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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Colin Valentine on Beer Bloggers

The above video was originally uploaded to YouTube by a user called Alcofrolicchap here. It shows CAMRA chairman Colin Valentine sharing some of his views on the growing number of beer bloggers and their apparent views on beer. Generally I don't see the point in posting negative articles on this blog, I'm usually of the mind that if you don't have anything good to say then it's better to say nothing at all. Despite this, there are a few points that Colin makes that I feel an obligation to respond to. An obligation as a beer blogger and a member of, as he calls it, the "bloggerati". Far from attempting to create confrontation, this is an attempt to disprove some of the points Colin makes.

Colin Valentine says "the bloggerati are only interested in new things" and "the best beer they've ever had is the next one".

Well, here and here I talk about how much I like Worthington White Shield, a beer that dates back to 1829 and is often described as the oldest surviving IPA.

Zak Avery speaks here about Greene King Coronation Ale; a beer brewed once, in 1936, 75 years ago.

Mark Dredge writing about Pilsner Urquell, a beer that dates back to 1842, describes his experience whilst drinking it as “the most incredible drinking experience of my life so far”.

And here’s Pete Brown in a video blog about the oldest brewing competition in the world, one that dates back to 1886, a video blog that also focuses upon the brewing traditions of Burton upon Trent.

Colin Valentine argues that unlike "Real Ale", the term "Craft Beer" is worthless because it has no definition.

Is something meaningless until it has a solid definition? I don’t think so. “Craft Beer” is becoming a de facto standard term for beer brewed with skill and passion and with a focus on quality and flavour. It will never have an enforced definition because it isn’t the mission statement of an organisation. “Craft Beer” is a banner under which lovers of great beer operate; be it a professional in a brewery, an amateur brewing at home or a drinker with a glass in hand, an advocate of craft beer is a lover of beer that tastes great. EVERYTHING else about that beer is secondary.

Colin Valentine says "Craft beer changes not a jot between leaving the brewery and getting into the customer's glass and is served using CO2 and/or nitrogen. It is called KEG BEER".

Wrong. Here I talk about a pint of cask Thornbridge Jaipur that was so good it completely blew me away, whilst here I talk about Lovibonds Brewery and their range of fantastic keg beer. Leigh from “The Good Stuffwrites about enjoying Camden Town Pale Ale (Keg) and also Black Sheep Imperial Stout (cask). All of these beers are craft beers. I can only assume that Colin is attempting to describe filtered and pasteurised keg beer. The term "Craft Beer" is not applied based on the method of dispense, show me the blogger that disagrees and I’ll show you the blogger that’s in the minority.

Colin Valentine says "Forty years of achievement means nothing to them" and “all of these people want us to change and adopt their latest idea, not to try and start their own movement".

Relatively speaking, I’m a young beer drinker; I have no first hand experience of the 1970s and the crap keg beer that threatened to kill off cask ale. However, neither am I an idiot. I personally appreciate CAMRA and the work they have done, I’m able to understand the important role they’ve played in shaping the beer that’s available for me to drink today and I am grateful that cask ale is widely available in so many of my local pubs. Similarly, I understand the power and visibility that CAMRA has as an organisation, and for that reason I would like to see CAMRA more open to change. The beer landscape is different today than it was in 1975, not all kegged beer today is bad beer. I think CAMRA are in a unique position, the opportunity exists for the organisation’s tremendous work to be continued, but continued in the campaign for the promotion of great beer regardless of the method of dispense.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Coffee Oatmeal Stout - Tasting

Broke open a bottle of the coffee version of this today. It's big, there's some alcohol warmth there; it's had three weeks in the bottle and it tastes green. I think I over did the IBUs, underestimated the bitterness that the coffee would add and added too much dark malt. It's bitter, probably too bitter and very dry. It tastes like that flavour you get in your mouth after you've had an espresso.

I'm being harsh on myself though (what home brewer isn't!?) because it's actually pretty damn decent. I think it needs some more age on it and, when I brew it again, I'll address the bitterness issues, but the dryness makes it incredibly drinkable and the coffee to dark malt character is beautifully balanced. There's also a real floral quality in the aroma; I can only assume that's coming from the yeast and the coffee.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Beer Bloggers Conference Day 1

Day one of the Beer Bloggers Conference started with a killer headache from the night before. A warm up meet and greet with the sponsors, history of beer in London, a fun bloggers panel, an off flavours session, a HUGE dinner and then lots and lots of incredible Pilsner Urquell. Here are some photos:

I've uploaded more to Flickr.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Beer Bloggers Conference Day 0

A couple of photos from the pre Beer Bloggers Conference pub crawl. Needless to say, most of the night was spent drinking, not taking pictures.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Columbus Hops

Personal preference for hop variety seems to come and go like preference for beer style. It’s probably a combination of things, the number of single hop beers that brewers are making these days, access to hops in their raw state for home brewing, picking out a flavour in beer that’s easily attributable to a specific hop and developing a taste for it.

Well, I’ve got this thing for Columbus hops at the moment. It started with some pellets I got hold of for home brewing, then I started to pick the same flavour out in big American IPAs and more recently I’ve enjoyed both The Kernel Columbus Pale Ale and Columbus IPA.

The Columbus variety was created by Charles Zimmerman in the USA, it was released for commercial use in the early nineties and, whilst the exact lineage remains unknown, it is believed that the Brewers Gold variety is the main component in its breeding line. Tomahawk is a proprietary hop variety owned by Yakima Chief Inc, widely accepted as being identical to Columbus, it differs in name only. And then there’s Zeus, similar to Columbus or the same thing again? Who knows for sure, it tends to have a slightly higher alpha acid content and better yield, but popular opinion is that the two are similar enough to call the same. Next time you see a hop listed as ‘CTZ’, you’ll understand why.

At percentages in the teens, Columbus hops have a massive alpha acid content, making them an obvious choice for bittering any style of beer. More recently however they are being used as aroma and dry hops in American IPAs and pale ales. They lend a clean, sharp bitterness to beer, a bitterness that fills the back of the mouth and builds after the swallow. When used for flavour and aroma they really stand out from the crowd; if bright, citrusy c-hops are the Rebel Alliance then Columbus hops are the Galactic Empire. Dark, muddy and dank; they add flavours and aromas that could be described as: wet leaves, undergrowth, bark, vegetal, herbal, woody and even Cannabis.

I’m a fan, at least for now. Look out for The Kernel Columbus Pale Ale and IPA if you’re interested in tasting a great showcase for the Columbus hop. Alternatively, Otley Columb-O is very good too.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Take Me To Pilsen

“People say the hop flavour is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Like the freshest hops but fresher, wonderfully aromatic and fruity, spicy and dank, subtle but in-your-face all at the same time. It’s a beer that manages to quench your thirst but still makes you want to drink more, an impossible feat made possible. It’s sweet but not too sweet, bitter but not too bitter, it tastes full and thick but it’s light and sessionable. You could easily drink four or five in an evening and wake up hangover free; but at the same time, people happily sip a single glass all night long.

If you ask me, and most people do, it’s the best beer ever made”. He took a long deep breath, slowly exhaled and slumped down in his chair.

“Hold that thought!” I said, dashing off.

I’d only been gone a minute or two. Had broken the seal, you know how it is, but by the time I got back he was gone. He’d been sitting there all night, chatting away to anyone that happened to look interested, but he chose then to leave, right when it was getting interesting! Crazy old bloke, muttering on about this beer he’d once had, best beer in the World apparently. LEGENDARY. Perfect, he said.

Of course, what he didn’t say was who bloody made it! Or what it was called for that matter. How can the perfect beer exist anyway? Impossible.

Looking back on it now he was probably just making it up. But he planted a seed in my mind that refused to stop growing. I’ve drunk a lot of beer since then, probably more than my fair share, but I still haven’t found it.

At times I’ve worried I take it all a bit too seriously, y’know, it is only beer at the end of the day. I’ve noticed a lot of my mates do it too though, they might not’ve been there when I met that bloke but they seem to know about the beer. Somehow they seem to know. I’ll sit there in the pub and watch them do the same things I do, that’s how I know they know. They’ll take that first sip of a pint and then their faces give them away. They’ll put the glass back down and then there it is, written on their faces: slightly too bitter, could do with some more roast flavour, nice, good, great, but never perfect.

Yeah, I’ve come close a few times myself. Course I have. I remember walking off the beach after a day in the Sun, being met by an ice cold lager in a frozen glass, thinking to myself: there’s nothing I’d rather be drinking. I remember once sitting around a campfire with all my mates, we’d just polished off this awesome barbecue and then Dave broke out this smoked beer from Germany, it tasted like the atmosphere around us had been condensed, concentrated and forced into a bottle, it was incredible.

And yeah, before you ask, there was a time, one time, when I though I’d found it. It was this dusty old bottle, years old it was, a mate found it in his loft underneath a load of old crates. He gave it to me and said something about it being a ‘ten ninety five gravity’, not that he had any idea what that meant, he just said that’s what the crate had written on it and that it belonged to his old man. Lager drinker you see, he had no interest in it so he just gave it to me. I remember looking at it for markings or clues, anything to point in the right direction. I feel embarrassed about it now to be honest; I got annoyed and chucked the bottle out when I hit a dead end. Maybe someone else would’ve seen something on that bottle that I missed, the shape of it, the maker of the cap, something. Who knows? All I know is it’s the closest I’ve ever got. Lovely it was, beautiful to look at, perfect condition even after all those years, fantastic fruity hop flavour and bags of chewy malt, wonderfully sweet yet balanced by a punchy bitterness. Like I say, I thought it was perfect at first, at first, but then it built on me and the body just felt a bit thin, a bit thin to carry that flavour for the length of the glass. So close. So close.

People have said I do it on purpose you know? They say I convince myself that even the best beers have something missing, something that would make them slightly better. They accuse me of loving the chase; they say I’d have no reason to go searching if I found my perfect beer, no reason to drink all those great ones along the way. I just laugh and tell them they’re talking rubbish, that they make no sense. Even if they did, I’d never admit it …

Picture taken from here.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Cheese on Toast Two Ways & Brown Ale

I’ve written a few times about cheese and beer, about pairing the two and about some of my favourite beers to drink with good Cheddars. I’ll tell you what else completely owns though, brown ale and a good melter like Emmental.

You can go straight-up cheese on toast and that’s fine, that works nicely; grate it on there, stick it under the grill, job done, classic. I like to do something a bit extra if time allows though; when I’m making a white sauce for pasta or lasagne I always make slightly too much, stir some grated Emmental into the spare whilst still warm, leave to cool and then keep it in the fridge until you need it. When you take it out it’ll have set into a firm paste; you spread that onto some thick cut toast, grate some more cheese on top, grill it until molten and you’re onto a winner. Sort of like a Welsh rarebit for cheats.

I’d been living under a croque-monsieur shaped rock until a few months ago. I know, I know; how I managed to go so long without ever trying such a classic snack is both beyond me and unforgivable. My first ever went some way to making up for it though, doing it in style I had one at the Le Poechenellekelder, just off the Grand-Place of Brussels, in the (rather small) shadow of the Mannekin Pis. It was fantastic, molten cheese, crisp bread and good ham. I washed it down that day with a Rochefort 6 – another first for me – which worked really well. When I make it at home I use a micro grater to get the cheese really fine, it seems to melt better that way, and I like to dip the outside of each slice quickly into a mixture of beaten egg and milk to give a puffy almost French toast quality.

I love the malty quality of a brown ale with cheeses like Emmental and Cheddar. The nutty quality that you sometimes get from darker malts, umami and marmite, sesame seeds and peanuts, that sort of thing. They work really well to pick out the sweetness in the cheese and can really complement the peppery, piquant notes of a strong Cheddar. A good, firm bitterness and a spritz of carbonation work well to balance out the creaminess too, when the cheese leaves a fatty film across your mouth, these qualities in the beer will help to cut through and wash them away. I opened a bottle of Big Sky Brewing Moose Drool on this occasion, it’s something I picked up at GBBF and had been looking forward to for a while. In reality it was a bit lighter in body and intensity of flavour than the food needed; a great alternative, if you can get hold of it, would be Dogfish Head’s fantastic Indian Brown Ale.

Try it yourself. Cheese on toast two ways with brown ale.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

De Dolle Oerbier - Nailing a Flavour

Let me describe a feeling. A feeling I know you’ve had. That feeling when you eat something or you drink something and straight away you know what it tastes like. You know what it tastes like because it tastes like something you’ve had before, probably something you’ve had loads of times before.

There may be great depth and character to that thing you’re eating or that thing you’re drinking, but because that one flavour jumped out at you, all the others fade into the background, all the others are irrelevant. That one thing that you picked out involuntarily is something you recognise straight away, it’s something you know, something you know until you’re asked: “what does that taste like to you”. And then, at that precise moment, your mind goes blank and the words leave you’re tongue, you know what it is because you’ve had it a hundred times before, but can you name it when asked? Of course you can’t.

And then the feeling I’m describing arrives, right when it all suddenly comes to you. Wet grass! That smells exactly like wet grass. Strawberry jam! That tastes exactly like strawberry jam. And the people around you nod in unison and the air fills with a chorus of “ohhh yeah”, “so it does”, and that all important “you’re dead right, I’d never have guessed that, but now you say it ....”.

What a sweet feeling that is.

Well, the other day I drank De Dolle Oerbier and had exactly one of those moments. Never has a beer tasted more like three specific ingredients to me.

It’s rich and deep, mahogany and cherry wood; complex and complicated, I found it challenging and hard work. It’s sweet and bitter at the same time, sour, acetic, tart, full of raw alcohol and woody, grizzly unripened red fruits.

Whatever. Let that all go in one ear and out the other. Drink this beer and draw a line under: cranberry, port and balsamic vinegar. Try it, you’ll see.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Brewing an Oatmeal Stout

Mikkeler Beer Geek Brunch Weasel is one of my favourite beers in the World. How could it not be? I had Founders Breakfast Stout recently and that ruled too. I thought I might give brewing an oatmeal stout a go, splitting the batch and adding coffee to one half. So that’s what I’ve done. Half the grist is pale malt, a quarter is oats, I’ve then divided the dark malt content into five percent chunks and gone with a combination of roast barley, pale chocolate and standard chocolate. There’s some special B and Munich malt in there to add complexity to the malt sweetness too.

Pale Malt (Marris Otter) - 50%
Flaked Oats - 22.2%
Chocolate Malt - 5.6%
Pale Chocolate Malt - 5.6%
Munich Malt - 5.6%
Special B - 3.0%

I mashed at 68c and capped with 30g of carafa special III on the final batch sparge, hoping to stain the wort as black as possible without changing up the roasty flavour profile any further. Original gravity was 1071 and I picked dried US05 yeast at 19c to give a clean fermentation with little to no yeast character.

The batch has been split in half, the first half will be fermented out to completion and bottled as an oatmeal stout at around 7% alcohol. The second half will receive a sugar addition worth 7 gravity points when 70% attenuation is reached. When that’s fermented I’ll add a further 7 gravity points worth of sugar dissolved in strong coffee. The aim is to add easily fermentable sugar at a point where the yeast is ready and eager to ferment, without shocking the yeast with a wort that has too high a concentration of sugar. The amount of coffee to add will largely be based on guess work but I might do a few experiments by blending a dark beer with some strong coffee and scaling up the ratio that works best. The coffee half will have a revised original gravity of 1085. Assuming it gets down to around 1015, factoring in the dilution that the coffee will cause, I should get an ABV in the region of 8%.

Yum, breakfast beer!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures.

I've uploaded a bunch of pictures to my Flickr account. I always take more than I end up using on a blog post so I'll stick the rest online in future. Think of it as the blogging equivalent of a DVD extra!

Check it out here.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Open It! - Cantillon Saint Lamvinus

I love Cantillon beer. A month or so ago I visited the brewery and my love deepened and grew, such a magical place. This bottle of Saint Lamvinus was carried back to London by hand on the return leg of that trip and it was so worth it! A blend of lambics aged in red wine barrels with Merlot grapes; it's one of the harder Cantillon beers to find.

Sweeter than expected but still Cantillon-epically sour. Red grapes and cranberries. Warm, sweaty goats. Something distinctly plastic or man-made, flip-flop foam perhaps. Blackcurrants. Under ripe redcurrants, the kind that are grizzly and difficult to chew through. Iron. Deep, rich, red wine. A full enough body to carry everything across your tongue and then a crisp, snappy finish that leaves you wanting the next sip. Utterly delicious.

See here or here for more on the Open It! event.