Garlands of Hops

Hop garlands at the Fat Pig Freehouse. The garlands were brought in to celebrate the brewery opening on Sept. 14, but will last several months, growing more golden as they age. Photo: PK Read

Hop garlands at the Fat Pig Freehouse. The garlands were brought in to celebrate the brewery opening on Sept. 14, but will last several months, growing more golden as they age.
Photo: PK Read

Over at the Fat Pig Freehouse in Exeter, UK, the place is draped in long garlands of fresh hops, green and fragrant. The Fat Pig is a homey pub, no televisions, no sports, all food locally sourced and freshly made in the kitchen. It claims to be Exeter’s first brewery pub, with a spanking new beer brewery on the premises. I can’t verify that as I don’t know Exeter all that well, but I can state that the Fat Pig India Pale Ale is light, herbal and very tasty.

Although I got quite lost trying to find the Fat Pig – it’s tucked down an ever-so-slightly dark and dodgy side street at the far end of a large shopping area – arriving there was a pleasure. Warmly lit, friendly crowd. I got pulled into a Big Life Questions kind of conversation by the neighboring table almost immediately, and that’s always a fun introduction to a place.

I was sent down to the Fat Pig by the Tiny, barkeep at its sister pub the Rusty Bike (more on that another day), mainly because the whisky collection at the Fat Pig was supposed to be quite extensive – and it didn’t disappoint.

Hop garlands. Photo: PK Read

Hop garlands.
Photo: PK Read

As to the whiskies, I tried out the Speyside Singleton of Dufftown 12-year-old first, and was pleasantly surprised by its sherried brown sugar and burnt apple smoothness, with a bit of oakiness at the end. This is such an easy whisky to like, I would almost recommend it for anyone wanting to try single malt whisky for the first time.singleton-of-dufftown-12-ans

It was so smooth I almost decided to stick with that, but fortunately I decided to try a Highland Island single malt instead, the limited bottling of the Arran 16-year-old.

The Arran was less sugary than the Singleton, a bit less smooth – but rich, creamy, honeyed and for my palate, more interesting. Notes of various spices, especially nutmeg, and citrus. 16yo-BottleTube-Single

That and a plate of house-smoked pork ribs – from pigs raised by the Fat Pig’s owner – completed a really good evening.

As it turned out, finding my way home was much easier than finding the pub in the first place. I know my way now, though, so I can find it again on my next visit.

And in honor of the mellow mood at the Fat Pig, here’s a smooth bit of mildly pork-related jazz by Charles Mingus for a lazy Sunday, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.

Barley Landscapes

Barley field, Palouse, Washington (USA)
Credit: Victor Szalvay

As someone who enjoys single malt whisky, when I think of the malted barley that is at its heart, I have some sort of fuzzy romantic image of it like the one above. Spacious skies, swaying waves of grain, and so on.

But of course, as the world’s fourth most important grain (in terms of cropland and quantity), barley is big business. One of the original cornerstones of human agriculture, barley has been under cultivation for an estimated 10,000 years. These days, it’s used mainly for the production of beer and whisky, but it also, as animal feed and as winter bedding, it underpins the meat and dairy industries.

With the growth of the global whisky market – and the increase in whisky production outside Scotland – the demand for barley for malting purposes has only gone up over the past couple of decades.

Oats, once the main grain crop in Scotland, have long since been displaced by barley cultivation. Still, Scotland has all but reached its limits in arable land available for the barley that would keep the entire production chain within the country, from field to bottle.

Large malting groups negotiate the global barley trade, and as climate change alters temperature zones, seed companies look to develop and promote barley

Landscape of the barley gene space Source: IBSC / Nature

Landscape of the barley gene space
Source: IBSC / Nature

cultivars that can take the heat and still yield up an acceptable amount of alcohol.

And now, the barley genome has been partially sequenced.

A paper published in Nature late last year gave an overview of barley’s innermost workings that provides a roadmap for further development.

The research was produced by the International Barley Sequencing Consortium (IBSC), a collaborative group founded in 2006 with the immediate objective of completing the genomic sequencing of its subject, and the long-term aim of improving global crop security.

Not quite the rustling romance of a barley field under the sun, but the landscape of the barley gene space reveals its own intricate mystery.

And here’s a tune that doesn’t have much to do with barley, but is a good whisky song anyway.


International Barley Sequencing Consortium (IBSC) website with numerous publicly accessible data resources

Nature paper A physical, genetic and functional sequence assembly of the barley genome by The International Barley Genome Sequencing Consortium