Thursday, 31 May 2012

Samuel Smith's 'India Pale'

I've had a couple of superb summery beer and food meals over the last few days. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was a great match for the asparagus risotto I had the other night, the hops fulfilling the same role as the acidity in a good cool-climate white wine might; cleansing and invigorating the palate without having so much fruit that it overpowers.

Apparently after a couple of years the blue
 veins will appear naturally.
So this isn't a 'blue cheese' as such.
Slightly more appropriate to a few days up in sunny East Yorkshire was Sam Smith's IPA with some cheese that we picked up from Roberts & Speight in Beverley. True to form we went in to buy some tickets for their Spring Wine Tasting (you can have a read about some of the wines here) and came out with cheese, bread, beer, wine and a couple of tickets. Armed with some fresh crusty bread, a small jar of Cheese Maker's Pickle from Cottage Delight, a chunk of very very mature Mull cheddar (see the picture)* and I was ready to go.

The beer pours a deep golden colour and has a fairly restrained orange-pithy hop aroma with a back up of hazelnuts. The gentle toffee malt came forward more on the palate, and there was a lovely sort of old-school bitterness to it - none of your new-world tropical fruit flavours here thank you very much! There's plenty of body, which also shows it can be done without  jaw-dropping levels of alcohol - or any other part of the anatomy for that matter. I realise that this isn't the most revolutionary or exciting beer in the world but I thought it was a good traditional IPA, and it went superbly well with the sweet fruit of the chutney and the tang of the cheddar. An apple for my pudding and I was well set-up for a tough afternoon of relaxing in the sun.
5% abv. £2.29 (55cl) from Roberts & Speight, Beverley - local wine merchants with a decent range of local and imported beers and glassware; well worth a visit if you're in the area. It's always good to see a beer that's seaweed fined and so entirely vegan.

* I know nothing about cheese, maybe Steve will be able to enlighten me as to what's gone on with the cheddar. I can only tell you how good it tastes!

Roberts & Speight Spring Wine Tasting: Whites

Roberts & Speight are the earliest wine shop (or even off-licence) I remember visiting. They are based within easy walking distance of where I grew up in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Although they've moved away from the first shop I remember as they've expanded the deli and food hamper side of the business, they're now much closer to Beverley town centre, and if last night was anything to go by, they're very much at the centre of Beverley's wine/foodie community too.

Because we only arrived after fulfilling our parental responsibilities we didn't get to try all the wines but I think we did manage to get through quite a few. If there is any criticism it's probably only one born of my wine-geek status. Due to the evening being (understandably) geared towards sales there were lots of wines that from more fashionable areas rather than the weird and wonderful that I look out for. I'd have loved to get to try some of the Alsatian and German wines that R&S stock but I'm not so naive as to believe that Riesling's about to overtake Kiwi Sauvignon as the darling of the nation's palate any time soon. Luckily I love New Zealand wines too! Having said all that there were some wines dotted about that were certainly very different, and from chatting to the various company representatives looking after the tables I sated my thirst for more wine knowledge as well as flavour experiences.

White wine highlights:

Viña Real Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco, 2010. One of the best everyday drinking whites. The oak was noticeable but not overpowering. £9.99.*
Cuvée Guy de la Nine Ugni Blanc, 2009. From old vine UB and apparently only produced in the best vintages. If you ever wanted to disavow yourself of the impression that Ugni Blanc is only good for making wines to turn into brandy then this would be up there on the list. Lots of generous, soft stone-fruit flavour and good acidity. £18.99.
'Flor de Vetus'  Verdejo, Rueda, 2011. One of a couple of Verdejos I tried, this one being a good, ripe example that did will to retain the acidity and keep its freshness. £10.99.
Greywacke, Marlborough, Sauvignon Blanc, 2011. Head and shoulders above the other Kiwi Sauvignons really. Elegant rather than tropical - definitely a nod towards Cloudy Bay as was expected, although mercifully in a different price bracket. £14.99.
Ch. Bocasse, 'Les Jardins,' Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec, 2009. This was definitely one that appealed more to the wine geek in me, from a south-western France appelation I'm not familiar with, made from Petit Manseng and Courbu (amongst others). It's a real fresh fruit cocktail. There was also a late-harvested version, Les Charmes Celestes, which was obviously sweeter, without being cloying, keeping the lime freshness of the dry version but adding another layer of prefume. £11.99.
Dom. Jean-Paul Balland Sancerre Blanc 'Grand Cuvee' 2010. Luxurious, more full bodied example of SB. My wife's favourite of the whites we tried and I wouldn't be far behind her in the queue if more were to be handed out. The gooseberry is there, but subtly complementing the minerality rather than jumping up and assaulting the palate. A beautifully elegant wine. £18.99.
Mud House Marlborough, Pinot Gris, 2009. Another one that I thought was really good value for money at £7.99 as part of a case. Most definitely a nod towards Alsace rather than Italy, with generous fruit and a luxurious, almost oily, quality. £9.99.
Seifried Estate Nelson, Grüner Veltliner, 2012. I've read speculation about Grüner being NZ's next 'big thing' and if this is anything to go by then they might be right. Although I've tried Siefried Estate's wines before (we visited there back in 2005), this is a new one for me. It's got a fresh, sherberty nose and a really tangy acidity. £10.89.
Langlois-Chateau, VV Saumur, 2005. Great to see a Loire Chenin in the mix. Beautiful use of oak to complement and set up the honeyed flavours of the Chenin as it's developing. At over six years old its got plenty to offer; lively cool climate acidity keeping it fresh and youthful. £16.99.

I'll post some more about the reds tomorrow. It's a testament to the quality of the whites that we spent so much time on them that we ended up rushing the reds a bit, but there were certainly some great reds too!

* I've just quoted the price per bottle as listed in the programme from last night just to give you an idea of what price range the wines come in. These are retail prices from the merchant (Roberts & Speight) not the supplier. R&S's discount is at least 10% on a case of 12, and quite often more.

Sunday, 27 May 2012


Last night was The Campaign for Really Good Beer's Twitter event, #downDIPA, and it was brilliant to see the CAMRGB logo on a bottle of beer. For some more thoughts on CAMRGB have a read of Matt's account of the DIPA night here.

Fame at last!
It's a real shame that the guys at Arbor couldn't get behind the 'event beer' if you like. I'm only saying that because one of the great things about the Impoff evening was the irrepressibly enthusiastic Elly Bell from Durham brewery really pushing it and getting people excited. Unfortunately, due to the condition issues with the Down Deeper I think Arbor probably felt that they couldn't do a similar thing. Like I say, it's a shame it turned out that way, but I can't fault them for having a go and brewing the Down Deeper specially for the event. Cheers guys!

I did try the Arbor; while it has been suggested that it might improve with a bit of cellaring I thought I'd give it a whirl. It would have seemed odd to participate in the event the beer was created in honour of and leave it sitting in the cellar! As advised I poured it warmer than fridge temperature. It looked a bit like scrumpy cider in the glass. There was a bit of stewed fruit aroma; apple crumble mixed in with the skunk-weed hoppiness. I actually got it to open up a lot more by chucking in a bit of taste-free 2.8% lager that we'd bought for a party we had last week (it's basically fizzy water). Once I'd done that the pine and grapefruit aromas really came to the fore along with buttered crumpet flavours.

Next up was Hardknott Queboid, billed as a Belgian style double IPA. It pours darker than most IPAs, brown with a reddish hint. There's a hint of smoke on the nose, complementing the big hop aromas. It's a mighty mighty beer lurking in the guise of a Belgian brown ale. The power of the malt balances up the hops beautifully, it's deep and rich, with restrained sweetness and a hint of Belgian ale's dustiness. As it warmed in the glass I got spices, with some cinnamon and fruit cake. It really is a magnificent beer. It's been a while since I had a beer that I really fell in love with, but this is up there with the best beers I've ever had from a bottle.

The final beer of my evening was Nøgne Ø's Imperial IPA. Again it's darker than you might expect, looking rather more like a traditional English IPA. It's a full bodied, almost chewy beer. There's lots of treacly sweetness which isn't really lifted up enough by the hops for me, the hops sort of wallow around in the alcohol. I can't help thinking it was a bit overdone, they might have been better aiming for the 8% abv that the Queboid weighs in at rather than 10% - it didn't wear its alcohol particularly well. Add to this a not altogether pleasant, almost blue-cheese like, finish and I've got to say I wasn't too impressed overall. While I can be a harsh critic at times, when my wife tried it she seemed to think I was trying to poison her, but it wasn't that bad.

Am I an Imperial IPA convert? Well, perhaps not, but the Queboid was so good that it sets a benchmark, and I now know how good double IPAs can get, I'm definitely keen to try more. A couple of highlights from what I can remember from the Twitter time-line were Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA (c/o Roberto) and, from various people, the Red Willow Ageless. Two more for my 'must try' list!

Arbor Ales 'Down Deeper.' 10.2% abv, £2.94 (33cl)
Hardknott Queboid. 8% abv, £3.12 (33cl) Both from Beer Ritz.
Nøgne Ø Imperial IPA. 10% abv. £5.50 (50cl) from York Beer and Wine Shop.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


I had a bit of bad news today, in the form of a letter from the WSET informing me I'd failed the spirits part of my Diploma because of a bad tasting component.

It's back...
This is the last part of the whole level four diploma I need to get through to pass what is a two year course that has gone into a third year. I've passed the theory twice, so I think my basic knowledge should be fine, but I just don't get to practice tasting spirits enough. So the plan is to devote a bit of love and attention to this blog, and turn it into, at least in part, a spirits blog.

So here's to a new adventure, and further education of my palate!

If anyone would like to help me out, please read the Help Wanted! page or get in touch through Twitter.


Friday evening, and I thought I'd do a chilli-themed Transatlantic Taste Test. Two quite different beers, with a chilli link. The first is from the Cave Creek brewery in Mexico and the second from Fallen Angel down in Sussex. The theory was that I could get to taste the beer once the initial shock of the chilli spiciness wore off.

Chilli wraps for tea!
Cave Creek Chili Beer is billed as a premium lager with a quite a big, not particularly scary looking chili added. It's a golden colour, the head collapsing almost immediately on pouring. Once the bottle's open the chilli provides a surface for the Carbon Dioxide to be released, so it bubbles away in there (a bit like a floating etched logo). The aromas are all green chilli and the taste, unsurprisingly, reflects that. Although it's a lager it didn't taste a great deal different to the Fallen Angel Fire in the Hole that I reviewed back in October. After the chilli heat had worn off (well, sort of) and I began to taste the beer underneath it seemed to be a pretty standard, sweetish adjunct lager, certainly nothing spectacular (unless you like your beer to have that distinctive sweetcorn taste).

There's the little fellow...
According to this video (thanks to Carl for pointing this out) you are supposed to eat the chilli. I did, and it didn't taste of anything. I'm not sure if that confirms my suspicion that it wasn't a particularly spicy chilli in the first place, or if it had been there long enough for all the flavour to go into the beer.

Next up was the Fallen Angel Black Death. This one's a bottle conditioned stout, Camra sticker and all, so I was expecting something quite different, and perhaps a bit more serious. However, given it's made with Naga chillis with a Scoville rating of 850, 000 I thought the spice might take a bit of getting through! If I remember rightly the Fire In The Hole (its little brother) suggests drinking it in shots. I didn't.

More chilli head than beer head?
From an initial sniffing it was easier to get some roasted malt and coffee aromas from the Black Death - as you'd expect from a stout - although there was loads of green chilli the beer underneath was much more obvious than in the Cave Creek. Again it poured dead flat. Once I'd allowed my palate to adjust (hammered it with chilli) some sourness came through along with another, bigger, chilli hit.

Overall I remain unconvinced. I love chillis, but I think that the reason beer is so great with spicy food is that it provides a contrast, and when the beer you want to quaff to complement the chilli high just adds to the high it doesn't quite work. I'm not sure that these aren't just novelty beers, to be consumed at student parties and the like, so maybe actually taking a bit of time to taste them isn't what they had in mind. Still, here's to someone brewing the world's first Chilli Gueuze!

Cave Creek Chilli Beer, 4.2% abv. £1.79 (33cl)
Fallen Angel Black Death, 5.2% abv. £2.29 (50cl)  - prices from Beers of Europe.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Don't Panic

Is there a beer that is "the alcoholic equivalent of a mugging - expensive and bad for the head?" The taste experience being "like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick?" 

It's Towel Day, so it got me wondering what the beer equivalent of the Pan Galactic Gargleblaster is. Apparently Douglas Adams said that the laws of physics mean that it's impossible for one to be mixed on earth, and so I'm arbitrarily ruling cocktails out of the equation. I'd probably never go near a cocktail named after a PGG due to spending too many nights in Spiders when I was too young to know better. Also going to Canada for the experience seems a bit like overkill. So what beer do you think gets pretty close? Is this a prelude to #downDIPA?

Oh, and wherever you go today, don't forget your (beer?) towel.

(If you've never read The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and you have no idea what the hell I'm banging on about, then shame on you.)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

It's Coming...

This time around, the revolution will not be televised.

It might, however, be Tweeted. I think. Probably with the hashtag #downDIPA (I might not have thought the political implications of this through.)

With a special 'Down Deeper' double IPA from Arbor Ales (along with a menu of other hop-monsters) it's set to be a pungent weekend! Check out the event page on the CAMRGB website. The Arbor brew is available for order from Beer Ritz.

I do need some convincing. I've not been particularly impressed with double IPAs before, finding them a bit cloying and somewhat one-dimensional, but I thought since I'd not actually tried an awful lot of them I'd have a go. On this blog I've reviewed Victory 'Hop Wallop' and Mikkeller 'I Beat yoU' in addition to having BrewDog Hardcore at their Nottingham opening. I've got Nøgne Ø Imperial IPA here already, and, along with the Arbor Down Deeper I've got Magic Rock Human Cannonball to come off the list. So here's me being prepared to be converted over the weekend!

Join in: CAMRGB on Twitter. and don't forget #downDIPA. Hops away! (Yes, I am expecting a lot of hop puns...)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The World Atlas of Beer

I saw recently that there is a World Atlas of Beer coming out in the autumn, and I'm fascinated as to what it's going to contain.

Image from Amazon UK
The reasoning behind the The World Atlas of Wine, an indispensable book for anyone working in wine (so much so that I've ended up with three copies) is more simple; it's about terroir. At its most simplified terroir can be defined as how geographical differences result in variations from one area to the next. The World Atlas of Wine's maps focus on the overground; climate and topography, but equally important are geological differences covered by books such as James E. Wilson's Terroir: Role of Geology, Climate and Culture in the Making of French Wines.

The World Atlas of Whisky is different because, in the same way as almost all beer, whisky's vast array of flavours are not a product of terroir, although there are regional characteristics. As Dave Broom wrote:
It would be wrong to assume that whisky demonstrates the effect of terroir in the same way as Cognac or Armagnac... the reasons whisky can have a shared character come from other factors: cultural, historical and commercial, as well as geographical.1
These other factors are, of course, equally valid subjects for an atlas, be it about beer or whisky. The whisky industry does, however, move at a far slower pace than brewing. By definition a distillery has to have been there for over three years (in Scotland at least) before it can even make whisky, so new whisky distilleries don't so much pop up as rise serenely over time. This means the book isn't going to date particularly quickly. There are also far fewer whisky distilleries in the entire world than breweries in some individual countries, and so the background and history of them can be detailed, which I'm not sure is possible with breweries. This is especially true if Amazon's report of the World Atlas of Beer being 256 pages long is correct, which seems a bit lightweight to me (the current, 6th edition, of the World Atlas of Wine runs to 400 pages).

In terms of beer academia I'm interested in seeing what the World Atlas of Beer covers that isn't covered by the The Oxford Companion to Beer (and if the Oxford Companion didn't cover it, why not?) With regard to the maps it will be intriguing to find out what information (other than simple location) is seen as important - will there be maps of hop-growing areas? I'm glad that beer is approaching being given an equal footing in the realm of serious drinks publications and I'm looking forward to finding out what's in the atlas and why. If, like me, you're excited but a little sceptical then your speculation is welcome!

1. Broom, D, 2006. Distilling Knowledge, Wine and Spirit Education Trust. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Williams 'Ceilidh' Lager

Sometimes it seems a shame that there is not much of a voice for lager. There's much clamour about cask ale and American style craft beer, and even to people not familiar with either they are obviously different - they often look different, and the bolder flavours can make them taste very different too.

I thought Williams Ceilidh was a great beer, but lager, more than any other style, might well be lost amongst the vast number of beers on the market. Lost once in the sea of mediocrity that is mainstream lager, passed over by cask-orientated pubs that might well not be able to sell interesting lager if it comes in a keg (the chances are that keg lines are tied up to 'must stock' beers.)* It might even be overlooked a third time by those amongst us that love big flavours, the hop-heads and the flavour explorers (and I'm not claiming innocence in this!)

It did get entered in this year's SIBA Craft beer in Keg competition, where it won a gold. I hope that's a good sign for the future. Who else is going to stand up for a well-made, flavourful, domestically brewed lager? On pouring it doesn't look much different to most lagers. There's plenty of body, a citrus hoppiness that's subtle rather than being an IPA punch, a gorgeous satisfying biscuity-malt sweetness and a fresh lemony-citrus finish. Now all we need is some summer sun to get outside and drink it in.

4.7% abv. £1.79 (50cl) from Beers of Europe (I'm not sure it came from there, it might well have been from Gauntleys, one of my local wine shops, but I couldn't remember what I paid for it.)

* I've not blogged in a while, mainly because I've been busy, but partly because I've drank nothing that inspired me to write. Changing to lager from more traditional beers (that some would have us believe are the only ones worth drinking) was what got me going again.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Anyone for Shiraz?

Put yourself in the position of an irregular or occasional beer drinker. How do you differentiate between the masses of products available? I touched before on factors that might make us (writers, readers and twitterers of the beer world) decide what to buy, but what about the yet to be converted, those we'd hope would find the joys of the interesting flavours on offer?

Much of the boom in wine sales since the seventies can be attributed to simple, clear, varietal labelling. Even if many wine consumers aren't able to pinpoint the characteristics of, say, Cabernet Sauvignon, it's easy enough for them to remember that they've enjoyed one before, and so look for it again. Despite the rise and rise of hop varieties appearing on beer labels it's nowhere near as prevalent as you see in the wine industry.

I think it's a great thing that stylistic boundaries are stretched, sometimes to the point where the original meaning of a style becomes almost irrelevant, but it does mean that it's difficult for someone to decide whether or not they're going to like a beer when they're considering what to buy. If I like Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA am I going to like Greene King IPA? A similar point can be made about colour in that it doesn't dictate flavour - all though much of the time if you read the label it tries to do exactly that. 'Delicious amber ale?' Maybe my palate is faulty because I can't taste colours? Malty and hoppy are useful terms as at first glance but they're no more helpful for narrowing down the choice than say 'red or white' when it comes to wine. Country? Well, looking at the winners list from the recent World Beer Cup makes it fairly obvious that flavours generally have nothing to do with geographical origin.

Obviously in pubs this is less of a problem, any decent pub will offer samples before sale, although bear in mind (you're still in irregular drinker mode remember) many people will find it difficult to describe what beer it is they like - even to the point where they are intimidated my being asked. Add to this that, like it or not, more drinking is being done at home, and therefore from the bottle (poured into an appropriate glass of course). It seems to me that many of the beers in the 'Speciality' section (and I hate that term) of your local supermarket are going to struggle to stand out from one another, and that might send people right back to the familiar.

Comments appreciated - the blog post was long enough without me rattling out more of my thoughts!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Innis & Gunn 'Irish Whiskey Cask'

A few weeks ago I did a review of three of the Innis & Gunn range. Despite (or maybe because of) my not being that impressed by the range, Katherine from I & G got in touch to find out if I'd like to try their whiskey cask aged stout. I agreed, hence what would be an otherwise very short blog post.

There's plenty of roasted malt and coffee and on the palate. It's got a bit more body than the others, without actually being full-bodied, which I think marries it all the better with the whiskey flavours, and makes it rather moreish. There's a light, lifted, almost minty note to it (I realise that sounds revolting but it works - I don't mean mint flavour but more the sensation). Irish whiskey is generally towards the lighter, zestier end of the scale, and I think that works quite well with a stout that, while strong at 7.4%, isn't up there with the likes of the big Imperial Stouts on the richness front. There is a hint of the estery banana flavour on the finish that characterised the others in the range but on the whole I think this is a much better beer than the other three that I tried. The toffee and treacle don't dominate the original character of the beer, and so it retains its balance of bitter malt and sweetness.

Just to give you an idea on price. Beers of Europe are selling this edition for £2.19 (33cl).

Many thanks to Katherine and Innis and Gunn for trying to convert me! Since the issue of feedback has sprung up over a few blog posts this week (See Nate, B&B and Jenny's blogs) it's good to see that breweries do look at some reviews in the constructive way that they are meant. In the interests of full disclosure I should probably point out that I wasn't asked to review the beer, merely if I fancied trying it.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Harviestoun 'Bitter & Twisted'

Is it the water? The weather keeping them indoors? Whatever it is that keeps the Scots making great beer and the world's finest whisky (a 16yo sherry-cask Glen Scotia provided an ideal accompaniment to this) I hope it continues for a long time - at very least until I shuffle off this mortal coil anyway. Harviestoun are currently vying with Williams in terms of being my personal favourite Scottish brewery. My review of their Wild Hop IPA* has been gobbled up with the loss of my old blog but I thought it was one of the best beers in Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt, along with the Williams Bros' entries (see here for Simon's review over at at CAMRGB).  Even years of working for Scottish and Newcastle wasn't enough to scare me off beers from north of the border (used to be a big fan of this on hand-pull). I've heard vague rumours that there's a brewery up near Fraserburgh somewhere, but they seem to keep really quiet. If it were me I'd try and get some more PR, get in the press and stuff, but what do I know?

So, the beer. If you've ever had a home made lemon cheesecake, with ginger nut biscuits mixed in with the digestives to make up the base, then you already know what this beer tastes like without trying it. It's got a great balance of biscuity malt and tangy citrus hops, and all at a very reasonable session strength. Much as I hate supermarkets, it does instill bit on confidence in the future of British Brewing when they're prepared to stock proper, decent beer like this. All right, it's not shouty, and it's probably not as exciting as the latest must-have hop-bomb from across the pond, but like I say, it's a proper beer. Job done.

On a side note, I'd had a few days off the beer before trying this, and I love how alive your palate gets after a few days rest. Even if the rest of your body is tired beer's great for invigorating the mind and the soul. Although I'm sure you knew that or you probably wouldn't be reading this.

4.2% abv. £1.99 (50cl) from Ocado

Tempting as it was to put Therapy?'s Potato Junkie as a music match (don't click on that if you're easily offended) my favourite electronic artist has a tune called Bitter and Twisted so it'd be rude not to post it. (Hat-tip as ever to Mark for beer and music matching!)

* Is this still about? It's not on their website.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Diageo, BrewDog & the BII

No doubt you've heard about the ill-fated decision that the British Institute of Innkeeping took to listen to a representative from Diageo and stop a (supposedly) independent award that BrewDog had won being given to them.

It's only speculation on my part but I wonder if someone from Diageo felt some sort of misplaced sense of responsibility towards the Portman group, who set themselves up as industry regulators? In the past, BrewDog have hardly seen eye to eye with them after all.  Was all this, as Phil Mellows suggested on Twitter, because of someone 'trying to be socially responsible'? Which I guess can happen if you are both poacher and gamekeeper.

Thinking about the decision to respond to Diageo's threat. Why did someone from Diageo know that BrewDog were going to be given the award? Is it normal practice to inform the corporate sponsors of the winner before the award is given? How did the BII expect to get away with changing their minds at the last minute if the trophy was already engraved? And just how independent can industry awards be if their sponsorship is derived from within the same industry?

Not even Diageo beers!
Anyway, here's Diageo's official apology. It might well be that that represents an end to proceedings as far as they're concerned. A low profile will probably kept while all the inevitable hubub from BrewDog fans dies down. I still think that the BII Scotland, however quick they were to apologise (rightly) to BrewDog, still have some questions to answer.

It was certainly an interesting afternoon watching the whole saga unfold. If you want to read more here are stories from The Morning Advertiser, Caterer and Hotelkeeper, and some interesting analysis of the (rather brilliantly devised bit of PR) that was the  #AndTheWinnerIsNot Twitter hashtag from Andy at Graphed Beer.

Spring Clean

Not about beer!

I've just re-built my blogroll and blogs followed list because it was getting a bit silly, and much as I'd like to I can't read all the beer blogs out there. If you want me to put you on my blogroll (for what it's worth) give me a shout through the comments below - I'd like you to reciprocate though!

Similarly, if I've forgotten to re-add anyone's blog, please let me know and I'll do so - apologies in advance. This is particularly liable to happen if your blog is on Wordpress, the Google machine doesn't like it!

PS. I do try and keep on top of beer stories through this paper too!)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Twitter Drinks You Need

Just a bit of fun... There was a piece on the Guardian website today entitled 'Twitter Feeds You Need' and, as it turns out, a load of celebrities follow a load of celebrities. So far, so not very interesting.

It did make me wonder, however, if there was a beer equivalent, who people would suggest to follow, and (which makes it slightly more personal than the usual #FF stuff)  why? I noticed a brewery on Twitter the other day (name escapes me) with something like 3000 followers having tweeted once - so I'm guessing the reason to follow them is probably their beer rather than the insightful comment they're providing. Strange thing is it probably popped up because of the 'X' 'Y' and 'Z' follow kind of thing, which isn't as good as a first hand recommendation. Anyway, feel free to share any, it's nice to be positive about things sometimes so give me some tips!

So here we go (3 isn't entirely arbitrary, I'm unashamedly nicking it from the 'paper):

Boak and Bailey @BoakandBailey
I think Twitter and beer is about the conversation, and B&B's blog/tweets reflects that. Get involved!
Jamie Carmichael @JLCarmichael
Jamie's from Williams Bros. and might not have popped up on the Twitter radar yet. Healthy irreverence.
Will Glass @ItalyBrews
I'm sure we all follow loads of perspectives on UK & US beer, have a read about Italy.

And of course all the beery folk I follow, because why wouldn't you? They're all great! (That's going to have to work as an apology for all of you not mentioned above, especially those who do all the re-tweeting and support of my random thoughts!)

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Beer Moment

11pm, Friday night, and it's hot. OK, it's the East Midlands, so it's probably not hot compared to many places where last drinks are being consumed, but it's late spring, and it's the first warm Friday that heralds the approach of summer, and in a low-ceilinged bar, it most certainly feels hot.

All of a sudden a pub that's been muddling through that early-year graveyard period while people are watching their waist-lines and keeping worried eyes on the household budget comes out the other side. A week ago half of the four strong bar staff team were cleaning shelves to keep themselves busy, tonight late sunshine in the pub's beer garden has meant the same four and the bar management are hosting last week's regulars and an awful lot more. The shelves are being cleared again, but this time it's because all the glasses are out there in the balmy evening air being emptied over many, many conversations.

'Why haven't you got more staff on?' cry the newcomers. 'Where were you last week when it was below freezing?' mutters one of the staff, under their breath of course.

But it's 11 O'Clock, or maybe five after once the queue's been finally served. There's a respite before the task of clearing up with a horribly short-handed team begins. A nod to a regular customer, one who was here in the cold and recognised that tonight was a good night to be on the other side of the bar, and so was generous enough to offer a drink... and a cold beer is poured into a rare nucleated glass that was squirrelled away at the back of a shelf to make sure it was dry, and not hot from the washer.

Fifteen minutes. The perfect amount of time to drink a much-needed pint. That's a beer moment.


Many thanks to Pete Brown for hosting this month's session.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Harviestoun 'Old Engine Oil' & 'Engineer's Reserve'

A few weeks ago I was reviewing several beers whilst trying to get my head around how beer could work in conjunction with oak. One of the best of these was Ola Dubh, a version of Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil porter aged in Highland Park whisky casks. It's great to have a bit of continuity with blog posts so it was good to get the chance to try the inspiration for the Ola Dubh, courtesy of Harviestoun, even if I did it in rather the wrong order.* As a bonus, I also got sent the special edition 'Engineer's Reserve' version of the Old Engine Oil , so I thought I'd give them a try in tandem.

First up, the original. It pours a gorgeous black, with a crema-coloured head. There are lactic notes on the nose, along with bitter chocolate and coffee, but it's really on the palate that it comes to life. It has a lovely way of moving between coffee-bitterness and a treacle-like sweetness and back again. It's full-bodied with a luxuriously sensuous mouthfeel, like melting chocolate. There's a long, lingering smoky bitterness in the finish.

The reserve is, unsurprisingly, similar, but with everything turned up a notch - for want of a better description it's kind of an 'Imperial' version of the original. The chocolate is more noticeable, it's got even more body, and the balance shifts more towards the sweetness. I got more of the spices, demerara sugar, vanilla and burnt malt than the original, and less of the dried fruit. Considering it's half as strong again as the original, it wears its alcohol really well.

Of the two, for me the original pipped the reserve to the post, although it was a close run thing (my wife preferred the reserve). If nothing else it reinforces my opinion that it's richer beers that are better candidates for oak ageing. These are certainly rich beers.

Beers of Europe retail the Old Engine Oil at £1.75 (330ml, 6.0% abv) but I'm not sure of  a price on the Engineer's Reserve (9% abv), it doesn't seem to be widely available. Thank you very much to the folks at Harviestoun for giving me the chance to try these beers, they were very much appreciated!

Edit: I've been told the Engineer's Reserve is a US exclusive, hence there being no price information for the UK.

* In the interests of 'research,' next time I order some beer I'm going to have to get myself more Ola Dubh for comparative purposes - a sacrifice I'm most definitely prepared to make.