Thursday, 23 June 2011

My Thursday Beer Rant

The popularity of cask beer seems to be going from strength to strength. If you need evidence of this look to the recent acquisition by beer behemoth Molson Coors of Cornwall's Sharps Brewery. Witness also Calrberg's sniffing around Tetley's with fiscal predatory intent. And, if further proof were needed then look no further than the latest attempt by Heineken UK to capitalise on the growing interest in well made, cask conditioned beers.

Heineken UK have just announced that, from June to August, they will be offering to it's freetrade customers the opportunity to stock over 40 popular regional and seasonal beers from UK brewers.

The event, if you can call it that, is labelled Cask Orders and will be running alongside 17 national and regional champion ales that are currently available in their pubs throughout the year. To coincide with Cask Orders, Heineken UK will will installing hand pumps and interchangeable pumpclips.

So far, so good.

However, they haven't released which beers are going to be part of Cask Orders. Perhaps, some marvellous Mallinsons, some heavenly Hard Knott, or maybe some tremendous Tempest? I'd like to think that whoever has put the beer list together has done so with a bit of imagination and flair and uses this as an opportunity to get a wide range of tasty beers into their pubs. But, I reckon, I shouldn't hold my breath.

You see, Heineken UK  happen to own Edinburgh's Caledonian Brewery. Which is, in my opinion, one of the dullest and least exciting breweries in Scotland. I think they produce yawn inducing, underwhelmingly boring beers. What's the betting that Cask Orders will be a vehicle for Heineken to inflict on the public such bollocks beers as Caledonian's Idleweiss, Lipsmacker and my worst beer of all time, their Mexican Bandit?

It's great that more people are drinking cask conditioned beer but I'd rather their entry point into the wonderful world of beer was something more tasty than boring, bland generic beer such as Caledonian.


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

I am a craft brewer

I'm not sure if this has been posted elsewhere.

If it has, it doesn't matter because it's pretty funny.

I am a craft brewer.


Thursday, 16 June 2011

Tempest goes down a storm at Scottish Beer Festival


The Scottish real ale festival (SARF) kicks off today at the Adam House on Edinburgh's Chambers Street. I was lucky enough to secure an invite to the beery preview last night for a sneeky peek at some of the beers on offer.

I arrived just in time to see my favourite Scottish Beer, Jarl and my favourite Scottish brewery, Fyne Ales secure the overall Gold SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) award. The sheer delight on Fyne Ales' Tuggy's face as the result was announced was a joy to behold. In celebration of their victory, my first pint had to be Jarl. As always, it didn't disappoint. If I was a betting man, I'd put a fiver on Jarl being the Champion Beer of Britain at this year's Great British Beer Festival in that there London this August. If there is any beer justice in the beer world, that is.

Whilst at the SARF, I wanted to sample some of the sharpest and brightest breweries on the go in Scotland at the moment. That meant I dipped my toe into the likes of Kelburn, Fyne, Black Isle and Orkney. I was also keen to try a few beers from a brewery that is currently turning heads and wagging chins, The Tempest.

I was fortunate enough to get my beery paws on a few pints of Tempest's Emanation Pale Ale, Elemental Porter and their RyePA. The outstanding beer of the three was the Rye. It is a 5.5% IPA that is a blend of Rye and Maris Otter malt dry hopped with U.S. Columbus hops that is loaded full of tangy orange citrus hop flavour undercut with a sweet, caramel malt and subtle spiced pepper. It was an intriguing and very moreish pint and proof that Tempest brewery are definately one to watch.

If you are in Edinburgh over the next three days, then a trip to the SRAF might well be worth a visit.

Just make sure you get there early to get a taste of Tempest's beers before they run out. It's going to be sooner rather than later.


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Come Rain or Shine, We're Doing Fyne


The damp, dreich west of Scotland weather didn't deter the many hundreds of eager drinkers from having a grand old time at this years Fyne Fest at Cairndow. The two day bash, near the site of the brewery, was twice as big as last year's and had pulled in imbibers from as far afield as London, Manchester and Cumbria.

No doubt, they had come for more than the beers but clearly a superb selection of Fyne's own as well as beers from some of the best breweries in the UK was a major draw for many who attended. Myself included.

The beer choice was superb, among them Marble, Thornbridge, Moor, Hawkshead, Otley, GreenJack and Oakham, Bristol Beer Factory. Beery highlights for me at the festival were Marble's Summer Marble, with it's crisp, sharp grapefruit notes and a lovely lingering dryness, it was a deliciously refreshing beer perfect for quenching your thirst on an arid summer's day. It is also great with the rain streaming down outside as you sit smugly in a dry marquee.

The Moor Brewery Revival was another cracker. It is exactly how I like my beer in the summer - light, hoppy and full of flavour which comes from the four varieties of malt, three types of American hops and an American yeast. It was bursting full of grassy, citrus aromas and an orange citrus taste undercut with some sweet malt that gave way to a charming cheeky bitterness.

Fyne Ales' Jarl, Hurricane Jack and Avalanche also hit the spot on many occasions over the weekend. These tended to be my boomerang beers - ones that I always return to. Well, with the Fyne Ales' beers up to their usual gorgeous standard, I'd be a fool not to.

Fyne Ales also used the event to showcase their new summer seasonal session beer, Fiddler's Gold. It's reminiscent of a happy marriage between Avalanche and Jarl but with the latter's grapefruit volume turned down a notch or two. It was what you would expect from a Fyne Ales golden session beer - hop aromas, citrus zing and a lovely hop bitterness. It's another great beer to add to their growing canon of great beers.

One of the Best Brewers in the UK, Wil Wood

I also partook in a tour of the brewery, led by Fyne Ales' brewing wizard and the mastermind behind their stunning beers, Wil Wood. He is a modest and understated fellow but single minded in his quest to create fantastically tasty beer. This guy knows what he is doing and he brings his passion and immense brewing knowledge to the science and art that is beer making. Hats off to one of the best brewers at the moment in the UK.

Wil (right) shoots the beer breeze

The tour ended with Wil pointing us in the direction of some beery gems at the back of the brewery for us to sample. Waiting there was the last cask of Fyne Ales' Benleva IPA, a one off special from 2009. It was 5.7% when racked but will reckoned that it's strength had gone up to 5.9% since being laid down. It was lovely. It was smooth and creamy with it's strength superbly well hidden right until the swallow when it coated your throat in a warming butterscotch alcohol stir. It was, like the entire FyneFest weekend, really rather special.

Until, next year..............


Thanks to Gary - The Three Judges' Regular for pics 1, 4 and 6

Friday, 10 June 2011

BrewDog Neutered By Camra



I see from their blog, that BrewDog plan to take out a dedicated stall at this year's Campaign for Real Ale's, Great British Beer Festival.

Oh, controversial.

Well, not really. It is probably the worst kept secret in the beer world of late that the enfant terribles of their own 'craft' beer world, BrewDog were eager, some might say desperate, to clinch a deal with Camra to have some sort of presence at the festival.

No doubt, BrewDog will claim their presence as a significant staging post and victory on the road to their self proclaimed 'craft' beer revolution. They will trumpet that it brings closer the day that Camra  accept keg with extraneous CO2.

But, don't believe the hype.

The truth is somewhat different from what BrewDog want you to believe.

A close look at the facts shows that things are not what they seem.

BrewDog will be at the GBBF this August but only after they adhered to certain concrete conditions.

As GBBF organiser Mark Holmes says,

"CAMRA buys the beer from the brewery, CAMRA sells the beer to the public, Brewdog are paying for the privilege of having a dedicated bar.
The beer will be in 50l Keykegs. Unfortunately this will limit the amount we can order so it may run out.
The beer will conform to CAMRA's definition of real ale - unpasteurised, unfiltered and with enough viable yeast to allow secondary fermentation (don't worry, we'll be checking...).
It will be served using compressed air, as James says as per the foreign beers. At no point will the beer come into contact with extraneous CO2.
If James (Watt, BrewDog co-owner) wants to work behind the bar he can, as soon as he joins CAMRA, as per the terms of the contract."

It is also believed that "Brewdog have a paid a non-refundable deposit on a contract that requires them to supply cask conditioned ale".  So, if BrewDog don't come up with the goods, as they have already done by not honouring their order for next week's Scottish Real Ale Festival, Camra will trouser a healthy deposit from those Aberdeenshire Ale Anarchists. Awesome!

But, on a wider reading, both parties are winners in this situation and you can expect Camra and BrewDog to claim such. Camra will say that they have neutered  BrewDog by getting them to supply beer that conforms to Camra's definition of what real ale is. Camra apparatchiks will see BrewDog's compliance as confirmation of their, justifiably, rigid beer stance.

BrewDog will, no doubt, spin this as their storming the Beer Bastille moment and their well oiled media machine will go into overdrive. Their growing band of fan boys and girls will lap this up, screeeech yeeha and give the devil fingers salute. Awesome!

It seems that there is a bit of a symbiotic relationship between both parties, with each mutually benefitting from each others existence, but as this case ably demonstrates, BrewDog needs Camra more than Camra needs BrewDog.


A Fyne Weekend Ahead......


The tent has been checked to make sure it's still all there, the pump for the inflatable mattress has been bought, a warm jumper for the evening has been looked out and the sun cream (I'm an optimist) has been purchased.

All that's now needed is glorious weather, great friends and some of the best beer in the country.

Yes, folks. It's the Fyne Ales Fest this weekend and it's going to be a cracker.

The folks at Fyne know how to throw a party and if last year's was anything to go by then this one will be special. There are so many great beers to look out for that my chops are slobbering at the thought.

I'm particularly looking forward to Fyne's new summer offering, Fiddler's Gold, their Jarl, Hawkshead's 5 Hop and great beers from the likes of Thornbridge, Bristol Beer Factory, Marble And Green Jack.

If you are going, I hope to see you there. If you are not going, you are seriously missing out.

Either way, expect a full report on the Fyne Fest once I return.

Have a nice weekend.


Thursday, 9 June 2011

Madness....One Step Beyond



When I was a spotty faced teenager in the early 1980's, I was a bit of a Rude Boy. Not rude in the sense that I would flick V's at pensioners on the number 45 bus. When I say Rude Boy, what I mean is that I was no stranger to Sta Press trousers, Bass weejun shoes, Fred Perry polos and fishtail parkas.

One of my favourite bands of mine at the time were Madness. As a thirteen year old, I thought they were great and, even now when I hear certain songs of theirs, it takes me straight back to the second year school disco and the intoxicated feeling you would get when three of us shared a can of Breaker Malt Liquor and a whiff of the Third Years' Vodka.

What has this nostalgic preamble into my past got to do with beer, I hear you say.

Well, it's simple. I used to revere those lovable Cockney roustabouts but my affection for them diminished today when I saw that thay have been selling their soul to the corporate beer devil by making this advert for Kronenbourg, owned by Carlsberg.

If I could be arsed, I'd be disappointed.

I guess I kind of gave up when Iggy Pop and John Lydon started flogging insurance and butter. Admittedly, It's not on the same bad taste scale as those two.

I just hope they got paid well.


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Beer and the Media


My local real ale pub, The Three Judges is currently staging a mini beer festival that got me thinking.

The mini-fest is called the 'Media Beer Festival' and features beers that have taken their inspiration from Films, TV or the written word. Included in the beer list are beers such as Thornbridge Kipling, Kelham Easy Rider, Church End Shakes Beer, Summer Wine Gambit, Hadrian Gladiator, Caledonian Rebus, some Titanic beers as well as Fyne Ales' Vital Spark and Highlander among others.

It's not a bad wee line up and it got me thinking about what beers I would include that referenced films, TV and books. The best I could come up with was Redemption Brewery's Alexei's Ale.

Can you think of any others?

There might be a beery prize for the best answer.


Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Session #52 - Beer Mats


I have a session confession.

I collect beer mats.

There, I'm glad I've got that off my chest.

I only just started collecting them last week, so I don't have many.

When I say I don't have many, I mean, I've only got the one.

It's rather nice, though, don't you think?

I hope to be building my collection soon.

A friend of mine collects beer labels, but that's just daft.


Friday, 3 June 2011

BrewDog Bottle Out Of Scottish Beer Festival


Not another beer festival.

My wallet and liver can't take much more.

It's only the start of June, yet it seems that for the past two months it's been beer festival after beer festival.

Not that I'm complaining.

Beer festivals are great. I love them. The perfect storm of great beers and good friends together in one place having a blast is a fine old feeling and we get the chance to do it all again with the Scottish Real Ale Festival (SRAF) which takes place between the 16th and 18th of June at Adam House on Chambers Street in Edinburgh.

It hasn't even started yet but already tongues have been wagging about BrewDog's decison to renege on their beer order for the festival and instead the Fraserburgh upstarts have decided to stage their own 'craft' beer coming together in their Cowgate bar at the same time as the SRAF have their jamboree.

Ho hum. This is disappointing because the word on the street was that BrewDog were planning to use the SRAF to launch their new beer called 'Laughing Stock'. The beer is unique in that it doesn't contain 'fish guts' but instead uses hot air, to add some bitterness and extra carbonation, generated by the bellowing, bilious lungs of the current Camra chairman, Colin Valentine. The beer was to be dispensed from a specially commissioned dark green glass cask.

Instead, BrewDog will be using their alternative event to launch another 'awesome' new beer into the market. It's called 'Cheap Opportunism' which is a dobbel urbock saison DIIPA radler stout, quadruple dry hopped with generous lashings of passion, petulance and posturing. 

It is also believed that 'Jump the Shark', a follow up beer to Sink the Bismarck, will be launched at BrewDog, Edinburgh to coincide with the SRAF event.

The snub by them to the SRAF has led to some people saying that BrewDog should stick their beers up their faux Yank arses, but others point out that they have already done this with their roadkill beer, The End of  History.

Despite BrewDog's 'toys out of the pram' act, the Scottish Real Ale Festival is shaping up to be a great beer event with a lot of excellent beers and breweries showcasing the best of their wares. Included in the line up are breweries such as Tempest, Fyne Ales, Black Isle Brewery, Tryst, Highland and Orkney.

With breweries like those, who needs BrewDog?

See you there.


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Welcome to the Crafty Beer Revolution


I see from this BBC story that a pricing error at Tesco led to a stampede for cheap lager and cider that even resulted in police being called.

Tesco in Scotland were doing a deal which allowed customers to buy three boxes of beer or cider for £20 instead of the usual £31, a saving of £11. But, when customers went to pay for their beer they discovered that they were charged only £11 instead of the actual promo price of £20. Customers were therefore able to buy 45 bottles of lager or 36 cans for just over a tenner.

Well, word quickly spread and before you could say 'See you, Jimmy' Tesco stores across the land were inundated with thirsty drinkers trying to grab a cheeky bargain on the the sly. Police were even called to a store in Greenock to deal with traffic congestion.

You have got to admire us Scots, not content to conform to one national stereotype but  being bold enough to bag a brace - frugality and alcoholism in the one go.

Well done, my fellow countrymen and women.


40 + 40 = Fantastic Beer


1971 was a fine vintage year for a beer lover.

Not only did it mark the inception of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) but it also was the year of the beer birth of one of Glasgow's finest real ale pubs, The Bon Accord. Since then, both have been fighting the good fight, defending their corner and championing the cause of cask beer. Both seem to have been very successful in their quest.

In 1971, there were just over a 100 independent brewers producing cask beer but that number was on a downward trajectory. However, the formation of Camra halted that decline and, with their promotion, campaigning and advocacy for cask ale, has helped to raise the number of breweries to around 800.

In the West of Scotland, The Bon Accord has been flying, for forty years, the ale flag very high and has recently been at the forefront of a resurgent and re-invigorated beer scene for thirsty, knowledgeable and appreciative drinkers.

To commemorate and celebrate both of these anniversaries, The Bon Accord has put together a blinding festival that not only raises a glass to the past but also doffs their cap to those 21st century breweries who are currently creating a very exciting and interesting cask beer path.

From Friday the 17th of June through to Sunday the 26th, The Bon Accord will be holding their 40th Birthday Summer Beer Festival and it is a festival that has had a great deal of thought put into it by Bon Accord owner Paul and cellarman Russell. Over the course of the festival this 10 handpump pub will be showcasing beer and breweries from the glorious 40 years of Camra's and The Bon Accord's history. It promises to be one of the year's highlights on Glasgow's growing beer calendar.

The concept behind the festival is remarkably simple but one that requires a great deal of thought and efficient planning. Over the course of the ten day 40th Birthday Party, the beer board will be split into three years from the past forty and on show will be beers that were available during those years. The years are 1971, 1991 and 2011.

Some of the breweries available through the decades include:

1971 -  Lees, Holts, Elgoods, Robinsons, Holdens and the delicious Palmers Dorset Gold.

1991 - Orkney, Concertina, Oakham, Rebellion, Wickwar, Hop Back, Rudgate and Burton Bridge.

2011 - Blue Monkey, BrewDog, Dark Star, Fyne ales, Green Jack, Leeds, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool One, Peak Ales, Pictish, Thornbridge and York. 

And many, many more. The list is being added to on a daily basis and some of the beers still to be finalised are off the scale lovely.

So, as Bon Accord Russell says, "Why not sup your way through the last 40 years of British Brewing history and raise your glass to the birthday boys - The Bon Accord and CAMRA!"

Can't say fairer than that.


Long, Hop Summer


"The Sun is shining in the sky,
There aint a cloud in sight,
It's stopped raining, everybody's in a play,
And don't you know,
It's a beautiful new day hey, hey"*

And when this happens, I find myself wanting a gloriously golden, well hopped and delicious beer.

Now that June is finally upon us, it seems the chances of long, luscious lingering sunny days that demand a glass or two of something really refreshing grows.

The start of June tends to be the time of the year when I banish the darker beers of the mild, stout and porter variety and go towards the light.

But, what beers will be floating my beer boat and ascending my ale elevator this summer?

Like all beer obsessives, I have a list. It's a mental one. Not in the sense that it's off the wall and crazy but that it's stored in my head and it contains the beers that I want to seek out and try for the first time as well as beers that I've enjoyed in summers past and really look forward to trying again.

The pint pots of gold I want to find at the end of my great summer beer hunt include,

Hawkshead 5 Hop

One of my faves of the year, so far, but pretty hard to come by in my neck of the woods. Hopefully, that will change. The Hawkshead 5 Hop is also known as Citrillo. The last time this beer was available, round my way, the cask was cleared in under four hours. The 5 Hop is simply a lovely beer that, unsurprisingly, contains 5 different hops - Bramling Cross, Fuggles and Goldings  provide the early hops which is followed by a late charge of Amarillo and Citra. This 5% beer also contains Maris Otter pale malt, Munich and malted wheat. It's a stonker.

Also, look out for a new beer in the summer from Hawkshead. They are introducing, very soon, a 6% New Zealand pale ale. I can taste those juicy fruit flavours from the Nelson Sauvin hops as I type. If it is as good as the 5 Hop / Citrillo, then we are in for a treat.

Camden Town Inner City Green

This is a 3.9% pale golden ale that bursts hop full of gorgeous tropical fruit aromas with a grassy, sweet citrus flavour that is balanced by a stiff malt backbone that gives the beer quite a full body for it's ABV. Oh, how I long for a pint of this on a warm summers day as I sit in the beer garden of The Southampton Arms.

Redemption Trinity

Redemption Brewery is the second best thing to come from Tottenham. They make fantastic beers and one such beer that has set tongues wagging and tastebuds tingling is their Trinity beer. I haven't had the pleasure of trying this beer yet but I want, I want, I want! It sounds intriguing - three types of hops, three types of malts and at 3% it is labelled as a light mild. However, the various descriptions I've read about it sound more like a golden floral hopfest of pineapple, grapefruit, malon and mango delight that defies it's miniscule ABV.  It sounds exactly like the sort of beer I like and I cant wait to get my hands on a pint.

Fyne Ales Jarl

My favourite Scottish Beer ever and one that is quite simply jaw droppingly superb. I'm not going to say anymore about it. I've said enough. Scotland's best beer. Scotland's best brewery. Go find.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo

An American beer this time and one that you are more likely to see in a bottle. I've had it from the keg in the Euston Tap before and it was rather special. It's no different from the bottle too. It's a 7.2% American IPA and it is bursting at the seams with fresh, herby, resinous pine aromas and flavours of grapefruit and orange pith created by the whole cone magnum, crystal and citra hops. It's a perfect back or beer garden slow drinker.

Fingers crossed that not only will the sun shine but that I'll get my hands on these and many other great beers over the next few months.

Here comes the summer, so get out, get about but above get drinking some lovely, tasty and refreshing beer.

*Mr Blue Sky - ELO