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.