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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Beer Swap 2 - Drinking the Beer

It’s about time I got round to writing up my BeerSwap tasting notes and thoughts. My sender was Andy from BeerReviews.co.uk meaning a selection from the North Yorkshire coast. If at this point you’re wondering what a BeerSwap is, you might find this link useful: link. In essence it’s an organised blind swapping of local beer with the focus on sharing great local favourites, then using social media to tell everyone your thoughts on them. Anyone can join, so stay tuned for the next one if you’re interested.

Wylam Rocket comes packaged in the type of bottle you’d expect to find in a National Trust gift shop. Plenty of information about trains but nothing about the beer inside! It’s got the look of those preserves you sometimes see, the ones that have a faux home made paper label but are all made at the same massive factory in some major city.

Never judge a book by its cover they say, and you’d do well to heed such advice when it comes to this beer. It’s bready and malty with the slightest suggestion of floral hop. The bitterness is crisp, clean and refreshing. It’s uncomplicated but delicious and made the ideal accompaniment to the Pizza I was eating at the time.

Yorkshire Dales Askrigg Ale is golden-copper in colour with a bright, zesty aroma that’s dominated by Amarillo hops. On the palate its biscuit, grapefruit and orange, leading to a dry, pithy bitter finish. Harsher critics might argue that it’s a touch thin in the mouth, but for refreshment value it’s spot on.

Pale and hoppy done, time for something a bit darker. Centurion’s Ghost Ale from the York brewery is 5.4 per cent, dark ruby and topped with a lacy, silky, white head. The aroma is packed full of bitter chocolate and roasted grain, this comes through on the palate and is accented by the faintest suggestion of floral hop. There’s something smoky going on and then a subtle bitterness to the finish. Beautifully crafted and absolutely delicious.

Expertly packaged with great care, my bottles made it to me without so much as a scratch. Thanks to Andy for that and for taking the effort to pick out some really great beers for me.

Andy also included a bottle from The Durham Brewery which I’m saving for another time.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Brew Wharf - 3 lions on my shirt

World Cup themed beers are everywhere. Saints & Sinners offer you “3 lions on my shirt”. A beer sold exclusively at the Brew Wharf brew pub in Borough Market and described as: “a 4.5% noble hopped blond - made with really high quality German and British malts; really fresh, delicate and vibrant Saaz, Hallertau Hersbrucker and Crystal hops”.

I headed down with ten minutes spare and thought I’d check out the beer whilst Denmark edged out Cameroon 2-1. It’s straw-gold in colour with a rocky little head on top and a slight haze. The aroma bursts forth with tropical fruit; it’s like a mango and peach iced tea meets beer. On the palate it has sweetness at first and then bucket loads of those tropical fruits. It’s like a glass of chilled mango and peach juice with a spoonful of honey in it. Towards the finish there’s some biscuity grain and a slight piney, resinous edge to the hops.

The critic in me says it could do with being a touch drier and with having a bolder bitterness in the finish. Towards the end of pint number one it was becoming a bit too sweet and I just felt it lacked that bitter sting in the tail. That aside, it's sweet, fruity, refreshing, a little bit different and totally delicious. Get down there and have a pint yourself, it's on as long as the World Cup is.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Glastonbury FestivALE

I'm off to Glastonbury this week and I'm really looking forward to it. Having nearly missed out on the ticket sale, we [the other half and myself] settled for combined coach and festival passes. Not the end of the world you might think, but it does mean that everything you need for the six days must fit into a rucksack and be light enough to carry. Tent, sleeping bag, a few bits of food, wet wipes and clothes sorted. But what about the beer? No room for beer - what with it taking up masses of space and weighing the equivalent of a small elephant!

Well, that isn't quite true. I do have four cans of Spitfire and four cans of cider for the other half. With the weather forecast looking promising though, that won't be nearly enough!

The festival has a real ale tent that I'm planning on checking out. I can't find the beer listing for either this or previous years but there must be a decent selection if they've dedicated a whole tent to it! Right? Smaller and standard bar areas are said to sell ale as well as lager and there's even a tent themed as an English Pub: "The Avalon Inn: Glastonbury’s first spit and sawdust, half timbered, old English pub. Real ale, cider or even a cup of mead served by a buxom wench with storytelling, musicians, magicians and wandering buskers."

I've been to festivals before, including Glastonbury, but I've never been and paid attention to the beer that's on offer. Of course the focus will be on the music, people and good times but if there's a few decent pints along the way then all the better! There's still a couple of days before the big off, so does anyone have any tips or recommendations? Experience has taught me that Glastonbury is a festival like no other, the sheer size and diversity means that asking fellow festival goers for their top finds is always a good idea.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Summer Lightning - Brew Day

Yesterday was my first ever post-work brew day. I got in at about 18:30 and the average brew day takes me 7 hours, needing to be up for work at 06:00 the next morning I could understand being accused of insanity. Nonetheless time is ticking on and I need to get this beer in the fermenter to stand any chance of it being ready in time.

I'd already weighed out grain and cleaned down vessels the night before, the long-suffering girlfriend had been primed with the job of turning the hot liquor tank on ahead of me getting in and the hoping schedule had been decided. All things intended to get me started as quickly as possible, shortening the brew day as much as I could.

Mashed in by 7pm, rolling boil by 8.30, first hop addition 5 minutes later, flame out and chilling before 22:00, aerating wort for the first time, yeast pitched and tidied up by 23:30. Phew.

Busy but fun. Didn't finish too late and only a couple of minor hiccups: improvements to my immersion chiller didn't 'improve' so much as 'worsen' and my hop strainer MUST be soldered sometime soon because it keeps breaking in half part way through the boil. I ended with 13 litres at 1045 when I planned for 15 litres at 1040. I only sparged once however and chucked some extra grain in to try and counter the efficiency hit. IBU's will come in around 21 and the aeration seems to have made a real difference to fermentation kicking off. All things considered I'm happy with the result.

Into primary for 7 days now, then it'll be primed and kegged for four weeks before drinking. One or two small samples might be taken along the way ...

Monday, 14 June 2010

Summer Lightning - Quick and Dirty

I need to have a keg of something 'accessible' and 'unchallenging' ready for the end of July. I've been asked to knock something up for a birthday party, but the vast majority of people there will be lager drinkers that don't like anything too 'big'. I'm thinking a mental amount of hops and or bitterness is not the way to go. I don't have the kit to lager properly either, so that option isn't available. I need something that's refreshing, hits the spot but that will appeal to lager chuggers.

Hopback Summer Lightning is a classic beer that's simple and delicious, it has a hop presence but it's subtle, it's crisp, clean and refreshing. The bitterness isn't too big and part of its success is down to the fact that there's enough familiarity for lager drinkers to enjoy it. The beer's recipe, unsurprisingly, is quite a simple one. One grain - Optic Pale Malt. One hop - East Kent Goldings. Sorted. I'm going to take this base and try my best not to impulsively add a truck load of aroma hops after flame out. I'll brew it to around 1040-1045 and bitter to 20 IBU's.

It's possible to 'ranch' yeast from the bottom of commercial Summer Lightning bottles. I've attempted this in the past and managed to have some success. This time around though, I need something quicker and easier, so I'll go with trusty dry US05. It's reliable, clean and preserves hop aroma and flavour. The summer months are always difficult for brewing but with a few ice packs I should be able to keep it around 19C.

Quick and dirty, but experience has taught me that this kind of beer can be the most challenging to brew. To a certain extent, you can mask faults with 10 per cent alcohol or a load of dry hop, but when a beer is as simplistic as this one, there's nowhere to hide. Let's see how it goes.

If you're reading this thinking "that isn't the Summer Lightning recipe", it's quite possible that there are different ones out there. Commercial beer recipes are in a constant state of flux and without doubt some of the information out there is probably wrong. That's not really the point though; the result I'm after won't be impacted by swapping Optic for Maris Otter.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

White Horse American Beer Festival

I missed this last time but I'll definitely be there this year. The White Horse is a legendary pub, if you've never been it's well worth a trip regardless of the festival. The beer lineup is always great, when it's sunny you can sprawl out onto the green opposite and the BBQ is delicious.

The US Beer Festival is on from 2nd July to 4th July and will feature at least: Goose Island, Yard's Brewing, Flying Dog, Odell's, Brooklyn Brewery, Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada, Left Hand Brewing and Stone. Usual suspects for the most part but I'll be looking out for Yard's, eager to try something from the East coast of America that doesn't typically make it to these shores.

Confirmed treats already include casks of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (I bet that doesn't hang around long!) and Flying Dog Raging Bitch - a beer that a lot of people love but that I just don't really get. American beer will be complemented by domestic examples of US styles, Crouch Vale, Darkstar and Thornbridge being the announced participants at this point.

Sounds like it should be a good one and a rare chance to try some great International beer ... maybe see you there.

Apparently there'll be barn dancing for those that are so inclined. I'm not worrying yet through; it shouldn't be too hard to avoid!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Brewdog Prototype 27

Brewdog Prototype 27 is an experiment, an idea, an attempt to bring three beloved flavours together with a winning result. Hardcore – award winning double IPA - Caol Ila Whisky barrel and fresh Scottish Raspberries were thrown into the melting pot and challenged to make friends.

P27 pours a jewel red with a thin, white, fading head and enough of an amber hue to remind you of the beer from which it was born.

The aroma bursts forth with fruit. Not instantly identifiable as Raspberry, it’s sweet and syrupy, ripe, almost cough medicine like. There’s the faintest hint of jammy orange coming from the hops and something slightly acidic. Beyond that comes the cask: it’s woody, earthy, gritty and burnt. It’s prominent but doens't over power.

On the palate it kicks off with sweet fruit, it's syrupy in the way the aroma suggests - almost reminding me of Cherryade. It becomes tart before the fruit vanishes and the beer smoothes out. Hardcore sees an opportunity and bursts on stage giving you the smallest of cameo's, sweet orangey hops and then gone. The final act starts with bitterness before making way to the barrel. Woody at first then burnt, some smokiness then ash, earthy and dirty, it dries the beer out, tip toes to the boundary between "enough" and "too much" then runs away.

The fruit and the barrel are the big players, leaving the Hardcore with little chance to shine. The aggressive hops and bitterness are completely tamed, leaving you slightly mourning the loss of such a great beer. The result however really is worth it. No longer an IPA, Prototype 27 is a whole new beer, fruity and wild, challenging, incredibly complex but never confused.

I'm sure it'll divide opinion, but put me firmly in the "love it" camp.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Wikio Blog Rankings - June 2010

Aaaaaat ten it's Called to the bar. Down two places in ninth position is Woolpack Dave and his beer & stuff. The Bitten Bullet moves up two to eighth place and Tandleman sits in seventh. A poor month for The Pub Curmudgeon dropping two places to pick up sixth. Boak and Bailey are huge movers, climbing a massive eight places to take fifth. The Brew Dog boys are down one in fourth as we hit the top three .... Beer Nut does well to steal third and it's as you were with Pencil & Spoon in second and Pete Brown on top.

If you prefer a boring old table (and want to see 11-20) it's below. The full rankings will be available on the Wikio page from Sunday:

1Pete Brown's Blog (=)
2Pencil & Spoon (=)
3The Beer Nut (+2)
4Brew Dog Blog (-1)
5Boak and Bailey's Beer Blog (+8)
6The Pub Curmudgeon (-2)
7Tandleman's Beer Blog (-1)
8The Bitten Bullet (+2)
9Woolpack Dave's beer and stuff blog (-2)
10Called to the bar (+4)
11Spittoon (-3)
12Zythophile (=)
13Beer Reviews (-2)
14Reluctant Scooper (+1)
15`It's just the beer talking` ? Jeff Pickthall's Blog (-6)
16Real Ale Reviews (=)
17Travels With Beer (+2)
18Real Brewing at the Sharp End (+9)
19Brew Wales (-2)
20The Wine Conversation (-2)

Ranking by Wikio

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Cave Creek Chili Beer - Terrible!

That conversation about the best beer in the World is one you often overhear or take part in, but how about the worst beer in the World?

Eddie Gadd has a nice philosophy when it comes to beer he doesn’t brew. I once heard him suggest that life’s too short to worry about the parts of a beer that aren’t perfect. If it’s drinkable, and you’re drinking it, focus on the parts you like and enjoy yourself! I like this as a mantra to drink by but it’s somewhat inevitable that, as enthusiasm for beer grows in a person, so will their predisposition towards cynicism and pedantry. It’s good to be reminded from time to time that it is ONLY beer, if it’s served a bit warm or if it’s a touch too sweet, it’s not the end of the World.

Sometimes though, no amount of optimism or positivity is enough to overcome the fact that something really is just down right terrible. Enter Cave Creek Chili Beer, a beverage so awful that it took no effort to see the glass half full … in fact the glass looked like it was only missing two sips!

If you haven’t encountered chilli flavoured beer before, it isn’t as unusual as you might think. Stu at the Crown Brewery in Sheffield makes a stout with chilli* that’s very highly regarded. Similarly, Stuart Howe at Sharp's also produced a Chilli Double IPA as part of his fifty two beers project which, again, was well received by those that tried it.

Cave Creek Chilli Beer is a Lager brewed in Mexico with chillies; it’s then bottled with a whole green chilli to further allow the beer to become infused with chilli flavour.

Smell this beer and watch as optimism drains from your face. The aroma is a sickly combination of sweet corn and chilli fruit, the result being something akin to chilli jam on the turn. The taste is as bad, if not worse. It starts slightly sweet before a massive hit of chilli flavour smashes its way through. Too much chilli, so much that you can’t taste the underlying beer. Swallow if you dare, in comes a crazy amount of heat; it’s like rubbing the inside of a cut chilli all over the back of your throat and waiting to see what happens. It’s a dry, burning heat that just builds and builds.

Now, by way of a slight disclaimer, I feel it necessary to state that I quite like spicy food and chilli heat. I need to be in the mood for it but I’ll happily plump for “extra hot” at Nando’s and one of my favourite things to eat is a Cheese and Pickle roll with Jalapenos. I might not be a Lamb Phall man but I can certainly handle something a bit spicy. This beer is hot!

Some mild cheddar in the fridge, I thought the beer might work better alongside something else. The problem being that the ruinous effect of the heat on your palate means it’s difficult to taste anything after a few sips … the beer included!

I can’t understand how anybody could like this beer, nor can I understand how anybody could manage to drink more than a few mouthfuls of it. The worst beer in the world - who knows? One of the least enjoyable beers I’ve ever consumed - without doubt!

Sorry Eddie, I did try.

* Thanks to Mark from Pencil & Spoon for pointing out that Ring of Fire [the Crown Brewery beer] actually started out as a Barley Wine and has since moved into Strong Ale territory. It's not a stout.