Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A pub walk from Gomshall

Back in the Summer (you may remember fell it on a bank holiday this year) the lovely Lisa and I went on a pub walk around Gomshall. 

We were following another route in CAMRA's South East Pub Walks. We already had a bit of a thirst on by the time we'd got to the walk's start at Gomshall Station. The first pub we came to on the route was The Abinger Hatch. It wasn't an 'official' stop but we thought but we thought a quick off piste stop was in order. Our deviation did us no good though as it looked like a restaurant and we weren't taken with the beers so left without getting anything.

This meant we had to press on to Holmbury St Mary but it was worth the wait. The Kings Head was a proper pub, which was having its own beer festival and a barbecue. We sat in the garden enjoying a well earned pint.

The next leg involved navigating through a forest, which is something I've yet to master. The path we ended up on took us close enough to where we wanted to be though, so only a slight adjustment was needed to get us to our next stop, the Hurtwood Inn in Peaslake. This place was big, packed, and serving a couple of beers I'm boycotting. Fortunately the excellent Surrey Hills Shere Drop was on so we were able to have some righteous refreshment.

Then we were into the home straight and a late burst of speed allowed us to get in another pint between us of Shere Drop at the Compasses Inn.

We were so pushed for time I didn't even complain about the unsightly Northern head. Some quick guzzling and a dash to the station got us there in time for the train, which was just as well as the next one wasn't for two hours. Another great route from a CAMRA pub walk guide successfully completed.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Learning about lager

On Monday the IBD had an evening on Craft Brewed Lager. Though "craft" is not my favourite marketing term, and lager is not my favourite type of beer we do make a lager at work on occasion and I'd sent a case up for the event.

Sadly it was lost in transit so the assembled masses missed out on the brilliantly witty speech I'd written and the AWESOME lager I'd brewed. Well, hearing me speak and drinking my beer anyway.

But there were half dozen 'craft lagers' that had actually managed to arrive. The ingredients varied widely from German malt to English malt, all malt to not all malt, and European hops to English hops. Quality also varied widely with some pleasant enough for a lager and some decidedly unpleasant.

Some interesting things came up in the discussion though:
  • One non-craft lager brand takes six days to make
  • Another is fermented at 15 degrees C, rising to 20.
  • There seem general agreement the long lagering thing is about clarity not taste
  • There are two very genetically distinct types of lager yeast 
Then it was on to the networking, which safely back on the ales I may have overdone a bit.

I did pick up more news about a decidedly unrighteous brewery and a certain hop variety that I may get back to at some point though.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

-. . .-- / .... --- .--.

As I'm sure many of  you can appreciate, sometimes brewing full time just isn't enough. The days, evenings and weekends may keep production levels up but I've still been lagging behind with the amount of hop varieties now out there to try.

As the lovely Lisa is also keen to increase her brewing knowledge we've been doing some mini-home brews with different hops and hop combinations.

One hop we used was Endavour, a new English variety with the grapefruit flavoured American hop Cascade as its mother. We've been making four to five gallon batches of wort and boiling up on the hob a gallon or so of each hop or hop combination we want to try.  My first attempt at using Endeavour was very disappointing. I'd kept the hopping quite modest and very little flavour came through into the beer. I wasn't sure if this was down to the hop or problems with weighing out on a few grammes on kitchen scales though so I gave it another go with the hopping rate cranked up to 60g for a 4 to 5 litre batch.

This time I got what I was after: a definite black currant smell, tongue coating bitterness, and a citrussy taste but still English in character. Great stuff actually, though hop heads note the flavour intensity is still not up there with modern American varieties, being more at the Bramling Cross or Bobek levelI was impressed with how my second attempt at using Endeavour turned out and it's definitely a hop I'd like to use at work.

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Oxford Coma

I have finally emerged into the light from the long time I spent immersed in the The Oxford Companion to Beer. The bizarrely polarised reactions this book generated on publication made it a must have for me, and as I intended to study the book closely it seemed appropriate to record on the OCBeer wiki anywhere I felt they'd gone wrong or an entry was lacking.

After I'd finished reading the letter A I wrote a review, most of which I still stand by. I carried on letter after letter, though after about half way my enthusiasm did wane a bit and I took some long breaks. Fortunately for me Martyn Cornell was also going through the book and putting comments on the wiki so on several occasions after reading inaccurate entries and with a heavy heart going to the wiki to start typing I was delighted to find fulsome corrections already written.

But whereas Martyn, despite his reservations, sounded more positive about the book in the end I must admit I have become more critical. Despite my dedicated beer nerdery I eventually came to realise the significance of Phil's comments about not knowing which bits are untrustworthy. There were some entries in there that I'd found interesting and informative until I got to the end and saw they could be complete Horst shit. That some entries in the OCB just cannot be trusted undermines the whole book.

Though Garrett Oliver is a great brewer and writer, and editing the book must have been an enormous amount of work, ultimate responsibility for the flaws in the book lie with him, and I can't help but think that he wasn't the right person for the job.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Final Five

When CAMRA was formed back in 1911 1971 there were five bottle conditioned beers in production. Having finally got hold of the revived version of one of them, I got thinking about the final five:
  • Guinness Extra, a 4.2% ABV stout
  • Worthington White Shield, a 5.6% ABV IPA
  • Gales Prize Old Ale, a 9% ABV old ale
  • Courage Imperial Russian Stout, a 10% ABV imperial Russian stout
  • and Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy Ale, a 12% ABV barley wine. 
Undergoing a secondary fermentation in the container they're served from they were adopted by CAMRA as the bottled equivalent of cask conditioned ale. And looking at the range of beers and the strengths they're at is surely conclusive proof that CAMRA are only interested in 4% ABV brown bitter!
Since 1971 all of these beers have suffered trials and tribulations. One has continually existed as god intended but brewed at various different sites, one has recently gone back into production, one has fallen victim to filtration and pasteurisation and two are currently not produced, though have potential to return.

Having finally got some Courage Imperial Russian Stout I also got each of these beers in one form or another to help jog my weary brain.

Back in the day the first one I can remember trying was Worthington's White Shield, then brewed by Bass, the largest brewer and pub owner in Britain. Though they didn't seem to own many pubs round my way they did at one point supply my local club so the beer appeared on the shelves there. I can remember the first sip as being shockingly bitter, but my taste buds soon acclimatised, and whilst it didn't become a regular tipple it was a good bet when I got a craving for hops. It wasn't to last though as production moved to King and Barnes and it entered its sweet brown gloop phase. When King and Barnes closed it returned to Burton where it was brewed in the museum brewery, which did an excellent job of replicating the sweet brown gloop that had come out of Horsham. But things have picked up since then, and the rise in interest in IPAs has lead to production moving to one of Molson Coor's big Burton plants. Crisp bitterness has returned to the beer and it tastes the best it has in years.

Guinness Extra lurked on the shelves of most pubs, and as draught Guinness is the fall back when you have the misfortune to find yourself in a keg only establishment, back in the day bottled Guinness Extra provided a CAMRA approved alternative. It tasted better too. Sadly when the number of bottled conditioned beers was starting to rise Guinness decided to ditch theirs and bottled Guinness, now sold as Guinness Original, is brewery conditioned.

It's a thin, watery beer with a taste of roast barley. There's not really much to recommend it.

When in the early 90s Courage Imperial Russian Stout was brewed again I didn't think I'd have much trouble getting a bottle. Courage owned loads of pubs where I lived and whilst I was was never a fan of Directors Bitter or the weaker alternative Courage Worst I thought that there would finally be something good about having so many Courage pubs near me. But it was not to be. When I asked the landlord of the local Courage pub if they'd be getting any of the Imperial Russian Stout in he went off into a barely coherent rant in a thick Irish accent. When it was translated for me I found out he'd been saying he couldn't get any of the beer as Courage had said there was no demand in his area, yet here he was having a customer demand the beer. I did manage to find the beer in the end, though Courage didn't make it easy, and I have to say it came as a bit of a shock. I found it practically undrinkable, and me and a mate were unable to finish a small bottle one night. I did finish it off the next day though, you can't let beer go to waste.

Over the years I've got used to drinking strong beers so when after another load of grief I got hold of the revived version it didn't come as shock when I tasted it, in fact it seems a little thin. The overwhelming taste I could think of when drinking it was 'leather'. But good, and in a beer. At the inflated price that, outside of New Zealand, you're changed it doesn't even come close to passing the Guinness FES test though.

I can't recall when I first found Thomas Hardy Ale, at the time made by Eldridge Pope and the strongest beer brewed in Britain. When Eldridge Pope decided to commit hara-kiri O'Hanlons brewed the brand for a number of years until their own financial difficulties made them stop. I have in one of my beer cupboards vintages from both the breweries and I went with a relatively recent O'Hanlon's for this tasting. Sadly rather than being as 'brisk as a volcano' as the blurb on the label says it was  more flat as a pancake, but much to my surprise it grew on me. Dark brown in colour the flat sweetness was almost overwhelming at first, and I thought I had a tipper on my hands. But as that seemed a criminal waste I pondered mixing it instead. By the time I'd decided which beer to mix it with I noticed my glass was half empty and the chocolatey flavour had really grown on me so I finished it off neat.

It seems the beer is once again being revived, though I couldn't work out who's going to be making it or when.

My post on The Final Five looked set, like a reimagined Sci-Fi series, to fizzle out into a disappointing and unsatisfactory ending. But rather than fade to nothingness for no apparent reason this post will have a solid, well actually liquid, ending as thanks to my contacts I managed to get hold of a bottle of the last of the five, Gales Prize Old Ale.

I can't remember when I first had this one either, but I always had a soft spot for it as the corked bottle really put the 'old' into 'old ale'. When Fuller's took over Gales and closed the brewery they brought out their own version of Prize Old Ale, blended with bug filled beer from Gales, though without the corked bottles and initially pasteruised. It then appeared again in bottle conditioned form before quietly being dropped without me noticing. After a recent trip to Fuller's I was disappointed to find none in the brewery shop, and talking to some of the brewers I found out there are no current plans to brew it again.

But fortunately for me my new boss is an ex-big cheese at Fuller's and he had kept hold of his own stash, of which he was generous enough to give me a bottle from 2008. It poured a very dark brown with light carbonation and a definite whiff of sherry about it. The taste was also at the sweet sherry end of things, and lightweight that I am nowadays a 500ml bottle was quite a lot of booze to get though in one go. Particularly when you wash it down with something else afterwards!

Since CAMRA were formed things have moved on from the Final Five and I have somewhat mixed feelings about CAMRA promoting bottle conditioned beers. The difference in taste between bottle conditioned, and filtered and carbonated bottled beer, is not as great as between cask and keg beer; and with the proliferation of bottle conditioned beers from microbreweries there have been more than a few infected beers I've had the misfortune come across.But having said that, how crap bottled Guinness is now it's not bottle conditioned was a real eye opener, and bottle conditioned beers without doubt include some of the world's finest.


Sunday, 5 May 2013

May mild mission miracle

Actually miracle might be a slight overstatement but I do like alliteration, and I did find a great mild. Despite the difficulties I find reaching for my wallet when the word 'tossers' is going through my head we were back at the Sloaney Pony on Saturday. Fortunately the specially inflated prices and 'no tasters' policies weren't in operation, so though it still wasn't cheap it wasn't painful.

Seeing the excellent Oakham JHB on one of the handpumps I went straight for that, but sadly it had a touch of the wet dog about it. Pondering what to have next I remembered my mission for the month is to drink mild and they had one on the bar. Hobsons seem to have gone for the slightly odd position of making the ABV the most prominent thing on their pump clips, but the word 'mild' still stood out.

 The beer was dark enough, but not quite black, and despite its modest strength a delicious dark delight.

That was the order pretty much sorted for the rest of the afternoon, so whilst the jugs of Pimm's were flying out of the bar it was pints of mild for us.

I don't drink mild often, as you don't see it much round my way and I generally prefer beer with more hops. But if I saw milds like this more often I may have to have a re-think.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May Day

May Day, the time of year we remember our martyred dead and start looking for pints of mild. I'm not much of a mild drinker, as I generally prefer bitter, but May seems as good a time as any to seek out a pint.

For many years CAMRA have promoted mild during May and, like just about everything CAMRA does, it seems to get some of my fellow beer nerds all het up. But as someone who doesn't normally drink mild I'm quite happy to have something encouraging me to have a drop. Now all I need to do is find some!