Sparks flying

It’s that time of year when folks, perhaps in an attempt to wring out their liver post-holiday, commit to such valiant goals as dry January.

It’s commendable, if you started 2018 with a headache and liver crisis, to take measures to redeem your health. I’m all in favour in taking breaks from alcohol but taking a whole month can be a bit like a crash diet: hard to sustain especially if you get to the end and go back to bingeing on chips and chocolate.

One of food’s answers the question of maintaining diets is the 5:2 where you spend two days a week fasting and five days eating normally. Taking a bite-size approach to the task of reducing intake is manageable – and many report good results.

I take a similar approach to beer. People are often astonished when I confess to “not really drinking that much”. I love the taste of beer but I can’t stand the feeling of being drunk – or hungover. And in trying to live a relatively healthy life – check out the brown rice, quinoa, coconut oil in my cupboards! – I find it quite easy to take two or three days off beer each week.

The bonus in taking a mini-break is that the next beer always tastes exquisite.

It’s something my favourite beer writer Pat Lawlor summed up superbly nearly 60 years ago in his enduring 1965 book The Froth-blowers Manual.

Lawlor advocated going “on the wagon” every now and then to fully appreciate beer from a fresh perspective. “It is a sublime experience for the ardent beer lover to taste once more a pot of beer with a tongue that is perfectly clean, as sensitive as a microphone to the tang of the hops, the velvety insinuation of the malt, the combination of the ineffable properties of perfectly brewed beer.”

I’m not doing dry January, I did dry July once and it was just boring. But I did take a mini-break from beer at the start of the new year – a combination of a busy work schedule and an illness I couldn’t quite shake.

And the first beer back, Spark’s Prospector Farmhouse Ale, was such a delight I reckon it would have pleased Lawlor no-end.

Farmhouse styles were once the mongrel of Belgian brewing where leftover grain and various fruits and spices were thrown into the mix to a create pungent yet refreshing brew for happy-have-it farm workers. The beers were brewed and stored over the colder months ready for consumption the following summer – so it’s a perfect style for this hot weather.

Except they are no longer mongrels and are being created with an elegance that belies their rustic ancestry.

Sparks Prospector is made by a former national home brew champion Adam Sparks, who, it’s fair to say has run his own race in the professional ranks. His debut beer was a foreign extra stout and he’s done a couple of Belgian style beers, including Prospector, and a hoppy sour.

Prospector is a masterpiece of fusion. A scent of hay and honey melds with pineapple and citrus zest, the body is rich with strong tropical fruit character from the distinctive New Zealand hop oils followed by a late ping of bitterness and dry finish.

There’s so much to savour in this multifaceted beer and it clocks in at a very summer sessionable 4.9 per cent.