WIB Listening Party #53: Blue Guitars

featuring…

Chris Rea, Blue Guitars

🍺 Morebeer Brewing Dutch Eagle

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

If you’re a blues fan (I certainly hope so) you’ll be familiar with T-Bone Walker’s oft-covered classic “Call It Stormy Monday” and an expression it helped make famous: “The eagle flies on Friday.”

Well at today’s Listening Party, the Dutch Eagle flies. Morebeer Brewing’s Dutch Eagle Pale Ale to be exact.

And while we soar high on eagles wings, we’ll also be skimming the deep waters of Chris Rea’s 137-song, 11-CD opus Blue Guitars – an underappreciated 2005 project which can take years to listen to in its entirety.

Last time out I documented a family vacation in Berlin and my uphill battle to get a taste of that city’s beer scene. Two weeks later we arrived in Amsterdam and it was more of the same. A pair of my favorite craft brewers, Oedipus and Lowlander, are based there. I heard their clarion call. But as I surveyed our plans for the week, I didn’t see any way I could easily sneak in a visit to one of their locations without totally blowing off my wife and kids.

Fortunately, being flexible and creative can lead to unexpected discoveries. So it was that as one half of the four-headed beast I call my nuclear family headed off to “look for shoes” – what, there are no shoes where we live? – I convinced my fourteen-year-old daughter to indulge my taste for good beer. She’s old enough to understand you must throw daddy a bone every once in a while. We don’t want him going off the rails now, do we? 

A quick Google search led us to a central but well-hidden pub called Mikkeller at Morebeer. And that is where I discovered Dutch Eagle, one of the best beers I’ve tasted in a while.

Now you may be asking: What does British singer Chris Rea have to do with any of this? Bear with me here.

In Amsterdam, I spent a lot of quality time I with my aforementioned daughter. She’s very interested in art and a huge fan of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. So we visited the Rijksmuseum and of course the Van Gogh Museum. We also soaked in Van Gogh’s late 19th century paintings at the immersive digital exhibition “Vincent Meets Rembrandt” at the Noorderkerk. 

We don’t do a lot of museums back home – we’re probably too busy looking for shoes – so for me, as chaperone, the week in Amsterdam was unusually art-intensive.

Looking at paintings made me think of Chris Rea. While not restoring and racing historic motorcars or selling 30 million albums, he paints. And his art is all over Blue Guitars – a massive undertaking with which Rea aimed to trace the history of the blues from its African origins to the present day. An original work of his graces the cover of each of the eleven albums therein, which are themselves contained within a beautifully designed EarBook.

Blue Guitars is obviously not digestible in a single sitting. It’s more akin to a jukebox to pick and choose from at your leisure. CD #2, where the focus is country blues, gave us “Too Much Drinking.”

The name Mikkeller at Morebeer confuses me. Mikkeller is a rapidly expanding Danish brewer with a worldwide network of pubs. Morebeer Brewing is a much smaller Dutch entity. But Amsterdam also has a Morebeer tour whereby if you hit four specific craft beer bars in one day – one of them being Mikkeller at Morebeer – you get a free T-shirt.

Follow? Me neither. Talk about too much drinking.

All you need to know is that Mikkeller at Morebeer, located at Lange Leidsedwarsstraat 4, has an excellent selection of draft, cans and bottles. Morebeer and Mikkeller are the stars of the show, but the pub also serves Gulpener, Uiltje, WarPigs and other goodies. Why run around town for a t-shirt when you can sit there all day sampling the wares?

I hit paydirt with my first selection, Dutch Eagle. It was listed #1 on the draft menu and is described there as a “thirst-quenching pale ale with a smooth hoppiness.” Hoppiness without bitterness? That’s right up my street. When the first 25cl glass arrived at our table overlooking the Leidsegracht, I took a whiff and my face lit up like a Christmas tree. It must have, judging by the slightly embarrassed “oh, daddy” look on my daughter’s face.

That half-pint, give or take, was so scrumptious I had to order another. More on that in a moment. First, here’s a non-drinking-related song that appears on CD #11 of Blue Guitars, where the stylistic focus is on the rock’n’roll of the ’60s and ’70s.

Dutch Eagle beguiles with a beautiful caramel color and fresh, fruity aromas that leap up and excite the olfactory nerves. The bready to biscuity character and ultra-smooth mouthfeel make you want to dive right in and backstroke around in it. After sampling the draft, I bought two cans inside the pub and weeks later, the experience is no different. Dutch Eagle tastes as good at home as it did whiling away the afternoon in Amsterdam.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Rea when Blue Guitars was released. While chatting with him and discovering the depth of his passion for the blues, I asked myself inwardly: Where does a guy in his condition find the strength to pull off a project like this? Rea has battled stomach ulcers and survived pancreatic cancer. On the table in the hotel room where we met, I saw the array of pills he was taking daily to keep his body functioning.

The sickness is what drove him back to the blues. He didn’t want to play the rock star game anymore. He didn’t need to. Because as he would tell you, life’s too short.

I think no matter where you drop the needle on Blue Guitars, you can hear the commitment and the artistry and the life experiences that went into it. This isn’t someone playing the blues. This is someone feeling the blues.

I’m going to close it out with the tender “Last Drink” and a cheers to you for making the time. Bye for now.

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The Who Is Blues Listening Party is powered by Bierlager, one of Germany’s finest addresses for premium craft beer.

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