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.