give it a read. Also I’m working on a larger piece on Sydney’s coffee culture, which I’m hoping to get published… fingers crossed. 

Beer Buzz

Let’s start out with some Aussie trivia. While on a mostly dull bus tour of the city, the guide pointed out that one of Australia’s former PMs, Bob Hawkes, was previously the world-record holder for drinking a yard of beer, “when he downed a sconce pot in eleven seconds as part of a traditional Oxford college penalty.” 

This is what a Yard of Ale looks like. Source: Wikipedia

Homebrewers, be careful when you’re brewing a rye lager from homegrown rye. And don’t be this guy. Apparently, rye is particularly susceptible to a fungal infection from the Claviceps purpurea fungus. It’s highly toxic to people, and too much of it causes either convulsive and/or gangrenous ergotism. Now, the chap from the reddit thread only suffered hallucinations, but he was lucky. Other symptoms are no bueno. (H/T to @worstbeerblog for starting me down that research rabbit hole).   

UK’s Portman Group blocks the Taras Boulba label for being too violent. – Portman Group.

Yeah, so I wasn’t familiar with the Portman Group before @totalcurtis and @eoganwalsh and like, half of #beertwitter posted about it this week, but boy, is this strange. 

First off, the Portman Group is an industry association comprised of nine macro beverage producers: 

  • Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands
  • Beverage Brands (UK) Ltd
  • Carlsberg UK
  • Diageo Great Britain
  • Heineken UK
  • InBev UK Ltd
  • C&C Group plc
  • Molson Coors Brewing Company UK Ltd
  • Pernod Ricard UK

The self-regulatory body found that Brasserie De La Senne’s label for their Taras Boulba beer was in breach of their code, and issued a ruling that appears to bar the brewery from including the label on bottles sold in the UK. From the ruling: 

The imagery on the label may evoke associations with violent and aggressive behaviour. The man lifting a barrel is red in face, which suggests the state of being very angry – this is understood literally by all consumers irrespectively whether they are familiar with the novel or not. The fact that he is lifting a barrel may be associated with super strength consumers can get after consuming a drink. The Flemish word ‘smeirlap’ literally means ‘greasy rag’ and is used as a term of abuse. The best translation is probably ‘bastard’. All this carries out a message of violent behaviour, likely to be associated with the consumption of the drink. Although the imagery is based on Nikolai Gogol’s novel ‘Taras Bulba’, a Ukrainian Cossack of the Orthodox Christian faith whose son started a romantic relationship with a woman from Polish Catholic church and his father, Tras Boulba, became very angry, it is unlikely that many consumers will be familiarised with the story and may get an impression that the product will give them an extra strength or will help them to express anger and other violent emotions. The caption in a very dense Flemish dialect reads: ‘Well, thanks! Taras Boulba is wild with anger [hopping mad, maybe?]. His son has married a Wollin [i.e. a girl from Wollin in Poland]’.

Here’s the bottle in question: 

Brasserie De La Senne

The ruling has rightly been criticized. It strikes me as incredibly puritanical and rather silly. Consumers (especially craft beer consumers) aren’t likely to believe that beer will give them super strength. One wonders if there’s some additional backstory behind this. 

Then again…Craft beer hater pulls gun on people outside Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing Company (NY Post)

If you’re in the US, and like so many of us, wasted money on a worthless degree, Natty Light wants to rent your diploma, for some sort of stunt. They’ll even pay you $100 for the privilege. I fully predict this will end with something bad happening, but I’ll have my popcorn at the ready.

Drinks Buzz

No vintage: Australian vineyards dump grape harvest as bushfire smoke takes its toll – The Guardian. I’m in Australia, so it makes sense to cover this extremely topical subject. Due to the devastating effects of the brush fires consuming large parts of the country, vintners are having to scrap their entire 2020 crop, not due to direct fire, but the smoke damage from the surrounding fires, and a byproduct known as “smoke taint.” The Guardian notes that the “phenomenon occurs when smoke binds to the skin of grapes, ruining the taste of wine made from the fruit. For an industry where perception equals success, the reputational damage caused by selling a vintage affected by smoke taint can be lethal.” 

According to Wikipedia, as of the 14th of January, the 2019-2020 bushfire season has burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares, destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes), killed an estimated 1 billion animals, and at least 34 people. The cost of dealing with the bushfires is expected to exceed the A$4.4 billion of the 2009 Black Saturday fires, and, along with the coronavirus, has devastated the tourism industry. 

Michael Pollan Explains Caffeine Cravings (And Why You Don’t Have To Quit) – NPR. Michael Pollan, he of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food fame, has written a book on the most widely-used drug: caffeine. One of the big takeaways? Drinking coffee actually helps, especially when it comes to learning. Pollan also discusses his own challenges when he gave up caffeine for three months. It sounds interesting, and most importantly, he did it as an audiobook, so it makes for great gym material. 

We Tried Roasting Our Own Coffee. Learn from Us – Outside Online. I have been a bit obsessed with coffee as of late (and am working on a rather in-depth article related to coffee as we speak). I also think roasting is kind of magical, even if it’s hard to master. There’s a lot of good nuggets of wisdom here, and if you’re interested in roasting your own, this piece is a good place to start. One thing I absolutely recommend: Roast in a well-ventilated space (or outside). Roasting beans creates a lot of off-gasses and odors, and even if you’re a true lover of the bean, sometimes they can be a bit too much.

Other Thoughts

Necco’s conversation hearts are chalk full o’ goodness once more – The Takeout. I’ve held this one off until V-Day, for rather obvious reasons. But I had to include this article on the sale, shuttering, resale, and slow revival of the famous conversational hearts, if for nothing else than this line: 

Necco is like a cockroach infestation or the demon from the Paranormal Activity  movies: you think it’s gone for good, and then it shows up in your kitchen again.

The original owners (New England Candy Company) sold off the company to a real estate investment firm in 2018, and the fate of the conversational hearts we all grew up receiving as Valentine’s Day treats seemed doomed. The assets were later sold to another candy company, and production resumed again. Unfortunately, the production is just of the chalky candy, and for reasons, many of the choice phrases are notably missing. A full return of the hearts isn’t expected until 2021. 

The Art of Lying – Scientific American. This is a fascinating piece on the importance of lying, and research behind how, and why we lie. Even the most honest amongst us lie. Little white lies are how we exist in the world without being completely tactless assholes to one another. We lie to conceal our true emotions, to deal with difficult people around us, and to avoid conflict. 

There’s even a bit about how some enterprising scientists used mild electrical current to the anterior prefrontal cortex, and participants in the study were able to tell better lies. I wonder how long before someone comes out with a pocket-sized version of this contraption to help politicians lie to us all even more easily than they already do.

Books On Beer [Affiliate Links]

No books announcement this week. If you’ve got one that I missed, hit me up at

Beer Events

No events this week. If you’ve got one that I missed, hit me up at

Other beery insights to brighten your week include the OCBG Podcast on Tuesdays, A Good Beer Blog’s Thursday News Updates, Shiny Biscuit’s The Gulp (also on Thursdays), and Boak & Bailey’s News, Nuggets & Longreads on Saturday. 

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