Tuesday 28 December 2010

What's in Ned's head?

For me Christmas is a time for drinking copious quantities of beer, washed down with more beer and followed by beer chasers. What makes it different from a weekend is that you get to stuff your face with huge amounts of food and you get pressies too.

The drinking kicked off at the Ship in Ripley on Christmas eve. They had four beers on: Abbot which is too strong, Courage best which is too rubbish, some filth from the unrighteous brewery I used to work for which I wouldn't touch with a barge pole and Fuller's London Pride. I went for the Pride and fortunately it was on form as I had quite a few.

As the evening progressed the lovely Lisa took to building a scale model of the lake district out of sweet wrappers, such is the power of beer. Bonus points if you can name the valley on the top left.

Extensive supplies were in stock for Christmas day. Not quite up to Drinkalongwithronathon standards, but suffice to say that there was no danger of running short.

I'm going to make a change from the normal drivel I post by not waffling on about what I drank. No, I'm going to post about one of the presents the lovely Lisa got me: 'What's in Ned's head?', a relatively simple game where you rummage inside a model of Ned's head to see which of a variety of revolting object you can pull out.

For some reason I fail to understand this game seemed to cause enormous delight to everyone except me. They must be easily amused.

Monday 27 December 2010

The Golden Pint Awards 2010 - nominations from me and the lovely Lisa

Here's the Golden Pint Award nominations from myself and the lovely Lisa. Though it must be said that at this time of year the lovely Lisa turns to the dark side and doesn't drink many golden pints.

Best UK Draught Beer: Timothy Taylor's Landlord
Best UK Bottled Beer: Young's Special London Ale. Which makes reports it's gone a bit shit very worrying indeed.
Best Overseas Draught Beer: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Brooklyn Chocolate Stout
Best Overall Beer: Timothy Taylor's Landlord
Best Pumpclip or Label: I should really go with the choice of SIBA but I liked DB Number 1
Best UK Brewery: Timothy Taylor's
Best Overseas Brewery: Goose Island
Pub/Bar of the Year: Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater
Beer Festival of the Year: Wandsworth Common
Supermarket of the Year: Booths
Independent Retailer of the Year: The Homebrew Shop
Online Retailer of the Year: Beers of Europe
Best Beer Book or Magazine: Amber gold and black by Martyn Cornell
Best Beer Blog or Website: Oh Good Ale
Best Beer Twitterer: I've only really dipped my toe in the water with twitter but I've liked the tweets from FullersJohn
Best Brewery Online: - dunno
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: A pint of whatever cask beer I'm drinking with cheese and onion crisps.
In 2011 I’d Most Like To…finish all the brews I have planned with a various yeast strains and species
Best free piss up: IBD beer and pie night

The lovely Lisa:
Best UK Draught Beer: Loweswater Grasmore
Best UK Bottled Beer: Saltaire Triple Chocaholic
Best Overseas Draught Beer: A dark German wheat beer , can't remember the name though
Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Best Overall Beer: Loweswater Grasmore
Best Pumpclip or Label: Old Dairy Brewery Copper Top
Best UK Brewery: Old Dairy Brewery
Best Overseas Brewery: Sierra Nevada
Pub/Bar of the Year: City - Cask Pub and Kitchen; Country - Kirskstile Inn, Loweswater
Beer Festival of the Year: Wandsworth Common
Supermarket of the Year: Booths
Independent Retailer of the Year: The Real Ale Shop
Online Retailer of the Year: Realale.com
Best Beer Book or Magazine: Hops and Glory by Pete Brown
Best Beer Blog or Website: Cooking Lager
Best Beer Twitterer: Mark Dredge
Best Brewery Online: -
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Marstons Oyster Stout and beef stew
In 2011 I’d Most Like To…drink more Cumbrian beers
Best free piss up: IBD Beer and pie night

Thursday 23 December 2010

Victory is mine!

I've won a prize in the Protz Shield competition over at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

The competition was to "Find a piece of made-up, innaccurate or generally bollocky beer history writing and send it in...The Protz Shield is for British writers"

I nominated beer writer Ben McFarland for the some of the things I ranted on about here and here.

I would to thank Ron for picking my entry, the lovely Lisa for buying me "The World's Best Beers" but most of all I'd like to thank Ben McFarland for not letting the facts get in the way of a good story and making my entry possible.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

The Great Baltic Adventure

I noticed in the latest issue of the IBD magazine that master brewer Tim O'Rourke is going recreate the original journey of Imperial Russian Stout by sailing from Greenwich to St Petersburg with casks of beer from British breweries.

This follows the excellent tale of beer writer Pete Brown trying to take IPA to India by the original route (the Great Balti Adventure?) and home brewer Christopher Bowen reviving Allsopp's Arctic Ale.

The Great Baltic Adventure website is a bit clunky but when I could get it to work I saw some interesting stuff. For starters there was an official launch party at a beer festival I went to. I can't say I noticed anything but looking at the list of beers they've already been promised does explain why a number of regional breweries had Imperial Russian Stouts on sale at the festival. It was also interesting to see that Heineken currently have the rights to Courage Imperial Russian Stout, so it's not the fault of Wells and Young's that it hasn't been revived.

As I find beer history fascinating I'll be eagerly watching to see how they get on, but I'm not going to get involved in any export recreations myself.

With the historic export of IPA, Burton Ale and Stout from Britain now covered I think there's a gap in the market for historic beer imports. So watch this space to see me go to Calais to cram as many bottles of cheap French lager into my car as is physically possible and recreate the famous booze cruises that made the St Omer brewery the biggest brewery in Kent.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Mushroom ale

Mushroom ale is another beer I've had thanks to Booths supermarket. This time it wasn't because of their excellent beer range, it was because I found some Chanterelle mushrooms there. 

I'd been wanting to have a go at making a mushroom beer for ages. Amongst the wide and varied range of beers Randy Mosher talks about  in Radical Brewing is a section on mushroom beers, including Nirvana Chanterelle Ale. As he says this is one of his regular house beers I thought there must be something to it, despite my initial reservations that using mushrooms to flavour beer sounded a bit rubbish. 

Having no experience of making mushroom beers I followed the recipe in the book fairly closely, which was a beer at the Belgian tripel end of things, with a vodka extract of Chanterelle mushrooms added to the beer to give it an ethereal fruitiness.  

At the bottling stage I also made two types of control beers so the effect of the mushroom extract could be assessed scientifically: one with plain vodka added and another control with nothing added. 

By triangle testing each of the beers I was able to scientifically determine that the mushroom beer and each of the controls did indeed taste different. 

But what, your friend may ask, did they taste like?

Well, they all tasted like something strong from Belgium, so I guess the yeast did its job. 

The mushroom beer had a mellower, more rounded taste than the plain vodka control, and compared to the nothing added control there was certainly a fruitier taste. In fact it was more than that, there was something else I couldn't quite put my finger on...could it have been an ethereal fruitiness? 

It's good stuff, but I'm not sure I'll make it again, or  if I do I'll at least get some smaller bottles first. A beer in the style of a Belgian tripel with added vodka is a bit much to be drinking by the pint. 

Saturday 11 December 2010

CAMRA xmas party

As CAMRA often seems a topic of conversation (or should that be contention?)  amongst beer bloggers I thought I'd better get to a meeting of my local CAMRA branch to see what they're like, as I haven't been to a meeting in years. 

The Christmas party seemed like an ideal opportunity so the lovely Lisa and I headed off to Woking railway club on Friday. I knew it wasn't going to be a beards and sandals affair, as it was far too cold for sandals and when I'd emailed the Branch social secretary a woman had replied, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I opened the door. 

At first I thought there must have been a power cut as it was very dark inside, but then I saw at the far end of the room two flickering candles on what what looked like a makeshift altar. A robed figure was standing behind it, and ranks of similarly attired followers were seated in front. I didn't like the look of this so I turned to leave but when I pulled on the door handle it wouldn't budge. We were trapped. 

Out of the darkness a cowled figure loomed menacingly towards us and asked "Are you CAMRA members?". Fortunately the lovely Lisa had recently joined so I was able to hand over our membership cards. "Welcome brother and sister" came the voice and we were handed two robes and lead to our seats. The high priestess, I mean social secretary, was in full swing: "Our plans to hold back innovation in British brewing have had a great success this year. Working with SIBA, the BPPA, the masons and the illuminati we have forced the government to raise taxes on beers above 7.5% ABV. Our goal of making only boring brown bitters between 3.5% and 4.2% ABV available in pubs is drawing closer!" The assembled masses cheered at this and in the flickering light I saw the barman turn slightly pale and discretely turn round the pump clip on a 4.3% beer. 

"Except in May that is" the social secretary continued. I could see this caused a wave of doubt and uncertainty to sweep though the congregation. But this woman knew how to work a crowd: "Because in May only milds below 3.5% ABV will be available" she thundered to a chorus of cheers. There was no doubt about it, every single thing that anyone has ever whinged on about regarding CAMRA was entirely true.   

Next the mood turned darker "To ensure our success it is now time for the sacrifice" said the social secretary in a sombre tone. Two acolytes then dragged out a heavy object bound tightly with ropes. I asked my neighbour what it was and with a gleam in his eye told me it was a keg of Lovibond's beer. Surely they can't have anything against Lovibonds I thought. They don't even filter or pasteurise their beer. But these people brooked no compromise. "Gnat's piss" shouted someone in the crowd. "Chemical fizz" yelled a bearded oldster as he shook his fist. The keg was manhandled onto the altar and the social secretary clutched a dagger in both hands and raised it above the keg. That's not going to work I thought, but to my horror the knife plunged towards the keg and sliced straight into it. Extraneous CO2 filled beer spurted out showering the front ranks who howled with delight at seeing the keg dispatched. Truly these people are fanatics literally hell bent on achieving their aims.   

Actually you may be surprised to hear it was nothing like that. It was in fact pretty much what you'd expect from a Christmas party at a social club: beer, buffet, quiz and raffle. As a beer enthusiasts party there were six beers on and I found the Rudgate Olde Honey Stout particularly good. And I met someone who follows this blog (hi Magnus!) which was nice. The buffet was at 8.30 though, and as we'd started drinking at 7.30 our food/beer balance was a bit out of kilter, but we enjoyed ourselves and strangely enough didn't find any evidence of an evil conspiracy. 

Saturday 4 December 2010

Open it! Dogfish head World Wide Stout

I was quite taken with the Open it! idea. In my beer cupboards are a few beers that have been lurking there for years and it's about time one got guzzled. 

I dusted off a beer I bought from Safeways supermarket, so according to Wikipedia it's at least five years old.  Dogfish head World Wide Stout weighs in at 21% ABV, so is way stronger than anything I normally drink.

It went down surprisingly easily for the strength as I didn't have to chew before swallowing. The alcohol didn't sit too well on my stomach though, and despite sipping carefully I really had trouble finishing the bottle. It poured fairly flat and holding it up to the light I could only conclude that it could be no more black. The taste was sweet, which suited me as I'm not too fond of astringent stouts, but the years haven't done it any favours and it definitely seemed a bit oxidised.

Oh well, that was well worth the wait. 


Wednesday 1 December 2010

Blame Canada?

The news that the government are going to increase tax on strong beers really got on my tits. Unsurprisingly Brewdog, who brew a lot of strong beers, are more than a little miffed as well. More surprisingly they seem to blame CAMRA:

In our opinion, CAMRAs support for the proposed legislative changes reflect their own agenda. Not a concern about drinking issues in the UK but a preoccupation with pushing the same bland cask ales that never vary greatly in ABV, flavour or imagination. It's as unimaginative of them to come out in support of this legislation as it is unsurprising. As long as their boring beers, defined on a flavour spectrum of bland 3.5% mild to boring 4.2% bitter are unaffected they remain obliviously content and are callously indifferent to the greater development of the craft beer in the UK. It's a real shame these people are seen to represent the craft ale industry in the UK. They don't represent contemporary thinking about beer and they certainly don't represent BrewDog.

Now I know they were writing on their blog, and as my good friend Rob says beers bloggers like nothing better than slagging off CAMRA, but really isn't this getting a bit silly? 

The actual position of CAMRA about the forthcoming change to beer tax is that they're disappointed about the increase in tax for strong beers but welcome the reduction in tax for very weak beers. 

I would like to have seen CAMRA put the boot into the tax increase a bit more. And it would be nice if CAMRA took up The Pub Curmudgeon's suggestion and campaigned for real ales to be exempt from the tax rise, as the tax rise is supposedly to discourage people from drinking tramp juice lagers, not rare expensive beers. 

I can't help but think though that the antics of Brewdog in baiting the Portman group would weaken the case for the products of 'craft' brewers being exempt from this tax rise.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Time to stock up on stock ales

'The Government intends to introduce a new additional duty on beers over 7.5% abv in strength. This will help to address the consumption of cheap, “super strength” lagers that are also associated with high, and dangerous, levels of alcohol consumption.' More here.

But you'll be pleased to know that high and dangerous levels of cider consumption have already been dealt with by introducing a minimum juice content.


Monday 29 November 2010

You can have any colour you like, so long as it's black

One Saturday we went to the old ale festival at the White Horse on Parsons Green. They didn't list what beers they had on the website but they did say what types of beer they would have:
  • Winter Warmers
  • Christmas ales
  • Old ales
  • Porters
  • Stouts
  • Milds

It was going to be a dark night. 

Disturbingly when we arrived there were morris men dancing inside the pub, and for some reason they'd painted their faces black. Now it's bad enough having morris men outside a pub, inside the pub is even worse and when they're done up like black and white minstrels there really ought to be a law against it. Fortunately they were just finishing so didn't disturb our drinking too much. 

Our first beer of the day was one of the lovely Lisa's favourites: Coniston Old Man. At 4.1% ABV it was a gentle introduction to the day's debauchery. Free programmes were available, which was handy, so we were able to get on with some serious plotting whilst sipping our first half. Purple Moose's Dark Side of the Moose, another favourite, was on in the side room or the Coach House bar as it was rather grandly styled. It took us two attempt to buy the beer as the first time we were driven out by someone dumping their guts. Bastard. Bring back smoking that's what I say, then you never noticed the flatulent bastards. The Purple Moose beer was worth it in the end, though perhaps a little astringent for my taste. 

Having read about the Sharp's Massive Ale with added wild yeast I had to give that a go next, but I wasn't overwhelmed. At an intimidating 10% ABV I was expecting something a bit, well, massive, but though it was a pleasant enough barley wine it didn't really taste massive. I thought Howard Town's Dark Peak, at a slightly more sensible 6.4%, had a lot more flavour, in fact in some ways it reminded me of something with rum or whisky added. 

Unusually for a beer festival the programme included a list of keg beers. I would normally dismiss such an anomaly out of hand, but as I have it on good authority that a craft keg revolution is sweeping the UK I thought it warranted further investigation. None of the keg beers were actually brewed in Britain though, which sadly made it look like another failed revolution. Still, I did get to try some craft keg during the day, as we managed to find seats upstairs where there was only a limited selection of beers on offer. My friend Dan (you didn't think I was going to buy it did you?) got a pint of Sierra Nevada Porter (5.8% ABV). Alas, this was not a whole new dimension of quality beer opening up to me, as it was too cold and almost devoid of flavour. And that's not just from me, that's what Dan thought and he was drinking a pint of lager when we arrived at the pub so I think it's fair to say is not much influenced by CAMRA. 

We did have some other beers, but funnily enough none stand out like the one we found on the way home. Waiting for a tube at Putney Bridge we saw what can only be the charitable work of CAMCL. On the bench opposite us was a unopened can of Carling. Being more than half cut I grabbed it immediately, I mean it may be shite but free beer is free beer. But then I thought of the poor thirsty tramps out there and I put it back. I would like to say this gave me a warm glow but it was so bloody freezing I didn't notice anything. I do hope whoever found the can enjoyed it though, as I'm sure it would have been wasted on me, and I was wasted enough already.   


Thursday 25 November 2010

Time is relative

One of the great contributions that Albert Einstein made to science was his understanding that time can move at different rates. His theories of relativity overturned the view that time is an absolute, which scientists had held to for thousands of years. 

If however they had spent less time thinking and more time drinking they might have arrived at this understanding an awful lot sooner.

I only have to step into a pub to find that time can speed up or slow down. When I stand at the bar what the clock may say is only a few minutes seems to stretch out to eternity. Once my first pint finally arrives I can find that time springs back with such vengeance that despite me being a modest drinker my pint glass is emptied at a rate which must surely approach the speed of light.

Even when I’m settled in the pub, time can speed up or slow down to a huge extent purely depending on who I’m talking to. If stuck next to an acquaintance telling me for the third time about his amazing skiing holiday once more time slows down to the extent I can start contemplating ending my own life just to escape this seemingly eternal torment. Yet an evening drinking beer with my mates, swapping stories about our beer fuelled escapades can end all too quickly.

One night that we still talk about is a shining example of the power of beer to affect time. When my friend Jimmy came running up with a tenners worth of beer festival tokens just five minutes before time was called, it would seem to many that we were facing an impossible task. But with the time altering power of several hours of beer stored up we were equal to the task. We necked back enough ale to use all the tokens up in such a brief space of time that surely the laws of physics must have been stretched to their limits.

And even when you’ve finished drinking the power of beer to distort time doesn’t end. Surely I’m not the only person to notice that the long trudge to the pub becomes a brief and pleasant stroll on the way home? As there’s no way this can be because I’m walking any faster it can only be because time has sped up.

The evidence that beer has the power to affect time is all around us. As I look back over the years I’ve been drinking one thing I can conclude with a high degree of certainty is that time is relative but beer is a constant.

This is my post for Zak Avery's competition

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Lemon balm ale - an apology

I may have given the impression in a previous post that my lemon balm ale is a bit shit. I would now like to make it clear that I was entirely mistaken and it is in fact the Holy Grail of ales

It's good to see someone likes it, just a shame it's not me. 

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Champion Keg Beer of Britain?

I got an email today with details of the SIBA National Brewery-Conditioned Draught (Keg) Beer Competition.

It's going to be at The Canalhouse 48-52 Canal Street, Nottingham NG1 7EH on Thursday 10 February 2011. A beer festival will follow over the weekend.

After some recent discussions it will be interesting to see how many breweries enter. 

I can't recall ever seeing a quality (or proper real or craft or local however you want to put it) keg beer in a pub in Britain, though I was pleased to see Fuller's ESB on keg when I was in the States. And I must have been in pubs that serve it, but when I'm in a pub I only have eyes for the handpumps. 

Someone's making money out of pubs

Pub group Mitchells & Butlers has seen its annual profits rise by a whopping 26%. Sadly this doesn't mean that the good times are back for boozers - drink sales are actually down, the company has got rid of many of its drink led pubs and the growth area is in food sales.

Monday 22 November 2010

Robinsons Old Tom

One of the beers I got for my birthday (thanks Gordon!) was Robinson's Old Tom.

At 8.5% ABV it made an excellent night cap on Sunday. Drinking a beer of that strength got me thinking about the best beer review website I've ever seen so I looked it up and sure enough a review was there. As you can't improve upon the perfection that is Trampjuice I won't bore you by rambling on about the beer but will simply quote the review in full:

"Bottle Says: too pissed to remember, although i can remember a cat on it.

BRN Says: Well before you accuse old BRN of becoming a bitter drinking pipe and slippers, port and cheese consuming old Grandad, let me put you all straight and tell you that this deceptive little Bitter chimes in at a very healthy and inebriating 8.5%. Only a mere 0.5% weaker than the beloved Carlsberg Special Brew, and putting it at the top of the tree of 'Special' Bitters if there are such a thing.

The label looks high end with a picture of a cat (whom i presume is 'Old Tom'), on a red label with Gold trim. The bottle does look quality, and high end and does nothing to promote its potency. In short this is a very subtle brew, and one that I'm sure doesn't get abused like I'm about to (can imagine it next to a ploughmans). The bottle is only 275ml which is very disapointing, however since this isn't your standard trampage fare I'm prepared to overlook the said indiscretion.

I open the brew and again its a subtle opening. No massive hiss or hint of gas. The brew pours out very thickly (where as my Knife and Fork) and has a VERY deep port wine finish. It also boasts a fruity and malty aroma. I have to put several of these Fuckers into my pint glass to fill it, which doesn't come cheap. Clearly this is for Mark 2 Jag sporting Tramps.

I take the glass and attempt to take a hearty (first pint) swig. Wow!!! this drink is thick, rich and warming, its so rich and malty that i now realise that this drink is going to be almost impossible to abuse (losing tramp points BIG time), i soldier through pint 1 in what must be a personal record of 27 minutes. In short I'm having to sip the fucker That said its already starting to kick in???. I've already resigned myself that this is going to be a long night's work. I get to pint 5 and its starting to disagree with me. it also feels like I've drunk 5 pints of wine, I'm also pissed.

I'm 2 1/2 hrs in now and only on pint 5. I bravely soldier on at a snails pace and get to pint 7 by which time I'm well and truly chonged and its been some 5 hours. The last 2 pints have been a struggle and I'm literally having to force it down. I also feel like I've drunk 7 pints of wine , and eaten 3 very hearty roast dinners (interestingly I've only peed twice???). I retire to bed feeling about 3 stone heavier. I awake the next day with a head like there's a pneumatic drill going in it and a severely upset stomach. I spend all day on the shitter and my shit is Guinness black and pure liquid . apart form that I'm okay although I'm sure my blood has thickened ten fold. 

In Conclusion: Although this is a tramp juice percentage bitter, this drink has no place in a tramps hand. It is nigh on impossible to abuse (unless you've got a good 5 hrs handy), due to its sip only nature. its thickness and strong taste and its price to quantity ratio is piss poor. Believe me if you try and neck this you wont get far, and you'll probably vomit right back up. There are much better, cheaper and 100% easier cainable drinks out there than this 'Gentlemans' tipple. Due to its nice presentation, subtlety, and percentage I'm giving it a more than generous 2/10"

Saturday 20 November 2010

Beer on the radio

Michael Turner, the Fuller's Chief was on the radio briefly yesterday, announcing that their profits were up. The presenter asked if being the unusual combination of a brewing and pub business was an advantage, to which the answer was yes.

Strangely enough, Lord Young, the person that caused combined breweries and pub businesses to be a rarity was on next. He's generally viewed with contempt in the industry, as stripped of their tied estates the big breweries have been much more marginal businesses, and have now all come under foreign ownership. I'm not so sure myself, as though the big pub companies are undoubtedly horrors, the range of draught beers I see in my local pubs is far, far bigger than it was back in the day. 

I also noticed that noted beer expert Melissa Cole was on Radio Wales talking about making beer less blokey. The main points I can remember were don't try and start people on brown bitter as it's an acquired taste, and don't give them some patronising pink pap just because they're women. As is usual when hearing stuff from a professional beer writer there were a few technical points that made be raise an eyebrow but the piece was quite enjoyable so I won't go off on one. It starts at about 48.47.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

We've won something!

For the first time we have won a brewing industry competition.

Was it for the wonderful beers I make? No, it was for a pump clip which I didn't design. I did have some minor input into how it looks though, and it was me that took the trouble to send in the competition entry.  

Oh well, apparently we're going to get a trophy, which will be nice.  

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Ale and pie competition

I continued my professional  development by attending an Institute of Brewing and Distilling meeting at the Sloaney Pony in Parson's Green. The evening's meeting was about the all important issue of beer and food pairing.

Now generally this is something I don't really care for, as lingering over a meal whilst sipping a drink seems more like wine drinkers territory to me. What's wrong with scoffing your food so you can move on to the more important business of guzzling your beer? I made an exception in this case as it was about ale and pie pairing, which seemed too good to miss, and they'd decided to spice it up by making it a competition.  

Aside from the first one they're only in approximate order as some of the details escape me now. Each pie was scored in a number of categories, from overall appearance to the more complex issues such as ale and meat aroma and texture, pastry crispiness, and quality of the gravy. As we didn't have a pie flavour wheel to hand we were slightly relieved that the overall score was simply made on marks out of ten. 

  • From Shepherd Neame there was a 'Hop pickers' beef pie. I can't remember what beer came with this, I think I was too excited that the free beer had started arriving. The pie was moist and well seasoned but the meat had the look of lips and arse holes about it, so a fairly average pie. 

  • Campden BRI brought a Chicken and bacon pie with Badgers beer. The pie was good, as the dedicated researchers at the BRI had discovered the universal truth that adding bacon to most things improves them. The beer had an amazing floral aroma, with hints of tropical fruit and then I realised it was Badgers and my interest waned. 

  • Elgoods supplied the excellently named 'Cow and Dog pie', this being a beef pie made with Black dog mild. That was also the beer we were supplied with. The pie had big flavours and the lovely Lisa and I thought this was the best pie of the night and I even enjoyed the mild. 

  • Fullers came with a beef and mushroom pie served with ESB. The filling was good but the pastry was very hard so we had to mark them down for that but the copious quantities of the malty ESB counted in their favour. 

  • Windsor and Eton had a home made Venison and Sloe berry pie with Black IPA. An interesting combination but my portion was a bit dry. The beer was also interesting but not something I'd rush back for more of: it tasted like a hoppy, citrus flavoured American IPA, but burnt.  

  • Wells and Young's brought a steak and kidney paired with Young's Special. The pie and the suet crust were flavoured with thyme which worked really well, and despite the presence of kidneys in the pie this was voted the winner. Young's Special is not my favourite beer but it was clean and crisp and went down well enough. 

  • There were also Beef pies which looked suspiciously pukka but turned out to be from the Real Pie Company. These came with Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. I didn't think much of the pie, but I'm quite partial to Guinness FES. I could wax lyrical about the earthy flavour from the long maturation but I don't think they bother with that anymore and just bung in some lactic acid. 

We were then treated to some chocolate cake, which was a great relief to the hungry vegetarian on the table. I thought it could have done with some dried fruit* though. 

Rather bizarrely a buffet arrived at this point which for obvious reasons there wasn't much appetite for. It did mean we got to take home a food parcel though.  

It was a great night for picking up gossip too. Some things Fuller's have been up to caused me great excitement (or should that be great eXXcitement?) and as there was another IBD meeting going on downstairs (the examiners were meeting) so I was able to catch up with one of my old lecturers from Heriot-Watt. I think I was still talking coherently at that point but fortunately the lovely Lisa had kept her eye on the clock as time really was getting on. So after some brief difficulty figuring out how the whole opening a door malarkey worked we were on our way. 

Here's some of our booty from the night

* BINGO! With apologies to Mark Dredge.

Monday 15 November 2010

Woking beer festival 2010

I went to my local beer festival on Saturday. I was particularly excited this year as I'd spied that some Marble beers were on, a brewery that is highly rated by my fellow beer nerds.  

First up was a half of Pint (3.9% ABV), which even at this early stage of the evening caused some confusion to the man behind bar. This beer has more hops than you can shake a stick at, making it seem more like drinking grapefruit juice. A bit OTT for me to be honest. W90 (3.7% ABV) seemed a bit more balanced but the hops were heading in the piney direction which always makes me think of toilet duck. Interesting beers, but not ones I was keen to drink more of. 

I was after something next where the hops hadn't been cranked up to 11 so a pint of the reassuringly blandly named Stringers Best (4.2% ABV) seemed ideal. I thought it was great, and could have happily spent an evening on it, but it was not to be. This was a beer festival after all.

So I followed it with the Stringers No. 2 stout. Again it was good drinking at only 4% ABV, but I was feeling the need for something with a bit more oomph at this point. There were a couple of beers from the righteous brewery Pilgrim on offer and Saturn Alia (4.9% ABV) did the trick. A ruby beer with some body, it was just what I was after. 

At this point I moved on to the small hall and got chatting to the bloke who runs Egham beer festival. I drank the beer he recommended which was very nice but what it was I couldn't say. Only three pints in an losing track already - you can see where this is heading. The lovely Lisa thinks it was Langham LSD, which could explain why my memory is a bit hazy. 

Other beers of note included Dorking brewery Dry Hop Gold (3.8%) which was packed full of flavour for its modest strength, Inveralmond Thrappledouse (4.3%), Houston Texas (4.3%) and Andwell's Rudy Darter (4.6%) which I seem to recall we had a few of towards the end. This was another ruby beer, and I'm sure the darker ones keep out the winter chill better. Which was just as well as we were walking home.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Time to get serious

The latest round of whinging on about CAMRA in the world of internet beer nerdery lead me to post a fundamentalist rant of my own. Slightly surprisingly one of the comments my rant received was asking a serious question so I thought I'd better do a more serious post.

Jason Stevenson of Lovibonds brewery asked "Why do you assume that because beer is in a keg it somehow has to be filtered or pasteurised?". Elsewhere Jeff Rosenmeier of Lovibond's has said that it is a myth perpetuated by CAMRA that keg beer is filtered and pasteruised. 

Now at the simplest level kegs are cylinder shaped draught beer containers. In theory they could be filled with whatever you like, you could fill them with engine oil if you wanted to. Sticking with beer though, according to Lewis and Young in the standard industry text book Brewing: "A major change in brewing technology was the filtration and pasteurization of the beer in the brewery and packaging under pressure of carbon dioxide into metal kegs." 

CAMRA was formed in reaction against this change to keg beer, and in defence of unfiltered and unpasteruised cask beer or real ale as they define it.

People from Lovibond's have said that they neither filter or pasteruise their keg beers, but this is not what kegs were designed for and must surely be a rarity. Even if other breweries apart from Lovibonds make unfiltered and unpasteruised keg beer I'd be very surprised if production topped 10,000 barrels a year.  

Over 13 million barrels of keg beer are sold in the UK each year, so according to my estimate over 99.9% of keg beer in the UK is filtered.  So that's why I assume keg beer is filtered or pasteurised, not because of some CAMRA myth, but because 999 times out of a 1000 I'd be right.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

That would be an ecumenical matter?

Though I was brought up in the one true faith, and have always observed the sabbath (getting to the pub at least once at the weekend) I have not always been above criticising CAMRA. But entering the world of internet beer nerdery has made me re-examine my beliefs and contemplate the role of beer in my life. By looking deeply into my soul I can see that I was wrong to question the wisdom of the church founded by the four apostles.

Many of my fellow beer bloggers advocate an ecumenical approach to beer, accepting all styles of beer as equally valid and trying to see the good in them all. Though I would not deny anyone the right to drink whatever booze is available I don't think we should forget that unless you are drinking cask conditioned beer in a pub or beer festival you are not having a complete drinking experience.

Sadly I can see some bloggers have let their natural desires for fulfilled beeritual life lead them to heresy and protestantism. Even the writer of the cask report has attacked the catechism of our faith, seeking to undermine our foundations. Clearly Satan and his minions have been at work, seeking to tempt people from the living beer to inferior fizzy filtered products.

We should spare no efforts in winning back such lost souls, and redouble our efforts to convert the pagans. Cask beer is still in woefully short supply in many areas of the holy land, and the dark forces of keggery are waiting at every turn.

But we can march forward in hope. At last the decline in cask beer has been turned around, more people are rejecting the works of Satan and embracing the one true faith. Cask beer is even growing outside of its spiritual home, appearing in the USA and Ireland. I would urge other followers of the faith to join me in an albeergensian crusade to eliminate heresy and glorify the living beer.

Faith of our fathers, Protz’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from CAMRA,
England shall then indeed be free.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Amarcord La Volpina

Whilst I was perusing the beers in the shop at the world's best petrol station I spied some from Italy that caught my eye, like this one for example. 

Appealing though it looked nice it cost about nine quid a bottle, so bollocks to that. Looking further I found some Amarcord beers that were a bit more sensibly priced.

La Volpina reassuringly had the words 'Strong Pale Ale' on the label in English, which sounded right up my street.

When I've been in Italy I've pretty much stuck to imported German wheat beers so an Italian ale sounded quite interesting. Sadly it was a bit rubbish. 

At 6.5% ABV it was I was expecting something I could get my teeth into but it turned out to be quite thin without much in the way of hops. A bit sweet and not much else really.

The taste did remind me of a beer I'd picked up in a supermarket in Italy though: Courage Bulldog. I was excited when I saw it there, as despite having been to more Courage pubs than is good for you I'd never heard of it back home. At least as far as beer goes though, sweet and thin doesn't really do it for me so the excitement was short lived. I wouldn't be surprised if La Volpina is based on Bulldog: an Italian beer based on a British beer brewed for export to Italy. It doesn't even sound appealing does it? And it wasn't.

Monday 8 November 2010

Saturday 6 November 2010

The best petrol station in the world?

As part of the boss's wide and varied expansion plans I went to look at a brewery for sale in Oxfordshire yesterday.

It was on a small industrial estate behind a petrol station. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary there. But going in to the Londis shop attached to the petrol station was an almost surreal experience. Whilst look for the toilet I saw a bottle of the ultra-premium Champagne beer Deus on the shelf. After doing a double take I looked closer and saw there were row upon row of exciting beers from the US, Belgium and Italy, as well as the UK. Despite my best efforts to control myself I was still like a kid in a sweet shop and I left with a clanking box full of beer tucked under my arm. 

Is the Jet Garage on the A338 at Grove, Wantage the best petrol station in the world?

Thursday 4 November 2010

Trade talk at Munton's Maltings

Today I went to a trade day organised by the the BFBi at Munton's Maltings in Stowmarket. 

The place was huge but by following the directions of staff placed strategically every five paces I managed to get to where I was meant to be.  We were treated to a range of talks, mainly on malt and barley, with a bit of hops thrown in for good measure. The important points seemed to be that malt's going up in price but hops should be about the same.

I found some of the side comments more interesting though: like the fact that Munton's is mainly owned by the Wells family of Charles Wells fame, and that Styrian golding hops Bobek and Celeia are now going to be called Styrian golding B and Styrian golding C.  But then I'm a beer nerd not a hard nosed business man. 

We got taken on a tour too which was more interesting than I'd expected. Having sat through many an hour of barley lectures, on such fascinating topics as 'does gibberellic acid diffuse from the scutellum or is it transported through the aleurone?' I felt I'd already heard more than I'd ever want to about barley, but Muntons being maltsters and malt extract producers brought a new twist. Germinating barley is one thing but seeing the machines where malteser cores are made is another.

A germination vessel. Yup, it's barley.

A band drier. This is where maltesers come from. 

I also manged to meet up with a bloke from Murphy's I've only know before though Jim's beer kit and someone I was at Heriot-Watt with that's now working at Harvistoun brewery. Which was nice. All in all it was a very enjoyable day and the CPD* I manged to accumulate was the best yet. 

*CPD is know by some as Continuing Professional Development which certain professional bodies insist must be accumulated by attending a set number of hours each year at trade talks and shows. Taking my lead from a dental hygienist friend of mine I've learnt that the important thing at such events is in fact how much you can stuff a carrier bag full of freebies. I got two mugs, a memory stick, a bottle of beer and a loaf of beer bread amongst other goodies this time, and a packet of maltesers. 

Monday 1 November 2010

Alcohol worse than crack cocaine

David Nutt has been at it again, this time saying that alcohol does more harm than heroin or crack cocaine.

I did have some sympathy with him when got sacked from his job as drugs advisor to the government for what seemed like trying to bring some science into drugs policy. I rapidly went off him when the pub curmudgeon point out that he's working to an anti-alcohol agenda.

Last year he was saying that alcohol is the fifth most dangerous drug but now it's somehow leapt into first place. Such a marked change over the course of a year makes me think that what Nutt is up to is not so much scientific analysis as lies, damned lies and statistics.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Wandsworth Common beer festival October 2010

It was back to Wandsworth yesterday, to the latest beer festival at the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. 

We got there in the afternoon and slightly disturbingly some of the beers were already off. I don't know if this beer festival is getting more popular or what but it looks like it's one to get to early. Fortunately I managed to find most of the beers that had caught my eye.

Camden Pale Ale from what the programme described as the Camden Town nanobrewery was slightly cloudy but a pleasant drop. I don't know how big a nanobrewery is and the website doesn't say a lot, presumably we're talking about the sort of set up a keen home brewer might have. 

At a slightly lager scale the Shepherd Neame microbrewery had brewed Royal Victoria Patriotic Bitter specially for the festival. One of the people I work with did some work experience there so I thought I'd give it a go but sadly it wasn't up to much, a bit like a slightly stronger version of Master Brew bitter.

Windsor and Eton's Guardsman was more like it, with a nice body to it and plenty of hops. Phoenix Brewery's also got the thumbs up for their hoppy White monk. 

I was intrigued to see that Downton brewery had a wheat stout on offer. An interesting idea resulting in a beer as black as your hat yet with the unmistakable taste of a wheat beer. I've been playing around with some yeasts recently to see their effects on flavour and I have a strong suspicion that the taste of wheat beer owes more to the yeast than the wheat. Investigations will continue...  

An old favourite, Sarah Hughes, was on hand pump in the inside bar. She wasn't her usual self sadly, tasting decidedly thin.

There may well have been one or two other beers consumed but the details escape me now. We finished off by sharing a bottle of one of my own brews that I'd brought with me. Bringing beer to beer festivals isn't something I normally do but some of my mates were interested in one I made recently and it seemed like a good opportunity. 

Wednesday 20 October 2010

A sober decade?

The governor of the Bank of England has warned that we face a 'sober decade'. 

I don't think so. Barring unforeseen circumstances I'll be proving him wrong on Friday!

Monday 18 October 2010

Alcohol 'cheaper than chocolate'

There were more dubious 'facts' reported by the anti-alcohol lobby today. It was claimed by the Core Cities Health Improvement Collaborative that a 'plague' of illness has been caused by youngster getting drunk on booze costing half the price of a bar of chocolate

When you look at it a bit closer the figures don't add up of course, as further in the article the claim changes to become women [who have lower recommended alcohol limits than men] can drink more than their recommended daily allowance for 30p. As the recommended allowance for women is the ridiculously low two to three units per day (equivalent to a pint to a pint and a half of standard beer) it's still not that much. And you'd have to be prepared to drink the cheapest white cider you can find to do it. But that doesn't really make a sensationalist headline does it? 

A boozer on the beeb

On the BBC website there's a slide show with commentary about a South London pub, a proper boozer with a grotty floor, a dart board, and old men playing dominoes. You don't get many pubs like that any more.  

The manager puts the fact it's still open down to it not being tied, so he can get beer for 80p a pint cheaper than tied houses. That's quite a difference.

Saturday 16 October 2010

A small experiment

The general consensus seems to be that if marketing annoys you don't buy the product. Pretty straight forward you'd have thought. But I remember reading on Zak Avery's blog that when it comes to Brewdog resistance is useless.

So I decided to test this hypothesis when I was in Sainsbury's:

The evidence is that Brewdog can in fact be resisted, so it's no more Punk IPA for me until the stupid tags have gone.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Hurrah for CAMRA!

I ended up doing some deliveries to a beer festival today. As I may have mentioned I have had some problems with delivering beer before. 

Following google map instructions through an area of South London I've never been to did not go entirely smoothly, and by the time I'd arrived I wasn't quite on my 19th nervous breakdown but it didn't feel far off. When I rang the bell on the back of the hall I was delivering to I was fully expecting to get no response, and preparing to wander round the front and see if I could find someone who knew what I should do with the beer but not expecting much luck. My worries were entirely misplaced though. Ringing the bell was like disturbing an ants nest. 

After a short delay people came scurrying out, already equipped with proper cask trucks, and the firkins were whizzed off to the main hall, where they were immediately covered with a damp cloth to help keep them cool. Whilst waiting to get the paper work sorted I looked around to see volunteers scurrying around all over getting the 17th Croydon & Sutton Real Ale & Cider Festival ready. It lifted my spirits to see these enthusiasts giving up their free time just to promote, encourage, and of course partake, in the drinking of quality cask beer.   

So hurrah for CAMRA, a great bunch of people.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

How far can you go with beer nerdery?

I got an email from Fuller's Fine Ale club today saying they've got a new advert coming out on the telly. They then helpfully gave the date and time it will first appear. Now I know I'm a hardened beer nerd but surely no one is going to make the point of specifically watching an advert are they? Or am I letting the side down here? 

Monday 11 October 2010

Visiting the nether regions

The Lovely Lisa and I spent the last week in the nether regions of Wasdale

The small village has two pubs, one with a brewery, and a hotel bar. But no shop. With priorities like that it sounded just the place for us. 

Our first bit of beer excitement happened en route when we called in at the Brown Cow Inn for a livener. There on the bar, calling to me, was a beer from Stringers, the renewably powered pro-situ brewery. At a modest 3.5% ABV Dark Country was a delight to drink with a fruity taste but not sweet or harsh in taste despite the black colour. I could have had a few more of these but for the fact I was driving.

We were staying at Woodhow Farm, which at one point seems to have tried rebranding itself as The Cumbrian Goat Experience. I think it would be fair to say has not been a massive success.  

Unusual tourist attractions do sometimes take off, like the nearby Sellafield nuclear power station for example, but it seems the masses aren't flocking to Cumbria to see goats. 

The nearby pubs were busy though, and we didn't waste much time getting ourselves down to The Strands. Their 3.8% session bitter 'Errmmm' was a delight on the first night, with I thought a hint of chocolate malt and some citrus flavoured hops. The owner refused to discuss such matters with me so this is only speculation. I wasn't quite as taken with the slightly stronger 'low flyer', but when we returned later in the week I thought the opposite. Such is life with cask beer. There was good food here too, and one night Lisa reckoned the guy behind the bar had been on telly with noted mountaineering expert Julia Bradbury, and I thought the guy he was chatting to sounded like the bloke off Gardeners' Question Time. 

The other pubs in the village weren't as good. The Screes was a Robinson's pub and I'm not very fond of their beers, particularly when they're on the turn, and the hotel bar was very plush but only had something dull by Yate's on. 

The Wasdale Head Inn at the other end of the valley was our other main haunt. Funny how all the routes off the mountains seemed to lead to its door. It was once home to the Great Gable brewery but that's now gone elsewhere, along with the beers. Some of the replacements were Grasmore Dark Ale and Loweswater Gold, favourites of ours from Cumbrian Legends, so we managed to wash away our disappointment.  

By extending our stay by a day at the climbing hut at Brackenclose we were able to stick around for the Wasdale Head Shepherds meet and Show.

There was a fell race a mate of ours was entering, and that was only one of the many attractions. There were lots of sheep too obviously, and some goats, but by that point I think we'd experienced enough of them, and you could cut the air with a knife the tension was so great during the walking stick judging. 

Once our mate was safely down it was back to the Wasdale Head Inn. The barman from the Strands and his mate were there, and I found out that the guy who sounded like the bloke off Gardeners Question Time was in fact Eric Robson,  the presenter of Gardeners Question Time and president of the Wainwright society. Which is interesting in that I could recognise his voice heard briefly in a pub, but slightly embarrassing as my friend knew who he was immediately. At least I know who Julia Bradbury is!


Friday 1 October 2010

Restoring my brewing credibility

After revealing myself to be a total lightweight when it comes to handling firkins I needed something to restore my credibility as a brewer. Fortunately the very thing came along the next day. No, I haven't won a competition or some award. Mere baubles that I'm sure are decided on by uninformed punters or jealous rivals. Well, until I win one that is. 

Reading the blogs of my fellow brewers I've realised that the thing with most brewing cred is having a bloody long day at work. Stuart Howe regularly puts in 70 hour days and Pete Brissenden often gets up before he's gone to bed so he can get to work. 

Much to my delight a late malt delivery lead to me only mashing in at lunch time yesterday so I ended up getting home 14 hours after I'd set off for work. Now I know this won't set any records but I'm sincerely hoping it's something I can build upon.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Firkin hell

I dropped off some beers at my nearest decent pub after work tonight. Arriving in the pissing rain I manhandled the firkins across the car park, down the slide and into the cellar. I must admit I found it a bit of a struggle. Sticking my foot in the deep puddle at the bottom of the slide did not add to the experience. 

It got me wondering how do people manage with bigger barrels? Though a full firkin weighs around 50 kg it's still only a quarter barrel. Kilderkins (half barrels) are still in common use and I've heard of some breweries that still use full sized barrels. 

Of course back in the day they were made of sterner stuff and hogsheads (barrel and a half) were in common use. These must have been around 300 kg (47 stone). Makes me feel faint just thinking about it.   


Monday 27 September 2010

You say hello, I say goodbye

"Twats". That's what the lovely Lisa said after reading the tag on the bottle of Punk IPA I'd just bought. 

It's basically a rehash of the Arrogant Bastard Ale inspired blurb found on the bottle. Not being as decisive as the lovely Lisa I found it amusing the first time I read it, but like a lot of brewdog stuff it does grate a bit now.  

I suppose the problem is that if you're going to act like arrogant bastards then people will think you're twats. 

Does it help with sales? As brewdog are selling the stuff as fast as they can make it I guess it does, but I don't think Lisa will be buying any in a hurry. 

Wednesday 22 September 2010

The connection between beer and pies

The connection between beer and cheese has been pointed out by some writers, as both are ultimately based on grass. But there's an even closer connection between beer and pies. The spent grains from the brewery are fed to cows, so next time you have a pint with a steak pie it could be that the ale and the steak came from the same grains. 

Monday 20 September 2010

Amber, Gold and Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers by Martyn Cornell

I got very excited when the lovely Lisa bought  Amber, Gold and Black for me. Martyn Cornell's blog Zythophile is one of my favourites, and I find beer history fascinating, so this book looked set to be a cracking. And indeed it was. I even tried slowing down my reading speed as I didn't want it to end. I still finished it rapidly so I've made up for it by reading it twice.

Divided into 16 chapters ,with each one devoted to a different beer style, the origins of the style and details of how it was or is made and the changes that may have taken place over time are all covered. Each chapter is independent of the others so the book can be dipped in to or read cover to cover depend on how much of a beer nerd you are.

As regular readers of the Zythophile blog will expect there's an impressive level of carefully researched detail, and not all about what you might expect. When discussing the various beers found in the different styles some pretty obscure ones get mentioned, even some that are probably best forgotten about. The beers styles are mostly defined by the simple and sensible method of using what the brewers called them, though an old favourite of mine, Ind Coope Burton Ale is singled out for criticism for it's gratuitous misnaming. 

Reading about the rich and varied history of British Beers has been inspirational to me as a brewer. I've already brewed a unhopped lemon balm ale (like my previous unhopped ales still a bit shit sadly) and I have a culture of a Brettanomyces yeast waiting in my fridge until the traditional brewing season opens in October, which I think will be a fitting time to brew a Colne Spring Ale inspired stock ale.

I can thoroughly recommend the book to brewers and beer historians, and I dare say those whose interest in beer is simply in drinking the stuff will get a lot out of it too. 

Thursday 16 September 2010

Beer on the radio

The launch of the Good Beer Guide has caused a bit of excitement today. I've heard it mentioned a couple of times on the radio, though the main point of interest seems to be the record number of breweries there now are in Britain: over 760. On the way home from work they had an interview on Radio 4 with some people from the Barearts microbrewery. The interview starts around 49 min 25 secs. 

Sunday 12 September 2010

'Forever blowing bubbles' lecture by Charlie Bamforth

On Thursday I hotfooted it to Fuller's for a lecture by Charlie Bamforth. This was the last of a series of lectures he's been doing in Britain and this time he was speaking in his capacity as 'the pope of foam'.

As someone who doesn't care much for big heads I've never given much thought to beer foam but he was a good speaker and a few interesting facts managed to permeate my brain:

  • Nitrogen gas added to beer is indeed the horror I've always thought it is. It may well be great for making bubbles but it destroys hop flavour, which may not be a problem for Guinness but it's bad news for Boddingtons. 

  • My old friend Protein Z (40 kDa) got a mention but it seems that's its role in head formation may be overstated and any partially denatured protein has hydrophobic parts exposed which encourages beer foam to form.

  • Fullers improved the heads on their pints by banning pork pies from pubs. Personally I'd happily forgo a good head for a decent pork pie but the message is keep grease away from your glasses. 

After the CPD it was on to the networking and I managed to neck five pints before heading home. The beer was free but I had to show some restraint, it was a Thursday after all. 

Tuesday 7 September 2010

A day at a hop farm

Hop merchants Charles Faram organised a 'hop walk open day' today at Pridewood Farm in Herefordshire. I'd never been to a hop farm before so I couldn't miss this.

It started with a buffet lunch at which I bumped into Martin Dickie from Brewdog and had a brief chat with him. The bad news is it will be 18 months until their new brewery is built. The good news is he'd brought some beers with him for the free bar!

There were a couple of talks after lunch. Peter Darby of Wye Hops Ltd. sounded quite upbeat about the development of new hop varieties, but Jonathon Arnold from Robing Appel Ltd. put a bit of a downer on things by telling us that malt prices are going to rise hugely.

Then it was time for a tour with various experts scattered round the farm. The first person I got to was an 80 year old retired hop farmer demonstrating how to string up hop bines. The pole he's using is called a monkey by those in the know.

Further on there were some hops being harvested, which I have to say looks like a shit job.

Peter Darby was waxing lyrical about hops elsewhere in the field. He explained how hops are grown vegetatively, not from seeds, so all hops of a variety are genetically identical clones. This lead to me asking why male hops are gown in Britain and he was kind enough to answer in great detail.

For those of you that aren't aware of such things hop plants can be male or female but only the females will grow the hop cones we need for brewing. Outside of Britain only the females plants are grown so the hops aren't fertilised and so are unseeded.

The reason things differ in Britain is due to an early example of biological pest control. Britain is the place where hops are most affected by powdery mildew and researchers found that unfertilised hop flowers remained open and susceptible for longer than fertilised flowers. So it was decided in 1904 that in Britain hops would be grown with males present to reduce the effects of mildew. Approximately one male plant is grown for every 400 females and several varieties of males will be used so that pollen is released over a range of time. The female varieties that brewers know and love have names like Fuggles, Goldings or Cascade. The males the hop growers also plant have more functional names like 'early' or 'late' denoting when they release their pollen.

I moved on to the picking shed next, where the hop bines are loaded on to the picking machine.

When the hops are picked from the bines they trundle down a conveyor belt where debris is removed before the move on to the kiln.

The hops are dried in the kiln for about eight hours before some cold air is blown through, which moistens them slightly making them less brittle before packaging.

Hops...thousands of them.

Not the Champion Beer of Britan

I spotted in Morrisons a bottled version of the current Champion Beer of Britain Castle Rock Harvest Pale. In the bottled it's 4.3% ABV compared to the draught at 3.8. I found it nice but unexciting (am I the new Jilly Goolden or what?). It's hard to get bottled beers as good as the cask version and even with the increase in strength the Harvest Pale wasn't outstanding. I would buy it again though, but I really need to find it on draught. 

Thursday 2 September 2010

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Libations in the lakes

The lovely Lisa and I were back in Langdale for the August bank holiday. As the journey is long and tedious we stopped at the Watermill once we'd left the motorway. We both went for their own Collie Wobbles at 3.7% ABV as we know it's nice and refreshing, but as we sat down I spotted a Stringers beer mat and sure enough looking at the boards behind the bar I saw one of their beers was on in the bar next door. 

As I like the Stringers blog I'm keen to try the beer but one was enough so it wasn't to be this time. We did manage to find one beer we were after later that day as one of Lisa's favouries Coniston Old Man Ale was on at the Sticklebarn

The next day we were lucky enough to see the dangerous low water levels recover somewhat as horizontal rain drenched us for most of the day as we went over the Crinkle Crags. Delighted that the reservoirs, and our clothes, were now filled with water we stopped at the ODG to celebrate. There's a good beer range but it's not the cosiest of pubs so after a swiftie we headed back towards the hut. Not that we got there for a while as we passed the Sticklebarn on the way... We did manage to get past the New Dungeon Ghyll without stopping though, as despite the currently low interest rates we didn't fancy having to re-mortgage to be able to afford a round.

The next day was somewhat different from our usual lakeland excursions as we walked over to the Grasmere show to watch one of our friends compete.

The two main competitions were Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling and a short fell race. Our mate was in what looked by far the most painful option - running up this hill: 

He made it though, and here he is once he'd got back down:

We managed to find something that suited us and did our bit for Cumbrian culture by visiting the Jennings beer tent. 

Wednesday 25 August 2010

IPA challenge bout six: Meantime IPA Vs Greene King Very Special IPA

It took a long while to organise this bout - how do you find a match for Meantime IPA? Weighting in at an impressive 7.5% ABV this beer is clearly in the cruiserweight category, and coming in a 750ml Champagne bottle has far more stamina than any other cruiserweights I've seen. It would take a brave beer indeed to take on this gladiator from Greenwich.

Fortunately my favourite brother in law found a young hopeful prepared stepped up to the plate. 

Greene King Very Special India Pale Ale.

When they squared up at the weigh in the audience were visibly shocked at what looked a terrible mismatch. But unbeknownst to the crowd the British Board of Beer Control had borrowed something from the rules of professional wrestling in order to ensure a fair fight. Greene King would be fighting as a tag team.


The formalities over it's time for the main event. 

The Meantime starts with a flourish as the cork pops but the jab looks weak. A good IPA should have a crisp penetrating jab to the nostrils but all we get is a slight floral smell.Greene King counters powerfully in the brutal, unsophisticated style all fighters from that stable favour: that's right it, smells like every other Green King beer. 

When it come to the taste the slugger from Suffolk stays true to type and tastes like Green King IPA on steroids: plenty of alcohol but also a nice full bodied toffee taste that drinks very nicely. 

Meantime is looking very pale and is thin and lacking in body. It can only offer up a hint of grapefruit which is brushed aside by Greene King and it shows it's very special by throwing a rich rounded and full bodied counter. A slug to the liver causes Meantime to sink to its knees and in the biggest upset since Buster Douglass knocked out Mike Tyson the ref steps in and starts counting. 

Meantime struggles to its feet but the fight's gone out of it and a fresh bottle of Greene King is leaning over the ropes, eager to be tagged in. The once mighty Meantime fades throughout the rest of the round and the bell sounds like an act of mercy. 

A win for Greene King Very Special IPA by 10-8.

Sunday 22 August 2010

A beer banquet

We had a family do on Saturday and were all asked to bring some food to share. The lovely Lisa had the brainwave of cooking some beer based food which sounded like an excellent idea to me. Though I'm not one for the beer and food pairing which seems popular with my fellow beer bloggers I do enjoy it when I see food made with beer.      

Here's what we brought:

Chicken liver and Titanic stout pate

Slow cooked gammon in alcoholic ginger beer

Beer bread made with Badger's Fursty Ferret

Here's a lovely pair of baps 

Birra misu made with Lee's Harvest Ale

Porter cake made with one of my own beers

All went down very nicely and I'm sure we'll be cooking some of these dishes again soon. 

As to what I drank with the meal, I'm afraid I had a beer nerdery failure. I haven't got into the beer and food pairing thing, so I finished off the glass of fizzy I'd been given on arrival and that was it. There was a good fight card lined up for the IPA challenge later on so I wasn't letting the side down entirely.