Monday 31 August 2009

Desert Island Beer #4 - Fuller's IPA

I've heard that as far as London ale drinkers go they're either Fuller's or Young's fans. The two breweries products are quite distinctive and without a doubt I prefer Fuller's so at least one of their beers has to be with me on my desert island.  Finding Fuller's IPA is sadly a rare occurrence as it's a cracking pint. It's paler than most Fuller's beers, and has plenty of hops, but is still unmistakeably Fuller's. At 4.8% ABV it nicely fills the gap between Pride and ESB and saves me from the dilemma of trying to choose between them or pick both for my desert island selection.

I've only been fortunate enough to drink it on a few occasions but have been mightily impressed each time. Once when it was free at a Fuller's pub opening do (and as we all know free beer tastes better), and once when I was sitting in the sun with the lovely Lisa on a bank holiday weekend. It was nectar.

It heard through the Fuller's Fine Ale Club that it's the seasonal beer for September so myself and the lovely Lisa will be doing our best to visit Fuller's pubs serving it for research purposes, to see if it does indeed deserve to be picked before its better known brothers. The research should be starting on Saturday.

Friday 28 August 2009

Sainsbury's Beer Competition

Sainsbury's Beer Competition has finally started. I first got wind of this when a post on Brewdog's blog said they'd got three beers in the final. The thought of paying supermarket prices, not Utobeer prices, for the Brewdog beers certainly got me excited so I've been looking forlornly at the normal range of beer in my local Sainsbury's, uninspired by the usual selection.

Fortunately a post over at Jim's Beer Kit alerted me that it had finally kicked off so when my local branch was still the the same old, same old I hot footed it down to a bigger branch. There in the first aisle I saw was a fine selection of beers, and on a four for the price of three offer!

I stocked up on the Brewdog beers, but also took the opportunity to get plenty of supplies of the others. I'm currently working my way through them with the assistance of the lovely Lisa.

Here's some tasting notes for the Brewdog beers:

Dogma, the beer which was once the infamous Speedball, was very sweet tasting from having honey in it. I don't actually remember the original having honey in so maybe the recipe has been tweaked. I can't say I noticed the kola nut and guarana but then I wouldn't know what they taste like anyway. I do like to see experimentation in beer but this one wasn't really to my taste.

Chaos Theory is a amber coloured IPA and I much preferred it to Dogma, plenty of hops and a touch of darker malts to give it a bit of body. Thumbs up for this one.

Hardcore IPA has definitely been tweaked apparently they couldn't get all the hops they wanted when they first brewed it. It now has a fantastic aroma, much better than the original, and no diacetyl in the taste which some bottles I had suffered from. I'd prefer something this strong to have a bit more body though, all pale malt and what must be a highly attenuating yeast leave this a bit thin.

And one from the Williams brothers: The birds and bees. I was a bit wary of this one as amongst some of my favourite hops (Styrian goldings and Cascade) it also lists elder flowers as an ingredient. I'm sure one of Badgers beers has elder flower in and it's not to my taste. I needn't have worried though as this one is a good, refreshing Summer beer. Lets just hope we get a bit more Summer!

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Should I stay or should I go?

One of my mates is organising a pub crawl to tick some Good Beer Guide pubs. I'd have to take a day off work and after the pounding my liver has taken recently I'm not sure I could cope. Am I being a wuss?

Here's the plan:

0900 breakfast cafe centrale woking

1000 train to southampton

1100 ticking (dolphin, richmond inn, kolebka, guide dog)

1300 (tbc) taxi journey

1305 ticking (park inn, wellington arms, waterloo arms, giddy bridge*, cricketers arms, south western arms)

1800 (tbc) train

1830 possible ticking stop (winchester)

2100 fight/puke outside kebab shop (woking)

*may be wetherspoons pub and therefore ticking of establishment is optional.

I'll put up a poll so you can vote.

Monday 24 August 2009

Plastic pint glasses raise their ugly heads


Article here.

Even worse than their usual authoritarian style of wanting to ban everything, they now want to make plastic skiffs 'cool'. Makes me sick, why can't they just bog off and leave us alone. 

Sunday 23 August 2009

Back in the lake district

On Thursday I went up to the lake district again this time for a friends wedding, so no rock based heroics. There was some heroic drinking though, or at least it felt like it as there were some heroically strong hangovers.  

Our first stop as usual was the Watermill at Ings.

It now has a banner proudly proclaiming it's Cumbria CAMRA pub of the year, a well deserved victory. They had at least eight beer on draught, mostly brewed by themselves. I had a Bit'er Ruff (4.1% ABV) a pale brown best bitter, which was nicely balanced and the lovely Lisa got the Collie Wobbles (3.7% ABV) a refreshing golden ale. The beers came in lined glasses so we got more for our money too (though I must admit I've never understood why CAMRA campaign for lined glasses - wouldn't pubs just put the beer prices up if they were forced to have them? ).

 On Friday we went to the Royal Oak in Braithwaite for a meal with our mates and various other wedding guests. As we were getting there early I had the cunning plan of sticking to the 3.5% ABV Jennings Bitter so I wouldn't feel too rough the next day. This worked well until the suggestion that as the forth pint would be our last we should switch to the 5.1% ABV Sneck Lifter. With the sparkler removed this is an excellent strong dark beer with more than a hint of chocolate to it. When the condition has been knocked out of it and air forced into it's obviously blander though. We enjoyed it so much we decided we'd have another absolutely final beer. You can see where this is heading can't you? After the absolutely final beer we had the absolutely absolutely final beer. As I finished this before anyone else I was kindly given some more by a mate. Then we managed to drag ourselves off to where we were staying. The beer took its toll as the hangovers the next day were evil - the sort where you don't think you're going to die, you hope you're going to die so the pain will stop.

This didn't set us up well for the wedding but as all we had to do was sit at the back of the church we just about coped. The beer on for the evening was Keswick Thirst Run, a pale 4.2% beer with a citrussy hop taste. Unfortunately it seemed to be being served at room temperature so didn't have much condition with or without sparkler. I had a few pints over the course of the evening but got my pacing right this time, unlike one of the bride's sisters who got falling over drunk but still managed to cop off with one of the people working there. It's do enjoy it when people provide the entertainment like this. 

I was a bit washed out on Sunday morning but not suffering any pain. We had a quick stop at Booths to stock up from their excellent beer range and then it was back to civilisation.  

Sunday 16 August 2009

My first cask beer

I had my first cask beer this weekend.

I have of course had other people’s cask beer before, and as I used to work as a brewer I’ve even made other people’s cask beer before. But this was the first time I’ve put beer entirely made by me, to my own recipe, into cask.

My mate Ro wanted me to brew for his house warming party and reckoned he would need a firkin’s worth to keep the thirsty masses satisfied.

I was slightly apprehensive about this, as using a proper cask means there’s more things that can go wrong. My experience of working at a brewery wasn’t a great help as there they had a racking tank so finings were added in bulk and as the beer was cooled before fermentation was completed it wasn’t normally necessary to add priming sugar. I don’t have that degree of control in my home brew set up I asked for advice from a friend at the Cambridge Moonshine brewery, as I know they fine and prime each cask individually there.

His instructions were pretty straight forward so a week ago I filled, primed and fined the cask with beer I had in two plastic pressure barrels I was using as conditioning tanks. I took the cask round to my mates garage, where he had a tilting stillage set up, and left it to settle.

On Friday the moment of truth arrived and it was time to tap the cask. I gave Ro the honour, which was just as well as the beer was a little lively and he ended up wearing about a pint of it.

Unfortunately I seem to have set my phone to take small pictures, so the pictures in this post won't live up to the usual low picture quality on this blog.

Samples were poured from the cask and I was pleased to see the beer had turned out very well. It had good crisp hop flavour from the Styrian goldings, plenty of body from the malts used and lots of condition. In fact it was so good we had to have several samples.

On Saturday the beer wasn’t quite as good, I suspect our lack of a decent cellar (or cellarmanship!) let us down as the beer had lost a lot of condition and was a little bit flat and definitely sweeter. It still seemed to go down very well though, the cask was empty by the end of the night.

The recipe for the beer was:

Pale malt (Maris otter) 7.15 kg
Munich malt 1.2 kg
Wheat malt 0.35 kg
Cara malt 0.15 kg
Choc malt 0.15 kg

Fuggles at start 80g
Styrian Goldings 10min from end 40g
Styrian Goldings steeped when cooling 40g
Styrian Goldings dry in CTs 40g

Yeast: Hop back

O.g. 1.043
ABV 4.3%
Volume 46 l

Wednesday 12 August 2009

The best beer in the world*,

Tribute, has just got better.

The latest issue of Brewer and Distiller International has the news that the new bottling line St. Austell brewery were putting in when myself and the lovely Lisa visited means bottled Tribute will now be sterile filtered instead of pasteurised. 

It's an excellent beer on draught but has been a bit of a disappointment in the bottle so we're looking forward to the new version. 

*In a Tenacious D kind of way.

Monday 10 August 2009

The White Horse, Parsons Green

I went up to London at the weekend, not to get to the GBBF, but to see a mate. The lovely Lisa had spotted many pubs were making an effort with their ales to coincide with the GBBF though, and we managed to take advantage of this.

The fact that this was the only weekend the Old Mitre is open tempted us, but as our friend lives in walking distance of the White Horse in Parsons Green that made more sense.

The pub was packed out when we got there but they had plenty of bar staff so it didn’t take long to get served. Popularly known as the Sloney Pony most of the clientele did look posher than what you find in your average boozer. Apart from the woman who’d dressed up as a Thai prostitute that is. Or so my friends who’ve been to Thailand tell me, my interest in Thailand only goes as far as the boxing of course. 

The pub has long had a reputation for serving good beer, even in the days when it was a Bass pub. Its particular claim to fame was that it employed a full time cellar man and I once had a trip with the Craft Brewing Association to visit the cellar. I can't say much more about that as we got to visit the bar too and they had a barley wine on draught. I've no doubt that I was briefly very knowledgeable about cellarmanship until my memory dissolved in alcohol though. 

There was a good range of beers on offer, tending towards the more unusual. Never having seen Fraoch heather ale on cask I had to give that a go and the lovely Lisa went for something herb flavoured from Thornbridge. Both tasted a bit funny, not 'funny ha ha' more 'that's funny this tastes a bit crap'. After that Lisa retreated to the safety of a pint of Harvey's bitter whilst I went to no hops to more than you could shake a stick at with a Dark Star Hophead Extra. 

The Hophead Extra was a cracker, very much in the American IPA style and not the sort of thing you often see on cask. It had huge taste of citrussy hops and more alcohol than it is sensible to drink by the pint.

I'm glad I had it as after that we moved on to a Spanish restaurant where the beer was nothing worth mentioning, so I won't.


Thursday 6 August 2009

Official beer styles?

Whilst trawling through the internet for something of interest (funny how being in work can be so like being out of work) I noticed a call for beer styles across Europe to be defined.

The Publican reports that the European Beer Consumers Union (EBCU - an international organisation CAMRA belongs to) has called for clearly defined beer styles to be used in judging beer competitions. Their chairman said: “Wine drinkers would not be tricked into believing that a Riesling was a Chablis, or a Burgundy a Rioja, so why should beer drinkers have the wool pulled over their eyes by clever marketing? What we are calling for is consistency and clarity for the beer drinker.”

Now as a beer drinker I do find it helpful if I have some idea what a beer will be like before I buy it but I can't say I'm taken with this idea. I know different categories are needed for competitions but trying to pin down something as continuously variable as beer just doesn't work.

Over in the US the Beer Judge Certification Program lays down a range of strict style parameters for a wide range of beers. But even a cursory look by a beer nerd like myself shows it's riddled with errors (my particular favourite is their claim that Goose Island IPA is an English style IPA).

If the EBCU are worried about beer drinkers being mislead about the beer they're drinking why don't they campaign for the ridiculous exemption alcoholic beverages have from listing ingredients to be removed? If I could see what makes up the beer I'm drinking along with the ABV I'd have a much better idea of what I'm drinking. And as CAMRA already certify some beers as 'real ale in a bottle' why don't they make a start by insisting more information is provided on the beer lable apart from the fact it contains yeast. If they went even further and asked for the types of malt and hops used to be listed (as Mikkeller do already) it would be even better.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

A post about wine

Whilst it seems every other online beer nerd is at the Great British Beer Festival I'm going to post about wine.

Aside from an occasional glass of fizzy the only wine I normally drink comes with the prefix 'barley'. But on the way back from Cornwall I couldn't miss the chance to pop into an establishment fondly thought of by many a Glaswegian alcoholic: Buckfast Abbey, the home of 'Buckie' tonic wine. 

It's a picturesque looking place. I'm sure it must help the monks contemplate the glory of god. Well, when they're not doing his work producing a steady supply of 'Buckie' for Glaswegian winos that is. 

I picked up a small bottle but I can't tell you what it tastes like as I haven't managed to bring myself to drink it yet. Still, it's something to look forward to. Or should that be 'hide at the back of the cupboard in case of emergencies'?

Sunday 2 August 2009

St Austell Brewery, Cornwall.

I'm a fan of St Austell, and as even my humolphobic brother has been round the brewery, a tour was a must on my Cornwall trip.

The tour guide had a reasonable stab at explaining what was going on but clearly had a few gaps in her brewing knowledge. Never mind though, it was a nice old brewery.

Here's the some sacks of malt.

And here's the malt mill. These things seem to last forever as every old brewery I've been round has an antique mill and St Austell was no exception. 

That's the top of the mash tun. It was in use at the time. They brew twice a day here, 150 barrels at at time.

This was an old mash tun now used for holding hops for the wort to be run through.

Here's the shiny new copper, there was a whirlpool outside as well where the wort is separated from the hop debris and trub.

There were a quite a few shapes of fermenters crammed in the brewery but I thought this one gave the best picture.

Firkins waiting to be filled.

And this one's just been filled.

With CAMRA membership the tour was a fiver (seven quid without), and you got a taste of all their beer and two free halves at the end. We went for the beers we hadn't had before so tried their mild, Black Prince, and bitter, Tinners. They were OK but nothing special. We were starting to flag by this point of the holiday so we left it at that.

Despite our best efforts to be abstemious when we got to the bus station we saw we'd have a 50 minute wait so we were forced to go back into town and pop into the Seven Stars.

This is the original St Austell pub, but it looks a bit run down now. And it didn't have Tribute on so it had to be a pint of Tinners while we whiled away our wait.