Thursday, 30 December 2010

The twelfth beer of Christmas

Hook Norton Twelve Days

Well, this is it folks, the last beer of Christmas. And I think we've had enough left of centre foreign brews for this series, time for a no nonsense British winter warmer from a highly respected British brewery. The twelfth and final beer of Christmas, Hook Norton's Twelve Days, is one nicely rounded malt driven beer with a nice roast malt bitterness. It has a dark chocolate note, with subtle winter fruit and hints of spice. Covered by the Baron here, and like he says, a nice beer to savor by the fireside on a winter's night.

Well, sadly that's it for Rob's beer quest's 12 beers of Christrmas.  I sure had a good Christmas. As expected the majority of my stock of seasonal beers have now been replaced by beers from gift packs (tho I havn't seen much coming in from the Asda 3 for £5 range this year). But we all know from now on it's all down hill. New year resolutions, taking the decorations down, assessing the financial damages and oh crap, I've just put on like a stone in weight in four weeks! You know how it goes. But anyway, a happy new year from Rob's Beer Quest.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The eleventh beer of Christmas

Castle Brewery Samiclause 2010

Hardcore 14% Doppelbock lager from Austria, formerly the strongest beer in the world (it seems so long ago now). This beer undergoes 10 months of lagering before filtration and bottling. I remember years back having bad first impressions of this beer, but I've grown to like it. It's heavy going, and surely the ultimate beer for being stuck indoors on a blisteringly cold winters night.

Very deep golden bronze with plentiful carbonation but never any head retention. Expect lots of boozy warming alcohols, virtually no hop presence, and a rounded warming sweet sherry, syrupy, toffee sort of character finishing with heaps of warming alcohols. The carbonation keeps the sweetness in check. It's also a great talking point at parties as everyone seems to make something slightly different of it. Alternatively you could cellar it a few years or more, it should age well.

Monday, 27 December 2010

The Golden Pints Beer Awards 2010, my contribution.

Here it is folks, my winners for The Golden Pints Beer Awards 2010, proposed by Dredgie. This year has brought many a memorable beer and some categories were tough to answer, others were omitted. Mind, I had to look back long and hard into my beer reviewing diary for this, and to make it simpler I haven't filled in all the runners up. But here it is anyway.  

Best UK Draught Beer: Blue Monkey 3 Wise Monkeys

Best UK Bottled Beer: Fullers Brewers Reserve No. 2.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Not really been abroad much this year (except Cuba). But my best overseas draught beer experience ever would be sitting outside a Cafe in Brussels drinking a Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Stone Old Guardian barley Wine Style Ale early 2009 release (thanks again for bringing that across for me Wend).

Best Overall Beer: Too difficult to answer I'm afraid. Lots of great ones, no real winner.

Best Pumpclip or Label: Goose Island Christmas Ale 2009

Best UK Brewery: Far too many to choose from, but for consistency, quality and the sheer number of beers tried, I'm going with Daleside Brewery.

Best Overseas Brewery: Again a tough one, probably Stone, CA, with De Struise, Belgium a close second.

Pub/Bar of the Year: For me, The John Bull, Alnwick

Beer Festival of the Year: Newcastle Beer Festival

Independent Retailer of the Year: Hispirits, Knaresborourgh (hi Adam!)

Best Beer Book or Magazine: Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher

Best Beer Blog or Website: Plenty of em, and plenty of newcomers. I'm splitting this award between two sites. For stuff on beer, food, drinks etc, Dredgie. For sheer amusement, Cooking Lager. For like ability, both.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: The winner for this snuck in last minute. In second place Saint Stylvestre 3 Monts with Munster Cheese. But first place was given to a special Christmas eve pairing. For me that was Stilton, Walnuts, and Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout. Simple, Traditional, Brilliant!

In 2011 I’d Most Like To… Visit more breweries, hunt out more beers and brew some more experimental oak aged home brews.

Open Category: Best newly discovered hop variety of the year: Riwaka

Saturday, 25 December 2010

The tenth beer of Christmas

The Bruery 2 Turtle Doves

A beer with a very fitting name for this post. I got this over a year ago from a little beer shop in San Francisco. As the story goes, our baggage went missing between flights on the way home and I thought I would never see this baby (along with others) again. But here it is.

From the brewery website you can see this beer is part of a series of seasonal beers. Made with 'turtle' candy, cocoa nibs, toasted pecans, caramelized sugar and a lot of caramelised malts. With an abv of 12%, i was a little excited about it, but didn't get too carried away after memories of being let down by many a random seasonal beer in the past. But this didn't fall short of expectations.

Honestly, this is a fucking exceptional beer. Thick deepbrown almost brown with big boozy alcohols, huge toasty malt depth and a very rich, kind of oily viscosity. Caramelised malt, dark chocolate and nutty grain all play in harmony with rounded warming alcohols.

As an after dinner beer it just begged for a cognac laced Christmas pudding. A great pairing. Think about it, raisins, nuts, rich sponge and congac notes that just echo on the boozy alcohols of the beer. As the tenth beer, this is probably the most memorable of the series so far, It totally takes the cake and is just perfect for the occasion of Christmas day.   

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, 24 December 2010

The ninth beer of Christmas

De Dolle Stille Nacht

It was Christmas eve,
 and not a creature was stirring,
not even our friends the yeast...

Stille Nacht translates as silent night, the ultimate Christmas Eve beer from those crazy folks at De Dolle, Belgium. Last year I remember opening a recent bottling of this and thinking it could probably be better with a bit more age on it. So this year I'm opening one from a 2008 bottling.

A good beer despite some fobbing from this bottle. Amber shaded, loads of carbonation, and what I get most from this beer is a kind of  orange zest and marmalade like character. Once the carbonation dies down a bit it unveils itself. Sweet candy, summer fruit and spice with boozy alcohols in the finish. Surprisingly light bodied for the 12% abv, which should sort you out for getting to sleep with all that excitement.

Anyhow, time to get set in for the night. The snow is falling outside (no exaggeration, it really is snowing!) and the last I checked it was 453 minutes till Christmas (according to Helen's 'Santa lite' iphone app), that sure ain't long. But if you can't wait for the big day, you can always see how old Santa's doing by tracking him here. Have a good one.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The eighth beer of Christmas

Gordon Xmas

That big day sure is getting close now, time for a beer.

At first I was thinking; If there was an award for the best decorated bottle for a Christmas beer, this one might win. Again it's Belgian, it's 8.8%, and this is probably the first time I've ever used this glass (justifying the space it takes up in the cabinet).

Overall impressions of this beer so far; it's really deep. Deep colour, deep dark fruit (plumb?) and malt flavours. Nutmeg and coriander like spice also feature among big bready funky yeasty notes, burnt toffee and rounded warming alcohols in the finish. The dark fruit and weight of the malt balance really gives the impression of an old school Scottish heavy. Not something you find too often. I recon it would go well with rich or spiced lamb dishes or maybe some full flavoured game preparations. Great beer.

Update: This goes brilliantly with roast duck and cherry sauce, just try it.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Plans for the big day, what will you be drinking?

It's almost here folk's, the big Christmas day bottled beer session. But here's the question. Is it just me or does anyone else ever plan the exact beers to be opened Christmas day? A few years back I used to plan almost the entire day's drinking plan starting with the Christmas dinner appetiser at 11am then what beers I would drink at approximately what time with what dish. I had the sequence of bottles lined up in the garage in the exact order to drink them weeks before. Has anyone else ever done this?

Mind you I learned quickly that if I wanted to survive past eight thirty at night without falling asleep in front of the TV I needed to apply some restraint to the lineup. You see the thing about Christmas day, after your breakfast beer, appetiser before dinner beer, beer for the main, beer for dessert, beer for after dinner, 3-4 afternoon session beers, late afternoon beer, evening meal appetiser beer, evening meal pairing beer, evening meal dessert beer, after dinner beer, winding down for the night beer, winding down for the night beer 2... After that it all gets a bit blurred.

So having so many special beers within the time frame of one day, the 'special' factor of each beer gets a bit degraded and you end up a bit wankered. For this reason this year, like last year I'm keeping the range minimalistic but ultra prestige (tho I will probably still end up asleep by 9 or 10pm) and sticking by a few rules.

The three rules of a Christmas bottles beer session.

Rule 1: Cut down on random session beers, entered just to keep the session going. They just get in the way, add to the total alcohol consumed and are just not worth it.

Rule 2: Pair each dish of the big day carefully with specific beers. This year I'm omitting the Christmas dessert pairing. Even tho 2008 I remember a chocolate pudding pairing beautifully with a Meantime Coffee Porter, I think you can get overly full very easily at this stage.

Rule 3: Don't plan too much. keep things more open and be a bit more spontaneous. Things can be more fun if you change the order a bit last minute or open beer number five an hour late or half an hour earlier than planned.

With rule three I've found that most folk I ask about this stuff have no plans whatsoever for the entire days drinking. And I agree that an element of spontaneity makes things more interesting, like having a section of the afternoon that's completely open or having a series of three beers to be opened in no particular order. Sharing the stuff round is also fun, it is Christmas after all. This year I have an awesome lineup, possibly my best ever. So how are you ordering your day of awesome festive beer drinking?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The seventh beer of Christmas

Anchor 'Our Special Ale' 2010

Every year as the festive season approaches Anchor (one of the grand fathers of US craft brewing scene) of San Francisco release a different 'Our special ale' and every year it's slightly different from the last. I seem to remember the first time I tried one was the 2007 batch, and it was outstanding. The few annual releases since then have been OK, but not brilliant.

But anyway I'm glad I have a couple of bottles of this one as it sure is delicious. The nose hits you with upfront Christmas spices and gingerbread. And these follow onto the almost syrupy sweet but light gingery palate of complex cinnamon and Christmas spice notes. I can't help thinking that this would go great with ginger cake, or similar and as far as Christmas beers go it's pretty good. My advice would be stock up now while it's still around.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The sixth beer of Christmas

Huisbrouwerij Boelens Santa Bee

You guessed it, this one be another of the many odd looking, mightily strong Belgian seasonals. 8.5% alcohol and pours a thick amber with high carbonation but low head retention. The aroma brings big sherry like, fruity alcohols, marzipan, almonds, and a touch of sweet vanilla. Palate is rich, rounded and on the sweet side like a Fullers Golden Pride but with a bit more funk and a distinct almond like sweetness. Lingering vanilla and nutmeg spice linger in the finish. Overall, given I had never heard of the brewer and the cheap looking simple label doesn't make you expect much this is a really impressive beer.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Deanston 12, it rocks!

Every now and then I like to top up the old whisky collection, not often, but often enough to keep a good variety of different malts/vatted malts available. You could say with the recent brutal wheather I've been inclined to visit the whisky cabinet a little more frequently after a good session on the beer. That's right, I'll admit it, I've been knocking back on grandpa's old cough medicine. So I decided the time was right to top up the stock.   

Hail from Perthshire, the non-chill filtered 12 year old Highland malt of 46.3% vol with a brilliantly balanced, nutty, fruity, gingery caramelised sort of character. For some it might be hard to believe but I'm not wrong in saying it's a tad sweet, a little heavy even, but not peaty. With a sort of warming cuddly character that even the non-whisky accustomed wife liked, its approachable yet bold at the same time.

Being only a 12 year old a lot of the flavours from the original distillation are still in tact. I quite like this, which is why a lot of my whisky collection consists of 12 year olds (being cheaper also influences this). But this one was kind of picked at random. A good half hours browsing in the Whisky shop and I was still undecided but the very raw almost edgy packaging and bottle description influenced the final decision a bit I admit. It was definitely worth it tho and a great one for the collection.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The fifth Beer Of Christmas

Abbaye Saint-Remy Trappistes Rochefort 8

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a Rochefort around at some point. Or at least some kind of Trappist beer (well it is brewed by monks isn't it, or at least people employed by monks). This bottle was enjoyed at the John Bull of Alnwick, where you get your beer served in the correct glassware.

Since I have discovered the Rochefort range I have always enjoyed them at this time of year. And out of the Rochefort beers (that includes the under-rated Rochefort 6, 8 and the highly fortified 10) The Rochefort 8 is more or less the middle weight of the pack. On the nose it brings dark figgy fruit and dark chocolate before it opens up on the palate with a full dark fruit, yeasty, bready, slightly spicy, dark chocolate complexity. It's bold, with the 9.2% alcohol providing warming notes to the slightly drying finish. Chocolate pastries come to mind, Belgian chocolate pastries that is. Have never tried this with chocolate tho.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The fourth beer of Christmas

Goose Island Christmas Ale 2009

As I mentioned, last night was myself and Helen's 1st wedding anniversary (hence the background), so aside from a particular Russian River beer, I had to open something special. A 7% American Brown ale aged since last year had to be at least half decent, and it sure was expensive. No disappointments here tho, it sure is delicious. Rich with nutty, cakey like malt is at the centre, nicely laced with piny floral hops and nutmeg like rolling spice. A wonderfully rounded middle weight that leaves one with the urge to slowly waste away in front of a Christmas film or two, or maybe even the Queens speech (depending on how many you drink). Should I buy another for Christmas day? Maybe... No... Yes... No... Yes... No... I shall have a think about that, it is lovely.  

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Open It! My contribution.

So here it is folks, my contribution to Open It! Being my first wedding anniversary and all made it all the more worthwhile. And for this particular beer I have had a few apprehensive thoughts, like why should I open this beer after saving it so long?

It was nearly a year ago now. The flight back from San Francisco, the rushing between terminals at the flight change. Waiting for luggage for seemingly forever at Newcastle before they told us the luggage was missing.

But no, the Russian River!... It... It was in that case!!!... It cost me 26 dollars, this can't happen!

Anyway I got it back in the end and for a while I was stroking it and saying goodnight to it every evening pondering on the day that I should actually open it. So why today? Well let me justify this with a few facts. Firstly it's my first wedding anniversary. Secondly Dredge says to do it, and if someone encourages me to drink a beer or invites me for a pint, I probably will (especially if he's a legend of the the beer blogging scene). Thirdly... Well... live for the day.

I remember a while back in my interview from the Beer Wench that I mentioned that If I could work for any brewery in the world it would be Russian River. Well this isn't strictly true. There are a long list of breweries I would love to work for and RR are in that list and I had to pick one as I didn't have all night to fill in the questionnaire. Plus Russian River make some really interesting sounding beers which I have never tried (until now) a lot of them barrel aged and deliberately infected with specific wild yeast of bacterial strains.

This particular barrel aged beer (as it says) has been aged 6 months in current fruit holding Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. The alcohol content is 10% and the barrels were deliberately infected with Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus. At Heriot-Watt they teach you all about how nasty these organisms can be to your average mass produced session beer so this is crazy stuff indeed.

Anyway, time for the tasting. Given the occasion I thought it would be great to share a few samples around since we were in the company of some of the wife's work associates. I don't really like drinking great beer alone, I prefer having it with someone else. Now for the review...

My first impressions of this beer was  'it's basically kind of like a Lambic', but with a bit of caramel malt influence that really makes it interesting. At first the carbonation is lively, and the character of the beer a bit forward. But giving it a bit of time the aromas emerge more defined. Red grape, berry fruit and a brandy like sweetness. On the palate you get lots of sourness countered by candy sugar and caramelised malt, subtle alcohols and malt depth with complex red grape and berry fruit. The 10% alcohol is well hidden, making it quite elegant.

Overall I would say a good beer. But to be honest, it did fall short of my incredibly high expectations. A good beer, but not exceptional. Mind, if your in the mood for a good sour beer, it's great, but it's not one of those beers that you find are instantly lovable, like an oatmeal stout. It's complex, and takes a bit of time to understand and come to terms with, like some women or progressive metal albums I have known in the past. Once you get into it, you notice it is quite a complex beer, its deep, and that's it's strength.

Maybe I was just not in the right mood and moment but to be honest, the reason I'm happy I opened this beer is because originally I was planning to open it Christmas day. But now I know what it's like I'm happy that I will be exchanging it for some delicious seasonal beers instead, because despite the hype it really isn't that much to rave about, but still interesting.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The third beer of Christmas

Daleside Old Winters Tale

This dark, subtly spiced 4.3% ale was designed by both myself and brother priest of the yeast M.A. double T Daleside brewer Matt Bloomer. We didn't decide on the name, or the abv, but technically it's ours. A trial brew of this one was done on my very own home brew kit to give an approximation of the finished product. It turned out alright, but we decided to make it a bit darker. Then when we came to brew it on the Daleside kit I lover every minute of seeing this baby being born.

Tweaking around with it on the day and getting everyone to smell my spice mixture made it all the more enjoyable, and we are glad of the results.

A mixture of spices on a bed of Willamette hops

Brewing scedule for the week

Transfer to the FV, where the magic of fermentation really begins

But enough of the brewing highlights. Now for the important bit...

This sample was taken from a plastic polypin set up in the brewery but I will be hunting out the properly conditioned stuff from a hand pull in the near future. I find the spice influence moves more towards the background as it ages and it's nicely balanced. Medium to full bodied dominated by dark currant like winter fruit, figs, subtle nutmeg spice and a touch of roast malt bitterness over a bready rounded malt texture. I'm quite happy with it and so was my homie co-worker Col (below), who gave it a thumbs up.
Col (On day release)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Alnwick: November 27th, a winter wonderland.

I knew about the snow coming home from Harrogate last Friday, but didn't think it would be quite like this...

It's great time to be indoors. Especially with a big cheese board and some lovely Jacobite Ale. Full of rich malt and depth and spice, I almost forgot how awesome this beer was.

But I'm still not entirely sure how I will get to work tomorrow morning.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The second beer of Christmas

Erdinger Schneeweisse

By god it's cold out!

I'm not even going to try and pronounce it, but apparently the name means snow white in German. Wheat beers are not usually looked upon as typical for the festive season. Some disagree and argue they do tie in a bit with those spice influences and big rocky white heads of foam. But anyhow, it's Erdinger, and their speciality.

The beer itself is a subtle yet slightly voluptuous and easy drinking thing. A rounded soft wheat malt texture meets gentle spice and a touch of orange zest. Cinnamon is the only spice I can pick out for definite if I really concentrate. The finish is a little neutral and clean but still soft with gentle rolling spice. Overall I would give this one the thumbs up for great balance and drinkability, it won't hit you hard. In my opinion better than the original Erdinger with a fitting name given all the recent snow in the North East. 

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Something new for the beer drinkers of Alnwick?

Over a pint or two, a few Alnwick drinkers have agreed with me on this; looking for exciting bottled beer in Alnwick has always been a bit of a lost cause (unless you're in the John Bull). The supermarkets stock the 'usual suspects' range week in week out. Lidl has its value for money decent lagers, Sainsbury's have a few Fuller's beers and Brakespear Triple usually on offer but apart from that nothing much changes. More annoyingly I find the very same supermarkets in Harrogate and elsewhere offer a far better selection of bottled beer than those of Alnwick.

I have wondered, is this a perceived demand thing? Because retailers are convinced Alnwick just a town of lager swilling youth and John Smiths only working class oldies? These two stereotypes do seem in abundance but I have also met plenty of cask ale drinkers and one or two beer enthusiasts. But here's some evidence some one else out there recognises the same gap in the market as me now Threshers have diminished (not that they were that great anyway)

It seems Boutique wine of Alnwick is steadily developing a range of bottled beers to rival other local merchants. It started with a few Hadrian and Border offerings and Alnwick IPA but chap behind the counter has mentioned that the range will be expanding. The other advantage for these guys is that no local Alnwick supermarket sells a single local beer in bottled form (shame). So starting local seems a good place to start. I will be watching this space.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The first beer of Christmas

Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout

When I was first getting into beer, this was the first exceptional Imperial Stout I ever tried. It's a great entree to the style that balances intensity with drinkability...

Anyway, welcome to Rob's Beer Quest's 12 beers of Christmas. As many of you may have noticed, Christmas time is near. For me I would say Christmas starts from sometime mid November till the very early January the following year. It's about the build up just as much as the day itself and since last night the Christmas lights of Alnwick were officially switched on, I thought it must be the ideal time for the first beer of Christmas.

I know some might question my choice of an Imperial Stout for this but strong stouts are definatly for the season (tho not necessarily for Christmas). This claim is also backed by Delia Smith's Delia's Happy Christmas cook book (see page 23, a list of alcoholic beverages essential for Christmas). So there you have it, and you just can't diss the Smith.

But this beer wasn't chose because of some cookbook, I decided it would be a good opener to the series for two reasons. Firstly becase it brings back happy memories of a Christmas eve years back when I first tried this beer, and secondly to conduct a small experiment I have been meaning to try out for a while. You see in the past there has been much debate about some of the content written on the back Sam Smiths bottles, especially the 'serving suggestions' sections. For example this one it suggests you have your beer with:

Espresso coffee; Stilton and Walnuts, baked sultana and lemon cheesecake; steak au poivre; caviar; rich apricot glazed bread and butter pudding; chocolate baked alaska;coffee trifle with roasted almonds; champagne and Havana cigars.  

Nothing too specific then...

With a lot of it I see the point but would you really want to drink stout and coffee at the same time?? Caviar seems a bit odd too. But what about cigars? Well there's only one way to find out...

I have never tried pairing beer with cigars before so out of my small collection of different ones I had no idea which one to go for. In the end I used the old eeny, meeny, miny, mo technique, omitted the bigger/more expensive ones and settled for the Partagas. Short but fat in a nice gold, silver and red case. To be honest, this cigar was nicer than expected. Fine and mellow, like a Cohiba, but different. Part of me wished I'd saved it and not used it for the purposes of this blog post, especially since I learned the price difference between Cuban cigars in the UK and in Cuba (quite shocking). But what the hell. It might be cold and dark (wife's rules, no smoking indoors) but I have my delicious stout in Zak Avery style glassware and my Partagas.

But the big question is, do the two go together?? The umpires decision in this one is simply yes. The smokey flavours seem to complement the roast malts whilst not overpowering the silky smooth texture and bittersweet coffee-chocolate notes of the beer. If the cigar was a bit stronger it might not have worked but this one did.

So there you have it, a good end to the night. Have any other bloggers done a beer and cigar pairing? I don't think so. Who's the daddy? Ay??

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Orval with Salmon

Orval is probably one of the only beers you could say IS a style of it's own.

It would be a bit of an understatement to say Salmon and and Orval went well together. More accuratly you could say they go effortlessly great together, a pairing I have been meaning to try for a while now. This particular bottle was bottled April this year, so quite a young one. Check out the Beer Wench vertical tasting various aged Orval's here. A cool video. She's always a pleasure to watch.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Thornbridge: A short tribute

I have always thought of Thornbridge Brewery as the beer worlds equivalent to Dragonforce in the British metal music scene. Those who know Dragonforce will see the similarities.

Thornbridge: A British based team of elite super brewers intent on brewing beers packed with intense character.

Dragonforce: A British based team of elite super musicians intent on blasting out high octane power metal packed with super fast guitar and keyboard solos.

OK not everyone will agree with the analogy and Thornbridge are not that over the top. But some of the beers, like many Dragonforce tracks are built to be epic's. I have not tried all of the Thornbridge range yet but I know Jaipur IPA is a good addition to any beer festival. Bracia is bold, and superb. Halcyon is individual and stunning. Kipling is also a bouncy, hoppy little number. And let's not forget Alliance.

 In my opinion some ones got to push the boundaries a bit in British brewing, because if no one did, the brewing scene of this little island would be much more boring. Take the dozens of UK brewers still intent on knocking out several different brown low gravity bitters, each one similar to the last but with a different nondiscript name, complemented by a range of several more low gravity golden ales. The likes of Thornbridge and a few others) act as an important point of difference.

So to finish things off; I open this beer in a tribute to Thornbridge brewer Kelly Ryan, who is soon permanently throwing in his badge, to work back in  his home land of New Zealand.

Cheers (and lookout Zak Avery, your not the only one with the stem-ware)

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Operation 'Elizabeth': Filling her up

We still haven't got round to finding a permanent home for her yet but I'm happy as long as its somewhere quite stable in temperature and out of harms way (like not behind the caustic or hot liqor tank). For now she's on the racking station. The story of Elizabeth has gone well so far. The Old Ale brewed for her tastes strong, piquant, fruity, with a lot of alcohol burn. But given a couple of months it should mellow out.
As mentioned the fermentation was quick and aggressive at first until around 1030 was reached then the yeast started to die off. Tho I was originally after a more strong but steady fermentation this was not the major flaw of the operation. The main anomaly was discovered a few days after brew day when it was discovered that the digital scales used to weight the coloured malts were around 40% inaccurate. Shock!

This meant that the 4.5% black malt was closer to 7% black malt, the 9% crystal malt was closer to 12% crystal malt and the original gravity was 1092 instead of 1088 (and yes I did think it was a bit dark). Sadly this means that this exact brew, if it is a masterpiece, will be very difficult to re-create. But still worse could happen and at 8.6% alcohol the beer was finally transferred to the barrel and the last half gallon was squeezed into a demi-john for safe keeping and future top ups. A bit of seepage has occurred from the wooden shive and keystone (as you can see) but it seems to have stopped. I plan on leaving this baby till some point early next year, maybe February, so it should be good to drink some time around Christmas 2011.

Friday, 29 October 2010


I used to like Halloween. During my University years Halloween was a time for watching the scariest movies or listening to black metal with the lights out (or just dimmed a bit). It rocked, but these days I’m not that bothered. My perceptions have changed and today I find the event to be straight gimmicky, commercialised and just damn right annoying especially when your harassed several times a night at the front door by kids asking for sweets. Anyway, my question of this blog post is what are the best beers suited for Halloween? Secondly, how do you define one? The obvious Pumpkin beers seem to be the thing in the US but over here I rarely see them. A few beer writers have attached Porter style beer to Halloween which seems to fit, dark and mysterious is the way to go. Then you have those offerings that are just bizarre, Brew Dog Dogma for example. Something that completely throws your expectations by being nothing like what you anticipated.

And to me an Italian tobacco infused Porter sounded quite crazy, that’s why I decided to crack open my Del Borgo Keto Reporter the other day. I have to say that it wasn’t as bizarre as expected but an exceptional beer none the less. The tobacco flavour is quite subtle, and gradually develops as you drank. Lots of chocolate and roast malt notes encountered here and overall a medium bodied well crafted porter.

Porter seems to be a theme of this week, especially since I have been brewing some for the first time for work and it’s not often Daleside porter is brewed.  The man behind the formulation is a bloke called Dann Paquette, now owner of the Pretty Things beer and Ale Project in the States. His beers for our brewery have been some of Daleside’s best offerings and Porter is no exception. 4.4% heavy bodied with dark fruit and chocolate notes. In fact when I first tried this beer I thought it to be very similar to another beer I favour, Acorn Old Moor Porter. The two are similar and probably two of the best Porters in Yorkshire.

Mashing in: It soon thickened up.

In copper bringing it to the boil.

Copper up gravity (a bit high)

Anyway I will probably find out next week if I done Dann’s beer any justice. The brewing went well, gravities were on the high side but apart from that all was fine. Until then I shall be fending off trick or treaters and contemplating re-home brewing my Christmas special ale as it seems the first lot is running out already (brewing it in August was not the best idea). I should also maybe get looking for those old black metal albums.    

Monday, 25 October 2010

Going all local: Allendale Wolf and Roast Beef

OK last weekend wasn't the most exciting of weekends but this was definitely the highlight. Allendale Wolf with a roast beef dinner. My wife does an awesome roast beef and this joint was obtained from our local butchers, the famous (in Alnwick) Turnbulls. Wolf is basically Allendale's powerhouse 5.5% strong/brown ale and you read my ramblings on it and some other Allendale beers here. A long time back I did a bit of voluntary work for Allendale so I know them quite well. But anyway the pairing itself works brilliantly with the whole full bodied caramelly/roasty notes latching into the caramelisation of the meat. Definitely recommended.  

More recent news is that I have finally got Operation Elizabeth up and running. The only technical flaw was the absence of the White Labs Dry English Ale yeast. So I used the Daleside house strain instead and knowing the fermentation might struggle I over quadrupled my pitching rate and aerated well. Because of this our friends the yeast were off like I bomb and the 1091 OG has dropped below 1030 inside of just 3 days. I just hope I don't get any diacetyl or off flavours produced from too much yeast matter hanging around. The good news is the fermentation temperature hasn't gone out of control and it seems to be slowing up now. I plan to let it steadily ferment out to it's target gravity before I cool and skim it. More on this later.    

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A belated Oktoberfest at home.

This journalism work isn’t half tough some times. I had to review all these beers for my monthly column in the Northumberland Gazette’s supplement Northumberland Now. I thought since it’s October and all I would make a theme of it (even tho the actual Oktoberfest has been and gone) and maybe even get in some pretzels and chicken. But not so.

Tto tell the truth I have never really remembered trying any Oktoberfest/ Märzen style beers in the past so this made it more interesting. One of them (the Erdinger) was actually a Wheat beer, and I’m not sure why. The other three Märzens were nice strong golden malt driven lagers, but I hear the style used to be traditionally darker. But in the words of Dredgy’s more recent postings, beer styles are like ‘moving targets’ that change and evolve constantly. In that knowledge I can conclude that this tasting session has taught me little about Märzen. The highlight of the pack however was defiantly the HB which was bold and malt driven with a firm herbal hop bitterness and featured just a hint of caramelised malt. The Erdinger was also very flavourful but for me the HB would be the only one I would hunt out again.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Historical facts on Beer

I just realised after all that time supping all those cocktails through straws in Cuba that straws themselves were invented themselves via historical brewing. Check it out here.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Motueka hops re-visited

OK this post is a bit late coming, but is actually linked to what I did in this post. A US Amber ale experiment using the New Zealand Motueka hop. In reference to that previous post, I must mention that this particular review of my Amber ale (that I have just been drinking for quality control purposes) was actually a re-brew of the original, this time with a slightly more simplified grist and using only Motueka hops (instead of in combination with Chinook and Centennial). Here it is.

Rob's Sunset Amber Ale.
Original Gravity: 1048.5
Final Gravity: 1010.1
Abv: 5%
Volume: 23 litres


Marris Otter Extra Pale malt: 44.8%
Vienna Malt: 38.6%
Cara malt: 5.1%
Crystal malt: 2%
Pale Chocolate malt: 0.7%
Torrified wheat: 9%


All hop additions use Motueka 6% alpha.
First wort: 12 IBU
30min: 7 IBU
3min: 3 IBU
Steeped after boil: 40g Motueka

Pitched with Daleside house yeast strain.

I was pleased this came out better than the original. Mid bronze to amber in colour with a nose of tropical fruit and spice (a touch Saaz like). Medium bodied with a touch of caramel and a dry finish with lingering spicy hops. A good beer and a touch drier than intended due to the slight over attenuation (original target was 1011). But overall I have decided I like Motueka hops. Flavour and aroma properties are a touch like Saaz, a touch like Cascade, and a touch like nothing else I know. They would probably blend well with a lot of US or German varieties and apparently are good in many lager beers.

In my hop store I also have some Pacific Gem and Nelson Sauvin, so I shall be looking forward to brewing up some hardcore beers with them in the not so distant future.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Back to England

I have to say, it's good to be back. Back to real beer, cheese and that lovely, welcoming cool English weather. The last two weeks have been mostly spent chilling out, drinking Rum and cooking lager, smoking Cigars and going on trips out around the island. Don't get me wrong, unlike Hawaii, Cuba is a much more raw, unadulterated place. Lots of culture, sun, sand, old American cars and blokes trying to flog you fake Cigars, hand made items or sometimes drugs. But for me they get it wrong. Any back street hustler offering even a can of Bass or something, I would have taken up the offer. But despite my issues with the lack of decent beer on this island I have to say it's been a good holiday, and what I have gathered is that the Cubans are  actually very enthusiastic about beer. Or to be more accurate enthusiastic about cooking lager, which I have to admit in the baking heat does offer one refreshment. But the Cubans didn't complain about it, they always seemed happy.     

Professional Dancers take to the stage for an evenings entertainment at the hotel.

(You can prance around all you like, it ain't going to get me a proper pint) 

Another thing that's good about being back is getting up in the morning and not have to cover ones self in factor 30 sun cream. Some sun burn was encountered, but so were a few brutal storms and spells of heavy rain. But luckily this didn't overlap with our trips snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, horse riding, visiting little villages and the likes, and at the end of the day it wasn't all hard work.

Swimming in the crystal clear Caribbean sea and enjoying neat Rum and Cigars in the Cigar Lounge were some other good moments. I still can't wait to try Cigars with Whisky. A nice Ardbeg maybe, but they go nicely with dark Rum like Havana Club Barrel Proof.

Thinking of barrels, next week I hope to get my Operation Elizabeth underway for a lengthy fermentation. All I need are the malts then everythings in place. Its gonna rock! Back at work now I have managed to get a try of the new Nightjar Brown Ale (single batch reserve for now) which head brewer Craig is concerned about it having too much bitterness, I think it has a nice edge to it, but I suspect it may be redeveloped if we decide to brew it again. Mind you my judgements might have been swayed by the fact that every beer Ive had since getting back has been like the most awesome experience. That's all for now.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cuba update

Greeting from Cuba, just a short update now I've managed to get round to it and got this Windows 93 or whatever it is to load everything up. I did suggest to the wife on doing half hour live blog updates (Dredge style) for most of the holiday (a brilliant wind up) but this might have to be the only post.

By god it's hot over here. On leaving the plane I was hit immediatly by the blistering Caribbean heat. Thirty odd degrees celcius and I havn't stopped sweating since the recent rainy intervals caused by a Tropical depression.

As for beer hunting... Well it hasn't gone well. Up to now only a handfull of national brands have been discovered alongside some mediocre imports. On our resort the choice of beer comprises of three brands, all under Cerveceria Bucanero (from memory InBev owned). First up, Crystal: Which in canned form a light, clean and slightly sweet pale bland lager with that obvious corn/maize adjunct like texture to it. On tap it basicaly tastes of prickly carbonation and not much else but once it loses a little gas it can serve as a nice refresher. Second up, Mayabe: Which is pretty much the same deal as Crystal but a bit drier, a bit thinner and at the lower abv of 4%. For those wanting something a touch stronger, Bucanero at 5.4%, is basically your Cuban version of Stella. 

On the upside it is all inclusive, so this lout is not just lout but free lout. Cooking Lager would love it here. None the less, all this drinking of neat dark Rum had led to the development in taste to try some of the slightly potent Rum based cocktails available (no single or double measures here, they just pour it in). I also tried my first Cigar the other day. The rather expensive 'Churchill' (chosen for the name) gave the strange sensation raw bonfire like smoke in the mouth. In a few days we plan to venture to Havana and maybe find some different beers, or Cigars, or Rum.

But for now, check out some local TV.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Going away to Cuba

Greetings readers. Just to let all know that me and the missus are going away for a few weeks in Cuba. So because were not taking a lap top I may not be able to blog for a while unless I find a terminal somewhere that allows it.

Having never been to Cuba I have never tried any Cuban beers but will hunt out all the ones I can and if I don't like them I can always do what Melissa Cole did and turn to the Rum. Ether way it should be fun. Meanwhile at Daleside the first batch of our seasonal Autumn Leaves brew from Wednesday is happily fermenting away now in the F.V. I won’t get to try it till I get back tho. The new brown ale Nightjar is milled in and ready to hit the mash tun tomorrow and my little barrel Elizabeth is still sitting in a lonely corner of the fermentation room waiting for her beer. I have plenty of home brew tucked away in the cold room for when I get back but until then I should hopefully be enjoying plenty for palm trees, beaches and bamboo...

Maybe not the last one.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A magical time of year, Alnwick Beer Festival, Food Festival and a great day out for all.

It's this time of year many Alnwick folk flock to the market square for the annual Alnwick food festival. Happily for the last few years this event has ran alongside the Alnwick Beer festival, established in 2007 and ran by the Round Table. It's always a good show, but this year things were turned up a notch, mainly due to the inclusion of a live brewing demonstration, some festival beer (which I sold myself), great sales, loads of cheese and some quality festival organisation from the new festival organiser Karen Larkin. Here are some of the highlights...  


My duty to the food festival, sell 500 bottles of festival ale (named Alf's Ale after the festival mascot) for the committee. These all had to be de-labelled, transported from Harrogate, then re-labeled for the event. I didn't give away what the beer really was too easily, but only to those who asked. 

Chef Martin Hutton (a big friendly geordie bloke who cooks great food) prepares the ultimate beef sandwich with blue cheese (my stall was next to his so I got to try some, and it rocked!). He ended up using some Alf's Ale in a cooking demonstration, luckily moments before it sold out.   

Ken Oliver was around doing a home brewing demonstration using his self designed brew plant which he sells. The very posh looking kits sell for a minimum price of £1300 and put my little plastic tubs to shame. Luckily this set up was positioned right next to my bottle store, allowing plenty of beer nerdery with Ken, more beer nerdery and the lovely aromas of brewing to fill the tent. Many home brewers visited for a look, so this led to more or less prolonged excessive beer nerdery to complement my beer sales throughout the first day.

Alnwick food festival wouldn't be Alnwick food festival without some bloke dressed as a lion. Alf the lion is the festival mascot.

The Allendale brewery tent sold well, as did most.

Sean Wilson, ex-actor from the TV series Coronation Street now owns his own cheese company. Some great cheese was on offer. Beer pairings for these are still in development. He also sold out.

Now for the important bit...

Alnwick beer festival. Featuring 29 mostly local beers lets one enjoy many of the finest Northumberland and Tyneside brewed beers under one roof. I myself voluntarily did a short talk about brewing at the preliminary corporate event for all the sponsors the day before the festival. Because of this my beer tokens were free (which was nice), and I was lucking to get to it when I did as the festival also sold out early on the final day.

Another thing I realised whilst knocking back halves was the date. My beer diary (which holds tasting notes from hundreds if not thousands of beers I have tried, and I am on volume 6) began on the evening of September the 18th 2005. That's five years to the day since my first records (Jennings Cumberland Ale was the first in the book from memory) and I had to celebrate with another half. But all in all the whole thing went great and it was awesome to be a part of it. Usually a busy day on Sunday wears me out for the 4am drive to Harrogate for work on the Monday, but not that I mind, this week were scheduled to brew Autumn Leaves (it's coming back!) and Nightjar, the new Brown Ale.