Monday 29 June 2009

The Beer father

It was my niece Phoebe's christening on Sunday.
My sister was a god parent but there was a more important role for me: I am now Phoebe's beer father.

The poor child has been unforunate enough to be born to non-beer drinking parents, so as well as needing people to look after her spiritual needs she needs someone to look after her beeritual needs too. There's an awful lot of beers out there nowadays so having an adult to guide her through the complexities of the beer world and steer her towards the decent stuff should help her mature into a confident and competent beer drinker. And hopefully this will also mean that the curse of humulophobia is not carried on through the family.

Admittedly she's got another four and a half years until she can drink legally but as I take my responsibilities seriously I supplied a polypin of bitter for the christening party. I'd aimed for a drinkable session bitter and it came out pretty much how I'd planned.

I'd could have beefed it up a bit as it was a little thin, but it was on a Sunday afternoon and I wanted something that the assembled masses would be happy to drink.

Phoebe was not happy when she was told she can't have a beer for four and a half years.

The recipe for the beer was:

Pale Malt 8.40 kg
Wheat malt 0.35 kg
Cara malt 0.15 kg
Choc malt 0.15 kg

Boil start: Fuggles 100g
10min from end: Styrian Goldings 40g
Steep: Styrian Goldings 40g
Dry: Styrian Goldings 40g

Yeast: Hopback

This was for nine gallons, the other half I kept for home consumption.

The Crown, Horsell

On Saturday me and the lovely Lisa went back to the Crown in Horsell. We enjoyed our last visit so it is slightly embarrassing to look back through the blog and see it was nearly three months ago. We really do need to get out to local pubs more.

The Crown is a friendly pub with a big beer garden for us to sit in. The guest beer was Dorking brewery's excellent DB One, a pale ale similar in taste to Timothy Taylor's Landlord but with a bit more malt. Landlord is a favourite of ours so we had three of these in quick succession before heading home. We then failed to stick to this modest limit by cracking open a bottle of Landlord and testing the latest home brew. One of these day's we'll get the hang of limiting our drinking*.

*This statement may not be factually correct.

Friday 26 June 2009

The curse of Michael Jackson?

Beer fans may have been as surprised as I was to hear that until last night there was a popular musical entertainer bearing the same name as the late lamented beer hunter. Apparently he was big in the eighties. Rumours that the former Army Chief of General Staff has booked an urgent check up with his doctor have yet to be confirmed.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Desert Island beer #3 - Ringwood XXXX porter

This is the last of my desert island beers with a guaranteed place.
A seasonal brew I first came across this when I was young and new to the delights of real ale and this was certainly a delight. Foolishly I was working my way across the hand pumps that night and I only had one pint!

I didn't see it again for many years after that and when I did it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I tried it. Could it really be as good as I remembered? Thankfully, it was, and though I still only see it occasionally it’s never let me down. It’s also available in bottles now, and my own attempt at following a recipe based on it worked out well too. It’s a rich dark beer but without the astringency you get in many stouts so it goes down very nicely, and I hope still will when I'm holding a glass of it whilst lounging under my palm tree.

Chesil pilsner 4.1%

This 'pilsner lager style real ale' was brought up for me from Dorset by my favourite brother in law. I wonder if they have 'white wine style red wine' down there too? I'm going there next month so I'll keep my eyes peeled. As far as lagers go the Chesil was pretty good, a slight taste of honey and not a lot else, but it was refreshing straight from the fridge. I've still got some more of the Dorset brewing company's beers in my cupboard to try and I'm looking forward to them.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Jackie Brown, Brown Ale, Mikkeller, 6% ABV

I'd been looking forward to trying some Mikkeller beers as my fellow internet beer nerds seem keen on their offerings.
Sadly this one doesn't work for me. The grist sounds good: pale, munich, cara-pils, cara-crystal, brown and chocolate malt with flaked oats. I'm not generally keen on the oily mouthfeel comes from oats but everything comes together in this beer to give a lovely rich body. The high alpha hops though (nugget, simcoe and centennial) really jar, making a strange beer. Some more restrained hops so I could appreciate the the rich malt in what is, after all, meant to be a brown ale would have been better.

The people have spoken

The poll has closed and surprisingly the majority are in favour of hearing about more my heroic climbing exploits. If I was a betting man I wouldn't have bet much money on that outcome. Still, the people have spoken so further reports will be included. Don't worry thought if you voted against, this is a beer blog and someones else's sports or hobbies are always a bit dull, so I'll be keeping reports to a minimum.

Sunday 21 June 2009

The Sir Walter Tyrell, Brook

Me and the lovely Lisa went to the New Forest for her unbirthday celebrations this weekend
(apparently having a January birthday is a bit rubbish so another celebration is needed when there's some sun).

After my beer self sufficiency week it was time to hit the pubs again. The first one we hit as the Sir Walter Tyrell, named after the knight who killed King William Rufus in a hunting 'accident' nearby. It seems the king was so unpopular no one really cared that much when he died. The fact the only memorial, the Rufus stone, marks the spot where the tree which the arrow supposedly ricocheted off into the king stood, speaks volumes. They didn't bother marking the spot where the king died, and in fact they left his body where it fell until a local charcoal burner loaded it into a cart and took it to Winchester Cathedral. 

The pub named after the regicide was a big bog standard chain pub, which was pleasant enough, though the beer wasn't up to scratch. We had Sharp's Doombar, a beer I'm usually very fond of, but it was as flat as a pancake here. Even more disturbingly the last time I had a Doombar, at the Blackfriars in London, it was also flat. I hope Sharp's aren't going downhill. We only stayed for one there.

The Green Dragon, Cadnam

Next stop on the New Forest trip was the Green Dragon, a nice looking thatched pub.

The lovely Lisa had a Ringwood best and I had a Summer Lightning. Both were in fine condition so we stayed for another here. Being out in the sticks they were shutting down for the afternoon so we left it at that, though it's probably for the best as we had a nap when we got back to the tent anyway.

The Royal Oak, Fritham

Our evening's entertainment was at the Royal Oak in Fritham. Another old thatched pub, they even had beer served from firkins stillaged behind the bar. None were particularly exciting, though I had to have a pint of Wadsworth 6X are it was a wooden firkin. At the brewery I used to work at they had a few of these, and they were a right pain in the arse, but they do look the part so I couldn't resist.

The Fox and Hounds, Lyndhurst

On Saturday we went to Lyndhurst. Unfortunately it seemed everyone else in Hampshire had also decided to go there so it was a bit busy. When we'd finally got parked we wandered past the constantly crawling streams of traffic checking out the pubs: two were Greene King and One was Enterprise Inns so nothing inspiring. I did get beeped and waved by an old sparring partner* from my Thai boxing club, as we wandered though. I guess there were that many people crawling by I was bound to pass someone I knew.

We went for the Fox and Hounds where we had more Ringwood beers and some typical pub food.

Then it was back for another afternoon nap. Sadly this wasn't enough to revive the lovely Lisa for another evening's beer research so we decided to bog off back home. Oh well, it did mean I got to indulge the craving that had built up for seeing some quality violence by watching the latest UFC.

* Though I say 'sparring partner' it would probably be more accurate to say he regularly used me as a punch bag. Muay thai online still have him down as the number one heavy weight in Britain, though he's fought more to K1 kickboxing rules and has tried his hand at mixed martial arts recently.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Lager that I like

Having just said I don't like lager I've now found one that I like. My brother in law brought me back a selection of beers from Dorset. Amongst the beers is a lager with the most bizarre blurb I've seen on a beer bottle for a long time: "Chesil is a melt in the mouth straw blond pilsner style real ale with a refreshing citrus and floral aroma and taste." You don't need to be a beer nerd to see that there's something odd about a beer branded as a "pilsner style real ale". But ignorant garbage on the label aside I'm sure I'm going to like it because it was free and free beer tastes better!

Wednesday 17 June 2009

My Guilty Summer secret

I've been entertained to see my fellow beer blogger Mark 'fess up about his sometime need for a keg lager and the reaction that has ensued. I very rarely have lager unless nothing else is available (though I must admit I'll drink far worse if need be). I just don't like the stuff as much as ales.

A predominant flavour component of lagers is Dimethyl Sulphide (DMS) which has a vegetable like flavour which I'm not fond of in beer. It's quite noticeable on first sniff and the taste stays throughout the pint. No, the fruity esters found in ales are much more my thing.

But I do get up to something in the Summer which will surely count against me in the beer nerdery stakes. I add ice to beer. If it's a hot day and I've got nothing in the fridge sticking an ice cube in my pint makes it far more refreshing and drinkable. For some reason there are people out there who actually believe the John Major style twaddle about warm beer but not me. If I'm hot I want something cool to drink and if that means sticking ice in it so be it. Beer is, after all, for enjoying. 

OK, that might be going a bit far


Monday 15 June 2009

Being self sufficient in beer

Last week I went totally self sufficient in beer. Every drop I drank was made by my own fair hands and though I say it myself they were pretty damn good.

For my weekday drinking I had on draught my Tribute tribute, a pale hoppy beer with a deliciously rich body from the 15% Munich malt in the grist. I may have been a bit heavy handed with the hops in this one compared to the St Austell beer that inspired it but I'm very pleased with how it turned out.

And at the weekend I went on a climbing trip to Langdale so I took a selection of bottles. Arriving at my mountaineering club's hut at about 10pm on Friday I had wanted something strong to help me unwind fast. I started on my American IPA, which has the strength and the bitterness I wanted but is a bit lacking in the aroma I would have liked. More dry hopping next time. Then it was on to my double IPA, which certainly did the job that was intended but is the only real disappointment in my currently selection. There's a slight cheesy taste to it which I'm sure came from old oxidised hops. To get some of the hop varieties I wanted for this brew I had to use mail order and as I'm so used to using vacuum packed hops from my local home brew shop I didn't bother to check them before use. Oh well, I've learned a lesson there.

Then on Saturday after getting down from the crag at seven, I started on a bottle of my Tribute tribute, I don't think it was quite as good as the draught as the carbonation seemed a little low. For adding condition I've recently switched from adding the vague half a teaspoon of sugar to adding a measured about of sugar syrup to bottles and I may have had the dose a little low. Then went on to my porter which really was very good. I don't drink dark beer that often but I could easily drink more of this.

A bottle of my premium bitter followed. I'm still tinkering with the recipe for this and it's perhaps gone a little darker than I want in this version. Also due to playing around with parti-gyling it came out stronger than I'd planned, though that's not entirely a bad thing.

Next I moved on to my Chai beer. I once heard the eminent malting expert and prison visitor Geoff Palmer give a talk where he railed against 'Buckie', the Scottish alkies favourite, because as well as the alcohol it contains caffeine which means you feel less drunk and so drink more. As I was starting to flag by this point the Chai beer containing a shot of caffeine to go with my alcohol was just what I needed.

Suitably revived I had a pause in my drinking until it was time for my night cap stout. Strong and dark and luscious I could easily drink lots of this except I find strong dark beers lack drinkability. Not a problem at this stage of the evening though as I think I'd had quite enough and there was more climbing to be done the next day.

So, all week I'd managed to keep myself supplied with a range of quality beers, 6 out of 7of them as good as anything I could buy. It was fun having enough supplies that I could drink only my own beer, though with the huge range of quality beers and pubs out there I'm not going to stick to only my own stuff for long. And it's maybe not the sort of thing I should be encouraging thought, as I hope to return to professional brewing!

The climbing for the weekend went well to but if you're only here for the beer stop reading at this point.

The weather on Saturday was slightly wet so we set off for a hike to Pavey Ark with the plan of doing some scrambling. We started on Crescent Climb, a route which is on the borderline between scrambling and roped climbing. Perhaps we should have scrambled the first pitch as it was 47m long and we had a 45m rope! It was an easy climb at this stage and some alpine style simultaneous climbing got us both safely to the belay. The next pitch was a traverse which looked a bit more intimidating, particularly as a lamb cartwheeled down the crag to its death across the route of our climb. A sheep landing on your head could well impair your ability to stay on the rock face so we were glad of the safety of a rope. We got across OK without any ovine bombardment and the rest of the climb was straight forward. At this point I hoped to continue to the summit on the excellent (and easy) scramble Jack's Rake.

Unfortunately for me my climbing partner, Bonnie, had enjoyed Crescent Climb so much she wanted to continue up another classic traditional climb Gwynne's Chimney. To me seeing the words 'classic, 'traditional' and 'chimney' all in the same sentence spells bloody awkward. And so it proved to be. This was a grade harder than Crescent Climb so we had definitely moved out of scrambling into roped climbing territory. Unfortunately for me I couldn't move out of my walking boots and into my climbing shoes as I didn't have them with me. I had the first lead and sure enough struggling up a narrow chimney in my walking boots with a ruck sack on my back was a real struggle. Much to my delight we also had only a handful of nuts and a few slings for protection. My relief on reaching the belay was to be short lived though as I was immediately assailed by the stench of ammonia. Looking around I could see the niche I'd moved into was covering in sheep shit, piss and wool. I think a sheep must have been trapped there for a long time. I was too as I had to belay up Bonnie, and then belay her as she climbed the next pitch. The rest of the climb was easy with no sheep related problems.

On Sunday the weather was much better so we went to Raven's Crag, Walthwaite for a quick climb before going home. We chose Walthwaite Gully (VS 4b, 4c for those that know their climbing grades). The top pitch had an excellent looking flake to climb which I'd seen on a previous visit so I'd been keen to do this one for a while. The first, and supposedly easier pitch stumped Bonnie shortly after leaving the ground so she backed off and I had a go. It took a lot of figuring out but eventually I realised the only thing holding me back was my reluctance to leave the security of the ground. You can't really be a climber if you don't want to leave the ground so after briefly considering if it was time for me to give up climbing, a not uncommon occurrence for me mid-climb, I went for it. I managed to lose some skin in the battle upwards but reached the belay ledge soon after. The top, apparently technically harder, pitch went quite easily and the climbing was every bit as good as I'd hoped. It just shows that climbing grades can be quite subjective. But one thing I've always found holds true is that beer tastes better after a hard day's climbing.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Beer flavoured ice cream anyone?

There's a few interesting tit-bits in the this month's Brewer and Distiller International:

Meantime brewery have brought out some beer flavoured ice creams using coffee porter, chocolate beer and raspberry wheat beer. I suspect it doesn't taste much different to normal ice cream but I'll have to give it a go. I'm heading to the Greenwich Beer and Jazz festival next month so maybe I'll visit the Meantime pub again whilst I'm in the area.

Wells and Young's are bringing out a tall cask beer font to compete with the one Greene King launched recently.

It looks like cask beer is going to be more eye catching in future but I hope designer fonts don't discourage pubs from stocking guest beers.

And one which will I'm sure keep many CAMRA members happy is the news that Thwaites are bringing out a bottle conditioned version of the Nutty Black mild.

There's also an article about the new bottling line my old boss Steve Brooks has had installed at but I suspect I would bore even my fellow beer nerds if I started wittering on about that. 


Tuesday 9 June 2009

Desert Island Beer #2 - Harvey's XX mild

Harvey's Brewery

This one was a bit of a surprise to me.
I'm not normally one for drinking mild. Occasionally I'll have some at beer festivals if I'm wanting to start slowly but generally I think milds are weak, sweet and dark and that's about it.

Harvey's mild however is one of those beers that on a memorable occasion was just so good that it's got a permanent place on my desert island beers list. It may help that the memorable occasion was in the sampling room at the brewery. Harvey's Brewery is a magnificent Victorian tower brewery, known to the locals as Lewes Cathedral. Tours are usually conducted by the head brewer himself, Miles Jenner. You can see him in action by following a link from an earlier post I made.

After most brewery tours you get an hour's free drinking and it's my Standard Operating Procedure to start on the weakest beer before working my way up through the rest to the strongest and then guzzling as much of that as I can before being booted out. As per the SOP this time I started on the mild, which was very nice, before working up though Pale Ale, Best and Old Ale to Armada Ale. All good beers but I couldn't get away from the hard to believe fact that the mild was simply outstanding. So the Armada was seen off after only a half and it was back to the mild for the rest of the session. It was weak, sweet and dark ... and delicious.

I have had it since and it's never been as good, but I guess that's cask beer for you, the variation in consistency may mean that sometimes you get served vinegar but it also means sometimes you get served nectar. 

Sunday 7 June 2009

Beers in Borough and beyond

On Saturday I went back up to London to meet a mate, and of course get in some beers whilst I was there.

Borough Market

I cunningly arranged it so the first stop would be Borough Market so I could get some supplies from Utobeer. They have a large selection but it's not the most user friendly place. Their website is pretty hopeless so you can't plan what you want in advance, and most of the beers don't have prices on so you don't know how much you're spending until you get to the till. Back when Safeway's was the place to shop for exciting beers I once ended up buying two bottles of Dogfish head world wide stout at £7 because the price wasn't on display. OK, I had to have that beer but I'd probably only have bought one bottle if I'd known how much it cost! I ended up buying five bottles from Utobeer and it cost about £12.50, so around £2.50 a bottle. Pricey, particularly as they were 330ml bottles, but acceptable for a beer nerd like myself. They probably wouldn't let them sell anything cheaper in borough market anyway. Despite the name you don't get people shouting "bananas a pahnd a pahnd" here, it's all luxury food stalls.

The Market Porter

Whilst I'd been at Utobeer the lovely Lisa and my mates had gone straight to the Market Porter, a large pub with a large beer range. Lisa had made an excellent choice and got me a pint of Acorn Brewery's Quantum. This was a pale hoppy beer which went down a treat. We decided to stay for another here and off went Dan with an order for more of the same. I was a bit miffed when I went to help him carry the beers back to see that Thornbrige's Lord Marples was on. Thornbridge are an exciting brewery and I hadn't tried this one before. The beer gods were with me though as the Quantum must have reached the end of the barrel as it had gone very murky. It was swiftly sent back and I got to have a Lord Marples, a brown bitter tasting of chocolate malt, after all.

We had a slight detour before the next pub as from where we'd been in the Market Porter we could see a cheese shop where free samples were being given away. The free samples worked too as Dan bought twenty quids worth of cheese.

Next pub was the George, a lovely looking historic coaching inn. Sadly the beers were Greene King so we didn't stay for long. I had a 4% George Inn ale which tasted pretty like most other Greene King ales. I've a strong suspicion that Greene King high gravity brew, making a strong beer for later dilution, as they have a selection of very similar tasting beers across a range of strengths.

The George Inn

After that we went to another favourite of ours: the Blackfriar. We were passed by a weird pedal powered bus on the way there. 

A weird pedal powered bus

To my regret I didn't go for the Timothy Taylor's Landlord (it was my downfall last time) but had a rather boring Sharp's Doombar. The excellent meat platter soon took my mind off the dull beer though and before long it was time to move on again.

Lisa getting the beers in in the Blackfriar

Despite the excellent research the lovely Lisa had done in selecting pubs we decided to use psychogeography to find the next one and just have a wander. We passed some gates decorated with what looked like English nationalist sheep with halos. It's beyond my understanding.

Englands St Sheep?

Soon after it seemed the beer gods were still smiling (or was it St Sheep?) as we found ourselves outside the Devereux. This is a pub Lisa had selected for our last weekday pub crawl but we never managed to get that far. It's normally shut at the weekend but the beer gods had obviously decreed that a party would be held there on Saturday so it was open when we arrived. The beer range was a bit dull so I had an Adnam's Broadside. It's a was a bit strong for this stage of the evening really but it's a lovely dark beer with plenty of hops and I couldn't resist. The  pub was nice too, with wonky glass in the windows to match our wonky brains. 

Wonky windows

Things start getting a little hazy after that. We went to somewhere to get some food but it was full so we went somewhere else where we had some Spanish food and San Miguel. Neither were particularly memorable which is probably for the best. Then it was time to stagger back and pour ourselves home.

Somewhere else

The hangover was particularly stinking this morning, I blame it on the lager.

Thursday 4 June 2009

Are Brewdog losing it?

The normally excellent Brewdog have teamed up with lads mag Front to make possibly the worlds tackiest beer. A posting briefly appeared on their website last night announcing the launch of FRONT brew.

You'd have to be a tit to drink this?

The innovative range of beers Brewdog make and their ability to market them successfully have been a very welcome addition to British brewing but they seem to have lost it with this one.

You can read about it on the Front magazine webiste here.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

CAMRA says no!

No extraneous CO2ery here!

Two months ago I posted about what I thought could be the first cracks in CAMRA's long held opposition to artificially adding CO2 to beer.

A motion was being put to the CAMRA AGM proposing that they drop their rejection of cask breathers, the mildest way of adding 'extraneous CO2' to beer as it has no discern able effect on flavour whilst greatly increasing the shelf life.

The CAMRA stalwarts were having none of it however and the brief report in What's Brewing simply says motion was defeated.

Oh well. For my own beers I take a pragmatic position and use extraneous CO2 when I need to but don't when I don't need to. As the late Bruce Lee put it: 'Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless'. Though admittedly he probably wasn't talking about CO2 at the time.

Monday 1 June 2009

Hey baby, look at the size of my pint

The depressingly common tactic of using pseudo-scientific twaddle in advertising is now being used by a pub chain.

I'm sure there is something to body language but the simplified garbage the BBC have reported is very unconvincing. Well, unless the sight of blokes trying to attract women by tossing off their beer bottles is in fact a common occurrence in pubs. The 'news item' can be read here.