Wednesday 29 July 2009

The Blue Anchor, Helston, Cornwall

I’ve wanted to go to this pub for years.
An old thatched pub, at one point it was one of only five remaining brew pubs in Britain, a left over from the days when most pubs brewed their own beer. And if that wasn’t enough it’s also been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide.

Having also associated Helston with the Blue Anchor I was slightly surprised on arrival to see that the town sign fails to mention the pub, instead proudly proclaiming that Helston is home of the Furry Dance. I’d never heard of this but it sounded reminiscent of a Wicker Man style pagan fertility ritual. I don’t know what the locals get up to in deepest Cornwall but I thought if they start building a big bonfire I’m out of here.

The pub was one of those odd mid-terraced thatched buildings, where the surrounding buildings have tiles. Inside it was all you could hope for in an old pub: two small rooms on either side of the bar, a large covered smoking area outside and further rooms along the side. We managed to get some rocking chairs beside the fire place which I’m sure would be prime spots in Winter.

The beers were nothing special, all being a bit sweet and under-hopped for my taste. This worked best in the strongest beer: Spingo Special (6.6% ABV). It’s dangerous territory knocking back things this strong by the pint, and having already had the Spingo IPA and Middle before I got to this one I took the rare step of ordering a half. After already having a pint of it that is, you don’t want to go too far with this moderation malarkey.

I declined getting any of the beers in bottles, though they were all available. I’ve had Spingo Special in bottle twice before with mixed results. One time it was horrible infected and the other it was delicious. The higher carbonation of bottle conditioned beers compared to cask really offset the sweetness making an excellent strong ale. But as I still had plenty of beers from Sharp’s in the car I didn’t fancy taking a gamble this time.


Sunday 26 July 2009

Holiday in Cornwall

Me and the lovely Lisa had an excellent holiday in Cornwall the other week. It was a great success, four breweries and ten pubs being visited. As I'm well behind on my internet beer nerdery I'll only be putting up the edited highlights on the blog.

Sharp’s Brewery, Rock, Cornwall

We popped into the brewery shop at Sharp’s in Rock. We got a mixed case of their more normal beers, and some more exotic offerings in small and overpriced bottles. Four pounds for 330ml of beer is pretty steep even if the beer is strong. It’s not easy being a beer nerd.

The case contained Doom Bar, Eden Ale and Atlantic IPA kegged in clear glass bottles and Single Brew Reserve 2008 and Special bottle conditioned in brown bottles.

I like Sharp’s and the first three were very drinkable, if a little sweet and lacking in aroma. As it should be the IPA was the most bitter and my favourite out of them. The bottle conditioned beers were a bit more distinctive, the Single Brew Reserve at 4.5% ABV was hardly one for laying down in the cellar but was a nice drop and the Special at 5% the best of the bunch.

That some of the bottles are clear and some are brown has made me a bit suspicious. As I’ve posted before clear bottles can cause real problems for beer and Sharp’s will be well aware of this. Lightstrike can be avoided by putting beer in brown bottles or using isomerised hop extracts instead of hops when making the beer. As Sharp’s boast of being a modern brewery I’m a bit suspicious that the main brands are brewed using hop extracts and only the smaller run beers get near actual hops. I’ll be doing some research on this soon so watch this space.

We also picked up a bottle of Chalky's bark (4.5% ABV) which is mildly flavoured with ginger. It was drinkable but it wasn’t a patch on Daleside’s Morocco Ale where the ginger helps make a delicious dark brew. The fennel flavoured Chalky's bite (6.8% ABV) really didn’t do it for me though so in this case the bark is better than the bite.

St Enoch’s double (8.5% ABV) was one of the overpriced and undersized beers. Brewed in the style of a Belgian double it was really very good. It had a warming alcoholic taste but as it was brewed with sugar it didn’t have the thick cloying texture common in British strong beers. Definitely worth trying, though at that price not worth drinking regularly.

The other beer we got was Massive Ale at 10% ABV. That’s not been drunk yet so you’ll have to wait.

The Smuggler's Den Inn, Cubert, Cornwall

The Smuggler's Den Inn was definitely the pub of the trip. The lovely Lisa had used her excellent research planning abilities to pick a campsite that had three Good Beer Guide pubs within walking distance. The Smuggler's Den Inn was the best of the bunch. We first visited on a Sunday and they had bowls of free roast potatoes on the bar to graze on - how classy is that. A good selection of Cornish beers was on offer to so we could do a direct comparison of St Austell Tribute and Sharp's Doombar. All very pleasant but Tribute was the clear winner. Tribute is definitely a favourite of ours and the Doombar just seemed a bit bland in comparison.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Greenwich beer and jazz festival

Me and the lovely Lisa went to Greenwich beer and Jazz festival today. We got the boat from Waterloo as you get much better views than you do on the tube.

You realise that some of the buildings are designed to be seen from the river.

And you get to see sights you wouldn't normally.

If you look closely you'll see that this sail boat is in fact a fake - that's right there are no sails. In fact it was motoring along like everything else.

Surprisingly enough beer festivals are quite quiet on Thursday afternoons.

So we could get on with important beer research.

The beer range didn't seem as good as last year. There seemed to be fewer breweries on offer this time. Last year we went on Saturday, so many of the beers we'd hoped to try had sold out anyway (and the lovely Lisa missed out on Sarah Hughe's Dark Ruby mild yet again!), although we did discover the delights of the excellent West Berkshire brewery though and Twickenham Original and York Guzzler were also on top form.

This year only Wolf's Lavender Honey, a very nice pale hoppy and refreshing beer stood out. It didn't taste of either lavender or honey but that was in its favour. The Nelson Brewery and Meantime had their own bars but the beers didn't seem up to much. Commendations go to Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose (smooth and drinkable with a taste of chocolate malt and plenty of hops) and Oak Leaf Nuptu' ale (floral hop taste) but otherwise the beers we tried were OK but nothing special.

The fact that this year there were no tasting notes in the programme may have hampered our efforts to find beers we liked, as could the fact we were there in the afternoon and we're heading off on holiday tomorrow so we were strictly limiting our intake less than our body weight.

On the plus side the Jazz wasn't offensive.

Some people even thought it was nice

Though something was making Captain Cook scowl.

It's a good festival in a great venue and even though we thought the beers were mostly pleasant, not outstanding I'm sure we'll be back next year.

Is there an economist in the house?

Economics was never my strong point. In fact as far as I'm concerned the sooner that money is abolished the better.

But even I've noticed some strange things going on in the beer trade.

According to just about everyone pubs are closing at an incredible rate yet at the same time SIBA and CAMRA keep insisting that microbreweries are showing continuous growth.

Then I saw that pub closing statistics don't mention that many pubs that close are reopened, and programmes appear on the telly about microbreweries on the edge of bankruptcy.

I'm sure this is a hard time for pubs, I've seen some round my way shut. I'd also heard a few bits of gossip about the problems Itchen Valley brewery were having before the programme went out. It looks to me like pub closures and microbrewery growth are both being talked up.

Answers on an e-post card please if anyone knows what's really going on.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Death to false protafloc! Manowar didn't put it.

One of the things I learnt as a brewer when I went pro was the joys of protafloc. It's a type of copper fining available in tablet form. You add it towards the end of the boil and helps remove protein from the wort that could cause hazes in the finished beer. You chuck in around one table per barrel (18 gallons) and Bob's your uncle - the active ingredient Kappa carrageenan, a sulphated galactose polymer, forms complexes with proteins making a gel with settles out of the beer. 

Proper protfloc tablets

When I went back to home brewing I didn't want to go back to using Irish moss, a less refined and even worse, less fizzy, version. I was delighted to see that Brupaks make protafloc available to the home brewer. Well, I was until I opened the container. Instead of the nice tablets, or possibly a powder, there was a load of dried brown granules that look suspiciously like ground up Irish moss. This seemed a real step back to me, like going from using Alka-seltzer to using willow bark. And sure enough, my recent brews have tended towards having a slight haze.

Not what I was expecting

I was pleased therefore to see that Barleybottom sell actual proper proafloc tablets. I chucked one in my latest brew I made on Sunday and I eagerly await the results.

The instructions actually said use one tablet per five gallons but as far as I'm concerned as I was brewing nine gallons I was doing double the dose anyway so I left it at that.

Monday 6 July 2009

Mikkeller Stateside IPA, 7% ABV.

It totally passed me by that the 4th of July has a special significance for people in the US, otherwise I might have put on my Harvey's Tom Paine T-shirt and drunk some American beers. So to make up for it here's a review of a beer made in tribute to American brewers: Mikkeller Stateside IPA.

Mikkeller list the ingredients, a practice I thoroughly approve of:

Grist: Pilsner, Munich and Caramunich malt, Flaked oats.

Hops: Chinook, cascade and centennial.

I wasn't entirely taken with the first Mikkeller beer I tried but they're a very interesting brewery so I was looking forward to this one. The initial taste was fantastic. It had the strong, citrussy hop flavour you would expect from an American inspired IPA but the malts gave it a light but tasty caramel flavour which I've not found in American IPAs before. It worked really well and is definitely something I'll try in my own brewing.

Sadly on further drinking I was not quite so impressed. There seemed a sour note to it which made me think, 'hang on a minute, that's no ordinary caramel, that's diacetyl'. Some diacetyl can be acceptable in beer but this was too much. 

Excess diacetyl is removed from beer if it's given sufficiennt time to mature whilst in contact with the yeast, as the yeast reabsorbs the diacetyl and breaks it down. Mikkeller were close to a classic with this beer so hopefully they'll take a bit more time making it in future.

Saturday 4 July 2009

The Jolly Farmer, Worplesdon

After surviving the horrors of shopping at Argos it was definitely time for a beer. We called in at the Jolly Farmer in Worplesdon. It has a good beer garden and serves a great pint of pride, thought this time the lovely Lisa had a Seafarers. We were hoping that by some miracle they might have the excellent Fuller's IPA on but the manager had never even heard of it. He explained that this pub is now restricted to the core range of Fuller's beers and no longer gets the seasonals. Slightly oddly he also explained that he has to have Fuller's branded beers out numbering the Gale's so the HSB was going to be replaced by Discovery. It seems a bit bizarre to me as the beers all come from the same brewery but no doubt it makes sense to the Fuller's marketing department.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Buy Thomas Hardy Ale Now!

Having watched an entertaining contender style business program on Channel 4 about two breweries (Itchen Valley and O'Hanlons) an important message came across: STOCK UP ON THOMAS HARDY ALE NOW!

The classic Eldridge Pope beer that O'Hanlons revived was revealed as a loss maker the new boss wanted to get rid of. So if you want to try it the time is now!

I find it a bit sweet and syrupy myself but if you haven't already tried it its place in British brewing history means you really should while you can. The last bottle I had I used in a Birra misu but being used in cooking isn't really an ideal fate for beer.


Last night I tried out a drink I've been meaning to have for some time: Pedirodg.

First take a bottle of Marston's Pedigree.

Then take a bottle of Owd Rodger.

Find a big glass and pour them in.

Bingo! The Pedirodg.

This is a combination I heard about when chatting to someone who used to work for Marston's. I'd said that I didn't think British brewers did strong beers too well as they always tended to get syrupy as they got stronger. He said the practice at Marston's was to mix Pedigree and Owd Rodger to make the Pedirodg.

I have to say it was better than either of the beers individually. The Pedigree was pretty bland apart from the sulphurousness of the Burton snatch and the Owd Rodger was too sweet and syrupy. When mixed together they made a strong dark beer of 6.3% ABV that certainly did the trick when drunk in litre at a time.

I wasn't actually as good as similar strength dark beers like Adnam's Broadside or Greene King Strong Suffolk but it was interesting all the same.

Next I need to try the London Pride and Golden Pride mix that I heard about from someone at Fullers ...