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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Pairing Good Beer with Good Food: Christmas

My latest article for Thanet CAMRA's Ale of Thanet publication covers food and beer pairing with a Christmas theme. You can check it out below or find the original here. December has been a lean month on the blogging front; work, family, holidays and colds have all got in the way a bit. I'm looking forward to really picking things up in the new year.


For many of us, Christmas dinner is the most important meal of the year. It’s the focal point of the holiday season; it’s something we look forward to and plan for weeks. With our friends, family and loved ones around that table, it’s important that the meal is just right; and for some, it’s one of the few occasions where thought is extended beyond the food, to the drink pairing too.

Whilst it might be instinctive to reach for a bottle of white, I see no reason why beer shouldn’t be given a chance on that centre stage. Break open a few good bottles and share them around!

Turkey can be a dry, bland meat if mistreated; what Turkey loves is something a bit showy and assertive to sit aside it, something to perk it up and encourage it along. It’s a meat that carries other flavours well, which is why we often eat it with something like cranberry jelly. Those fruity, sweet, sharp little berries hold the turkey’s hand and help it along.

Batemans XXXB is a premium bitter at 4.8%. It’s a deep amber colour with a distinct berry-fruit sweetness, making it a perfect match for roast chicken and turkey. In the same way as traditional cranberry jelly, it will punctuate each mouthful, lifting the meat to new heights.

Whilst the bird is undoubtedly the main event, it wouldn’t be the same without that vegetable undercard. The roast potatoes and buttered brussels are absolutely essential; from there we can take it in the direction of the parsnip, the carrot and the cabbage. Yorkshire pudding, why not? Bread sauce, go on then. Pigs in blankets, just a couple. Tiring behind the apron and tiring to the palate; but fear not because the XXXB has your back - stiff bitterness, a refreshingly light body and plenty of carbonation. Enough to lift the most tired of palates, leaving you ready for the next mouthful.

Batemans XXXB is available at all good off-licences and bottled beer shops. A 500ml bottle will cost in the region of £2.50.

Plump with that delicious cargo, it’s mission impossible to fight off slumber whilst the Queen makes her speech. Awake and put off those dishes with a mince pie and a bottle of American IIPA!

A mince pie is one of those things that I could happily eat all year round. When they finally make an appearance it’s important to consume as many as possible before they’re scared off by the springtime sun. Supermarket offerings vary massively, some passable, some terrible; the best mince pies are those you make yourself. Sticky round the edges where the bubbling filling has started to leak, still warm from the oven, generously filled and wrapped with the crumbliest sweet pastry. What they lack in elegance they make up for in flavour, and only an equally bold beer is capable of taking on the pairing challenge.

Tesco Finest American Double IPA (IIPA) is a big beer. It’s brewed exclusively for the supermarket chain by Brewdog of Scotland – a brewery that took gold in the IIPA category at this year’s World Beer Cup. It takes the intense bitterness and hop profile of an American IPA and doubles it. A bitterness rating off-the-scale, masses and masses of the freshest hops and 9 % alcohol. If you’re yet to encounter beers like this, you might think them over-the-top and excessive – well, that would be because they are! Treat them with respect, serve them cold, drink them in small quantities and you’ll be repaid with a flavour profile unlike that in any other beer.

The sticky dried-fruit, pith and peel of the mince pie will find a perfect partner in the citrus-laden, resinous, jam-like hops. The buttery, sweet pastry will be amplified by the sweetness of the beer and then the brutally bitter bite will stomp in and wash everything away. Bitterness against sweetness; the two work in stunning harmony, duelling it out to achieve dominance but never quite getting there. A whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Tesco Finest American Double IPA is available at selected Tesco shops. A 330ml bottle will cost around £2.


Boxing Day brings the worst food hangover of the year; eating will be the last thing on your mind. Until lunchtime! Then suddenly that hotchpotch of Tupperware and foil in the fridge becomes a limitless treasure trove of potential. Lightly toast some thick white bread and get building; hunks of cold turkey, slices of stuffing, finely shredded white cabbage or really crisp iceberg lettuce, a cold sausage if any are left and then spoonfuls of spicy, tart, fruity chutney. Pair with a James Bond film and a glass of good pilsner and you’re set.

The lineage of the lager beer can be traced back to a single parent. Pilsner Urquell is characterised by its bright golden colour, its foamy head and the generous use of noble Saaz hops. Brewed in the Czech town of Pilsen since 1842, it’s responsible for spawning the vast majority of beer consumed worldwide. Whilst the modern day SABMiller incarnation might not compare to the unfiltered, unpasteurised original, it manages to stand head and shoulders above the majority of macro lager. Heavier in body than most, Pilsner Urquell balances caramel sweetness with punchy bitterness. The Saaz hops lend a uniquely recognisable herbal quality and there’s soft carbonation throughout. It’s full but light, snappy, crisp and dry, it arrives and then vanishes; this is what defines Pilsner Urquell and this is what makes it perfect for the Boxing Day sandwich.

You need something robust enough to stand up to those rich flavours, but a heavy beer would just be too much. Urquell will happily hold its own, but it’s light enough to stop you feeling weighed down. Delicious!

Pilsner Urquell is widely available in a number of sizes. At Sainsbury’s, a 500ml bottle costs around £1.81.


Christmas is a time for friends and family, it’s a time to enjoy good food, good drink and good company. Whilst we’re happy to make beer a part of our everyday lives, we seem to turn to wine for the special occasions. Save an extra place at the Christmas table this year, a place for beer.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Iceland - I Found Beer!

The Vinbud was exactly what I was looking for. Walking in there felt like an admission of guilt (another story for another blog), but once inside I found loads of Icelandic beer. Household names brewed under licence, domestic macro brands and a handful of micro beers. Fantastic.

The weather here is cold. Minus 12 degrees cold. We left the hotel last night and returned without sensation in our big toes. The water is heated by geothermal power, it picks up minerals and other nice things on the way to your house, it fills the room with the smell of hard boiled egg whenever you turn the hot tap on. The Sun never makes it above the horizon. It's not until 11am that it gets up at all! That Sun's lazier than I am. When you wake up you feel shattered, regardless of the time, because it's still dark outside and your body tells you to go back to sleep. So very different. The entire population of Iceland is only 300,000 people. Reykjavik has 100,000 of those people. You can fit 90,000 into Wembley Stadium!

They have Taco Bell here but not McDonalds. So very different.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Iceland - Vinbud

I've found it readers! Beer central in Iceland. The government shops that sell beer over 2.25% ABV are called Vinbud [Vínbúð] and this is the local one. It's next to an English pub called "The English Pub" (see what they did there?) and it's about five minutes from the hotel. It turns out that 60% of Icelandic people don't want to buy strong alcohol in the supermarket, so it's all relegated to these little shops. No signs overhead, age restrictions on the door, reduced opening hours ... it's like they don't want you to drink or something!

Alcohol obsessed? No. Beer obsessed? Maybe. I'll be there tomorrow.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Iceland - Egils Gull & Burning Bread

I'm in Iceland. The country not the supermarket.

I walked into a shop earlier and they were selling beer for the same price as Diet Coke. Everything is so expensive, but the beer is the same price as Coke. I bought some flat breads and they tasted like burning; imagine the smell of a barbecue when you attempt to clean it the morning after use - well it tasted like that. It tasted like someone grabbed it whilst they were fleeing a burning building. Why would you save baked goods from a burning building? If bread is at the top of your "must save" list then you need to get a cat or something.

The beer turned out to be 2.5%, which is probably why it was so cheap. It was called Egils Gull and, as luck would have it, the mini bar in my hotel room happened to have a Gull branded glass. It tasted terrible; like soda water with a drop of beer concentrate in it. Oddly sweet, a carbon dioxide metallic quality and some limp bitterness to finish.

I get the feeling that they don't much care for beer over here.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Canned Beer

After much contemplation and discussion, Brewdog have announced that they will, again, lead the way in the UK by canning their craft beer. From March 2011 their flagship product Punk IPA will be available in cans. Rather nifty looking cans at that:

The benefits of canning beer have been covered in the past (see this by Mark Dredge). For me it's important to set cans apart from bottles and that should be done through the way we intend them to be drunk. I want to see breweries putting core product in a can; beers intended for everyday drinking. I want to stack up a six pack in the back of my fridge; six cans of a beer I love and that I know I can get whenever I want. That can will be the one I reach for when I'm thirsty and don't want to think, it'll be the one I reach for when I'm packing a picnic and it'll be the one I reach for when taking a few to a mate's.

Leave the one-off, super-rare, super-special beers to the grandiose bottle, to the cork and cage.

And, most importantly - less is more. If we're ever going to change perceptions of canned beer in this country, 330ml is the only way to go. It instantly draws a line between macro and micro, it’s a sensible volume for higher ABVs and it stands out.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Lovibonds Brewery - 69 IPA Launch

Lovibonds is an exciting brewery because they aren’t afraid to do things a bit differently. They make good beer and they like to experiment.

They launched the bottled version of their rebranded IPA (69 IPA) to unanimous acclaim on Monday night at The Rake, Borough. An American IPA at 6.9 % that’s dry hopped with centennial and columbus hops. Dry hopped using Robinson-esque equipment, dreamt up by founding brewer Jeff Rosenmeier. Think Sierra Nevada Torpedo; a vessel packed with fresh hops, purged of oxygen with carbon dioxide, fed by a constant stream of newly fermented beer. Every drop filtered through those hops, forced to make contact with them, over and over again.

It must look like Frankenstein’s laboratory in that brewery; the shinning metallic bodies of the fermenters, the mechanical whir of the pump – like the rhythmic beating of a heart, artery and vein replaced by meters of plastic piping. A circulatory system crafted from a patchwork of odds and ends. Capable of producing beer with massive hop presence; like the smell left on your hands after handling fresh hops.

Bitter, light, cold, refreshing and acutely hoppy. Citrus fruits from the centennial and dank, leafy, resinous, near-vegetal notes from the columbus. That 69 is a fantastic IPA.

Then there was Sour Grapes. Ah, Sour grapes, such a beautiful disaster. An unwanted infection souring, quite literally, a batch of beer and the moods of two brewers. Seven hundred litres down the drain, only to discover that the infection had forced a wonderful transformation. A sample keg at the brewery tap flew out the door and the accidental became the intentional. The beer is now brewed and soured on purpose. It’s labelled as a gueuze but, being unblended, I guess it’s technically a lambic. Whatever. It was the first beer to run dry on the night and that says it all.

Dark Reserve was a seamless blend of bourbon and beer. The beer bringing a roast malt character, dark chocolate and bitterness; the bourbon bringing creamy vanilla, woody oak and velvety alcohol warmth. It’s easy for a beer to be consumed by the barrel it’s aged in, dominated by the bigger flavours and reduced to a cameo role. With Dark Reserve though, one silently sweeps into the next, leaving both parts intact but producing a new whole that’s better than the sum of its parts.

Lovibonds are something of a well-kept secret at the moment. Their beer doesn’t travel far and they don’t put anything in a cask. If you see their stuff around, give it a try!

Monday, 15 November 2010


I drank some forgettable beer this weekend. Forgettable beer and forgettable TV. The thing is though, if you ever get to a point where you can't enjoy some trashy TV, with a trashy take away pizza and whatever can-of-crap lager you're given, then chances are you're probably taking yourself too seriously.

So what about that X Factor then, huh? Is it me or are most of them a bit poor this year? Take "It is Varrgner Louis" for example, I thought that joke stopped being funny when Jedward were eliminated a year ago. Apparently not. Mary Byrne manages to belt out a decent tune if they pick the right song for her, but I can't help but feel like someone should phone the police and report the theft of Susan Boyle's act.

Rebecca Ferguson has a great voice and will make the final. Unfortunately though, she's instantly forgettable; look for her to jog your memory by eating kangaroo penis in about a year's time. Stacey Soloman anyone? Same goes for Paije Richardson, minus the bit about the great voice.

Drama came this week in the form of Katie Waissel and her ability to defy the odds and avoid the boot. Now, I don't think old one-trick-pony Aidan should've stayed either, but not since Rachel Adedeji has so much effort been unsuccessfully spent on trying to find someone a niche and an image. It didn't work that time either ... I can't see her lasting much longer.

Being over the age of 16 and male, that leaves the only two people worth watching. ITV champion gurner Cher Lloyd does everything in her power to make people dislike her, even Wayne Rooney could learn a thing or two from her; but she reminds me of Diana Vickers, something different and interesting lies in everything she does. Dare I say she has a certain X factor about her? And then there's Matt Cardle, winner of the 2010 series, runner up to Take That in the battle for Christmas number one. What a good voice he has.

I saw The Social Network yesterday and all of a sudden I have a strange compulsion to start using Facebook. I thinks this means I lose.

Friday, 12 November 2010

My Antonia & The Imperial Pilsner

The recent British Guild of Beer Writers seminar provoked a lot of talk about beer styles: what do they mean; are they necessary, could we do without them? Reading a few blogs on the subject, it seemed like a poignant time to open my bottle of Dogfish Head / Birra del Borgo My Antonia; a 7.5 percent imperial pilsner.

With the grain bill of a traditional pilsner, albeit ramped up, and the hopping schedule of an American IPA, an imperial pilsner fuses two existing beer styles to produce something completely new. Rogue kicked things off back in 2003 with their Morimoto Pils, Sam Adams came to the party in 2005 and a small bunch of (mostly American) breweries have made attempts since. Relatively speaking though, this is a new beer style and something that only a handful of breweries have attempted.

My Antonia sits a lager-straw in the glass, with tinges of gold that suggest something more is going on. Immediately you’re struck by how thick and smooth it feels, a luxurious honey-sweetness dominates as it slides across your tongue, filling your whole mouth. It’s floral, fragrant, perfumed; then a herbal quality takes over as it builds up. The finish is punchy and bitter but light and cleansing, it’s a beer that tempts you to chug it all down, but at the same time warns that you mustn’t.

There’s something Champagne about this beer; lots of carbonation, a deft lightness and the suggestion of yeasty white bread and brioche. I can see it working well with something like a bread and butter pudding, allowing the bready flavour in the yeast to come forward whilst taming the richness of the pudding with bitterness and carbonation. At the same time, the savoury edge of those herbal hops would work well against something meaty; I’m thinking a classic Chicago style hot dog with all its salad and condiment sidekicks. Zak Avery says the savoury flavour presents itself as celery salt, he’s right, and therein would lie the bridge between hot dog and beer.

My Antonia is a beer that forces you to throw away the style guide, but it's a beer that’s no less stunning as a result.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Kelly Ryan

We’re eight hours in and I’m starting to flag. The Jever in my hand is doing its best to perk me up; the crisp bitterness and spritzy carbonation are uplifting and refreshing, but that identity parade of pumps, on the horizon of the bar, looms large.

The Grove is a pub with a reputation that precedes it. Today it’s full to bursting, every seat taken, all standing room occupied. There’s a constant stream of people at the bar and the busy sound of chatter fills the air.

Kelly Ryan stands up. Eyes follow him as he moves across the room. He’s been carrying around a bag all day, a bag full of bottles, bottles of experimental and exclusive Thornbridge beer. Before the first cap is removed, the crowd has gathered and the room belongs to Kelly, I get the feeling that people want to try these bottles almost as much as Kelly wants to share them.

We try the new batch of
Bracia and I realise that this is it, in a nutshell, the reason why our loss will be New Zealand’s gain. Since 2006, Kelly has been an integral part of building arguably the best brewery in England; but beyond that he’s been a pioneer for social media and bridging the gap between beer maker and beer drinker. A part of the Twissup events, a blogger and a twitter fan; any available channel has been used to involve the drinker and to build a sense of community among lovers of good beer.

My first conversation with Kelly came about through Twitter. I was planning a homebrew black IPA at the time and, as luck would have it, Thornbridge were brewing
Raven. One throwaway tweet later and I’m discussing the relative merits of de-husked carafa special 3 with one of the best brewers in the country. Emails back and forth, reviewing of recipes, tips on process; I was genuinely blown away by the time Kelly was happy to dedicate to my little homebrew project.

Kelly Ryan: kick ass brewer, a man with an effervescent enthusiasm for beer that can’t be contained, a bloke that always has time for people that want to pick his brains, and someone who’s driven innovation in both the beer we drink and the way we communicate about it.

Thanks Kelly, all the best in the future.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Food & Beer - Spotted In the Wild

All press is good press, right? I found this rare example of a main stream food and beer pairing article (of sorts) in the Sunday Star Take 5 Magazine. Part advert, part recipe, part beer plug and part mental. Words fail me; I feel like I need to go and write two good pieces on food and beer to try and restore balance to the universe.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Beer Muffins with Hop Drizzle, Hop Icing and a Crystal Malt Crumb

Social media and the Internet, wonderful things. I love the fusion of communication channels; the multiple ways in which you can talk to people and how those channels come together to form a whole. Dom, of the Marble Brewery, bought cupcakes to a tasting at Cask Pub and Kitchen; Phil, of Beermerchants, tasted them and then tweeted about some of his own; Glyn, of The Rake, saw this and got cupcake curious on his blog and then Mark Dredge picked up the gauntlet in a blog comment. All these different methods of communication coming together to provide a platform on which people around the world can talk; how brilliant!

Before I picked up the whisk, I started to daydream about the combination of beer and cake. I want to make a cake that involves beer, but I don’t want to simply use beer within the cake mix. Mark did this recently with ice cream and I questioned if the same approach could be applied to a cake. How about making a plain muffin mix and then adding a hop tea to it? How about thickening that hop tea with icing sugar and turning it into a hop drizzle? How about some hop icing on top of that, then a sprinkling of crushed crystal malt? With some dried malt extract added to the batter in place of caster sugar, I could give the cake a real malty edge and hopefully end up with the cake equivalent of an IPA!

Ingredients (for 5 muffins): 110g plain flour, 110g butter, 60g caster sugar, 1.5 tsp baking powder, 2 eggs, handful of hops, 100g icing sugar, 1 heaped tablespoon crystal malt.

Start by infusing a handful of hops in 350ml warm water. The best way to do this is using a cafetiere, make sure the water is warm but not hot and add enough just to cover the hops. Set to one side and leave whilst you make the muffin mixture.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add the eggs, baking powder and flour; stir very well. Once the hop tea has had a minimum of 15 minutes stewing time, depress the plunger and pour off the liquid. Add 3 tablespoons of the hop liquid to the batter and mix well. Place in the fridge and leave for a minimum of 1 hour.

Line a muffin tin with individual muffin cases. Take the cake mixture out of the fridge and carefully half fill each case with a spoon; the mixture will have risen slightly and taken on an airy texture, try to preserve as much of this air as possible.

Set your oven to 200c and move a shelf as close to the middle as possible. Allow the oven 10 minutes to heat before placing the muffins inside. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden on top. Avoid opening the oven door if you can.

Cool on a wire rack until warm. At this point, spoon over 2-3 teaspoons of the hop tea.

When completely cold, take the icing sugar and add the hop tea drop by drop until you end up with a thick icing. You’ll need surprising little liquid, so don’t be tempted to add too much at once. Crush the crystal malt in a pestle and mortar until almost at the stage of being dust, carefully spoon the icing over each muffin and top with a sprinkle of the crystal malt. Allow the icing to set before eating.

The hop flavour is delicate but definitely comes through in the finished cake. It's a real challenge to extract hop flavour and aroma without bitterness, but against the malty sweetness this is balanced out. For future attempts, I'll experiment with ways to increase the hop presence whilst keeping the bitterness low.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Why Cask Ale Rocks

Cask ale is important to each of us in very different ways. In this collaborative blogging effort Mark (beer writer), Shea (young female drinker), Glyn (bar manager), Kelly (brewer) and myself say why it's important.

Some people paint pictures and draw sketches, some paint their toe nails green, some sing and dance and play the guitar whilst others knit jumpers and stitch clothes. Creativity is a characteristic we share; there within all of us it lies, for some more eager to show itself than for others, it lies and it waits. From global hit record to origami swan, that creativity must find an outlet; for me it found that outlet in home brewing.

Irrespective of image and perception, the fact is that an immeasurable number of ingredient and process combinations mean a myriad of possible flavours and aromas. Far from being boring, brown and bitter; cask ale is a living, evolving product for the true connoisseur. Hop varieties in their hundreds become the colour palette of the brewer, hewn over a canvas of malt to produce anything from a deeply rich and robust coffee stout to a zingy, light, citrus-packed golden ale.

Good cask ale is carved out of the best raw ingredients through the application of knowledge, skill and creativity. For the drinker it provides a spectrum of flavour more than comparable with wine; there’s a beer for hot summer evenings, cold winter nights, to accompany your favourite food or for a special occasion. It’s a drink that offers new depth and complexity as appreciation grows, it’s a drink that changes with the seasons and that matures with time. Beer is a drink devoid of pomp and arrogance, it knows no sense of material worth, the most expensive world class beer costing a fraction of the equivalent wine. Beer is here for drinking, nothing more, nothing less.

As a home brewer, beer provides me with a platform on which I can unleash my imagination. With access to raw materials of the same quality as the professional, I can conjure up any flavour combination I like, burning up every last joule of that eager creative energy. The enjoyment and pleasure I get from a pint of good beer now extends beyond merely drinking it.

Gillian Orr asserts that “your tipple of choice can say a lot about you”. Well let that be the case. Let cask ale define me as a person that puts flavour on a pedestal, concerned with what’s in the glass, not what’s around it. In Britain we’re experiencing a brewing renaissance; when I go to the pub, I know what’ll be in my glass.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Bacon Sandwiches & Henley Dark

Let’s talk about something important, let’s talk about bacon sandwiches. Smoked back bacon, fried; hand cut white bread, toasted; generous amounts of cupboard-warm ketchup or brown sauce. Hangover cure of medicinal proportions, breakfast mainstay of national importance.

The perfect beer partner? Lovibonds Henley Dark; a 4.8 percent porter with a difference. Borrowing from the traditional Rauchbier style of Bamberg Germany, malt is hand-smoked over beech wood chips on a barbecue outside the brewery, before being added to the beer in small, precise quantities.

There’s a subtle sweetness that’s quickly kicked out the way. In comes a flood of roast malt. Chasing behind is a feint wisp of smoke, too little to dominate or overpower but just enough to add a savoury edge to the beer, just enough to build a bridge to the smoky, savoury, salty bacon. A prickle of carbonation and a punch of bitterness; the fattiness cut and any heaviness lifted. A delicious combination.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Stuart Howe - 52 Beers

Beer bloggers and beer blog readers will likely be aware of the 52 beers project that Stuart Howe of Sharp's brewery is running. For everyone else, here’s the summary: on a small (60 litre) scale, Stuart has embarked on a year long project to brew a different beer every week of 2010. Mandatory ingredients include experimentation, creativity and a cheeky sense of humour. Outside that anything can, and probably will, be used. He’s the Willy Wonka of beer and he’s ready to brew*.

All of the beer is being bottled, some will be poured at beer festivals and industry events whilst some will probably never see the light of day. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a few bottles and this is what I thought.

Shellfish Stout

Oysters and stout go way back, they’ve been hanging out for time, at first as two separate entities paired together and then later fused in the brewers kettle to form Oyster Stout. Shellfish Stout takes this combination one step further by including cockles and mussels in the brew. Shell and flesh are committed to the dark depths of the boiling wort for twenty minutes, providing chloride and iodine to boost sweetness as well as body, depth and umami sensation.

The beer is squid-ink-black with an aroma of dark chocolate and coffee. The palate has a subtle sweetness; big, bold roasty flavour; a pronounced graininess in the finish and more of that coffee and dark, bitter chocolate. I was expecting something massive, salty and rich; fearing something tangy with hints of fish; but what you actually get is an incredibly smooth, velvety beer that’s full of body but still feels nimble and light. Very good indeed.

50 Hop IPA

Some people say that less is more, others protest that you can have too much of a good thing. 50 Hop IPA tells these people to shut up, it calls them an idiot and then batters them around the head with seven more hop additions. 50 Hop IPA is a beer featuring 50 different hop varieties. 45 go into the wort whilst it boils and then 5 more are used post fermentation. It’s fermented with the Sharp's house yeast and, at an original gravity of 1065, it’s probably around 7 to 7.5 percent ABV.

Half the batch were packaged as standard whilst the rest were blessed with a Bobek hop cone in the bottle. There’s burnt sugar and caramel sweetness at first but it fades away too quickly, swept aside by an assertive hop flavour that's unlike any I’ve tasted before. I could detect citrus fruit, grapefruit and grassy notes but everything feels muddled, confused, individual hop characteristics are muted by everything else that’s going on around them. Perhaps I’m being controlled by my subconscious but it tastes like each of those 50 hops gave it their best shot and then threw the towel in; you’ve got to pick your battles and when you're slugging it out against 49 others, the odds aren't great. The bitterness is big, the body quite oily, and I can’t help but detect a slight fusel note in the background. The bottle hopped version has a fresher hop aroma that doesn’t move through onto the palate, it’s my preferred of the two but still fails to deliver the bright, fruity hop explosion I’d built myself up to expect.

The 52 beer experiment is still in full swing (you can follow it here). For me it captures all of the reasons why home brewing is such a great hobby; you can be as creative as you like whilst throwing caution to the wind, safe in the knowledge that the worst case scenario is a few wasted hops and some malt. The beauty of Stuart's experiment is that the best case scenario could end up in our glasses!

* Apparently the best of the bunch could become permanent Sharp's beers … if Stuart can get them past management.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

MyBreweryTap Rocks!

Last Wednesday I placed an order with mybrewerytap.com, last Friday I received the order from mybrewerytap.com! Service so good it's worth shouting about, or at least I think so anyway. Beer from the UK, East and West Coast America and Italy; picked from the awesome Pick 'n' Mix offer and delivered super quick. Bottle prices are more than competitive, the range is ever-expanding and the focus genuinely appears to be on giving the customer what he or she wants. Round of applause from me.

The Pick 'n' Mix offer lets you select as many bottles as you want, from an ever changing list, with flat rate fixed postage. I went for Marble Dobber and Vuur & Vlam, Baladin Open, a Mallinsons Single Hop Simcoe, Sierra Nevada Torpedo and Tumbler, a Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale and DFH/Birra del Borgo My Antonia.

Time to get stuck in!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Crouch Vale Amarillo - Tasting Notes

Some tasting notes based on the approach I wrote about here; the beer in question is Crouch Vale Amarillo.

Beer: Amarillo, 5.0% ABV
Brewer: Crouch Vale

Hop: Woody, spicy and some citrus fruit. Very moderate, never dominates. Becomes very sightly floral and perfumed as the beer warms.

Sweet: Very slight sweetness to start, quickly lost when hop character moves in.

Malt: Distinct maltiness in the finish, biscuits and cereal both in the taste and on the nose.

Bitter: A moderate bitterness only. Works well to cleanse the palate.

Dry: Citrus hops work nicely against a dry, bitter (almost tart) finish.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Pairing Good Beer with Good Food: Cheese

Cheese and beer is well-trodden ground for a reason. It works. As a gateway food and beer pairing it’s perfect; grab an armful of different cheeses, throw a few beers in the fridge and an hour or two later you can sit down to your own little pairing experiment. With very little effort, expense or knowledge it’s possible to yield some fantastic results; whilst at the same time there’s sufficient variety and variation to keep the experienced pairer happy too.

It may be far from an original idea, but it’s something I find myself continually returning to.

Beer can compliment cheese by way of either contrast or harmony. Sharp, acidic, tangy cheese demands a beer that will stand up to it; contrasted with anything less than bracing bitterness and punchy hops, the cheese will become too dominant, wrestling the beer to the ground and stealing its lunch money. Equally, adjectives like nutty, sweet, creamy, velvety and buttery can all be used to describe both beer and cheese. Identify characteristics like these in each partner and then bring them together in a harmonious marriage for delicious results.

"Beer can do a lot better [than wine] - it can find such harmony with cheese that you won't know where the beer ends and the cheese begins. Traditional beer and cheese are absolutely perfect together." (Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster's table)

For some it will be easy to dismiss all this as the product of an overactive imagination. The hyperbolic ramblings of a beer lover gone too far; wrapped up in the romance of beer, its history and accessibility, the gross neglect it’s shown as a gastronomic delight. Easy only if that someone is yet to experience the true treat of a perfect beer and food pairing. As Oliver says, when you absolutely nail it, you lose the ability to distinguish between the two component parts; a new flavour is born where one bleeds seamlessly into the other.

Good pairings are easy to come by, apply a little knowledge, make some careful decisions, and you’re pretty likely to get there. You’ll probably wonder what all the fuss is about, but you’ll get there. It’s the great pairings that’re worth chasing though, the ones that take a bit of teasing out, a bit of perfecting over time and a fair slice of luck. These are the ones that don’t come about very often but make it all worth while when they do, revelatory pairings that instantly secure themselves a spot on the favourites list, these are the pairings that Oliver sings about.

Bell's Hopslam is a beer I’ve only ever had once. I had it with Comté, a hard French cheese made with milk only from the Montbeliard cow. The cheese has a wonderful sweetness which is amplified by the honey used to brew Hopslam; the fruity west coast American hops grab hold of the fruitiness in the cheese and a nutty, nutmeg like quality sits aside the grainy, malty, bitter finish to the beer. The words I write here will never do the combination justice, but hopefully they will inspire others to try the pairing.

Another favourite is to pair an English IPA, like White Shield, with traditional English cheddar like Montgomery's. I’ve written about this before; for me it’s an all time classic because it pairs two fantastic English products to achieve a result that’s simple delicious. Many a time I’ve enjoyed an evening meal of torn bread, slabs of strong cheddar and a glass of foamy White Shield. People say that sometimes less is more, and in this instance I definitely agree. A self contained plateful of delicious, comforting nourishment that wouldn’t benefit from any further addition, beautiful simplicity. The natural creamy sweetness of the cheese will compliment the sweet maltyness of the beer. A traditional truckle of aged cheddar will have an earthy, wild, mustard like quality to it; a perfect match for the spicy, peppery, dusty notes associated with English hop varieties like Goldings.

Applewood smoked cheddar is a bulky, boisterous, bruiser of a cheese. Its texture so densely thick and creamy that it leaves a film on the roof of your mouth and across the width of your tongue; that creaminess moves into woody smoke and then a finish that builds into a lingering tang. Like David to Goliath, Meantime Wheat is a beer of complete contrast. Its spritzy, highly carbonated, light-weight little feet come rushing in, they dance all over your mouth, lifting that heavy film, washing it all away. Choc full of fruity banana and clove esters; the beer will soothe the cheese and bring out its hidden sweetness.

In Beer Companion, Michael Jackson describes Orval as having “an earthy, leathery, oily aroma, in which some tasters detect sage, and an intensely dry acidic palate”. It’s the presence of brettanomyces in the bottle however that provides the point of harmony between Orval and a creamy goat’s cheese. The beer with its dirty, horsy, wild notes and the cheese with mousy, musty ripeness; the pair shake hands over funk whilst the acidic dry nature of Orval cuts the creamy, fattiness of the cheese.

So many fantastic combinations waiting to be enjoyed. The cakey, sticky dried fruits and toffee-sweetness of a barley wine will hold hands and walk off into the sunset with tangy, salty, blue-marbled Stilton. How about a berry-sweet and sharp Kriek with a super-creamy Brie or Camembert; or nutty aged Dry Monterey Jack with a luscious, velvety oatmeal stout; or beechwood smoked cheese from Bavaria with a Bamburg Rauchbier or …

For brewers and cheese makers alike, art lies in being able to create a uniquely delicious flavour experience. When pairing beer and cheese, we are given the chance to become the artist, and that flavour experience becomes ours to create. As Garrett Oliver says: “once you get started, you’ll find it difficult to stop. And why should you?”

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Tasting Notes

I've been thinking a bit about tasting notes lately. When I first started writing this blog I tried to stay away from them; I find they can be dry, repetitive and not really much fun to read. A few of the round up posts I wrote came pretty close, but I tried to keep it observation and opinion based rather than full on tasting note.

Increasingly I find myself searching out tasting notes for the beers I’m drinking. It’s useful to be able to calibrate your palate against other people. Things you might otherwise have missed can be pointed out, flavours you can’t quite define can be defined and technical reasons behind a specific character in the beer can be made obvious. For me it’s a vital part of growing as a beer drinker, it’s a great way to learn more about the beer you’re drinking and it allows you to better appreciate the subsequent beers you drink. Whilst there may be no substitute for sitting around and sharing a beer with fellow beer lovers; tasting notes on the web do provide a good alternative.

The tasting notes I’ve encountered online are a mixed bunch. An element of variation from one to the next is to be expected, taste is subjective after all, but it’s more a question of accuracy and quality that’s the downfall of some. Tasting something in a beer that nobody else has is one thing, a single line on ratebeer.com that describes a beer as being “sweet, sour, dry and bitter” is something else altogether. (What does that even mean?)

Some of the better resources are referenced at the bottom of this blog entry(1). Quality of content is something they all have in common, but the differences in the way that content is delivered are wide and numerous. Zak Avery accompanies all of his tasting notes with a youtube video, allowing him to be more conversational and emotive with his message. Rob at Hopzine.com has great consistency between beers by providing a structured breakdown of appearance, aroma, taste and overall experience. And Mark Dredge brings a sense of real-time to his tasting notes by blogging them in an As-Live format.

That point around consistency is key for me. I’d like to see a standardised platform on which beers can be rated and reviewed, allowing for the standout differences between one review and the next to be solely about the differences in the beer, not about the review style. A platform that provokes the reviewer into thinking about each part of the beer and allows them to be assessed in turn, limiting the opportunity for short, non-descriptive, inaccurate tasting notes.

Mark Dredge writes (here) about the tasting chart that Badger use on the reverse of all their bottles. Breaking down the beer into bitter, sweet, hoppy, malty and fruity; they introduce the concepts of malt and hops as beer ingredients and rate the intensity of each to give the drinker an idea what to expect. Hand in hand with the taste chart is Cyclops; an independent methodology that aims to demystify beer and make it accessible to the average drinker. Cyclops provides single word tasting notes for appearance, aroma and taste and then rates sweetness and bitterness out of five.

Taking inspiration from these I’ve started to put together a tasting note template for myself. Something to use whenever I review a beer, something that will guide me through the tasting of a beer in a structured and consistent way, allowing me to capture my thoughts for future reference and for anyone that happens to read the review.

My approach breaks a beer down into ten categories. Four of these are key ingredients that make beer: yeast, hops, malt and special grains. The remaining six are generic flavours which apply to most beers. Collectively these ten descriptors will allow an overall profile of almost any beer style to be defined. Each category will be given a rating out of 5 with the results being plotted over a radar chart. The categories will then be used as a guide to write more detailed tasting notes, with justification for the score given also being included.

I hope that this will allow me to write succinct, consistent and comparable tasting notes over a long period of time. They will be accessible to the new beer drinker, interesting to the beer geek and useful as reference point all at the same time.

I plan to develop this over time, so it would be interesting to hear thoughts and opinions. I also want to make it ‘open source’ and available to anyone that wants to use it, so I’ve uploaded the template here and included instructions. Feel free to have a look.

(1) beerreviews.co.uk, pencilandspoon, hopzine, realalereviews, zak avery

Friday, 17 September 2010

Ale of Thanet - Autumn

My latest article for Ale of Thanet is now available here (beginning on page 5).

Ale of Thanet is a free publication produced by the Thanet branch of CAMRA. It's released quarterly around the Thanet area and covers beer and pub news, opinion, local events etc. In this issue I continue the series on seasonal food and beer pairing, this time looking at the best of autumnal food and the beer to drink with it.

What are your favourite autumnal food and beer pairings?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

I Hardcore You & Mince Pies

Christmas seems to get earlier every year. My girlfriend has started buying presents and making lists already, people at work are booking time off and my Mum is asking how many to expect for the big dinner. I was in the supermarket at the weekend and they had mince pies for sale, mince pies for sale in September! Madness you’ll agree, but it did trigger a thought in the back of my mind …

I Hardcore You is a collaborative effort between Scottish brewers Brewdog and Danish cuckoo(1) Mikkeller. It’s a blend of two beers (Hardcore IPA and I Beat yoU) that’s been dry hopped once more for luck and bottled as a one off limited edition. Put simply, it’s a whole that’s better than the sum of its parts, and those parts are pretty damn good to start with.

At 9.5 percent it’s a big beer. Incredible sweetness, incredible bitterness, incredible balance. The sweetness greets you with juicy citrus fruits and bucket loads of pine before a bitterness sweeps in and smothers your whole palate. The two work in stunning harmony; duelling it out to achieve dominance but never quite getting there. Despite a slight warming sensation on the way down, I refuse to believe this beer is 9.5 percent ABV, there must’ve been a mistake when it was bottled. Effortlessly quaffable, it drinks almost as well as an American Pale Ale.

Christmas wouldn’t be right without a mince pie. Those in the picture above might be a stock supermarket offering, but just think of them as a preseason friendly, a precursor to the luscious, deep-filled, indulgent little treats that will be on offer nearer the big day. The sticky dried fruit, pith and peel find a perfect partner in the jammy-citrus hops. The sweet, buttery pastry is amplified by the sweetness of the beer until the brutal bitter bite stomps on in and washes everything away. A whole that’s better than the sum of its parts.

Happy New Year?

I Hardcore You can be difficult to find now, I'm sure this pairing would work equally well with a different Double IPA.

(1)A cuckoo brewer is one that uses free space at other breweries rather than brewing from their own dedicated brewery. Sometimes referred to as nomadic brewing.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Crouch Vale Amarillo - As Live Tasting

I'm sitting at home trying to put off the mess of a flat I need to tidy up. I've been writing something for Ale of Thanet over the last few days, so haven't had a chance to blog. This is a unique situation for me, time on my hands, at home, nobody else around. How about having a go at a Dredgian as-live tasting I think to myself ...

12:39 Beer meets glass. It's on the copper side of golden. Head is white, small and loose. Is this too early to be drinking? I've just polished off a bacon roll for breakfast and I don't feel ready for beer.

12:40 I've decided the beer is a bit cold, so I'll let it warm up for a bit.

12:44 Does anyone else check for sediment by putting their eye to the bottle mouth and holding it up to the light like a telescope? Makes me feel like a pirate. Avast me hearties, this bottle be sediment free!

12:48 A little about the beer and brewer. Crouch Vale are based in Essex and have been around since the early 80's. This beer is 5 percent and is described as a "golden premium ale", it uses a load of West Coast American amarillo hops late in the boil to showcase their flavour and aroma.

12:53 Enough waiting. The aroma is predominately malt, some biscuit and cereal perhaps. Behind that lurks some juicy fruits, but they really lurk well. I feel a bit let down. I get some citrus hop coming through but it's way off what I was expecting.

12:56 First impression is that it's quite thin in the mouth. Carbonation is moderate. A very light sweetness moves into a woody, spicy hop character. This develops into citrus fruit and then a bitterness comes in as you swallow. There's a slight dryness in the finish and a tartness that plays off against the citrus hops quite nicely.

13:01 I still can't find the camera! Another quick snap with the iPhone it is.

13:03 There's definitely a grainy quality to this beer too, it comes through towards the end as a biscuity flavour. The hops seem more floral and perfumed now; I'd never guess this was amarillo hops.

13:06 Just checked the loaf of bread I've got proving in the kitchen. Bloody thing is still the same size as when it started! That sour dough starter really knows how to take its time.

13:09 That tartness is becoming a bit too much now. There's a strange meaty, Marmite harshness in the background too. I wonder how long this was on the shelf before I bought it? Unfortunately the bottle doesn't have a bottling date on it.

13:13 I'm not enjoying this anymore. I was expecting a bright, hop forward, pale beer. This is reserved, malty and a little a dull. There, I said it!

13:15 I'll leave this sitting in the glass I think. Maybe it will have improved if I come back to it in a bit.

Judging by other views, either the cask version is far superior or I've just got an old (or bad) bottle. I had high hopes, but the beer didn't really deliver. What are your views on Crouch Vale Amarillo?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Consider cheap macro lager

Inspired by Oliver Thring.

You could argue that people take beer for granted. Saturday afternoons in front of the football, summer BBQ’s or a day at the beach; all occasions on which beer is routinely bought, all too often with little thought, care or consideration. The latest supermarket deal is snapped up, guzzled down and discarded with yesterday’s newspaper. The more I think about macro lager, the harder it becomes to accept it as harmless and innocent.

A hundred shades of yellow, somehow all different but all the same. Fierce, aggressive carbonation, guilt ridden bubbles of gas fighting to escape the liquid and hide their shame. A vacant void where the aroma should be. A flavour noticeable by its absence, instantly recognisable but bereft of any character, depth or distinction. Filtered, pasteurised, killed. A lifeless liquid, the ghost of something once great, it’s haunting of shelf and fridge like a desperate last attempt to be remembered.

How did beer end up like this? How has something, so important to so many, been allowed to degenerate into a shadow of its former self? We’re a nation of beer drinkers and of beer brewers! We’ve a proud history of making some of the best beer in the entire world, but we’re losing sight of that. And for what? To save a few quid at Tesco?

Beer crafted with skill, artistry and consideration is an unbeatable thing. Be it a roasty porter, pithy IPA or zingy summer ale, good beer can deliver a spectrum of flavour as diverse as the wildest imagination. Capable, with ease, of slaking the thirst and hitting the spot that you buy that macro lager for; real beer is a living product that continues to mature, change and develop with time.

Beer is the most important drink in Britain. Whilst it might feel comforting to pick up that familiar brand over and over again, what a shame it would be if nothing else existed. A beer renaissance is happening under our noses, there's never been a better time for you to make that change. Next time time you pick up that slab, think about what you're doing, you're worth more than this.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Brewdog Chaos Theory

Sometimes a beer is complex, complicated, chaotic even. A depth that arrives in waves, perhaps too much at first but later unravelling to reveal an intricate balance of flavour and taste. For such a beer to be fully enjoyed an attentive, considered drinker is required. Someone willing to invest the effort to pull apart those flavours, appreciating them on their own and as part of the whole.

And then you have beers like Brewdog Chaos Theory. A stand and deliver type beer. A beer with an air of self confidence. A beer comfortable in its own skin, it knows who it is and what it’s about and isn’t afraid to tell you. Put simply, Chaos Theory is a showcase for the Nelson Sauvin hop. It’s a single hopped IPA brewed to 7.1 percent ABV and has recently returned for a one off short run due to popular demand.

The aroma is distinctly Nelson Sauvin: oily, gently floral, white grapes, kiwi fruit, a slight hint of white wine and perhaps some musk. In the mouth it has a lot of sweetness up front, the hops follow through from the aroma, a bitterness powers in that’s just rammed with grapefruit pith and peel and then it leaves you with a slight dryness and a hint of crystal malts. The body is velvety and full, the alcohol lurks in the background suggesting a beer that’s bigger than its 7.1 percent.

This modern IPA style is so synonymous with American c-hops1 that their absence is the stand out factor in Chaos Theory. You keep expecting that big citrusy punch but it never arrives. Instead you get Nelson, Nelson and more Nelson; it’s almost as confusing to the palate as the first American IPA you tried. Take nothing away from Chaos Theory, it’s a great beer, tasty, incredibly drinkable and well crafted. I’m just not sure I like Nelson Sauvin that much.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Brewing For Fun: An APA

I had a bit of time over the weekend and the freezer had some hops in it that weren’t getting any younger. What’s a bloke supposed to do other than get brewing? Exactly. So that’s what I did.

Something light and hoppy felt like a good idea. When doesn’t it? Marris otter pale malt, some crystal and caramalt for colour and sweetness, flaked barley for body and head retention. Simple. Bittered with amarillo and target hops to 35 bitterness units and then flavoured with loads of centennial, chinook, cascade and more amarillo. Colour? Think somewhere between deep straw and golden ray of sunshine; an original gravity of 1043 will give a final alcohol content of around 4 percent.

As it often does; the urge to experiment got the better of me, resulting in a silly hopping rate of 10g per litre. I threw some of the amarillo into the mash just to see what happened and the specialty grains weren’t included until sparging. I went with a single batch sparge and a mash time of 45 minutes hoping I could cut time off the day without impacting efficiency … I was wrong. Having completed a water profile test at home, I also adjusted my brewing liquor with carbonate reducing solution and dry liquor salts for the first time, something I hope will help preserve hop character in the finished beer.

So it’s fermenting away nicely now and should be done by the end of the week. The next decision will be whether to dry hop or not …

The picture above shows some of the spent hops. I used something like 110g in 11 litres of beer.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hardknott Infra Red

Dave Bailey (this one, not this one) is a man who swapped life as a publican to try his hand at full time professional brewing. He did so by taking a risk, investing in equipment and premises and setting up the Hardknott brewery in Cumbria. Notable achievements to date include: whisky barrel aged imperial stout Aether Blaec, 10 per cent barley wine Granite and being an all round thoroughly nice bloke.

My first taste of the Hardknott range came in the form of Infra Red, a beer described as a “hybridised red, amber ale, made with copious amounts of cascade and centennial [hop varieties]”. It pours a plum red colour with a fluffy white pillow of head on top. The aroma has something nutty or sesame about it, perhaps a spiciness that might be a result of crystal rye being used. There’s fruity hops in the background but they play second fiddle to everything else, it’s not as hop forward as the “hoppy as a bucketful of frogs” description suggests.

In the mouth it’s quite light and sprightly for its 6.5 per cent. Again I found the hops to be more reserved than expected, there's some pithy citrus there but the dominant character is a pronounced grainy quality. There’s the suggestion of sweetness up front, complemented by some caramel and burnt sugar, then a nice dry finish that lends itself to good drinkability. Being critical, I found there to be a slight tannic, almost smokey note towards the end, perhaps from the use of too much crystal malt.

A very enjoyable beer and a great effort considering that the Hardknott brewery is still very much in its embryonic stages. Looking forward to the bottles of Aether Blaec and Granite now.

You can buy the Hardknott beers from MyBreweryTap.com and Beermerchants.com

Monday, 16 August 2010

Kernel Brewery Export Stout & Pain au Chocolat

A wise man once said “Beer, not just a great breakfast drink”. Ignoring that advice for a moment; let’s focus on morning drinking for the sake of this week’s FABPOW.

The Kernel Brewery is quickly developing a reputation for producing great beer, and rightly so. The single-hop pale ale series that they’re churning out are almost always exceptional (special mention for the centennial, simcoe and chinook), delivering a thirst quenching burst of American hop and a big smack of delicious bitterness. Their Export Stout is based on a recipe from 1890 and weighs in at 7.8 per cent. It’s inky black with a tan head, the aroma is intensely roasty with a woody spiciness behind. In the mouth it’s full but not overly so, there’s the suggestion of sweetness at first, succumbing to a dry bitter finish. Perhaps some dark fruit and a slight floral note from the hop but definitely delicious.

A meal or snack made by hand is almost always more rewarding than something you grabbed from a shelf. I say almost, for there are some things that you’re always better off buying. Puff pastry and pain au chocolat to name but two. So go and buy the latter, in all its buttery, sweet, chocolaty glory and enjoy it with some 1890 Export Stout.

The slight sweetness in the beer is boosted by that in the pastry, the chocolate amplified, the fattiness cut by the dry bitterness, the palate lifted and cleansed. A gorgeous combination that makes you feel a bit more adult about eating pain au chocolat.

Note: Can also be enjoyed at other times of the day. Poncy snifter glass optional.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Sierra Nevada - Green Brewing

Steve Dresler of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company claims that, on average, it takes five litres of water to make one litre of beer. As an ingredient some of that water will make it into the finished beer, but much is also lost to hop and grain absorption, boil off and vessel dead space. As a resource, water is use to crash cool boiling wort, chill fermenting beer and clean equipment and packaging. Brewing is an incredibly resource hungry process when it comes to water; something that hasn’t been lost on the team at Sierra Nevada.

Steve is the head brewer at Sierra Nevada and was recently interviewed by the guys over at The Brewing Network. Whilst I’ve been a fan of Sierra Nevada beers for quite some time, I’ve been completely unaware of the work they’re doing in the field of eco-friendly brewing. Listening to him talk about the goals they have and the plans they’ve already put in place, it totally renewed my respect for the company.

Take water for example. The amount of water the brewery consumes per unit of beer has been halved over the industry average. Installing a water treatment plant on site has enabled the burden to be taken off the municipal water supply, enabling in-house reprocessing and purification of all water. This water then cleans the trucks and irrigates the hop yard, the methane by-product of the purification process being fed to the hungry burners that fire the copper. Incredible.

If it’s flat and pointing towards the sky, Sierra Nevada will put a solar panel on it, chances are they already have! Proud owners of one of the largest solar panel arrays in the United States, they’re able to generate 85 per cent of all the power they consume. True, the panels will return on investment within seven years and the government provide grants to businesses setting them up, but you can’t help but believe Dresler when he says the diving force is “doing the right thing”.

CO2 reclamation, a private health clinic for staff, supporting small hop growers, a private rail spur to cut down on traffic. I could go on and on about the things that are being done but you can already read more about them here and listen to more about them here. Sierra Nevada are able to do these things in part because of their size, clearly it wouldn’t be possible for smaller breweries to invest such money in decreasing their negative environmental impact. Equally, large organisations paying lip service to the green brigade are all too common place. It’s refreshing to see a business that genuinely cares about their product and about the impact they have on the world around them.

Monday, 9 August 2010


As a youngster I spent many happy summers in Northern Italy. My parents have always had something of a love affair with the country, more recently investing in a retirement home there, so it was always their holiday destination of choice. It was in Tuscany that I first tried calzone; confused by the concept I remember thinking of it as an Italian version of our Cornish pasty.

A thin pizza base, folded in half, spots scorched black on the outside. No sign of a basil leaf or a tomato anywhere, the calzone we’d devour were always stuffed with simplicity; mozzarella cheese and strips of thick-cut ham.

Nowadays you find them everywhere, but I still like to make them from time to time. Seasoned flour, olive oil, dried yeast and water make a dough which I knead for ten minutes. I’d quote measurements but it’s always a case of doing it by eye, if you start with half a kilo of flour you should end up with one calzone. Once that dough has had a chance to prove, knock it back, roll it into a circle about three millimetres thick and spoon your filling onto one side. Brush the circumference with a little water, fold to make a crescent shape and pleat the edges that meet.

Have your oven preheated as hot as it will go. Bake at that temperature for ten minutes and then lower the heat to gas mark six, continue baking until you get a hollow sound when you tap the bread and it looks golden brown on top.

I always accompany this with a cold, crisp lager or pilsner. Spritzy and bitter enough to cut fatty cheese, light enough to prevent the food from becoming overpowered. Try Brewdog 77 Lager or Meantime Pilsner (both available in English supermarkets).

Ingredients: 500g bread flour, salt, black pepper, 7g dried yeast, 1 tbsp olive oil. For the filling go with what takes your fancy: mozzarella and ham, tomato and mozzarella, four cheese, salami, anchovies etc.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Great British Beer Festival 2010

The Great British Beer Festival is a difficult beast, she both giveth and she taketh away.

I awoke on Thursday morning feeling like I’d been run over by a bus. The ghost of a beer drinker, sapped of life, eyes itchy and heavy, achy legs and pounding head. Consecutive days at that festival take their toll, and not solely down to the effect of alcohol either. Standing up all day, walking what seems like miles around beer aisles and a diet consisting almost exclusively of pork; your body will reach a point where it just says NO MORE!

She’ll chew you up and spit you out, even if you are well prepared.

But walking through those doors, into that cavernous room, a rejuvenation takes place like no other. Beer from around the globe, beer you’ve never encountered and might not ever see again, bottles you’ve lusted over for months, hidden gems waiting to be unearthed. It’s everything great about beer under one roof, waiting to be explored, sampled, shared and talked about.

The air hangs thick with enthusiasm for great beer; the most effective remedy for even the sorest of heads, capable of reviving that flame you hold for craft beer from the merest of embers.

You find yourself moving from one beer related conversation to another. Chats with professionals about the way they brew and the beers they make, dissecting flavours over shared thirds and making sure everybody hears about a great beer when you find one. At one point I sat sharing a beer flavoured with Cuban cigars, one made by Italian Gypsies and one that tasted like smoked paprika, the only relevant topic being the food we’d most like to pair with each.

Outside those four walls time passes as normal, but you’re completely oblivious to it. When it finally becomes time to return, you’ll not only leave with your back aching and your head spinning, but with a stronger desire than ever to go out, drink, learn about and share great beer.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Brew Wharf Homebrew Competition 2010

Last week, in this Guardian Word of Mouth article, Mark Dredge announced the winner of the Brew Wharf Homebrew Competition 2010. With a sense of pride, excitement and more than a little surprise; I discovered that one of the beers I’d entered came out on top.

The competition had been running for the last few months and invited homebrewers of all skill and experience levels to submit a beer. Style guidelines were thrown out the window, brewing processes only restricted to those that can be easily recreated in a commercial brewery and ABV limited to a maximum of 6.5 per cent.

I originally brewed my beer based on a recipe available at Barley Bottom. A bit underwhelmed by the result, I modified things to: increase the OG [Original Gravity] and raise the hopping rates.

The result, I hope, lies somewhere between a best bitter and an ESB. With a nice, round bitterness, a subtle dark malt character and a pronounced hop aroma and flavour.

The competition prize was the chance to brew the winning beer on the commercial system at the Brew Wharf. That means 800 litres of my beer will be brewed and then consumed by the general public; an opportunity that I think any homebrewer would jump at. Very, very exciting indeed! I’m looking forward to it immensely, I’ll post the beer recipe in full soon and I’ll be sure to write a blog or two about the day.