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Monday, 5 December 2011

British Guild of Beer Writers

The British Guild of Beer Writers held their annual awards last week, and at that ceremony I was honoured to be awarded the silver prize in the 'Best Use of Online Media' category. If you write or communicate about beer in Britain, the guild awards are as big as it gets, to walk away with an award is just a huge honour.

I write this blog because I love beer. Beer and brewing fill my head with enthusiasm and ideas, they provoke me to be creative and this blog is my outlet for that creativity. Whether it's a homebrew recipe, comparing hop varieties to Star Wars, bursting to tell people how good the beer I just drank is or an experiment I've been making a mess of the kitchen with, BeerBirraBier is my outlet and my means by which to create.

The fact that people read what I write and engage with each other over it - that's the icing on the cake. To be given an award? That's like the cherry and the delicate little dusting of sugar ...

Congratulations to all the other winners on the night. It's fantastic to spend an evening with so many talented people, and it really inspires me to continue improving.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

London and South East Craft Brewing Competition 2011

This weekend past, the London Amateur Brewers hosted the first ever ‘London and South East Craft Brewing Festival’ in Wimbledon, London. Borrowing heavily from the now defunct Sutton competition that’s taken place in previous years, the emphasis was on a structured judging segment before an informal festival-style drinking session later in the day.

With entries totalling in excess of one hundred, across styles as varied as best bitters, saisons, new world hopped weisse beers, lagers and smoked ales, the standard was generally very high. The knowledge and enthusiasm in the room was obvious, but it’s good to see that backed up by some quality output too.

Judging came courtesy of the country’s newly qualified BJCP judges and members of the National Guild of Wine and Beer Judges. The award for best in show on this occasion going to Tom Greasley for his ‘Sarcastro Stout’, whilst Fergus McIver picked up the people’s choice gong.

Bigger things planned for next year. Here are some photos:

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Kernel - Double Black IPA

There’s a scene in Cloverfield where the mutilated, dismembered head of lady liberty is seen crashing down a Manhattan street. Apparently unfazed by a glimpse of the colossal monster responsible for this over-sized jeu de Boules, the nearby New Yorker reaches for his phone to record the moment. The scene sticks in my mind because every now and then I feel the same compulsion. Yeah it’s rare that London‘s under the attack of an unknown, possibly extraterrestrial entity at the time, but that basic urge to capture and record is the same.

The Kernel Brewery needs no introduction. If you’re a fan of good beer or you spend even the smallest of your free time visiting the pubs and restaurants of the capital, you’ll have heard of them. Their double black IPA - cannily named ‘Double Black’ - is an insanely-mental drink. Clearly it bears significant resemblance to French neoclassical sculptures of Roman goddesses because, upon taking a sip, I was sent immediately scurrying for pen and paper.

In this awesome age of ‘OMG!’, ‘legend!’ and ‘Best.Blah.Ever.’, you’d be excused for dismissing the use of a compound adjective like ‘insanely-mental’ as typical blogger hyperbole. Not this time though. This time I mean it.

The dark brown colour - rather than an ominous opaque black - and fresh hop notes in the aroma give rise to a false sense of security. There’s so much sweetness in this beer; it combines with the fudgey, toffee and darker roasted character of the malt to appear deep and rich and tar-like. It coats your mouth like a spoonful of black treacle before a bulldozer of bitterness powers in, stunning the back of your throat like a slap round the face on a freezing cold day. And if that bitterness makes the cut, then the burn of alcohol rubs salt deep into the wound; the one-two combination working to devastating, stinging effect.

Halfway down the glass, my tongue curling, my head spinning; I wasn’t ready for this assault, this is an unfair fight! Part of me says leave the rest and move on, but part won’t let me. That part that orders vindaloo, that throws hot sauce in the shopping trolley; it’s poking me with a stick and it’s egging me on.

The Kernel Double Black is an abusive challenge of a beer. It will mess you up. It’ll knock you out and then help you to your feet, leaving you with a parting kiss, knowing that you’ll forgive it and come back for more.

The Kernel Double Black is a beer that you experience as much as taste. You need that experience in your life. Look out for the beer at beermerchants.com or direct from the brewery.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

London Brewers Alliance 2011 Showcase

At the end of last month the London Brewers Alliance held the second of their annual showcase events. Here's a few photos from the day:

Friday, 4 November 2011

Sick Lambic

My rhubarb lambic is acting up.

If you missed the first two posts, here’s a catch up. With some surplus homebrew, some sour beer dregs, a homemade lactic starter and a couple of sticks of rhubarb, I fashioned something close to a sour beer. Maybe. Things were going well, the first bottle tasted great, samples from the fermenter grew tarter and I thought I had a bit of a winner on my hands.

Five months later, I have this:

Now wait, don’t panic yet. In his book 'Wild Brews', Jeff Sparrow tells us that “the fermentation of lambic occurs in a specific sequence, each microbial species growing at different rates before reading a high enough cell count to act, in turn, on the wort”. The fermentation of sour beer is far from straight forward, could this just be the next stage in a normal wild fermentation? The pellicle that formed after I pitched the lactic starter started to break up and drop away, then in came the monster you see above, slowly but steadily it grew over the top of the beer. Could this new pellicle be the work of a microbe that had sat dormant, waiting for its chance to take control?

Frank Boon, head man at lambic brewery Brouwerij Boon, tells us that “after four or five months, it [lambic beer] can be very unpleasant. The bitterness disappears, the first taste of acidity appears, and it has less esters than the end. At certain moments it is very pleasant, and others it is not”." A condition that Jean Van Roy of Brouwerij Cantillon attributes to fermentation cycle in combination with ambient temperature and season: “Before September, the beer will be sick”. Sparrow explains “During the first warm day, certain strains of pediococcus cerevisiae – sometimes known as Bacillus viscosus bruxellensis – give the beer viscosity. This condition is described in some texts as 'ropiness' for the long strands of slime produced on the top of the wort. All lambic goes through this sickness and comes out the other side ready to blend of serve”.

So what’s the diagnosis for my beer? Is it sick? Will it get better? Will it come back stronger, smelling of roses and ethyl lactacte? Or is this a terminal case of mould that’ll slowly spell the end?

Cross your fingers.

Quotes taken from Jeff Sparrow's excellent book Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer's Yeast.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Pulled Pork, Fette Sau Style

Consecutive blogs on a single topic? Must be love.*

“I think I know just what we need”

Holiday, New York city, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, brewery tour, beer, hungry, Fette Sau, BBQ, the most delicious pulled pork, incredible burnt end beans, wonderfully fresh Brooklyn IPA, fantastic bourbon.

Booo! Early mornings, early nights, three hour commutes, eight hours in front of a computer screen, instant coffee, UHT milk, the office canteen, overcooked porridge and dried-out baked potatoes.

We hit the weekend, I’m missing New York and I’ve got a craving for BBQ like you wouldn’t imagine. I’ve been punching the words “Fette Sau” into YouTube and Google at random intervals throughout the week, a compulsion that’s proven more fruitful than I’d assumed it would. It turns out that the dry rub Matt Lang uses on his meat isn’t the closely guarded secret that it has every right to be. There are in fact numerous sources online that claim to know it. Sweet.

Sense** prevails following a morning investigating the feasibility of a meat smoker made from a terracotta plant pot and a whole load of lighter fluid. So I can’t recreate the smoke element of that delicious pulled pork, but I can get top quality meat, and I’ve got something that claims to be the dry rub. Close enough.

1/3 cup garlic powder
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
2 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
2 cup ground coffee (espresso grind)
2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup ground black pepper

This is the perfect thing to cook when you’ve got people coming round for beer. Wake up, mix a load of dry ingredients together, rub the mix all over a piece of fatty pork shoulder, stick it in the oven at gas mark 2.5 and forget about it. Somewhere between 6 and 8 hours later when the beers are flowing, all you need to do is take the meat out and pull it apart with your hands. What could be simpler?

If you wanna get all expert about it, I think it makes sense to take the rind off the meat first. I got the butcher to do this, leaving some of the fat behind but not too much. Pulled pork isn’t about the crackling and you might have some grief getting the skin to crisp up with the oven so low, easier to get rid. Put the shoulder on a rack, in a baking tray. You don’t want it to stew in the liquid that escapes through cooking, so getting it up and off the bottom of the tray is the way to go.

It’s close to Fette Sau. The smoke is missing for sure. I tried using some smoked paprika in place of the cayenne pepper but it wasn’t nearly enough to work. Close or not, it’s most definitely delicious. I was cooking 2 pounds of meat for 2 hungry people and, even having halved the dry rub recipe, I easily had twice as much rub as I needed. It’s also worth pointing out the difference between kosher salt and standard salt. The much larger grains of kosher salt mean that less of them fit into a measuring cup, you can’t just substitute for the same amount of table salt.

When I had this at the restaurant, the Brooklyn IPA worked pretty well with it. Every beer pairing pales in comparison to a glass of bourbon though. The woody, oaky quality gives an interesting depth to the charred meat, the sweetness tempering that aggressive rub. Delicious.

* Listen carefully, that’s the sound of my girlfriend simultaneously tutting and rolling her eyes ...

** The girlfriend tells me it would be a stupid idea in our shared garden. She’s right, when I do things like this it usually ends in disaster or personal injury. Sometimes both.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fette Sau, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Fette Sau is easier found by moonlight than by sunlight. In the evening, follow your ears; the gaggle of the forty-five-minute-queue will lead you to the darkened alley of an entrance. By day, it’s your nose that’ll show you the way. If you’re looking for the entrance, you’ll walk straight past it, twice, but the aroma of smoke and roast is a constant signpost that hangs thick in the air from a block away. You can’t miss it.

There’s a twinge of embarrassment as the big, bright sign reading “Fette Sau” clips you round the ear for being stupid. Embossed on the black night sky in electric-neon pink, it’s now more obvious than your overwhelming sense of excitement. Shuffling down that darkened, average looking alleyway, you wait for the big reveal. A right turn, a left turn, and then the restaurant shows its hand, full house, literally.

Inside, a single expansive room with an awkwardness about its shape is filled with beaten up wooden tables and benches. Every seat is taken. Ahead the serving counter stretches away from you to the back wall and then out to the left in a sort of drunken 'L' shape. It’s dark, there’s a fog of wood smoke in the air, the walls are stripped back to brick and the ceiling doesn’t really exist. It feels like an underground school canteen. The first in a series of stations is a blackboard that displays today’s menu, cuts of meat against prices per pound, a handful of sides and extra bread if you want it. Next a glass-fronted counter that keeps the food warm whilst you order, piles of blackened meat stacked on top of each other inside, enjoying a quick rest on their journey from the smoker in the background to your stomach. The man in control carves the last ribs from a rack and leans over to scrub out the option with the heel of his hand. A steel tray is placed in front of us before being lined with brown paper, our order is taken, the tray filled, and we’re ushered along the line for payment.

The bar is our final stop. Twenty microbrews on draught, dispensed through taps with handles fashioned from old butchery utensils. The bourbon list is vast, the biggest I’ve seen. The barman props himself up against the back bar, he’s wearing a proud look on his face, a look that says he knows I’ll enjoy what I eat and drink before I even order from him.

Stepping back outside to find some space, greedily scoffing down the first mouthful, my suspicions are confirmed. Fette Sau is perfect. The food is delicious, the beer and bourbon are fantastic enhancements, the environment is one you experience rather than use.

I’d go back and tell the staff, but they already know.

Picture from here. Fette Sau is a BBQ restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you ever find yourself in the area, drop everything and go.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Englishman Drinking In New York

If you're on Manhattan, head towards The Ginger Man, Rattle 'n' Hum, Blind Tiger or The Pony Bar. Brooklyn: Barcade, Spuyten Duyvil (above) or the brewery.

New Yorkers will happily drink pint measures of a beer that's too strong to be drunk in pint measures. If you ask though, most places will sell you a half pour for half price.

Very strong beer will often come in a short measure. 10oz, 8oz, something like that. Ask for one by name and you'll be given the smaller serving automatically.

Always take ID with you. I might be lucky(?) enough to avoid age checks in England, but I was asked 3 or 4 times in NY for ID. Easier just to have it with you at all times.

New Yorkers don't know where the date of birth section is on a UK driving licence.

Look out for the option of a flight on the bar menu. Often a selection of around 5 taster pours of your choosing, it's a good way to try a few beers without getting hammered too quickly.

Drinkers in New York tip very well. The result of this is that barmen will expect you to tip well also. If you're paying by cash, the standard is to leave a dollar per drink on the bar after you've paid for your round. The first time you do this you'll wonder if you've made a mistake, they will eventually pick the notes up though. Honest. If you start a tab or ask to pay by card, there's a handy space on the receipt slip for adding a tip amount.

Practice your signature, chip and pin doesn't appear to have arrived in New York yet.

For some unknown reason, when you pay for a round by cash, you always seem to get dollar notes in the change ...

The plus side to all this tipping business is that the barmen of New York are some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable people you'll ever encounter.

In Opposite Land (also known as the USA), cask is the new keg. Whilst everything I personally tried was great, I was warned over and over that cellarmanship is still some way behind the enthusiasm for cask beer. Take caution.

In Opposite Land, people eat with their feet and walk on their hands.*

Don't fall for the IPA fries at Rattle 'n' Hum. They're just fries. Good fries, granted, but just fries all the same.

If you've ever wished you could buy a shirt or glass emblazoned with the logo of your favourite bar, you're in luck. NYC is merch-crazy.

If you are planning a trip to The Big Apple soon, keep it yourself, I'll just get jealous.

* Note: This might be a lie.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Tap East, Westfield Stratford City

I saw Scotland play Argentina this weekend. Tit-for-tat going in at the halftime interval, Scotland came out to score twice, putting real space between the two teams for the first time. Then it happened, guard down, caught on the back foot, Lucas Amorosino punishes the Scots with a moment of individual brilliance, dancing round four defenders, crashing over the line to score the decisive try. Eighty minutes played, insignificant in comparison to that thirty second period, one single moment that defined the match and encapsulated its story.

On 13th September 2011, Tap East opened in Westfield Stratford City. A single moment in time, an important chapter in the story of London beer. As drinkers, brewers, landlords and proponents of quality beer, we’ve been working towards this for some time.

It would be easy to write about the chalkboard walls, the rare bottles on shelving and the glass panels that’ll provide customers with a view of the brew-kit. It would be even easier to write about the service, the draft beer selection and the bottle fridges. Tap East is important for another reason. Tap East is a specialist beer bar and microbrewery in a major shopping centre. A shopping centre, with a Topshop, a John Lewis and a ... a microbrewery and specialist beer bar. Yeah, exactly!

Slumped on a comfy sofa, paddling in a sea of plastic carrier bags, the average shopper now sits. Sipping an ale that was brewed ten feet away, slurping a lager that was aged in the cellar of a craftsman on a different continent. He finishes his conversation about yesterday’s game, picks up the trainers he just bought at Sports Direct and heads off to the food court for something to eat. He does this because he’s an average Londoner, and because beer is now something more than fizzy-yellow lager and old-man-flat-brown.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Drinking New York City

I’m off to New York City soon and my heart is set on two things: beer and beef. The missus keeps talking about shops and sightseeing, but I’ve chosen to put this down to her odd sense of humour*. I’ve got a rough list of destinations sketched out but, if a job in IT has taught me anything, it’s that the Internet always knows best. So, The Internet, let’s have it. Where does an Englishman in New York go when he wants good food and good beer?

Katz’s Deli
Fette Sau
Shake Shack
Burger Joint
5 Napkin
Nathan’s (if we can get out that far)
Dinosaur BBQ

Brooklyn Brewery
Rattle ‘n’ Hum
Blind Tiger

Wholefoods Bowery
New Beer Distributors

Crowdsourcing GO!

*Of course, I’m joking. Shops for the day, food and beer for the evening.

Picture from here.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Dream Beer Festival Lineup

A post inspired by this and this.

I kinda go to beer festivals to drink new beer, not the ones I know and love. That being said, if I were asked to pick a dream lineup of old favourites, it might look something like this:

Marble Pint (Is there a better, more flavour-filled session ale?).
Thornbridge Kipling (I love Nelson Sauvin hops).
Oakham Citra (Best application of the Citra hop that I've tasted).
Gadds' No 3 (Hometown classic).
Darkstar Hophead (If there is a better session ale than Pint, it's Hophead).

Bear Republic Racer 5 (The best American IPA I've tasted).
Victory Prima Pils (An awesome US Pilsner).
Pilsner Urquell (THE Pilsner. Unfiltered and unpasteurised or not at all).
Ayinger Celebrator (Doppel-licious).
Brewdog Punk IPA (Brewdog's crowning glory).
Brewdog Hardcore IPA (Brewdog's other crowning glory).
Augustiner Helles (Simple. Delicious. Simply delicious. Reminds me of Munich).

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel (The knockout punch).
Cantillion Rosé De Gambrinus (One for the missus. I'll take a sampler).
Cantillon Gueuze (Halftime refresher).
Kernel SCCANS (Hometown modern-classic).
Orval (Everybody's best mate).
Fuller's Vintage Ale (Different every time you drink it, but constantly great).

Now, tell me that's a festival you wouldn't enjoy!

Image from here.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Revised BJCP Guidelines for IPA

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) serves to "promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills". Their style guidelines for India Pale Ale (IPA) were written in 2008 and span English IPA, American IPA and Imperial IPA. To my mind, that doesn't sufficiently cover the variety that exists within the IPA catergory in 2011.

Here's an attempt at a (summarised) update to the guidelines; intended to provoke thought and debate around the IPA style, rather than critque on the BJCP as an organisation:

American IPA

Origin: US interpretation of classic English style.

Aroma: Prominent aroma of citrusy, floral, resinous, piney, American hops. Possible malty sweetness in the background. No fermentation character.

Appearance: Golden through amber to medium reddish copper. Often clear, often hazy through dry hopping. White to off-white persistent head.

Flavour: Prominent citrusy, floral, resinous, piney, American hops. Moderate malt sweetness, some toasty and caramel flavours. Medium-dry to dry finish. No fermentation character. Prominent hop bitterness.

Alcohol: 5.5% to 8.0%

Commercial Examples: Odell IPA, Russian River Blind Pig, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.

Imperial IPA

Origin: Up-scaled version of American IPA style.

Aroma and Flavour: As for American IPA, with everything increased. Significantly sweeter, balanced by an equal increase in hop bitterness. Alcohol warmth sometimes evident but fermentation profile still clean.

Appearance: As for American IPA, with a tendency to be slightly darker.

Alcohol: 8.0% to 10.0%

Commercial Examples: Russian River Pliny The Elder, Stone Ruination IPA, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.

Triple IPA

Origin: Up-scaled version of the Imperial IPA style.

Aroma and Flavour: As for Imperial IPA, with everything increased. Huge sweetness balanced by massive bitterness. Huge hop aroma and flavour with strong malty, toffee and caramel backbone. Obvious alcohol warmth but clean fermentation profile.

Appearance: As for Imperial IPA.

Alcohol: 10.0% and above.

Commercial Examples: Russian River Pliny The Younger, Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA.

Black IPA

Origin: Modification to American IPA style through the inclusion of darker malts. De-husked black malt often used to provide colour without flavour.

Aroma: Prominent aroma of citrusy, floral, resinous, piney, American hops. Possible malty sweetness in the background. Possible dark malt character, giving notes of roastiness, liquorice, bitter chocolate and coffee. No fermentation character.

Appearance: Opaque black. White to off-white persistent head.

Flavour: Prominent citrusy, floral, resinous, piney, American hops. Moderate malt sweetness, some toasty and caramel flavours. Medium-dry to dry finish. No fermentation character. Prominent hop bitterness. Possible dark malt flavour giving notes of roastiness, liquorice, bitter chocolate and coffee.

Alcohol: 5.5% to 8.0%

Commercial Examples: The Kernel Black IPA, 21st Amendment Back in Black, Windsor & Eton Conqueror.

Traditional English IPA

Origin: A stronger, hoppier pale ale exported to the British living in India around the turn of the 18th century. Often falsely purported to have been brewed stronger to survive the sea voyage, often falsely purported to have been exported for consumption by British troops.*

Aroma: Moderate/high hop aroma of floral, earthy, spicy, grassy English hops. A moderate caramel-like or toasty malt presence is common. Low to moderate fruitiness, either from yeast esters or hops, can be present.

Appearance: Golden through amber to medium reddish copper. Often clear, can be hazy through dry hopping. White to off-white persistent head.

Flavour: Moderate/high hop flavour of floral, earthy, spicy, grassy English hops. Moderate malt sweetness to support hop bitterness; toasty, biscuity, caramel flavours. Medium-dry to dry finish. Prominent hop bitterness. Some fruity ester character from fermentation.

Alcohol: 5.0% to 8.0%

Commercial Examples: Meantime IPA, Worthington White Shield.

Modern English IPA

Origin: A modern beer style that bears no resemblance to traditional English IPA. A lowest common denominator ale, brewed to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible. Linked to the IPA banner in name only.

Aroma: Muted. Perhaps some caramel and toffee notes from crystal malt. Low to moderate fruity esters from the use of an English ale yeast.

Appearance: Golden through amber to medium reddish copper. Always clear. White to off-white thin head. Perhaps a hint of grassy, spicy English hops.

Flavour: Caramel and toffee notes from the use of crystal malt. Fruity esters. Medium-dry to dry finish. Watery, thin mouthfeel. Moderate hop bitterness. Perhaps a hint of grassy, spicy English hops.

Alcohol: 3.0% to 5.0%

Commercial Examples: Greene King IPA.

British Brewed American IPA

Origin: British interpretation of the American IPA style.

Aroma, Appearance and Flavour: As for American IPA.

Alcohol: 5.5% to 8.0%

Commercial Examples: The Kernel SCCANS, Marble Dobber, Magic Rock Cannonball, Brewdog Punk IPA.

Mid Atlantic Pale Ale

Origin: The product of British “session” drinking culture and the influence of American Craft Brewing. Beers heavily inspired by America and the generous use of American hops, scaled down to meet the session drinking habits of British drinkers.

Aroma: Prominent aroma of citrusy, floral, resinous, piney, American hops. Possible malty sweetness in the background. No fermentation character.

Appearance: Golden through to light amber to medium reddish copper. Often clear, often hazy through dry hopping. White to off-white persistent head.

Flavour: Prominent citrusy, floral, resinous, piney, American hops balanced by an English pale malt backbone of biscuity sweetness. Moderate toasty, caramel flavours acceptable. Medium-dry to dry finish. No fermentation character. Balanced hop bitterness.

Note: Use of hops from New Zealand, and therefore the associated flavour/aroma of NZ hops, is also acceptable (but fairly uncommon).

Alcohol: 3.0% to 5.5%

Commercial Examples: Marble Pint, Darkstar Hophead, Oakham Citra, Oakham JHB, Redemption Trinity.

New Zealand IPA

Origin: Kiwi interpretation of classic English style.

Aroma: Prominent aroma of tropical fruits, gooseberry, white grape, lychee and citrus fruits from New Zealand hop varieties. Possible malty sweetness in the background. No fermentation character.

Appearance: Golden through amber to medium reddish copper. Often clear, often hazy through dry hopping. White to off-white persistent head.

Flavour: Prominent flavour of tropical fruits, gooseberry, white grape, lychee and citrus fruits from New Zealand hop varieties. Medium-dry to dry finish. No fermentation character. Prominent hop bitterness.

Alcohol: 5.5% to 8.0%

Commercial Examples: Brewdog Chaos Theory, The Kernel Nelson Sauvin IPA, Mikkeller Single Hop IPA Nelson Sauvin.

* Martyn Cornell, August 4th 2011. See here.

Friday, 9 September 2011

For Pilsner Urquell

It’s like waking up to discover snow fell through the night. The pristine beauty of that white blanket, indiscriminate in its veiling of path and road and flower bed. Opening the front door, hoping you’re the first, that no foul footprint mars the beauty. Pause, take it in, step. Refusing to turn, you enjoy the crunch and squeak of powder underfoot, all the while knowing the damage that lays in your wake. And you’re happy and you’re sad; if damage is to be done, at least it be done by you. The moment ends as you leave your road, greeted by the dirty slush of those before you; accept the inevitable and look skyward, fresh snowfall again becomes your desire.

This is how I feel as that mug of Pilsner Urquell is chaperoned across the bar. When it comes to beer, nothing is more beautiful. A golden, hazy body; hiding behind a gossamer-film of condensation. That head; foam that defines foam, thick and dense like double cream with a bitter sting. Its peak arriving as the tap is closed. Pause, take it in, sip. It’s immediately perfect.

You don’t feel it yet, but it’s in the post. That’s for sure. Enveloped by that perfect moment, until the jarring sound of glass against table – like the rattle of a letterbox – forces you back into reality, forces you to accept the inevitable. Shamefully you survey the damage, seeking console in the delicate lace that lays behind. It’s not enough, spoiled goods the beauty lost, for nothing compares to that first perfect sip.

Visiting Pilsner Urquell a few weeks ago inspired this post. I was just in awe of how beautiful the first sip of a PU is, how nothing compares and how you immediately want a fresh pour afterwards. The post is a bit different to normal, but I think it's good to challenge yourself from time to time, to write something completely different, in a way that you don't feel completely comfortable with.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Supermarkets & Beer & Food

Are supermarkets missing a trick? Is there an opportunity to promote beer as a dinner table extra; something to put in the shopping basket along with the Maris Pipers and the topside of beef? If you listen to the beer writer and the brewer, the answer is a resounding yes. Yet, despite this, there isn’t a single major supermarket in the country that’s trying to ‘add-on-sale’ beer in this way.

When it comes to wine it’s a done deal, in-store marketing, point of sale advertising, food matches printed on bottles; we’re conditioned to treat ourselves to a bottle of something grape-based when we’re cooking that Sunday lunch or special occasion meal. Beer on the other hand, is only pushed at us when there’s a major sporting event going on and our plates are full of crisps and nuts.

Flick through the in-store magazine and you might see the occasional tasting note for a pale ale next to the new BBQ range. Or, if you’re lucky, there might be an advert for something strong and dark next to the mince pies and the Christmas cake. I’m not talking about stuff like that though, I’m talking about making an obvious and persistent connection between food products and beer. Here’s something I saw in France recently that works really well:

Without obscuring pricing or shelf edge labelling, new information - specific to that product - is made available to the shopper. He or she now knows that that wine works with fish and poultry, subconsciously it becomes a near-sensory experience that can be mentally tasted and imagined alongside that evening’s meal. How many more people will now pick up that bottle, how many will run back through the shop to grab an extra ingredient that they wouldn’t have otherwise bought? Wouldn’t the same work for beer?

For the supermarket, it’s a unique idea that increases the chance of an add-on-sale. For the beer lover, it’s a step towards changing the public perception of beer, putting beer on a par with wine and championing its consumption in a way that many drinkers won't have considered.

What do you think? Great idea or waste of time? Would something like this persuade you to pick up a beer or pair a beer with your dinner?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Magic Rock Bottles

Magic Rock Brewing might not have been around long, but they’re already making an impact with the beers they brew. Cask and keg offerings at the awesome new Craft Beer Co and Southampton Arms in London, a funky launch at North Bar in Leeds and a generally positive buzz around the beer world – they’re out the blocks well.

I’ve enjoyed their stuff on draught, but it’s bottles I want to talk to you about today. Bottles that have some of the best branding on them that I’ve ever seen. Bottles full of delicious beer?

First up is High Wire, a 5.5% beer that calls itself a West Coast Pale Ale. The aroma is dominated by high alpha acid American hops, floral and perfumed rather than heavy and dank, they bring notes of lychee, some sappy pine and some mango. This follows through into the flavour, where it’s met with a firm malt-driven backbone of caramel and toffee. It’s generously hopped for a beer in the American pale ale style and, whilst I do think you need a decent malt body to stand up to that, I’d go so far as to say that perhaps there is too much malt character here. The body feels slightly thin – something which could be down to filtering – but the bitterness is about spot on.

High Wire’s big brother is Cannonball, a full-fledged IPA in the American style with 7.4% of its 330ml handed over to alcohol. Its aroma is juicy, juicy like you just stamped on a bowlful of very ripe satsumas and tangerines, juicy with a slight hint of sticky pine sap in the background. Flavour honours aroma with the addition of more of that malt, that caramelly, toffee malt that’s in the High Wire. There might be a bit too much of it for my personal taste here too, there’s almost the slight suggestion of a weak golden barley wine going on - just because that malt character is quite big. Bitterness is bang on again, there’s a tiny bit of alcohol burn and then a slick, oily texture that definitely doesn’t come from a fault like diacetyl, but might come from hop oils. This is good beer, very good beer. The hop profile is a little on the muddy side and, I think, lacking the clarity of hop flavour that you get in the very best American IPA’s but, nonetheless, this is good beer.

And finally Rapture, which immediately makes me think of Brewdog 5am Saint, a “Red Hop Ale” at 4.6% alcohol. The aroma is more floral in this one, cut flowers, flower petals and then dank, leafy, well ... leaves. The flavour profile is dominated by those hops; they’re painted over a canvas of crystal malt that brings a load of burnt sugar, dark toffee and even feint coffee and bitter chocolate. There’s some sweetness there but it finishes dry and, with that dryness, the crystal malt is allowed to take over, leaving some astringency. I love 5am Saint because the hop and malt is in perfectly balance, Rapture almost gets there but the crystal just becomes a bit too much for me.

You know what; there aren’t many breweries out there that make three bottled beers of this quality. To have done so within the first few months of operation, well, that’s no mean feat.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Are You Positive?

A bit of back-and-forth between HardknottDave and Tandleman has again got me thinking about blogging about bad beer and bad drinking experiences.

On one hand you can argue that the blogger should use their writing to reflect the state of the beer landscape in which they drink; it’s not all good beer out there and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise. Putting questions about the influence that bloggers even have to one side, you could argue that pubs and beer won’t improve unless the landlord or brewer is told where they’re going wrong. If you mislead a new drinker into a bad pub and they walk out thinking that that’s as good as it gets, how many come back for a second pint?

The converse argument is that you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar. If you spend your time telling people about all the bad beer you drink then your message becomes wrapped in negativity. Tweet about the three bad beers you drank whilst enjoying the three great ones silently and give the new drinker no reason to ask for beer.

For me it’s important to remember that judgement shouldn’t be cast quickly. One bad pint doesn’t make a bad pub; one bad batch doesn’t make a bad brewer. The things I tweet and the things I blog are almost always opinion based; opinion does not equal fact. Humility is important, especially when your opinion isn’t a positive one, and when you’re opinion is potentially damaging to a brewer or publican’s brand it’s important to consider how you share it.

It’s a balancing act for sure, a balancing act that I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t mastered. I want to champion beer as a great drink because I know how great it is. I want to focus on the good stuff and get other people interested in beer by sharing that with them, but I also think it’s important to be honest and for a drinker to know when something isn’t as it should be.

Personally I think it’s more effective to focus on the positive. I’m more likely to persuade people to drink beer that I describe as good than beer I complain about being bad. Generally people are pretty smart; a set of posts about great beer doesn’t necessarily mean a leap to the conclusion that bad beer is nonexistent.

What do you think?

I wrestled with whether or not to post this entry. It feels, to a certain extent, like I'm crashing someone elses argument and I'm not really keen on blogging about blogging. This is something that came up at the European Beer Bloggers Conference though, and it's something that I think is important. If the influence of the beer blogger continues to grow, so will the relevance on this issue.

Image from here.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Columbus-Brined Onion Sourdough

I've talked of my love for the Columbus hop here. Well, some time has passed since then but I still bloody love them. They've just got this sinister, dark, dank, vegetal thing going on when used in large quantities; I'm convinced that they're the perfect partner for onions and garlic. Onions are bright and acidic and sometimes bitter, they've got that flavour that just hangs around for hours, on your finger tips, on your breath. Onion and columbus should just work together, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.

I've been playing around trying to bring these two flavours together and here's something that worked quite well.

I made a columbus brine by combining about a dozen ground columbus pellets, a generous pinch of salt and a litre or so of water. I then sliced up two smallish onions and soaked them in the brine for two days. The idea here is that the salty water draws out liquid from the onions and replaces it with the brine, leaving you with water that tastes of onion and onion that tastes of hops. Perfect.

Right, so, one of my other big loves is bread - I've been attempting (and failing) to produce the perfect loaf from my sourdough starter for about three years now. But, my thinking was that a slightly sour, wild tasting onion loaf with a columbus edge might just work. My sourdough recipe takes three days to make from beginning to end and involves a whole load of long-winded steps, you could easily just use any old bread recipe and achieve a decent result.

So go ahead and make some bread dough. Separate the onion from the liquid (may I suggest the use of a sieve?) and then very lightly wash any hop material off the onion with cold water. When the dough has gone through its last proving stage and is ready for the oven, simply scatter the onion over the top of the loaf and bake as normal.

What I got looked a little like this:

The combination works superbly. You get that tart, rustic bread with the smack of onion flavour on top and then the leafy, dank columbus and a subtle bitterness. I had the bread warm with a glass of Kernel Columbus Pale Ale, the beer just freshening up the hop flavour, picking it out of the bread and adding a sweetness that helped balance out any bitterness.

I've had some failures when cooking with hops (see here for instance), but whether it be luck or judgment, on this occasion, it came together beautifully.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Kernel Coffee IPA Batch 2

Sometimes you take a notepad because you suspect something interesting might happen, sometimes you save a bottle of beer because you know you want to write about it and then other times you’re taken by surprise and you’re forced to pick up that pen and paper because something’s happened that everybody must hear about!

Routine Sunday afternoon, probably won’t be drinking again now until next weekend, might as well have one more beer, golf is on TV – boring, Kernel Coffee IPA Batch 2 is in the fridge, let’s go for that.

“It pours a copper-flame”, blah, blah, blah; the head is a colour that I don’t care about. A swirl, a sniff, a sip, boom! Wake up call, reach for that pen and paper, this is seriously good. Like, put-down-what-you’re-doing, turn-that-shit-golf-off, full-undivided-attention, good.

The aroma is dominated by coffee. Not freshly brewed coffee or ground coffee beans; it’s like the smell you get when you come back to your cold cafetiere to wash it up. When you tip those used grounds out into the bin and the smell hits you, it’s like that. There’s also chocolate, milk chocolate, lots of milk chocolate, then in the back there’s a sweet, ripe, tropical, fruit character coming from the hops. The coffee is doing enough masking to allow those specific fruits to hide but it reminds me of the smell you get when a fruit bowl has started to turn – that really ripe, fruity aroma you get.

When you drink it you’re immediately struck by how thick, velvety and creamy it is. The hops come forward a bit more and seem tropical, lots of mango in particular. The coffee is still the protagonist, bringing roasty, coffee and milk chocolate notes, it’s like a Solero with chocolate-coffee sauce all over it.

When I drank the first batch of this beer I was amazed at how two-faced it was. It was almost like the hops and the coffee had a fight and moved to opposing ends of the mouthful. This time it’s remarkable for the opposite reason, everything is so well integrated, harmonious and balanced. Those hops and that coffee must’ve settled their differences because, in this beer, they’re best mates.

If you’re lucky enough to find any of this around, buy it, buy as much of it as you can and drink it as quickly as you can.


And to finish, a question: Coffee and IPA sounds like a crazy combination, two things that shouldn’t really work together. But, is the coffee working in this beer like a dark malt would? Does this make the seemingly crazy actually quite logical? If you stained an IPA black with something like Carafa III and used a small amount of chocolate malt to add dark malt character, would you be a million miles off a coffee IPA? Would you be a million miles off a hoppy porter?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Use Your Local

The nice people over at useyourlocal.com asked me to write a few words on a pub topic of my choice. I said yes and wrote about places like Craft Beer Co. You can check it out here.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

An Evening of Swedish Beer

Back at the Beer Bloggers Conference I picked up some rare bottles from Sweden. They’d been sitting in the fridge quite happily, but with the other-half out for the evening and me with nothing much on, I thought I’d grab them out and see what they’re up to.

Thinking it best to start with something subtle and then move onwards, first up I had Sigtuna Brygghus East River Lager. Labelled handsomely in industrial chrome and with a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge, it looks great before you even reach for the bottle opener. It’s a Vienna lager and therefore on the darker side of golden. The aroma is big and bold, shouting American hops at the top of its voice. This follows through to citrusy notes in the flavour, backed by caramel and chewy, sweet malt. There’s a slight metallic element to it that distracts and I’d call this an APA (American Pale Ale) if I didn’t know better; very enjoyable all the same.

Game plan incited, we now hit full-on lager craving. Slottskällans Bryggeri St Eriks Pilsner might do the job.

Maybe not. American hops again. Aroma and flavour packed with overripe oranges, blossom and tinned mandarins. There’s a subtle sulphur in the background - flinty, minerally, like concrete when its just started to rain - enough to make me think pilsner, but not enough to compete with those hops. Closer to the beer I was expecting but still some way off; very tasty though.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Up next is St Eriks IPA, and as soon as I take a sip my brain screams EAST COAST. Lots of crystal malt in the flavour profile, tannic, slightly chewy, loads of caramel and toffee. There are hops there too but they seemed muted, fruity but indiscernibly so. The body is very thin and that results in an astringency when combined with the crystal malt. If you’re into East Coast IPAs (think Dogfish Head) then you’ll like this, it’s a personal thing but I just prefer it from the West.

And to round things out with a lovely symmetry, we say “hello best beer of the night” to Sigtuna Brygghus Summer IPA. More of those tinned mandarins, some peaches and some citrus and maybe a little pine in the background too. How this beer is 7.1% I do not know. It romps home with beautiful balance, sweetness up front and then the softest bitterness in the finish that just sweeps everything away. Very well brewed, a really fantastic beer.

Bravo Sweden.

Friday, 8 July 2011

International #IPADay - August 4th

The Beer Wench and Ryan Ross have come together to organise the first ever #IPADay. A web based event designed to give beer lovers around the world an opportunity (an excuse?) to celebrate great beer with like-minded people. The wine world is ahead when it comes to this sort of event, organising things like Chardonnay Day and Cabernet Day like it went out of fashion. Well the 4th of August is about IPA, let's raise a toast to a great beer style and to great beer; organise an IPA tasting at your house, write a blog, record a video or send a tweet. Do what you want, but make sure you involve an IPA and make sure you tell everyone about it!

10 different breweries from around the world are involved and in England we're represented by Summer Wine. They've teamed up with some of the UK's top beer outlets - The Port Street Beer House in Manchester, The Free Trade Inn in Newcastle and The Rake and The Southampton Arms in London - to run #IPADay events, mini festivals, live blogging sessions and tastings.

The official event website is here: www.ipaday.eventbrite.com. Tweeting will be done under the #IPADay hash tag and a thread will be running in the Ratebeer forums.

Let's drink some IPA!

Friday, 1 July 2011

My Brewery Tap

This is a heads up to say that I’ve started writing some content for MyBreweryTap. As I’m sure most readers of this blog will know, one of the guys behind MBT has recently moved into the world of brewing, meaning that time to write blogs and stuff is even more tight. When asked if I’d like to contribute, I jumped at the chance. MBT is a company I really like, they’re all about bringing an ever increasing beer range to people at reasonable prices, the guys behind it are beer lovers like the rest of us and I think I’ve got some cool content ideas to bring to their blog.

By way of disclaimer, I’d like to say from the beginning that I’m in no way part of MBT as a company and I’m not being paid for anything I write for them. I’m doing it for the fun of it and for the chance to write from a different angle; if something they sell is bad then I’ll say so, I’m under no obligation to write specific content and nothing I post will be edited or censored. I’ve written an intro post here and we’re kicking things off with a Drink Along concept that I’ve blogged about here.

beerbirrabier.com is still my main focus and I’ll continue to blog here as much as I ever have. Check out the MBT blog here and (perhaps) add it to your blog lists if you haven’t already. You can add MyBreweryTap on Facebook and on Twitter. It would be great to hear some feedback on what I’m doing over there as well as what’s going on here, so feel free to let me know!

So that’s that; let normal service resume ...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Conchiglie with Roasted Tomato, Garlic and Bock Sauce

I love Italian food. Maybe its because I spent a lot of time there as a youngster, maybe it’s because I watched too much Jamie Oliver growing up; I just cant help but love the simplicity and the emphasis that’s put on produce and provenance. Is there anything better than slices of ripe tomato, torn mozzarella, basil leaves and olive oil? Toasted ciabatta, Parmesan and pesto. Stone-baked sourdough pizza, hazelnut gelato …

And pasta. I eat loads of pasta during the week because it’s quick, delicious and really versatile. A real favourite is roasted tomato and garlic with spaghetti or linguine. I usually take bread crumbs and combine them with salt, pepper, olive oil, thyme and garlic. Slice some tomatoes in half, pack the crumb mixture down into the fleshy part and roast on a low heat for an hour.

When they’re all nice and roasted, I throw them into a blender with some passata, a squeeze of tomato puree and another big slug of good olive oil. That’ll make you a fantastic sauce to stir through pasta, but something I really like to do is then add about half a bottle of Peroni Gran Riserva. Continue blending until well mixed and then return to the heat to thicken slightly.

I find that the beer adds a honey-like, malt sweetness that you don’t get by adding table sugar. The beer adds depth and richness to the sauce; by drinking the rest of the bottle with the food you’ll be able to pull out spicy, muscovado sugar and ripe fruity flavours in the sauce that wouldn’t be there without the beer.

As a nice variation: at the point where you add the beer, just keep on adding, and you'll end up with a delicious soup. Have that with some toasted bread and you're sorted. Peroni Gran Riserva is sold in lots of supermarkets, but if you have another light (or 'helles') bock instead, I'm sure it would work equally well.