Sunday 31 January 2010

Now Drinking: Gadds Reserved Barrel Aged Barley Wine

I'm a bit tired - no wait, I'm knackered. The country is out of recession, and they all want to come and spend money at Beer-Ritz. Hooray for continued growth and prosperity, boo to being on your feet for nine hours at a time. All I wanted to do was come home, have a beer and go to bed.

There's a chap who comes into the shop every Sunday evening, and buys three bottles of decent beer. He bought some Gadds Reserved a few weeks ago and asked if I'd tried it. I said I hadn't but would try one and report back. He thought the one he'd bought was a bit odd - he thought it tasted of juniper.

Being a dutiful sort of a chap, with a love of a fairly strong beer for a nightcap after a long day standing around drinking Three Floyds Dark Lord and Courage Imperial Russian Stout, sorry, I mean selling quality beer to good people, I've come home, sloshed my bottle of Reserved into a glass, and have it in front of me.

I don't need to taste it to tell that it's got some sort of infection - it smells like dry Breton cider from a foot away. Out of duty, I have a mouthful - it's drinkable, but it's not really giving me any pleasure, and I'm not going to finish it. It's a shame, as the other Gadds beers I've tried (Pale No 3, Dogbolter Porter and India) are great.

If I was feeling generous, I might make an argument that a barrel-aged beer will always display a bit of "character". For example, Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout from last year (the cream labels) has developed a prominent barrel character. It's not totally unpleasant, but it's moved from being something that my better half was happy to have a sip of, to something that made her pucker her face in unhappiness. It's the nature of the beast, I guess.

Anyway, if I was judging this bottle of Reserved in a beer competition, I'd call for another sample. As it is, there isn't another bottle in the cellar, so I'm going to call for something else.

Saturday 30 January 2010

Now Drinking: Badger Pickled Partidge

I'll kick off by declaring that I have a soft spot for Badger beers. Tanglefoot on cask was a beer that I drank quite a bit of in my youth. I can't claim that it was the first cask ale I ever drank, but by volume, it was easily the beer that I drank most of as I learned about beer

Pickled Partridge is a beer I should have blogged on quite a while ago. Badger were good enough to send me a case of this beer (a metric eight-pack rather than an imperial dozen, but that's the way of the world), and after drinking a bottle, I was favourably imoressed. In fact, I was so impressed that I drank the whole case of beer. Not in one sitting, you understand, but I repeatedly thought "ooh, I fancy a beer" and after scanning the cellar (and as you might expect, I have quite a bit of beer in the cellar), I'd grab a Pickled Partridge.

So rather embarassingly, I had to 'fess up to them that I'd drunk the whole case, all the time with the intention of blogging on it, but sadly, went back for more once too often. I promised that if they could send me another bottle, I'd blog on it. I actually went to a couple of supermarkets to see if I could buy it, but as it's one of their seasonal beers, it was all gone.

That's the thing about this beer - it's really drinkable, but has plenty of character. Don't get me wrong, this beer lies firmly in the Ordinary Brown Beer camp, but towards the upper echelons of that category. There's plenty of fruit on the nose (some dried fruit maltiness coupled with a slightly brighter red fruit character) alongside a noticeably hoppy note. It's medium-bodied, dry with a fairly bright hop character, which is nice to find in a slightly darker beer. I'm sure I don't have to comment on how moreish or drinkable the beer is - I've already mentioned that I reached the end of the case before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, as it is these days).

I'm off to visit Badger (or Hall & Woodhouse, as they're more correctly known) mid-March, and am really looking forward to it. You can expect a few reports back from the visit. One question I'm looking forward to asking is which mentalist came up with the idea of flavouring Poacher's Choice with damson and liquorice. I quite like it, but I imagine that it's the sort of thing that might put legions of casual drinkers off Badger's beers for good.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Roosters American IPA Meets the Twissup

How great a brewery are Rooster's? Let me count the ways. Actually, let's not, let's just mention a few of them. I don't know why I was surprised to see them turning up time and again in all my favourite beer books - you know, the biggies by Michael Jackson, Garrett Oliver and, latterly, Ben McFarland. Maybe it's because they're local to me, and have a (relatively) modest output, I think of them as small. Relatively small they may be, but you don't get feted in classic beer books and win gold medals at the World Beer Cup without being on top of your game.

This beer is a great example of what Rooster's do. Head brewer Sean Franklin has a wonderful philosophy, saying that pale malt in a beer is like a blank canvas upon which hop character can be projected. Or, in a more prosaic mode, he's described his beers as being just one single flower standing alone on a lawn - your attention is drawn to a singularity, rather than overwhelmed by lots of different things going on.

They have a lot of projects going on at present, some of which I get the impression that they would rather I didn't talk about too much, so let's just talk about the beer in the video. It's a beautiful pale golden ale, combining all the attributes of this youngest of English ale styles with an American approach to hopping. The result is unmistakably English, and unmistakably Rooster's - soft, rounded, balanced, but with a pungent hop character that never overwhelms the aroma or palate.

So it is with their American IPA, which brewer Sam describes as 'just something Sean and I did so we could have something nice to drink'. You flash git - what about the rest of us? Bursting with tropical fruit and floral aromas, there's a big spike of bitterness that quickly subsides, leaving the fruit and flowers to blossom on the palate, before a little bitterness creeps back in at the finish, making it a particularly moreish beer.

We don't normally have draught beer at the shop. We used to sell a few, but we couldn't get the throughput to make it work preoperly, and anyway, cask ale is what pubs are for. But when the rolling pub crawl that became known as "the twissup" (a cross between a tweet-up and piss-up) made it to Leeds following a beerathon in Sheffield, I wanted to make sure that there was some proper refreshment for them at the shop. Thanks to Rooster's generosity, the Twissup arrived looking rougher than a badgers tongue, and left looking a tad more sprightly (the beer was donated for this purpose).

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Now Drinking: Fuller's Brewer's Reserve No. 1

Off to visit Fuller's next week, which I'm very much looking forward to. Head brewer John Keeling is a very interesting guy, a nice combination of scientist and aesthete, which in an ideal world is what a brewer should be.

Although I was looking forward to the "ordinary" tour, it turns out that I'll be touring with Melissa Cole. Wonderfully, we are in for the full experience, as I got an email from John saying "it looks like we will be tasting some of our barrel experiments that day- if you don't mind strong beer in the morning". I replied "I love the taste of strong beer in the morning - it tastes like victory". He'll either get the Apocalypse Now reference, or think I'm a tit. Oh well.

I'm looking forward to revisiting some of the beers that I wrote about here, and finding out what Brewer's Reserve No. 2 will be. To get tuned up, I broke out a bottle of Reserve No.1 tonight. A stunningly good bottle, lacking some of the bretty/barrel flora notes that I've noticed before. Lots of spicy gingerbread, parkin and golden syrup initially, fruit mid-palate (over-ripe melon, nectarines, apricots), figs and rum in the finish. Full, satisfying, with great length and complexity, beautifully balanced, with just a hint of alcohol poking through in the finish.

Monday 25 January 2010

Greene King: A Prelude

I was cooking dinner the other evening, and I was thinking about what beer I'd like to go with it. I was cooking steak with caramelised onions, potatoes, and a rocket salad. Simple food, which would be nothing without the caramelised onions - they add a really sweet burst of flavour that seems to intensify everything around it.

I knew I wanted a fairly big beer, with some darker malts and a bit of sweetness. Nothing too flashy - the Port Brewing 3rd Anniversary I had a few days ago went great with enchiladas, but would grate against the simplicity of tonight's food.

I've been enjoying quite a few Greene King beers lately - I like their defiant Englishness, the peppery, almost minerally edge to the hops and the sweet, chewy malt. I'm not saying that they are how English beer should be, or how it used to be, but there is something very distinctly English about them.

In the end, I plumped for a bottle of Abbot Reserve. When I visited the brewery a few months ago, brewer Craig Benett mentioned that they'd aced the first brew of Abbot Reserve - it went to a tasting panel, and they all said "don't change a thing". Naturally, I was a bit sceptical.

Predictably, I was wrong. Abbot Reserve is a lovely drop of beer. It doesn't dazzle with a symphony of citrus and tropical fruit hops, beguile with smoky malts, or punch you in the throat with a big dollop of alcohol. What it is is very well balanced, full of flavour, rich, classic English ale. If I have any criticism of it, then like so much large-production beer, I find it a bit over-carbonated - but that's my favourite gripe about most bottle beers.

Did it go well with the steak? Hell yeah. Some people say that Greene King beers don't taste of much. This is simply rubbish - they taste of plenty, and they do so in a way that harmonised and enhanced flavours of the simple but tasty food I was preparing.

I know it's not fashionable, and I'm not being deliberately perverse, but Greene King Abbot Reserve is a great beer. There's something almost austere about it, something subtle that doesn't shower you in fireworks, set your clothes on fire, and roll you in glitter. But at the same time, it's packed full of chewy malt and dense, peppery hops. It's a great food beer. It's a great beer to drink on its own. Look, I know you won't believe me, but it's just a great beer.

Friday 22 January 2010

A Year of Beer 2010 #2 - Crown Brewery India Pale Ale

IPA, IPA, IPA. Bloody IPA. What does it mean? As Stuart Howe, brewer at Sharp's points out: "IPA, the most meaningless set of initials in brewing." And yet they are everywhere. I'm drinking one right now - Port Brewing 3rd Anniversary Ale, kindly gifted to me by Phil at It's a classic, a splendidly concentrated West Coast IPA, almost too concentrated, but still very drinkable despite the 10%abv, so you know who to blame if this post becomes as long and incoherent as this first paragraph might suggest it will.

Bloody IPA. I wussed out of giving a sensible definition in the book what I wrote, preferring instead to rechristen IPA as International Pale Ale. Sure, I explain what "real" IPA is, but really, the initials have become so debased as to be more-or-less meaningless. Is it going to be a 3.5%abv session beer, or a 10%abv hop monster that will knock you on your arse after one large bottle? I don't think there's any style of beer that has a greater range of flavours within it.

You'll know by now the story of IPA - a strong, hoppy beer that made the journey from England to India, via the circuitous trade routes that took it west across the Atlantic, east round the Cape, and up to India. In a moment of idle curiosity, Pete Brown wondered out loud what a beer might be like that made the journey, and then spent the best part of a year cursing himself for this idle pub thought. He did it - he brewed as authentic an IPA as he could, then took it on the authentic trade route for IPA.

I won't telegraph the punchlines in the book (for they are legion), but it's a great read. There's a lot of information about IPA in there, as well as travel writing, psychology, and the most perfect description ever of falling into a canal. But what is even more enjoyable (and I'm sure he's had a blast doing it) are the many IPAs that Pete has had a hand in over the last year or so.

I was surprised that I've only tried one of them, Crown Brewery India Pale Ale. But this IPA is so good that I almost don't care about missing the others. There's a lot of things going on here, and I don't just mean the flavours. Stuart is a great brewer, and has spared no expense in making this brew chock full o' hops - it's a total hop monster, but still brilliantly balanced. The bright, pithy, olfactory assault of grapefruit, lime, orange pith and backnote of toffee malt is mouthwatering. It's just as good on the palate, with a bonus that, being bottled from cask, the carbonation on this is bang on. Not only does it taste like real ale in a bottle, but it has the same texture and mouthfeel too. It's clean, bright and forceful, but delicate and elegant at the same time. I'd be lying if I called "the English Pliny", but it is really, really good.

It's also worth noting that Stuart has warm-conditioned this beer, partly to try and replicate the conditions that it might have experienced on the long journey to Calcutta, and also partly from a "let's just do it" experimental attitude. I can't tell you what the beer was like before conditioning - a total lupulin beast, I would guess - but what has come out at the end is a great beer. There is one cask left of this brew, and Stuart has said he will bottle it.

OK, there you have it. A beer, a book, and a (slightly too long) story about them both. Neither are currently available, the IPA being still in cask, and the book being out of print until its paperback release in June. If you live in Leeds, and come to Beer-Ritz, we should soon be able to sell you the last release of this batch of IPA, and (if you promise to return it) lend you a hardback first edition of Pete's book. Don't say that we don't try to win your custom.

Thursday 21 January 2010

What's Beer Worth? Poll Results

As you can see if you cast your eyes to the left [poll info now at the foot of this post], the poll over bottled beer mark-ups by independent retailers has closed, with an even spread of results between all four answers. If Pete Brown were here, he could tell me what these statistics mean, but I'll have to draw my own conclusions.

It would be a reasonable conclusion, from the stats, to say that nobody has a clue what retailers actually pay for the beers that they sell. Alternatively, 12 really clued-up retailers took part in the poll, and outside of them, no-one has any idea of what a £2 beer costs the retailer. But exactly half of the respondents thought that the retailers are making big mark-ups.

Without going into too much detail, usual mark-ups on decent quality bottled beer yields 30-40% gross profit (GP). This means that if you buy a beer for £1, selling it for £2 yields around 40% GP (see footnote). Buying it for about £1.20 and selling for £2 gives about 30% GP.

Not all of the beer that gets sold at retail conforms to this. There are some staples that seem to hold their lower price (and lower margin) wherever they are sold - well, except for supermarkets, obviously. Supermarkets work on tiny mark-ups and massive volumes, often driving a hard bargain with the supplier to get a better GP.

There is a school of thought that supermarkets are evil, and shaft the breweries royally to get the best prices. This might be so, but the breweries know what they sign up for when they get into bed with the big boys. I don't feel sorry for any breweries who do this - I'm just baffled as to why they want to devalue their product in such a way.

To answer a specific query from Cooking Lager in a previous post, the prices a supermarket charge have no influence on our pricing structure. We charge a couple of quid for quite a few ordinary brown beers that you can often pick up in the supermarket for about the price that we pay wholesale. What I can say is that 99% of our beer is priced in what see as a fair manner, with very few mark-ups exceeding (or not reaching) the margins mentioned above.

Anyway, the poll results are only half the story - I'm sure you're brimming with questions about this one.

And the picture has nothing to do with the post - it's just one that I'm really proud of of which I am really proud.

If an off-trade retailer is selling a bottle of beer for £2, roughly how much did they pay for it?

50p - 75p 11 (25%)

75p - £1 11 (25%)

£1 - £1.25 12 (27%)

£1.25 - £1.50 10 (22%)

Votes so far: 44
Poll closed

(FOOTNOTE: GP is calculated by looking at what proportion of the selling price is profit, after VAT has been accounted for. It's impossible to make 100% mark-up. I think when most people (either consumers or traders) talk about 100% mark-up, they mean selling it for double what you paid. As you can see in paragraph two, selling for twice the amount you paid actuall yields about 40% GP)

Wednesday 20 January 2010

The Grove Inn, Huddersfield

I like places that exceed expectation. The bar with tapas that I mentioned a few posts ago is a case in point. My good lady tells me I came over a bit lukewarm about it - I'm not, I thought it was very good, and delivered far beyond our expectations.

If I may be so bold, I also think that the shop I manage, Beer-Ritz in Leeds, delivers beyond expectations. With a band of merry bloggers about to arrive in a few days, I may be setting myself up for a fall by saying this, but I like to think that the combination of backwater location, slightly shabby exterior, and a metric shedload of good beers delivers far beyond what anyone expects if they've never visited before.

Another place that is something of an over-achiever is The Grove Inn, Huddersfield. We went their recently for our annual staff outing, and aside from their being an absurd number of great bottles and casks to chose from, the thing that did it for me was the disparity between it's ordinary pubbiness, and it's beery eclecticism.

It's a little walk from the station, but well worth the effort. I love the fact that there are so many beers on offer that the staff need a map to find them (seriously). It took a couple of goes for me to be served with an Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, despite my description of it having a little plastic goat hanging from the neck. When the bottle eventually appeared, it did so accompanied with a classic dry aside: "Goat? It looks more like a bloody antelope to me"

Anyway, have a look at the regularly updated draught menu and the list of bottles, and judge for yourself. It's like an ordinary pub, but brilliant.

Here we are, returning from the Grove, having a beer on Huddersfield station. We bought a bottle of De Molen Summink or Oeder to take out, and before you think ill of us, we brought the glasses with us. We had a bottle of Deus and an Ola Dubh 40yr Old on the train on the way there, just to liven the palate a bit. The top pic is one of Ron Pattinson's historically accurate beers, brewed at De Molen. On the basis of this bottle alone, both Ron and Menno rock.

Sunday 17 January 2010

In Praise of Ordinary Brown Beer

I've been drinking quite a bit of ordinary brown beer over the last couple of months. It started with a trawl of my local supermarket (Morrisons), with the vague idea of trying to buy beer like a "normal" person does. Morrisons has been doing a "4 for £5.50" promotion on a good chunk of their range for a few months, and I was just curious to see what you could get for your money.

Overall, the standard of ordinary brown beer on the supermarket shelf is pretty good. Nothing I tasted was technically faulty - nothing was skunked, oxidised or infected, it was all good clean fun. There was also plenty of differentiation between these lookalike beers - they might look similar, but they all taste different, and in fact, some of them taste really good. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that there are some classics you can up on the supermarket shelf for very little money.

Bateman's, Hook Norton and Greene King all had distinctive flavour profiles that really set my memory synapses whirring, not in a Proustian sense (there you go, Adrian), but in a way that made me think "God, this ordinary brown beer is not only distinctive and classically English, but actually really tasty".

I quite like ordinary brown beer, made with ordinary malt and hops. I don't think there's any disconnect between liking a pint of ordinary brown beer and liking a glass of concentrated West Coast hop ejaculate (for the avoidance of doubt, I'm using that word as a noun, and also using it as a form of praise). I like mashed potato, and I like really spicy Thai food - they are totally different tastes and textures, but I can still tell the difference between good and bad examples of both. Actually, I'm a sucker for all Thai food, good or bad, but I can definitely make some of the best mashed potato you've ever eaten.

There's a place for everything in the omnivorous drinker's fridge, and actually, liking one can sometimes help you understand why you like the other. Try it - you might like it too.

(TRANSPARENCY STATEMENT: I visited Greene King last year, and they showed me around the brewery, and arranged a tasting of their entire output, including Old 5X and BPA (the constituents of Strong Suffolk Vintage), plus some soon-to-be-released new beers. They sent me away with a couple of dozen freebies, some of which fuelled this post)

Friday 15 January 2010

Tapas Con Cerveza de Brooklyn

Look, I know this won't come as a surprise, but I love Brooklyn Lager. Everyone loves Brooklyn Lager. It's the fall-back of the beer-lover, a bit like draught Guinness in pubs - you know what I mean, if it's all kegged crap, and maybe one dodgy looking handpump, Guinness is usually a safe bet.

We had a day out today, and went to check out Distrikt in Leeds. It's a bar that serves tapas, rather than a tapas bar. It's underground, moodily lit, and quite cool. I have to say that my hopes weren't that high, until I saw the beer and food menus.

Put simply, they had Brooklyn Lager. This is a mark of sense and taste on any bar menu. It's easy to drink, but has plenty of slightly caramelly malt and floral dry-hop charater to make it interesting. It also goes well with anything, as we were about to demonstrate.

Now, you can argue that I should have gone for a Spanish beer, and they have quite a few of them, all of the golden lager variety. This works well in Seville in the inferno of a mid-afternoon lunch. But it doesn't cut it in Leeds on a cold, wet Friday.

The food was Spanish with a Middle Eastern influence. If I was being kind, I'd say it was a nod to the Moorish ancestry of Andalucia. If I was being unkind, I'd say it was a lot of really tasty looking stuff all thrown together. That's not terribly unkind really, is it?

We ordered five small tapas plates; dukka dukka spiced chicken, merguez with red onion jam and skordalia (garlic mash, FYI), squid stuffed with red pepper and chorizo risotto, aubergine gratin with rocket pesto, and petit Lebanese pizza with lamb, pine nuts and pomegranate. I won't go on, but they were all great, and good value at £3-£4 each.

Through it all, Brooklyn Lager kept it's head. The lemon-pepper rub on the succulent chicken wings, the bite of the red onion jam, the creaminess of the risotto-stuffed squid - the beer coped with them all, enhancing, contrasting, and making the food shine more brilliantly than it might have done without it.

Two tiny criticisms - cold plates for the tapas meanthat bite-sized portions go cold quickly. I could have just eaten faster, I guess. Plus the flatbread for the lamb pizza was a tab lumpen. But these are minor quibbles.

I love Brooklyn Lager, and I love it more with this sort of spicy, toothsome, bite-sized food.

What's Beer Worth?

Just a quick poll, aimed at take-home beer sold in bottle in the off-trade. It's meant to focus on independent retailers rather supermarkets, who can afford to make much smaller mark-ups.

Put simply, how much money does a retailer make for each averagely-priced bottle of beer they sell? You might prefer to answer with a comment rather than just clicking the poll. If you want to give %GP, you'll have to do that, I'm afraid.

Is price related to value? Does more expensive beer taste better, or just different?

And in the tradition of blog polls, what glaring omission have I made from the poll and the follow-up questions?

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Beer: A Sense of Place

I'm not really one for labelling or cataloging beer, and I'm certainly not a style slave, but when you drink beer, it's nice to get a sense of where it's from, and the ethos behind it.

There was a tweet today from The Reluctant Scooper asking Is Moor JJJ IPA an IPA or a barleywine?. Normally I wouldn't get involved in this line of questioning, but (a) it's a bloody good beer and (b) when I tried it, I was surprised to be disappointed that it tasted like a really great West Coast Double IPA.

Now don't get me wrong, I love that whole USA West Coast IPA thing - it produces some of the most enjoyable beers I've ever had the pleasure to drink. But most of those have been imports, a direct link to the progenitor of a style, from a particular locality. Having a stunningly good DIPA coming from the West Country rather than the West Coast is simultaneously (a) a pleasure and (b) confusing. Yes, I know Justin is not of these isles, but still....

It's in the nature of beer that it can be brewed anywhere. If there's a brewer with enough gumption, they can make almost any style of beer, anywhere they chose. I guess the exception would be the classic Belgian lambics - they have a sense of place, and nothing really comes close to replicating the beers that are so intimately tied, of necessity, to a geographical locality. Actually, plenty of people come close (Russian River, for the win), but even thought the replicas are great, there is still a sense of ersatz rather than echt.

Still, these are the facts: Moor JJJ IPA is a great beer. It seems that no-one can really pin this beer down. I don't think these two points are mutually exclusive, unless someone can convince me otherwise.

Saturday 9 January 2010

"Emerging Trends in World Beers"

I'm writing a short feature for Off Licence News about trends for world beers in 2010, and the short term beyond. Working in retail, I know very clearly what they are, and who will be buying them.

But I'm curious as to what you may think. If you had to identify a couple of trends in world beers in the take-home market, what would they be? What's going to become more mainstream in 2010? And how will the beer geeks stay cutting edge - they don't want to drink the same as everyone else, so what will they move on to?

(For the avoidance of doubt, let's be clear that "world beers" basically means imported, non-domestically produced beers)

Friday 8 January 2010

Crown Brewery Pt 1: Django Reinhardt Damson Double Porter

One of the things about doing what I do (and although I realise this leaves me open to abuse of all kinds, if anyone can describe what it is that I do, in a way concise enough for a business card, I'd love to hear it) is that it is usually interesting, always varied, and every now again, really good fun.

I met Stuart Ross, brewer of the Crown Brewery, at the Great British Beer Festival last year (2009). We ended up spending most of the day wandering around the festival together, drinking beer and engaging in that great beer festival tradition, talking nonsense.

Stuart asked if I'd be interested in doing a brew with him, and we settled on doing something seasonal with an unusual ingredient. We settled on a damson porter, adding 10lbs of damsons to the copper. They gave a bit more fermentable sugar, and added a deep fruity note to the finished beer. You can read Stuart's account of the brew day on his blog (I'm sure it was 10lbs of damsons, not the 20lbs he claims, but hey, I'm not the brewer).

One of the things that I enjoyed about brewing a one-off special with Stuart was his willingness to make things up as we went along - I'm hoping that this is the sign of a confident and experienced brewer rather than dreadful ditherer. All through the brew day, although we had a clear idea of what we were aiming for, Stuart was tweaking as we went along, cutting sparge and collection a bit short to increase the OG of the wort, and only deciding at the last minute to ferment with a Belgian-style yeast strain, rather than a British one. That's why it's a damson double (i.e. "dubbel") porter.

The finished beer is pretty damn good, even if I do say so myself. The sweet fruitiness of the damsons is evident on the nose and the palate, with the darker malts giving a roasted, slightly smoky note. The slightly funky earthiness of the Belgian yeast contributes significantly to the aroma and flavour - it would be interesting to do the brew again, and ferment with a more neutral yeast strain. Shall we set a date now, Stu?

In summary, the Crown Brewery rocks, and is hopefully set for great things in 2010. But don't just take my word for it. That bloke Pete Brown (by which I mean the British Guild of Beer Writers' Writer of the Year 2009) rates Stuart as his second favourite brewer of the year, just behind John Keeling. And there's no shame in coming second to the man Keeling.

Coming up soon in part 2: Crown Brewery India Pale Ale and that bloke Pete Brown.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Right Here, Right Now

Stuart Ross of Crown Brewery enjoying some at-seat service on the way home from the GBBF 2009
Beer geeks (and I include myself in that non-derogatory term) will be delighted by the news that Vertical Drinks (their Facebook group is here) have just become UK importers for Delaware-based Dogfish Head, producers of many celebrated beers including their 90 Minute IPA, one of the classics of the Double IPA style.

Flying Dog also seem to be on a roll at the moment, with some of their more unusual offerings landing in Europe yesterday, including Raging Bitch (terrible name, great beer). Stone are musing about opening a brewery in Europe. BrewDog are building a reputation (and a deservedly successful business) on unashamedly bold, American-inspired ales.

This is great, but I wonder, does it take some of the magic out of beer geekery? Mark Dredge is talking about his forthcoming beer trip, and in fact it's something that I am (or rather, was) hoping to do next summer. To me, it makes sense going to the source and drinking these beers in their natural habitat. But having them easily available in the UK? Doesn't having these beers dropped in your lap take some of the shine out of it? Do these beers speak of a place and an ethos if you can mail-order them to your door, or go and buy them in Tescos?

Monday 4 January 2010

Worst Beer in the World Created in Belgian Brewery

One of the worst beers ever brewed has apparently been created in a small Belgian brewery.

Proprietor of De Spoofbrouwerij, Piers ran dom Shite, says that he wanted to do something to "really put our little brewery on the map".

"We used every technique we could think of - extreme continuous hopping, freeze and boil distillation, smashing the malt with the little toffee hammers, everything. At one point, we even fired hops out of a cannon straight into the boiling copper" explained Mr ran dom Shite. "We used many different strains of yeast - cultured, uncultured and barbarous - to get the fermentation going. Then we just wandered off and left it over the weekend. It smelled pretty bad when we came back, but we skimmed the scum off and put it into the old barrels".

Months of barrel ageing have produced a beer that unpleasantly acidic, overly bitter, and full of dangerous higher alcohols. Members of various beer rating and advocacy communities are thought to be appalled by the description of the beer, but nonetheless excited to try it.


For the avoidance of doubt, this is a spoof, inspired by this. It's one thing making a beer big, bold and beautiful, it's quite another thing to go all out for numbers. It's like making the noisiest car in the world, or, as Garrett Oliver says, the saltiest food - it's missing the point completely.

Complexity, length and balance - that's what it's all about, not hoppiest, strongest or bitterest. Sure, push the envelope, but remember - it's meant to be beer. I was particularly impressed that the ratings for Mikkeller X Hop Juice say things like one dimensionsal, thin, funny experiment, but it still chalks up a high rating.

(As I was writing this, I wondered if BrewDog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin fell foul of the "shooting for the high numbers" rule, but I don't think it does - it's an interesting beer liqueur in its own right, unusual and extreme, but still enjoyable, albeit with a bit of prior knowledge of what it is. And anyway, TNP is no longer the strongest beer in the world - it's been eclipsed by Schorschbrau Schorsch Bock)

Brewing at the Sharp End

I remember when I thought video blogging on 52 beers in a year was ambitious, but here's an interesting project that's worth following.

Stuart Howe, brewer at Sharp's of Rock in Cornwall is undertaking an staggeringly ambitious project to brew 52 new beers this year.

If you only know about Sharp's through their all-conquering Doom Bar, think again. Stuart brews a great range of stronger, mostly Belgian-inspired beers that are only available by mail order from the brewery shop. In fact, most of the best ones are so limited that you need to call them and place an order in person. It's certainly worth doing so, although I can't help you with a password, I'm afraid.

On the mainstream front, if you haven't tried Sharp's Chalky's Bite, then get to a supermarket (I think Sainsburys and Waitrose currently stock it). And if you want to know more about Sharp's, then you can look at my write-ups here and here.

Follow Stuart's blog - at least that way we can pressure him into making good on his promise

Sunday 3 January 2010

Get Back to Work

Today is my first day of work since December 23rd 2009. By all accounts, the shop is devoid of stock, and we're about to get hit with a load of snow, so my work today is going to be (a) keeping warm and (b) ordering enough stock to make the shop look like a shop again.

Priorities are: restocking with local beers; finding what Sierra Nevada beers are available; how well has BrewDog done over the New Year; and planning our works outing on the 11th January. I'm hoping that it coincides with the cask of De Molen's Blood, Sweat & Tears Bruichladdich Cask Finish going on at The Grove Inn in Huddersfield. Now that would be a party to remember (or at least try to remember)

Saturday 2 January 2010

De Dolle Brouwers Stille Nacht 2008

Inspired by this post by Andy at Beer Reviews, I cracked open a bottle of Stille Nacht 2008 last night as a nightcap. I know - a magnum of La Chouffe and a bottle of Stille Nacht all in one day. I did actually share the La Chouffe, but still - don't tell the government.

It seems a bit perverse to pick on a beer recommended by a brewer, as opposed to one of Mikkel Borg Bjergso's own creations. In fact, coincidentally, the good lady and I shared some of Mikkeller's Single Hop series the other evening, courtesy of (in fact, for the sake of transparency, I'll mention they were a gift). The Nelson Sauvin was the stand-out beer for us both, having just the right amont of sweet hop fruitiness (lots of passion fruit character) to offset the big, chewy bitterness. But when a man who brews beer that really rocks your world, and he cites Stille Nacht as a beer that he wishes he's brewed (and even says "oh yeah" about the 2008 vintage which he just drank), well, my interest was pricked.

Stille Nacht is De Dolle Brouwers' christmas beer. It's unusual for a seasonal winter beer in that it's quite pale, but also typical in that the alcohol is high (12% abv). It has a lot of dense, fruity malt (apricots and peaches), but the fruit is kept well in check with a big peppery hop character. There's a bit of cognac and alcohol burn in the finish. It's a big beer, very good as a nightcap (because you'll be wanting a nap shortly after finishing it).

It's a good beer, but for me, there is a little bit too much going on - all the elements are crammed in and holding a riot on the palate, rather than a nice synchronised line dance. I'm not one for hoarding or cellaring, but this definitely needs a couple of years to settle down. Then perhaps it will elicit a Barry-White-esque "oooh, yeah" from me too.

Friday 1 January 2010

New Year's Day Lunch

We're off out for lunch at a friend's house shortly. They, like us, have a toddler, and so have also been up since 5am after an early night.

We're having roast pork, and so the dilemma is what to take with us to drink. Not which beer - classically, weissebier would be the answer, although I've got a magnum of La Chouffe in the cellar that's a few years old, and I bet would be great with a big, sweet, fatty shoulder of roast pork - but whether to take beer or wine. By a happy coincidence, both bottles are dated 2005.

I know, it seems like heresy to mention the W-word, but most of the people I know aren't massive beer fans. The notion of turning up with a huge bottle of strong Belgian beer is as alien as turning up asking if I can fry some baby stoats as a starter - it might be tolerated, but only just.

Maybe I'll take along some smaller bottles of interesting beer as a way of breakng the ice. These are the same people who came to dinner when I had the mini-kegs from Sharp's in the fridge - they know what I'm like, and I'd hate to disappoint them. I've got a few of the BrewDog "dubplate" white label Trashy Belgian left - that should put an edge on our appetites.

Or maybe I should be a good guest and take beer and wine, and let them decide what they want to drink?

POST-LUNCH POSTSCRIPT: Frankly, the La Chouffe kicked the arse of a bottle of pretty good Puligny-Montrachet. I've got a lot of wine in the cellar that I'm no longer enthusiastic about drinking. Make me an offer.