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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.