05/09/2014

#session91 Diving into Belgophilia

 I'm sat at East Midlands airport with very little to do; so it's high time I give myself a kick up the arse and start blogging again. There's no better place to start than with the current session topic, hosted this month by Breandán at Belgian Smaak. He asks us to talk about our first Belgian beer. I unfortunately have no recollection of which it was, sampled in my hazy student days almost 9 years ago. It is guaranteed to have been something good however as it was sourced from the ever excellent bitter virtue in Southampton. It was probably Chris, perhaps Ann who led me around the groaning shelves tempting me to part with my student loan in exchange for beery libations to sup at the local punk house whilst watching awesome acoustic bands and sometimes full blown drum laden metal bands with beach dinghy crowd surfing...

Anyway I digress, the point is it could have been any number of excellent beers for which Belgium is rightly famed (though I have a sneaky suspicion it was the fruity balsamic punchy duchesse de Bourgogne). Instead I'll have to dredge through the ancient (3years old) rate beer reviews to settle on my first rated Belgian... De Struisse Pannepot. Not a bad first rate eh?!

Pannepot is a 10% Belgian strong ale which cunningly hides its strength away until you stand up at which point you promptly fall over. I may have made that last part up but it sure wears its strength well. Even in my early rating days I appreciated this scoring the beer a massive 4.5, sitting comfortably in the top 1% of my beers to date.


Here's what I thought:
A richly dark reddish brown beer which pours with a thin head that disappears almost immediately. Molasses and orange peel on the nose. First taste gives a lot of sweetness and some umami with a heavy alcohol presence and quite an abrupt finish, neither malty nor hoppy. Not unlike a bourbon in that it hints at vanilla. Very easy to drink which belies its 10%ABV. (2009 vintage 33cl)
That beer was 2 years old, I've since tried other vintages but 2 years has yet to be surpassed or perhaps 2009 was just an excellent year...more rigorous research is required.

 Struisse certainly make some excellent beers with the black Albert beers being particular stand outs,though for me pannepot is the pinnacle of a distinguished line up and should be on your beer bucket list to be dispatched in short shrift.

Breandán has been speedy with the write up, you can find it here, cheers for hosting! Next month's Session is being hosted by Jeremy short and is all about home brewing...find the topic here.

26/06/2014

What's on during #EBBC14?

Following on from Tuesday's post about the bars and beers in Dublin I'll focus in on the conference proper. The pub crawl is tonight and the content starts at 2pm tomorrow, preceded by the usual trade show. Hoping there's something there to rival Hall and Woodhouse's excellent pork pies and fudge!

The venue looks fantastic so very much looking forward to getting inside. Kicking things off is a discussion on historical brewing in Ireland with Declan Moore. The Moore group create fascinaing recreations of historical brews (not talking recent history here but actual medieval and megolithic!). If we're lucky there may even be samples.

Immediately after that is the dispense question, hopefully putting myths to bed with what I expect may be a blind tasting and discussion. Then some of Ireland's up and coming brewers will be discussing the resurgence in Irish brewing and what is to come in future years.

That evening is a rare opportunity to see the inner workings at St James Gate (at least I hope that's still on the cards as no mention of it now on agenda). Beer and food pairing with various Guinness expressions plus some new trial batch unreleased things. Following that is the ever popular Pilsner Urquell party with copious litres of same usually quaffed.

Next day begins bright and early 10am for what should be a great talk on the Irish beer industry from Dean McGuinness and then a more technical social media talk.
Pilsner Urquell are providing a BBQ for lunch; so lets hope for decent weather (20% chance of rain boo, hiss) which will set us up well for a few more technical sessions in the afternoon on blogging from Wordpress and using video on your blog.

Then the beery element of the day really steps up. 4pm sees Beer Ireland providing a craft beer reception which will be a fantastic chance to try some of the very newest beers including N17s spicey rye, Blacks superb hoppy numbers and brand new Black Donkey and Reel Deel releases. We then have a four course meal from Franciscan Well with plenty more beers and a keynote speech from knowledgeable and approachable founder Shane Long. To round out the evening Carlow are providing a trad music session and plenty of their beers flowing. A chance to help design a new beer may also be on the cards.

No Sunday brewery trip planned this year, but if you're still around in Dublin there's plenty to see and do and I'm hoping to organise a tasting session in the afternoon before i head back up North.

25/06/2014

Go West

I was recently contacted by West Berkshire Brewing. They're completely new to me, but as they've just resurrected Dogbolter (the infamous Firkin brew pub chain strong beer) with its creator David Bruce* I decided it would be interesting to try a few. The aforementioned wasn't yet bottled and the beers I was mostly interested in trying were out of stock; so I got a session bitter and a couple of specials.


Beers arrived in an attractive 3 bottle case - as if peeking out from under a bridge arch, though this one's certainly not in Bermondsey. Each beer is represented by a character - Mr Chubb looks scarily like a colleague (though of course he's not a sea captain) and the apiarist somewhat resembles Carrie Fisher. That aside the labels are striking in a traditional real ale sense, single colour background and plenty of information including CYCLOPS tasting notes of which I am a fan.


Up first was that creepily facaded session bitter Mr Chubbs,  at a quaffable 3.7%. Pours attractive pale brown with frothy off-white head as you can see from the picture. Looks like a freshly pulled pint, its great when breweries manage to get their conditioning correct in bottle. 
Caramel malt and herbal hops on nose its very much in the brown beer category, but that's of course no bad thing. Medium body, carbonation, excellent session bitter in the English tradition with good bitter snap in finish. 
Reminds me of Gales Butser, which was one of my favourite pints to drink until Fullers ditched it (sad face).

On to the first of the seasonals and we have Gold Star a 5.2% Honey beer. Honey beers can sometimes have a weird off-note alongside a lack of body due to adding not enough speciality malts, not an issue here however.
Pouring burnished gold with tight off-white head. Theres a dry bready nose with with the dusty note that often accompanies honey beers. Medium body, gentle carbonation, shortcake malt, dry with low residual sweetness. Well integrated honey character to make a decent golden ale with some herbal bitterness in the finish.


Maharaja is the strongest of the trio at 5.9% and again very much ploughing the traditional furrow. Its given a suitable name gleaned from the nearby Maharaja's Well. Slightly hazy mid amber with rich candy sugar and sweet citrus peel on the nose. Full bodied, moderate carbonation, rich malt, some warming alcohol, fairly high residual bitterness, burnt caramel, fairly dry pithy bitterness providing a long dry finish. This is up there with Worthington white shield as a UK IPA and deserves to be a part of the core range.



A good showing then for this brewery which will definitely prompt me to seek out more from them. I think its important that there still be breweries that provide beers of this calibre, not least as they help to ensure the viability of the British hop crop. Whilst I enjoy big bruiser imperial stouts and hop shock IPAs I'm also partial to a decent malt led beer or two and West Berkshire have now earnt a place in my circle of trust. Thank you to Caroline for sending these through to me.


*Find out more about Dogbolter in Boak & Bailey's new book Brew Britannia, which I just finished at the weekend. Its very good indeed, but if you don't want to believe me then there are plenty of other more respectable proponents who think you should too.

24/06/2014

Preparing for #EBBC14

This weekend sees the European Beer Bloggers' Conference come to Dublin and I for one am very excited. It the first (of hopefully many) outside of the  UK and though I've been to Dublin many times before, this is the first time I'll have more than a day to appreciate some of the gems of the nascent Irish beer scene as well as of course all of the interesting conference content.

I'm aiming to try as many native beers as possible over the weekend (though won't go so far as to say that's all I'll drink as I'm sure there will be some gems available) and with 51 breweries to choose from there should be no shortage. (I'm not going in unprepared, ratebeer allows me to print a hit-list of beers I've not yet had; so that should help out.)


 
The fun kicks off on the Thursday night with a pub meander ably led by my friend Reuben, who has had a big hand in the organisation of the conference this year. This will take us around 7 pubs showcasing the best Dublin has to offer, both in terms of beer and atmosphere. Here's what to look out for in each:

The Brew Dock - A Galway Bay Brewery pub often has a guest cask and experimental "Pilot" release available. For those feeling brave go straight for the big gun Of Foam and Fury DIPA, one of the best beers on the whole Island. (or leave it until later!)

J.W. Sweetman is currently Dublin's only brew pub. Their porter and pale ale are both excellent and there should be a seasonal available too their world cup beer marcana or a weiss. A tasting tray of five ales works out very reasonably and there are also 2litre growlers for takeaway. (consider joining Beoir to avail of discounted refills!*). Also look out for Barrel Head brewing beers, made by the brewer here and often available on cask.

Next up is the Palace Bar which is an opulent unspoilt drinking den over 190 years old. It may have a few craft beers on but most people in here will be on the black stuff. They also have their own 9 y/o single malt if you're that way inclined.





What is listed as Farringtons has now been renamed as  the Norseman 1696 (its original name). There are two bars in here, often with different beers on. Whilst downstairs is often packed (especially when sports are on) the upstairs bar is a little more chilled out. Expect beers from Carlow and probably 6/7 other Irish brewers. Current tap list suggests Metalman pale, rascals ginger porter & Donegal Atlantic amber for starters.

A stalwart of Dublin's beer providers is Porterhouse, which has now spread out around the world. Hophead is the beer to plump for here but all of their dark beers are also well worth trying and a taster tray may be the way to go.

Following that is Dublin craft beer stalwart the Bull and Castle, 8 Degrees and Trouble Brewing.
which has recently undergone a refit. head upstairs for the main Butchers bar area and another great selection, often including

We end the crawl as we have begun in a Galway Bay Pub, this time The Black Sheep. It often has the best cask beer selection in Dublin with exotic US imports regularly seen on keg.








Of course there are plenty of other pubs and, for those of you who still have suitcase space bottleshops, available to visit. Some of my favourites are L.Mulligan Grocer which does excellent food and often has Brown Paper Bag Project beers available and also opposite Drinkstore. Against the Grain is another Glway Bay pub and will also be my local for the weekend, being just a stumble away from where I'm staying. A short Luas hop from there will take you to Ranleagh and Redmonds off licence (I plan to pop in on Friday morning if anyone fancies  a trip out). I hope to also make it to the newly opened 57 the Headline and newly re-opened WJ Kavanagh.

I'll post again later in the week with what I'm looking forward to during the conference proper. Hope to see as many of you as possible on the thursday night. Its not just for conference attendees; so if you're in town come along and say hello. I'll be the one drinking halves! If you can't make it along follow #TheTrailOfTheAle to see what's going on.

All photos used from pub websites.


*Beoir is the Irish Craft Beer Consumers organisation and plays a similar role to CAMRA but without the hang-up on dispense. Membership costs 10 a year and the handiest way to join is by direct debit via Paypal. You can also hand your dues in person to any Beoir member (there's a few of us at the conference). Membership will give you discount vouchers for 50c off a pint of Galway Bay beers, 10% discount at Drinkstore and discounted refills at J.W. Sweetman. Even if you're only down for the weekend you could make your money back but more importantly you're helping to fund the promotion of Irish craft beer and proving to potential new breweries that there are plenty of interested drinkers out there!

23/06/2014

Not quite a Dum Dum

As many of you know I'm not monogamous with beer; Oh no, I enjoy cider, whisky and all kinds of other beverages too. Recently I have been enjoying rum (though I can't claim to be able to afford to buy many bottles!). 

A couple of months ago I was contacted by someone representing Diageo (booo, hiss I hear you cry). Given some of the company's previous antics you've a right to be sceptical: but I decided to give them a chance. Naomi was looking for coverage of Diageo's spirits portfolio as presented on their new website The Bar. More on that later, but the upshot was a chance to try some new (to me) booze and why pass that up?

I decided I'd take up Diageo's offer of reimbursing me for the required spirits to make a few cocktails and Guatemalan Rum Ron Zacapa caught my eye. I'd previously enjoyed this in a Dum Dum at love and death inc but had been put off by the bottle pricetag, a little over my usual budget at £45. I availed of Diageo's offer and also picked up a bottle of grand marnier for £13 whilst on offer in Tesco. That's £58 of free booze maths fans. All other ingredients came from my own store cupboard and whilst under no obligations to writethis post I thought I'd share the results with you, mainly as I like saying "look wot i dun"! Ron Zacapa is an excellent rum and is actually really easy to enjoy neat (I actually bought the bottle in duty free on the way out to China and shared it with Daisy, my in laws and my parents and well received by all (despite mum insisting on mixing coke with hers...). Its warming, smooth, deep earthy spiciness, rich high cocoa chocolate, fruity coffee and caramel make for an excellent evening drink which would equally work well in a fruit based cocktail.

After procrastinating for thebest part of two months since I returned I thought this weekend would be a good time to try out some cocktails. To get warmed up i mixed up a simple concoction using the gran marnier, some cranberry and blueberry juice and lime. Perhaps a little sweet but it lined the stomache for some of the boozier numbers that were to come later. Adding in an extra quarter of a lime did the trick and was enjoyed by Daisy whilst I tried out a different libation.
 
Grand Cran
25ml Grand Marnier
25mlCranberry Juice
7ml lime juice


The next was Kiss Above the Clouds created by a Chinese bartender Cross Yu working in MUSE,Shanghai.Video
 Picking up on those coffee notes it uses coffee liquer and chocolate bitters alongside fruity rosso vermouth and a dash of whisky (he used johnny walker gold, i had none so substituted peat chimney). It was a decent drop, though perhaps lacked something to make it really sing. Use of cinnamon was inspired however as it plays well to the spice in the rum.


Kiss Above The Clouds
60ml Ron Zacapa
5ml whisky
20ml Sweet Vermouth
5ml Coffee Liqueur
2 dahes Chocolate Bitters
Cinnamon Stick

After a day off I returned to try out a different creation, this one by a Spaniard David Rios who works in the Jigger Bar, Bilbao. Turns out he won World Class Bartender of the Year last year in a Diageo competition; so this should be one to look forward to! Again using coffee liqueur but also orgeat, an almond based syrup, with a cream float. Named Aroma for his two children's names which is kinda cute.
I was pretty pleased that i didn't create some kind of curdled mess and it was an excellent rich drink too. Although a tiny component the mint leaf pulled thelot together which highlights the importance of a proper garnish on a cocktail. Nb a bit of confusion on the website which suggest the coffee beans be shaken with the cocktail but watching the video will set you straight. Also chose to go for regular cream rather than coconut cream.

Aroma
50ml Ron Zacapa
10ml Coffee Liqueur

10ml orgeat
17.5ml cream

coffee beans
mint


Finally I decided to have a go at recreating that dum dum cocktail I tried over a year ago which started my rum discovery journey in the first place.Luckily Love&Death Inc are fairly open with their ingredients (if not proportions) in their bar menu (did I  mention its presented in the form of a comic montage?!) I didn't fancy forking out for a bottle of clement creole shrub just yet so substituted grand marnier with a few dashes of  peychauds bitters. Chilli tincture seems like a faff for just myself; so that was substituted with a small amount of chopped red chili. It was pretty close to hoe I remember the bar version being, though perhaps required another 10ml of rum to really bring out those deep fruity notes. Maybe someone from the bar will see this and kindly let me know the real proportions?!
Steve's Dum Dum

50ml Ron Zacapa 23
25ml Dubonnet Rouge
1sp Amaro Averna
1tsp Grand Marnier
2 Dashes Peychaud's
1/8 tsp chopped red chili


So i had a bit of fun mixing up some cocktails and there's certainly a few worth looking at on their website. Its pretty easy to navigate with a decent search function that lets you search by ingredient or by spirit (but cocktaildb will still be my go to) and of course serves to highlight Diageo's own alcohol range. The majority of the cocktails on the website are of your standard spirit+mixer±citrus ilk but there are certainly some that s more original creations, along with short YouTube clips on how to make them presented by their creators. The site could stand to lose the majority of the standard mixes and highlight the likes of these which are the more interesting ones. What it really showed me though was the breadth of Diageo's spirits portfolio...seems they're not just about the black stuff and single malts after all.


Many thanks to the team at Diageo for getting in touch and arranging for reimbursement, I have the best part of a litre of rum to consume how i see fit, which will slot in nicely beside the Brugal and Appleton 12 y/o in my growing collection. More Diageo based frollicks coming soon as we attend a beer and food pairing meal at St James Gate this weekend as partof the European BeerBloggers Conference...stay tuned folks!

20/06/2014

Shoes of a Clown

Clown Shoes are a brewery based in Ipswich, Massachusetts who are largely unheard of in the UK but fairly well regarded across the pond. Recently some of their beers have been available via the Brewdog online store; so grabbed a few  and my thoughts follow below. All of these score above 95% on RateBeer*, so would expect them to be decent.

Galactica is a galaxy hopped IPA 8% hazy mid amber with a lacing of off white head. i didn't get a picture but I'm sure you can imagine what it looks like. A fruity tropical citrus  character (think clementine and grapefruit) on the nose. Fairly fruity malt and red berries sweetness, pithy hops, flavours don't quite lieup with my expectations of the hops, but decent nevertheless.Not too boisterous bitterness wise, its a decent IPA and wears its ABV well but  as with many American beers it seems to be there as a selling point rather than being needed to prop up the beer, I'd much rather a sessionable version.


Hoppy feet is of  that oxymoronic style Black IPA. Some people may loathe them but I generally enjoy them. This one was okay, it didn't blow me away, I've certainly had better black IPAs at 7% ABV from both home and abroad. Its a dark brown with pillowy beige head, gentle carbonation and  moderate body. Piney and orangey, chocolate malt, dry, slightly burntified, toast, bitter hops, its in the right ballpark but not outstanding.

Next up, Tramp Stamp a "bodacious Belgian IPA". I'm not sure how the name relates to the beer and the latent sexism and lower back shot certainly isn't required. Dodgy name choice aside the beer doesn't quite work. The alcohol is pretty obvious for starters, finishing quite hot and those Belgian yeast esters romp all over the hops. The orange peel does work nicely, especially within the aroma, but this beer (and the choice of name) just isn't for me.

The best of the bunch was Clementine, a white IPA with the eponymous fruit immediately apparent on the nose alongside more traditional belgian yeast and corriander notes. Its very full bodied, creamy from the wheat additions, with fruity hops and orangepeel. If you'd written off hopped wits as one step too far in the hops arms race, give this one a try. It works really well,perhaps due to the alcohol being lower than in their IPAs allowing the hops and yeast to sing together.


As a bonus review (sampled last year via alesela) Chocolate Sombrero is  a 9%  belter of an imperial stout with all manner of added spicings. Its a hazy ruby, tinged brown, beige lacing. The nose is chocolate and kola cube like someone has melted together a bar of Bournville with cola bottle sweets. As its warms there's also a rich breakfast coffee coming through In the mouth its dry cocoa powder, sweet malts, smoky chipotle and a slight chili bite on finish It doesn’t taste its strength but certainly packs a punch. I certainly enjoyed it but had perhaps expected more from it - you can't always believe the hype.

So overall a fairly disappointing bunch this time around, with only really the Clementine recommended to buy if you see it. They're fairly priced given their ABV but would rather spend the money on tastier UK releases. Of course I can't speak for freshness of the beers, all were within date and Brewdog have a decent distribution chain but perhaps the hop-forward beers would give a better showing in their native habitat. Up to you to decide.



*Make of that what you will.  NB Clementine is above 95% within its style, not overall.

25/05/2014

Brewing By Numbers

Certainly one of my favourite "Best of London" discoveries from ales by mail is Brew By Numbers. I first tried their Berliner weisse about a year ago and knew they were on to something. They now rank alongside their Bermondsey brethren of Kernel and Partizan among the elite of London brewers and I'm on a mission to try more. In early February I spent an enjoyable afternoon following the now obligatory beer pilgrimage around the rail tracks and spent a few hours in the good company of Andy @tabamatu in the packed BBNo brewery. I later got hold of some bottles to try; so here are my thoughts.


A couple of porters up first, one with liberty and one dubbed traditional. Liberty first then at 5.7% is hazy dark brown, fluffy beige head, piney hop notes and cocoa. Full bodied, low carbonation, v easy drinking, rich dark malt with cocoa, toasty malt and well balanced by leafy herbal hops



The traditional porter is even better at 6.5% dark loamy brown with frothy tan head. Cocoa and toast. Robust and rich, earthy roast barley, coffee and toast. Superb, reaffirms my love of porters. This is sparring against Anspach and Hobday as my favourite porter of the year.

Coming in a smidge higher is the export stout at 7.4%. Pours opaque ebony brown with pillowy tan head and earthy rich roast barley nose. Full body with spritzy carbonation, coffee and chocolate. Rich, hides its strength well. Umami dry toast., touch of lemon peel. V drinkable. Rich cherry notes.



Saison seems to be an area of expertise for the brewery and in addition to a fantastic motueka & lime and wai-iti and lemon sampled at the brewery I picked up a Nelson Sauvin saison. Now antipodean hops pair brilliantly with the fruity Belgian yeasts and again there's no exception here.Pouring hazy pale blonde with pillowy cream head. Rich gooseberry and passion fruit on the nose, redolent of a sauvingnon blanc. Fairly soft medium mouthfeel with a gentle carbonic tingle, fruit peel bitterness at first, then creamy wheat and plenty of fruity gooseberry with a pause for Flinty yeast before progressing to a fruity dry finish. Excellent stuff.

Another style that's (perhaps controversially) all the rage is session IPA. I'll save my thoughts on the genesis of this style for another post and just talk about the beer here. This one combines citric Amarillo and more Nelson Sauvin. opaque golden beer with fluffy off white head. Mango rind aroma. Full bodied pithy bitterness with juicy satsuma and slight sweaty feet. Amarillo running the party here and doesn't quite hit the spot for me. A prime example of "London Murky".

Finally we have a full blown IPA, this time with simcoe and chinook. BBNo redeem themselves here, yes still hazy but  with a much more inviting lime peel and passion fruit nose. Medium body, gentle carbonation, "ruinously drinkable". So sessionable for its strength. Juicy fruit, gentle bitterness, peach, tangerine, verbena. Delicious, best ipa I’ve had in a while. Perfectly balanced.


So with an average score of 4/5 (and only the session IPA letting the side down slightly) Brew by Numbers have comfortably entered my Top 5  UK breweries alongside the likes of Redchurch, Siren, Buxton and Wiper & True. I urge you to seek them out and try for yourselves. I certainly feel vindicated including them in my ones to watch, with more fun on the way in the shape of barrel ageing.