Thursday, 28 April 2011

Camra's Big Society


The 24th Paisley Beer Festival, organised by the Renfrewshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), kicked off officially today and for the next four days it promises to be a great festival if the excellent beer choice is anything to go by.

In the Scottish Bar, there are some stonking breweries showcasing and celebrating the best there is in the beer world north of the border.

The English Bar this year has focussed on beers from mainly Manchester and the North West and included in this feast are beers from breweries such as Allgates, Coach House, Hydes and Hornbeam.

The 'Foreign Legion' International bar is pretty special this year too with Cantillon, De Dolle, Girardin, Matuska, Bernard and the superb Jever Pils all making an appearance.

I intend to write about the Festival later on in the week, once it is all done and dusted, but I've been helping out setting up the festival and I wanted to say a few words, just now, about the the selfless and tireless work done by the many volunteers who have given up their time, and in many cases their precious holidays, to expend a lot of physical and nervous energy in making sure that the Festival is set up properly, runs smoothly and meets the very high expectations of a thirsty, knowledgeable beer crowd.

These volunteers have given up many, many hours doing back breaking and challenging work all for the love of their favourite pastime - Beer.

I have to say that it has been fantastic seeing so many people chipping in and helping out to make this festival what it is - the best Beer Festival in Scotland and one that has gone from strength to strength. But, they are not unique. All over the country, in the coming months, many thousands of Camra members will be doing  exactly the same thing as they pool their collective strength and work together to ensure that the cause of cracking beer is furthered.

If David Cameron wants to learn about the Big Society, his first port of call should be to one of the dozens of Camra Beer Festivals taking place in the next few months.

There, he will see the Big Society in action.

So, let's raise a glass to these volunteers that make magic happen at every beer festival across the land.



Monday, 25 April 2011

Happy Birthday, BrewDog


Today marks the fourth anniversary of  BrewDog's very first bottles of beer being produced. In such a short space of time they have managed to achieve a phenomonal amount of success as the brand has gone from strength to strength. Regardless of whether you are their biggest fanboy or staunchest critic, you have to concede that what they have done in those four years is nothing short of astounding.

So lets take a minute to reflect on why BrewDog's Martin Dickie and James Watt are entitled to crack open a few lovely bottles tonight and allow themselves a self satisfied and justifiably smug smile on their faces as they raise a glass and toast their role in BrewDog's 'UK craft beer revolution'. They have -

- Created the World's strongest beer with Tokyo

- Created the World's stongest beer with Tactical Nuclear penguin

- Created the world's strongest beer with Sink the Bismarck

- Created the World's stongest beer with The End of History and rammed it up the rear of some rodent roadkill

-  Been extremely astute marketeers that have saw them generate acres of publicity and column inches for near enough price of a six pack of Stella and a packet of penguins at your local supermarket.

- Pissed off the Portman Group

- Annoyed Advocates for Animals

- Caused consternation at Camra

- Stuck some beer in cans, stuck some beer in kegs and stuck some beer in animals

- Successfully campaigned for a change in the law which saw schooner size measurements being allowed.

- Convinced 1300 hopheads to part with £230 to become BrewDog 'Equity for Punks' shareholders to pay for the expansion of the brewery

- Saw their production rise to 500,000 bottles per month and they still can't keep up with demand.

- They have put some fun and mischief back into brewing and the beer game.

- Opened their own BrewDog pubs in Aberdeen and Edinburgh with a Glasgow branch due to be opened in the summer. They also intend to open some in England too.

These are all headline grabbing achievements but, for me, the reason why BrewDog should be celebrating and celebrated tonight is because they have consistently remained true to their mission of creating barrier breaking and boundary busting beers that are not only extremely tasty and flavourful but have also challenged the palates and tastes of beer drinkers. For me, it's all about the beer and on that score BrewDog have consistently delivered.

So, hats off to Mr Dickie and Mr Watt.

Happy Fourth Birthday and hope you have Many Hoppy Returns.


Sunday, 24 April 2011

April Beer Competition

This month's Beer Monkey competition isn't your usual run of the mill task in which I ask a question and someone who answers correctly is drawn out of the hat and wins some lovely, tasty, refreshing beer.

This month, it's easier that that.

You don't even need to get the question right.

This month's competition has a Royal flavour to it. That's to be expected given the up coming nuptials. However, at Beer Monkey Mansions, we are not Regal sycophants cow-towing and brown-nosing to the children of privilege.  We are made of stronger, more republican stuff. We are meritocrats that base our judgements of people on how nice they are rather than who their fathers were, or whether Granny wears a crown.

Someone's Granny has already decided that beer isn't good or appropriate enough to be served at the Royal Banquet. At Beer Monkey Mansions, we say that is tosh. If 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie can make the stuff, sell the stuff and trouser a handsome profit via his Duchy Originals beer range then it should be good enough to serve to 'C' list Royals, 'Z' list celebrities and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson this Friday. That said, it's widely believed that TPT's drink of choice is coke.

With that in mind, April's competition is simple.

If you could choose a beer to serve at the Royal Banquet, which beer would it be, and why?

Leave your answer in the comments section below, or drop me an email and the most humourous and irreverent one wins four bottles of lovely beer from the beer monkey's special cupboard.

The winner will be chosen once my anti-royalist hangover has cleared next Saturday afternoon.

See, told you it was simple.

small print - only over 18's, UK residents and anyone not called Major James Hewitt can enter. He has entered enough, don't you think?


Tasting Notes - Mikkeller Hoppy Easter


This morning, The Easter Bunny has been very busy, dropping off various eggs and chocolate confectionary to remind  children all over the world of the deeply religious significance of Bourneville, Chocolate Buttons and Bunnies. I didn't get any chocolate but I did receive from the alcoholic Easter Bunny a rather fine and lovely looking bottle of a beer made by Danish Brewers, Mikkeller appropriately entitled Hoppy Easter.

Despite the name, the beer is not a seasonal beer. Instead, it is produced all year round and usually goes by the name of Drikkeriget GIPA. It is a 6.6% American IPA using German Tettnanger hops for aroma and Tomahawk hops for bittering. It also has a combination of pilsner, pale and Munich malts. I can only assume that the G in the GIPA stands for German, given the use of these malts and hops.

It has a pretty little cartoon label of a buck toothed bunny happily carrying a basket of hop cones and beer as it bounds excitedly down the sun lit road handing out it's beery loveliness.

It pours a radiant orange amber colour that sits opaquely below a thick white foamy head. It pours and looks like a hefeweissen and it's aroma is not too disimilar also. It has a bready, floury and fairly spicy nose imbued with tentative floral, herbal and grassy lemon notes. It tasted very light and quite summery.

The grassy lemoness of the aroma carries itself through into the taste with these being the initial flavours in the mouth along with a spicy, earthy hop profile. The hops are there but don't dominate and gradually give way to a stiff malt backbone that resonates with more bread dipped in some gorgeously sweet honey. There is also a slight Belgian yeasty taste and flavour to the beer that makes it quite tart, however, the delicate balance of the spicy, floral  hops and the malt sweetness make the taste of this beer very enjoyable. The crisp effervescence of the beer lends itself to being a lovely thirst quencher on a hot summer day.

The Tomahawk hops linger bitterly in the mouth long after the beer has gone as does the sweetness that coats your mouth and lips with honey stickiness that is most enjoyable.

It wasn't quite the huge hop bomb that I was expecting, but it is a very tasty, refreshing and well balanced beer that hid it's 6.6% alcohol extremely well and a beer that I would be sourcing out and enjoying more of when, and if, the Sun finally comes out to play.


Friday, 22 April 2011

My Beer of the Month



I've had quite an exciting beer month in which I've been very fortunate to have enjoyed some very tasty and refreshing beer. Some of these lovely beers have come from some mighty fine brereries including The Kernel, Matuska, Caldera, Redemption, Bernard, Dark Star and Fyne Ales. So, to whittle it down to a trio of trememdous tinctures has been a pretty difficult exercise.

However, when reflecting on what I've consumed this month, three beers jump excitedly to the front of my mind and scream in my ear, "Pick Me!, Pick Me!". Strangely enough, they all have the same thing in common - they are all unfiltered beers and so much more lovely and flavourful for it.

The two runners up for my beer of the month are both unfiltered Helles beers; one brewed in Glasgow, the other brewed in Madrid.

West Brewery in Glasgow's East End produce, very occassionally, an unfiltered version of their St Mungo Helles. I don't know why they don't produce it more often than they do because it is an outstanding beer that stands head and shoulders above, in terms of taste, body and mouthfeel, the filtered version. They call the unfiltered version 'Wild West' and I was fortunate enough to have a few pints of it before the supplies were drunk dry by some very parched Glaswegians over the space of an uncharacteristically scorching hot weekend at the start of April. It went down an absolute bomb and I hope that West Brewery consider making this make a bit more often than they currrently do.

My other runner up for this month's best beer is an unfiltered Helles produced on the premises in the Naturbier pub in Madrid's Plaza St. Ana. In a city of gorgeous wine, sherries and fizzy macro lagers, I thought my time there would be one spent on the grape. That was until I discovered this gem of a Tapas bar that, strangely, produces their own rather delicious Dunkel and Helles. The Helles was a very well made and sweetly thirst quenching beer whose flavours and taste were enhanced greatly by having it outside at a table in the main square in the blazing Madrid sunshine.  It's a perfect summer beer, so if you find yourself in Madrid anytime soon, source out this pub.

My favourite beer this month is from a London brewery that has been making major waves not just in the capital's beer scene but also further afield. I tasted this beer in three different pubs on the same day and each time I was blown away by the fantastic full on hop explosion and it's intense tastiness.

The Brewery is Camden Town and the beer goes by a couple of names. It's known as Pompous Red but also has an alias of Filthy Red. Call it what you want but I call it superb. It's a red ale that contains a basket of New World and American hops including Perle, Centennial, Simcoe and possibly Nelson Sauvin among others. The hops are added several times during the boil thats helps give it a punchy  rolling hop flavour that fair crackles with flavour right to the last drop. It is also unfiltered which, I think, adds to the flavour and complexity of the beer. I had my share of this gorgeous beer in The Southampton Arms, The Rake and The Euston Tap. If you happen to come across it on your beery travels, have a pint or two of it. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

That was my three beers of the month.

What floated your beer boat this month?


Sunday, 17 April 2011

London Pubs - The Southampton Arms


The Southampton Arms in Kentish Town has only been opened since 2009 but in those couple of years it has blazed a beer trail that has burned bright, illuminating and invigorating the North London beer scene. It has gained a reputation for being an esoteric environment to enjoy an exciting and eclectic selection of Beers and Ciders.

It's also just been voted North London Camra Pub of the Year. No mean achievement given that it's too 'young'  to appear in Camra's 2011 Good Beer Guide. Whilst in London for a couple of days, I thought I'd pay a visit to The Southampton Arms to see what all the fuss is about.

It's a short five minute walk from Kentish Town tube station and as you approach the pub, the first thing that catches your eye are the words 'Ale, Cider, Meat' painted proudly on the side of the pub wall in eight foot high writing. As a statement of intent, it doesn't come much bolder or simpler than that. It's a no nonsense and straight forward message that proclaims - 'This is what you came for, This is what we've got.'  I was warming to this place already and I hadn't even put a foot over the door.

I got there just as it was opening and the first thing that struck me was the interior. The light cascading through the huge single paned glass window revealed the pub in all it's glory. With the stark and brilliant white tiled wall behind the bar juxtaposed against dark wood walls and floor it felt as if I had gone back a hundred years or so. There were reclaimation yard church pews, a working fireplace and even a piano that seems to form the backbone of most evenings entertainment in The Southampton Arms.

I was so taken in by the pub interior that I hadn't even noticed the dozen or so pump handles on the bar standing to attention and ready to serve the beer cause. When I did, though, my heart skipped a beat and my jaw hit the floor at the phenomonal array of awesome ales. Lined up in front of me were 18 pumps dispensing 10 beers and 8 ciders. The Southampton Arms are committed to serving only the best beers from the best independent breweries from London and around the country. I was spoiled for choice.

There were beers from Dark Star, Brodies, Redemption, Crouch Vale, Camden and Thornbridge among others when I was in and over the course of the next couple of hours I was to sink a few halfs of Dark Star Mai Bock, Redemption Pale Ale and Camden Pompous Red Ale. The beers were all superbly kept and served. My favourite was the Camden Town Pompous Red. It had a basketful of hoppy flavourful loveliness that blew my stripey socks off.

They are keen to promote some of the best UK breweries and have had beers from Manchester's Marble Brewery and even from  Scotland's best brewery Fyne Ales. It seems that Fyne Ales' beer Jarl went down a storm the last time it was on emptying two Casks of it in just over a day. When I was in, they also had 5 litre mini casks of Thornbridge Kipling for sale as well as the opportunity to take away some of The Southampton Arms beers away with you in two and four pint packs. It seems the drinkers of North London are being spoiled by the pub.

This really is a lovely pub with friendly locals and knowledgeable bar staff who have a commendable appreciation of, and enthusiasism, for great, tasty beers and seem keen to bring the best beers that London and across the UK has to offer to growing audience. They also have a great taste in music judging by the Jazz and Blues 33s and 45s being played on a record player behind the bar.

Everything about the pub feels lived in, sociable and very comfortable in a shabby genteel sort of way. Judging by the conversations being struck up among strangers all around me it is a place to chat, swap stories and make new beery friends with people who share the same common interests; drinking quality beer in a great pub.

The Southampton Arms really is a fantastic place to have a beer or two and should be used a blueprint for how pubs could be.

The secret of The Southampton Arms is simple. It simply gets everything right. A cracking, diverse and well kept beer and cider range served by beer savvy bar staff in a warm, friendly and welcoming environment.

Oh,.....and the pork pies are great too.


Friday, 15 April 2011

London Pubs - A Booze-Up in Borough


The area around Borough at Southwark is one of my favourite parts of London. The reasons for this are many and varied. It's not just because it has one of the finest and tastiest food markets in the world, or because it's one of the oldest parts of London and so important in the Capital's social and literary history but also because it's home to a great choice of lovely pubs that are 'must visits' on any trip to London.

I like Borough and Southwark pubs because they offer up a merry marriage of modernity and tradition - some of the pubs look to their historic past, while the others are looking firmly to the future.

Hops play an important part in the trading history of this part of London. They were brought up from Kent in vast quantities to be bought and sold at market here and in 1866 a Hop Exchange was built to facilitate this trade.

Unfortunately, no hops are traded today but the product of the hops, beer, can still be bought in some stunning pubs in the area. I wanted to get a flavour of what was on offer in these pubs. So I planned on visiting a few of them to dip a beery toe into the Borough boozers and, hopefully, have a satisfying Southwark session.

Over the course of the day, I would visit five pubs in the area - The Rake, The Market Porter, The George, The Royal Oak and Dean Swift at Tower Bridge - and drink some lovely beers that showcased some of the best from a resurgent London beer scene.

My first stop was The Rake at the edge of Borough Market. In a few short years, it has established itself as one of the finest purveyors of quality beers from London and beyond. It is a beer drinker's Mecca and the beating heart of the London 'craft' beer scene. To say this place is revered by drinkers and brewers alike is not an understatement. One of the inner walls of the pub has the signatures and comments from some of the globe's finest brewers and it is a testamant to the esteem and regard that the pub is held by the international brewing community.

Much of the credit and plaudits for this has to go to Glyn, The Rake's Manager. His energy, passion and commitment to the beer cause has him working tirelessly to keep The Rake and the London beer scene fresh, lively and interesting. Every revolution needs a vanguard and Glyn is very much at the forefront of the Capital's beer revolution.

I landed at The Rake in the middle of their London Beer Week and was blown away by the depth and range of the beers available. Glyn's London Beer Week is a fantastic idea and a great way of introducing drinkers to the excellent variety of London Breweries and beers available. The format was simple but must have been devilish to organise. Each night had a meet the brewer event and involved were brewers from the likes of Kernel, Camden Town, Redemption and Meantime.

London Beer Week at The Rake

The beers available during the London Beer Week were superb too. A dozen London breweries were involved including Kernel, Brodies, Windsor and Eton, Sambrooks and Zero Degrees. I have to admit that I stayed longer than I intended and even revisited The Rake the following day for some more lovely, refreshing London beers which included some rare beasts indeed - Cask versions of The Kernel's Export Stout and their Black IPA, which is a Kernel and Bar Manager Glyn collaboration. Both were stunning.

The Rake seems unstoppable in their quest to bring the best beers to London's drinkers. Look out for their Cumbrian Beer Festival during the weekend of the Royal Wedding where some of the best examples of that part of England's beer offerings, including beers from the excellent Hawkshead Brewery.

Pump Clips at The Market Porter

After The Rake, I headed the short distance to The Market Porter. It's seen by some as a Borough Institution and I can, partly, see why some drinkers think so. It is a nice, homely pub to have a pint in, and the hundreds of pumpclips that adorn the walls and ceilings certainly attract and interest the eye but I always find the Real Ale range available when I've been in a wee bit boring and not very exciting. It's all a bit middle of the road for me - some Wychwood here, a splash of Jenning's there. At least they have Harvey's Best Bitter as a regular as well as Brewdog and Meantime on Keg. However, when I was in two of the three Meantime beers weren't available.

The Market Porter

It's not the first time I've left The Market Porter feeling a wee bit disappointed. It's a lovely pub but I feel that the beer range could be a bit more challenging and diverse.

Next on the list was a visit to one of London's oldest pubs and the last remaining 16th Century galleried coaching Inn, The George. It was rebuilt in 1676 after a fire swept through Southwark and it is drenched in history. Dicken's immortalised it in Little Dorritt and it's cobbled courtyard may even have played host to some of Shakespeare's plays as he watched from the gallery above. It is on the list of Camra's national inventory of pubs with historic interest and thankfully it's now in the safe hands of the National Trust. Sitting in the courtyard, with a beer in hand as the sun streams down is a lovely way to spend an hour. It is simply a beautiful pub. The choice of beers are mostly from the Greene King stable with one or two guest beers that tend not to push the boundaries.

Three down and two to go. Next up is a favourite of mine. Not just because it is a lovely looking pub but also because it happens to serve a great range of Sussex Brewery Harvey's, particularly one of my favourite low ABV beers, their 3% Sussex Mild. This Harvey's owned pub, The Royal Oak, dates back to 1870 but the location goes back even further to when it was The Tabard Inn, which was where Chaucer's Pilgrims set off in The Canterbury Tales.

The Royal Oak

It is a cosy and welcoming pub with two bars divided by stained glass and carved oak and since Harvey's acquired it in 1997 it has built up a reputation and regular clientele attracted to the tasty, well kept beer and lovely inexpensive food. The Sussex Mild was on top form, as was the Harvey's Pale Ale. You can see why so many drinkers source it out and tick it off on any beer visits to London. It's reputation is well deserved.

From a couple of old historic Southwark pubs to a relatively new kid on the block a short walk away at Tower Bridge is where I finish my journey, Dean Swift SE1. It has recently opened and is proving to be a big success with those into hip hops in London. In former lives it was an Aussie themed pub as well as a stripclub but the only Trashy Blondes you will see now come from the BrewDog font in the corner.

 It has a great range of  bottles including some Kernel Stouts, Porters and IPA's, Sierra Nevada Torpedo as well as Anchor, Flying Dog and Odell. It also has four cask beers which were Redemption Hopspur, Dark Star Hophead and Oakham Citra and JHB when I visited. I was in around teatime on a Tuesday and it was full of confident, strident, stripey suited young (and not so young) thrusters from businessland nearby. Don't let that put you off though. I'm assured that they drift off after a post work pint and head back into the 'burbs to be replaced with a better class of hophead.

Dean Swift, SE1

I had a quick chat with Manager, Max and his beery knowledge was impressive and he seems very keen to bring great beer to his thirsty and appreciative clientele. The purists will say that Dean Swift is a gastro-pub but what's wrong with an establishment that sells not only quality, tasty well made beer but also quality, tasty well made food. There's nothing wrong with that in my book and beer goes great with food, so what's the problem?  Food and Beer matching is the new the garlic bread, I tell you, and judging from the amount of people having bottles of Kernel while tucking into their food, it's clearly a strategy that works for Dean Swift.

Finishing my beer, I move outside and reflect on my Borough booze up. I've had some lovely beers made by some great breweries in attractive, historic and welcoming pubs.

 Time for one last beer, I decide, so I make my way back to where I started, The Rake.

 Back to the future of beer.

for other beer monkey blogs on london pubs see here and here

Monday, 11 April 2011

A Right Royal Knees Up?


At the end of the month, hundreds and thousands of people from all over the country will come together to celebrate the marriage of some of the most distinguished examples of ancestry, tradition and cultivation.

Some will have travelled hundreds of miles to witness and celebrate the happy event, while others will be taking the day off work to indulge and immerse themselves fully in the festivities.

I am, of course, talking about the 24th Paisley Beer Festival.

The four day festival, run by Renfrewshire Camra, is widely regarded as one of the biggest and best events in the Scottish Beer calendar and takes place this year from Wednesday 27th April through to Saturday 30th in Paisley Town Hall.

Over 170 Cask beers from all across the UK will be available over the course of the four days. Scottish beer will be well represented, especially Renfrewshire breweries, Kelburn and Houston and the English Bar will feature cracking beer from some of the finest breweries in North East England and Greater Manchester. There will also be a range of Ciders, Perries and Foreign Beers available.

And to soak up all that lovely beer, there will be some delicious German sausages available, which should keep the Windsor's and Wales' very happy.

Last year, a record 20,000 pints were poured for thirsty drinkers and it is expected that this figure will be broken as this year's festival falls on the day of the Royal Wedding and at the beginning of the first May Bank holiday.

I reckon that it will be incredibly busy on the Friday but if you are looking for a perfect antidote to, and an escape from, the sychophantic wall to wall saturation media coverage of the Royal Wedding then get yourself down to Paisley Town Hall on the Friday and have a right royal knees up that's fit for a King.

Update: You can view the complete beer list here


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Station to Station - A Day in the Life of Edinburgh Beer


I've had mixed beer fortunes in Edinburgh. In the many times that I've been across in Scotland's capital city, I've enjoyed some cracking pints in some lovely pubs. Alas, I've also witnessed in the last couple of times I've been through a limited range of, mostly Caledonian beers. Admittedly my last visit was a flying one restricted to a couple of pubs and I probably never got a true flavour of the depth and range of the beers available in Edinburgh.

So, with that in mind, I decided to have another trip through and see if I could get a more representative picture of Auld Reekie's beer scene.

The plan was simple. Jump off the train at Haymarket Station and make my way to Waverley Station stopping off at a few pubs en route.  Hopefully, I would be tasting some lovely beers along the way and having a smashing day out in the process.

A short walk from Haymarket takes us to Thomson's. This gorgeous wood panelled pub is dedicated to the style of Glasgow Architect Alexander 'Greek' Thomson and it's gorgeous interior was matched by a superb selection of beers which included Dark Star Hophead, Fyne Ales Jarl, Acorn Barnsley Bitter, Hopback Summer Lightning and Harviestoun's Bitter and Twisted. I rubbed my hands with beery glee when my eyes first caught sight of the beer board.

This was the perfect start to the day and I opted for a pint of the delicious Hophead. This is a beer that I have had many times and it's always delivered and never disappointed. Today was no different. It was a hoprocket of glorious light, floral hoppy thrills that slid down my throat effortlessly.

The initial intention was to just have one in each pub visited and swiftly move on but with a beer board so good, temptation got the better and we decided to stay for another. Fyne Ales Jarl this time and again, the beer was beautifully conditioned and gloriously tasty. I've written a bit about Jarl in previous blogs and, not wanting to labour the point and repeat myself, all I will say is that it is one of the finest session beers available in the UK at the moment.

Next up on our Station to Station walkabout was Cloisters on Brougham St. It had a wide range of Scottish beers available from breweries such as Cairngorm, Highland, Houston, Kelso, Isle of Arran and Edinburgh's own Stewart's Brewing Co. I opted for a beer from the best brewery in Orkney, Swannay's Highland Brewery, the Scapa Special.

The Scapa Special is a golden, amber beer that contains hops from the U.S., Germany, New Zealand and Slovakia as well as Maris Otter Pale malts. It is an easy drinking beer that has some breadiness on the nose and pleasant citrus fruit hoppiness in the mouth and ends with some bitterness in a slightly dry, hoppy finish.

The gorgeous aroma of fresh tartare sauce and just squeezed lemon juice as the people in the table opposite were tucking into their beer battered fish and chips suddenly made us very hungry. We had to have what they were having. So two fish and chips swiftly ordered and promptly despatched into our eager stomachs, we set off into the Edinburgh lunchtime sun to find our third pub. It had been very good so far. Two pubs, three excellent, lovely beers and some gorgeous pub grub.

The Blue Blazer, in the shadow of Edinburgh castle was next to be ticked off our list. It didn't have the most exciting beer selection of the day - Stewart's 80-, Pentland IPA, Houston Killellan, Dark Island and Cairngorm Trade Winds. However, as I was through in Edinburgh, I thought that it would be rude not to have at least one local beer during our visit. I went for the Stewart's Pentland IPA and it was decent enough. It had some hops on the nose and light fruitiness in the taste but I was expecting more hoppiness from an IPA. It was a perfectly drinkable low ABV session beer and given the amount of times it was being ordered, it's clearly very popular.

Onwards and upwards, we left the Blue Blazer and made our way to one of by favourite Edinburgh pubs, The Bow Bar. It is a small, intimate one room pub that has a homely, lived in feel to it. I scanned the beer board and my eyes were immediately drawn to a beer from a brewery that is being talked of in positive tones quite a bit these days. The brewery is Summer Wine Brewery and recently I've been lucky enough to taste some of their excellent beers, most notably their Resistance Mild and Barista Espresso Stout. So when my eyes caught glimpse of the words 'Summer Wine Apache' there was only one beer that I wanted to taste.

I'm glad that I did. It was lovely. It tastes like an All-American hop heavyweight. It is punchy and packed with marvellous melon and grapefruit flavour and a dry finish that doesn't just linger. Instead it loiters with seriously citrussy bitter intent. It is a cracking brew and drinks too easily for a beer with a pugilistic power rating of 5.4% ABV. Another Knock-Out Summer Wine offering.

Seconds Out. Round 5.

Our fifth pub is a new addition to Edinburgh's drinking scene and one that has no doubt been welcomed with baited breath and open arms by some beer drinkers. BrewDog's second pub venture has just opened on Edinburgh's Cowgate and as we sauntered down the hill, I have to admit that I was quite looking forward to it. They have been pushing beer boundaries and people's buttons since they began less than a handful of years ago. More importantly though, they make some excellent beers.

The bar itself has a cold, stark and industrial feel to it. Grey sheet metal, exposed pipes and brick work are the order of the day here and the furniture appear to have been lifted straight from peoples front rooms or, more likely, charity shops. I liked how it looked and felt. It is a good place to have a beer. And of that, there were many.

Beers from here, there and everywhere. Kegs from Denmark, The U.S. Bottles from some of the finest exponents of 'Craft' beer from all over the world, such as, Alesmith, Nogne, Great Divide, Mikkeller, Lost Abbey, The Bruery and Kernel.

They even had U.K. cask on which surprised me. So, that's what I had first. I opted for a Cask Camden Town Pale Ale. It is a lovely refreshing hoppy beer but was served slighty too cold but I put this down to opening week teething problems. It's a forgiveable mistake. I understand that BrewDog intend to carry some UK cask offerings from different breweries in their bars which is a welcome and inclusive step and will give drinkers an opportunity to see which breweries BrewDog consider to be fellow travellers in their 'Craft Beer Revolution'.

The selection and variety available was a beer drinkers dream and now that we had arrived, we felt it would be stupid not to stay and sample some rare beery delights. So we did. Much, much longer than we anticipated or planned. The beers flowed and the tastings grew and we had a great time. It's easy to be distracted by the choice available and I found myself changing my mind constantly about what to have next.

Keg Punk Monk followed the Camden Pale. Punk Monk is BrewDog's Punk IPA using a Belgian yeast and on keg it was sharper and crisper than I remember from the bottle. Next up was a BrewDog newbie called, provisionally, Raspberry Wit which had faint raspberry notes and a weird creamy effervescence. I swithered about what to have next. I had a shortlist of four beers that I wanted but couldn't decide. Mikkeller's 10, Koppi, The American Dream or Nogne's Pale Ale.

I plumped for the Nogne and bought the other three as bottles to take home. The Pale Ale was pleasant enough. Light, balanced with a lovely dry lingering finish.

Having finished the Nogne, we agreed that we probably had had enough and was time to head back home. On the train, I opened up the Mikkeller 10 and was blown away by this beer. Wow. It was fantastic. It contains 10 different hops yet is a beautifully balanced and fruity beverage that felt like a perfect end to a great day out in Edinburgh.

On today's showing, I'd give Edinburgh, like the Mikkeller, 10 out of 10.


Friday, 1 April 2011

BrewDog to Sponsor Great British Beer Festival


The beer world was rocked by today's announcement that this year's CAMRA Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court this August is to be sponsored by Fraserburgh brewing upstarts, BrewDog.

The move by BrewDog is being widely interpreted as an olive branch to, and an attempt to bury the hatchet with, their bitter rivals from the 'Real Ale Movement', CAMRA. The exact details of the sponsorship have yet to be fully announced but it is understood that BrewDog will be sponsoring the Keg Beer Tent (capacity two) just around the corner from the venue.

how the tent might look

The proposal by BrewDog, and  CAMRA's acceptance, has caused consternation among some real ale traditionalists who see the move as a 'sell out' and a betrayal of CAMRA's core principle.

However, CAMRA spokesman, Alf Piloor said,

"To tell you the truth, we are thrilled by this news. There is nothing I like better, after I've filed my beer mat collection away in alphabetical order, than a cheeky half of Trashy Blonde."

BrewDog spokesperson, Lola Fipro, said of the move,

"We are thrilled to be sponsoring the Keg Beer Tent (capacity two) in such a prime location. Everyone knows that we invented beer and it's great to finally get a chance to reach out to those who have historically stood in our way of achieving global domination of the beer market.

"We are really excited about this. It is great news. We have already started growing our beards and have even sent out one of the office staff to buy some pewter tankards and open toed sandals. We reckon that we should be able to pick up some quality beige ankle socks a bit cheaper closer to the time."

Mark Dredge was unavailable for comment but it is believed that he would have said "Awesome".