Monday 31 December 2012

Golden Pint Awards 2012

Though I've had a snifter or two of the beers I make I'm not nominating any of them as that  would be wrong.

Best UK Draught Beer: many pints drunk, so many brain cells dissolved, By The Horns Lambeth Walk was recent enough to stick in the mind though so deserves a mention, but as I actually went back for more of Butcombe Gold  (despite being at a beer festival) that's the winner.
Best UK Bottled Beer: I do try to keep up with the latest happening breweries and Buxton Axe Edge was very good, but I bought most Guinness FES and though it's not brewed in Britain Diageo are a British company so surely that counts? Maybe as far as bottles go it should be divided between supermarket beers and specialist shop beers?
Best Overseas Draught Beer: I had an American sour beer at the GBBF which was good, can't remember what it was called though.
Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Having cunningly sneaked Guinness FES into the best UK bottled beer category I'm free to have Orval win this one, again.
Best Overall Beer: Butcombe Gold.
Best Pumpclip or Label: Pandazilla
Best UK Brewery: They didn't win any of the beer categories but for being consistently good Dark Star. Best local brewery goes to Surrey Hills.
Best Overseas Brewery: It'll have to be Orval.
Pub/Bar of the Year: The Crown, Horsell.
Beer Festival of the Year: GBBF
Supermarket of the Year: Booths
Independent Retailer of the Year: Nobel Green Wines, my new source of Orval.
Online Retailer of the Year: The only beers I've bought online this year came from ebay. I finally got hold of Colne Spring Ale, though an 80s version. .
Best Beer Book or Magazine: Brewers and Distillers By Profession by Ray Anderson. It was very entertaining, answered a lot of questions about the IBD and had stuff about my brewing hero Horace Brown too.
Best Beer Blog or Website: It's still the beer history blogs I like best, and the gong's going to Zythophile this year.
Best Beer Twitterer: I'm slowly getting the hang of twitter. JamesB ‏@jamesbwxm seems to manage a steady stream without being boring, which I think is the point, as does @robsterowski but ‏@BoakandBailey have to get the prize for being the most interesting.
Best Online Brewery presence: I've enjoyed the Desert Island Beers on the Allgates Brewery blog so them.
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: I've done some this year. Oh yes, proper sophisticated me. I liked the vanilla beer with vanilla pudding best.
In 2013 I’d Most Like To…This one got me in a reflective mood. Looking back on the past year not everything has gone as I might have hoped in the world of beer, but it hasn't done too badly either, so why did I think of the negatives first? I guess for me the glass is half empty. Though fortunately that doesn't last long as soon it's totally empty and it's time for another!

Highlights have included a trip to the National Hop Collection, being converted to the joys of Green Hopped Beer thanks to Eddie Gadd (though admittedly drinking my beer not his), and drinking Greene King 5X at the GBBF which was a long held ambition fulfilled. I've also brewed a beer style from Martyn Cornell's extinct list, and I've had my magnum opus published by the Brewery History Society.

As to next year... not sure. Make more historic beer? Get some new or possibly old hops to play with? Get more involved with SIBA? Do more serious writing? Do some serious study? Finally get hold of some of the revived Courage Imperial Russian Stout? Don't know, hopefully some of the above, but really first I need to finish my long and tedious plod through The Oxford Companion to Beer pointing out errors I've spotted.

Open Category: Best beery innovation of the year goes to the Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight.

And as one pint is never enough here's some Golden Pints from the lovely Lisa:

Best UK Draught Beer: Old Dairy Gold Top
Best UK Bottled: Meantime Chocolate Porter
Best Overseas Draught Beer:
Best Overseas Bottled Beer:
Best Overall Beer: Old Dairy Gold Top
Best Pumpclip or Label: Dorking DB Number One
Best UK Brewery: Old Dairy
Best Overseas Brewery:
Pub/Bar of the Year: The Kirkstile Inn
Beer Festival of the Year: Farnham Beer Exhibition
Supermarket of the Year: Booths
Independent Retailer of the Year: Cobbets Real Ales
Online Retailer of the Year:
Best Beer Book or Magazine: London Drinker
Best Beer Blog or Website: Ed's Beer Site
Best Beer Twitterer:  Roger Humphreys - @CroglinVampire
Best Online Brewery Presence:
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Innis and Gunn with apple pie and cream.
In 2013 I’d most like to...have my own brewery
Open category – you decide the topic: Adopt a pub, stop the beer duty escalator, world peace.

Friday 28 December 2012

It's arrived at last!

I've been waiting over a year for it, but when I got home from work yesterday I finally got my hand on a copy of For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus.

I'm only two chapters in but my main question has already been answered*, and the Farnham Whitebine has even got a mention. I'm going to have a busy reading weekend, but one thing I can already say is that as getting information on hops is not easy this book really is a must for anyone interested in them.

*Sadly the answer is "it's complicated".

Thursday 27 December 2012

Sharp's Brewery horizontal tasting.

Recently I was lucky enough to win a crate of Sharp's beers. I won't go into the details other than to say it involved an equality and diversity dilemma of fiendish complexity.

It gave us the opportunity for a beer tasting night. I've heard the term vertical tasting used a few times, particularly in relation to drinking a range of years of Fuller's Vintage Ale. I suspect it's comes from the world of wine and as such is alien to our culture. And now I'm getting on a bit I prefer to sit down anyway.

So we went for a horizontal tasting, different beers, no particular years, just drink til your fall over, which fits in much more with British beer culture.

Every one we had during the evening was bottle conditioned. There was a brewery conditioned Doom Bar in the box too but that got used for cooking.


Cornish Pilsner:
Pleasant enough for a lager, slightly sweet.

Single Brew: Pale, lively, balanced. Pleasant easy drinking.

Sharp's Special: Bit thin, but more flavour than the previous two.

Chalkies Bark: Mild ginger flavour. Floral. The lovely Lisa reckoned it would go with a curry rather than a lager.She must be getting into this food and beer pairing thing.

Chalkies Bite: Smokey bacon. Belgian.

Honey Spice Tripel: honey flavour, sweet, belgian, could do with more spice.

Quadrupel Ale: We'd saved the best til last, this is really good. Beautiful ruby plum colour. Balanced, got sweetingness but not cloying. Fruity. I could spot the Simcoe, a hop I'm not fond of but it really works here.Starts sweet but dry finish so not sickly. The lovely Lisa told me to make a note of this one, as she might want some more.

After that things to a bit messy.


We foolishly carried on drinking other stuff, and soon it was time to carry Lisa to bed. The horizontal tasting had been a success!

Wednesday 26 December 2012

A meal fit for idiots and imbeciles

It was roast beef, plum pudding and strong ale for me yesterday. I'm sure the inmates of the Eastern Counties’ Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles would have felt right at home.

Roast beef, strong ale...

and plum pudding!

Using my new found knowledge of beer and food pairing, and with assistance from my favourite sister, a carefully chosen selection of beers was assembled. OK, the main basis they were chosen on is that they were strong and dark, but rest easy, every single one of them went with food. Except the ones that were drunk outside of meal times.

One of our few pale beers, Kernel Table Beer (3.2% ABV) opened proceedings, lots of new world hops and perhaps a bit thin but impressively flavoursome for the strength. Other highlights included Meantime Porter, Anchor Christmas Ale, Young's Double Chocolate Stout and my very own Snow Top.

I never did find a use for the string and boiled egg though.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Xmas drinking.

I've got all chistmassy. The Enver Hoxha picture is stuck to the wall, and a bottle of Guinness Special Export in my hand. Is it time to start the drinkalongaton yet?

Saturday 22 December 2012

Joan Crawford has risen from the grave

Actually we won't be seeing Joan Crawford again this side of the zombie apocalypse, but I can reveal that a previously extinct British beer style has now been revived.  After some experimenting and a bit of research, I've brewed at work a stock ale that undergoes a true secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces yeast. 

Weighing in at a hefty 10.5% ABV it's a beer that I've no doubt will continue to mature for years to come. It's called "Over The Top", not a name I would have chosen myself, but I couldn't really object as it gave me an excuse to link to this again:

Hawkwind and Blue Öyster Cult in the same post! Can it get any better? Only if I could find a way of working Planet Gong into it...

The beer will be appearing in shops soon, and will even be for sale on the website once I find out what the password's been changed to.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Strawberry-Pink Not Compulsory!

I've just read The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking For the Moon Under Water, the title referring to Orwell's famous essay on his ideal pub. I like Orwell's writings a lot, even if he did throw his lot in with British imperialism in the end, and having already done a bit of searching myself this was a must read.

The book is an enjoyable and entertaining tour around Britain, though perhaps it could just as easily be called "The search for an old boozer". Not that I'm complaining, as that's how pubs should be. Included in the tour are visits to pubs that I've been to, and interviews with people I've met, which made it all the more enjoyable.

But the real gem of the book is saved for the last chapter. Almost unbelievably they get to talk to a landlady of one of Orwell's old locals. And his drinking habits are discussed, including the mug he drank out of:

"I had a china mug he would borrow and then he would bring it back the next day. In fact, I've still got it." She goes to a glass fronted-cabinet and takes out a small white mochaware jug. It's an extraordinary thing; cold to the touch and with a tortoiseshell motif and a thin pale blue band at the lip.

"He borrowed it many times and he really liked it."

This revelation makes clear that it's the drinking out of china that's important, regardless of its colour. The search for the perfect pub is still a long and difficult task, but knowing that flexibility is allowed in the colour of the china mugs makes it that much easier. 

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Bottling ancient and modern

It's amazing how technology moves on. 

You could barely recognise that they're doing the same thing.


Tuesday 18 December 2012

You can rest easy in your bed at last

I know that like me you will have been having trouble sleeping for over two and a half years now. It was back in March 2010 when I published my research on Fuller's IPA and Bengal Lancer and asked "Are they the same beer?".

This burning question was the talk of the blogosphere for what literally seemed like days on several (OK, two) sites. But even Zak Avery's cunning plan of phoning the Head Brewer and asking him still left unanswered questions. If the old Fuller's IPA and Bengal Lance were different beers with different ABVs, how come the bottles of IPA we had were 5.3%, just like Bengal Lancer? And what exactly was the Swedish connection?

On meeting a former Managing Director of Fuller's yesterday I seized the opportunity to settle what must surely be the greatest unsolved mystery of beer once and for all. Drawing on his detailed knowledge of every facet of Fuller's my source told me that the two beers I'd had were indeed one and the same beer. The Bengal Lancer that Zak Avery reported being sent to Sweden was labelled as IPA, and it was some of these bottles I'd picked up in the brewery shop shortly before Bengal Lancer was released as Bengal Lancer over here.

My suspicions finally confirmed I can now look forward to the sleep of the just, which is just as well really as I'm bleedin' knackered.

Sunday 16 December 2012

I've been fretting

Well, not me personally but some of my casks have. 

When you add a culture of Brettanomyces yeast to beer that's finished fermenting then a proper secondary fermentation takes place. But more on this later.

Friday 14 December 2012

As crafty as a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Craftiness at Oxford University

Thanks to Magnus from my local CAMRA branch for the bottle of Versus Goliath, which must be the craftiest craft beer ever:

I don't think the labels and lid leave any room for ambiguity, though it turns out it's contract brewed by one of Germany's largest breweries.

"Craft beer" may once have had some some meaning in The States, but really it seems it's just marketing bollocks now.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Hop growing in the First World War

No doubt you're all familiar with the horrors the First World War inflicted on British beer. If for some reason this fascinating subject is not something you're familiar with then you really need to head over to Ron's blog.

Suitably informed I'm sure you'll soon be pondering "what happened to hop growing during the war then?". Well ponder no more as I've a snippet that answers that question:

"In 1917, owing to wartime conditions, brewing was drastically restricted and the possibility of a large surplus of hops was forseen by hop growers and traders. At their request the Government ordered a reduction in the amount of land under hops to half the 1914 acreage. Later in the same year the Government formulated a scheme of Hop Control which was in force until 1925."

AH Burgess "Hops" pp 13-14

There is more later on in the book, which I may return to if I get a moment.

Friday 7 December 2012

Dinner with India Pale Ales and Pete Brown

It's my own fault. I saw the IBD were putting on a six course meal, a different beer and wine included for each course, for only a tenner a head. An excellently economical way to give the lovely Lisa a treat I thought. It was an enjoyable evening, but unfortunately it seems to have given Lisa expensive tastes.

I came in from work last week to see her face beaming up at me. "I booked us tickets for Pete Brown's IPA dinner" she said. "Shit, that's going to cost" I thought, "What an excellent idea Darling" I said. Sadly it seems the days when I could take her our for a night down 'Spoons are behind us.

So on Monday we headed up to the Meantime Old Brewery at Greenwich. No boat trip this time as it was bleedin' cold and it's easy to get the train from Waterloo East. The place had the look of a craft beer bar:  wooden floors, bare brick, loads of keg fonts. It was certainly craft beer prices too, but on the plus side I did spot the two hand pumps before I ordered. I had a pint of Darkstar Hophead (3.8% ABV) and the lovely Lisa had half of keg Meantime stout (4.5% ABV). The Hophead was as good as ever, but the keg stout was cold, thin and fizzy. What do people see in craft keg? I suspect to do it right you need to make a totally over the top imbalanced beer and then knock enough flavour out of it by kegging to make it drinkable. Perhaps she should have gone for an Imperial stout.

The entertainment for the evening started with us being seated in rows and handed a small glass of Worthington White Shield. Now it being brewed in a big brewery in Burton I think it's the best it's been in years. Still not as good as it was when I were a lad, but at least the dark days of sweet brown gloopery seem behind it.

There was an introductory talk from Rod of Meantime, not that he introduced himself. Why I don't know but I guess it made sense to him. Then it was Pete Brown to talk about IPA. He knows a thing or two about this subject and has a reassuring Pattersonian view on beer styles. A couple more examples of the wide variation of India Pale Ales were distributed to lubricate the talk, but it was slightly disturbing to peer into a murky glass and see the staff had no idea about pouring bottle conditioned beer.

The food started with a scallop in a shell, which came sealed round the edges with pastry and sat on a pile of rock salt. We were warned not to eat the salt though I was a bit unsure about the pastry sticking the shell together. But as I'd paid for it I picked it off with my fingers and ate it. The scallop itself was perfectly edible, which was a bit of a relief as I'd feared something whelk like could be lurking inside the shell. The IPA to go with it was a grapefruity one from the Meanitme Old Brewery.

Next course was a chicken and mushroom thing with two tiny slivers of truffle on top. Oh yes, me, eating truffles - how posh is that? The beer to match it was La Chouffe Houblon, apparently a Belgian IPA but it tasted like Duvel to me.

Lamb cooked two ways followed, one way made it go pink and one way made it go brown. I preferred the brown to the pink. Though don't take that out of context. Jaipur went with this dish. I was trying to work out if the beers cut, complemented or contrasted with the food but wasn't really getting it.

Then we were on to the pudding course, which we weren't really keen on. Meantime Old Brewery Jasmine IPA was the beer, which the lovely Lisa thought smelled of sick, whereas I only found it unpleasant. When the pudding arrived looking like sick Lisa though this must be that beer and food matching thing, but in fact the weird curry ice cream and Jasmine IPA cancelled each other out and became more bearable together.

Three cheeses followed, with three matching beers, in small glasses varying in size according to the price. The only real pairing I got that night was the Fuller's Vintage and a goats cheese (which was actually the wrong match), as it's a cracking beer and it took away the unpleasant goaty taste of the cheese.

Having now now been to a couple of beer and food pairing events I can say it's mostly bollocks, but still good fun. So I think of it as like going on a foreign holiday and dabbling in a different culture, knowing I'll soon be back home to normality.

Monday 3 December 2012

Purple Moose seen in the wild

I was delighted to see Purple Moose on the bar when I stopped off at the Ty Gwyn Inn on the way to Llanberis pass. Last time I called in they only had Doom Bar. I went straight for the Dark Side of the Moose (4.6% ABV) and it was a delicious dark delight. So after some rapid guzzling and an even more rapid swap of driving duties I went and got another one.

The pub also had real crisps, none of that fizzy keg crisp rubbish.

 The weekend had started well, and it stayed that way.

It was cold enough to get an easy Winter climb in on Parsley Fern Gully on the Friday, my enjoyment enhanced by my American born climbing partner's attempts at Welsh.

In mountains the Welsh word for valley "cwm" crops up quite a lot. The Welsh pronounce it something like "coom", but my friend pronounced it exactly like "quim". I didn't correct her of course, as it was far too entertaining.

On Saturday we trekked up Banana Gully, over Y Garn and dropped down on the other side to the Vaynol Arms.

I wasn't overly taken with where our journey was due to end. The Vaynol is a Robinson's pub and I'm not fond of their beers. I mentioned this to the barmaid as I peered along the five hand pumps and she replied "yes, a lot of people say that". The pump clips listed the hops used so I plumped for Dizzy Blond (3.8% ABV) as it was made with Amarillo, a great hop. And whilst I wouldn't go as far as saying the beer was great, it was certainly pleasant, which is a real step up for Robinsons as far as I'm concerned.

Having had pints of Purple Moose, and pleasant beer from Robinsons it seems things are looking up in Wales.