Friday 31 December 2010

Fire Damages Rochefort Trappist Abbey

The 13th-Century Rochefort Trappist abbey which produces the lovely Trappist 8 and the even nicer Trappist 10 has been damaged by fire.
The fire broke out at the abbey at St Remy-Rochefort as the monks were dining.
 Thankfully, the monks were evacuated unhurt and it took 70 firefighters several hours to put out the fire.
The vats also suffered no damage and survived intact.

Initial reports suggest that the fire began near a generator being used temporarily after the abbey experienced problems with their power supply.

Beer production has been temporarily halted, however, Francois Bellot, Mayor of Rochefort, said he was confident that it would resume in a couple of days.


Thursday 30 December 2010

Golden Pints Awards 2010 - my nominations


Fellow Beer Blogger Mark Dredge has opened up nominations for the 2010 Golden Pints Awards. You can read his original post here. I thought I'd get my thinking cap on and submit my nominations for the GPA 2010. It's been a great year for beers and brewing with some really fine examples of quality beers out there so it was pretty difficult in some categories to get it down to a single winner.

So here goes -  the beer monkey's nominations,

Best UK Draught -    Fyne Ales Jarl

Best UK Bottled Beer -    Kernel Brewery S.C.A.NS IPA / Brewdog Bashah Reserve

Best Overseas Draught -    Keesmann Herren Pils

Best Overseas Bottled Beer -    Saison Du BUFF

Best Overall Beer -    Fyne Ales Jarl

Best Pump Clip -    Anything by Houston!!!!

Best UK Brewery -   Thornbridge / Fyne Ales

Overseas Brewery -    Stone

Best Pub / Bar -    The Jolly Butcher's, Stoke Newington

Best Festival -     GBBF

Best Independent Retailer -  Utobeer

Best Online Retailer -    My Brewery Tap / Beer Merchants

Best Beer Blogger -     Cooking Lager

Best Beer Twitterer -     Beer Reviews Andy

Best Brewery Online -    Brewdog

Open Category -   Most annoying word to describe a beer  in 2010 - "Awesome!!!"

My hopes for 2011 -   more collaborations, continued innovation, excellent beer.


Friday 24 December 2010

T'was the blog before Christmas

Christmas is usually the time for pushing the boat out and indulging yourself in the finer things in life. The beer monkey is no different. Over the past few months, I've been finding myself spending an awful lot of time on two of  my favourite websites,  My Brewery Tap and  Beer Merchants, admiring the stunning collection of UK and International beer. I've also been ordering a bottle or two to keep me refreshed over the festive period.

So, my  Christmas cargo is now complete and this year I shall be mostly drinking beer such as....... Thornbridge, Marble, Brewdog Abstrakt, Sierra Nevada, The Kernel Brewery, HardKnott, Cantillon, Odell, Goose Island and the lovely, lovely Fyne Ales among others. That's my Christmas cargo. What's in your Christmas cargo?

One Happy Beer Monkey

So, whatever you are drinking, I hope you have a wonderful, lovely Christmas and that Santa brings you all that you hope and desire. And a few nice bottles too.

Merry Christmas Beer Buddies.

Have A Great One.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Punk's not dead. It's just been re-invented.

Generation X

A couple of blogposts ago, I compared Brewdog's Trashy Blonde with a modified prototype version of it brewed with Belgian yeast rather than the U.S. Ale yeast used in the original. This concoction was called Euro Trash.

Well, I've manged to get my hands upon another of their prototype beer which, again, used Belgian yeast in the fermentation process. This beer is called Punk X and is a hybrid of the Fraserburgh Upstarts 6% Punk IPA, which is easily, for me, one of the nicest beers commonly available in most major supermarkets.

It would seem only fair to do a side by side taste test comparison to see which beer wins the battle of the Brewdog Punks.

Brew Dogging

So here goes - both versions promptly despatched into their glasses, it's obvious that the Brewdog Punk X pours a more opaque amber colour than the original. Both fill the glass quickly with thick, creamy foam heads that strain to escape their glass prison. As they do so, the pair release the most delicious aromas full of resinous, piney, citrus hop notes which fill my nostrils and entice my tongue into a punkgasm of expectant mouth watering pleasure.

Wow! The Punk X tastes as good as it smells. It is everything that Brewdog Euro Trash wasn't. It's crisp, clean and full of gloriously hoptastic tastiness. It's big and powerful yet smooth in the mouth and is bursting full of fresh sweet pineapple with a grapefruit and orange citrus zing followed by a long, nicely bittered finish. This actually is a cracking beer. It's robust, zesty and refreshing and the big hitting hops are balanced very well by a nice malt underbite.  It tastes lovely and drinks superbly well.

The original Punk has a stronger carbonation and feels harsher on the tongue than the X. It has a good floral hop profile and nice malt balance too but the hop bitterness hits you much sooner than the X and tends to dominate from then on in whereas the X prototype allows the fruity tastiness of the hops to hang around for much longer then gives way to a cameo appearance from the sweet and slightly warming malt before the very pleasant bitter finale.

Mr Whippy

I was really surprised by how lovely the Punk X was. Perhaps, I expected the Prototype Punk to be as bland and generic as the Euro Trash but clearly the addition of the Belgian yeast to a beer that has a stronger abv and a greater hop density than the Trashy Blonde has been a success on this occassion.

Prior to the tasting, I had thought that the original IPA would win hands down in this battle of the Brewdog Punks but that is not the case. The original Punk IPA is still a lovely beer but Brewdog have created, by either accident or design, a beer that has improved upon Punk's greatness and would be a worthy addition to their beer canon.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Good News for Glasgow Beer Drinkers

A while back, I wrote about the campaign to save the iconic Tennent's Bar from change following the announcement by owners Mitchell's and Butler's that it intending to refurbish the interior and take it under the wing up the pubco's Nicholson's branch. The threat of the refurb galvinised many of Glasgow's drinkers to launch a Facebook campaign, a petition and even a pressure group called CACTI (Campaign Against Change to Tennent's Interior). Well, it seems that the pressure has been paying off.

 I unearthed a recent quote from Brian Hannon, Mitchells and Butlers Director of Operations.

He insists that Tennent's will retain it's name, it's team of staff and will remain a 'traditional' and 'real pub'.

He said: “We are aware that the future of Tennent’s bar has recently been called into question, becoming the topic of much speculation.
“We therefore welcome this opportunity to do our very best to reassure customers and the wider community that Tennent’s bar’s future as a traditional pub is in no way in doubt.
“Mitchells & Butlers has proudly owned and successfully operated Tennent’s bar for more than 20 years.
“But, more importantly, it will continue to be a real pub – not a brasserie, not a restaurant and not a gastro pub.”

 “Reports are correct: we are assessing the scope of a refurbishment of the pub with the aim of retaining what is great, while enhancing its kitchen, toilet facilities and general amenities."

“The food, which many people enjoy, is restricted in quality and range by virtue of the current kitchen facilities.
“But any refurbishment will be carried out in a sensitive manner complementing the character of the existing pub.
“It is clear that many customers of Tennent’s bar are as passionate about the pub as we are, and I would again like to reassure you that the aim of any future refurbishment will be only to enhance what is already a great pub and one which we are truly proud to own.”

This is clearly good news and I've no reason to doubt Brian Hannon's words.

Credit must be given to the various campaigns that sprung up to put pressure on Mitchells and Butlers to maintain the tradition, character and integrity of  Tennent's Bar.

Well Done, All.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Battle of the Brewdog Blondes

In their quest for constant improvement and beer perfection, those Fraserburgh upstarts at Brewdog have been messing about with some of their better known beers. Both Punk IPA and Trashy Blonde have been given a make over recently with their original recipes being modified. The prototypes of these modified brews are called Punk X and Euro Trash respectively. I'll go into greater depth about Punk X / Punk IPA in a later blog but for just now, let's focus on the Euro Trash / Trashy Blonde.

With Euro Trash the standard Trashy Blonde recipe has been used but with one important alteration - the US ale yeast has been replaced with a classic Belgian yeast strain. Brewdog describe the finished prototype as a "baby Belgian IPA" similar to beers such as Raging Bitch, Cali Belgique and Le Freak. That may be the case but how does the Euro Trash prototype compare to the original recipe Trashy Blonde?

There was only one way to find out - a side by side comparison.

So, with some of the Twitter #Glasgowbeer folk over at mine for a few Christmas Beers a perfect opportunity presented itself to do a wee comparison between a couple of bottles of Euro Trash and the original Blonde. I also repeated the comparison with Mrs Beer Monkey the following night. Just for research purposes, you understand.

Both botttles poured with a thick white head that hung around for quite a time. There was a slight difference in the colour with the Euro Trash being a slightly darker shade than the Blonde. To the eye, both had evidence of strong initial carbonation.

A quick swirl around in the glass and a deep inhalation revealed that the aroma between the two was starkly different. The original recipe Trashy Blonde gave off a wonderful sweet citrus and passion fruit hop aroma whereas the Euro Trash was more earthy, grassy with more than a whiff of the yeast coming through. The yeast seemed to mute the citrus hops. They were there struggling to break free from the yeast stranglehold but try as they might they never quite managed it.

The differences between the two carried through to the taste with the Blonde having a big hop profile in the mouth. Again, there was a huge hit of citrus, passion fruit and some mango giving way to a long and satisfying hoppy lingering bitter finish.

With the Euro Trash, I have to say that myself and my beer buddies were a bit underwhelmed by how it tasted. It needed more hops to fight through the Belgian yeast. It initially dulls and obscures the faint hop profile but towards the end the bitter hops stick their heads up and give a little kick just to remind you that they are there. To further prove that they are there, you are left with a long dry, bitter finish. There was some debate whether this finish was caused by the hops or the yeast. I thought it came from the hops.

The verdict of my mates and myself was that the original Trashy Blonde was a clear winner. We thought that it was more zesty, crisp and clean and much easier to drink and enjoy than the Euro Trash. The Belgian yeast in the prototype overwhelmed and out fought the hops which affected it's balance. Euro Trash is a nice beer but it wouldn't be something that I would actively seek out if needing to top up the beer fridge. Trashy Blonde is and that's the difference.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

some Edinburgh pubs, same Edinburgh beer

A few weeks back, I took a leisurely stroll and sup through a half dozen of Glasgow's better pubs in order to take a totally unscientific snapshot of the range and quality of the beer being served in my native city. It was an extremely enjoyable experience which confirmed to me that the city contains some lovely pubs serving some lovely beers.

I had intended to repeat the experience in other cities in the new year and blog about what I saw and found. One of the cities that I intended to visit and do a 'Day in the Life of'' was Edinburgh. However, a spot of mandatory Christmas shopping with Mrs Monkey brings me through to Scotland's capital and whilst I'm there it would be a travesty if I didn't pop my head into, and have a beer in, some of Edinburgh's better regarded pubs and report back.

The last time I was in Edinburgh specifically to sample the beer on offer was a random Tuesday in August,and to be honest, in terms of the beer choice available, I was disappointed with what was on offer. Almost every pub I was in had a choice which seemed limited to beers from Edinburgh Brewers, Caledonian and Stewart's. In my opinion, Stewart's produce beers that are marginally better than Caledonian but both aren't exactly known for beer that is exciting or adventurous and I have to say that they generally aren't to my taste and hence I tend to avoid ordering them if I see any of their pumpclips.

I say that Caledonian don't produce beers that are adventurous but who could forget their 'Mexican Bandit' which was available at this year's Great British Beer Festival? It was basically a light golden ale with lime juice added. I had a taste of it at the GBBF and it was the closest to a cask lager and lime that I have ever had the misfortune to pass my lips. It wasn't nice at all and easily one of the worst beers I tasted at Earl's Court.

Hopefully, today's visit to Edinburgh's pubs would be a different and I would be in luck in discovering a diverse selection of tasty and refreshing beer.

The Abbotsford

However, the first pub I popped into, The Abbotsford, was to be a taster of what was to follow. This Rose St pub is listed in Camra's Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors and the ornate plasterwork and mahogany bar really is lovely but, unfortunately the beers on offer didn't match the surroundings. On the 5 handpumps were something that I would be seeing a lot of today - Beer from Stewart's Brewery and Caledonian. Four of the five pumps were from these breweries and my heart sank at the boring nature of the selection. The only alternative was Tryst's Carronade and it was this I went for.

The Guildford

Beer quickly downed, I headed along towards what is often claimed to be an Edinburgh beer drinkers heaven, The Guildford. It was absolutely packed with Christmas shoppers and getting to the bar seemed to take ages. The beer range was an improvement on the Abbotsford with 10 pumps covering some Scottish Brewers such as Fyne Ales, Harviestoun, Orkney as well as English staples Greene King and Wadworth. The ubiquitous Stewart's brewery also made an appearance. My choice was a pint of Fyne Ales Avalanche and I don't need to go into any great depth about the excellent brewery that is Fyne Ales. My thoughts are well documented in previous blogposts and suffice to say that Fyne Ales are a cracking brewery and Avalanche is a cracking beer.

nice pie at the Cask and Barrel

The third pub was the Cask and Barrel and the beer range was again dominated by the Edinburgh two and disappointing. Half of the beers available were from Caledonian and Stewart's and this was getting depressingly familiar. A lovely ornate pub with a stunning collection of mirrored memorabilia of beer times past being let down by the restricted and all too predictable beer selection. The other beers offered up a bland choice of Young's, Strathaven and a house beer that, I believe, comes from Caledonian. It's not as if that particular brewery isn't well represented already at the bar. The only saving grace was the gorgeous Highland Brewing Co's Orkney Best and a delicious Scotch Pie with lashings of HP sauce and white pepper.
Yum Yum Yum.

Pint finished and brown sauce wiped from my chin, I head back out into the cold early evening winter chill and frantic frenzy of the Christmas rush and make my way to my final pub destination with my only festive wish being that surely my luck would change in the Bow Bar and I would be offered an alternative selection to the limited choice in the other pubs.

The Bow Bar

No such luck, I'm afraid.

Again, Stewart's and Caldonian dominated with the majority of pumps carrying their products. The other pumps had Timmy T's Landlord and a couple of Cairngorm beers. Fortunately, their bottle choice is a bit more diverse and I went for a bottle of Orkney Porter which at least took the edge off my disappointment at the day's fairly restricted beer choice.

I know it was only a flying visit and I may have just picked a day when Edinburgh's Brewers seemed to dominate the choice available but it still left me a bit let down. Just like my last visit, the range was restricted by an over reliance of what I consider fairly dull lowest common denominator product that doesn't excite or fill me with passion. I know that it is totally understandable that Edinburgh pubs support their local brewers and carry their product but within reason. In some of the pubs I was in the big two had the majority of pumps available. That must surely stifle the drinker's choice and limit their enjoyment. It did for me.

Despite this, Edinburgh is still a great place to have a day out in some lovely pubs. Just don't expect the widest variety of brewers and beers available. Maybe the opening of Brewdog's Edinburgh pub in Spring next year may put a rocket up the rectum of an Edinburgh beer and pub scene that has got lazy in their ways and are currently punching below their weight.

Let's hope so.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

In Praise of.......Swannay Brewery

Swannay Snow Patrol

The Beer Monkey brings to you the first instalment in an occasional feature in which I praise, heap plaudits upon and generally blow smoke up the arse of those brewers, breweries and beverages that have not only floated my beer boat but also made me want to tip my hop hat in giving thanks and celebration of deliciously tasty and refreshingly wonderful beer.

The first brewery I kneel down in front of and bless as a beacon of brilliant brewing is one of the furthest north in the U.K. but it's isolated location has not stopped it from producing lovely beer. The place in question is Swannay Brewery in Orkney but is more commonly known as the Highland Brewing Company.

Brewing began in 2006 and in a relatively short space of time it has been recognised as a brewery that has set the Scottish beer bar very high and has earned a reputation as cracking little company producing some really, really lovely beers.

It has received accolades and awards for it's range of beer including Champion Beer of Scotland in 2007 for Dark Munro and a year later it picked up the same award for it's Pale Ale Scapa Special. This year, Highland has also picked up Silver and Bronze awards from SIBA as well as Orkney Blast being crowned Champion Beer of Scotland for 2010. That's three Champion Beers of Scotland in four years. Not bad going in my book.

So, in celebration of a really good brewery producing really good beer and because I fancy a few lovely bottles on a cold winter's night I took myself to my nearest Peckhams and picked myself up three beers from Highland Brewing Company that I consider to be rather nice. These are Scapa Special, Orkney Blast and the seasonal Orkney Porter.

Beer bought, I headed home and looked forward to my evening of Orkney ales.

Let the Scapa flow

First up was the 4.4% Scapa Special Pale Ale.  It is made with a blend of American, German, Kiwi and Slovakian hops and Maris Otter malt and is an extremely drinkable and easy going beer. It pours an off white loosely bubbled head with a some carbonation yet remains gentle on the tongue.

It is vaguely reminiscent of a German Marzen with initial malt giving way to a nice balance of malt sweetness and light hops. This is a cracking session beer that goes down extremely well leaving a pronounced hop finish.

Next up was the 6% Orkney Blast, which Highland define as a Strong Orkney Ale. It is a deceptively boozy and easily suppable beer that, like Scapa, pours a golden colour with a healthy white head. It smells more boozy than Scapa and there is strong hop aromas too. The booze isn't immediately apparent on first taste and instead there is sweet fruity malt in the mouth giving way to the slight lip and tongue tingle of peppery hop. What follows is a satisfying and very moreish linger of a light alcohol afterburn.

At 6%, this is a dangerously tempting beer. It's oh so very drinkable and goes down effortlessly but it's only when it's been despatched down your throat are you aware of it's alcoholic intensity. Orkney Blast, indeed!


The last Swanney swally in my trio of intoxicating treasures is the 9% Orkney Porter, a seasonal beer produced over the winter months. It is a lovely example of a strong, well put together porter with complex, warming tastes and flavours. It pours a dark black colour with traces of ruby red hues and the thick beige effervescent head dissipates quickly to reveal a treacle and licorice aroma. It packs a strong alcoholic punch but the booziness is well balanced by the dark roast with espresso and bitter chocolate. It ends in a bitter finish and a roasty toasty warming alcohol glow. Perfect for this time of year and the 275ml measure ensures that one or two bottles won't lead you to photocopying your derriere or goosing your boss at the Christmas Party.

Winter Warmer

So the three Highland beers I had all ticked the box and all offered something different from each other. The Scapa Special is an extremely easy drinking and satisfying session Pale Ale, The Orkney Blast is just as easy drinking but is more complex than the Scapa and delivers a deceptively boozy punch. And, finally the Orkney Porter is a lovely, strong seasonal porter that is perfect for these long, dark, cold winter's nights.

So, hop hats off to Swanney Brewery and the Highland Brewing Company for producing tasty beer of consistent quality and distinction.

I'll drink to that.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

beer duty and binge drinking - it's all our fault


The Government's latest attempt to tackle the twin evils of binge drinking and anti-social behaviour has just been announced and on first inspection it appears to be a misguided and ill judged piece of legislation that will not solve these problems but instead could potentially seriously hinder the growing niche market of innovative craft beers and brewers making quality high abv beer.

The Con-Dem's plans include the raising of duty on beers stronger than 7.5% and a lowering of duty on beers below 2.8%. The actual level of duty for both categories will not be announced until the Spring but a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said that it will be set at a level which will influence drinkers behaviour. This can be taken to read that the level will be high and punitive.

This policy is misguided because it fails to tackle the alcoholic cause of binge drinking and anti social behaviour which is not gangs of young people hanging around swing parks drinking Brewdog's 9.2% Hardcore IPA or Kernel's 7.7%  S.C.A.NS IPA. What they are drinking is the usual mass market multinational beer stacked high and sold cheap in supermarkets and bargain booze shops. We all know the ones I mean and this legislation allows these manufacturers and retailers to skip their social responsibility.

 It would be interesting to find out how much money has been given by these vested interests in political donations and sponsorships to the coalition partners in the last few years. It is also interesting that the Conservative's election pledge of banning the sale by supermarkets of beer below cost price as a loss leader has been kicked into the long grass for the next few years. It seems the intense lobbying by these vested interests has worked pretty much in their favour.

So, while socially responsible craft beer drinkers and brewers pay the price in the name of public health and peaceful behaviour, hordes of  party animals and park dwellers will still be able to overload their trolleys with slabs of horrendously cheap cooking lager and chemical cider and get ridiculously drunk.

It now seems that society's problems are all the fault of some beer geeks that enjoy a quality, well made beverage every now and again.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Six of the Best - my beers of the year

It's getting to the time of the year when people take a pause out of their hectic festive schedule and reflect, reminisce and indulge in a spot of quite reflection of the year soon to pass. We order in our heads the high and low points, the happy and sad times and the experiences of the previous year.

The beer monkey is no different and of late I have been wearing my beer memory cap and thinking back through the last year and contemplating the beers that have best been dinging my dong, ringing my bell, floating my boat and generally putting a big beery smile on my face in 2010. To be honest, It was a pretty difficult task to whittle my beers of the year list down into the single digits. It is an exciting time in the world of real ale and craft beer at the moment and there are exceptional breweries making exceptional beers so it was no easy task but i've managed to choose some of the beers that have tantalised, tingled and teased my tastebuds over the last twelve months.

So, in no particular order, I give you my 2010 Six of the Best .

First up, is a beer that I have actively sought out and travelled miles to taste - Fyne Ales Jarl.
I first tasted Jarl at the Fyne Ales Festival in June. It was the first outing of this special beer and it blew me and my fellow drinkers away. It is a fresh and refreshing Pale Ale with tropical citrus aromas and gorgeous grapefruit and lemon Citra hops bouncing all over your tongue that ends in a beautifully dry, bitter finish. It is simply, a stunning beer and one that needs to be tasted to be believed.

I next tasted Jarl at the Great British Beer Festival at Earl's Court in early August and again it was outstanding. It was my beer of the festival and I quickly became a Jarl evangelist, converting everyone I spoke to onto this fantastic Fyne Ale. Everyone thought it was lovely. My hopes for 2011 are that Jarl becomes a regular fixture in the Fyne Ales repertoire and that it soon appears in bottles.

My second beer is a gorgeous Summer Ale from U.S. craft brewers Odell. Odell has spent a lot of time and effort trying to raise their profile and customer base in the U.K. Some of their beers are pretty good, particularly their IPA and Cut Throat Porter but one beer stands head and shoulders above the rest. That beer in question is St. Lupulin Extra Pale Ale and it was the thirst quenching beer that I couldnt get enough of during the summer.

It is a lively and invigorating fruit bowl of passion fruit, mango and lemon with a sprinkling of spicy pepper and sweet honey. It has a clean, and crisp, hoppy finish that leaves you wanting more, more, more. Particularly on a hot, summer day.

My next lip smacking beer of 2010, is a little bit darker than the first two but is no less lacking in full on meaty hop flavour. The beer is Brewdog's Edge and is a cracking example of a well made and tasty Mild. It has split opinion with one beer blogger describing it as merely a Scottish 60 Shilling beer with added hops but that is like describing Gareth Bale as merely a left sided footballer with a bit of pace. Edge is much, much more than that.

It is a complex smoky blend of plums, raisins and rich fruits with a lingering dark chocolate and coffee bitterness. It is only 3.2% abv but punches well above it's weight in terms of body, mouthfeel and taste.  Yet again, those Fraserburgh upstarts have created a beer that is memorably tasty and very, very moreish.

A beer fromThornbridge brewery is next up on my list of cracking beers that have I have enthusiastically consumed in 2010. Thornbridge is a brewery that is a byword for innovative, interesting but above all stunning beers and to pick just one from their mouth watering selection was very difficult but I went for one that I've had the pleasure of tasting and enjoying many times over the past year and on each and every occasion it has been a South Pacific hop explosion of fragrant, tropical shrapnel of pink grapefruit, mango and kiwi fruit flavours and tastes. The New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops deliver a huge fruity kick that gives way to a long dry citrus bitter finish. Kipling is the beer and it is as sumptiously gorgeous a beer as you are likely to find.

Two left on my six off the best list the next one up comes from Marble  Brewery in Manchester. Marble have a reputation as purveyors of high quality and consistently flavoursome beers. Like Thornbridge,  it was really difficult to choose just the one from Marble's healthy choice of beers. I could have gone for the excellent Dobber or their lovely Manchester Bitter but instead I went for Lagonda IPA. It is an excellent example of an IPA and it's lovely herbal hop aroma is matched by well balanced sweet toffee malt and citrus fruit and floral hops. I thought it was an exceptional, well conditioned beer that was robust and full of flavour.

My last beer of the year is Brewdog's Punk IPA. It is a somewhat lazy choice but to be honest it's usually the first beer I reach for in the fridge and I always make sure that I have a regular supply at hand. It is my default beer of choice when at home and the one that I've probably downed the most of during the last year. It is exactly what I need of a midweek evening and it hits the spot everytime. It truly is outstanding and has everything that I want in a beer. Hoppy, Fresh, Tasty, Flavoursome and Refreshing. I don't know if it's possible for a 6% beer to be classed as a session beer but in my case session means the beer I drink regularly and Punk IPA is the closest I'll get to having a session beer.  Until, that is, Fyne Ales bottle Jarl.

So there you go. Six beers that I have particularly enjoyed this year but as I said earlier, it really was a difficult job to get it down to six as there are a lot of great brewers out there making innovative and excellent beers.

 Long may that continue.

What were the best beers you had this year?

Monday 22 November 2010

London Pubs Lead the Revolution

Lovely, London Beer

Pssst! Yeah, You!

Come over here.

I've got something to tell you but you had better keep this just between us.

Closer, so no one can hear a word.

Ssshhh! Don't tell a soul but there is something rather deliciously exciting happening in the world of tasty beer and lovely pubs down that there London.

The Jolly Butchers

In the past few months, there have been the first initial tremors of a potentially seismic beer earthquake in the Capital City. Following on from the success of The Rake Bar and The Cask, two new pubs have opened that are leading the way in changing attitudes to how beer is perceived and consumed. These two pubs are the The Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington and The Euston Tap just down from Euston station.

One proves conclusively that a pub can be an ale success regardless of the unfashionable postcode provided you are giving the punters what they want, a sublime selection of quality beers from innovative and exciting local and national brewers. The other confirms that there is clearly an untapped market for cutting edge U.S. Craft, eclectic European and diverse U.K. cask, draft and bottles.

London Beer Week

The Jolly Butchers on Stoke Newington High St has been up and running in its latest incarnation since May and in a short space of time has earned a reputation as the place to go in North London to find some of the finest beers around. Particularly, if, in the Jolly Butchers case, the beers are knowledgeably sourced not only from the finest Breweries in London and the Home Counties but also some of the best regarded UK brewers such as Thornbridge and Brewdog.

When I was in it was coming to the end of their London Beer Week showcase that highlighted the depth, quality and brewing pedigree of the Capital's micro's such as The Kernal, Meantime, Brodie's, Redemption and the Camden Town Brewery. Also available were regular's such as Thornbridge's Jaipur and Brewdog's 5a.m. Saint, Punk IPA and 77 lager. The food is rather good too.

What has struck me the times I have been in the Jolly Butchers was the range and ages of people enjoying the superb selection of beers. Not the usual Camra suspects on a day trip from the Bree Louise but a mixture of a young, edgy, left field crowd and well heeled couples going through the various beers with an infectious enthusiasm. Significantly, the beers were being downed by not just men but also a healthy proportion of women.

All around you could hear variations of the same phrases, "What's that you're having?", "You want a taste?" and "What will I have next?". The excitement and curiousity in their questions were almost tangible and an absolute delight to hear.

Havin' a  Butchers

The second pub has only been open since Guy Fawkes Night and has created fireworks ever since. The Euston Tap sits in the Stunning Grade II West Lodge in Euston Square just in front of the Station and it's mission is to "bring London the best draught real ale and craft beer available" and on the evidence of my visit, it doesn't fail in it's mission.

Tip Top Tap

It really is a beer drinkers nirvana with 11 Beers on Cask and 19 Draft Craft Beers (see pics)but that description doesn't do the Euston Tap justice as the beer fridges have to be seen to be believed. These truly are Magic and Enchanted fridges containing the finest selection of bottled beers I have seen in any pub in the UK. The choice is truly a beer perverts paradise. Bottles from brewers near and far include The Lost Abbey, Titan, Left Hand, Founders, Victory, Cantillon, Tegernseer, St Georgen Brau and Magnums of Mikkeller Festival 09 and 10 among many others.

The Bar at Tap

The choice blew me away and left me trapped, frozen like a rabbit in the beer head lights and it took me a few minutes to make up my mind as to what I would have first. I was jumping between the fridges and craning my neck to see the boards above the bar as I tried to narrow down my options. It was almost impossible but I went for lovely Manchester Bitter, followed by a Sierra Nevada Torpedo.

Behind Bars

One was Cask, the other Draft but both were beer and to be honest, I don't care about the method of dispense. If it tastes lovely then get it in your mouth and down your neck. Both were superb and again, temptation got the better of me and I decided to have one more before I made my journey back to the frozen North. I wanted something Big and Hoppy so I went for a half of Great Divide Hercules Double IPA.  It was reminiscent of Brewdog's/Mikkellers I Hardcore You summer collaboration and was full of meaty loveliness.

A Magic Fridge

The Euston Tap really is a special place offering the beer drinker an unrivalled choice in the city. It opens during a very exciting and optimistic time for beer and pubs not just in London but also across the country in pubs such as Brewdog Aberdeen, The Marble Arch, The Grove and the Tap's sister pub in Sheffield. Hopefully, pubs like these, The Euston Tap and The Jolly Butchers are merely the forerunners of a beer and pubs revolution that might just spread to other Cities across the country.

Another Magic Fridge

Did I say ssshhh, don't tell a soul?

Forget that, go to the nearest rooftop and proclaim from the top of your voice that the beer and pub revolution has begun and could soon be coming to a city near you.

The quicker the beer revolution spreads, the better.

Get to it, Comrades.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Brewdog's Dinner at the Book Club

The Hillhead Book Club

In recent weeks, Brewdog have been attempting to up their profile in Glasgow and the West of Scotland with showcases and sponsorships aimed at making punters more aware of their tasty, irreverent and innovative beer brand.

Firstly, there was a Brewdog showcase and tasting in a city Wetherspoons where the likes of 5 a.m.Saint, Trashy Blonde and Punk IPA were available to the delight of grog guzzling Glaswegians. Secondly, they are the proud sponsors of the Celtic Beer Festival at the iconic Glasgow pub, The Bon Accord. The festival features Scottish, Welsh and Cornish beers with a diverse range of Brewdog beers available too. I was in the Bon at the weekend and three Brewdog beers were on - Edge, 5 a.m.Saint and Hardcore IPA.

In the Book Club

Hot on the heels of these two events comes a further Glasgow Brewdog happening designed to make your mouth water and taste buds tingle - a food and beer collaboration between the Fraserburgh upstarts and one of Glasgow's newly opened and up and coming West End pubs - The Hillhead Book Club. According to both parties they share a 'passion for individuality, quality' and a 'naughty but nicely creative streak'. Sounds like a food and drink marriage made in heaven.

Ordinarily, these beer and food pairing events adopt the format of food produced, served up and accompanied by a beer picked to complement the food and enhance not only the flavour of the food but also the taste of the beer. This one is a bit different. Inspired by, and using, Brewdog beers as basic ingredients in the menu, the Head Chef at the Book Club, Matt has created a Brewdog's dinner of three deliciously beery, epicurean and alcoholic courses with dishes such as, 5a.m. Gammon with amber ale and caramelised apples, beer potted shrimp with dumplings, Hardcore flank of beef and onions with IPA gravy and gingerbread with Paradox and cinnamon ice cream Or, perhaps artisan cheese with Tactical Nuclear chutney.

The Hillhead Book Club has been opened since May this year and they describe themselves as 'an occasionally eclectic, but always, rewarding haven for the independently minded'. The Book Club's mission is to 'deliver high quality food and drinks in a relaxed Bohemian setting at a price your Gran would approve'. Hopefully, on tonight's showing, it is mission accomplished.

Brewdog James

The evening began with an hour long, entertaining and often humorous, talk by Brewdog's co-founder James Watt on the phenomenal rise and growth of not only Brewdog the brewery but also the brand. Three years ago they were a Two Men and a Dog operation buying hops to brew with on personal credit cards because their finance lines at the bank had been exhausted. Today, they employ 37 staff, one Dog and produce 500,000 bottles of super tasty beer per month.

James went on in great length about the awards won, the commendations and the criticisms, the acres of publicity and column inches gained on the cheap and at the expense of a handful of upset Germans, a dozen beer stuffed roadkill, some knee jerk journalists and moral crusaders. He also launched into a powerful and persuasive invective against the power and shoddy practices of the brewing multinationals. Oh, and we even got to hear how none of the Brewdog bunch have ever had conjugal relations with Mother Teresa.

James' chat was interspersed with liberal tastings of their stunning bottled beers. We started on the relatively low abv beers of 5 a.m. Saint (4.1%) and Punk IPA (6%). James was encouraging us to strike up a conversation with our beers and to listen to what they were saying. All I could hear was , Drink Me, Drink Me!

Next up for a taste was Bashah, the 8.2% collaboration with U.S. Craft Beer masters Stone Brewing Company.  This beer was delightful. It is aged in Highland Park whisky casks and is chock full of gorgeous, ripe Aberdeenshire black raspberries and was my favourite beer of the night. Only two casks of the beer was produced and I hope I get my hands on a bottle of one these rarities soon. Our final two beers of the tasting before we got fed were Hardcore IPA (9.2%) and at (15%) some AB : 04.

Hardcore flank of Beef with IPA gravy

I was getting hungry now and was looking forward to the Brewdog/Book Club menu. The three course dinner was tasty, hearty and showcased the versatility of flavoursome Brewdog beers not only as an accompaniment to food but also when used as the ingredients.

For Starters, I had the salt and pepper Calamari with chilli dip. No brewdog beers in this dish but I had a bottle of Punk IPA with it and it went down a treat. Next up was the hardcore flank of beef and onions with IPA gravy. The beef was tender and the IPA onion gravy was striking in its balance of sweet onion and robust bitterness.

Tactical Nuclear Chutney

I still had room for a little bit more lovely food and I really wanted to taste the Tactical Nuclear Chutney, so I went for the cheese board with a selection of Lanark Blue, Morangie and Glazert cheeses with afore mentioned chutney. The cheese and TNC combination was lovely. The TNC was more subtle than I expected and allowed the cheeses to stand on their own two feet flavour wise.

Just as the cheeseboard was being polished off, James appeared at our table with a couple of snifters of Sink The Bismarck, the 41% beer that used to carry the crown of World's Strongest Beer. I had expected it to be a sickly, syrupy alcoholic mish mash of a beer but I was pleasantly surprised. It is a lovely, warming sipper that left me feeling like a boozy Ready Brek kid all-a-glow inside as it made it's way south down my throat. We were further treated to some thing rather special - an ice distilled version of AB : 04 which came in at a hefty 38%. This Imperial Stout tasted of lovely sweet, ripe fruit, cocoa and a very subtle chilli kick in the after burn.

It was a perfect way to end the Brewdog's Dinner. Some lovely beers and excellent chat in a great venue with an original and inventive menu. Not to mention a few really nice beer surprises too.

Can't wait for the next one.

Sunday 14 November 2010

A day in the life of Glasgow Beer

Saturday morning finds the beer monkey at a loose end. I could stay in and catch up with the Saturday supplements, floating about the flat doing nothing and achieving even less. Or, maybe today, I could do something just a wee bit different.

The Three Judges - Partick Cross

I've been involved in #glasgowbeer on Twitter for a bit now and as an informal social network for keeping up to date and making aware of what's on in some of the city's pubs to other like minded beer drinkers, it's a pretty useful resource. But, exactly what sort of choice in terms of pubs and pints is there for the discerning drinker? That's when I found a purpose to my Saturday -  not just to dip my toe but to plunge myself foot first into the world of Glasgow Beer and conduct an ale audit and take a not too scientific snapshot of what's available in The Dear Green Place on any given Saturday.

So today, my quest was to visit some of the well regarded pubs and discover just how varied and diverse the choice was for beer drinkers  in Glasgow.

I would start in the west of the city and head east into the town centre sampling, hopefully, tasty, fine beers in some lovely pubs.

The Judges beer board

My first stop on my beer tour was into the pub that I consider as my local and as local pubs go I can't ask for much more. The Three Judges at Partick Cross is a mecca for many beer drinkers. This traditional tenement corner pub attracts a friendly clientele not only from the West End but also further afield. There are 8 beer pumps and these are served by knowledgeable and interested bar staff, particularly Ronnie and Angela. Their beer insight and cellar skills ensure the condition and temperature of the beers served are consistently spot on.  In his spare time Ronnie doubles up as the walking beer encyclopedia.  As you can see from the board above, the Judges generally serve up beers from Scottish micro breweries as well as beers from the North of England, particularly Northumbria and Yorkshire.

My first beer of the day was Fyne Ales Avalanche, an outstanding thirst quenching golden ale with a clean floral taste. It was so nice that I was tempted to end my quest there and then, stay put here and have a couple more but in the interests of non-scientific 'research', I had to plough on.

A brisk fifteen minutes walk passing notable West End landmarks such as the Kelvin Hall and Kelvingrove Art Gallery takes me to my second port of call.

The Bon Accord

The Bon Accord can probably easily lay claim to be the 'Daddy' of Glasgow beer pubs. It is revered by many beer enthusiasts and the history of Real Ale in Glasgow owes a lot to the contribution this pub has made in championing ale in the past 30 odd years. Indeed, the walls of the pub are testament to the excellence of the Bon. Dozens of award certificates hang on the walls including various Scottish Licence Trade News awards for Best Beer Bar, Best Poured Pint, Malt Whisky Bar of the Year among others. It is also this year's Glasgow Camra Pub of the Year. So, the Bon Accord knows clearly what it is doing and does it very well.

A nice selection of beers at the Bon

Today it seems I have landed lucky as the Bon has just begun it's Celtic Beer Festival. The Festival, which is sponsored by Brewdog, features beers from Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man.

Brewdog's influence on the festival is heavy - Three of the beers on the board (see above) are from Brewdog and I opted for a pint of Brewdog Edge, a 3.2% lovely mild. For a low abv beer, this packed a rich, roasted coffee/chocolate punch. It was really a rather special mild.

As it had just gone midday I hummed and hawwed about pushing the trawler out and indulging in a half of 9% Brewdog Hardcore IPA. Temptation and curiosity got the better of me and before I could say 'Fraserburgh Upstarts', I had in my hand a half pint of the reddish/brown brew. I've never had it from the pump before and was looking forward to tasting it but if I'm to be honest, it wasn't as nice as the bottle version. The initial pleasant hoppiness is overpowered by the toffee caramel malt and is a little over sweet. However, at £1.50 a half pint it was worth the experience.

Incidently, for those wanting a Brewdog bargain, pop into Tesco's and pick up some bottles of their Finest range American Double IPA. If it smells like Hardcore, tastes like Hardcore then the chances are it is Hardcore. It is Hardcore with another label and currently available, 3 bottles for £4. Though pretty difficult to pick up in Scotland it is easily available in English stores.

So two pubs down and not only have the choice of beers been good, I've also stumbled upon what looks like a nice little beer festival. The festival at the Bon Accord ends on the 28th November and Brewers such as Fyne Ales, St. Austell, Deeside, Highland, Skinners, Arran,  Harvieston, Bushy's from the Isle of Man and, of course, Brewdog will be available.

The State Bar

I leave the Bon and take the short walk into town. I pass a Wetherspoons but I decide to keep walking. I've intentionally avoided going into Wetherspoons today. This isn't due to any prejudice against the pub chain. Indeed, I think that the quality and range of their beer offerings has improved greatly in the past year or so. I've had superbly conditioned and well maintained beers such as Thornbridge Jaipur and Kipling as well as Brewdog's 5 a.m. Saint, Punk IPA and Trashy Blonde from the pub chain in the last month and they have all been on top form. I avoided Wetherspoons today simply because it is the tail end of the latest 'spoons beer fest and I figure that their pubs will still be stocking and serving a selection of the festival menu.

A warm welcome from the State Bar

Just off Sauchihall Street is the State Bar and has perhaps one of the nicest, most ornate pub interiors in the city. It has a stunning oval bar surrounded by sumptious dark wood floors and panelling with stained and leaded interior frosted glass and original mirrors adorning the walls.

Lux Interior

It really is a gorgeous pub that leans towards selling mostly Scottish beers and you can usually guarantee a choice of Edinburgh Beers and Central/West Scotland beers usually from brewers such as Caledonian, Houston and Harvieston. Today is no different. As well as the brewers mentioned, Brewdog's Trashy Blonde is also available. I opt for a pint of Houston Killellan. I had some of this recently when I met Houston Head Brewer, Carl Wengel at a Meet the Brewer night. It was really nice then and it doesn't disappoint today. It has citrus hop aromas and a refreshing zesty fruit taste ending in a dry, satisfying and very moreish finish.

The bar at the State

Heading out of the State and heading along Sauchiehall Street, I successfully dodge harassed mothers dragging behind them bored offspring, prog rock student buskers too young to have beards that length and fundamentalist Christians dispensing leaflets offering salvation and a happy ever afterlife. I seek and find redemption in one of the few Mitchells and Butlers pubs in Glasgow it's cool to like, The Drum and Monkey.

Mitchells and Butlers - The Drum and Monkey

This city centre pub, operating under the Nicholsons wing of Mitchells and Butlers has stayed fairly true to its original interior. The former bank building has it's original high ceiling and ornately painted cornicing and pilllars and is a rather nice location to have a pint in. During the week it is home to the 5 o'clock city suits desperate for a beer and some banter before buggering off home to the suburban bliss of Bearsden, Battlefield and Bothwell.

On a Saturday lunchtime, however, it's a bit more sedate experience as shoppers seek culinary respite and a few beers before recommencing their shopping.

Like other M and B pubs their emphasis is on a food based business model but their five handpumps can usually be relied on to deliver well conditioned and well served beer.

The Drum interior

The beer menu is fairly Yin and Yang today with the Yays of Brewdog Punk IPA, Thornbridge Jaipur and Harvieston Bitter and Twisted being balanced by the Yikes of Caledonian Deuchars and 80 Shilling.

I ordered a Jaipur and asked for the sparkler to be removed. Beer tastes better without a sparkler, I said and the barman agreed. Sparkler duly removed I can now enjoy my Thornbridge. The Jaipur was exactly as it should be. Fresh grapefruit and a superb lingering dry, bitter finish. I had with the beer a portion of pork scratchings that were so crispy, so crunchy and such a danger to your teeth they could have been sponsored by Glasgow Dental Hospital. They were lovely though and great with the Jaipur.

Last stop - Blackfriars

Out of the Drum and Monkey and on to my final destination. The last pub on my Glasgow beer tour. Off to the eastern edge of the city centre and into the Merchant City area, I find Blackfriars Pub.

Blackfriars' beer board

This eclectic little pub offers up comedy, jazz and boom boom techno nights as well as cask ale and a great range of European and American Craft bottles. The bottles include cracking U.S. brews from the likes of Left Hand, Great Divide, Odell, Victory and Big Sky. The European range is just as impressive with the likes of Orval, Chimay, Cantillon and La Chouffe being available in the mouth watering beer fridge.

Three Wise Beer Monkeys

My last beer of the day was to be a lovely example of an American Extra Pale Ale. Odell's St Lupulin is a clean, crisp and refreshing beer whose lemon citrussy taste went excellently well with the beer battered haddock and chips that I bought to accompany the beer. I reckon I deserved it after all the walking and 'research' I had done in the name of beer.

A nice selection of bottled beers

So where is Glasgow on the UK beer index of nice pubs offering a diverse and tasty selection of bottled, cask but not yet keg beer? The 5 pubs I visited today had 36 pumps serving 20 Scottish Beers and 16 English/Welsh beers. There was a great selection and variety of bottled beers available too but, alas, Glasgow doesn't yet come close to having any pubs comparable to the likes of The Jolly Butcher, The Rake, The Cask or the Sheffield and Euston Taps but what it does have is some traditional yet relaxed, welcoming and pleasant pubs offering a regional, national and international variety of cask and bottle beers that can appeal to and satisfy the most eclectic tastes and discerning palates.

I'll drink to that!