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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?

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

Beer
Brooklyn Brewery
Barcade
Rattle ‘n’ Hum
Blind Tiger
Gingerman

Shops
Bierkraft
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:

Cask
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).

Keg
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).

Bottle
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?