Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Top five beers of the European Beer Bloggers Conference

Last night I woke with a start three times from some very lucid and very scary dreams. I won't go into details but these were 18 certificate horror movie worthy dreams. I completely blame these effects on the myriad of stunning beers I drank this weekend at the European Beer Bloggers Conference (EBBC) in Leeds. They must have twisted my mind with too many wacky flavours and fantastical ideas. Before the conference I decided I would write about my top five beers of the weekend and the beers offered to us by the conference sponsors gave me plenty to decide from.

As I mentioned in this post about innovation I think that there is a trend in some British restaurants to use modernist molecular cooking techniques to try to imply a forward thinking kitchen and chef. Whereas I believe that true innovators create their own ideas, techniques and dishes. I think there is a similar problem in some breweries. This was touched on at the weekend by Adrian Tierney Jones (I think) in his talk. When asking an unnamed brewer why they brewed a certain new beer the brewer replied "because we didn't have anything in the 4.5% slot". I think there may be another problem and that is a trend in newer breweries to follow fashions. Waves of trends of beers come through the breweries that are almost identikit versions of craft US beers. A lot of new breweries seem to have a US style IPA, a black IPA, an imperial stout etc. This isn't innovation, this is copying beers and relying on the newest hops to be developed in New Zealand or the US to deliver new flavours. I think this is fine for home-brewers but I want my commercial breweries to show some original thinking!

Well, in this blog's spirit of innovation I have picked my five six conference beers as the most inventive and interesting from the weekend. 

Williams Brothers: Fraoch 22

This is an 11% version of the Williams Bros heather ale which is then aged in sherry casks previously used to age Auchentoshan. This was the first beer of the weekend for me and I was blown away. It's a rich, sweet sipping beer with the fragrant woody heather flavour giving it a pudding quality. At EBBC it was very good to see this and many other speciality beers in 75cl bottles. I like having enough beer to share between three or four people when I spend a lot of money on it. A stingey 330ml doesn't do it for me.

Magic Rock: Bourbon Barrel Bearded Lady

On the Sunday of the conference the majority of the attendees visited Magic Rock Brewery in Huddersfield. Part way through our tour of the brewery the volume of the murmur of the crowd outside rose, mutterings of bearded lady could be heard and something about bourbon. The tour finished and the first glasses of this 10.5% Imperial stout were being poured. It has been aged in a bourbon barrel for 3 months before kegging and bottling. This silky smooth and slightly sweet stout, enriched with bourbon and wood smokiness made everyone grin and even enticed the sun out. 

Birra Del Borgo:  L'Equilibrista

This wine/beer hybrid was slightly dismissed as being not really beer by many I spoke to at the night of many European beers. But I thought it was a wonderful example of forward thinking in beers. It sparkled on my fatigued taste buds, at once lambic, champagne, cider? If bloggers want restaurant goers to start appreciating beer then this is one of the ways to go about it. Elegant and refined it would be a perfect way to start a meal, ideally sat in the Italian evening sun.  

Marble: Earl Grey IPA

I've only had a tea beer once before but I have been obsessing about it ever since. I think that the potential with tea flavoured beers is huge. The variety of tea flavours, while not quite rivalling hop varieties, is wide and the flavours that come from tea bitterness, tannins and aromatics, complement those of beer very nicely. Well I'm obviously not the only one. At the speed dating version of beer blogging, bloggers favourites Marble served up their Earl Grey IPA. How very British! The idea was that the bergamot from the tea would add unusual flavour whilst adding a complementary bitterness. I could have done with even more tea flavour in this very drinkable IPA but I applaud Marble's experimentation and spirit of collaboration - this beer was brewed with Emelisse brewery in the Netherlands.

Nogne O: Two Captains

There was a pub crawl Thursday night before the conference that we unfortunately couldn't make. It started at Mr Foley's, a bar stocked with some fantastic beers. Needless to say I was quite gutted to have missed out. Sensing my disappointment Claire and Soph suggested we went for a half in Mr Foley's before our train home on Sunday. It turned out to be a fantastic suggestion as we all had a half of Nogne O's Two Captains, a very surprising double IPA which smelt of stone fruit and fruit pastilles. It tasted of rich sweet peach cobbler and custard. I could have drunk this all day, a dangerous thought considering the 8.5% ABV, the £4 per half pint price tag and our impending train departure. 

Flying Dog: In De Wildeman Cottage IPA

We left Mr Foley's for the train station but not before being sold five bottles for the train by loveably dry barman, Tyler, who taunted my inner beer geek with his talk of limited imports and special editions. One of these bottles was Flying Dog's Wildeman Farmhouse IPA. Apparently one of Flying Dog's year round beers, though this is the first time I've seen it in the UK. Soph and I both bought a bottle with the intention of perhaps doing a simultaneous Twitter tasting on our trains home. Well, all I can say is that Claire and I tasted our bottle and it blew my frazzled mind. It's a heavily hopped saison, with lemony citrus farms on the nose and fruity, earthy, funky hits on on the tongue. Refreshing and satisfying at the same time. A very successful hybrid of two different styles and as such a late entry into my top five six beers of the conference.

I hope this post gives a good idea of the fun and education we had at the conference and there were many more interesting beers than just these six. I would like to thank Allan and Elle from Zephyr Adventures for organising the conference and to Molson Coors for sponsoring the event and our registration.

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