Thursday 31 October 2013

Homage to Catalonia

Last week I was briefly in Barcelona for work. I had only a few hours in the afternoon free so there was no time to bring Francisco red carnations, but starting in the Plaça de Catalunya I was able to give a quick nod to the site of the Spanish Kronstadt before commencing my wanderings.

Thanks to some tips from Mark Dredge I had some quality beer bars to track down but before I made it to any I was tempted into La Llibertària by a young newspaper seller.

It didn't seem much of a place for beer so I just asked for a caña, or small crappy lager as we say in English. Then it was time for a bit of culture at a bookshop, where I picked up a CD:

After that I finally to to a decent Barça beer bar: BierCab. There were 30 beers on here. I started with something local, having a Naparbier IPA, strong and tasting of American hops this was definitely craft beer, and it was a great step up from the crappy lager I'd had earlier. With the clock ticking and a work related meal to get to in the evening I couldn't settle down to working my way along the bar so as I sipped my drink  I carefully pondered my selection.

In the end I went for a small Bourbon barrel aged stout from De Molen, not exactly local but I hadn't had any of their stuff when I was in Amsterdam so I figured I was just making up for lost time. It was really good too, but at over 10% ABV I'd reached my limit for safely meeting with new colleagues and it was time I was on my way.

Monday 28 October 2013

Craft Beer Billionaire

Despite my dedicated beer nerdery some things still pass me by. That 'Craft Beer' has its first $ billionaire was one of them. Last month the value of shares in Boston Beer Company owned by founder Jim Koch passed the billion dollar mark. Now you may think he must be brewing on a rather large scale to make that huge heap of money, but remember so long as he brews with passion it still counts as craft!

The full story is here, and it also raises some interesting questions about where exactly the growth in 'Craft Beer' sales is coming from. 

Sunday 20 October 2013

Culture Shock

I was back in the big smoke on Saturday. I went to see Culture Shock, who I rather disturbingly last saw 23 years ago.

Along the way I managed to pick up a book on German history, something my knowledge is rather lacking in, much like my knowledge of German beers. I'm sure I'll soon be alle macht den rätening with the best of 'em but increasing my beer knowledge may take longer. There are so many German breweries I've never really got to grips with what's hot and what's not, except maybe for wheat beers.

We stopped at a 'Spoons on the way, which I'd prepared for by packing a wad of discount vouchers I liberally distributed amongst my friends. There was an 8.5% ABV version of Abbot Ale on draught but I didn't want to risk making a tit of myself later so I steered clear of it. I had Innis and Gun IPA instead which was a bit too odd for me, I don't think oaky and hoppy mix well.


A bottle of Nigerian Guinness accompanied my pre-gig curry, which was alright but not as good as FES. I couldn't see any mention of sorghum on the label but I believe that's the main grain it's made from.

After that I resigned myself to cans of lager whilst watching the band. A delightful surprise waited for me  in the room the band were in though as they had vegan Redemption Hopspur on. As the good lord saw fit to bring beer to perfection in its fined cask form I don't really approve of dicking around with it by leaving out the finings, but despite a slight haze the beer was great and a vast improvement on the crap Polish lager I'd been drinking previously. Perhaps the band were behind it as they opened their set with Pressure, a tirade against the horrors of extraneous CO2.

OK I made that bit up but it was good to see cask beer there.

Friday 18 October 2013


One of the beers I picked up on Saturday was a beer I'd been after for far longer than I should. It's a sad tale caused my own stupidity.

Some time ago I read about Brooklyn Brewery and Schneider & Sohn teaming up to make hoppy weiss beer. Normally wheat beers have a low hopping rate so I was interested to see what cranking it up did. I've kept my eyes open for the beer when in specialist beer shops but all I ever found was a 8.2% ABV weizenbock version. Changing the amount of hops and the strength of the beer was a variable too far for me so on each occasion I passed the opportunity to buy it and I continued my search.

And so the months went by. Eventually it dawned on me that there could be a reason I'd found the weizenbock on a number of occasions but never a normal strength version so I got googling. It didn't take much to find out that in fact the hoppy wheat beer was indeed the weizenbock and there was never a normal strength version. It was enough to make me sing the Siamese national anthem.

As to how the beer tastes, it was good. You can taste the wheat beer base, with the extra hops balanced and a good floral addition to the flavour. Bitterness still seemed low so I guess a lot of the hops were added late. On the down side it was a bit soapy and with the added taking it up to 8.2% ABV has definitely made it too sweet. They really should do a normal strength version of this!

Tuesday 15 October 2013

X In Search Of Sucker Juice

On Saturday I went in search of sucker juice. The latest beer in Fuller's Past Masters series was out, as well a new Imperial Stout. The Past Masters beer was pricey, but I do like beer history so couldn't resist. The Imperial Stout though ticked all the boxes for sucker juice: strong, limited edition, unusual ingredient, with it's very own cardboard box and of course bloody expensive. I did think long and hard about getting a bottle of that but in the end decided if I'm making a trip to Chiswick I might as well.

Sadly it was not to be. Despite Chiswick appearing to be part of a bustling metropolis, it seems it is in fact a hotbed of inbreeding and the Brewery shop was shut, with a note pinned to the door saying they couldn't sell beer as they were busy playing banjos with their family.

Fortunately I had a route back planned with plenty of beery delights. Our first stop was, which turned out to be a surprisingly long and tedious journey, though I was pleased to see the Stag Brewery for the first time when we went through Mortlake.

I hadn't found a decent parking spot so we didn't stay long, but long enough for my rucksack to get satisfyingly heavier and my wallet disturbingly lighter.

Then it was on to Twickenham and Noble Green Wines.They were having a beery event so I chatted briefly to a few people I knew then it was more beers in the bag.

Having spent hours building up my beer stocks I spent the rest of the weekend doing my best to run them down, which I may well blah on about later.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Hops on the radio

There was a full half hour about our little green friends on Radio 4 today. You can get it on iplayer here.

Friday 11 October 2013

South Side, Yeah!

I was pleased to pick up a bottle of Bristol Beer Factory's Southville Hop recently. It seem highly rated by my fellow beer nerds and it won a SIBA award so I figured there must be something going for it. And indeed there was.

The first taste was of the grapefruit flavour you get from Cascade hops, but as the beer went down I thought there was something more, a bit lemoney too? Anyway it was good stuff, and I really need another bottle so I can compare it with Goose Island IPA, which I've realised is my benchmark beer for pale with American hops. It may be time for the return of The IPA Challenge!

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Anything gose?

A recent tweet from gurning enthusiasts Boak and Bailey reminded me of something I've been pondering for a few months:

Back when I visited Amsterdam a highlight was getting to taste some beers of obscure European styles I'd never come across before, which included gose.

"a pale, top-fermenting wheat beer, flavoured with coriander and salt. There's a hefty lactic acid content and was probably once spontaneously-fermented"  

I was more than a little surprised on my return to see that an English brewery was brewing a gose, but with added gooseberries, amongst other things. As I love beer history I thought it was great that this obscure historic style was being brewed here, but the added ingredients disturbed me.

Without wishing to stray too far into the reactionary realm of Bolshevik ideology, I couldn't help but think that shouldn't you try brewing a historic beer "to style" before you start changing it? Otherwise aren't you just making it up as you go along? Which of course you're free to do, but in that case you're not brewing a historic beer at all.  

Is it my scientific ways, wanting to keep variables to a minimum? Or am I just being boring? But obscure beers brewed as they were historically interest me more than innovative offshoots.

Friday 4 October 2013

Is Craft Beer a Bubble?: The Session #80

I'm making a rare foray into a beer bloggers institution today as today's question is something I've pondered already.

Though in the UK 'Craft Beer' has a slightly contentious connotation I'm simply taking it a meaning microbreweries in this context. 

The huge rise in the number of breweries in recent years has made many people concerned about what the future holds. As pubs close and overall beer sales continue to decline how can the number of breweries keep on rising rapidly? Will the rising wave have to end in a crash?

I don't think so. One thing I learnt when working at a microbrewery was just how small many of them were. Many of them employed only one or two people and in the grand scheme of things the amount of beer they can produce is really a drop in the ocean. This was brought home to me when I saw that Fullers, a reasonably size but not massive brewery, produces as much beer as the 600+ SIBA members combined.  

When I think back to the dark days when most news you heard about breweries was the latest closures there must be a huge amount of capacity lost from shut regional breweries that the rise in micros hasn't come close to equaling.

I'm sure some breweries will close. And rapid growth in brewery number can't go on for ever. But I see no reason for a bubble to burst.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Gone For A Burton by Bob Ricketts

After a surprising amount of difficulty I finally got my hands on a copy of Bob Rickett's memoirs, Gone for a Burton. He spent many years in the brewing industry, starting out at the Brewing Research Foundation before moving to an engineering firm and then going to Bass, where he rose to managing director of the brewing side.

His very personal takes on the work he did, and the people he worked with are given, often very critically. As I was reading this out of interest in learning about history it's problematic that he spends so much time putting the boot in, as this makes him avoid referring to many of the characters and companies mentioned by name. He also misses out a lot of the things I would have liked to have heard about, for example although in 'about the author' it says he was President of the Institute of Brewing there is no mention of this in the rest of the book.

He also regularly disperses the text with 'notes to file' of the lessons he's learnt from the various incidents at work he recounts, which are entertaining enough but many seem no different from the dealing with the dumb decisions I'm sure you could find in any workplace.     

There was enough to keep me interested though. There's an entertaining anecdote involving Cyril Rainbow, a brewing scientist whose Horace Brown lecture I'd recently read, and it's interesting to see the author talk of how surprised people were when canned beer became cheaper than draught beer. Fascinating to see that the boss of Britain's biggest breweries has CAMRA as one of his many targets too, which seems to prove how effective they were.

Ultimately I found the book disappointing as there's more spleen than meat, but there's a few tasty titbits in there.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Beer geek conspiracy exposed!

Despite the risks involved I can now reveal the existence of an international beer geek conspiracy. Even with my long and obsessive interest in beer I first learnt about it only in the last two months.

Having enjoyed reading Sydney Nevile's autobiography when I spied another one by a brewing big cheese I decided to get a copy. "Gone for a Burton" by ex-Bass boss Bob Ricketts was a more recent tome but still written by a man with decades of brewing experience. So a quick visit to abebooks later the order was placed and I was looking forward to learning some more fascinating facts.

But it was not to be. After the confirmation email had come through another one followed, this time with bad news:

"We're sorry! AbeBooks sales order number ******* has been cancelled because the item is unavailable. The item may have just sold to a customer in the bookseller's store or via another website"

That's a stroke of bad luck I thought, but as there were a couple of copies on abebooks I just went back and ordered another one. A confirmation email followed, but again another email came soon after:

 "Unfortunately, as do most sellers we sell on many markets around the world and the software systems can take a few minutes to update, so this means that on a rare occasion, someone may buy the book on another marketplace just before you do and the system hasnt had time to remove it from sale on the remaining markets  before you have also tried to purchase it. This happens rarely, but can happen and is not the sellers fault.

Please accept our sincere apologies  for any inconvenience caused. We genuinely hope that you will shop with us again and look forward to your continued custom."

My luck really wasn't in. Two copies of the same book both bought just when I decide I want it. And that was the last of the copies at abebook. Still, there's plenty more websites in the sea so I went to ebay next and sure enough found a copy there which I bought. Or so I thought.

But once again an unwanted email was soon in my inbox:

"This is a courtesy email from Ebay, regarding your recent order.

I'm afraid that during our quality control checks we found that your book was in very poor condition due to damage occurring whilst in storage at the warehouse. 

Unfortunately we don’t have any more copies of that book in stock at the moment to replace the order with.

Would you be interested in another title as a replacement for this order? Please visit our shop - if there’s anything you would like then please let us know the ISBN and we will have it shipped out within 24 hours from your request.

If there is not any other title you are currently interested in, we will of course issue a full refund should you prefer.

Once again I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but we wanted you to know as soon as possible. If there's anything else we can do for you, please let us know.

******* ******  Ebay Customer Service"

This was too much to be a coincidence, two books suddenly sold just when I wanted them, and another copy destroyed in the warehouse. I suspected sinister forces were at work, and when I resorted to googling for the book these suspicious were confirmed:

The book was now going on for over $5000!

A dark conspiracy in the world of beer geekery had connived to corner the market in retired brewery boss books, by buying up what the could and destroying what they couldn't. They were now using their monopoly position to make the prices rocket! Well craft keg doesn't come cheap and they've got to pay for it somehow.

The only flaw in my otherwise watertight conspiracy theory, aside from the lack of any evidence, is that the price is several orders of magnitude more than anyone would pay for the partial views of a retired brewery manager.

Perhaps there are computer programmes that confuse the low availability of small print run minority interest books with massive demand and price accordingly?

Anyway, I waited a month until my twitter timeline filled with stuff about Borefts Beer Festival and with the international beer geek conspiracy suitably distracted was able to pick up a copy for 1p plus postage.

I've read it now so if anyone wants a copy I'm selling it cheap at only $4000.