Sunday, 29 May 2011

CAMRA strikes back. Colin Valentine vs the Bloggerati

"Down bloggerati scum!"

I have just been reading the new major debate of the blogging world on Martyn Cornell's Blog. It seems that after the seemingly endless posts slagging off CAMRA by various bloggers over the years, CAMRA boss man Colin Valentine has finally had a poke back during a CAMRA AGM. Check the video here.

His talks about "the bloggerati" or beer blogging community being a bunch of trend chasing Internet elitists who only care about the next new beer and constantly slag off CAMRA for dismissing craft/keg beers. In reply various bloggers have pointed out how narrow minded and poorly thought out his speech was. At one point during discussions anti-CAMRA hard man Jeff Picktall threatened to get involved, and you know he won't be taking no prisoners. But to me the argument all seems a bit dumb.

First of all, as others have mentioned many bloggers are CAMRA members and vice versa. I am a CAMRA member, and at the end of the day both groups, broadly speaking, promote the same thing. Consumer choice for great beer. Not all of CAMRA solidly objects to the concept of great beer coming from a keg and not all bloggers think of CAMRA's current existence as pointless and an offense to the British brewing scene. I'm with Tandleman on this one, can't we all just get along?

Plus I'm sure Colin isn't a bad bloke in real life and probably doesn't wear a black and silver mask.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Rehill’s Specialist Food and Wine Merchants, Jesmond

It's kind of cool uncovering hidden treasure. Especially when it's right on your doorstep and you hadn't known about it for years. But this little shop first caught my attention in Cheers magazine, a publication I've been reading a lot from recently since I was covered in it.

From the outside it looks like a regular corner shop, with the exception of the bottles of beers and spirits adorning the window display. Again inside it looks like a large corner shop until you find the small descending stairs to the cave like oasis of beer, cider, wine and spirits. A very impressive range for somewhere this local (before this I thought my best options were Rothbury Wines or Sainsburys) with a decent coverage of Italian, American, Belgian, German and British beers. They even have a nice range of cigars too.

It was one of those moments where you wished you had a huge wad of cash. But I didn't over spend and the missus didn't get mad. I even got to chat to Tony, who runs the place and found out that I wasn't the first one to discover the place throught the recent Cheers magazine coverage.  

But the best thing is the store is right on the direct route between work and my parents house, so whenever I want to hunt out some great bottled beers, I know where to go. My days of tolerance to the mediocre beer ranges of Sainsburys, Lidl and Morrisons are over. A great little shop, and thanks again to ma man Gilmour for bringing it to my attention.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

English hops

In today's world of new wave radical brewing, English hops seem to have fallen out of fashion. Go back a decade or two and virtually every small, regional and microbrewery of the British Isles had the minty, grassy, earthy Fuggles and the mild spicy, peppery fruitiness of Goldings as the hops of choice for their portfolio of brands. I imagine some still do.

So what changed? Was it a combination of the development of the ever expanding array of new exciting hop varieties and the changes in attitudes and inspiration from the US craft brewing scene? Probably so, but the fact of the matter is that most trendy American and New Zealand varieties have more power, flavour impact and flare than their UK counterparts. Bred to hold heaps of aromatic oils and bittering (in some brews throat attacking) high alpha acid contents. But I'm not being no fanatical traditionalist in defending good old English hops, I'm just pointing out that they have their place and are not to be dismissed as bland and old fashioned.

Thinking back to those first cask ales I ever tried. The pints that drew me into beer geekism in the first place. Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Mordue Workie Ticket weren't loaded with IBUs (international bitterness units) from a charge of American hops. English hops are not just about balanced, drinkable and flavourful beer, they are fairly diverse. From the tangy orange and spice of First Gold to the sweet rounded progress to the woody-blackcurrant notes of Bramling X to the clean fruity-spiciness and versatility of challenger. English hops have their place, they rock!

So remember folks advocating English hops isn't all about growing a beard and banging the drum of tradition. To check out more check them out here.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Al' Wheat Pet

Out of all my favourite beers of the North East region, this one has to be in the top five somewhere. Mordue's Al' Wheat Pet is a 4.1% British wheat beer, which in other words means a cask conditioned golden session ale with wheat influences. My fondest memory of this beer was when I first tried it at the Tankerville Arms, Eglingham. It was a few years back now and me and Helen had just moved to Northumberland and enjoyed a great lunch on a laid back summer afternoon in the beer garden. It was crisp, light and well composed with delicate herbal hop notes throughout.

A couple of years down the line and it's selling out early at the Newcastle beer festival. As a seasonal/special it's difficult to get hold of but this year, since I'm brewing the stuff I shouldn't find it too hard to track down. It's sure been a while since I tried this one.

So anyway, friday morning comes along and were ready to rock!

Mash goes in.

Now for the sparge.

The run off was nice and easy, this can be watched from the underback, a peculiar piece of kit I had never used previous to my time at Mordue. This is an intermediate vessel situated between the mash tun and copper that lets you watch the wort majesticly flow between the two vessels (below). It is however very easy to let it overflow if your not careful.

Next stage; the copper boil and in go the hops.

After this the boiled wort was transferred to the fermenter where it was introduced to our friends the yeast. By now it should be happily fermenting away. Next week we shall be tasting the stuff and drinking through my mini cask of Marynka pale ale. But all in all not a bad day's work.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Homebrew project: Marynka Pale Ale

It's been a while since I brewed a proper session beer. Every last drop of my 1750's Porter was needed to fill Elizabeth and supplies of my P45 Brown ale (my last brew at Daleside brewery) are dwindling. So after getting the approval my kit was deployed for my first out of hours brew at Mordue brewery.

This one wasn't over planned though, just a quick brew to see how the Panda & Frog kit would handle in it's new surroundings. The grist was composed of mostly left overs (pale malt with a touch of crystal). For the hops the experimental option of Marynka came about simply because I'd picked them almost randomly months ago and never got round to using them. I have never brewed with Polish hops before and they do smell rather nice with a sort of  spicy, herbal, slightly grassy like character about them. I decided to use them for both bittering and then late in the boil in combination with Fuggles and Cascade hops. With an original gravity of 1044 it should be a fairly standard brew that is so far fermenting steadily. I'm looking forward to the results, and the steady flow of pints coming from the kitchen in the coming weeks.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ultimate beers for cheese

The pairing of beer and cheese can be quite an opinionated subject amongst beer enthusiasts. There are plenty of no brainer pairings, for example IPAs with cheddar, barley wines with Stilton and smoked beers with smoked cheese. Not every variation of every textbook pairing works, and everyone seems to have slightly different opinions on the best pairings. Trying to pair beer and cheese randomly can also be a bit of a minefield. But put aside pairing individual beers and cheeses, what beer would you pair off with a cheeseboard?   

Now I could have just done some sort of list for this, but that would miss the point. What the literature tells you is that the first rule of the cheeseboard is to choose a beer capable of standing up to the strongest cheese on the board. So usually something relatively strong and flavourful is the way to go, but it doesn't always have to be overly alcoholic. If a Belgian yeast is involved, this usually helps. Many of my favourite beers for cheese are Belgian. Belgian yeasts bring funky, earthy, phenolic characters to beers that strengthen affinities with cheese. Another feature that often helps is a bold malt sweetness. This can contrast sharp acidity whilst letting the natural malt flavours of the beer pick up on grassy, earthy textures from many cheeses.

For me, Westmalle Dubbel was probably the first mega cheese versatile beer I discovered. A big funky Belgian Dubbel that's fantastic with cheese and great with rich red meat and game preparations. Later I found that Belgian Saison style beers or a French Bier De Guard can also have great versatility with cheese. You get the idea, it's no wonder the Belgians have been into beer and cheese for so long.

Looking to British beer though the general consensus is that Barley wines are kings of the cheeseboard. Extra or Imperial Stouts work well with strong blue cheese or some hard nutty Swiss cheeses. But it's not always about the high abvs, plenty of classic IPAs and malt balanced strong ales have great cheese versatility. A pint of best bitter with a Ploughman's lunch never goes wrong either.

But perhaps the most interesting beer vs cheeseboard experiment I ever did was with a Belgian Gueze. Its sharp acidity can contrast and cut across the fat heavy nature of any cheese on the board. Some are a fan of Gueze with goat's cheese. Though what I haven't had much success with is the pairing of overly hoppy beers with cheese. There's been the odd one, but apart from that I haven't had much success with aggressively hopped beers.  

So at the end of the day a lot of it is about experimentation and finding what works for you. Guidelines can help, but seeing what works yourself is the way to go.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Rob's Beer Quest makes it in Cheers Magazine

It was just a few weeks ago now that Alastair Gilmour, editor of Cheers Magazine and contributor to various other publications stopped by the brewery to get my photo.

I was surprised to find that one of the North East's leading beer writers is a fan of the blog. But there you have it, some hard core publicity.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

FABPOW: Crackshot with oven roast chicken wrapped in bacon.

FABPOW meaning 'food and beer pairing of the week', as term coined by fellow blogger Dredgy

Daleside Crackshot is a highly versatile beer with food. Malt balanced with textures of oats and grain with subtle earthy hops taking a back seat. Similarly chicken is a highly versatile ingredient in cooking. So wrapped in bacon and served with roasted butternut squash and other vegetables the two make a great pair, that was almost chosen at random. Filled with cream cheese the sweetness of the chicken and butternut squash lock in with the sweet nature of the beer whilst high notes from the bacon play on the grainy textures of the beer.

So here's how it was done, many thanks to the wife for this simple but delicious offering.

The recipe.

Take two small chicken breasts (for one person, four for two six for three etc) flatten them out lay one down and put 50g of philidelphia cream cheese with garlic and herbs on it. Then place the second chicken breast on top and wrap with lean bacon making sure all the sides are covered. Then wrap in foil and bake in the oven for about 40 mins.

For the roasted veg, spray an oven tray with oil, cut up butternut squash, courgette, cherry tomatoes on the vine, onion and carrot,  put on tray and spray with oil then bake for 40 mins.

Happy times.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Radgie Gadgie

As the story goes, it was hundreds of years back when the native tribes of Tyneside lived in a peaceful existence around the grasslands of Wallsend. Through the days they would hunt wildebeests and wild pigs for food and at night head to the local boozer to knock back pint after pint of Mordue Workie Ticket and 5 Bridge Bitter. However, after this peaceful existence had proceeded for many generations one day the tribe lands were invaded and the Wallsend tribe destroyed by the deadly rival tribe known as the Radgies. The leader of that tribe was known as the Radgie Gadgie.

Now, shortly after the Radgies took control of the brewery it became derelict and the site was eventually converted to an ancient Indian burial ground. But centuries later the brewery was re-built and as we all know in the 1990s brewing was re-started with the premises being initially bought out by Jimmy Nail and Tim Healy. Though it wasn't long before Jimmy and Tim sold the brewery on to Gary and Matt Fawson (current owners) to prioritise their acting career whilst Matt and Gary basked in the glory of winning champion beer of Britain in 1997.

So there you have it, Roger Protz style coverage of the story behind the beer for those who didn't know. Though it is said that some descendants of the Radgie tribe can be found wandering among North East folk today. Sometimes in the Bigg Market or on the streets, you may know a Radgie yourself. But anyway, here's to the sound, uncompromising rich golden Mordue best bitter that is Radgie Gadgie. With its juicy bready malt and berry fruit hop flavours, at 4.8% it's a characterful beer.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Calvors. British Lager.

The summer time is great for kicking back with a cold lager (is it summer or spring? It's hard to tell). But it;s not just your Pilsner/Hells pale lagers, Amber lagers, Dortmunders, Dunkels and the likes are also great, especially when when you're bringing out the barbecue. It seems the relationship between British Beer and Lager has been long and changeable. A few decades back many CAMRA folk would have Lager down as a swear work (I wouldn't be surprised if some still do). But the likes of Meantime  and H2O came along. Beer writers and enthusiasts became interested in beers from around the world and stopped ruling out the bottom fermented as bland, pale and just fizzy. Things became more open minded, and the acceptance of lagers, well that was just the beginning.

It's a happy story. But just the other week I was on the way back from a lovely southern county known as Kent and me and the missus stopped by at an old farm shop she knew where I managed to pick up a few bottles of British Lager from a fairly new brewery in Suffolk called Calvors. So with a long weekend ahead and the sun shining I thought I might as well get them opened.

To start things off, Calvors 3 Point 8 at (you guessed it) 3.8%. This is obviously meant to be the most laid back easy drinking session beer of the group and pours a very pale straw in colour, about as pale as beer can get before you get to the likes of Sol and that nasty clear beer muck. Very faint aromas, maybe a touch of spicy hop. On the palate more subtle spicy hop notes over a very faint malt backbone finishing airy and bone dry. A tad two-dimensional and a touch watery. So all in all not far off mass market cooking lager, but I'm guessing the product is aimed at that kind of market.

Next up, the 4% Amber gives a far better impression. Golden bronze in colour it brings juicy, toasty, smooth malts and noble herbal hop notes throughout. Again the finish is a bit short and dry but still respectable at 4% drinking a bit like a toned down Sam Adams Boston Lager, Brooklyn Lager or anything of the style. Good, but didn't quite beat the deliciously smooth, toasted grain and milk chocolate notes of the 4.5% Calvors Dark.

That's how dark it is

Light of body but well-composed and delicious throughout. Slightly subtle for an authentic German Dunkel but with simple, refined, well composed flavour. Much appreciated, and after this I found the 5% Premium to also be another well-crafted affair. Pale straw with plenty of herbal hop flavours and aromas, crisp, clean and quaffable, finishing dry. So basically a textbook Bavarian pilsner, done rather well.

 So in conclusion Calvors offer a nice approachable range of beers. They probably won't be grabbing the attention of many geeks and I myself would probably only bother getting the Premium or Dark Lagers again. Still, they were well worth a try.