Friday, 1 May 2015

Shot down in flames



Newcastle Beer Festival has always been an annual highlight of mine. The trade session is filled with the personalities that make up the region's beer scene from pub owners to brewers. But for myself and the staff of Mordue this festival would mark the end of the campaign 'Operation Gold Serpent Siege'. The prime objective of this campaign was to brew and represent the company with two of the most important brews of all time. The first; Mordue's 20th Anniversary ale, the second was our entry for the annual 'battle of the beers'. Big catch; the majority of the production's time I would be on paternity leave.

The second objective of the campagn was to win this year's Battle of the Beers, sealing the title for the third successive year on the company's 20th anniversary. Winning this would be more than just the ultimate dream, this would be an honour to the legacy of Mordue. The same brewery that won beer of the festival at Newcastle Beer Festival way back in 1995 was now aiming to win Battle of the Beers for the third successive year. There was a romance to the idea, like it was written in the stars.


 This year the rules were simple; to brew a beer between 3 and 6% with only British ingredients. Most entries seemed to go down the traditional best bitters/pale ale or porter route, our entry was named Best of British, which was shortened to BOB. A 4.1% deep golden best bitter brewed with Admiral, EKG and Jester hops. A symphony of English hops was the intention. Since my trial brew with Jester hops back in October I could see this working brilliantly, But the finished commercial product turned out a little differently. The tropical notes seemed lacking and cedar and pickled lime seemed most dominant early on. The beer became interesting as it developed and Admiral dry-hopping seemed to add more to its 'approachability factor'. A classic robust traditional British bitter jazzed up with Jester hops. Our 4.1% beer had a weight of flavour and complexity above it's abv. For a while their was hope.

 But sadly it wasn't to be. As it turned out this year's judges turned more attention to the porter style entries than anything else. The winner was the 5.7% Quayside Porter, brewed by the brew pub Hop and Cleaver. A smoked porter with clean, neatly orchestrated flavours of smoke, chocolate and coffee. Very well played in my mind. But after a rather quick, suspense-less announcement the dream was broken. Suddenly I could relate with the likes of Andy Murray, William Wallace, Yoda, Bobby Robson and the entire Italia 90 England football squad and anyone who strived so far to suffer failure. A part of me had seen it coming and I can see why BOB could divide the opinion of a judging panel. There's a little too much going on and it's not the most approachable of beers.

I have found British hops differ from new world varieties a bit like the French cinema compares to Hollywood. Hardened advocates love them but the majority turn straight to the attention grabbing, less-challenging Hollywood/new world hops. Our entry would have required a hardened set of best bitter fans on the judging panel to give it a chance and it's no surprise that the winning beer had virtually no English hop presence, or even fruity English yeast presence. Among the noise competitors striving in one direction or the other, Quayside Porter was obviously clean, composed and pleasant.

 Chatting away to the likes of Allendale, Cullercoats, Tyne Bank, Northern Alchemy and Anarchy a huge sense of mutual respect could be felt as we are all honorary servants to the region's beer scene. In the right form, and with the wind in the right direction, any of these respective peers could have won the very open battle of the beers. It's only now I realise just how well we have done to win it twice in a row. 

But 'Operation Gold Serpent Seige' was not just about the battle of the beers. We had to do justice to the anniversary at least. I remember 20th Anniversary Ale being a troublesome brew day. A 4.6% celebration pale ale is how I would call it, but it wasn't an easy verdict to make on what to brew. The Mordue brews of old were straight forward and characterful, and to honour the legacy this approach was taken. Amarillo and Challenger, the two all-time staple hops of Mordue, were used in abundance to bring jammy marmalade and grapefruit over a sappy toasty malt base. If this were released in the 90s it would be a beast, like a Ferrari F40 of its time. I realise the 'echoes of the past' theme might only be felt from only the hardened long term Mordue drinkers of the region but for me that's kind of it's niche.

And of course there was also the birth of our son, Harvey, to throw into the mix, our second and last brew baby.



So the final verdict at the close of this campaign, despite it beginning with the hope of joining the immortals by winning Newcastle beer fest for the third successive year, was that we are indeed not immortal. I am however very proud of the beers and children produced during the venture.  

Monday, 6 April 2015

March 18th 2015. Baby and SIBA awards.

Harvey Micheal Millichamp born 18/03/2015 weighing 7lb

Although this post is a bit late. The title says it all. A baby and SIBA national awards uniquely both arriving the same day made for good reasons to celebrate . First up, born via c-section at 9:21am was the birth of our son, Harvey, the 7lb potential brewer in the making. It wasn't till later in the evening after lots of visitors and suspense that that the SIBA national results rolled in from the Beer X event. First up it was a gold for Killswitch 51 in the Champion bottled speciality beer category. Then Killswitch got a bronze overall in the 'Supreme Champion' bottled beer category.

Following this up Mordue Oatmeal Stout nabbed a gold in the 'dark ales, Stouts, Porters' category and an overall bronze in the supreme champion keg category where it was a place behind Wylam's own Hexan black wit. Wylam Brewery did great again this year with Hexan taking gold in the speciality category and Allendale brewery picked up awards for their APA and Pennine Pale. Like last year the north east breweries did well. To see the full list of results see here.

So there you have it March 18th 2015, it was quite a day.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Beer and food: The verdict/the truth

I have blogged a fair bit over the years on various beer and food pairings. Much inspiration has been taken from the signature books written by the great masters of beer and food; Garret Oliver, Mark Dredge and to some extent Melissa Cole. However reading Ed's post it seems not all are convinced. Don't get me wrong, beer and food nirvana does exist. If you read into it, pick out the right dishes, seasoned the right way, with the right side dishes and right sauces to match a specific beer. But that doesn't really sum up the beer and food relationship. Let's put it this way.

Meet Mordue IPA with a roast beef, mustard and tomato sandwich served with cheesy puffs

This is actually a fairly decent pairing. The lovely succulent rare beef and texture of savoury seeded bread matches nicely with grainy malt and finished nicely with the tang of Amarillo hops. The whole thing is nice but honestly there isn't any awesome contrasting elements or harmonic alignment of the planets. Would it change anything if the beef was cooked longer? If I used a different IPA or swapped the mustard for horseradish? Well no. From experience the majority of beer and food pairings go this way. As long as you're in the right ballpark the experience is more or less good.

Let's take, for example, fish and chips. Fish and chips pairs great with a snappy blonde ale. It also goes with classic bitter, best bitter, English IPA, American IPA, German pilsner and (probably) a whole range of sour beers. As long as the beer has some 'snappy' element to it. Then take something like a strong blue cheese like stilton, a cheese that has almost endless beer pairings from imperial stouts, porters, strong bitters, strong amber ales, barley wines and even the more subtle options seem to tame the stuff down . If the beer has some substance. Stilton has been covered by an array of beer writers and all of them have that kind of idea.

The thing is, beer and food can be taken too seriously. It's also quite subjective. A mind-bendingly awesome pairing to one can be just ok to another. Beer and food is great with guidelines, but call them guidelines not rules. Beer and food have an almost endless compatibility to be enjoyed. Trying to analyse it too much doesn't really work, because beer and food more or less works without having to think about it too much.

Friday, 30 January 2015

#tryanuary

Now here's one of those random Twitter-advertised events I actually agree with. An excuse to drink more different types of beer during the month of January in spite of neo-prohibitionist driven 'Dry January'. Obviously a vicious evil ploy to crush the beer industry. But let's not forget the truth; the moderate consumption of beer increases bone density and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. So all in good health, the aim of the game was to try many new 'never tried before' beers.



First up, from Adnams more experimental arm. Jack Brand Dry Hopped Lager. The crispness of a pale lager with tangerine and tropical notes. Overall quite pleasant. Next up, from Roosters new canned range, Fort Smith. A rather good beer it is too, brewed by none other than Oliver Fozard a brewer who was trained by the same master as myself. Although I would argue that Craig taught me some things that Olly didn't. Namely the five-move exploding heart trick. Nonetheless Fort Smith clean and up front with grapefruit, pine and tropical hops leading to a snappy lingering bitterness.    


January also brought some IPAs, my favourites were both the most balanced. Siren Soundwave was resiny, smooth and all tropical and citrus. Lagunitas IPA surprisingly had more body to it than hop attack. Lovely, fruity, balanced and reminded me of my first ever Goose Island IPA. Salopian Sentinel and Tiny Rebel Hadouken were both big abv, heavy malt presence with lots of Cascadian hops struggling against the tide. Not really my sort of thing.



Moving on from IPA Schlosser Alt was a class act. Lovely waves of toast malt leading to caramelly finish. On a similar note Augustiner Edelstoff was a finely tuned 5.6% export lager. Bold and malt forward yet crisp and toasty with virtually no hint of alcohols. Obviously put together by textbook perfection in brewing practice.



Bigging up the malt front also was Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout. Which is sweetish and roasty with lots of coffee and dark fruits going on. A nice Imperial stout with good drinkability. Although to top things off I had to have a beer and food pairing somewhere down the line.


Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out is a smoked outmeal stout with a subtle smokeyness and brooding bitterness. A quality pairing for chip shop smokey sausage, chips and curry. A rather splendid end to the month.

Friday, 2 January 2015

The twelth Geordie beer of Christmas

Durham Brewery 1994



Landmarks are a sentimental aspect of the brewing industry. These days the Anniversary ale is a statement of perseverance, resilience, survival and pedigree. Every successful brewery on earth will one day be seen as dated; Will lose shelf space for the 'new kids on the block' and will be pressured into evolving their product range to suit the new market. This isn't about siding with the old timers, this it seems is the natural way of things.

For me the bold and eccentric bottled beer range of Durham Brewery is what sets them apart from the early days. Long before your Warheads, Imperial Cherry Stouts and double IPAs Durham's strong British and Belgian style ales were the region's high-octane, highly sought-after mega brews. Make no mistake this was in an era where putting out such beers that didn't 'play it safe' took balls.

In obvious honour to this heritage, Durham's anniversary ale is a 10.2% strong ale brewed with pink peppercorns and orange peel. It's certainly an interesting beer. Sweet orange and spice with an almost opal fruit like nuance ride on lively carbonation. The weighty, sweet orange like feel is stripped down by drying carbonation giving a kind of Belgian Tripel/Golden Strong ale like elegance to it. It's more tangy, snappy and racy than it is voluptuous. It's certainly worth trying but for me doesn't rival some of my best experiences with Durham beers.

Then again who am I to judge 20th Anniversary beers, It is after all my turn next...

So that's all from the twelve beer series and, despite restricting this series to local beers only, the overall standard has been great. This year the cheesy cartoon labelled bottles from random micros under dodgy names like Santa's Scrotum have been avoided. The same goes for discount supermarket offerings, all chosen in past series' to fill out the numbers. But sadly, after five successive years of 'twelve beers' this is in fact the last beer of the last series of 'beers of Christmas'.

It's been a long saga of festive beers. Many great memories of festive indulgences over heavy warming brews and sessions livened by festive spice. Every series for me has brought the odd two or three exceptional beers, but there was one especially memorable beer from one of my favourite brewers worldwide. It might have been the right mood and moment but hell there's loads more worth mentioning. Salutes go to Old Dairy, Williams Brothers, Mikkeller, Anchor (year on year), Wold Top, The Bruery, Hook Norton and more. It's been good.