Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The first geordie beer of Christmas

Mordue Brewery Howay in a Manger

You could call this a repeat entry. But because this was on last year's 'Beers of Christmas' doesn't mean this can't open this year's 'Geordie beers of Christmas'. As you have probably guessed I have changed the concept slightly this year. Only beers local to the North East will be featured, not all of them seasonal.

Obviously this makes things a bit harder beer-hunting wise and, obviously, I have doubts on being able to pull out my dream line-up of beers. Certain restrictions, such as the more limited spare time I have these days and trying to get in the right place at the right time, come into play. But the twelve Geordie beers of Christmas is about the diversity of the local scene. It's the scene I (in a sense) grew up on, the scene I know the best, I'm most passionate about and the scene from which Rob's Beer Quest has evolved.

Here at Mordue we have often been given the label of 'stalwarts' of the local scene. An early pioneer of the 'real ale revolution', the Wallsend-based Mordue Brewery grafted through the ages, its name becoming synomous with Geordie-themed pump clips and the two Fawson brothers taking the champion beer of Britain award.

Nearly twenty years on and the focus hasn't changed but things have moved on, staff, equipment, a more diverse product range and an in-house bottling machine add to the fun. Alongside numerous awards at local and national levels and a continued drive to be one the best in North East, and remain in the spotlight.

Nonetheless the first Geordie beer of Christmas is a seasonal that's been a round a good number of years. Howay in a Manger is a 4.3% amber-hued ale featuring Amarillo and Styrian golding hops. A simple beer with a habit of outselling its predicted demand (which often leads to a short period of panic before an emergency batch is dealt with at short notice).

Pleasant sweet almond, caramelised malt and subtle, lingering citric notes bring a nice drinkability to it. As I said last year, Howay buy a bottle! Buy a case! Howay try it down the pub as well!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Kent holiday. Craft beer calling and all that.

Kent, a splendid place
As you may have guessed, I've been on holiday. To Kent of all places. Home of British hops, picturesque villages, lots of southerners like Mark Dredge (originally) and the in-laws. Kent also has some cool towns like Whistable (with its Oysters and hidden beer shop) and Canterbury. Canterbury is a bit like York with wider streets and has an awesome brew pub called The Foundry, home of Canterbury Brewery.

Pure English hop nectar. Brewed with wet East Kent Goldings hops.

In many ways Kent is a bit like Northumberland with its endless countryside but a bit more tame and sophisticated. Staying in a converted Oast house was a welcome novelty feature. Lots of time at the coast and with family. Although at one point I found myself doing battle with a hornet in the living room using a rolled up magazine.  My Gadd's Green hop as the sun sets more than out weighed this negative. Another highlight was this beer.

Itzamna Chocolate and Vanilla Porter at 9.6% was nothing short of outstanding on keg at The Foundry. A big oily voluptuous bear hug of chocolate, fruits and alcohol made it the stand out beer of the holiday. Nonetheless, all things come to an end and the bad news was the end of the holiday would overlap with the first two days of Newcastle's first ever Craft Beer Calling. A festival featuring countless keg and cask local and worldwide beers alongside street food. I for one was happy to hear that Panda Frog Dartfrog-48 Dunkel Rye Weizen sold out in three hours and was one of the first to go. Even Melissa Cole tried it.

Cask and keg lines at Craft Beer Calling 2014
 I was surprised to see a full row beer lines available. Unlike your regular beer fest the lines seemed ever changing and didn't just run out leaving a turned pump clip. This is great but I got the impression that the day 1 and Saturday night people probably got the best deal with so much turn over and lines running out and being replaced. I missed a lot of good ones but the combination we got was no let down. Allendale's Export Stout was a must with its depth and roast malt bite. Along with this, Tyne Bank Heavenly Porter, Northern Alchemy lemon and vanilla porter and a couple of good ones from Bad Seed brewery were to name a few.

Left to right: Allendale Neil, Northern Alchemy Andy, Tyne Bank Julia, N. Alchemy Karl, Mordue Matt, Me. 

It was around 2pm when a few of us brewing types got hauled upstairs for a meet the brewer's like discussion on beer and the market. This interview was conducted by Matt from Wylam, and the discussion was manly about the meaning of craft beer and the shape of the market and where it's going. Although I didn't say much it was great to hear the input from the others on how they see things.

So all in all it was a great festival, and great to hang out with brewing folk which gives you the opportunity to talk almost exclusively about beer for great lengths of time. From what I hear Craft Beer Calling is due to make a return next year. Next time I would hope to experience more of it.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The wall of yeast thing

During my beer quest I've always seen myself as being open-minded. I have never been adverse to any specific beer style or approach to brewing. I try to appreciate every beer for what it is although admittedly have some preferences. Outside of this you have the sparkler debate. The advantages of kegged, canned and unfined beer but the thing I have never got my head round in recent times is this...

Now I have nothing against wheat beer, that's where lots of yeast is a good thing. But it seems in this modern age many 'craft' beer fans have a perception that if their pale ale/IPA has the appearance of carbonated pond water the beer is somehow in the crème de la crème of freshness and condition. What I'm wondering is how they did it? Surely from a cylindroconical vessel you couldn't get beer this cloudy unless you say... used a very non-flocculent yeast strain or added some kind of starch adjunct to the copper. Maybe a lot of yeast was added later in the process?

On top of this I have found these beers to taste a bit muddy, like the beer beneath would actually be very good but the flavours are all muddied up and all your left with is a wall of resiny hops clung to suspended yeast (which is apparently supposed to be what it's all about). Don't get me wrong, I'm not someone against the theory that unfined beer is supposedly better. Back when I was in Rome practically every beer looked like it was straight from the secondary tank and had slight haze on it. Nobody seemed to care and they were mostly all really good beers. But there's a difference between 'the slight cast' beer and the opaque sample shown above (obtained from the bottom of a fermenter for demonstration purposes). Pouring the sediment in from a bottled conditioned beer or serving from a CT = slight haze. But carbonated pond water... Just no.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Beer and Food by Mark Dredge

Not often I get hold of a book that has been written by an author I have already met. After reading enough of Dredgie's blog you sense this book sure has his stamp on it. From page to page it reads like Dredgie's work and it's almost difficult to imagine the sheer length of research the bloke has compiled here. I imagine many, many nights in the kitchen, with multiple half-empty bottles and cans scattered on surfaces. Then again everyone knows Mark's a veteran beer and food experimentalist.

OK but the first obvious question is; what separates this from all the beer/beer and food books? It covers the obvious mandatory territories such as beer styles and brewing. Food affinities for beer styles are covered. Beer affinities for various worldwide dishes are covered. Recipes including beer, also covered.

It's quirky, and Mark's writing style strays away from pretentiousness (given the inclusion of fast food and bar snacks) with a 'not taking this too seriously but keeping it real' sort of approach.
All in all for a general beer and food pairing guide I have found this the easiest to use, go to user friendly partner. So when the wife's cooking up something well known you can easily flip it open to find what beer would ideally pair with it.

So all in all I would rate this highly. Big up the Dredge.

FABPOW! (bitchin)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Mary and Archie

For those who don't know, Mary and Archie is a craft beer bar based in Didsbury, a slightly up-market part of Manchester. It isn't all that often I get to visit quality beer outlets outside Newcastle or even Alnwick so this had to be worth a post. Right? From memory the last beer hunting adventure after a day's cricket landed me at the The Rake.

To start, I would note that myself, my old man and uncle were among the few only non-hipsters in the vicinity. The interior and ambiance is quirky, laid back and individual. It reminded me of a half-way point between the now closed 3 Wise Monkeys and some of the crazy craft beer bars of Rome. The food available was top notch and good value.

More importantly the beer range on the whole is very good. Enough to keep you interested for a day but not the ocean of choice approach some bars employ. Dark Star was leading the pack on the hand pulls whilst Camden and Brew Dog highlighted keg options. The bottle/can range was equally as contemporary but with a nice balance of classics such as Augustiner Helles and, Duvel and Rochefort 10. Tripel Karmeliet seemed a tad cold for my liking yet still a great brew. I've concluded that most Beavertown beer is very aggressively hopped, and that Brew Dog Mashtag 2014 tastes a bit like a really strong 5AM Saint with other bits like blood orange in the mix.

Overall I would recommend Mary and Archie to any beer fan passing the West Didsbury area. A quality boozer unique to anything I've encountered in the Toon.