Saturday 28 May 2011

NOW DRINKING: Bristol Beer Factory

One of Stan's rules states that you need to try at least two servings of any beer before passing judgement on it. A modification of this rule is that you should try a few of any brewery's beers before you form an opinion about the brewery.

Had I tried only Bristol Beer Factory's No. 7 and Gold, I might have come away thinking that they are a brewery who have got a feel for craft beer, but haven't quite nailed it yet. Both beers are good, solid golden ales, characterised by a big hop bitterness in the finish. Tasty, but not quite hitting the bullseye on my target marked 'hop-forward and in the modern style'. Hey, not everything has to hit that target, but something about their branding and use of 'new media' made me think that they are aiming for the stars.

So thank goodness I didn't disgrace both myself and them by forming an opinion on those two beers alone. Having tried a few other beers in their range, I can now see that Gold and No. 7 are beers that sit deliberately in the 'solid & reliable' area of their output.

The other beers that I've tried from them so far - Milk Stout (deliciously bittersweet), Southville Hop (heady, hoppy, American-accented), Exhibition (big, old-fashioned, nutty) have helped flesh out that impression, and framed an opinion about them, and that opinion is highly favourable. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that one of their beers, their New World Tripel collaboration with Arbor Ales, is one of the most enjoyable British-brewed beers I've had the pleasure of drinking this year. It's a riot of peach and apricot fruitiness, finishing with some cakey spiciness (ginger, mace). Delicious, and ruinously drinkable at 6.8%abv, I'd emailed them to ask if they had any more before I'd finished the first bottle.

I know that's in direct contravention of Stan's third rule, but sometimes you just know when something is right.


Saturday 21 May 2011

Now Drinking: Cigar City Jai Alai Humidor Series (Cedar) IPA

I've got an irrational hatred of wood-aged beers. Well, that's not quite true - my dislike is based on having tried dozens of wood-aged beers, and finding the majority of them to be an over-concentrated, spirit-influenced, hot, boozy mess, which I don't enjoy, so it's not entirely irrational. Let's start this post again, shall we?

It's my experience that wood-aged beers are over-influenced by the wood that they've spent time in. I like the soft, silky polish that you find in the Ola Dubh series, and of course Greene King's beers that incorporate their wood-aged Old 5X are usually a symphony of complexity. But what I really dislike is a 9% imperial stout put into a whisky cask and coming out as a 14% mix of beer and whisky. Your mileage may vary, but that's my experience and opinion.

So I'm not really sure what I was thinking when I bought this from the BrewDog shop - it's one of their guest beers, and I thought, well, why not. It has a good reputation, and sometimes you simply have to spend a bit of money and see what all the hype is about. The fact that the Cigar City Brewery's website is a touch hard to operate did nothing to inspire me, but hey, I wanted to try some new beer, and so I took the plunge.

And you know what? I'm glad I did. I can't vouch as to whether this bottle is representative of what it should be, but it's a surprisingly robust, almost English-style IPA (think Meantime IPA) crossed with a typical American IPA, and aged with cedar wood. I'd guess that it's aged over cubes or staves - it's definitely not a barrel-ageing treatment. But regardless of the technique, it's the end result that counts. Alongside the brown-sugar and marmalade aroma, and the sweetish initial attack, the spiciness of the cedar wood swooping in mid-palate adds a dimension that I'm not sure could be achieved any other way. It's a pungent, resinous spiciness that sits between the malt and hops, and adds a new dimension that throws both into relief. Crucially, by doing this, it actually makes you concentrate harder on what's happening on your palate.

A really interesting beer, a really interesting treatment, and a really interesting experience, and crucially, it's one I'd like to repeat. A lesson in abandoning your preconceptions.


Thursday 19 May 2011

Brand Building in the 21st Century

Marketing has a long and chequered history. From the 1950s heyday of the Madison Avenue whizzkids (as epitomised by 'Mad Men' - as essential as 'The Wire' in terms of TV crack), where advertising was unsophisticated lying, to the 1980s and sophisticated lying, to the 21st century, where advertising at its best means being sold something without realising you're being sold something. I'm not sure it's a question of style over substance any more, it's more a question of form over function. So powerful is the Kernel brewery's no-design aesthetic that even people who have never heard of them see the bottles, pick them up and say 'ohhh, yessss'. Plain brown paper with a minimalist design aesthetic (form) communicates a legal minimum of information (function) in a way that demonstrates brand values of self-assurance, integrity and modesty - in short, everything you would want from an artisan producer of anything. It helps that the beers are kick-ass too.
BrewDog's latest video, set up to plug the launch of the uncharacteristically dour website, is another example of marketing trying not to be marketing. Unusually for 21st century media communication, it very explicitly gives a message, rather than simply giving a few carefully researched cues from you draw a conclusion that appears to be your own. Whereas a meta-analysis of the Kernel's branding leads to believe in the brand via it's no-brand identity, BrewDog hit you in the face so hard that it almost backfires. Surely they can't think I need the message spelled out this obviously? While everyone currently puts the a peculiarly British boot into BrewDog for being a success story (sure, it's annoying that they can't make enough beer, but you didn't ever really believe that whole 'Beer For Punks' schtick, did you?), I'm saddened that they feel the need to big themselves up by doing others down. Their beers are great enough to speak for themselves, and to try and further their aims by picking on Fosters, Stella and Carlsberg seems a bit like the school brainiac trying to outwit the rugby team by calculating differential equations out loud. We get it, but it's just a bit annoying.
Which brings us to Wells and Youngs' campaign for Bombardier, which I will never forget hearing pronounced as 'Bombar-dee-yay' by a host at a drinks industry awards ceremony, no doubt to (as then was) Charles Wells' immense annoyance. While this may not be the most sophisticated bit of brand-building (indeed, it's only 21st century by virtue of it having been made in 2011), it pushes all the right buttons. Fading actor - check. Schoolboy innuendo - check. Common catchphrase appropriated for advertising purposes - bang on, err, I mean check. By an incredible coincidence, just as I'm writing this the ad has popped up on TV, and I have to say that it plays a lot better on telly than it does via the web. Sure, the tittersome reference to the 'Bush & Fiddle' is brain-numbingly tedious, evoking a genuine moment of 'no, did they really do that?' (and not in a good way) but the moment where the Bombardier heads the first cannonball is priceless. Sadly, they lose my attention again at the end where the Bombardier whips a bottle out of his trousers. That's (a) unappealing and (b) unlikely to be anything close to an appropriate serving temperature. .

Tuesday 10 May 2011

NOW DRINKING: Truman's Runner Ale

If you read this blog with anything approaching the sort of fervour that I've long hoped to inspire, it won't come as any surprise to you that I love brown beer. Ordinary brown beer. Full-on, unreconstructed brown beer. The sort of nutty, full-flavoured brown beer that inspired a generation of American brewers into making something other than wet, yellow air. Admittedly, by using the ingredients that were local to them, they failed in creating ordinary brown beer, and instead created a the sort of global lupulin arms race that finds its illogical conclusion in beer like Mikkeller's 1000 IBU - beers that so miss the point of what beer should be that it's hard to even guess where they came from.

Thankfully, Truman's Runner Ale (4%abv) is the sort of ordinary brown beer that knows where it's come from. Runner Ale is a beer that wears its colours firmly on its sleeve, and that colour is brown. But the thing is, it's easy to equate brown with boring, and Runner is anything but. It's the sort of full-bodied, bitter, nutty, dry beer that beer was built on. Not the sort of floppy-haired beer that relies on pilsner malt and precocious, evanescent new world hops with names like Ahtanum and El Dorado. No, good, solid traditional hops - Fuggles, Goldings, Styrian Goldings - and lots of chunky dark malt give Runner the sort of uncompromising taste that made British beer great.

Reading that back, that sounds like it's meant to be a ironic and take the piss out of such an unreconstructed classic style of ale, but it isn't mean to be. It's meant to evoke admiration for the unchanging nature of such a great ale. To deride this would be like deriding a sculptor for working with his hands and being covered in dust at the end of the day - sometimes you need to look beyond the facade and examine the meaning of something, rather than just judge what the appearance implies.

Truman's Runner Ale is a huge, hulking, giant of a beer, not caring for fashion or fripperies, self-assured and swaggering into the room with the sort of cocksure confidence that is born of genuinely not giving a toss about what anybody thinks, and is all the greater for it.

And the eagle on the label would make a great tattoo.


Sunday 8 May 2011

Ant Hayes

This is just an echo post for what Martyn Cornell (aka Zythophile) has posted about the death of Ant Hayes. I can't pretend to have known Ant well, but I'd met him a few times, and we'd passed ideas back and forth, as I mention in my response to Martyn's post.

Ant was a lovely guy. I'm saddened by his death, and even more saddened for his family. If you can spare a few quid, please think about donating to his family's nominated charity. You can read more about the charity here. If you can't spare a few quid, go without beer for a couple of days and donate anyway.


Friday 6 May 2011

Playing With The Big Boys

I'm not going to pretend that this post will be any good, but it might have some interesting news.

I'm posting at an unusually late hour because I've just got in from a night out with the Dandy BrewPunks of Fraserburgh. It's been a lot of fun, and has encompassed a whole range of beers - Fernandes Barge [Something] - very tasty low abv blonde ale, and then things heated up. A bottle of BrewDog Avery Brown Dredge - very tasty, just what it should be. Flying Dog Wild Dog - complex and drinkable. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron - complex, but foghorn-like. Great Divide Double IPA - a little tired, although tasty. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA - again, tired but tasty.

But the main purpose of their visit was to look at some locations for the next BrewDog bar. It seems that Leeds is next on their radar, with some very targetted visits from James and Martin, along with bar manager Bruce from BrewDog Aberdeen.

Nothing is signed, the shop window is still strictly for browsing, but it seems likely that BrewDog will open a bar in Leeds at some point this year.

Raise your hand if you think that's good news.

*raises hand*


Monday 2 May 2011

Wikio Rankings Preview - April 2011

It's Wikio time again folks, and before you scroll down to see what's happened recently, let me summarise it for you: little change.

Of course, if you've floated up or down a couple of places, it will seem like a big deal, but overall, there's not much to write home about. From a personal perspective, the most worrying development is that Simon Woods is now above me in the rankings, meaning that although I have more hair on my face and head than he does on his entire body, he still gets to outrank me on Wikio. I'm saddened that Wikio's complicated algorithm doesn't seem to include some sort of hirsutism index, but still, I'll take what I can get. And so will baldy Woods, no doubt.

More significantly still, looking at the American Wikio beer blogs index, not only are there no overall meta rankings in this Transatlantic duel, but Stan Hieronymus has slipped from 5th to 6th this month. I have also slipped from 5th to 6th this month, which clearly means that, in the absence of comparative data, I'm as good a blogger as Stan Hieronymus. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I urge you to spread this as gospel truth.

Remember, popularity is no indication of ability or greatness, and vice versa. Keep drinking, keep writing, and most important of all, keep a sense of perspective.

1Pete Brown's Blog
2Pencil & Spoon
3Beer Reviews
4Master Brewer at Adnams
5Drinking Outside The Box
6Are You Tasting the Pith?
7The Good Stuff
8"It's just the beer talking" – Jeff Pickthall's Blog
9Tandleman's Beer Blog
10Bibendum Wine
11The Wine Conversation
12Ghost Drinker
13Called to the bar
14Raising the Bar
15Sour Grapes
19Thornbridge Brewers' Blog
20The Pub Curmudgeon

Ranking made by Wikio