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.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


When exactly does Autumn start anyway? Some say early September, some late September. I'm under the impression its started. For a start its dark when I wake up now (which is usually around 5am weekdays), the trees are turning yellow, and some other bloggers have started getting onto the subject. On the beer front Daleside are planning to re-release Autumn Leaves again this year (last I heard anyway) and we have a new Brown ale, Nightjar, developed collaboratively between myself and head man Craig which is kind of a seasonal/special.

Then you have all the other seasonals and beer that are great for the season. High House Farm Matfen Magic is a great Bramling Cross hopped nutty session beer that's not exactly a seasonal, but is great for Autumn drinking. I find Alnwick is wonderful place to be in autumn. The smell of log fires hits you as you wonder the streets. The atmosphere is calm and the place looks and feels old. I don't mean this in a kind of run down sort of way, more of a warming historic way. It feels traditional, and drinking traditional beers in Alnwick feels right (can't forget that 2006 Gale's Prize Old ale I have locked away). Another great comforting thing at this time of year is knowing you have a cupboard full of different beers, most of them keeping beers, many of them great winter warmers. So if the house comes under siege, or we get snowed in at some point in the winter, we should be safe for beer.

Robs Beer Quest Summer Poll Results In!

Other news this month, the results from the RBQ summer poll. Going neck and neck for quite some time, Moredue, Durham and Jarrow breweries (by god it was close) but in the end Durham came out on top. A lot of beer enthusiasts are fond of Durham, around these parts they seem to be the only ones known to push the boundaries a bit. My favourite ones so far; Bede's Chalice and White Centennial.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Operation 'Elizabeth'

OK here's the idea, brew some brutally strong beer (or at least quite strong) and at the end of primary fermentation decant it off into my new 3 gallon wooden barrel I have named ‘Elizabeth’. I had to call it something, and it might sound girly to some but it was between that and 'Killswitch', 'Loci' or 'Rambo' (filled with the beer 'First brew', and after that 'First brew part II')'. But I think I chose the most fitting name. My first brew for this barrel I am also calling Elizabeth, it will be an Old Ale with a formulation something like this;

Elizabeth Old Ale (4 Gallons).

OG: 1092

Target AG: 1020 (so over 9% abv)

Grist Fermentables.

Optic pale malt: 86.5% of fermentables.

Crystal malt: 9% of fermentables.

Black Malt: 4.5% of fermentables.

In Copper.

Challenger hops (44 IBU) boiled 90min.

Bramling X hops (4-5 IBU) boiled 15min.

Fermentation to take place at around 21oC with White Labs Dry English ale strain.

So something relatively simple, going down the straight to the balls, old school traditional rout (I can see a lot of beer geeks yawning now). In part this beer is a tribute to the bloke who made it, and who he works for. But I know I can re use the barrel, so this batch is more of an experiment than anything. The very small size of the barrel means more beer to surface contact area which should speed up the process of oak aging. How many times the wood has been used previously will also play a part, this I don't know. The plan is to fill the barrel and sample from it on a monthly basis which means I will have to keep topping it up (notice the brew length is 4 gallons i.e. I keep the extra gallon to one side for top ups at later dates).

 Meet Elizabeth

When I eventually bottle Elizabeth I plan to take the project to a second stage. The plan is to bottle approximately 2 of the 3 gallons of beer. The remaining gallon will then be blended with a different beer. Something younger fresher and weaker, I’m thinking of remaking Helen's Beer for this, a 5.7% deep amber beer influenced mainly by porridge oats, loads of crystal malt and Bobek and Amarillo hops. Then, the monthly tastings start again, and we see what happens.

An alternative idea I had was to blend the remaining barrel of Elizabeth with Daleside Morocco ale instead. How much would that rock?! Its something I’m considering but my excitement for the mean time must be suppressed as I have a holiday to Cuba booked in a couple of weeks and don’t really have the time to ferment such a strong beer before then (maybe at a push). So a holiday in Cuba dreaming of barrel aged Old Ale that is. I like the fact that by the time I get back and finally brew this it will be verging on winter, so wherever I choose to leave this baby the maturation will be long and slow. Whatever I make I can be sure that the product/s made will be one of a kind, with no other beer in the world exactly like them (like a Samurai sword) and if it all goes horribly wrong I still have some oak chips somewhere to fall back on.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Lawnmower Beer

There's nothing like kicking back after mowing the lawn with a beer.

Lawnmower beer is a term meaning any sessionable beer for drinking in hot weather after mowing the lawn... I presume anyway. If that's so, Lost Coast Great White certainly meets the bill. Soft wheaty texture meets pronounced lemon-orange fruity notes and a touch of subtle coriander spice. American wheat beers are fun and cool, kind of like less sophisticated, more laid back versions of Belgian Wheat beers. This one was also brought back from California by my Aunt Wend (in referance to the last post). It's a nice fresh quaffer, and apparently my Uncle Steve has been necking allot of these recently I'm told.

I suppose this is probably it for the summer, so I better make the most of it while it lasts. What’s your ideal Lawnmower beer? I prefer most Wheat beers or Hells style lagers for this kind of thing. Pilsners also do the trick, and so do Golden ales. I figured that since mowing the lawn is such a tedious job, it would be better to have something to look forward to on completing the task.