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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.