Wednesday, 28 April 2010

When you love something so much, what do you do about it?

You make a beer after it, that's what you do.

Helen's beer (5.7%) is packed with sweet marmalade, toffee, chunky yeasty fruit, bready malt and subtle orange like flavours. Big, bold and approachable with some nice rounded fruit flavours (enhanced by the use of Amarillo hops) present that are intended to exemplify Helen's more bubbly outgoing character. This is layered over the rich malt mouth feel created by unmalted oats and large quantities of crystal malts to express the rich, warm nature of my lady's personality.

I quite enjoy making beers after things I like. So far I have done my wife, a relative, my Scottish friend Mark (an 80 shilling) and my next challenge, the Dog. If anyone were to read that last sentence alone without the '(an 80 shilling)' part, they may misinterpret and be slightly shocked. None the less, I will be tweaking this brew as part of its development.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Another great beer and cheese pairing

Strathdon Blue with Brewdog Punk IPA.

Strathdon is a Scottish blue slightly milder and creamier than Stilton. With respect, this is a beautiful cheese. In this pairing earthy, milky, salty rounded flavours from the cheese are embraced by the full on floral hops and broad bitterness that cuts straight across the fat. This works mainly on the basis of contrast but the C hops really pick up on the earthy creamy texture, something I have found with beers heavily hopped with bold, pungent American hops, they work well with creamy blues. The only non-ideal part of this pairing is that it's the day after St-George's day and I'm drinking Scottish beer with Scottish cheese.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Where the recognition should be going

I have numerous memories of chatting to American people and the conversation often following on the lines of "so where abouts in England are you from?", "Newcastle" I reply. "Ah" they answer, "famous for the beer". Referring to the chemical laden slightly thin Newcastle Brown Ale. I have also met people who have (trying to gain appreciation from a beer obsessed Geordie) said they really love Newcastle Brown ale. But of recent times North East craftbrewers have been sticking to roots and knocking out some great Northern style Brown ales. First we have the likes of Mordue Wallsend Brown ale, Hadrian & Border Tyneside Brown ale and now this.

Jarrow Brown ale is truly a solid Brown ale, packed with bold nutty, grainy, bready malt and rounded burnt toffee like flavour over earthy English hops. Superb stuff, I would say this one even gives the likes of Brooklyn Brown ale a run for its money. To be honest this brown ale, and the various other North East craft brewed variants beat the infamous Newcastle Brown like a dog.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Coors clear beer: Trying to wean the ladies onto something bland and innofensive.

I remember when I started getting into metal music at university me and my metaller friends would hang out listening to heavy metal, Thrash and Death metal mostly. Often we would have a moan about how the metal bars and clubs played music mostly for teens into more pop influenced metal termed 'nu metel'. We felt it unjust that these bands could play songs of just a few chords, sell out and get more famous than the immense musical talents of some of our favourite bands such as Dream Theatre and Judas Priest. But as much as we hated the music we remembered that most hard core metal heads we knew grew up listening to this kind of 'nu metal'. It's all part of a progression similar to how Mark Dredge described beer drinking. Early on your beer hunting days concentrate on cask golden ales, bitters and the like before you turn to bolder, stronger more challenging beers, Belgian Dubbels, Imperial Stout, Lambics etc.

This got me thinking about the latest news of Coors' new Clear beer that is being brought out marketed at women specifically. Detested by bloggers such as Melissa Cole, could this 'product' actually be a kind of a blessing in disguise? The limp biscuit of beer so to speak that could lead great numbers of women to drink quality beer?

On thinking twice my own opinion turns to.. No.

No, this kind of pap has evolved because the market research goons of the global brewers (or as I say, the dark side) have realised that if females were not so detracted from drinking beer, a vast new customer base could be established. Which (as they represent the lagers segment of the brewing industry) is exactly what could be needed to save the slow dying beer industry. The problem is (as we know) that the proportion of women that drink beer in the UK is incredibly low, compared to the likes of the US and Germany. If places like that have a beer culture that women feel accepted into then why cant the UK?

Then we should maybe also remember that going back half a century women weren't socially accepted in pubs, they just didn't do it. Then we have the way beer is marketed, which has been largely at men. For a long time cask ale brewers kept with the defensive stance of keeping marketing aimed at who they thought their core audiences were, namely old bearded guys. It was only when more progressive brewers came into the UK market that anybody had the balls to move away from the norm.

Then we have the image problem, take the stereotypes, Al Murray for example. Beer has been given this image, the image of masculinity, old guys drinking cask ale and young blokes drinking mega brand lager. Some may remember a long time back, I posted this. Now I have noticed a lot of people drink what alcoholic drink they drink for a series of reasons. Brand familiarity, image and the general ritual of sticking to what they know are some main ones.

But the most offensive part of the whole clear beer project is the marketing, this is covered well here, here and by the much respected Melissa Cole.

I know women who drink quality beer, and just because they are female doesn't mean they taste things completely differently. But I have also met girls who can't stand the merest hint of challenging flavour in a beverage, and get intimidated by the merest thought of trying a beer (but I have met just as many men with the same tastes). The difference between the men and women here is that the men usually choose to drink bland mass market beers, the women alcopops, wine, cocktails, all just to stay with the crowd, follow the heard. The major step of individualism, trying something new, comes from curiosity, and for the majority of beer enthusiasts I know, this curiosity was spurned from dissatisfaction. But think about it, to someone potentially curious to try beer what triggers the curiosity the old school pumpclip labelled 'Rumpypumpy old sheep rustler bitter' (or similar), or bright ornate or edgy fonts boasting 'Raspberry infused porter style ale'.

But those wishing to evangalise beer for women must remember; Shifting a stereotype or product image doesn't happen overnight. Since the early days beer has been seen as the drink of the barbarians, the liquid bread of the people, brewed for sustenance, pleasure and hydration of bodily fluids. Today beer is not the liquid bread of the people, it's brewed for pleasure alone, but with real science, superior brewing techniques and real passion.

In my opinion women deserve and have the right to real beer. Especially considering all those years they spent brewing the stuff for us blokes before the industrial revolution. To me some beer-alcopop hybrid seem pointless because the market it's really going to capture is the alcopop market, and probably only for a short time 'til the trend change. I say give women real beer, beer that's diverse, well crafted and sublime and let them make their own minds up.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

This ones for the folks back home

4.5% Alnwick IPA, a modern-traditional (but more modern) style IPA featuring peppery, fruity, citric hop notes over medium bodied biscuity malt.

As many are aware I have two homes, one where I work in Harrogate through the week, the other in the market town of Alnwick up in Northumberland. Yes that's right Northumberland, that county right at the top of England. Now many folk living within or nearby Alnwick are probably familiar with the bottled beer contract brewed by my work, Alnwick IPA. Go to Alnwick and you will find it sold in bottled form in many pubs. Well as it happens last Wednesday, as I am now a trainee brewer, I was given the privilege to brew Alnwick IPA for the first time.

When I say trainee I mean more amateur as I have over 12 brews under my belt now, including a Stout and a Morocco ale. So I am well under way to becoming an official brewer (big time). By now I am fully aware that brewing using the Daleside kit is a lot different form brewing with my Panda & Frog home brewery kit involving loads more valves, pumps and laborious work. But for some reason I just love brewing this beer, the formulation has so much integrity and simplicity, a classic British IPA at heart. Or it could be that I just love throwing in the copious amounts of hops into the copper. Don't get me wrong Daleside don't brew hop bombs, in fact their stance is always against them, but out of all Daleside beers I have tried this one has the highest perceivable bitterness, which still is not excessive.

What I aim to achieve over the next few months is to gain a more intimate understanding of the Daleside brew kit, like wise brewer once say, one who understands one's brewing kit is one who is truly at one with the brewing force. This I must achieve, and this time it's the folks back up North who will consume my end product. I suppose everyone needs to do their bit for the community.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Lapping it up

By god I have such a lovely wife. Especially when she produces such lovely offerings as this medium rare steak with pate and Madeira sauce to harmoniously match with my Innis & Gunn original oak aged beer.

The thing is I have heard people knock Innis and Gunn as this beer that came out before barrel aging beers became vogue again and brewers, particularly US brewers started knocking out Bourbon barrel aged heavyweight Barley wines and Imperial stouts bold enough to make this beer look as hardcore as a rubber duck dressed as Rambo. But I like this beer, and I like it partly because it's not hardcore. In fact, given its sweetish nature (very little perceivable bitterness)and rounded rich vanilla tones I would probably advise this as a good starting point for anyone willing to explore oak aged beers. It was this richness that really picked up on the sweet Madeira sauce, pate and succulent nature of the steak. Great stuff.

Anyway after this we decided to watch a film while I explored some Durham brewery beers I recently picked up from Rothbury wines in (you guessed) Rothbury.

Out of all the North East breweries I would say Durham are most known for pushing the boundaries. Even their session beers are known to go a little heavy on the hops. But having not tried any Durham beers in a while I decided to use the St Cuthbert as a hearty appetiser and the 9% barley wine Bede's Chalice for the late night cheeseboard. Sadly (and it might just have been a bad bottle) the St Cuthbert fell a bit short of expectations. From a bottle description that hints this as an American style IPA it only met this criteria in colour and abv. Flavour wise it gives you spicy, yeasty fruit over firm biscuity malt with some underlying vegetal notes, resiny hops and something else I could only describe as 'wet dog'. Drinkable, but not very well integrated.

Bede's Chalice on the other hand is a rich orange/amber English style barley wine with great full bodied balanced flavour that easily goes well with a cheeseboard. Not so pronounced with the bitterness but more peachy pear like rich fruity alcoholic notes over a soft malt mouth feel. I know I keep coming back to the cheese thing but I seem to be getting better at pairing beer and cheese after trying so many cheeses recently and taking advice from Randy Moshers book Tasting beer. So stay prepared beer quest followers for another beer and cheese evening later in the year, it's certainly on the cards.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The life of a beer-nut's wife

Well I've not posted on here before but after being married to Rob for four months and with him for nearly 6 years I felt it was high time I gave you an insight into life with a beer-obssessed nutter - who I love wholeheartedly.

You may have read about me on his blog, his lovely wife, dear lady, the lovely Helen etc etc but the amin thing you will read about is - yep you guessed it - BEER!!

Beer is one of the reasons I love Rob so much. He is so passionate about it and I love that.

But it definitley has its downsides.

Rob lives and breathes beer. He works with it all week, he spends extra time at work into the small hours making his own beer, he writes about it, talks about it, fantasises about it and of course drinks it. That leave very little time for much else to happen.

When I first met Rob he wasn't as in to beer as he is now. Sure he used to turn his nose up at the fizzy piss coming out ot taps at the uni bars and clubs we used to go to, but he was never obssessed.

But then I bought him a home brew kit for his 21st birthday. And life went a little downhill.

Not satisfied to brew his own beer from kits he had to go the whole hog and use hops, malts, yeasts etc as fresh ingredients, I'm sure this fuelled his need for proper beer more.

It was just after this that Rob and I were in a pub in Darlington, The Quaker House, with his aunties when he saw a man sat at the bar writing reviews of beers into a little book - a ticker I believe he was called. Little did I know that nearly five years later we would be celebrating the fifth anniversary of Rob's Beer Book.

From then on Rob has written down every new beer he has tried. You can tell when he's been on a session as the writing gets worse (than normal).

It was extrememly embarassing when, in front of a group of new friends on my MA at Lancaster University, Rob brought out the book. In fact I fear the book coming out sometimes - especially when we are in posh restaurants - it is then that I sometimes hide my face so noone can see who I am.

Rob always has beer in the fridge and this does annoy the hell out of me sometimes. He isn't here all week, yet I'm not allowed to take the beer out because he doesn't want to keep changing its temperature.

And when I complain or moan about it he takes very little notice.

I have been to beer festivals with Rob, hell I've even been on brewery tours and taken him to hotels with micro breweries for him to enjoy new beers. I even planned a suprise trip to Dublin to take him to the Guinness Brewhouse and The Porterhouse cos I knew he would like them. I've taken him to Beers of the World and am planning on taking him to the Great American Beer Festival next year too - as long as I get to go somewhere sunny and warm afterwards!

We even had three beers in casks at our wedding.

At these events Rob normally ends up talking to random people about beer - he even did it on our honeymoon. And I sometiems get a little left out.

Rob always offers me a sip of his beer, whether I like it or not and he normally does it when I'm right in the middle of something. Usually it's when I have hot pans in my hand after making dinner, I'll just be putting it out and he'll just have poured the beer to go with the meal and says: "Helen this is gorgeous do you want to try it?" Hmm not really when my hands are full of hot food which I'm trying to serve up for you to eat!

Beer is a common topic of conversation for Rob as well. No matter who he is talking to or where he is you can bet that beer is going to come up. If we are in the car somewhere he'll suddenly come out with something about the next beer he is going to make or what Mark Dredge has been writing about in his beer blog. He talks about beer with our friends and family and even spent 8 hours walking up Ben Nevis talking about it!

Beer was even mentioned in his wedding speech about me!

It does drive me crazy sometimes, but I love him for it.

You see Rob is special. There is noone quite like him. I love the fact that he has so much ambition about what he can do with beer and how much passion he has for it. Rob wouldn't be Rob if he didn't like beer. I love hearing about what his new blog post is going to be, I love trying and smelling the beers he loves - even if some of them are disgusting.

I'm very proud that he managed to get a scholarship to studying an MSc in Brewing and Distilling and I'm proud that he works in a field that he loves like I do.

But most of all I'm proud that he wanted me to be his wife and that I get to keep him and his beer-nutter ways for the rest of my life. Even if it means I'll have to try many more beers, have my fridge clogged up, and go to hundreds of brewpubs, festivals and other places devoted to beer - cos it will be with him.

So that is it from me for now, I may do another post at some other time, I'm off to make Rob's dinner, which he will be matching with an Innis and Gunn beer - it's ok I've tried that one before!

Love Helen

PS Troy - our Westie also think he's a nutter!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Welcome to my world

Flag of Northumberland

Northumberland, glorious Northumberland. Villages, more villages, idyllic countryside and coastal views, some castles, more villages, a bloody great big wall, farmland, and heaps of quality country pubs. OK admittedly I am not a born and bred Northumberland lad, I'm actually from Gateshead (no, don't bother going, you wont find any good beer). So why a post on Northumberland then? Well after living here a few years I have become quite attached to the place, or more specifically to Alnwick town. But before I moved here I didn't really know much about Northumberland, just that it's the area between Tyneside (or "the toon" as many call it) and Scotland. But many who love this place often see it as an overlooked, underrated county. I have even met people that have thought the area was part of Scotland. To be fair Northumberland doesn't get as much publicity as Tyneside or Yorkshire.

Another thing, Northumbeland doesn't really have any regional breweries. But remember that in this neck of the woods towns like Alnwick and Morpeth are seen as county capitals. Those who want to see a real city for the day head down to Newcastle, which has some worthy pubs as long as you know where to look. Generally you'll find in both Tyneside and Northumberland the likes of Wylam, Hadrian and Border, High House Farm and Jarrow breweries have a good following, and Black Sheep seems to have covered a lot of Northumberland territory.


Alnwick town centre

The Tenantry column, Alnwick

Alnwick is a small market town very different from Gateshead or Newcastle, it has a Castle (where scenes from Harry Potter and Blackadder have been filmed) and a very picturesque Garden both owned by the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland (nice yet pricey). It has a market open every Saturday and Farmers' Market on the last Friday of the month, plenty of family businesses and a couple of supermarkets. But if you do go to Alnwick, there is one place more worth visiting than the above.

The John Bull outside view

The John Bull is not just a great pub. Like a maverick amongst sheep, it's one of Alnwick's only independent pubs, run by a true beer and whisky geek landlord Gus Odlin, intent on serving quality cask and Belgian bottled beers alongside a massive range of single malts. After its almost cult following of locals who want more than your average mediocre Alnwick pub I have met many visitors intrigued by the place. But one of the John Bull's only problems is that it's hidden away on a quiet street close to the town centre so without directions it's hard to find.

Alnwick Castle

One of my favorite things about Northumberland is its combination of breathtaking scenery, old school country pubs and local friendly folk which make for a great setting to enjoy beautiful beer. We might not have a Thornbridge, Brew Dog, Fullers or Dark Star, we don't even seem to have any speciality beer shops or pubs such as The Rake that aim to capture the diversity and essence of the craft brewing world. Here we have our own beers, simple, well crafted drinkable beers and no shortage of local folk willing to enjoy them.

For a beer and cheese night turn to the one and only Alnwick deli

Friday, 2 April 2010

A most wonderful way to finish cask ale week.

After a few pints of cask ale at my Alnwick local, The John Bull, I decided to embrace this old chestnut again, a beer that goes effortlessly well with salmon and other various seafood.

The triple fermentated (and thus notably dry) Orval is a Trappist ale, which isn't a style but means it was brewed in a Trappist monastery in Belgium, possibly by the monks themselves. It brings pleanty of bold malt earthy hops and funky fermentation flavours that really dominate the aroma. Upfront carbonation, a citrus touch and the dry finish make this deliciously drinkable. Ok this isn't cask ale, but its bottle conditioned which still counts as naturally conditioned.

The view walking to the John Bull