Saturday 29 October 2011

Tempest Brewing Total Tap Takeover


For a Glasgow based beer drinker, Tempest Brewing Co and their beers have a near mythical status in my home city. Many have heard of them but very few have actually tried them. Anyone who tells you that they have tried and tasted them inside a Glasgow pub is probably lying. To the best of my recollection, no pubs in Glasgow have poured a single drop of their stuff. Which is a pretty poor showing given that there has been quite a word of mouth beer buzz about this new brewery and their beers north of the border for most of 2011.

Word of mouth is a wonderful thing in the world of beer and the word is that Tempest make some very special beers that aren't afraid to showcase big, bold assertive hop profiles and flavours that tantalise your tastebuds and leave them reeling in pleasure. They make the sort of beers that a certain Aberdeenshire brewery could only dream of.

The first time I tried one of their beers was at Edinburgh's Scottish Real Ale Festival in June. It was their Rye PA and, for me, it was one of the highlights of the festival. I've since been lucky enough to stumble upon a few of their beers when I've been through in Edinburgh. Lucky old Edinburgh drinkers for having the chance of tasting Tempest on a regular basis. It seemed that if I was wanting any more of their beer I would have to haul myself from west to east and it proved to be the case when I heard that one of the city's best pubs, The Bow Bar was planning a Tempest total tap takeover where ten of their beers would be available with eight on cask and a further two on keg.

If Jimmy Saville had done beer'll fixits, then this would have been top of my list.

I just had to go.

My timing was impeccable as I arrived just as the first pints of the tap takeover were being poured.. Within a half hour, a relatively quite boozer had been turned into a thriving hive of beery activity, three deep at the bar with an appreciative ale audience lapping up the range of beers on offer. It was a cracking selection that showcased pale ales to porter, gorgeously subtle to heavily hopped and relatively weak (4.1%) to deceptively strong (7%).

Tap Takeovers are a terrific idea. They are a great way of getting a bigger, more complete picture of a brewery's abilities and talents rather than just seeing one beer every once. I've done not too badly this year with tap takeovers. The Stone night at BrewDog, Glasgow and the Harviestoun event at Hengler's Circus were both great evenings with some lovely beers on show. The Tempest Tap takeover continued in a similar vein.

The beers included Into the Light, Emanation Pale, Long White Cloud, Rye PA, Elemental Porter, Canyonero, Caligula and Brave New World.

The stand out and outstanding beers of the evening for me were Long White Cloud and the Canyonero.

I had heard lots of positive things about the NZ dry hopped Long White Cloud since it's appearance at the Troon Beer Festival and those that tried it there informed me that it was one to look out for. For some, it was their beer of the festival. These reports of it's greatness turned out to be true. I adored the pungent fruit nose, the gloriously lush resinous hop kick and big, bold, crisp zing of the pineapple and passion fruit that's balanced beautifully with a robust malt spine. A solid and lovely drinking 5.6% gem. A wowser of a beer.

The Canyonero is a strange beast of a beer. It's 5.9% oak aged pale ale hopped with the New Zealand varieites Pacific Jade and Wai-iti. There was a slight oakiness to the beer but plenty of peppery spiciness from the hops joined with a touch of treacle toffee and caramel. There was even a cameo appearance from what seemed to be pumpkin. I was quite taken by it.

The Emanation Pale Ale cuts the mustard as a mid strength (4.5%) session beer that is full of crisp, fruity hops, sweet maltiness and  lingering dry bitterness that really was rather nice and very moreish. I would say that it's more a bitter than a pale ale but that doesn't really matter. It is still a lovely beer, whatever you call it.

The only fly in the ointment of an otherwise excellent night was the Keg Caligula. It's a 6% Black IPA and I was expecting nice bold hops and some roasted, toasted malt but it was served just too cold for the flavours to come through. The temperature of the beer masked masked most of the taste. All I really got was cold and wet.

That aside, It was a great event and my abiding hope as I left the Bow Bar and headed back home to the west was that some of Glasgow's better pubs get on the phone to their beer suppliers and start ordering some of Tempest Brewing Co's marvellous beers.

You know it makes sense.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Fyne Ales Jarl - Champion Beer of Glasgow


Fyne Ales' Jarl beer was originally launched as a seasonal beer to an expectant audience at the brewery's beer festival in June 2010. Since then it has become one of the their biggest selling beers and has gained an ever growing legion of fans won over by the delicious fresh citrus fruitiness and thirst quenching bite in this 3.8% single hopped (citra) golden ale. It is a great beer and one of my tip top favourites.

It's not only myself that has sung it's praises and recognised the quality of this beer. It's won praise and plaudits, awards and acclaim most notably winning SIBA's overall Champion Beer of Scotland at the Scottish Real Ale Festival.

a heaving awards cabinet

The most recent award won by Fyne Ales for Jarl was 'Beer of the Year' as voted by the Glasgow Camra branch and as a member of that branch I headed up to Loch Fyne with 18 other hardy souls, enduring the horrid autumnal rain showers, to present the trophy to Tuggy, Wil and Charlie from the brewery.

It's a brewery I'm very familiar with, having been up there a handful of times before, and they always put on a tidy spread and a good range of beers. On this visit, we were treated to a trio of Fyne tastic beer soaked up with some barbequed beef sausages and burgers from the Fyne Ales estate that had been fattened up with the spent grain from the brewery.

Three beers available on our trip were Maverick, West Highland Black IPA and, of course, Jarl. I was in the mood for a Jarlfest and made this my beer of the day. I did dip my toe, metaphorically, into the other two beers but the thought of Jarl straight from the tap was too much of a temptation to resist.

There is something particularly lovely and pretty special about drinking from the brewery tap surrounded by boxes of hops, dozens of casks and hundreds of bottles of lovely beer. Beer always tastes better straight from the brewery tap. No question. 

a glass and a half of class - Fyne Ales Jarl

It was good to have a chat with brewer, Wil and production manager, Charlie. I discovered that plans are coming along well for their shiny new brewery that will triple capacity as Fyne Ales try to keep up with demand for their beers. I was very interested to hear from Wil that he intends 2012 to be a year for IPA's at the brewery with them producing up to a dozen over the coming year. Great news.

Finishing off the day, we made our ritual stop at the nearby Village Inn. More Fyne Ales beers were on, including a beer that I hadn't tried yet. I was about to pop my Fyne Ales Cherry Stout cherry. But, that's for another blog.

Thanks to Tim at Glasgow CAMRA for organising the trip.

Here's what other people think of Jarl, Champion Beer of Glasgow. The Beer Cast , Taste Sensations , The Beer Prole , I Might Have A Glass of Beer


Friday 21 October 2011

Making History at the Wetherspoons Beer Festival

The Wetherspoons beer festival was in full swing and, being on holiday for a week, it seemed like a good idea when Mr Guest Beer Guide, Al suggested that we should hook up in Glasgow city centre and head to a few of their pubs to sample for ourselves some of the fifty beers on their festival line up.

The plan was simple. Meet up in the Crystal Palace then head to the Counting House before making our way to the Society Rooms and finally on to Hengler's Circus on Sauchiehall St. Hopefully en route we would enjoy a few tasty beverages.

However, on past experience, I've always found Wetherspoons beer festivals a bit like their pubs - inconsistent and fairly hit and miss but hope springs eternal that our luck would be in and we would be dealt a favourable beer hand tonight.

First stop, the Crystal Palace just down from Glasgow Central train station. Despite it huge glass frontage it is, like many Wetherspoons in Glasgow, too dark and dull with the brown carpet and beige walls drawing out any natural light. It's not an attractive place to have a drink and I tend not to linger too long when I'm in.

Tonight was no different.

On offer were Wharfebank's Treacle Toffee Stout, Caledonian's Cossack's Imperial Russian Stout, Bell's Kalamazoo Black Silk and Belhaven's St. Andrew's. I had been told to avoid the Wharfebank and I'm not a fan of Belhaven or Caledonian so it had to be the Kalamazoo by Bell's Brewery. It's one of the five U.S. craft breweries participating in the festival. The U.S. beers aren't imported from the States. Instead, they are cuckoo brewed at British breweries. In this case, one of the Bell's brewers travelled to England's oldest brewery Marston's and used their kit to make it.*

It is a 4% oatmeal porter that I found quite grainy, wet and fairly hollow. There was a slight smokiness to it but not much in way of rich, dark chocolate and fruit that I was expecting. Mr Al had a half of the 6% Caledonian and it's fair to say that he wasn't particularly impressed with his either.

First pub done. Time to move on.

Price of a pint - £2.15

But not to the next 'spoons. Mr Al's twitter feed had informed him that Blackfriars pub has just put on a cask of Swanney Brewery's Highland Best. So we swiftly diverted to this cracking little pub in the Merchant City. Blackfriars is a great wee pub steeped in history. According to the Oxford Compendium of Beer, it dates from the 9th century when it used to act as a staging post for King's Farquhar and Hamish before they headed to Patrick's Market at the Bridge Gate for hog roast and pigeon pie. It was downstairs in Blackfriars where the monks first made a new beer to satisfy the thirst of the porters who worked at Patrick's Market. They called it electric soup porter. The whole of Glasgow was a forest at this time.*

I'm glad we made the diversion to Blackfriars as the Orkney Best was on top form. It was refreshing with aromatic pear drops set against some stiff maltiness. It is a beautifully balanced session beer.

Beer finished, we headed to the Counting House at George Square. It's another dark, old Wetherspoons that could benefit from a few more lightbulbs. There was a lot of pumpclips but most of them were showing as 'coming soon' which is probably the two words you don't want to hear when you are out for a beer. Never mind 'coming soon', we wanted the good beer now.

It was just as well then that Thornbridge's Brother Rabbit was on and available. It's a 4% golden ale hopped with amarillo and cascade. We both wanted a pint of it. Unfortunately, we had to wait a while as it's not normally the most efficient pub in the world for quick service. It also didn't help that the guy in front was constantly changing his mind. After he was served, we still had to wait a bit longer as he then asked for his change to be made up entirely of one and two pence pieces. As Theresa May might say, "And, I'm not making this up". It's true. It did happen.

We finally got our Brother Rabbit and it was worth the wait. It was in tip top condition with an oh so subtle fruit taste of light grapefruit and peach with a super smooth mouthfeel that was refreshing and cleansing. It was a slurper of a pint with some stubborn malt and a lingering bitter tingle that rounded off the beer very nicely.

Price of a pint - £2.20

Onwards to our next stop, The Society Rooms or as it's known in Glasgow, The Jaipur Social Club. According to the Oxford Compendium of Beer, this pub stands on the site of where the first hops in Scotland were grown. The peat hops were then added to the Scotch Ale and exported to Jaipur in India. To commemorate this momentous happening, Thornbridge's Jaipur is on sale all day, every day for less than two Scottish pounds. This has gone down a storm with the 'Post Meridian Ale Moths', that strange species of older men that tend to be found lingering round the bar of most Wetherspoons most afternoons. Incidentally, the Society Rooms is officially the darkest pub in Glasgow having won the award every year since records began. *

The ubiquitous Jaipur was on but as it was not part of the festival, we went for some Rooster's Last Stand. It's rumoured to be Roosters' final ever beer as they are packing up and moving on. I've been known to quite like some of their beers but I didn't think that the Last Stand was up to their usual standards. There was a lot going on in it, usually at the same time. Mr Al, on the other hand, thought it was rather lovely. But what does he know? He supports Motherwell.

Price of a pint - £1.75

Home straight now as we head to Glasgow's most improved Wetherspoons, Hengler's Circus. According to the Oxford Compendium of Beer, Hengler's Circus was a Russian juggling and acrobatic troupe who first toured Scotland in the 1760's. They brought with them a beer called Imperial Stout which was big in their homeland at that time. They used to sell this Imperial Stout at the interval of their show along with the strawberry Mivvi's and choc ices. A certain Mr Arthur Guinness happened to be at their show one night and bought a couple of bottles to take home. The rest, as they say, is history.*

Anyway, back to the future. I opted for a couple of half pints at the Hengler's. One was Woodforde's Kett's Rebellion, the other a crafty U.S. number, Odell's 90 Shilling made by Caledonian.

I'd like to tell you that both were lovely and were the high point of the evening. I'd like to tell you that, but it would be a big fat WMD of a lie. Both were not nice. The Woodforde's was a 'hide behind the plant pot' beer. Watery, oversweet and not pleasant.

The Odell beer was, alas, 90% Caledonian and only 10% Odell. It was a foul malt bomb of candied apples and burnt sugar. It was in nice condition. Which is a bit like complimenting a tramp for having nice shoes.

Price of a pint - £1.55

Why the big swings in prices in pubs in the same chain no more than 15 minutes apart?

Mission accomplished but it wasn't quite the success that we had both been hoping for. As we headed out of Hengler's Circus, we sought a final beer of the night. We could only think of one place to head next. The Bon Accord. We had heard that they had some Fyne Ales' Cherry Stout on. But that's for another blog.


*This blog may contain historical inaccuracies.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Book Review - The Oxford Companion to Beer


I've been pre-occupying myself in the last week or so with beer. Nothing new there, other than I've not been drinking the stuff. Instead, I've been reading about it. It's science and history, the brewing processes involved, the culture and customs and much more beside.

The source of this knowledge and information is The Oxford Companion to Beer and it boldly claims to be the 'most comprehensive reference book ever published about the popular and diverse fermented beverage in the world today'.

It certainly is comprehensive. Within it's 900 plus pages there are over 1,100 entries from in excess of 160 contributors. From Abbey Beers to Zymurgy, it covers a vast range of beer related topics including the biology and chemistry of beer, breweries, beer styles and on and on and on. There are 30 entries on types of barley and even over 100 entries on hops that cover geneological lineages, growing habits and flavours. As Tom Collichio says in it's foreword, the aim of this book is "to provide an exhaustive account of not only beers history but it's science and art".

It does that and the rest.

It does have it's faults, though. The disproportionate coverage of, and the importance that it puts on, American brewing, breweries and the U.S. craft beer scene is disappointing but not unexpected given that the editor, Garrett Oliver and the majority of the contributors are from the U.S. It's clearly a book that has been made with the American market in mind which would also explain the transatlantic spellings of 'flavour' and 'colour' and also no entry in the Oxford Companion for that peculiarly British of things, a 'session beer'.

As a mere beer drinker with not much knowledge of the science of brewing, having a resource of this type at your fingertips is invaluable. Every day is now a learning day as I play the random page game with my Oxford Companion. Pick a number between 1 and 900, go to that page and learn heaps of new stuff about beer.

Want a Game?

Page 66. 'Arthur Guinness and Sons' entry. Did you know that the "7.5% Foreign Extra Stout Guinness accounts for 40% of their current global sales"?


Page 689. 'real ale' entry. Did you know that ''CAMRA's influential 'Good Beer Guide' persists in "excommunicating" pubs that protect their beers with cask breather systems. Their beer rendered unreal by this judgment, a country pub can easily fade from view and finally fail, diminishing the overall beer culture"?

One more?

Page 257. 'color' entry. Did you know that "Color is an integral and important part of our experience of food and drink, and beer is no exception. When beer is poured in to a clear glass, the color is the first thing the prospective beer drinker will notice."?

Last one?

Page 739. 'Snakebite' entry. Did you know that "Snakebite is a mixture of lager and alcoholic cider that is sometimes euphamistically referred to as a 'beer cocktail"?

Some of the new stuff I've learnt is interesting. Some of it is opinion dressed up as fact. Some of it is a bit obvious and some, a bit banal.

A bit like the book.

But, despite my nit picking, I'm quite taken by the Oxford Companion. It's my new boomerang book. One that I will keep returning to in order to broaden and deepen my knowledge and understanding of my favourite pastime, Beer.

It is a worthwhile, much needed resource and one to be welcomed.

Review copy of the book provided by Oxford University Press.

Sunday 16 October 2011

The Carlisle Beer Festival - A Review


Last weekend, I was faced with a rather nice beery choice to make. I could jump on the train and head to the Ayrshire coast for the Troon Beer Festival or I could go further south, across the border, to Solway CAMRA's Carlisle Beer Festival.

Decisions, decisions.

I had a quick look at the respective beer lists and while Troon's had merit and some great beers on show, Carlisle's list just swung it for me due to there being a number of beers and breweries that I hadn't had yet and the temptation of trying something new was just too hard to resist.

Carlisle, It was then.

It's only just over an hour from Glasgow on train which meant I could finish work, get the train and be at Carlisle just in time for the start of the Friday evening session. I didn't have to travel very far when hitting Carlisle as the venue was the Landmark Hotel right next to the station. Result.

This is the twenty first time the event has been held and it appears to be going from strength to strength. Last year's was drunk dry early on the Saturday night and in anticipation of increased demand this year, the organisers have upped the beers available from 35 to 50.

The beers are mostly from  Cumbria, the Scottish Borders and North East England and there is an eclectic mix of styles available encompassing standard bitters, milds, pale ales, heavily hopped red ales and even some German style pilsners, dunkels and alts.

Vouchers bought and friends met, I settled down to have a look at the programme and choose my first beer.

I opted for a beer from a rather elusive brewery. Abraham Thompson's Brewery from Barrow-in-Furness. Founded in 2004, John Mulholland brews only occassionally from his half barrelled plant and always dark and roasty beers. Their 3.8% Lickerish Stout is available at the festival and my friends, who arrived before me and have tried the stout already, are raving about it and twist my arm to make it my first beer.

a very generous half pint of Abraham Thompson

I'm glad that they did because it is a well made and very enjoyable beer. It drinks well above it's ABV with a full bodied mouthfeel well balanced with heavy roast flavours and a bitter bite. The liqourice is subtle and fairly well hidden but brings a nice level of sweetness to the beer. I like it and make a mental note to locate and try more of Abraham Thompson's beers.

I like Hardknott beers. They make some great beers, particularly Aether Blaec, Infra Red and Dark Energy, and I've been impressed by Mr Hardknott, Dave Bailey's crusade to increase the profile of beer in the media, particularly cookery shows, as a perfect match for food.

there is always one cider drinker

I hadn't tried their Cool Fusion beer before and I was looking forward to it. It's described as having a 'hint of sweet ginger' with a 'thirst quenching gentle finish' that's 'perfect with sushi'. In for a penny in for a pound, I asked the CAMRA volunteers if any sushi was available. Alas, it had all been sold and was instead offered some hand massaged Kobe beef but I declined and instead settled for a half of Hardknott's Cool Fusion.

 It had a gorgeous, aromatic nose that profiled the ginger notes of the beer superbly well. The smell promised so much but the rest of the beer failed to deliver on the expectations created by the great aroma. It was thin, hollow and not much else other than a slight ginger taste and some alcohol burn at the back of the throat. It was inoffensive, disappointing and quite bland. I didn't finish it. I remain unconvinced and unconverted by ginger beer or should that be beer with ginger? The only beer in this style that has floated my boat has been Marble Brewery's Ginger.

Time for pale and hoppy.

Of which, there were many at the festival. I particularly liked Hawkshead's Windermere Pale. It's hoptastic and beautifully balanced beer with loads of lively, zingy citrus fruits that refresh and slide down effortlessly. It's a perfect 3.5% session beer that's not unlike one of my all times fave beers, Fyne Ales' fantastic Jarl. Incidentally, both of Hawkshead's two brews on show at the festival, the Windermere and their NZPA, were among the first to be finished at festival. Clearly, the punters have got very good taste as these are both superb beers.

Another pale and hoppy that was on great form was North Riding Brew Pub's, Neilson Sauvin. As the name suggests, it's got lovely Nelson Sauvin hops that give it a lovely fresh gooseberry and floral notes and a big, bold bitterness that lingers long after the last drops of the beer have been drained from the glass.

Stringers Beer's, Big Clock was also noteworthy. It's a seasonal beer from the Ulverston brewery and it was full of easy drinking goodness that marries delicate floral flavours and a biscuity backbone to create a lovely, little beer.

It was nearing time for my train back north and with three tokens left, I had some difficult decisions to make. What was to be my final trio of beers?

I settled on Oakwell Brewery's, Barnsley Bitter, Steel City Brewing's, Sheffield Hop Infusion Team and Tyne Bank Brewery's, Alt Bier.

I was very impressed by the Barnsley Bitter. It was beautifully conditioned and had a super smooth and sweet malt mouthfeel and a good level of bitterness from the Fuggles and Goldings hops. It's on a par with Acorn Brewery's Barnsley Bitter. It also had the prettiest pumpclip of the festival. If pretty pumpclips are your thing.

a pretty pump clip

Tyne Bank's, Alt Bier was rather nice too. It was full of rich, resinous fruit on the nose and some caramel and chocolate in the mouth. It's been lagered for two months and this has created a smooth, superb beer. It tasted the way a proper brown ale should. Lovely.

a not so pretty yet informative pump clip

Last beer before home was Steel City Brewing's, Sheffield Hop Infusion Team. It's a big old beer. A 5.7%  aromatic hop cocktail of Galena, Chinook, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin. It was similar to a robust, aggressive American IPA but without the crackle of crystal malt. It was a very fine beer indeed.

I would have liked to have stayed a bit longer and tried more of Steel City's S.H.I.T. beer but time waits for no one and I had a train to catch to take me home.

Good beers, Good festival, Good night.


Wednesday 5 October 2011

The End of a Beera


I really like The Jolly Butchers. It's one of my favourite pubs in London. It is a happy, friendly and welcoming place where some fantastic beer is served.

It's become my 'local' when I'm down watching Spurs and have enjoyed every minute I spend there.

It's only been open for a couple of years and this relatively short space of time it's managed to secure heaps of awards, it's most recent being the Beard Friendly Pub of the Year from Keith Flett's, Beard Liberation Front. It's also gained a substantial reputation and an affectionate place in the beery hearts of drinkers from North London and beyond.

Did I mention the beers?

The beer choice never fails to disappoint and The Jolly Butchers has done it's bit to showcase and promote the best London's thriving microbreweries have got to offer and it's played an important role in attracting a lot of new drinkers to the wonderful world of gorgeous, well made and very tasty beer.

Many things have made this pub the success that it is but, undoubtedly, much credit must go to the person that has been at epicentre of overseeing operations, sourcing the great beers and sating the beery wishes of it's thirsty customers. The person I'm referring to is Emma Cole, bar manager of The Jolly Butchers.

She's been running the Butchers for a bit now and her knowledge and enthusiasm for beer has made the pub what it is - a hub for excellent beer and all round cracking pub.

However, all good things must come to an end and Emma is leaves The Jolly Butchers today for pastures new and a fresh, exciting challenge. She's taking up residency and will be working her beery magic in one of Brighton's oldest pubs, The Spotted Dog. The pub which dates back to 1790, formerly known as the Hop Poles, has just reopened under it's original name and Emma has been given a free hand to choose some fantastic beers for the pub. Brighton's drinkers are in for a treat.

It's the end of a beera for The Jolly Butchers but the start of a great adventure for Emma. Her farewell shindig takes place at the Butchers tonight and it says a lot for the regard that Emma is held in by London's Brewers that several of them have produced one off beers for Emma's big send off. One, appropriately enough, is called the 'Queen of Stoke Newington'.

I wish Emma all the very best in her new role.

The Jolly Butchers loss is The Spotted Dog's substantial gain.

Good Luck, Emma.