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Thursday, 17 March 2016

Red Squirrel Brewing Co - BJCP Scoresheets

I’m currently waiting to hear the results of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) exam I sat at the end of last year. Whilst studying for it, I found that frequent practice attempts at scoring beers was really useful. Red Squirrel were kind enough to send me a few of their beers, so here are my thoughts in rough BJCP format.

Mad Squirrel American Pale Ale

Appearance: Flame, amber in colour. A white head of tight bubbles with medium to good retention. Medium high carbonation. Very slight haze. 2 out of 3.

Aroma: Little to no contribution from malt or yeast. Medium to strong aroma of American hops giving orange, tangerine and pine notes. Perhaps some vegetal character that could come from prolonged exposure to dry hops - distracts slightly and gives an impression of overripe or mouldy fruit. 9 out of 12.

Flavour: American hop aroma comes through into the flavour giving medium to strong notes of tangerine, mandarin and pine. Medium to low dankness. Medium contribution from malt giving notes of graininess and toast - I associate this as typical of British base malts. Dry bitter finish with the balance being towards a medium-high bitterness. Bitterness works well in the context of the overall flavour. British malt character isn’t typical of the style but works well. 17 out of 20.

Mouthfeel: Medium to high carbonation - on the high side for the style. Medium to thin body which is accentuated by the dryness of the beer and the carbonation. 3 out of 5.

Overall Impression: A very enjoyable beer with great drinkability. An excellent example of the style. Great balance throughout all components of the beer. Newer American-brewed examples of the style have less malt character and more body. Vegetal character in the aroma distracts from overall drinking experience and the British malt character is out of style. Would buy again if I saw it on a shelf. 7 out of 10.

Overall Score: 38 out of 50.

BJCP scoring guide:
Outstanding (45 - 50): World-class example of style.
Excellent (38 - 44): Exemplifies style well, requires minor fine-tuning.
Very Good (30 - 37): Generally within style parameters, some minor flaws.
Good (21 - 29): Misses the mark on style and/or minor flaws.
Fair (14 - 20): Off flavours /aromas or major style deficiencies. Unpleasant.
Problematic (00 - 13): Major off flavours and aromas dominate. Hard to drink.

Black Squirrel Black Lager

Appearance: Jet black, ruby around the edges. Tan coloured head of large bubbles that quickly dissipates. 2 out of 3.

Aroma: Medium contribution from darker malts giving subtle notes of coffee and roast. No contribution from hops. Some cooked corn aroma that could be due to DMS - distracts from the overall aroma and is not to style. 6 out of 12.

Flavour: Medium contribution from darker malts gives notes of burnt coffee, burnt toast and brown bread crust. Clean fermentation with minimal contribution to flavour. No hop flavour. Lacks the malt complexity that you find in the best examples of the style. Low bitterness is in balance with the dry finish. The cooked corn / vegetal aroma doesn’t come through into the flavour. 10 out of 20.

Mouthfeel: Medium to thin body.  Medium carbonation. No warmth or apparent alcohol. Best examples have more body without feeling thick or heavy. 3 out of 5.

Overall Impression: A pleasant beer that’s cleanly fermented with no major faults. Lacks the malt complexity that the best examples of the style have. Cooked corn / vegetal notes in the aroma are off-putting. 7 out of 10.

Overall Score: 28 out of 50.
Good (21 - 29): Misses the mark on style and/or minor flaws.

Redtail Citra

Appearance: Brilliantly clear. Small white head that immediately disappears. Colour is straw with hints of blush pink, rose gold. 2 out of 3.

Aroma: No contribution from fermentation. Low contribution from malt giving notes of boiled sweets. Strong contribution from US hops giving notes of ripe mango, fleshy apricot and peach. Aroma from the hops is perhaps a little one-dimensional if being hyper-critical. 8 out of 12.

Flavour: US hop aroma comes through into the flavour to give strong notes of ripe mango, fleshy peach and apricot. Malt character is minimal - reminiscent of British base malts, notes of digestive biscuits and boiled sweets. No fermentation character. Bitterness is medium low - reserved and nicely in balance. 14 out of 20.

Mouthfeel: Very thin bodied. A bit gutless. Has this been harshly filtered? Feels like the soul has been ripped out of it. Carbonation is medium high, perhaps too high for the style. Carbonation perhaps responsible for accentuating the thin body. 2 out of 5.

Overall Impression: Good but soulless. All the component parts are there, it just doesn’t quite come together to form a cohesive whole. Great use of hops and some excellent hop aroma and flavour present in the beer. I would definitely order this beer again and I enjoyed drinking it; it just lacks in some areas. If this was a 3.5% beer you’d forgive the lack of body, but it’s 4.6%. The thin body and high carbonation come together to give the feel (almost) of a soda / fizzy drink. 6 out of 10.

Overall Score: 32 out of 50.
Very Good (30 - 37): Generally within style parameters, some minor flaws.

Look out for these and give them a try if you see them. Much better than I was expecting. Impressed.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Beavertown Skull King

What: Skull King Double IPA.

Who: Beavertown, London.

Where: An absolutely beautiful can, bought at the brilliant Mother Kelly's. Although, if you haven't got one by now, it's probably too late - at this point it's a one-off and in very short supply.

Why: Because the fermentation profile is clean as a whistle and the bitterness is really well balanced. The alcohol, despite there being a lot of it, is really well integrated. The hop profile has lots of pine sap and over-ripe fruit; tangerines and pineapples if you go looking for them.

Why not: Because the hops taste old; vegetal like damp leaves and cheesy like blue cheese. There's too much malt character and it gets in the way of the hops; it comes through like boiled sweets and caramel. The body is fat, thick and chubby; giving the beer a muddy feel and taking away its elegance.

How could it be improved? (Wow, the arrogance!) I'd love to see it filtered gently, fined or lagered before dry hopping. I'd like less character from the (possibly crystal) malt. I think a thinner body and less malt character would allow the hops to come through in a more pronounced way. I'd like to see it made with fresher hops.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Golden Pints 2012

I tend to drink a lot of beer over Christmas, so I wanted to wait until the New Year before I posted this. If you're wondering what the Golden Pints are, have a look at this.

Best UK Draught Beer
Brewdog Dead Pony Club. How many breweries make sub-four-percent beer that has body and mouthfeel and brilliant hop flavour? Not enough. Not enough, because it’s bloody difficult to get right. If someone offered to replace my tap water with Brewdog Dead Pony Club, I’d ask for advice on how to get the other-half to agree to it. Brilliant, brilliant beer. A style that American craft beer drinkers are desperate for, but that nobody is doing better than us.

(Kernel’s Table Beer was memorable for the same reasons).

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Beavertown Black Betty. The most memorable beers I drink are often those that are opened without expectation. Never more true than when I de-capped a bottle of this black IPA. Excellent balance of malt and hop flavour, enough dark malt character to prove a point whilst never becoming too much. Expectation for future Beavertown beers is now through the roof.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Gahh, whatever! Too difficult! Taras Boulba in its native Brussels is always exceptional; it’s the first thing I order if I’m lucky enough to find myself at Moeder Lambic. I drank Goose Island at the brewery this year and it was faultless. Whether at home or abroad, a lot of the best draught beer I’ve consumed this year has one thing in common - it was drunk at, or very near to, the place it was made. For that reason, I’m going with Three Floyds Gumballhead. A pint of Gumballhead, gulped down in the brewery car park, whilst the madness of Dark Lord Day unfolded around me. Hard to beat.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Three Floyds Dark Lord. Wonderfully ridiculous. Perfectly over the top. Associated with good times and smashed bottles.

Best Overall Beer
I’ll go Gumballhead, but ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably say something completely different.

Best Label / Pumpclip
Camden Town have done amazing things with their branding this year. Their bottles and clips look sophisticated and grown-up but cool and on-trend at the same time. When I see a bottle of Camden beer, I want to drink it. That’s the highest praise I think you can give.

Best UK Brewery
I think we widened the gap in 2012. Those breweries that were already good, got better. Magic Rock, Buxton, Kernel, Gadds’ and so on. Whilst those that aren’t so good, haven’t really improved. I think Brodies need a shout out here - I’m a sucker for their creativity and willingness to try things out. Really only Thornbridge can be given this title though. Who else is brewing beer as diverse and consistent as they are? Nobody.

Best Overseas Brewery
Last year I wrote this: “The Cantillon brewery is one-of-a-kind. I could happily spend every Saturday morning there, watching American tourists recoil at their first taste of lambic and drinking some of the best beer in the entire world”. Nothing’s changed. I tried my best to put the magic of Cantillon in to words this year. I failed. I was always going to fail. If you like beer, go.

Pub/Bar of the Year
Any of the micro pubs that are spreading across East Kent like they think they’re Tesco Express. Four Candles, The Why Not, Bake & Alehouse. A pint of fresh local cask ale, a locally made pork pie, crisps cut from potatoes grown two miles away. All in a room the size of your lounge. What more do you want? I’d say go out of your way to visit one, but it would defeat the entire point.

Online Retailer of the Year
You might be lucky enough to find equivalent service to Beermerchants.com, but you won’t find better.

In 2013 I’d most like to...
We’ve championed the opening of new breweries in London for a couple of years now. I want to see an improvement in quality. Don’t open a brewery if you don’t know how to make beer. I don’t care that a pub has beer from ten London breweries if all ten of those suck.

It’s probably about time I repeated myself about this too. I’d love to see better use of hops from London breweries in 2013.

I also plan on blogging it a bit more again.

Open Award: Go-To Brewery ...

Kernel. By a mile. I probably drink twice as much of their beer as I do from any other brewery.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Second Runnings Sour

This will never work.

‘Sparging’ is the act of rinsing grain with hot water to remove as much of its natural sugar as you can. It’s standard brewing practice and fits neatly between things you might’ve heard called ‘mashing’ and ‘boiling’.

Sparging takes time. It’s an effective way to use malted barley, but it takes time. When the total cost of the malt in your batch of beer is less than a fiver, it makes sense to forget the sparging and just take the hit on efficiency. At least to me it does. I never sparge.

Well, almost never.

The product of a sparge (kinda) is the second runnings - water sweetened by the sugar that’s rinsed off the malted barley in the mash. What if you take this solution, add a pinch or two of old hops, pasteurise it by heating almost to the point of boiling, cool, rack into a fermenter and then pitch the dregs from a bottle of commercial sour beer?

Here’s how it looked after a couple of days:

My second runnings were taken from a batch of IPA. That’s a grist of pale malt, pale crystal malt, carapils and Munich malt. The hops were some ancient East Kent Goldings that I’ve had knocking about forever. The commercial sour beer was Cantillon Rose de Gamrbrinus.

Thou shalt henceforth be known as: "The Afterthought".

Why will this never work?

Friday, 31 August 2012

Brouwerij Cantillon - Brussels, Belgium

Past the grubby, grease-flecked windows of Eastern European takeaways; a carpet of carrier bag shifts gently in the wind; flanks of chain fence keep derelict land from busy hands, opposite an imposing, solid door that stands firm like armour against the outside world.

Through intimidation the armour protects its threshold; no sign welcomes me, no instruction validates my inadequate, hollow knock. Silence answers me like a test. Swallow hard and hope you’re right.

Relief hurries me inside; a crackle of conversation warms the air, people graze about the room like cattle; my insecurity forgotten like those carrier bags. In a corner sit three Japanese teenagers. Organised and upright, they fight to conceal their discomfort. They look upon an open bottle as though about to perform an autopsy; none dare move, none dare pour. Their stand-off is watched by a pair of Scandinavian men from across the room. They wear thick leather boots with heavy soles that surrender shards of dried-out mud to the already dusty floor. Glasses appear as thimbles in their immense hands; their beards hang long and wild, God-like fashion from the catwalk of Mount Olympus.

A troupe of excited Americans make their way toward the machinery at the back of the room. I pause and catch my breath: a lungful of damp, heavy air - flavoured by the growth that persists across the room’s neglected walls. Following them past rows of unlabelled bottles, a sign catches my eye that reads “Cantillon C’est Bon”.

Outside stands the city of Brussels, where man manufactures coffee cups that warn of hot contents and people outlaw straight bananas. Here, here the spider makes its happy home alongside raw ingredients and fermenting beer. Cogs with viscous teeth spin centimetres from my face and boiling liquid erupts onto the floor around my feet. I’m standing inside the belly of an anachronism; a sanctuary from change, where the power of man is secondary to the will of nature.

It’s here that the Van Roy family have been making their unique beer for a century. Soured by the hands of bacteria and time, in old wooden barrels; beer that nobody wanted to drink, but that the brewery refused to let die. Gueuze and lambic with its citric complexity, its dry finish and its sour bite. Kriek and framboise, where the lush, ripe sweetness of local fruit is tempered by lactic acidity. Beers that are the same now as they were decades ago; brewed with the same tools, by the same process. Beers flavoured not by modern hop varieties or imported yeast, but by the indigenous airborne life that has forever made Brussels its home.

I float from room to room as the brewery tour passes me by. A young bloke scribbles endlessly into a scruffy little notepad whilst others take photos of themselves in front of sacks of malt. They see their surroundings in black and white; they listen to this story with the sound on mute. It occurs to me that Cantillon isn’t a brewery where beer is made, it’s a brewery that makes beer. The mash tun and the kettle like arms and legs, marching to a familiar old tune, the brewer like a brain, capable of balancing a hundred variables with a single instruction. But the heart and soul of this brewery is less tangible, it lies in every fibre of every wooden rafter, in every brick, in every tile, and in every single cell that inhabits these four walls. Only these brewers can make Cantillon wort, and only this brewery can make Cantillon beer.

The beer-lover is incomplete without a visit here. When the Van Roys welcome you into their brewery, they introduce you to their oldest family member. A great-grandparent with open arms and secrets innumerable; whose stories of life will leave you enchanted, full, overflowing with a sense of magic and wonder.

You can read more about Cantillon here. It's a short walk from the central train station and easily reachable by Eurostar.

Ageing Beer

What do we know about the ageing of beer?

Born unsure of itself in a spiky body, all knobbly knees and disobedient limbs; angles of rough bitterness and awkward disparity. Discrete sweetness and bitterness, torn apart by an empty mid-palate, kept at bay by angrily-hot alcohol.

A middle-aged calm where there’s nothing to prove, no reason to shout and nobody to impress. Flavours integrated and harmonious, points and spikes weathered blunt to bring equality and balance.

A peak, a fall, an irreversible slide into old age. Ghostly flavours of youth, masked by the wrinkles of sherry, oxidation and dried fruits.

Or so they say.

Then I meet Dorian Gray, the oak-aged double IPA. A beer style full of volatile hop aroma and flavour, eager to be drunk young and in its prime; yet a beer clearly blessed with eternal life for the fact that, at 2 years, it still tastes vibrant and youthful and like it was kissed by the grassy, citrusy lips of dry-hop but yesterday.

Or a bottle of Rosé de Gambrinus, with its fuel tank full of residual sugar, yeast and relentless microbes. Clearly in it for the long haul; brewed for the patient among us with time and dedication enough to build a cellar of vintages. Yet at mere weeks in the bottle, it’s a revelation. Bright, bold, vibrant fruit flavours like none I’ve tasted in a beer before; backed by bright, assertive sourness that makes improvement with time seem impossible.

Beer that breaks the rules.

Bottles of Brewdog Tokyo* and Rogue XS Stout. Juggernauts, powerhouses both. Beers with enough alcohol content to fend off the years like David Beckham. Yet at 18 months, the bottles I encounter taste tired and burnt-out, already well past their best, like they’d given all they could and were heading to the 27 club.

Beers that break the rules.

What do we know about ageing beer? The consensus says that if it’s bottle-conditioned and strong, then it’s fit for the cellar. But, whilst that might be true a lot of the time, there are clearly exceptions to the rules. Beer will change with time, whether or not that’s a change for the best, well that’s something I’ll be thinking about more closely in future.

What's your approach to a beer cellar? Drink it all now, or save some for later?

Pictures from here and here.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Scottish Hampers Competition - The Winner!

The lucky winner of the Scottish Hampers competition I ran a while back is ...

Drum roll ...

Louder ...

Ok, ok, it's Rob Castle. Congratulations Rob, enjoy the beer!

Well done everybody else, you all managed to get the answer right ...