Saturday, 4 July 2015

Northumberland beer fest again

The Northumberland Beer Festival is becoming an annual highlight of mine. Based in Longframlington memorial hall, this year it pulled the same cards as previous years plus more including pies, nuts and fairly well-chosen range of local beers. This time we weren't with the kids either.


Last year the strong mild Endangered Species carried the flag for Mordue Brewery and the Panda Frog Project. This year its mirror opposite, contemporary golden ale Allelic Drift took its place. Bringing mango and pine the 5% pale golden Allelic Drift is hopped with Simco, Citra and Chinook and, from what I hear, it sold out. This year the theme seemed more about the blonde ale/pale ale and to start things off we had Solstice and Summer from the much respected Five Town brewery. Acton Ales Triple pale and Two by Two Monkey Puzzle IPA were both very good.

Fitting; Acton beer on an Acton beer mat.

Also from Acton, American Dark Knight. Sweetish caramel malt front with dark berry fruit and hints of roast grain, very smooth. I also got to finally try the highly rated Allendale Sauvin Saison. A complex 6% apostle of tart gooseberry meets earthy farmhouse yeast. A rustic sophisticated affair. Also from the more abstract side was The Dogs Nuts from Dog and Rabbit brewery. An oak aged smoked bourbon porter that to me was a bit harsh and oaky to really enjoy although some people seemed to like it. So that was it for another year of great beer and great company.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The annual hop contract again

The opening in the forest was large, with a central island of refuge guarded by two men. Boxes upon boxes of hops towered behind these two crafty types sporting beards and tattoos. No one could remember what brewery they were from it was another new one. Piles of empty casks were stacked like sand bag walls here and there. "What can you see?" whispered the head brewer to the MD with his binoculars nestled in the undergrowth. "Motueka.. At least five boxes. Galaxy, Citra, Ella" he scoped across "Amarillo and Equinox on the right, and on the top. Simco". "Right" said the Head brewer. You distract them by throwing some of these nuts from the mash tun door while I go round the side. "Wait!" Said the MD as he inspected some more. "Land mines, the whole area's covered in them except for one path". "Right boss" he replied "I take the path you draw the other beard out got it? Now GO GO GO!!".

The head brewer broke cover, armed with a mash paddle heading towards the huge central mountain of hops whilst big beard (obviously a head brewer) moved outwards to find where the falling metal nuts were coming from. Suddenly, to the left, another younger bloke breaks cover, obviously the cask washer/assistant charging menacingly with a shive extractor in hand. Theres a 'WOOOSHH' through the air as Head brewer launches a C-spanner directly at him to take the youngster to the ground. Approaching the stack of hops the bearded brewer brandishes his weapon of choice to stop the intruder. The clever bastard had connected his transfer pump to his sparge arm to make a deadly makeshift propeller of death capable of decapitating apponents.

Head brewer bracing gripped his mash paddle as helicopter blades of death approached, spinning menacingly fast. Theres a sudden 'BOOM' as the other bearded brewer steps on a land mine. This distracted the sparge arm wielder allowing head brewer to hurl a 5kg sack of malt from his rucksack straight into the baldes. A cloud of malt dust fills the air startling to disarm the propeller wielding assailant. Head brewer quickly charges to bludgeon his opponent to the floor with his mash paddle. Immediately he's surging for the top of the hop mountain the look of sheer joy, excitement and relief on his face.

"Simco! I've got the fuckin Simco!!" he cries victoriously lifting the box of hops. A crippling blow suddenly comes from behind as an empty cask is launched at his back. Another more well-known head brewer runs over with his brew clan to start taking the boxes. They had obviously been hiding in the undergrowth also, waiting for the right time to strike. "c'mon lads grab as much as we can, quadruple IPA back on the brew schedule next year". As they were leaving they didn't realise one thing. That the MD from the undergrowth had quicky linked up the land mines with trip wires and placed drums of liquid caustic umongst the booby traps. The result was of course carnage.

Could this really be the future of hop contracting in the brewing industry? Which hop merchants would be televising 'The Lupulin Games' first (from a fully controlled arena)? What do you think?

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.