Thursday 23 June 2016

Beer Writers' AGM

I went to the British Guild of Beer Writers AGM last night. Unfortunately the committee don't stictch everything up in advance like in the IBD so actual business had to be discussed, and even a contested election held.

On the plus side there was free beer, and I think Greene King may finally have cracked making hoppy beer as the Mighty Moose IPA was really rather good.

During part of the business there was an impressive rant from a 'proper' writer sat at the front about bloggers: "no expertise, no intelligence...write complete and utter shit...vacuous...and charge £200". If only I thought.

Speaking of bloggers I continued the excellent run I've been having this year of meeting up with fellow internet beer nerds by saying hello to Glyn and finally getting to chat to Paul Bailey. I also got to hear Matt Curtis explain what he meant about ethics, which was basically that you're kidding yourself if you think anyone is unbiased, rather than ethics is old hat which is what he seemed to be saying on his blog.

As I'm off to the Carnivale Brettanomyces today I didn't make the most of the free beer and left at a respectable time. I've a suspicion Amsterdam will not be as respectable.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Magic Rock Salty Kiss

When I was in Booth's recently I let my beer nerd curiosity guide me in some of the beers I bought. One of the beers they sell Magic Rock Salty Kiss, a gooseberry gose. I did have to raise an eyebrow when I first saw this was being made, an ahistorical historical beer, but I was interested enough to buy a can.

Sorry, I could have sworn I had a picture of the much
prettier can but buggered if I can find it.
The beer was pale with more than a hint of murk, though not going as far as looking like soup. This is craft beer though, so I wasn't passing judgement on the clarity. It's all about the taste (and share ownership).

The first taste was a shock though. They haven't scrimped on the salt: "that's like drinking seawater" I thought. Minging. It seemed a little harsh to judge the beer on one sip, so I had another. Yup, still seawater, still minging. I started towards the sink at this point. I did have other beers to drink so why waste my time drinking something I didn't like? But then I thought of the advice on drinking lambics for the first time - you really need to finish the glass to appreciate it. So I kept on drinking.

The salty taste does fade and I noticed the slight sourness more. A sour and murky pint is still something I would normally take straight back but I kept with it and the fruit started to come through. With the sourness it tasted more like citrus fruit than gooseberry to me but at least I was starting to get something positive about the beer.

By the end the flavours were starting to come together: salty, fruity, vaguely unpleasant. More like an isotonic sports drink in flavour than a beer. It was interesting, but not to my taste.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

You don't want to go there

“You don’t want to go there, they talk funny and it always rains”. These wise words about Manchester from my Uncle Mike have stood me in good stead and I’ve seldom been. In fact the last time I visited was for an old comrade’s funeral, which didn’t do anything to endear the place to me.

But as work was sending me there for BevExpo I thought I’d make the best of an unfortunate situation and see if I could get any research in. Fortunately for me where I was staying was close to where Phil lived. He was one of the beer bloggers I most wanted to meet so I was delighted when he agreed to join me for a beer or two*.

We met at the Marble Beer House, a spin off from the Marble Arch. It was more a bar than a pub, but never mind, it was a nice enough place. I mostly stuck to the session bitter, Draught. We had a wide ranging conversation going from what happens when you blog that you’re not going to a beer festival though to spies we’ve met and the EFICC. We did have a brief foray into Earl Grey IPA, but I found the orange flavour a bit too much so I was soon back on the bitter.

After the first day the trade show had an official evening event at a Bavarian and Bohemian themed bar the Alberts Schloss. Not being overly enamoured of German lager I tried the Pilsner Urquell from the tank, but there was way too much diacetyl. Whether they lager the beer for tanks less or if there was an infection somewhere I couldn’t say** but I soon switched to my usual German fall back, wheat beer.

There was a pop-oompah (or something like that) playing, which was different. As was the food, which consisted entirely of trays of nibbles being brought round. I dare say I’d eaten ample by the time we left but I’d have preferred a proper meal rather than having to forage for food.

On the second day of the trade show I had to give a the same time England were playing Wales. Still, the small but select bunch that attended seemed to find it useful. Soon after that my work was done and it was time to head to the Lakes for some hill based heroism (which turned out to be gibbering up a couple of VSs, but I was a bit out of practice).

* Exact number of beers consumed my have been slightly higher.

** Though if I’d been able to measure the diacetyl to 2,3 pentanedione ratio I could have.

Monday 13 June 2016

My favourite type of beer from Meantime

Ah, my favourite type of beer. If you think it's a beer style I'm talking about you're barking up the wrong tree. Free beer is my favourite type of beer, and I've been sent some from Meantime. They have started cranking out some beers from their recently installed pilot brewery.


I've met the brewer Ciaran Giblin a few times, and it's nice to see he gets his name on the label.

 Now on to the beer. The carbonation is on the low side, and the aroma more malt than hops. But in the taste the promised tropical fruit flavours of American hops come through, complete with a sweet caramel malt background. It's billed as an Imperial Red Ale, which I must admit is a bit of a new one on me, but it comes across like a barley wine made with American hops. No doubt American Barley Wine has already been defined as a style by the BJCP. When American hops feature in a beer I'm used to them dominating any other flavours. Cranking up the caramel malt flavours was interesting, but on balance I'd say trying to make the beer more balanced didn't entirely succeed, as it's a bit too chewy for a hoppy beer. It's very interesting to see Meantime breaking out from their rather reserved normal output though, and I look forward to seeing what else they come up with on their pilot plant. 

Disclaimer: the fact I know the brewer and was sent the beer for free makes my review totally biased. 

Monday 6 June 2016

The fall and rise of Pilsner Urquell

Back when I were a fresh faced young beer bore I naturally had an antipathy to lager. But, there was one lager that I liked: Pilsner Urquell. It's a well hopped beer, and I remember a touch of honey in the taste. The latter was probably from diacetyl, but what the hell, I don't mind a bit of that.

As the Czechs went from suffering under state capitalism to suffering under market capitalism things started to change. The brewery was privatised, lagering time was cut, the wooden fermenters were replaced with stainless steel,  and it was taken over by a multinational. They even started brewing the beer in Poland.

Whatever you think about the chanages there was a very important one as far as I was concerned: it didn't taste as good. As I was now down to no lagers that I liked I spent a number of blissfully lager free years. But since then endless aeons wheeled and passed. Time and the pure essences of Heaven and the moisture of Earth, the powers of the sun and the moon all worked upon a certain beer, old as creation. Or something like that. Anyway, someone at SAB Miller seems to have realised they had in their portfolio possibly the worlds second most iconic beer* and went about re-premiumising it.

Most production returned to Pilsen, and some serious sucking up to beer bloggers went on. The chance to drink the beer unpasteurised from a cask caused a lot of excitement. But I can well understand that, unpasteurised cask beer is after all such a rarity in Britain.

Anyway, I'm starting to get a taste for Czech lager so I thought it was time to see what all the fuss was about, and if inded Pilsner Urquell had returned to the ranks of righteousness. So I bought a bottle.

And do you know what, it's not bad. Not as good as when I were a lad of course, but a pleasant drop, plenty of bitterness and definitely diacetyl. Now in a brown bottle too which is nice. If the weather stays sunny I might even be tempted to buy some more.

* After Ind Coope Burton Ale of course.

Saturday 4 June 2016

100 to 1 in Italy

I was recently back in Italy for the Cerevisa 2016 beer competition. Over 100 beers were entered but fortunately 17 of them had illegal alcohol* levels so we didn't have to taste them. Now you may think this is a bad thing, and the more beer the better, but take it from me tasting beer professionally is really not like sitting in a pub with a pint. Though having said that I have had worse jobs!

The beers are anonymised before getting to the tasting panel, which makes it hard to work out which beers to note for future reference. I see from this year's results they've declared an overall champion though, which makes life easier. The beer in question is ReAle Extra from Birra del Borgo. The brewery was recently bought by ABInBev, but I guess they haven't got round to taking out all the hops and adding essence of purest evil yet.

Tasting beer all day didn't do much for my enthusiasm for evening drinking but I managed a small amount of freelance research at the Elfo Pub in Perugia.

I was delighted to see that they had a handpump serving a local beer so I had to go for that one.

Doing god's work?
Apparently the beer comes from a keg, and they really had no idea about pulling the pint, but full marks to them for trying.

This year I took advantage of being in Italy to spend the weekend in Rome, where I was able to take in some history and culture. And a few beers.

The beers I tried were in Luppolo 12. Again they had beer from a handpump, but it was a British beer and I was after Italian stuff so I gave it a miss. I can't actually remember the names of the beers I had, but they were all of the pale and taste of American hops variety, even the saison. Perfectly pleasant though. I stuck at three beers, I really was suffering from beer fatigue. You really can have too much of a good thing.

* Over 0.5% ABV difference from stated strength for beers up to 5.5% ABV, and over 1% difference for beers above that.

Friday 3 June 2016

Seeing through the murk

At the conference on Recreating Old Beer Styles at Fuller's we had a chance to try an unfined beer made in collaboration with Moor Beer. I am very much a murkosceptic, but I'm fairly relaxed about a bit of haze. The beer in question was more turbid than I expected, which perturbed me a little. I wonder how long the cask was left to settle, surely unfined beer will need days? Or was lots of yeast in the beer a feature?

There are some beer styles that benefit from being yeasty, but I was dubious that strong bitter was one of them. As it happened I enjoyed the beer, it had a nice fruity flavour, but there was a bit of a harsh aftertaste to it, a touch of yeast bite I thought.

The beer was available in a range of formats so I trousered a couple of cans for more careful consideration. I let them settle for plenty of time in my fridge before trying them side by side. One poured carfully and one with all the yeast tipped in.

The (mostly) bright beer had good fruity flavours, and malty sweetness. There was a slightly harsh after taste but generally a pleasant drop.

The murky beer defintiely had a yeasty smell. It tasted a lot harsher. The fruitiness was still there but it was overwhelmed by the unpleasant yeast bite.

Perhaps not the most scientific of trials, but a clear victory for murkoscepticism in this tasting.