Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Hops Kill Robin Hood

Well, there we are then. I was right with my second point the other day... BrewDog's new beer is (drum roll really not necessary...)

'Hops Kill Robin Hood.'

So there we are, rather depressingly predictable. Shallow, brainless marketing apparently.*

I'll give it a try tonight, see what it actually TASTES like. Now there's a thought...

This is classic BrewDog though: 'It’s time the legend of Robin Hood was killed off as a marketing tactic.' Presumably opening a pub in Nottingham with a week-long special Robin Hood beer doesn't count? Hang on, of course, it's killing Robin Hood. I'm struggling to keep up with the sophistication.

*Oh. Should that read, a response to shallow brainless marketing? Actually, who cares?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Meantime London Stout

This was my beer for the 'Open It' weekend. Although I've not really had it that long, there's not much that I've had much longer either. I have wine going back to the days I first started in Oddbins down in London, but I tend to buy beer to drink (revolutionary concept there eh?). I am fascinated by the ageing process though, and I keep meaning to get some beers cellared for a longer time. I'm sure I'll get round to it at some point!

There's lots of coffee on the nose. On the palate more of the fruit notes come through, lots of damson and dark cherry. These fruit flavours work really well with the medium body, which provides just enough weight to give the beer some structure, but is light enough to showcase those fruits. Those fruits also provide a good counterpoint to the bitterness of the coffee and contribute to the gentle finish. All in all a most enjoyable beer. Rich and complex and perhaps importantly, without too much alcohol, meaning  it's mellow, but not to the point where you feel like a bit of a doze after you've finished it. Enjoyed both this and the Vienna style lager they make so I look forward to trying more Meantime beers.

4.5% abv. £2.19 (50cl) from Beers of Europe


Nothing really to do with the beer, but since I wrote this the earworm has had me listening to Helmet's In the Meantime. nI had my last ever illegal (well, under-age anyway) pint at a gig where theses guys were supporting Ministry. No idea what it was, but damn sure it wasn't as good as the Meantime beer, although the gig was well worth the long trans-Pennine trip to Manchester. My cure for the earworm? Listen to the tune, so here it is...


You wouldn't have been able to do that in the nineties eh? Open to suggestions for a beer match for that one.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Local Feathers to be Ruffled

Cryptic I know, but BrewDog, who are quietly and subtly going about opening a new bar in Nottingham,* are apparently releasing a new beer to coincide with the opening. Apparently it is:

"A brand new beer brewed just for the bar that should ruffle some of the local's feathers..."

Disclaimer: *If you are likely to get touchy about Nottingham please close your browser.*

Still here? OK, you were warned... So I'm prepared to go along with the hype, and just for fun, inviting speculation about exactly whose feathers they are intending to ruffle, and in what way. I'm not from Nottingham, and although I am proud of my adopted home, I'm not averse to poking fun at it (it's a sign of affection don't you know).

  • Nottingham CAMRA? General target, or them representing CAMRA as a whole. I kind of hope not, potentially be a bit lame. Entertainment value if it backfires though, are people really going to stop going to Castle Rock pubs? There's only one BrewDog bar round here, and lots of VERY good Castle Rock pubs.
  • Nottingham myths and legends? Robin Hood's from Yorkshire kind of gig. That'd get them some press... Robin Hood's Doncaster Pale Ale anyone?
  • Football? Well, Forest at any rate. My personal favourite. Rarely do folk round here get so stuck in a groove as when they start saying their team BELONGS in the Champions League. Although they don't have football in Scotland do they, so it's probably not a goer this one.
  • Of course it might just be a beer, and the feather ruffling is just because it isn't Harvest Pale. But this is BrewDog of course. 

I also have to be quite nice to them between now and Tuesday in case I don't get through the door and have to rely on my spy network.

*Yeah, right.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Williams Brothers 'Midnight Sun' for Pancake Day

I'm rarely one to miss an excuse to drink beer, and this porter pancake syrup recipe from Mug of St. Arnold (also on Twitter) gave me an excuse to not only open a beer I was looking forward to, but to play around with a bit of it in the kitchen and eat pancakes!

Once I'd fathomed out the crazy American measurements (why on earth sugar is measured in a fluid quantity I'll never know) and converted them into good old fashioned bushels, away I went. This is my sort of cooking. It involves very little skill, and beer. 

The beer I went for was Williams Brothers' Midnight Sun Porter. It smelled gorgeous when it was heating up, looking a bit like the molasses at the Bundaberg Rum distillery that I remember from my Queensland days - although slightly more appetising! The syrup thickened slightly on cooling, and still had plenty of boozy quality to it (maybe a 5.6% beer was a bit excessive for the exercise but I'm not complaining) and the cinnamon complemented the original spiciness of the porter which came out a lot because of the heat.

The result was that the syrup was a lot better than the pancakes. We got some delivered with a load of food by mistake so we got them for free - ready made pancakes that is - and they were worth every penny. Frankly I should have just bothered myself breaking a few eggs open - live and learn. Still, the syrup was a resounding success. I may have gone a bit mad with my first helping but my wife went back for seconds and thirds, and the remainder (and there was some even though I halved the measurements, the recipe does make a lot) is destined for ice cream later on today.

As for the beer au naturelle, well, it's a modern porter and it's definitely up to the Williams Brothers' usual high standard. There's plenty of body and bitter coffee malt to back up the rich, spicy dark fruit flavours on the palate and bitter chocolate notes on the finish. Once it was in the syrup all of those fruits became like liquid mince pie filling.

I got this one from Gauntleys in Nottingham. Not sure what I paid for it but a quick search had it at £1.89 from Beers of Europe. At this price it's a bargain for a 50cl bottle, given what you'd probably pay for a comparable American beer.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Subjectivity & Judgement

Had a fun discussion this morning on Twitter revolving around subjectivity. It began because a well-regarded beer was dismissed summarily by someone as 'tasting like stout' which he hated. So what? Well, apparently the guy is a 'beer judge.' OK, so maybe he should be avoiding judging the stout category, and he's obviously well within his rights to say whatever he likes about an individual beer - especially since it was outside of a competition - but it still asks a question about judgement generally. I'll leave that one since I wasn't there and don't know the man involved so I won't comment. (Hat-tip to Phil for the anecdote though - follow to join in!)

My blog is on something of a hiatus at the moment because I am both skint, and I'm supposed to be working towards a spirits exam next month. The exam is part theory, part tasting. To quote Dave Broom in Distilling Knowledge;* 'It is often said that tasting is an entirely subjective matter.' and indeed this same point was made by Paul in the Twitter conversation. However, in the case of exams (or judging for competitions), as he goes on to point out, it can't be. Objectivity has to be strived for. If, in a situation where you are supposed to be judging a drink on its merits, you say 'I don't like this...' you are answering the wrong question. Again, it's fine for the pub conversation, or your blog, or twitter. If I get to assess three whiskies in my exam next month and I just say, 'I don't like whisky, they're therefore all rubbish,' I'll get failed.

This is why there are clearly laid out criteria for the exam, and, as pointed out in the qualification for his statement about subjectivity, Dave Broom says 'The key question is, is it a good example of its type?' Similarly I would like to think that our stout-hating beer judge had his objective criteria set out by any competition organisers, and that he was using the same criteria and tasting approach as his fellow judges. Am I convinced as to the objectivity of all awards and competitions? Well that wouldn't be very objective of me would it?

I'm off back to the book, wish me luck!

*Set text for the exam. (Link is to him on Twitter)

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Victory 'Hop Wallop'

It could be I'm missing the point somewhere, but it strikes me that in some cases the whole 'hop flavour is good' thing gets pushed so far as to leave a beer that actually has very little character or complexity. Yes, it's undeniably packed with flavour, but it can be one-dimensional, even (dare I say it?) boring. Hops and nothing else.

There is precedent. Twenty years ago varietal Chardonnay was almost synonymous with white wine. Liberal use of new oak was fashionable, and when this had been followed through to its logical conclusion we ended up with white wines that had no fruit character. Wines were flavoured more with oak chips or even oak extract than the grapes they were fermented from in the first place. It was more like biting the twigs than enjoying the fruit.

That said, experimentation is a great thing, and without creativity we'd be without an awful lot of very good beer. Would Sabbath be around if Hendrix hadn't been? Slayer without Sabbath? Napalm Death without Slayer? Anaal Nathrakh without Napalm? OK, it's stretching the analogy, but my point is that, while you might well not get on with music, or beer, that pushes the margins that bit further, it's still a good thing that it exists. As the ever-motivational Olympic motto goes: 'Bigger, faster, more expensive...' (or possibly not.)

Me? I'm undecided on the whole Imperial IPA thing. I love the hop flavours but it's the lack of interest that bothers me. Yes, there's loads of pine on the nose and grapefruit pithyness on the palate of this Hop Wallop, but it almost tastes a bit extracted, sort of wrung out rather than loved! I don't find myself dwelling on it, savouring the beer while enjoying discovering new flavours as it warms. It'd stand out in a crowd and I'm sure at a beer festival or if you were judging it as part of a big line up it's attract your attention, but does that necessarily make it a great beer?

8.5% abv. £3.39 (355ml) from Beers of Europe.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Transatlantic Taste Test

Possibly a bit excessive on the grandiose title, but I like alliteration, and putting 'Burton Bridge and Sierra Nevada Porter' in the title line would have been far too long.

One of the fun things about tastings of whatever tipple is trying to challenge preconceptions. Blind tastings are particularly good for this, and the greater the preconception, the better it works, be it 'I don't like Chardonnay' or 'lager is all tasteless fizzy rubbish.' Although I didn't try these two beers blind (my wife did, as a spurious, unscientific control group of her own), I have to admit to a couple of ideas as to what differences there might be between them.

The Burton Bridge is black, but shows deep reddish brown/garnet colours when you get some light through it. There's a fruity aroma but without heavy alcohol sweetness. I though there were aromas like the skins of plums (fruity, but bitter), the wife chipped in with cherry.  On the palate the bitter chocolate and roasted coffee notes cam through a bit more, along with a touch of mixed peel. The finish is clean and decidedly bitter - and this becomes more ferocious as you get down to the bottom of the bottle (it's bottle conditioned).

The Sierra Nevada unsurprisingly is more aggressively fizzy, and with a lot more chocolate on the palate, and less fruit character. It's certainly a less challenging beer, that sweetness and a bit more headiness from the higher abv making it more approachable, but I thought it lacked a bit of complexity compared to the Burton Bridge. Having said that I thought they were both good beers, and a lot more similar than I expected them to be. If you want a porter to be mellowing and not shouty and aggressive then they do the job. The missus preferred the Sierra Nevada, so I think an honourable score draw is a fair result.

Burton Bridge Porter. 4.5%. Not sure what I paid for it (I got it from Weavers in Nottingham) but The Real Ale store charge £2.60 (50cl).
Sierra Nevada Porter. 5.6%. £2.29 (35cl) from Beers of Europe.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Craft Fiction

Jules: This was Craft Beer! You know what "craft beer" is?
Vincent: Yeah, I think so. That means the beer came down from Heaven..
Jules: Yeah, man, that's what it means. That's exactly what it means! The beer came down from Heaven.
Vincent: I think we should be going now.
Jules: Don't do that! Don't you fucking do that! Don't blow this shit off! What we just drank was a fucking craft beer!
Vincent: Chill the fuck out, Jules, this shit's just beer.
Jules: Wrong! Wrong, this shit isn't just beer.
Vincent: Do you wanna continue this theological discussion in the car, or at the jailhouse with the cops?
Jules: We should be fuckin' dead now, my friend! We just drank a craft beer, and I want you to fucking acknowledge it!
Vincent: Okay man, it was a craft beer, can we leave now?


Jules: I just been sittin' here thinkin'.
Vincent: About what?
Jules: The craft beer we drank.
Vincent: The craft beer you drank. I drank a good beer.
Jules: Do you know what a miracle is?
Vincent: An act of God.
Jules: What's an act of God?
Vincent: I guess it's when God makes the impossible possible. And I'm sorry Jules, but I don't think what happened this morning qualifies.
Jules: Don't you see Vince, that shit don't matter. You're judging this the wrong way. It's not about what. It could be God sent the beer, he changed Coke into Pepsi, he found my fuckin' car keys. You don't judge this shit based on merit. Whether or not what we experienced was an according-to Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is I felt God's touch. God got involved.

[Don't take this too seriously. I'm enjoying the ongoing discussion, as well as indulging myself with hyperbole (it is the day after the superbowl after all.) I also apologise for murdering Tarantino's dialogue. Remember, craft beer is where you find it...]

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Odell IPA

Caution: Contains Wine Tangent.

Decent New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can be a great wine to use as a starting point to get people into tasting wine properly. It usually has loads of accessible tropical fruit flavours, making it very drinkable, and more often than not it has a characteristic gooseberry flavour that can easily be identified when you come back to it. When I run wine classes it therefore becomes a useful tool to get over that barrier of 'all white wine tasting the same' or 'I can never pick out any of these flavours/aromas that people go on about.' This has also lead to it being hugely successful.

Why the wine spiel? Well, it occurred to me that something like this Odell IPA has certain characteristics in common with Kiwi Sauvignon. It's not so extreme as to be unpalatable to your average lager drinker, but still has a kick of hops that once you said to someone 'this is what hops can do' they'd experience that moment of revelation and rush down the street shouting 'eureka!' Well, perhaps not, but hopefully you see my point. Lots of zesty orange on the nose and palate, with tropical fruit and a mouth-watering bitterness (similar to the acidity that's so important in a good white wine) and a lovely smooth, not over-carbonated texture which makes it both mellow and moreish. Good enough to fall in love with? Well it has been suggested (with thanks to Boak & Bailey).

7.0%. £2.99 (355ml) from Beers of Europe.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Growlers Galore

This is my contribution to The Session #60, as hosted by the Washington Beer Blog.

I can't really write about growlers, I even had to look up what they were*, although I had a vague idea. My knowledge of American beer culture is obviously way behind the times.

I don't even own one. Well, unless you count this fella...

Maybe next time

* I wouldn't recommend doing this with a google image search... Some terms are not the same all over the world.