Thursday, 27 January 2011

A taste of Kernel Brewery


As a regular visitor down to that there London, one of the pleasures I always look forward to is a visit to Stoke Newington's, The Jolly Butchers. Not just because it's a cracking place to while away the afternoon but also because I know that I'm guaranteed a nice selection of lovely, refreshing bottled beers from The Kernel, one of London's finest and best regarded breweries.

One of their stand out beers for me last year was S.C.A.NS IPA. It was a juicy cornucopia of hoppy loveliness in aroma and taste that got it's name from the Simcoe, Citra, Apollo and Nelson Sauvin hops used in creating the beer. So, when I heard that they had just produced a beer called S.C.C.A.NS IPA, I knew immediately that I just had to get my hands on a bottle or two and give it a try.

The hoppy acronym of the beer moniker has been changed to include the addition of Columbus hops to the brew and as I opened the bottle, I hoped that it would be as good as the other Kernel beers that I had previously had the pleasure of tasting.

It poured with a big seductive glug and in my haste to get stuck into it I got a little bit of the yeast sediment into the glass which meant that it was a little bit hazy but was still a vivid amber colour. A quick smell revealed a fresh, vibrant, resinous aroma of tangerine, mango and chewy fruit salad. It smelled fantastic.

lovely, refreshing beer

The taste was even better. It was an explosive and aromatic orgy of new world hoppiness that danced promiscously around my mouth like a Scottish Socialist in a swingers club.  It was punchy, bitter and, as expected, deliciously hopped with strong citrus flavour of sweet grapefruit, orange and Kiwi fruit and even a tickle of toffee.

It finished with a lingering sweet fruity hoppiness and a slight alcohol burn. It is 7.5% after all but the alcohol is very well hidden by the handful of hop varieties used in producing this gorgeous beer.

It reminded me of a gentler, tastier version of BrewDog's Hardcore IPA or Mikkeller's I Beat You. Not as pungent and aggresively robust as the Hardcore or Mikkeller but more drinkable.

So, hats off to The Kernel Brewery for producing another excellent beer. I can't wait to open the bottles of their Black IPA which I've got sitting. I hear that, too, is rather special.


Sunday, 23 January 2011

How much is too much for a beer?

There has been much discussion in the beer blogosphere recently about the price of a nice pint of refreshing beer now being on average over the three pound mark. The January 1st VAT rise to 20% and the increased cost of beer raw materials have been pretty much to blame for the spike in prices. I'm sure, in some cases, there has also been some rounding up by a few less than scrupulous landlords and publicans who have seen this as an opportunity to squeeze a few more pennies from drinkers. Not good news, you would agree, for folk who like a nice pint down the pub every now and again.

On Friday, I headed to the pub to meet some friends for a few end of the week beers to unwind and relax following the strains and stresses of the working week. However, the price I was charged for a pint of Keg BrewDog Punk IPA was enough to make me wince and take a sharp gasp of breath and made £3 for a pint seem like the bargain of the week.

I was asked to pay £3.85 for the pint of Punk and as much as it was a really nice pint, I struggled to come to terms with the price of it. In mitigation, the pub was a Glasgow City Centre pub that is probably paying it's fair share of hefty rents and business rates but being asked to pay nearly £4 for a pint was a bit too rich for my frugal and thrifty Caledonian ways. These are prices that you would expect to pay if you were ordering continental 'premium' beer or in the centre of cities such as Edinburgh and London.

It made me think and ponder a number of things.

Is this a vision of the beer future where some breweries and pubs will start to re-position niche 'real' and 'craft' beer as a  premium, top of the range product to their punters and will start to price accordingly?

Is this, also, the start of the process where beers are now becoming generally more expensive in pubs than generic, mass produced multinational cooking lager?

I know that there is always Wetherspoons where I can get a pint for £2 odd, or in some cases less but I don't want to spend the rest of my days supping in 'Spoons dodging the Deuchars and Greene King.

I know I've paid more than that for hard to get and fairly rare beers but when you are out having a pint drinking fairly common and available ale, where is your cut off point for buying beers in a boozer? At what point do you say, "Sorry. I'm not paying that?"

I think mine might have been reached on Friday.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Maui Brewery - Coconut Porter

Tasting Notes - Maui Brewery Coconut Porter

In a previous blog, I wrote about my first experience of Maui's Big Swell IPA. I thought it was a really nice beer and I also rather liked the novelty of drinking a quality beverage from a can. 

Next up for the beer monkey taste treatment is another one of Maui's fine beers, their Coconut Porter.

As you can see from the picture, the can is a very fetching piece of alluring beer branding with the Porter splashing uncontrollably out of the coconut husk container. It's a very tempting image and one that made me want to plunge right in like a base jumper off a Hawaiian sea cliff.

taking the plunge like a Hawaiian base jumper

So how was it?

On first pour, I was a little bit perturbed as it came out looking like a can of coke - thin in body but dark in colour with a hissing, fizzing effervescent tan head that disappeared as quickly as it had materialised, leaving a dull, flat looking brew.  There was not a shred of evidence of the existence of a head, no lacing, no tracing, nothing. This, I thought, didn't look promising.

My fears, however, were put at rest when I inhaled the aroma. It had a very nice tickle of roast coffee and chocolate but it was mainly the aromatic earthy, grassy notes that were to the fore.

It tasted of mild milk chocolate - almost milk stoutish - with a delicate faint splash of coconut and, once again, coffee. It's dry and smooth with some slight carbonation and syrupy sweetness. I'm not sure if adjuncts were used in the making of this beer but the sweetness certainly tasted like it. I was expecting the coconut porter to be cloying and quite chewy in the aftertaste but I was pleasantly surprised by it's clean, faintly bitter finish.

Overall, it was a tasty beer and one that I had looked forward to trying. It was nice enough but not something that I would actively seek out again and hunt down in the future. The same, however, can't be said of the Maui Big Swell IPA. That was a cracking brew and if it crosses my path again, I'm getting my wallet out.


Monday, 17 January 2011

Yes! Wee Cans!

Tasting Notes - Maui Brewery - Big Swell IPA

Those good folk at BrewDog have recently started listing a rather nice selection of foreign, hard to get beers on their website. Being an impulse internet beer buyer, I took the plunge and placed an order for some of them. These included 335ml cans of  Big Swell IPA and Coconut Porter from Hawaiian Brewery, Maui. I'll review the porter in a later blog.

I don't tend to drink my beers from cans very often but I have to admit that I quite liked the exotic novelty of pouring, from a can, beers from the land of Barack Obama, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Steve 'Book him, Danno' McGarrett and Tia Carrerra.

I couldn't wait to get my Big Swell IPA opened. It gave quite a hissing fizz when it popped back the ring pull. On hearing that, I expected a gusher but it was fine and I set about filling my glass. It poured with a lively carbonation that formed a big thick white head on top of enticing golden amber coloured brew. A quick sniff reveals a robust honeyed resinous aroma from the dry hopping of meaty East Kent Goldings hops.

It drinks smooth, clean and crisp with a floral, citrus taste dominated by heavy grapefruit and mango that is nicely balanced by elegant sweet malt. There is also a tickle of warm yeasty bread. I had expected a big bitter finish but this doesn't happen. Instead, the taste gently subsides to a nice, satisfying and slightly dry finish.

This is a very well made and extremely drinkable IPA. I can imagine Dog the Bounty Hunter eagerly downing a few of these before humanely apprehending some bail jumping felons. If he wasn't on the wagon.


Saturday, 15 January 2011

It's a beer scandal.

I see that pub chain giant, Mitchell and Butlers have just introduced a loyalty card in one of their Glasgow pubs, The Drum and Monkey. The deal is that you buy a pint and get a loyalty card that is stamped for each pint you buy. Get ten stamps and you receive a free pint. The beers in the Drum and Monkey are just over three pounds.

All very good, you think, until you discover that the Nicholson's arm of the Mitchell and Butlers chain have a similar offer in England.

But wait, it seems the offer is that you only have to get FIVE pints in order to receive your gratis beer.

It's a scandal and possibly the biggest piece of anti Scot discrimination since Thatcher introduced the Poll Tax north of the border a year earlier than the rest of the UK.

Or, possibly not. Two hundred yards from the Drum and Monkey is the Wetherspoons' Society Rooms and for a while they have been getting a consistent supply of Thornbridge beers including Jaipur and Kipling. Great. And they have been only £1.65 a pint. Even better. So problem solved. Go to the Society Rooms instead and save yourself some cash whilst drinking some nice beers in the process.


beer drinking is good for you


A recent study by some scientist boffins has provided some good news for those of us that like a glass of something nice and refreshing every now and again. It should also particularly please this fella, Mr Rabid Barfly, who is logging and blogging his beer consumption throughout the month of January.

 A joint study involving Barcelona University and Madrid's Carlos III Institute of Health concluded that moderate consumption of beer can actually have some positive health benefits. They found that up to a pint a day can reduce the risk of  diabetes, high blood pressure and, in some instances, even help people lose weight.

One of the authors, Dr Lamuela said "In this study we banish myths. We know that beer is not to blame for obesity." The study tested 1249 men and women and they found that those with regular moderate consumption of beer were less likely to suffer from the conditions listed above. Beer contains folic acid, vitamins, iron and calcium which, according to the study, has a 'protective' effect on the cardiovascular system. Beer contains 200 calories which is roughly the same a full fat caffe latte.

However, it is not all good news.

A few caveats remain. The study looked at the effects of moderate beer consumption AND a Mediterranean diet. Also, all of the study subjects were over 57 years of age. So perhaps, not good news for British drinkers after all. Study co-author, Dr Estruch said that Spanish drinkers do not resemble their British counterparts who "drink large quantities, almost without moving from one spot, while eating fried chips and sausages." There's nothing like crude national stereotypes, eh?

It seems to me that the moral of the study is that if you are planning on a session of 'moderate' beer drinking then you had best get yourself down to Waitrose or Borough Market and stock up on Spanish olives, Iberian ham and Manchego cheese.

As our Spanish cousins say, Salud!


Thursday, 13 January 2011

Glasgow Pubs - The Mitre Bar returns


My heart skipped a beat today when I learned that an old Glasgow Pub favourite, which has been closed for a number of years, is due to open it's doors once again over the summer. However, my hopes were dashed when I soon discovered that it was opening but just not quite in the manner that I'd hoped for.

The Mitre Bar in Merchant City first opened in 1927 and served generations of thirsty Glaswegians until the key was finally put in the door for the last time around a decade ago. The pub now lies a graffitied mess in a street that has seen better days. It's probably no different from the countless thousands of other pubs around the country that have had to pull their last pint and bid their farewells as they go to the wall.

the bar at night 1995

However, news that reached me today seemed to indicate that The Mitre Bar was re-opening. Hurrah, I thought as the one thing Glasgow city centre does need is more quality drinking establishments that serve up a wide selection of nice, refreshing beer.

Alas, I was to be disappointed. It is opening but only as an exhibit in the £75 million Riverside Transport Museum on the Clyde. The entire pub; fixtures, fittings, lock, stock and beer barrel has been removed and relocated to become part of the Museum's Flagship exhibit - a typical Glasgow High St from the early twentieth century complete with a grocery store,  butcher, cobbler and even The Rendevous Cafe from Glasgow's Duke St that has also been given the Mitre treatment and been moved brick by brick to the museum.

At the moment I don't know whether The Mitre Bar will be a working exhibit with real people pulling real pints. That would be quite cool, especially if some of the beers were made according to the styles of the period.

However,  the news also filled me with a tinge of melancholy. Are we witnessing the future for pubs? Given the rate of pub closures, in years to come will the only places where we can experience a proper nice traditional pub is in a museum as an exhibition piece?


Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Alice? Alice? Who the Punk is Alice?


January tends to be a dull and boring affair where not much happens other than the horrific inevitabilities of  an expanded waistline and a hefty credit card bill following the overindulgence of the festive frivolities.

At this time of year, everyone usually hunkers down and wishes for warmer climes and wealthier times. And in beerland things are no different. January is usually like a pint of Ruddles - dull, flat and uninteresting.

However, this year things are different. Much, much different, for January 2011 has burst into life with a beery snap, hop crackle and BrewDog pop.

Brewdog on the Board

Snap! - The Kernel Brewery and the Rake Bar's Glyn reveal to the world their interpretation of the beer style du jour - Black IPA.

Crackle! - Dark Star Brewing Company and Mellisa Cole unveil their collaborative beer called M & M Porter.

Pop! - Fraserburgh Upstarts BrewDog's Glasgow launch of their Alice Porter and their new strength, new taste Punk IPA.

There will be full reviews of the Kernel and the M & M in later blogposts from me but just now I want to report on the coming together of two of my favourite beery things - BrewDog and the Bon Accord for the launch of some great, tasty and refreshing beer.

Legend has it that the Bon Accord in Glasgow was the first pub to stock BrewDog beers. That may or may not be the case but it's quite fitting that BrewDog should choose the Bon to launch and showcase their new beers. The Bon is a Scottish pub institution and has been championing quality, well made beers since the 1970's and has done more than it's fair share of bringing BrewDog's delicious delights to the attention of west coast drinkers.

BrewDog James

Tonight, there are three BrewDog beers on show - their new 6.2% Alice Porter, the new 5.4% Punk IPA and 3.8% AlphaDog and everyone one of them are an absolute joy to behold and imbibe. Each are stunningly gorgeous and go down far too easy for a Monday night. I had intended to stay for a half of each, say hello to a few folk and be home for nine. Fat chance of that once the first mouthful danced delightfully on my tongue before sliding effortlessly down my throat. This was going to be a late one.

The new Punk IPA has seen it's ABV reduced from 6% down to 5.4% with the rationale being that by having a lower ABV it will make the beer more accessible to a wider public which may baulk at the idea of consuming a beer as high as 6%. I'm not too fussed about the reduction by 10% of the beer's alcohol content down to 5.4%. It certainly doesn't affect the body or the mouthfeel of the beer. It's still an aromatic and tasty beer full of lovely grapefruit and sweet citrus and pine notes. I was reliably informed that BrewDog have tweaked the original by using less bittering hops and more aroma hops but that doesn't stop it from having a superbly dry and bitter finish. It fair pulls your cheeks in.

Making History?

Next up was the Alice Porter and it poured a very dark brown, almost black, with a nice thick creamy off-white head. It crunched with roasty malts that resonated with cocoa and coffee and a lingering nuance of vanilla. It went down very smoothly and, with the alcohol well hidden, it's very, very drinkable. It is a cracking pint and delightfully very moreish. Another great beer from BrewDog.

The Alphadog has been around for a bit longer than the new Punk and Alice Porter but it is still a relatively new addition to the BrewDog beer canon. It's an enjoyable beer which has a sweet caramel malty taste which is well balanced by some pronounced hoppy bitterness. It's a nice and easy session beer and one that actually worked moderately well when combined with the Alice to create an improvised black and tan much later on in the evening. Well, you are tempted to try these little experiments when the beer has kicked in.

Three very nice beers in the company of very nice people is a lovely way to spend a Monday night.

If you do get the chance to meet Alice Porter, the Alphadog and their little Punk friend some time soon, do say hello. You really must get to know them better.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Book Review - 1001 Beers you must try before you die


Santa brought me some lovely gifts this year and one that I've been playing with ever since I received it is a hefty slab of a book called '1001 Beers you must try before you die'. It really is a cracking good read, so much so that my eyes and hands have been glued to it for the past fortnight.

It stretches to 960 pages, is meticulously researched, entertainingly written, and contains the beery selections of over 40 of the most respected beer minds out there. Among them, people whose beer opinions, judgements and tastes I trust and value. When you have contributors of the calibre as Zac Avery, Jeff Pickthall, Stan Hieronymus and Melissa Cole all pulled together by Adrian Tierney-Jones' skillful editing then you can expect that it will be a knowledgeable, eclectic and informative read.

I knew that I was in for an enjoyable ale experience of a read when I caught Tierney-Jones' passionate justification of the criteria for each beers inclusion in the book. He states -

"My team of writers and I have chosen these beers because they are superb examples of brewing craftmanship, are wonderful to taste, and will remind people time after time why beer is the best drink in the world: the drink that brings people together, inspires sociability, and quarries forth a whole new dimension of sensory contemplation. They have also been chosen because they represent the devotion, innovation, inspiration, and sheer joie de vivre that brewers bring to their beers."

The book is split into five beer categories - Amber, Blond, White, Dark and Specialty. Each individual beer entry has concise yet detailed tasting notes and information on the origin, style, production process and even ideal serving temperature. There is also brewery history notes and often entertaining and amusing anecdotes relating to the beer or brewery. The book is well illustrated with over 800 mouth watering pictures of lovely, refreshing beer.

The book is a comprehensive guide to some of the best beers around the world. As you would expect U.S. craft brewers, UK Breweries, Belgian, Czech and German beers are all very well represented but there are also beers from all over the world that highlight and underscore the universal appeal of the world's best beverage. There are beers from Egypt, Estonia, Indonesia, Israel and even the Palestinian Territories.

With a book of over a thousand beer entries there is inevitably going to be one or two entries that make you scratch your head and ask yourself "Why?". The inclusion of Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser and Morrissey Fox Brewery's Blonde made me do that but only two beers out of  1001 is very good going, I'd say.

This is a cracking book that has, for myself, become an indispensible and comprehensive guide to the tastiest and loveliest beers being made around the globe today. It has become my refreshment reference guide and one that I turn to not just to tease and tantalise my tastebuds but also to plan my future beer drinking.

It's more than a book about beer. It's 2011's Encyclopedia Beeranica.


Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Fancy a pint? No, gimme something smaller

Brewdog's Parliament Protest

The United Kingdom government has relaxed the centuries old rules that regulate that the sizes of beer measures that can be sold in UK pubs.

Currently UK pubs are only permitted to serve beer in pint, half pint or third of a pint measures. The pint has been the standard and most common measure of beer dispense since 1698.

The new legislation, which should be introduced in the Spring, would allow publicans to serve beer, wine or cider in a 400ml glass, similar to an Australian Schooner, which is roughly two/thirds in volume of the 568ml pint measure. A Government spokesperson said that the rules are being relaxed following health concerns and increased demands from businesses to sell sizes more in keeping with tastes and waistlines.

The move will keep Fraserburgh Craft Brewers, Brewdog very happy as they had been agitating for the  move to the smaller glasses and against beer 'size-ism' which even saw them organise a very small lobby outside the House's of Parliament in late 2010.

The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) had opposed the move on the basis that barstaff  could get the new measures and prices mixed up with the traditional ones the pint on busy weekend.
Jonathan Mail, Camra’s head of public affairs, also warned that having too large measures might also lead to people having greater difficulty keeping track of the number of units of alcohol they had drunk as well as the practical concerns of having multiple price information.

Does it signal the end of the pint measure as we know it? Certainly not but what it does do is offer a little bit more choice to the consumer in terms the quantity that they want but we need to be on our guard against the more unscrupulous landlords who might see this as an opportunity to pull a fast one and make a quick buck by selling us less for the same price or not charging on a pro-rata basis for the new measures. If a pint costs £3 then the new measures should be £2. If your landlord doesn't charge on a pro rata basis then it's time for a quiet word. Or, better still, find a new pub.


Sunday, 2 January 2011

In Praise of......Fyne Ales

Happy New Year to you all. I hope you had a cracking Christmas and that the New Year was brought in with a glass of something refreshing in your hand.


I had a Fyne festive period. Fyne because for a great part of it I was nursing in my hand a pint or two poured from the mini casks of one of my favourite Scottish, if not British Brewery : Fyne Ales.

It's been on the go almost a decade now and in that space of time Fyne Ales Brewery is now regarded by many as bywords for consistently tasty and delightfully refreshing beers. Who am I to disagree?

What they do, they do very well. What they brew, they brew very well.

Their beer range includes such crackers as Avalanche,  Hurricane Jack, Vital Spark, Highlander, Piper's Gold and Maverick. This year they have produced and introduced to a very receptive beer market some stand out and outstanding beers such as Jarl, Kelly Ryan collaboration Fynbridge Black IPA and their 6.8% Sublime Stout.

Fyne Ales' Jarl first made it's appearance at the Fyne Ales beer festival in June and it went down an absolute storm, tingling the taste buds and knocking the socks off everyone that tried it. Drinkers knew after one taste of Jarl that what they were experience was something rather special. It's full of luscious tropical fruit and lively lemon citrus flavour.

It next resurfaced at the GBBF at Earl's Court in August and again the result was the same. Word of mouth spread through the hall and it quickly resonated with the same questions and statements - "Have you tried Jarl, yet?", "Oh, you must try Jarl." For many, myself included, it was one of the head and shoulders stand out beery highlights of the festival. Some might even say a worthy and serious contender for 2011 Champion Beer of Scotland, if not Britain.

Whenever, wherever Jarl appeared it flew out the pumps. So much so that Fyne have decided to carry it as one of their regular beers and it will also be available in bottles. Good move, Fyne Ales. With beer this good there is no point in hiding it away and only producing it intermittently.

Fyne were also at the forefront in the growing and positive trend of brewery and brewer collaboration with a joint brewing venture between themselves and former Thornbridge brewer Kelly Ryan with the creation of a Centennial, Citra, Perle and Amarillo hopped 5.9% Black IPA that effectively had Glasgow Beer geeks lovers having a four day vigil in the Last Post pub while waiting for this extremely limited beer to be pumped and ready to serve. It went by the name of FyneBridge Black IPA and it was well worth the wait.

Calling a beer 'Sublime Stout' is making yourself a hostage to beer fortune. If it doesn't live up to it's name then it becomes an easy target but Fyne needn't have worried as it is a worthy moniker. It is a 6.8% beer that is effortlessly drinkable and deliciously, if not dangerously, moreish. It tastes quite similar to the Black IPA but with the addition of, initially, liquorise notes that subside to a gentle chocolate sweetness. It's another cracking beer from Fyne.

If 2010 is anything to go by, then the year ahead promises to be an exciting and rewarding one for Fyne Ales. More people will get to taste, savour and enjoy the beers from this superb brewery.

In my book, that can only be a good thing.