Monday, 27 August 2007

Beer and Ukuleles

There’s almost nothing better than sinking a fine real ale and strumming a fine ukulele. I spend much time in the pursuit of great ukuleles and the best beer to drink whilst strumming them. So here are some of my top beer and ukulele recommendations; the beers have been matched with each ukulele to reflect the characteristics of the instrument.

Tastes: The finest beer is cask conditioned and found on draught in pubs near to where it has been brewed. If you don’t have the opportunity to travel around a variety of pubs to find this beer the next best thing is to drink the bottled versions of the beers; here I have chosen bottled beers easily available in the UK.

Sounds: Sound samples of the ukuleles have been recorded using a Samson condenser mic straight into Cubase through an M-Audio mobile pre. I have not added any effects or EQ: everything is as recorded. All the ukes are strung with Aquila nylgut strings.

To kick things off here are two classic beers and a classic ukulele. Adnam’s ‘Broadside’ and Theakston’s ‘Old Peculiar’ are both dark full flavoured beers. Both have a good malty taste, with the ‘Broadside’ also delivering a hint of spice. This is a great match for the Martin Style 0, the workhorse of the ukulele world. Warm and dark and with great tone, every uke player should have one. It is effortless to play and strums just flow from the fret board. There is something about the sound of a ukulele that has been played in for 50+ years, it is often described as mojo, that indescribable something that marks out a ukulele with a great sound. The Martin Style O seems to always give the mojo sound, perhaps it was the great craftsmen in Nazareth Pa. who just knew what to do. However it was achieved, the fact is old Martin’s just deliver. In the same way, drinking a pint of ‘Broadside’ or ‘Old Peculiar’ never disappoints and you always think, yes, this is what good beer is all about.

Kevin Crossett is setting new standards in what makes a modern classic ukulele. He combines modern building techniques with classic styling and creates a ukulele that looks the part. The really exciting thing is that his ukuleles also sound the part delivering an even, full sound that is complex and satisfying. I have matched the KepasaHollywood’ concert with two of the best Amber Ales around. The Hall and Woodhouse Badger ‘First Gold’ is refreshing and easy to drink, but with plenty of complex hoppy flavours to enjoy. The Badger ‘Golden Glory’ explodes with the smell and taste of peaches; it is a modern beer but has a bitter sweet taste that is extremely captivating. Badger beers combine the best of old and new and the ‘Hollywood’ does just the same. It has a modern build but is in touch with it’s Hawaiian roots; it has a fresh, bright tone but with plenty of the complexity you would normally only expect from a vintage instrument.

I have recently played in some Appalachian music sessions and sat in with a jazz quartet. To be heard in these situations I have been playing an Ashbury Resonator ukulele. The uke has had cone and tuner upgrades and is loud, punchy and a little brash. I have matched it up with some local beers from the Cotleigh brewery in Wiveliscombe. These are great session beers not subtle but full flavoured and extremely drinkable. The ‘Barn Owl’ is a great bitter, smooth and malty with a classic bitter aftertaste. The ‘Buzzard’ is strong and dark, with a fruity bitterness. I should also mention that the reso uke has been seeing plenty of action at TUSC, where I drink Cotleigh ‘25’ on draught. If you’re looking for an impressively quaffable beer, which sits well in a session, then Cotleigh is where it’s at; this matches the best attribute of the reso, playing out in a loud and raucous session.

Click here to listen to a sound clip of the Ashbury Resonator Ukulele

If I’m relaxing on a sunny afternoon then the ukulele of choice is the Joel Eckhaus 1k soprano. The beers to drink with this ukulele are the Devon based, Otter brewery’s ‘Beautiful Daze’ and ‘Otter Bright’. Like the uke the beers are clean and refreshin g, good hoppy tastes and full of flavour. Their amber colour is a great match for the beautiful Koa Joel has used on the 1K. Joel is a master at building ukuleles, they are not fancy but don’t be mistaken, his ukes show exacting attention to detail, and fit and finish is second to none. The ukulele is a dream to play having a wonderful dynamic and a rich pure tone. When you drive it the koa gives that distinctive edge to the sound. The uke can be strummed or finger picked and is the lead ukulele on the ‘Ukecast’ theme. Otter beers are even better on draught and a beer I will travel some distance to drink. When hand pumped the ‘Otter Bright’ explodes with fruity hoppy flavours reminiscent of fresh grass. These are some of my favourite beers and the 1k is amongst the best ukuleles I have ever played.

The Nipper soprano is very special to me, having been made for me by the ‘Mighty’ John Colter. It has a bright expressive tone and is so smooth and easy to play. It has volume in spades and really cuts through making it an excellent ensemble ukulele. I have decided to pair it with Fentimans Ginger Beer, without a doubt the world’s finest ginger beer. It is a loud beer with massive helpings of fiery ginger taste; however it is surprisingly cool in the after taste and a most refreshing drink. Fentimans Ginger beer is one of John’s favourite drinks, he discovered it after I presented him with a bottle when he delivered the Nipper to me. So Fentimans and the Nipper will always be linked. For those of you liking a kick with your drinks it makes the perfect accompaniment to whiskey. For those of you wanting a very

special ukulele that never disappoints, buy John a few crates of FGB and ask him very nicely.

Kamaka ukuleles are a classic Hawaiian brand produced since 1916. The uke shown here is a Kamaka Gold Label soprano made some time in the late 1950s. As this ukulele was made in the birth place of the instrument, I have chosen beers which are made close to my birth place in Somerset. The RCH brewery ‘Pitchfork’ commemorates the pitchfork rebellion of 1685. It has a great full flavour, hoppy and fruity, and is roughly made, like the Kamaka. The Cheddar Ales ‘Potholer’ has a wonderfully complex citrus flavour and leaves you wanting more. Both these beers come with yeast in the bottle to give a secondary fermentation and so pack a flavoursome punch for bottled beers. The Kamaka needs to be driven hard to get the best tone, which is full and woody. The sound of the Kamaka is pure Hawaiian mojo that can only come from old wood.

Click here to listen to a sound clip of the Kamaka Gold Label Soprano

I have really been enjoying drinking Brakspear ‘Triple’ a triple fermented beer that comes in a numbered bottle. It has a high ABV at 7.2% and with rich, warm, honey flavours, it is a real late night tipple. This is a bottle only beer and quite unlike any others discussed so far. So what ukulele to pair with this unusual beer? I decided on the mahogany Brueko slimline soprano, like the beer this is an unusual ukulele being half the depth in the body of a standard ukulele. This does not hamper the sound which is tight and focused with a reasonable volume. I like this ukulele and play it when teaching as it rings out over the fuller tones found with standard ukuleles. The thing is this uke can also sound great for a little soft late night finger picking which leads to a sudden ‘tin pan alley’ thrash. That is the experience of ‘Triple’, you begin gently savouring the richness of the beer and after a couple realise you’re totally ‘gone’ and only fit to drunkenly dance and sing like Eddie Cantor in a Broadway show.

Click here to listen to a sound clip of the Brueko Slimline soprano

So after drinking all this beer and strumming all those ukes my mind began to get a little fuzzy and realised the last instrument in this journey was not actually a ukulele. The last beer is a fearsome pirate brew from Cornwall called ‘Cornish Buccaneer’, and the instrument a Hohner soprano melodica, both go well with ukuleles but I’m now so drunk I can’t see the wood for the plastic…….

“Drink more beer, play more ukuleles”



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