Sunday, 29 January 2012

Beer Bore and Old Manchester

We were in a pub in Brighton drinking a few beers to celebrate Harry's birthday. Another friend, Richard, came back from the bar with a bottle of lager but no glass.

Me: Are you gonna drink that beer from the bottle?

Rich: Yeah why not?

Me: Well you've paid a bit of extra money to get a nice large bottle of interesting european lager and now you're gonna drink it from the bottle. A bottle isn't a drinking vessel.

Rich: You're just being a beer snob.

Me: That may well be but this beer has been designed so that as you drink it you can also appreciate its aroma and colour but you are negating that by swigging it from a brown glass bottle.

Rich: When you talk about beer I get an erection

Charming. My sarcastic friend highlighted an interesting problem for a beer enthusiast and blogger. When does your advice and encouragement turn from what you think is interesting and enthusing to boring and off-putting? The last thing that any beer fan wants is to seem like you are lecturing your audience. Beer is supposed to be a fun and, at heart, democratic, so any idea that it is becoming elitist or snobbish is worrying. Essentially we don't want to be beer bores.

However, last Thursday I fuelled my own geeky, elistist and snobbish beerlust with a spur of the moment visit to the Fullers brewery shop. Ever since I heard about Fuller's head brewer, John Keeling's visit to Marble brewery in Manchester to brew a one off beer, I have waited for the announcement of its arrival. Finally the word was out, it's now available in the brewery shop.

I left the shop with three bottles of Old Manchester and a bottle of Past Masters Double Stout.

Old Manchester comes in a handsome 750mL bottle with champagne style cork and cage 

Old Manchester is based loosely on Fullers ESB but is a bit stronger and dry-hopped in cask for three months before bottling. It's a very interesting idea to use English challenger hops in such an assertive way like this and the dry hopping creates a very fruity, almost American hop aroma from the pillowy head. The malts, though, are very British and the ESB characters are cranked up to the max with candy and toffee coming through strongly and creating its rich brown colour. This malt backbone is a strong support for the  powerful, dry peppery bitterness and hefty 7.3% ABV. I shared this first bottle with Claire and we both enjoyed it even though Claire doesn't normally get on with hop heavy beers. I think it would go very well with food and and has the potential to age well. It is in this vein that I am keeping two bottles of this for ageing. If I can stand to keep it that long I will have one in January 2013 an one in January 2014.

So then, Old Manchester, lovely stuff. If you're reading this Rich, I hope it has satisfied!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Best English Breakfast Ever?

I think not;

But to be fair on British Airways it didn't taste quite as bad as it looks.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Champagne Afternoon Tea at Les Deux Salons

This was quite a while ago now so I'm not writing much as I can't remember it all well enough. The afternoon tea itself was lovely - we couldn't fault much with regards to the food or service. It's just a shame that we were the only two there for afternoon tea - when we arrived there were still a few late-lunchers dining, but by the time we left the place was deserted. It was a bit of an odd feeling, especially as it's quite a large cavernous restaurant. I think we'd both return to Les Deux Salons, but probably for their bargain lunch deal, or an A la Carte dinner instead.

 The stand arrived with 4 types of finger sandwiches (cucumber, smoked salmon, egg and cress another one we can't remember), 6 different types of cake, and warm scones with a pot each of jam and clotted cream.

A lovely big pot of tea and there was a good selection to choose from - I had chamomile, Sam had oolong.

Lemon Drizzle Slice

 Fruit Tart

Tarte au Citron

 Gateaux Opera

Pate a Choux (we think the cream was hazelnut, all we remember is that it was very, very good)

Chocolate Brownie - this was the only one we thought was a bit of a let down, it was a bit too sweet, with not enough of an intense chocolate flavour.  We both agreed the ones I make at home are better.

Mmm....ooops, these got munched on before I remembered to take a picture....

Monday, 9 January 2012

Learning to taste beer...

Beer appreciation (for want of a better word) is something relatively new to me.  I have always drunk and enjoyed beer, but it's only been the last few months triggered by a couple of brewery trips that I've started to think more about it, and felt the urge to read/write and generally discover/taste more.

Triggered by the prospect of attending the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2012, I decided to test my beer tasting skills and do a blind tasting with Sam to see if I came up with similar ideas about the beers we were tasting.  A trip to Sourced Market (near work) and a slightly hazy* trip to Utobeer the following day helped provide supplies.  Surprisingly, I didn't do too badly on the taste test, although I didn't pick up on quite as much as Sam did, and generally he had better terminology - I guess that comes with practice.  Here's a run down of what we tasted, and what we (mostly) agreed on;

Blanche De Bruxelles (4.5%) - Very yellow! Not much on the nose, but a nice thick head which was retained.  Fruity, mild peachy flavour with floral notes.  Not much of an aftertaste.  This is one of my favourites from Belgium, although I'm glad the first time I ordered it (in Le Poechenellekelder, Brussels) I hadn't seen the label or I'm sure I would have dismissed it as a touristy gimmick.

Camden Wheat Beer (5.0%) - A cloudy, muddy brown in colour, with no discernible head (was it the way I poured it?).  A banana and spicy scent on the nose - Sam identified this as cloves, which I didn't pick up on.  Relatively strong in flavour both on tasting and afterwards, with similar banana, caramel and spice notes.  There was something slightly peppery in flavour which we couldn't pinpoint exactly.  A nice level of carbonation and a strong sweet aftertaste.

Camden Hells Lager (4.6%) - A vibrant pale gold in colour, with very little head (which disappeared fast), and a slight buttery toast smell.  Quite carbonated, with an oily buttery flavour, and a slight peppery hoppiness.  Sam informed me the buttery flavour is due to diacetyl (so I'll be looking that up later in the Oxford Companion to Beer which he got for xmas).  I think we were both really disappointed with this one, as we'd found it a little on the bland side.

Goose Island IPA (5.9%) - Amber in colour and slightly hazy, with moderate carbonation.  On the nose we got caramel, citrus (American) hops, tropical fruit, and I smelt an oaty smell.  To taste it was very similar - a strong malt flavour with a bitter, refreshing citrus hop taste.  The bitterness builds as you drink, and it has a well-rounded flavour.  Interestingly Sam guessed this to be the Kernel.  Had he tasted the Kernel first I doubt he would have done...

Kernel Galaxy IPA (6.9%) - A muddy, hazy brown/orange in colour, with a light carbonation.  On the nose we got citrussy resinous hops, pine and Sam described it as a metallic smell.  The taste was very similar - an intense hop taste - incredibly bitter, with a citrus pith aftertaste.  I'll admit to not liking this one much, but then I never get on well with very strong (American) hop flavours which are the trend at the moment.  Sam loves Kernel beers, but whilst he liked this one, he felt it wasn't one of their best and didn't have enough malt/sweetness to balance out the flavour.

Bonus Beer - Goose Island Mild Winter (5.6%) - Dark brown in colour, clear, with a thin head.  On the nose we got caramel, Twiglets and burnt toast.  The taste matched with a malty caramel flavour.  Sam also tasted hazelnuts, but I couldn't get that at all.  It was very drinkable (I was surprised how much I liked it), with a moderate carbonation, a well-rounded flavour and a malted aftertaste with slight hop bitterness.

*Hazy due to a lovely couple of hours spent in the Rake - notable beer mentions go to Harviestoun Mr Sno'Balls, Thornbridge McConnells Stout, Stone Ruination IPA, Barbar Winter Bok and Redemption Big Chief.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Session Number 59: I almost always drink beer but when I don't I drink....


This months Beer Blogging Friday is hosted by Mario over at Brewed for thought. the topic covers what we beer bloggers drink when we aren't drinking beer. A bit of a toughie....but...

If you have visited the charming Mediterranean island of Malta, you will certainly have tasted the Maltese national soft drink. There is nothing else non-alcoholic that can refresh you on a 40 degree summer day quite like Kinnie. My mother-in-law is Maltese and when we visit my wife's relatives there are many treats we indulge in that are only available in Malta. Until recently top of this list was Kinnie but now, to my delight, it is available in 500mL bottles from Amazon UK and it's consistently in their top ten beverage sales.

Unless you've tried it it may be hard to understand why the Maltese are so obsessed with a drink made from bitter oranges and herbs. But it has beaten back competition from Coca Cola and San Pellegrino and reigns supreme on the streets of Valetta and Sliema. It is on these dusty hot streets that Kinnie can be found in its perfect state, from a vending machine in an ice cold 330mL bottle, cracked open and swigged to quench near impenetrable thirst.

For the mean time I will happily make do with these plastic bottles to give me my Kinnie fix. In a way its a good replacement for beer on a scorcher. It has a refreshing bitterness like an orangey US IPA and with a shot of vodka or two it can have a similar effect. It was served with vodka in almost 50/50 ratio at a Maltese wedding I went to last year. There are some other cocktail ideas on the Kinnie site which I might be trying soon as well as some recipe ideas I have to make use of its marmalade and spice qualities.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Favourite blogs of 2011

As a sort of end of year list I thought I would mention a few blogs which have entertained and informed over the past twelve months.

There have been a number of good beer blogs I have started following this year.

One of which is The Beer Monkey
New to me this year, the Beer Monkey has entertained me with their straight to the point, no bullshit beer reviews and commentary

Another excellent blog I discovered this year is The Petit Four.
Emily is an American living in Belgium and her blog is a diary of her life there which tends to include a beer or two. I think Emily is one of the best beer reviewers currently online, I would liken her style and quality to Adrian Tierney Jones. Not only that but her recipes are always inspiring and well thought out.

Rabid Barfly
Glyn Roberts is the manager of the Rake, probably the first craft beer bar in London, certainly paving the way for Cask, Euston tap and the bloody Brewdog bar. Following his thoughts on beer and life can be refreshing and sometimes exhausting. In particular his drinking diary from last January was an illuminating look into the life of a beer fanatic's liver.

Ghost Drinker
This newbie beer blogger works at Beer Ritz, Zak Avery's beer shop in Leeds. I love his enthusiasm and unpretentious beer reviews from the point of view of the punters. Good work Ghosty, keep it up.

I don't follow many wine blogs but here are a few I do

 Wine with Christina and Brunellos have more fun
These two ladies produce the lovely wine podcast, The Crush, which entertains me once a week on my way to work. Informative and funny, Whitney is in California and Christina is an American in London and their blogs are equally good.

The other wine blog I follow is from the veteran wine writer and multi talented good guy Tim Atkin. Not only is he a Saturday morning wine expert but he's pretty good at photography and not half bad on the guitar! He also taught me a lot of what I know about wine so I am kind of biased but I do trust his opinion about the grape.

Most of my google reader account is taken up with food blogs and it would take an age to sort the wheat from the chaff, but one blog that always stands out for me is:

Ideas in food
I've been following Alex and Aki's modernist food blog for a few years now but I think this year they have upped their game. Following the release of their excellent book there have been daily posts with links to archive posts from the past five years. This means that every day there are six inspirational ideas, recipes, reviews or photos to lighten your day.

And for a bit of media and politics fun I like to have a daily catch up on the following.

The Angry Mob for highlighting the ridiculous and disgusting exploits of much of the press in the UK

Zelo Street  for his entertaining viewpoint on political blogging.

One last special mention goes to my favourite political blogger, Left Eye Right Eye  whose thought provoking analysis shows that good quality, well thought out writing is possible on a blog and Lou does so with great success.

Christmas Beers and Beers for Christmas

I find it difficult to think of things to ask for at Christmas and this year was no different. I sent out a list of out-of-print books and vouchers for homebrew sites.  Luckily Claire intercepted, made some suggestions and added a few new books. Christmas morning arrived and Saint Nick left me some great beery gifts. Garrett Oliver is the Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, the brewery which gave me my US beer epiphany. He is also a successful author and I received his Oxford Companion to Beer. A couple more Brooklyn beer gifts came my way, the history of the business, written by the two founders of the brewery and a bottle of my favourite Brooklyn beers, Local 2.
I've started to collect the labels of special beers I have drunk. Some of these can be pretty tricky to get off the bottle but  I have a special technique that works with most. 
Local 2 is Brooklyn's take on a Belgian beer. It's made with European malts, honey, orange peel and fermented and bottle conditioned with Belgian yeast. From the moment you open the elegant champagne style bottle, pour a glass and take a big sniff it feels like a Christmassy celebration. Waves of winter flavours wash over your tongue, dried fruits, honey, liquorice and caramel all blending together to make a warm Belgian Christmas pudding of a beer. Great for sharing and brilliant for pairing with foods that require something a little fruity.

The second label in the picture is from a beer I probably should have shared with someone else. Santa's Little Helper from Port Brewing is an imperial stout that comes in a 1pt 6floz bottle and clocks in 10%ABV. Out of the bottle it comes like black gravy into the glass, no head and no apparent carbonation. I lifted it up to the light and peered into it's impenetrable darkness, it revealed nothing to me. The first taste is powerful with burnt cola, coffee and caramel. Luckily there is some moderate carbonation and a little liquorice and aniseed flavour to lift this beer from what could be a treacly chore to drink. But still to attempt the whole bottle in one sitting is foolishness and I was that fool, by the end of the glass I poured it was beginning to taste like Marmite. I had to leave some of the bottle for the next day and when I tasted it the following afternoon it seemed to have opened up a little more but it was still a powerhouse of a beer and thoroughly enjoyable. 

My Mum often searches out local beers for me from where she lives in Wales. The bottle on the right is the dark roasted beer from Jacobi brewery in Caio. This was by far the best of the range which I tasted and represented this style of beer very nicely with lovely coffee and chocolatey stout like flavours. Others in their range suffered from a little too much diacetyl and not enough body and hops. 
My Mum also gave me the beer on the left, and I've included it here because I think that beers with ginger in have become one of my favourite hangover cures. The ginger seems to settle my stomach and the mild buzz form the alcohol sets my head straight. Ginger Beard from the omnipresent Wychwood brewery is a good example of style. My personal favourite is Brodies ginger beer from the great east London brewery.
I wanted to mention these beers because I think beer is a great gift for Christmas. Local seasonals and special beers are wonderful with food and warming this time of year. I also received some nice Bath Ales from my sister, including one of my favourite seasonal ales Festivity.

I'll wrap up now with a brief mention of these two beers from the attention seeking brewing pranksters Brewdog. Not that they need any extra promotion from me. 
Abstrakt is Brewdog's range of more experimental beers that tend to be high in alcohol and flavour
Mark Dredge recently blogged that anyone with an AB:03 should probably drink it now because it won't be getting any better. So I decided to drink both AB:03 and my last bottle of AB:01. AB:03 is a two year aged imperial ale infused with fresh raspberries and strawberries. When I last opened one of these I thought that maybe it was infected. It still had the powerful, almost sickly berry fruit flavour but it erupted from the bottle and had an acidic and brett like tang that didn't really suit it. The good news is that this latest bottle was nothing like that. The fruit had subdued and although it still had acidity it was balanced and refreshing. I still don't think that it's as good as other fruit beers but it's certainly the best in this style I've tasted apart from brewdog Zephyr. But seeing as this style is really only made by Brewdog that isn't surprising.

AB:01 is a Belgian quad infused with vanilla. It's designed for keeping up to two years and I opened it after 18 months. To me it had very little Belgian qualities and no vanilla discernible at all. It was a nice beer but that's it and I think it was an overpriced disappointment.  

I'm probably not going to buy any more of the Abstrakt series. I don't think the quality or volume of the beers justifies the price and the annoying plastic corks are a bitch to get out. As a hint what other breweries can achieve as a limited beer check out Local 2 above from the brilliant Brooklyn. That bottle cost less than an Abstrakt and that was imported from the US. 

I hope that 2012 is the year that Brewdog calm down a bit a make some more of the brilliant Paradox series of beers.

Anyway this post has taken me much too long to write so I will sign off here, hope you had a lovely Christmas and wish you a wonderful new year. May 2012 bring you lots of fantastic beers and joyous fun!