Saturday 19 May 2012

EBBC 2012 - Live Beer Blogging

I'm live-blogging from the European Beer Bloggers Conferrence - 10 beers in 50 minutes. IT'S GRIPPED, IT'S SORTED, LET'S LIVE BLOG!

Slaters Top Totty - I just mis-typed that as "Top Titty", which given the bunny girl label is pretty appropriate. Clean lemony nose, fresh clean and tart palate, nice and fresh, good. Not sure about the label - they defend it on the basis of it being ribald British humour in the seaside tradition. Sophie Atherton is unsurprisingly outraged, and drives the point home forcefully. But is the beer being overlooked in the furore? That would be a shame, because it's great - clean, zesty, fresh and delightful.

Camden USA Hells - unfiltered lager, lots of American C-hops. Slightly funky nose, might be the cattiness of the hops rather than any faults. Really nice bridge between old- and new-world traditions, clearly a quality, well-made lager with another layer of zesty, spritzy, great. "Brewed to suit the London palate" according to their PR guy - an unashamed pitch at the mid-market, but very good in spite of that - or perhaps because?

Adnams Ghost Ship - absolute classic English ale in the modern style - just what you'd want on a hot summer afternoon, or indeed on a busy speed-blogging event. Pale toffee colour, clean, biscuity with lots of fruity hop character. Very nice, and doesn't stamp its feet for attention. 

Innis & Gunn Scottish Pale Ale - limited release only available in Sweden. Big oaky vanilla nose, with plenty of hops added to try and balance the sweetness out a bit. Oddly for a relatively light beer, it really crashes onto the palate, sweet initially, turning zesty and floral. Tastes of new oak and citrussy hops. Bit of a car crash, but also sort of enjoyable.

Leeds Brewery Hellfire - very pale beer, zesty nose, very fresh, lovely sort of lemon sherbet and lime on the finish. Really nice fresh beer, although not convinced by the claims that "it's designed to be drunk from the bottle". Sam Moss from the brewery says that it's because the beer is meant to be drunk cold, from the bottle - the body gets big as the beer warms up. Nice idea, and seems to be well executed.

Otley Oxymoron Black IPA - Nick Otley says that this was their unashamed stab at having a go at the American craft beer style - "we wanted a piece of it" in his words. Big fruitiness on the nose, combined with smooth chocolate. Big flavours, great hop character and balance, but maybe a bit drying in the finish? Perhaps not helped by lack of condition (they apologised profusely about that)

Brains Dark - announced as Brains Dark Mild, which I guess is true to style.Dark brown, full chocolate aroma, vinous fruitiness. Finish is again vinous, fruity and complex. An essay in complexity and drinkability. Apparently, it's a great match for a Clark's pie, which is "some sort of meat pie" - apparently, nobody has ever had the courage to ask exactly what is in them.

Marble Emelisse Collaboration Earl Grey IPA - shot for a low bitterness in the expectation that there would be some tannic bitterness from the tea. Nose of citrus fruits and bergamot, unusual but enticing. Massive tangerine character on the palate, with more bergamot in the finish. Brilliant, enticing, and the first time I've ever used the phrase "dry teabagging" in conversation with a brewer. Excellent.

Roosters Baby-Faced Assassin - the classic guerilla IPA made for cask - how does it fare? Really well, given that they are following a big bruising bergamot IPA. Clean fruitiness, big mango hit, slightly toasty pale malt, unfolding endlessly on the palate. Tom used the phrase "went balls-out with the recipe", which I guess thematically nicely links back to the dry teabagging of the previous post.

Great Heck Stormin' Norman - "an easy drinking 6.5% session ale" according to the brewer Denzil. A little bit of roast barley in the mix brings out a toasty edge against which the hops brush up nicely. Big and hoppy, sweet tropical fruit brushing up against gently nutty malt. Lovely.

Monday 14 May 2012

The Relationship Between Consistency and Quality (or, Lager Is Like House Music)

I was in a pub in the Lake District this weekend, drinking a blonde beer from a brewery I'd never heard of. It was unpleasant, slightly tart, with a plasticky phenolic finish. I'm all for returning pints to the bar if you're not happy, but I just wasn't in the mood for it that night. There were a few of us chatting over dinner, and so I laboured through it, hoping for something better next. One of my companions asked me what the beer was like: "Bloody awful" I replied. He tried it: "Jesus, that IS awful. I thought you were just being a beer snob, but that isn't right, is it?". We have a brief discussion about how although it's tempting to write off a brewery based on a bad pint, it might just be a bad batch, or a bad cask, or even a cellaring or dispense issue.

I scan the bar, and decide the lesser of the four evils presented to me was probably Theakston's Best. It was the most likely to be consistent with what I was expecting, by virtue of having come from a large and successful brewery. But that was odd too, also slightly phenolic, so perhaps rather than the beer being poor in itself, the pub does have a  hygeine issue. Maybe the lines haven't been properly rinsed after cleaning. Still, the tally of bad pints is two for two, and I think about switching again. Stuff it, I'll have a whisky - Glenrothes 10, very nice. Although the Tirril Lager font that I've ignored sets me thinking.....

A couple of days ago, I was in another pub, catching up with another friend over some food and beer. He was drinking Staropramen, I was drinking Kozel. I don't normally drink lager, but I just wanted something cold and clean to go with the pigs cheek scotch egg (thank you Town Hall Tavern in Leeds). It was a revelation, not in reference to any undiscovered flavours, but for its clean, consistent, cool bittersweetness. It's like the moment when, stuck in a monumental traffic jam on the A303 one night, I finally "got" house music - it's just there, that beat, always solid, always loud, providing a rhythm for you to exist within. Lager is like house music - eternal, omnipresent, and in varying levels of quality. After three pints of Kozel, a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was a crazy flavour bomb, all toffee malt and pithy hops. Sensational.

These experiences got me thinking. Am I just being seduced by big-brewery quality control into thinking that their beers are better, because they are more reliable? My Kozel experience has left me positively disposed towards drinking more of it, whereas my local beer experience literally left a bad taste in my mouth.

Put simply, is consistency a factor in quality? And if the answer is yes (and I think it is), then how big a factor is it?

Friday 4 May 2012

Cheese and Beer - Post-Hoc Analysis

This week, thanks in no small part to the hard work of all the lovely staff at Beer-Ritz in Leeds (GhostDrinker worked his arse off behind the counter, while Beth and Jeff did their best to demolish the mountains of cheese on offer), as well as the tireless enthusiasm of Leigh Goodstuff, we hosted a beer and cheese tasting event. It's fair to say that although it doesn't take many people to fill our little shop to bursting, the evening was very well attended, with both a plethora of regulars and a whole bunch of new faces on show.

Orval and Delamere mature goats cheese was, for me, always going to be a hard sell, so this was the obvious first choice for me. I'm not a fan of goats cheese - it's just too, well, goaty for me. Perfect then to pair it with Orval, a beer that slowly turns to dung through the action of brettanomyces yeasts, also a bugbear of mine. Look, I know this makes me sound (a) fussy and (b) a philistine, but I simply struggle with these flavours. I can appreciate that they have a wonderful depth, complexity and intensity, but I simply don't like them. It's a good beer, it's a good cheese, I'm just not crazy about how they taste.
What better, then, to clear the palate than some gently crumbly Lancashire cheese and and dark ale. Ilkley Brewery are firm favourites locally, and starting to make some serious inroads into the national scene. Not only have they been very generous to our little homebrew group, but brewer Stewart Ross also distinguished himself by (a) turning up to consume some beer and cheese and (b) bring some Ilkley Lotus IPA with him, presumably in case we didn't have anything worth drinking on the premises. The cheese was marvellous - like soft, crumbly butter - and paired nicely with the dark nuttiness of the Ilkley Black.
This is a pairing handed down to me, father-to-son style, by the legend that is Rupert Ponsonby. The pairing of mature cheddar against a medium-bodied IPA is one that isn't immediately obvious, but one that actually works really well. The sharpness of the cheddar serves to bring out the sweet nuttiness of the beer, which in turn acts as a foil to the.... well, cheesiness of the cheese. It's hard (as you can see) to explain exactly why this works, but it's something along the lines of marmalade and butter - salty and sweet rubbing up against each other in a deliciously saucy manner.

I started out this post 'fessing up to a dislike of certain flavours that no doubt many readers will view as a lack of maturity, but I'd like counter that by saying that blue cheese is something that I used to abhor, but have come to love. I tell you that to demonstrate that (a) I like scary cheese - I'll eat runny brie with a spoon quite happily - and (b) don't give me a load of crap about how my palate will mature and I'll eventually like goats cheese. I won't. Ditto brett - a tiny amount is OK, giving some sort of hint of background sexiness, like glimpsing the silhouette of the body of someone you fancy through backlit sunlit clothes, but anything more than a glimpse is a bit intimidating, and can almost be unpleasant, because after all, it was only a fantasy anyway (note: I'm aware that I've stretched that simile to breaking point). ANYWAY, blue cheese with strong dark beer totally rocks - the Elland 1872 Porter was great, as was the Moor Amoor (Peat Porter), which displayed a remarkable body and muscularity (sorry, I'm still reeling from the sunlit clothing simile) for a beer of relatively modest alcohol content.

In summary - people like beer, people like cheese, but people love beer and cheese. It's a win-win scenario.