Thursday, 27 May 2010

Taking this big time.

Beer and cheese... Beer and cheese... Beer...... Cheese.

Dene house in Longframlington want me to help organise and host a beer and cheese evening.. Am I serious? I'm deadly serious. Look, this is my serious face.

My challenge is to find 5-6 great beer and cheese pairings for July 14th. Then present each pairing to the 30 person audience in a kind of Garrett Oliver style, talking about the beer and how the pairing works.  I should be OK with questions, I know a lot about beer... Not much about cheese tho. But that's where my trusty chef assistant Chris Aird comes in, a real cheese enthusiast. I also have to work out how to afford all the beer inside the given budget, which is no easy challenge.

My research so far has been productive, heading to speciality beer and cheese shops trying out pairing after pairing. So far I have found that finding a great beer and cheese pairing is a bit like finding a great guitarist, or finding a great footballer as a scout. You can find  101 good pairings that go 'pretty well', or 'kind of work'. Then find 50 more that do hardly anything for each other. But then you get those combinations that work effortlessly, sublimely and take things to a whole new level, which is what I aim to present.

But under the restrictions I have set a few rules. Firstly; No lambics, double IPAs or high octane +13% monster brews that are likely to smash the budget and scare everyone away. Secondly I need international beers of various styles paired with various style cheeses to keep things interesting. My strategy so far is to focus on one beer and cheese pairing each week. Buy a specific cheese with 3-4 beers I think will suit them, then try out each beer with the cheese.

So if anyone fancies coming along then feel free to get in touch but only 30 tickets are on sale.

Friday, 21 May 2010

A short brewing holiday

By god what a lovely aroma. This late addition to the copper of Motueka, Centennial and Chinook hops counted for approximately 8 bitterness units (which for a late addition means a lot of hops) and was one of 6 hop additions for this American amber style ale. The massive citric and tropical fruit aromas kicking out of the vessel afterwards definitely made taking the day off work to double brew two separate batches of home brew at work worth it. That’s right, taking the day off to go to work and brew. I was thinking of getting a picture of me kicking back with a pint whilst watching everyone else scurry around working, but that would be too much (or you could say taking the piss). But out off all the parts of the brewing process I would probably say adding the hops, then standing over the vessel absorbing the aroma to the full has to be my favorite and most anticipated bit.

Overall the day went  really smoothly and quickly I became ahead of schedule. This was partly due to my new advanced piece of home brewing equipment which I call Panda & Frog home brewery Swann hot liquor tank (or PFSHLT).
Panda & Frog home brewery Swann hot liquor tank

This baby kept my mash liquor for the second brew warm while the first was boiling, allowing a more fluid process. Piece by piece I plan to keep improving my brewery and what I hope for next is a more efficient wort cooling system. A copper that’s not plastic (as you can see above) would also be nice. And while we're on the subject recent exciting news has it that I may be designing a new Daleside special release India Pale Ale in the next few months. Exciting stuff. I can't give much away but I know it will be a tad more hardcore than the current Alnwick IPA.

Mash tun run-off onto the first wort hops

As many of you in the UK would have also noticed, it has been a lot warmer recently with summer round the corner. This means I have had to keep an eye on fermentation temeratures but have saved electricity with the electric heaters. Hopefully it stays warm for plenty of evenings laid out in the sun with various beers or sat in beer gardens drinking summer seasonals from the cask. But hopefully it doesn't get so hot I have to take rescue my fermentations from becoming full of nasty off flavours or even worse infection.  

Monday, 17 May 2010

This week, I will be mostly brewing with...

The dual purpose Motueka hops of New Zealand are noted to be relatives of the noble Saaz type hop variety, but higher in alpha acid (or bittering potential) with a New Zealand twist. Goes great in pilsner style lager apparently but I will be using them alongside US Centennial hops in my US style Amber ale on Wednesday. This variety has also been blogged about here.

I have to admit compared to some bloggers I'm no hop head. Sure I enjoy vibrant fresh hop bombs like Deschutes hop trip (wet hopped), Stone IPA and Thornbridge Jaipur being some of my favourites. When it gets to some double or triple IPAs I shy off a bit. Acceptable in small quantities but the challenging factor gets a bit too much. But this relatively new Motueka variety sounds intriguing. If this project is a success I may put this variety amongst my favourites; Bramling Cross, Goldings, Progress, Willamette and Centennial  (OK, mainly boring old school varieties). I shall be brewing as much as possible in the next month or so. Me and my wife Helen are moving house, and my birthday barbecue is under five weeks away. That's two house parties so I need to be prepared.

Another thing that happened this week was the discovery of how well my very own Helen's beer went with Cheesy turkey meatloaf, prepared by the woman herself. This was probably the first decent beer and food pairing I have had where the beer was home brewed. I also found this beer to go with Parlick fell cheese. Like the beer, Helen is good with food.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The rogue post

So you've had your Pilsner, your American pale ale, your Old ale, Belgian Dubbel, and Barley wine, Belgian Quad or Imperial Stout. Then you get to the end of the night. The point which you've ran out of cards up your sleeve and looking to head to bed. But then you feel the need to finish things off, wrap things up with one last tipple. An encore in a sense. For that purpose I would normally choose whisky from the range available, or if at home a one from my very own stash of (mostly scotch) whiskys. Admittedly I don't drink much Whisky, usually at the end of a session, sometimes after a meal, but here are four of my favorites from my very own whisky stash.

Highland Park 12 years

A nicely balanced middleweight. An all rounder I would call it. Its rich colour comes from its maturation in first filled sherry casks (fresher casks = more colour and flavour in less time), which gives a nice rounded sweetness, some fruit and a subtle smokey influence that brings it all together.

Suntory, Yamakazi 12 years

Cedary, mellow, rounded but elegant like a Samurai sword. Quite unique from most Scotch Whisky and holds a great balance of being drinkable yet flavour packed. I did get to try the 18 year version once, much richer and truly sublime. As the only Japanese whiskys I have tried I would say they are also two of my all time favorite whiskys to date. Very recommended.

Old Pulteney 12 years

Medium intensity and dry vibrant salty sea air in the nose and the palate. Great after a long walk along the freezing cold Northumberland coastline.

Ardbeg Uigeadail

A vatted malt, or blend of Ardbeg single malts. This encaptures the full force of raw Ardbeg intensity. The palate is huge, offering malty, peaty, smokey notes with an intense fiery finish (helped most probably from the cask strength, 54.2% abv). This is truly hardcore, reserved for the most brutally freezing cold winter's evening or the celebration of a very special occasion.

Is it wrong the write a post not about beer on a beer blog? Melissa Cole did it, and our lord Michael Jackson beer hunter ended up covering whisky in time. How I see it, whisky is kind of like the brother of Beer (Which makes Wine and Cider more like distant cousins), its production process starts the same as that for beer. Grain is mashed in/mixed with hot liquor to produce a mash where malt starch converts to more fermentable sugars. The critical difference here is that for Scotch whisky the mash is rested at a lower temperature to maximise fermentables. No copper boil is involved (so no hops) and the resultant fermented product is distilled and aged in selected oak barrels (let's keep it brief ok).

With whisky flavor comes from oak aging, distillation, the water used and in part fermentation. Some I have tried are full of volatile aromatics, purposely left in by the distiller, who knows what distillate fractions are needed to be conserved or discarded to achieve the correct flavor balance. Others are heavy, rich, peaty and potent (especially single cask version). Beginners to whisky usually favour light elegant offerings such as Glenmorangie, but it can be highly entertaining to let your average WKD drinker have a sniff of your Lagavulin, then watch the resultant facial expressions.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Rob's Beer Quest celebrates post 100!

With another beer...

Ahh, delicious wholesome beery nectar.

Meet Blue Monkey breweries Three Wise Monkeys. The pump clip depicts the faces of political party leaders Cameron, Brown and Nick Clegg. A rich amber in colour, with delicious bready marmalady nourishing depth neatly intertwining with resiny, citrucy hops. A beer to celebrate this 100th post, it sure fits the bill. OK its not aged in berry filled oak casks and spiked with brettanomyces. Or triple fermented with a Belgian ale yeast before being freeze distilled. Or matured with banana, vanilla pods and clove in lagering vessels. This is a straight forward well crafted cask conditioned pint, and I find it rather delightful.

When I first started blogging I thought there was maybe a dozen or so other beer bloggers out there, and the great blogs from Ed, Woolpacker Dave and a few others were the main ones. But it turns out there are hundreds of them maybe even thousands. Every week I seem to stumble across another few beer blogs. Reviewing beer, pubs or musing about the industry. There have even been recent blog posts about why different people blog about beer. For me my beer blog is an outlet for both my passion and desires to occasionally write random bollocks about stuff I find mildly amusing.

Before this blog I could only ramble on to friends, family and others about beer/brewing and the beer industry in a kind of 'I'm the only beer geek/obsessed nutter in this village' kind of way. But as it appears, there are more beer obsessed folk out their than I first thought, finding them on the Internet is good, but finding them in real life is far more interesting.

The beer blogging world moves like soap opera, sometimes the bloggers are part of the story, like when Woolpacker Dave finally sold his pub to get his own brewery (very moving). Other times it's various bloggers opinions on big industry news. Recently I have noticed a little turbulence in the blogging world spurred by a recent post by number one rated blogger Pete Brown. This post opens with the Wikio beer blogger rankings before basically going on to assume that the beer blogging world is stagnating, becoming too repetitive. But then the backlash from numerous other bloggers to this was huge.

To me this situation reminds me thoroughly of a similar power position encountered by the character of heavyweight boxing champion Mason Dixon, in the recent 2006 film 'Rocky Balboa', the sixth instalment of the Rocky saga. In the film the seemingly unbeatable Mason Dixon feels unchallenged, king of the hill, like everyone else has something to learn from him. That's until the retired boxing legend Rocky Balboa steps up to the highly controversial challenge. I won't give away the ending, it's gripping stuff.

But the main exception between the film and the blogging world is there is no character comparable to Rocky Balboa in beer blogging, unless our highly influential but deceased Michael Jackson beer hunter came back to life in some kind of undead form to create a beer blog so popular in so little time it knocked Pete swiftly off number one spot. This may be possible with the help a Shaman and some dark voodoo rituals, or maybe signing up to But I don't think it's gonna happen. However we do have Mark Dredge, too young to be a Rocky but from recent debates seems more like the happy friendly blogger, the blogger for the bloggers, a kind of blogger ring leader that doesn't really lead.

But hell what am I talking about. I don't wanna diss Pete Brown, I actually like the man. His blog is not number one for its concise well written depictions of the industry. But its writing style. Like his books Pete writes for everyone and anyone with the slightest interest. No elaborate tasting notes, or numerous pictures of different beers to make the average Joe glaze over. You see where I'm coming from?

So to reflect on this milestone, this 100th post, what exactly have I learned so far on this beer quest? Sure I have tried many more different beers and learned a bit more about the industry. But a big thing I have discovered about beer blogging is it's more than just about running a stand alone blog, it's almost like becoming part of an ever changing society of beer bloggers. Each one with his or her own opinions and ideas. From this world of beer blogging, the 'blogoshere' some may call it I have learned the following;

- Stockpiling expensive vintage beers away for years and years just for the value of being able to show off about what you have in the cellar has less meaning than opening and enjoying the stuff in its best form.

- From the other bloggers I have learned taking beer drinking too seriously isn't always best. Once you have good beer and good company, you're basically sorted for a night.

- That the real enemies of craft brewing are the prohibitionists and governments that support them, not the big brewers. The multinational mega brewers can knock out multimillion pound advertised bland product after product all they want, real beer has a real following, from real people.

- Well crafted beer pairs extraordinarily well with artisanal cheese. A well underrated partnership.

- Beer means something slightly different to different people. To some it is a luxury product, others a staple drink, others feel more deeply about its meanings. Not everyone takes it so seriously, but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy it.

- Advocating beer is not about arrogance, it's about letting others gently into the world of craft beer and communicating beer knowledge to those interested.

- Embracing great beer is not just about embracing great beer. Great beer is but a jigsaw piece amongst artisanal food, culture, entertainment and other beverages. It's about good food, good drink, great company, living well and enjoying life.

A while back I considered trying out as proper beer writer. Technically I am as I write beer reviews for the Northumberland Gazette supplement on a monthly basis. But maybe write a book, like '10,001 beers to try before your twent five' or something. But to be honest I prefer brewing and drinking beer than writing about it. I hope you have enjoyed my 100th post. To finish I will leave you with my favourite short video of all time. I apologise to all bloggers that this is a totally dated video, but to me, it's timeless and good to watch when I feel inspired.

I Am A Craft Brewer - Keynote Version from I Am A Craft Brewer on Vimeo.

I totally helped brew one of these beers!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Naturally Selected

As a Geordie I am naturally inclined to hate anything with any relation to Sunderland. But I have to say it, Sunderland has a couple of good breweries, the main one being the Darwin brewery. But sadly I can't say we see much of Darwin's beers in Northumberland. But they spring up here and there to Tyneside pubgoers.

Now many people outside of the brewing industry are probably unfamiliar with the importance of this particular brewer and its sister company Brewlab ltd. Brewlab provide laboratory analysis, and research to the craft brewers of the North East. Acting almost like a guardian angel to the little guys who can't afford an in house laboratory, helping problem solve anomalies like infections or finding out a brewers hop isomerization efficiency. This means the brewer can know how much hop to use to achieve a desired bitterness. Further Brewlab provide training courses up to diploma level for those wishing to enter the brewing industry. In fact numerous brewers across the nation started their journey at Brewlab. And my impressions are that Darwin are not afraid to bring out the creations of Brewlab students as specials. In fact I remember a particularly fascinating smoked wheat beer available at last year's Leyburn beer festival, and the story goes that Darwin's famous Rolling Hitch IPA was developed by a student.

The former brewer (yes I have his autograph) and Brewlab mastermind is Dr Keith Thomas who is also a lecturer in microbiology at the University of Sunderland. At the recent Leyburn festival I managed to catch up with Keith and pick up some bottles of Darwin beer and a glass. The bottles obtained, Original Flag Porter and Imperial Ale appear to be historical recreations of 1800s style beers. Those familiar with the Meantime brewery beer range and some examples from Dogfish Head in the States will know this kind of thing has been done before so it was interesting to get Darwin's take on historic beers.

Original Flag Porter 5.5%.

According to the bottle this beer is a recreation of a traditional 1850s style porter using yeast recovered from an 1825 shipwreck in the English channel. The beer itself pours deep brown, almost black with mahogany hue. From the glass we get aromas of woody blackcurrant, almond, winter fruit and dark chocolate. The palate is then medium to light in body with a slight slick oily texture, not as weighty as other historical Porter recreations I have tried. Then you get plenty of matured fruit and creamy plain chocolate over a slight (but not unpleasant) sour note. Burnt grain and blackcurrant notes then came back in the finish.

For some reason I felt something rather raw and authentic about this porter. It's pleasant enough, but out of all the historical recreations of porter I have had this seems to possess a kind of mysterious authenticity, like you can close your eyes and imagine your back in the 1800s quaffing this from a pewter tankard. But whether or not this does taste like an 1850s porter, we will probably never know. But I suppose that's all part of the mystery and magic or recreating old beers.

Imperial Ale 7.2%.

The picture of the tall ship on the front of bottle hints at a reference to the history of India pale ale. Brewed to a 1890 Northern recipe with a Yorkshire yeast. But to be honest this took me by surprise. From the description I was expecting something earthy and raw, a hardcore traditional British beer. Pours a hazy deep orangey bronze with distinct yeasty marmalade and peach like ester notes to the aroma with a touch of phenol. This one is relatively full bodied with a rounded creamy, yeasty, bready texture with a dominant apricot and tangerine like sweetness and a touch of caramelised malt. This finish remains a little rich but noticeably still sweet in nature with a slight warming brandy-like note. Hops don't seem to play much of a role here. Tasted blind this could almost be mistaken for some kind eccentric Belgian creation. An interesting and flavourful drinking experience though.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Festival time

As the folks at Daleside brewery all know, it's that time of year again. The time for loading up vans with hand pumps, banners, bars, bottles and equipment in preparation for the annual Leyburn food and drink festival. Situated on the outskirts of the village of Leyburn the beer festival hosts over 30 cask ales dispensed by gravity and a separate Daleside brewery bar serving several hand pulled beers (Daleside are sponsors and organisers of the event). My duty (as it was last year) was to operate the beer festival bar whilst my wife Helen operated the hand pumps of the Daleside bar. The beer festival position I favour for two reasons. Firstly because it allows me to talk about the different beers to anyone interested, and secondly because dispensing beer from a tap is easier and quicker than pulling it from a hand pump.

But sadly this year several beers didn't make it to the festival. Secondly the cold weather and occasional rainy periods worked as negatives and activities didn't seem to have the same manic feel as last year. But busy periods came and went, and like last year the same fun atmosphere was to be had. The usual comments and questions came in from the usual suspects, "which beer is the most like lager?", "what dark beers do you have?", and then the "now, I'm looking for a pale hoppy beer, not a dark beer, and nothing to strong, a light hoppy beer?" A few liked to sample a few of my recommendations before ordering a round. Then there is always the bloke who stands there carefully assessing the beer list for a full 90 or so seconds before finally deciding he wants me to recommend one. But I don't mind as I quite like picking out beers for people to see the reaction.

Helen and Dalesider Stuart man the Daleside bar.

As for the beers themselves a great selection of classic Yorkshire beer was on offer. Hambleton's Nightmare and York Centurion's Ghost, both well respected dark heavy beers gained a good following, but Darwin's Wearside Porter punched above its weight with its bold rounded chocolaty roast grain depth. On the lighter side Durham White Centennial was as light, citrucy and floral as ever while the dry grapefruit like tang of Goose Eye Chinook Blonde proved very popular. In a similar style and just as popular the light, dry citric edged Yorkshire Dales Leyburn Shawl, hopped with the Japanese Sorachi Ace and Columbus hops. On the more traditional side Copper Dragon Challenger IPA was clean and balanced expressing English hops superbly. Classic straightforward bitters were also on offer from Hambleton ales, Acorn and Elland.

Back on the Daleside bar Daleside stout was in its good medium to full bodied, dry, roasty coffee like form. This one was designed by the mighty head brewer Craig Witty and brewed by myself. The other specials Old Lubrication, Spring Frenzy and St George's ale also sold well. But if there was one beer I was most intrigued by, it was the Tigertops Dark Oat Mild with its lusciously soft, grainy, oily texture over chocolaty roast grain. It was also the first of the darker beers to sell out.

But in the end a great time was to be had by all with dancers and piano music providing entertainment. But if anything were to go wrong we always knew we could turn to former SAS, marines and cage fighter Terry, who was always on hand to take care of any troublemakers.

Dalesider Terry in action.

Monday, 3 May 2010

It's mild month again.

Mild ale, among beer enthusiasts it has its fans. But seemingly for every fan there seems to be twice as many beer drinkers who don't care much for this declining style. To tell the truth some milds can be a bit bland and watery, or to put it more nicely take the subtlety factor too far. So many seem to have the view that its endangered status as a beer style is nothing short of the product of inevitability. The truth is I like mild, in fact I love a good mild. But finding great mild isn't straight forward either as most seem to be re-labelled as something nondescript (a low abv and the word 'dark' can be a giveaway). It's usually around this time of year I have a batch of mild home brewed but recently I haven't had the time.

A common problem I have found with mild brewing is that although the low abv lets its fresh flavours come into form quickly, this also reduces its shelf life. So unless I fit in some big sessions and give the stuff away to as many mates as possible I end up wasting beer. For this reason I plan to brew my annual mild late may or early June in time for my birthday beer-BBQ event. Ok for a BBQ I would probably be better off brewing something like a porter or smoked bock, but this is a relaxed affair and the mild is intended as a subtle appetiser. Later I'm planning on getting some big gun heavyweight beers out for another cheeseboard.