Monday, 31 December 2012

Golden Pint Awards 2012

Though I've had a snifter or two of the beers I make I'm not nominating any of them as that  would be wrong.

Best UK Draught Beer: many pints drunk, so many brain cells dissolved, By The Horns Lambeth Walk was recent enough to stick in the mind though so deserves a mention, but as I actually went back for more of Butcombe Gold  (despite being at a beer festival) that's the winner.
Best UK Bottled Beer: I do try to keep up with the latest happening breweries and Buxton Axe Edge was very good, but I bought most Guinness FES and though it's not brewed in Britain Diageo are a British company so surely that counts? Maybe as far as bottles go it should be divided between supermarket beers and specialist shop beers?
Best Overseas Draught Beer: I had an American sour beer at the GBBF which was good, can't remember what it was called though.
Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Having cunningly sneaked Guinness FES into the best UK bottled beer category I'm free to have Orval win this one, again.
Best Overall Beer: Butcombe Gold.
Best Pumpclip or Label: Pandazilla
Best UK Brewery: They didn't win any of the beer categories but for being consistently good Dark Star. Best local brewery goes to Surrey Hills.
Best Overseas Brewery: It'll have to be Orval.
Pub/Bar of the Year: The Crown, Horsell.
Beer Festival of the Year: GBBF
Supermarket of the Year: Booths
Independent Retailer of the Year: Nobel Green Wines, my new source of Orval.
Online Retailer of the Year: The only beers I've bought online this year came from ebay. I finally got hold of Colne Spring Ale, though an 80s version. .
Best Beer Book or Magazine: Brewers and Distillers By Profession by Ray Anderson. It was very entertaining, answered a lot of questions about the IBD and had stuff about my brewing hero Horace Brown too.
Best Beer Blog or Website: It's still the beer history blogs I like best, and the gong's going to Zythophile this year.
Best Beer Twitterer: I'm slowly getting the hang of twitter. JamesB ‏@jamesbwxm seems to manage a steady stream without being boring, which I think is the point, as does @robsterowski but ‏@BoakandBailey have to get the prize for being the most interesting.
Best Online Brewery presence: I've enjoyed the Desert Island Beers on the Allgates Brewery blog so them.
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: I've done some this year. Oh yes, proper sophisticated me. I liked the vanilla beer with vanilla pudding best.
In 2013 I’d Most Like To…This one got me in a reflective mood. Looking back on the past year not everything has gone as I might have hoped in the world of beer, but it hasn't done too badly either, so why did I think of the negatives first? I guess for me the glass is half empty. Though fortunately that doesn't last long as soon it's totally empty and it's time for another!

Highlights have included a trip to the National Hop Collection, being converted to the joys of Green Hopped Beer thanks to Eddie Gadd (though admittedly drinking my beer not his), and drinking Greene King 5X at the GBBF which was a long held ambition fulfilled. I've also brewed a beer style from Martyn Cornell's extinct list, and I've had my magnum opus published by the Brewery History Society.

As to next year... not sure. Make more historic beer? Get some new or possibly old hops to play with? Get more involved with SIBA? Do more serious writing? Do some serious study? Finally get hold of some of the revived Courage Imperial Russian Stout? Don't know, hopefully some of the above, but really first I need to finish my long and tedious plod through The Oxford Companion to Beer pointing out errors I've spotted.

Open Category: Best beery innovation of the year goes to the Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight.

And as one pint is never enough here's some Golden Pints from the lovely Lisa:

Best UK Draught Beer: Old Dairy Gold Top
Best UK Bottled: Meantime Chocolate Porter
Best Overseas Draught Beer:
Best Overseas Bottled Beer:
Best Overall Beer: Old Dairy Gold Top
Best Pumpclip or Label: Dorking DB Number One
Best UK Brewery: Old Dairy
Best Overseas Brewery:
Pub/Bar of the Year: The Kirkstile Inn
Beer Festival of the Year: Farnham Beer Exhibition
Supermarket of the Year: Booths
Independent Retailer of the Year: Cobbets Real Ales
Online Retailer of the Year:
Best Beer Book or Magazine: London Drinker
Best Beer Blog or Website: Ed's Beer Site
Best Beer Twitterer:  Roger Humphreys - @CroglinVampire
Best Online Brewery Presence:
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Innis and Gunn with apple pie and cream.
In 2013 I’d most like to...have my own brewery
Open category – you decide the topic: Adopt a pub, stop the beer duty escalator, world peace.

Friday, 28 December 2012

It's arrived at last!

I've been waiting over a year for it, but when I got home from work yesterday I finally got my hand on a copy of For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus.

I'm only two chapters in but my main question has already been answered*, and the Farnham Whitebine has even got a mention. I'm going to have a busy reading weekend, but one thing I can already say is that as getting information on hops is not easy this book really is a must for anyone interested in them.

*Sadly the answer is "it's complicated".

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Sharp's Brewery horizontal tasting.

Recently I was lucky enough to win a crate of Sharp's beers. I won't go into the details other than to say it involved an equality and diversity dilemma of fiendish complexity.

It gave us the opportunity for a beer tasting night. I've heard the term vertical tasting used a few times, particularly in relation to drinking a range of years of Fuller's Vintage Ale. I suspect it's comes from the world of wine and as such is alien to our culture. And now I'm getting on a bit I prefer to sit down anyway.

So we went for a horizontal tasting, different beers, no particular years, just drink til your fall over, which fits in much more with British beer culture.

Every one we had during the evening was bottle conditioned. There was a brewery conditioned Doom Bar in the box too but that got used for cooking.


Cornish Pilsner:
Pleasant enough for a lager, slightly sweet.

Single Brew: Pale, lively, balanced. Pleasant easy drinking.

Sharp's Special: Bit thin, but more flavour than the previous two.

Chalkies Bark: Mild ginger flavour. Floral. The lovely Lisa reckoned it would go with a curry rather than a lager.She must be getting into this food and beer pairing thing.

Chalkies Bite: Smokey bacon. Belgian.

Honey Spice Tripel: honey flavour, sweet, belgian, could do with more spice.

Quadrupel Ale: We'd saved the best til last, this is really good. Beautiful ruby plum colour. Balanced, got sweetingness but not cloying. Fruity. I could spot the Simcoe, a hop I'm not fond of but it really works here.Starts sweet but dry finish so not sickly. The lovely Lisa told me to make a note of this one, as she might want some more.

After that things to a bit messy.


We foolishly carried on drinking other stuff, and soon it was time to carry Lisa to bed. The horizontal tasting had been a success!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A meal fit for idiots and imbeciles

It was roast beef, plum pudding and strong ale for me yesterday. I'm sure the inmates of the Eastern Counties’ Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles would have felt right at home.

Roast beef, strong ale...

and plum pudding!

Using my new found knowledge of beer and food pairing, and with assistance from my favourite sister, a carefully chosen selection of beers was assembled. OK, the main basis they were chosen on is that they were strong and dark, but rest easy, every single one of them went with food. Except the ones that were drunk outside of meal times.

One of our few pale beers, Kernel Table Beer (3.2% ABV) opened proceedings, lots of new world hops and perhaps a bit thin but impressively flavoursome for the strength. Other highlights included Meantime Porter, Anchor Christmas Ale, Young's Double Chocolate Stout and my very own Snow Top.

I never did find a use for the string and boiled egg though.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Xmas drinking.

I've got all chistmassy. The Enver Hoxha picture is stuck to the wall, and a bottle of Guinness Special Export in my hand. Is it time to start the drinkalongaton yet?

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Joan Crawford has risen from the grave

Actually we won't be seeing Joan Crawford again this side of the zombie apocalypse, but I can reveal that a previously extinct British beer style has now been revived.  After some experimenting and a bit of research, I've brewed at work a stock ale that undergoes a true secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces yeast. 

Weighing in at a hefty 10.5% ABV it's a beer that I've no doubt will continue to mature for years to come. It's called "Over The Top", not a name I would have chosen myself, but I couldn't really object as it gave me an excuse to link to this again:

Hawkwind and Blue Öyster Cult in the same post! Can it get any better? Only if I could find a way of working Planet Gong into it...

The beer will be appearing in shops soon, and will even be for sale on the website once I find out what the password's been changed to.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Strawberry-Pink Not Compulsory!

I've just read The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking For the Moon Under Water, the title referring to Orwell's famous essay on his ideal pub. I like Orwell's writings a lot, even if he did throw his lot in with British imperialism in the end, and having already done a bit of searching myself this was a must read.

The book is an enjoyable and entertaining tour around Britain, though perhaps it could just as easily be called "The search for an old boozer". Not that I'm complaining, as that's how pubs should be. Included in the tour are visits to pubs that I've been to, and interviews with people I've met, which made it all the more enjoyable.

But the real gem of the book is saved for the last chapter. Almost unbelievably they get to talk to a landlady of one of Orwell's old locals. And his drinking habits are discussed, including the mug he drank out of:

"I had a china mug he would borrow and then he would bring it back the next day. In fact, I've still got it." She goes to a glass fronted-cabinet and takes out a small white mochaware jug. It's an extraordinary thing; cold to the touch and with a tortoiseshell motif and a thin pale blue band at the lip.

"He borrowed it many times and he really liked it."

This revelation makes clear that it's the drinking out of china that's important, regardless of its colour. The search for the perfect pub is still a long and difficult task, but knowing that flexibility is allowed in the colour of the china mugs makes it that much easier. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Bottling ancient and modern

It's amazing how technology moves on. 

You could barely recognise that they're doing the same thing.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

You can rest easy in your bed at last

I know that like me you will have been having trouble sleeping for over two and a half years now. It was back in March 2010 when I published my research on Fuller's IPA and Bengal Lancer and asked "Are they the same beer?".

This burning question was the talk of the blogosphere for what literally seemed like days on several (OK, two) sites. But even Zak Avery's cunning plan of phoning the Head Brewer and asking him still left unanswered questions. If the old Fuller's IPA and Bengal Lance were different beers with different ABVs, how come the bottles of IPA we had were 5.3%, just like Bengal Lancer? And what exactly was the Swedish connection?

On meeting a former Managing Director of Fuller's yesterday I seized the opportunity to settle what must surely be the greatest unsolved mystery of beer once and for all. Drawing on his detailed knowledge of every facet of Fuller's my source told me that the two beers I'd had were indeed one and the same beer. The Bengal Lancer that Zak Avery reported being sent to Sweden was labelled as IPA, and it was some of these bottles I'd picked up in the brewery shop shortly before Bengal Lancer was released as Bengal Lancer over here.

My suspicions finally confirmed I can now look forward to the sleep of the just, which is just as well really as I'm bleedin' knackered.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

I've been fretting

Well, not me personally but some of my casks have. 

When you add a culture of Brettanomyces yeast to beer that's finished fermenting then a proper secondary fermentation takes place. But more on this later.

Friday, 14 December 2012

As crafty as a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Craftiness at Oxford University

Thanks to Magnus from my local CAMRA branch for the bottle of Versus Goliath, which must be the craftiest craft beer ever:

I don't think the labels and lid leave any room for ambiguity, though it turns out it's contract brewed by one of Germany's largest breweries.

"Craft beer" may once have had some some meaning in The States, but really it seems it's just marketing bollocks now.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Hop growing in the First World War

No doubt you're all familiar with the horrors the First World War inflicted on British beer. If for some reason this fascinating subject is not something you're familiar with then you really need to head over to Ron's blog.

Suitably informed I'm sure you'll soon be pondering "what happened to hop growing during the war then?". Well ponder no more as I've a snippet that answers that question:

"In 1917, owing to wartime conditions, brewing was drastically restricted and the possibility of a large surplus of hops was forseen by hop growers and traders. At their request the Government ordered a reduction in the amount of land under hops to half the 1914 acreage. Later in the same year the Government formulated a scheme of Hop Control which was in force until 1925."

AH Burgess "Hops" pp 13-14

There is more later on in the book, which I may return to if I get a moment.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dinner with India Pale Ales and Pete Brown

It's my own fault. I saw the IBD were putting on a six course meal, a different beer and wine included for each course, for only a tenner a head. An excellently economical way to give the lovely Lisa a treat I thought. It was an enjoyable evening, but unfortunately it seems to have given Lisa expensive tastes.

I came in from work last week to see her face beaming up at me. "I booked us tickets for Pete Brown's IPA dinner" she said. "Shit, that's going to cost" I thought, "What an excellent idea Darling" I said. Sadly it seems the days when I could take her our for a night down 'Spoons are behind us.

So on Monday we headed up to the Meantime Old Brewery at Greenwich. No boat trip this time as it was bleedin' cold and it's easy to get the train from Waterloo East. The place had the look of a craft beer bar:  wooden floors, bare brick, loads of keg fonts. It was certainly craft beer prices too, but on the plus side I did spot the two hand pumps before I ordered. I had a pint of Darkstar Hophead (3.8% ABV) and the lovely Lisa had half of keg Meantime stout (4.5% ABV). The Hophead was as good as ever, but the keg stout was cold, thin and fizzy. What do people see in craft keg? I suspect to do it right you need to make a totally over the top imbalanced beer and then knock enough flavour out of it by kegging to make it drinkable. Perhaps she should have gone for an Imperial stout.

The entertainment for the evening started with us being seated in rows and handed a small glass of Worthington White Shield. Now it being brewed in a big brewery in Burton I think it's the best it's been in years. Still not as good as it was when I were a lad, but at least the dark days of sweet brown gloopery seem behind it.

There was an introductory talk from Rod of Meantime, not that he introduced himself. Why I don't know but I guess it made sense to him. Then it was Pete Brown to talk about IPA. He knows a thing or two about this subject and has a reassuring Pattersonian view on beer styles. A couple more examples of the wide variation of India Pale Ales were distributed to lubricate the talk, but it was slightly disturbing to peer into a murky glass and see the staff had no idea about pouring bottle conditioned beer.

The food started with a scallop in a shell, which came sealed round the edges with pastry and sat on a pile of rock salt. We were warned not to eat the salt though I was a bit unsure about the pastry sticking the shell together. But as I'd paid for it I picked it off with my fingers and ate it. The scallop itself was perfectly edible, which was a bit of a relief as I'd feared something whelk like could be lurking inside the shell. The IPA to go with it was a grapefruity one from the Meanitme Old Brewery.

Next course was a chicken and mushroom thing with two tiny slivers of truffle on top. Oh yes, me, eating truffles - how posh is that? The beer to match it was La Chouffe Houblon, apparently a Belgian IPA but it tasted like Duvel to me.

Lamb cooked two ways followed, one way made it go pink and one way made it go brown. I preferred the brown to the pink. Though don't take that out of context. Jaipur went with this dish. I was trying to work out if the beers cut, complemented or contrasted with the food but wasn't really getting it.

Then we were on to the pudding course, which we weren't really keen on. Meantime Old Brewery Jasmine IPA was the beer, which the lovely Lisa thought smelled of sick, whereas I only found it unpleasant. When the pudding arrived looking like sick Lisa though this must be that beer and food matching thing, but in fact the weird curry ice cream and Jasmine IPA cancelled each other out and became more bearable together.

Three cheeses followed, with three matching beers, in small glasses varying in size according to the price. The only real pairing I got that night was the Fuller's Vintage and a goats cheese (which was actually the wrong match), as it's a cracking beer and it took away the unpleasant goaty taste of the cheese.

Having now now been to a couple of beer and food pairing events I can say it's mostly bollocks, but still good fun. So I think of it as like going on a foreign holiday and dabbling in a different culture, knowing I'll soon be back home to normality.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Purple Moose seen in the wild

I was delighted to see Purple Moose on the bar when I stopped off at the Ty Gwyn Inn on the way to Llanberis pass. Last time I called in they only had Doom Bar. I went straight for the Dark Side of the Moose (4.6% ABV) and it was a delicious dark delight. So after some rapid guzzling and an even more rapid swap of driving duties I went and got another one.

The pub also had real crisps, none of that fizzy keg crisp rubbish.

 The weekend had started well, and it stayed that way.

It was cold enough to get an easy Winter climb in on Parsley Fern Gully on the Friday, my enjoyment enhanced by my American born climbing partner's attempts at Welsh.

In mountains the Welsh word for valley "cwm" crops up quite a lot. The Welsh pronounce it something like "coom", but my friend pronounced it exactly like "quim". I didn't correct her of course, as it was far too entertaining.

On Saturday we trekked up Banana Gully, over Y Garn and dropped down on the other side to the Vaynol Arms.

I wasn't overly taken with where our journey was due to end. The Vaynol is a Robinson's pub and I'm not fond of their beers. I mentioned this to the barmaid as I peered along the five hand pumps and she replied "yes, a lot of people say that". The pump clips listed the hops used so I plumped for Dizzy Blond (3.8% ABV) as it was made with Amarillo, a great hop. And whilst I wouldn't go as far as saying the beer was great, it was certainly pleasant, which is a real step up for Robinsons as far as I'm concerned.

Having had pints of Purple Moose, and pleasant beer from Robinsons it seems things are looking up in Wales.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Shakespeare's Local by Pete Brown

Shakespear's Local, scheduled to the book of the week on Radio 4 and getting separate publication in American, looks set to be Pete Brown's biggest book. But it's my least favourite of his works and I'm not sure if it's his fault or mine.

Having already been to a talk about the book before reading it turned out to be a bit like watching an overly long film trailer that shows all the best bits. Entertaining though the talk was it did take some of the excitement out of the book when I got to bits I'd already heard about.

This book is also noticeably slimmer than his previous work, and whilst Hops and Glory was a fat book that got slimmed down, Shakespeare's Local at times seems like a thin book that's been padded out. The author does have a witty writing style but clearly at times he doesn't have much recorded history to work with and there's only so far you can go inventing imaginary conversations and laughing at overly long historic book titles.

As a dedicated beer nerd I was surprised to see at one point Pete bets his life that Shakespeare drank beer. In Shakespeare's time the distinction between unhopped ale and hopped beer was still quite clear, as was his preference: for Shakespeare, it appears, ale was fit for kings and beer only for fools. I fear the gallows could be calling...

Discussing Shakespeare a bizarre theory from a previous historian of the George Inn that Shakespeare didn't actually exist is mentioned, but as I also have a fascinating for religious schisms, it's disappointing that the ale angle isn't. At one point English Catholics considered the hop to be a Protestant plant, so could Shakespeare's shunning of beer be more evidence of his Catholic sympathies? This fascinating (to me) ale/beer religious split connection is the sort of thing I ponder and I'd have been interested to see what Pete Brown's made of it, but I guess I'll have to settle for the fact that some minority interests are just too minority.

After a lull in the middle I thought the book picked up again as the amount of historical data increased and the author had more material to work with. A long term landlady of the pub is the real star of the book, but I guess her marketing potential can't compete with The Bard's. I did rather surprisingly spot a modern historical error as there's mix up of the Barclay Perkins Anchor brewery at Park Street and the Courage Anchor brewery at Horselydown, but the two do cause a lot of confusion.

Did I like this book less than the others because I'd heard some of it before or because the book just isn't as good as his others? I don't know, and most reviews are glowing, but I'd be interested to hear what other people think of it.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The White Horse 30th Old Ale Festival

Our latest research trip was to the Old Ale Festival at the White Horse on Parsons Green. For once I'd been prepared for a beer festival by printing off the beer list and making a tick list before I got there. So I was a bit miffed to see half the beers I was after weren't on. So it goes.

Black night

They did have a list which showed what beers they were serving at the time, and it showed the prices too. That was a bit of an eye opener as the cask beers started at £4 and went up from there. Those that were foolish enough to drink keg beers were in for even more of a hammering to their wallets. I know it's a posh pub, they don't call it the Sloaney Pony for nothing, but there are plenty of decent pubs in London I can pay considerably less at.

As the Harvey's Mild, one of my desert island beers, wasn't on I had Marston Moor's Matchlock Mild (4% ABV). It reminded me why I'm not often a mild drinker as it was on the dull side. To make up the lack of Harvey's Mild I had their Old Ale (4.3%) next. It certainly had the distinctive Harvey's taste, in fact it had too much of it, making the yeasty flavours overpowering.

So for my third pint I went for a safe bet, the excellent By The Horns Lambeth Porter. The lovely Lisa had already had some of this so I knew it was on form.

Being suitably warmed up at this point it was time to go for a barley wine. A session beer to some, but then some people do talk nonsense, I normally only drink such things in the privacy of my own home. But I figured I'd survive a half drunk slowly and they did have the current Champion Beer of Britain on.

I remember being surprised at the reaction of some of my fellow beer nerds when Coniston No. 9 (8.5% ABV) won. I think they'd been gearing up to be outraged when a mild won again so when a barley wine claimed the top spot there was an air of bemusement. There seemed general agreement that CAMRA had picked the wrong beer yet again but I think they were scraping the barrel trying to muster some outrage on the basis that a beer not brewed very often had won.

I'd had the beer before from bottles and not been overwhelmed, but from cask it was a whole new world. Incredibly fruity, I was frustrated that no matter how hard I strained my brain I couldn't place which fruit. I bet Jilly Goolden never has that  problem. I can confidently say it was dead good though.

At the point I was starting to get peckish for some pork scratchings the newly formed Wild Beer company opened up a stall dishing out samples. They plan to make beers with a difference but the samples they had were clearly works in progress so I won't pronounce on them yet.

Don't buy beer off this man

It was time to go after that. Whilst I was busy getting pissed, the lovely Lisa was getting pissed off as she was refused a taster due to a 'new company policy', though it does seem to depend on who you get served by (this has now been clarified as no tasters during beer festivals). And on top of that a little bit of further research on the pub when I got home suggests the beer prices were specially raised for the festival. I'm not sure if we'll bother going to the next one.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Guinness FES test

Dubious as I am about over priced craft beer I think carefully before parting with my hard earned cash for something over the odds. But as a beer nerd there are some beers I can't resist trying, provided the price isn't too excessive, but once I've tried them will I buy them again?

For strong stouts I usually apply The Guinness FES test. 

As I can buy Guinness Foreign Export Stout in my local supermarket at supermarket prices I ask myself is it worth forking out craft beer prices for this strong stout? It's not often I find a strong stout I don't like but is it that much better I'm prepared to fork out that much more?

Many fine beers have failed this test, beers from Fullers and Kernel amongst them. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout passes, and strangely enough so does Guinness Special Export. Brewed in (or for?) Belgium I can't get it in Sainsbury's so have to pay more for it, but I think it's worth it.

Does anyone else have any benchmark beers?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

I am a Prolific drinker

"So what's new?" I hear you say. As it happens the hop is new, though when I say new I mean old.

Dave at work has brewed up home brew batch using the Prolific hop variety. Thanks to his seasonal work picking hops he was given a small sample of hops from the two Prolific plants grown on the farm he works at.

Dating from 1852, it was once a widely grown varitey, though John Percival wasn't keen on it, describing it as "... of poor quality, coarse in petal, pointed square in section and poor in flavour." As modern tastes have changed we were very interested to see whether or not the flavour would be more appealing nowadays.

As it happened there wasn't actually much flavour. There was a noticeable hop resin aroma to the beer, but the taste was just a very clean bitterness. It made the beer drinkable but also rather unexciting. I don't think the Prolific hop will be making a comeback.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Diminishing returns

I remember reading once some advice about buying jackets for mountaineering. I went something like this:

  • a £100 jacket will be twice as good as a £50 jackets
  • a £200 jacket will be better, but not twice as good as a £100 jacket
  • a £400 jacket* may be better than a £200 jacket but the improvements are getting marginal
This advice keeps coming to mind when I see overpriced** beer on sale in specialist beer bars and shops. 

I'm happy to pay for the extra money it costs me to get bottled not canned beer in the supermarkets because it's better. And I'm happy to pay the extra money that a pint of cask beer will cost me in a pub compared to bottled beer at home because I enjoy it more. I'll even fork out more for rare or interesting beers on occasion, though this can be a bit hit and miss. 

But when I get on to beers at £8 or more a bottle or pint I really think I'm getting in to the realm of diminishing returns. In fact as beer at these prices are often very strong, imported or experimental it may even be a case that I'd be paying more for a beer I'd enjoy less

Am I being a tight git that's missing out or are some people paying silly money for beer?

* Yes, such things exist.
** It's my blog and overpriced is the right term if you ask me.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Grape vs. Grain food pairing night

Keen as I always am to continue my professional development I went to an IBD meeting on Monday. And dedicated beer buff that she is the lovely Lisa came to. The event did happen to be held in a brewpub and included a six course meal which may have influenced her decision.

It was held at The Bull in Highgate, which has a good selection of beers, draught and keg, though as the scotch eggs were reasonably priced it's definitely a pub not a craft beer bar. 

We started with a quick tour of the 2.5 barrel brewery.

The brew house is at one side of the kitchen with the fermenting vessels in the cellar. After the tour we tried one of The Bull's beers in both it's cask and (key) keg form. The kegged version had a bit more aroma but an unpleasant harsh taste that wasn't present in the version served as god intended.

The main even was in an upstairs dining room, where we had a qualified beer sommelier batting for the home team and a press ganged stand in plugging the wine. Both did a great job, though keeping track of the votes got a bit messy as the evening went on.

This was the menu:

Brewers Grain Smoked Salmon, citrus creme fraiche
Beer: Blanche de Namur
Wine: Viognier, Domaine des Terres Rousses

Foie Gras Terrine, sour berries, toast
Beer: Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus
Wine: Syrah Rose, VdeP d'Oc

Smoked Wild Mushroom
Beer: Schlenkerla Rauchbier
Wine: Gruner Veltliner, Weingut Geyerhog

Braised Ox Cheek, celeriac mash, braising jus
Beer: Adnams Broadside
Wine: Malbec, Urban Uco

Apple Pie, vanilla chantilly
Beer: Innis and Gunn Original
Wine: Chablis,  Domaine des Temps Perdus

Black Bomber Cheddar
Beer: Sierra Nevada Torpedo
Wine: Mount Beautiful Pinot Noir

I'm not really one for food and drink pairing, as I prefer to get my dinner in early and then get to the pub, not waste time lingering over food. And there's no real point me going thought my votes as it was beer every time. I very rarely drink wine so it just tastes like wine to me, but as I regularly drink beer I can pick up the subtleties and notice the grapefruit, spice, coffee, liquorish, etc. Others with more rounded palates were more even handed in their voting though, with the final result being a 4:2 win for beer. Wine clearly won the vote for the terrine, and either the ox cheek or the cheese (I not sure which one though but both were close), the rest going to beer.

When matching drinks with food we were told the drink can cut though the food's flavour, complement it or contrast with it. The Cantillon lambic certainly cut through the terrine, though I think it was actually meant to complement the berries. The rauchbier went well with the smoked mushrooms, oddly though as after the mushroom it tasted more like normal beer; and the vanilla flavour of Innis and Gunn went well with the pie and vanilla cream. I guess these two were complementing. I didn't really notice any contrasting going on but spotting three things out of six courses isn't bad going for me. I'd also add the possibility that pairing can be crap as alternating swigs and mouthfuls of the Broadside and ox cheek didn't do anything for either, though maybe if the beer hadn't been too cold it would have gone better.

Despite being a wine philistine and not being one for beer and food pairing I did enjoy this event, maybe it's time for me to give The Brewmaster's Table another go.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Demolished Man

It was Woking beer festival last night, a festival I can walk to and stagger back from. Disturbingly there were bouncers on the door and annoying there were wrist bands to wear. I don't know what's brought that on but I frown upon such practices.

Doomed for demolition

We got down there earlier than usual, which goes some way to explaining the urgent need for fried pork products this morning. The surge in brewery numbers finally seems to have reached Surrey, with a few more local wares on offer.

Tenser, said the Tensor
I made the most of the selection on offer, drinking 50 with my right hand and 50 with my left hand, and I didn't think it too many. Or at least it felt like that. Blond, brown, black, flavoured with ginger I drank them all. The lovely Lisa was more discriminating and though the selection a bit lacking, resorting to Ascot Ales Anastasia Imperial Stout (8% ABV) "to get some flavour". Fortunately she kept control and didn't do a Dan.

I caught up with friends old and new and the festivities seemed to end all too soon, which is a sure sign of a good night, and it was time to weave our way home.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Pete Brown on Shakespeare's Local

The lovely Lisa and I went to see noted beer historian Pete Brown give a talk on Monday night. Though it seems my description of him is no longer accurate, as he's now a noted pub historian too.

The do was at Windsor and Eton brewery, the back drop of shiny fermenters made a good setting, though I'm glad I wore my down jacket at it was bleedin' cold. Someone from the brewery was dishing out cask beer, though as I was driving I couldn't make the most of it. I was pleased to try the last of the W&E Jubilee beers "Canberra". A rich chestnut fruity beer made with Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin hops and maple syrup. W&E seem to have a policy of adding something a bit weird in each of their beers, though I'm beginning to suspect more for craft beer brownie points than any major effect on the flavour. Despite the freely available cask beer Pete Brown was drinking a bottle of Republica lager, a highly rated beer to some, but a sure sign of moral turpitude to me.

Pete Brown with his shiny new ibook

But enough of this nonsense, Pete was talking about his new book, Shakespeare's Local, a history of The George Inn in Borough. Like a good evening's chat at the pub the book touches on a number of important points, and then diverges off wildly when something else interesting crops up. Even the discussion on how old the pub is managed to draw in Trigger from Only Fools and Horses, Ancient Greeks, and The Sugar Babes amongst others. It all made sense at the time. A number of historical figures have drunk in, or at any rate near, the pub including of course Shakespeare, so it seems there's plenty of material.

The talk was very entertaining and some informative history too. I'm now slightly peeved with myself for making the lovely Lisa buy me the book for my birthday, as it means I can't read it yet! Oh well, not long now...

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Goldings Hops: the out takes.

At last here's the final part of series on the history of Goldings hops: the hilarious out-takes. Being the most prized of English hops the term 'Golding' has often been applied to hops that are not in fact true GoldingsThe Hop Marketing Board complicated things further by classifying hops into four classes: Golding, Golding Variety, Fuggle and Other Varieties. The Golding class is for the various different clones of the true Goldings. Golding Variety was the class for hops which weren't actually Goldings but were ranked mid-way between Goldings and Fuggles in quality. There were two hops classified as Goldings Varieties, one of which is still grown today:

Whitbread Golding Variety

"Selected, or raised as a seedling, in 1911 (that auspicious year again) from a commercial variety of the time-reputedly Bate's Brewer-by E.A. White, of Paddock Wood. A small acreage of this variety, identified by the code number 1147, was maintained by E. A. White, and later by Messrs. Whitbread & Co., his successors at Beltring, Paddock Wood. Following the outbreak of progressive Verticillium wilt in the early 1930's, it was found to be largely tolerant to the disease. It was later extensively propagated, under the auspices of the Hop Marketing Board, for planting by growers in gardens affected by this destructive disease, which persists for several years in infected soil." (1)

The hop was originally called White's Golding and was a result of the breeding programme of EA White developed with the great Professor ES Salmon of Wye College. (2) Though the male parent of this hop is unknown there is the possibility that it was of American origin, as male American plants had certainly been imported by then as a way of attempting to raise the alpha acid content of English hops.


"Selected by Gerald Warde, of Tutsham Hall, West Farleight. It is grown in the same districts and requires similar treatments to Cobbs, which it closely resembles.
The cones 'hang' better than those of Cobbs, and the plant is somewhat less susceptible to hop mould." (3)

As far as I'm aware this hop is no longer grown.

Styrian Golding

This hop is not a Golding, and it's not Styrian either. Analysis found that the original Styrian Golding was in fact a Fuggle plant. The different soil and climate give it a distinctly different flavour though. And recently googling by me has found that Styria is a region of Austria, though all the Styrian Goldings I've ever used have come from Slovenia.

The story goes that as the term Fuggle-Golding was used by some for Fuggles the continentals got confused as to which hop they had and though it was a type of Golding. The plot thickens further though as the crafty Slovenians have continued to use the term 'Styrian Golding' for hops from their breeding programme, some of which are entirely unrelated to the Fuggle.

The current labels they use are Savinjski Golding, for the Fuggle plants grown in Slovenia, Styrian Golding B for the hop otherwise known as Bobek which is the offspring of Northdown and a seedling of unknown origin, and Styrian Golding C or Celeia for a hybrid of Aurora (a descendant of Northern Brewer) and a wild male. (4)

I've also found mentions of two hops bred by Professor Salmon which he gave the name Golding to:

Norton Court Golding

This hop came from Canterbury Golding crossed with OB21, a seedling of Brewers Gold and an American male OY1. This is the same parents as Northern Brewer, a hop which has had rather more success. (5, 6, 7)

Wye Field Golding

This hop also had the same parents as Northern Brewer. Northing seems to have come of Norton Court or Wye Field Goldings, but ironically another of Ernest Salmon's hops which he didn't give a Golding name to, Early Choice, is now sold as a Golding. (8)

There are also a number of hops which have a "gold" if not "Golding" worked into their names, Brewers Gold has already been mentioned, a dwarf variety is called First Gold, and Bullion and Nugget have the suggestion of Gold about them, though of these Nugget is the only one with Golding in its ancestry.

  1. Hops. AH Burgess. p43
  2.  The Encircling Hop. M Lawrence. p36
  3. Hops. AH Burgess p41
  6. Hops, AH Burgess. p46

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The cost of living

Or perhaps the cost of dying.

I've heard a few interesting things recently about how the figures commonly bandied around on the costs of alcohol misuse are all bollocks.

For starters one of the major ways it's calculated is the cost to the economy of people losing their jobs due to alcohol problems. It was pointed out that toting up the cost of benefits of people who lost their job is highly dubious, as though it may well be a personal tragedy, the economy won't suffer as for each person made unemployed another will come off benefits when they fill the new vacancy.

Then there's the fact that people dying prematurely may well cost the NHS, but not half as much as people that don't die prematurely and end us needing constant care in their advanced years. Someone who pops their clogs early is really doing the NHS a favour!

Finally in all the talk of alcohol related costs there's no mention of the huge amount of money taxes on alcohol bring in.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Box Hill or Bust!

Me and the boys we know where to go, 
stuck in the traffic, boring real slow,
sussed out gap and burnt on down the white line

When it was time for our healthy Sunday fresh air we decided on Box Hill this time. Part of the Surrey Alps it's mainly famous for being imortalised in song by the great Dumpy Dunell, though more recently they had some of the Olympic cycling there.

Not for us bikes of any form though, we were on shank's pony.

What with the clocks changing we ended up in danger of being benighted on Box Hill. Decisive action was called for so we switched our pub destination to the Running Horse. A posh looking place you had to take your boots off or put blue covers over them before you entered the pub. This did make me reconsider trekking further to the King William IV as originally planned, but time was against us. And as it happened I'm glad we didn't.

Not that the beer was anything to write home about, as despite the pub being a free house the beers all came from "Marstons". But it was a great looking pub and a woman there had taken it upon herself to provided entertainment to all. She was haranguing the staff about how her integrity had been compromised because her husband had paid for her dinner. It didn't make much sense to me, or her embarrassed looking friend, but her loud mouthed ranting gave us something to laugh about.

After a swifty (I had a Pedigree, it was alright) it was time to race the twilight to the top of Box Hill and then go home.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Dithering and democracy

I have been dithering. Despite the vote on what I should do with my whisky win being in favour of drinking it I haven't.

As I don't normally drink whisky I've never had a moment when it's seemed like a good time for a drop, and as I generally keep my beer cupboards well stocked it seemed unlikely there ever would be. Adding to that the fact I did drink some when I was recently in Scotland and thought it was minging lead me to the undemocratic conclusion that I just was not going to drink it.

So I've given it to someone who actually likes the stuff rather than force it down my neck.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Wandsworth Common Halloween Beer Festival 2012

I blame Fuller's. It was the Brewer's Reserve (8.2% ABV) that started Dan down the slippery slope. A barley wine aged in cognac casks it tasted of brandy, which was interesting but not the sort of thing I go for. Which was just as well really. Having "gone large" early Dan followed the Brewer's Reserve with Downton Imperial Stout, (9% ABV) and Orkney Skull Splitter (8.5% ABV). He did then switch to the excellent Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout (4.5% ABV), a beer of more modest strength, but alas, it was too late.

As his higher brain functions started to close down his spinal cord staged a coup and whisked him home on his beer scooter.

Missing in action
We were a bit put out to be a man down, particularly as we'd had a few ourselves by then, in fact we'd reached the pork scratchings stage.

The world's biggest pork scratching
Our beery highlights were Magic Rock Dark Arts (6% ABV), which was the lovely Lisa's favourite, and Windsor and Eton Kohinoor (4.5% ABV), which was mine. I'm a bit bored of blond beers at the moment but this hoppy little number was refreshing after all the dark beers. It's also got jaggery sugar in it which I've long been curious about, as Randy Mosher goes on about it quite a lot in my favourite brewing book Radical Brewing. How much of the flavour in the Kohinoor came from the jaggery sugar I couldn't say, probably not a lot, but I was please to have drunk something made with it.

I think this was one of the best of the Wandsworth Common beer festivals, in fact for Dan it was probably too good.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A lager in Loweswater ...

... and gin too. 

Are my standards slipping? Not really, I washed it down with plenty of cask beer.

The lovely Lisa and I were in Loweswater last week.

There was the hill based heroism of course, such the traverse over to Braithwaite, braving temperatures so cold we could even see our breath, and taking so long it was the last bus we got back.

Beer being a tad bulky we have taken to having some sloe gin with us on the hills in case of emergencies, like it getting a bit nippy or our legs getting a bit tired. The small sample I managed to blag from lovedrinks was better than the Gordon's from the supermarket but there wasn't nearly enough to last the week. Which was a shame really as it wasn't as sweet so more to our taste. Perhaps when the sponsorship deal comes though I'll have more to guzzle...

Anyway, I know you're only here for the beer.

We were staying in Loweswater so we'd be in walking distance of the excellent Kirkstile Inn.

The beers here are from my favourite lake district brewery, Cumbrian Legendary Ales. They've won a couple of CAMRA national awards which I think is pretty impressive, but don't seem to feature much amongst internet beer nerds.

At one point they did send out some samples of their doppelbock, Croglin Vampire, to bloggers but though it's their strongest beer at 8% ABV taste wise I think it's one of their weakest, and always a bit under carbonated. I did have a bottle for completeness sake though, and I even paired it with my pudding. For those that care about such things it's better after a gob full of chocolate brownie. For the full Brewmaster's Table experience I should probably have paired it with some funky cheese though, as I seem to recall that features heavily in the book.

But it was for the draught beer we'd come, and over the week I wended my way across the hand pumps and back again, but mainly drinking Langdale (pale 4%) and Grasmore (dark 4.3%). Neither beer makes me want to shout "AWESOME", but both I drank in quantity and both I plan to drink in quantity again. As far as I'm concerned that means the beers score highly.

As an added bonus there was a case of Loweswater Gold (pale 4.3%) waiting for us at the pub thanks to the lovely Lisa winning a twitter competition.

It's not our favourite from their range, as far as their pale beers go I prefer the Langdale or the LPA, but I'm sure they'll go down nicely, and free beer does taste better.