Sunday, 26 June 2011

27 today!

That's right, another year older. As they say not long till I hit the big three zero now.  Though I don't really feel any older but over the years I think I have realised a few things and maybe even mellowed out since my college and university days. Here are a few of the things I have learnt over the years;

  • You don't need to use over 8 different malts and 13 different hop varieties to brew a good beer.

  •  Global breweries and big mega corporate brewing mega brands are not all that evil. Their products have a place on the market, they even help out the smaller brewers in ways and provide that essential yin for that yang that is beautiful craft beer.

  •  The running of a real brewery is not in any way similar to a magical wonderland of fantasy where everything goes to plan and everyone goes about their daily duties of brewing and delivering beer with glee.

  • Certain beers can be awesome with desserts, even ice cream.

  •  Radio 2 isn't all that bad.

  • I need more practice with Barbecues.

  • Never oak age beer in a very small wooden cask for over a month, the results can be overpowering and nasty.

Anyway this year I decided to celebrate my birthday with a Barbecue. I mean, I have a garden now, and a barbecue, so why not. Luckily, after a very overcast start to the day the sun came out shortly before guests started arriving. My 3.4% golden ale had been vented since the previous night and it was all conditioned up and ready to go, The only problems were its less than optimal head retention and the fact I struggled to keep its serving temperature down with ice packs from the freezer.

Other than that I was chuffed with it. Aroma wise you had hints of grassy citrus, grapefruit and the bready yeasty notes of the Mordue house yeast strain. On the palate it sure was easy to knock back. Light bodied with a broad bitterness coming through from those cascade and Hersbrucker hops. Citric fruit, herbal notes and a touch of pine with a slight grapefruit hint coming from the Amarillo hops that were added after the boil. 

So after the first few quality control pints all was set for a prolonged session in the (intermittent) sun. With me not being the sort of bloke who drinks the same beer for an entire session I got round to cracking open some Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat. A pleasant enough beer but to me it just seemed indistinct from any other American wheat beer. After this I managed to share round some Baladin Wayan, another crazy Italian take on Belgian beer, in this case saison. A nice golden fruity malt driven ale with banana and spice. Very enjoyable and once the barbecued food was flowing a nice bottle of Flying Dog Doggy Style pale ale came in handy for standing up to all those spicy relishes whereas my Anchor Porter latched on the to caramelised meaty texture of the burgers and sausages yet found a better friend in the the chocolate cup cakes for afters.

At about this stage things turned a tad more hard core as the 8% Hardknott Queboid came out with its interplay of bold malt backbone, assault of tangy, grapefruit like hops and crazy funky Belgian yeast. Then from one big untamed beast of a beer came another tho I didn't originally intend on opening my only bottle of Brewdog Tokyo* it was more of spur of the moment/live for the day sort of thing. I agree with all the bloggers who have called this beer under-rated. It got the spotlight in its heyday of being Britain's strongest beer before it was over shadowed by a bunch of freeze distilled, over priced super high gravity offerings that semi-resemble beer. The truth is I would choose this immense 18.2% Imperial stout over a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin any day, it's boldness expresses a much more structured, composed array of flavours as opposed to it just taking your throat out.   

Anyway, the rest of the night was a bit of a blur people leaving, snacking on party food and fond memories of everyone sitting round outside late at night. A few Cigars and drams of Laphroig and Ardbeg were involved and that about finished things off. So happy times indeed, and what was more impressive was the amount of free beer you get when people are stuck for birthday presents for you but know you love beer. This year I managed to bring in quite a good range.

This should keep me stocked up for a while.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Session Beer

Just the other night I was in the John Bull with a mate who didn't know what a session beer was. The truth is its just broad terminology for any beer you can happily knock back several pints of without falling over. You don't have to look hard to find them, they're everywhere,  and its not just their approachability that makes them popular.

In the brew house your light golden session ale is easy to brew and cheaper to produce. Runoffs are quick and easy, ingredient costs are low, tax is reduced, and things like extract efficiency notch up a bit. Its also nicer to dig out a mash tun short of a hundred or so kilograms of spent grain.

Light golden ales are sure fun to brew, that's why last Saturday I decided to fire up my little Panda and Frog home brew kit at Mordue brewery for the second time to brew my own 3.4% summer quaffer. Just a little mash made up of Lager malt, Extra pale ale malt and wheat before it was hopped with Cascade, Hersbrucker and Amarillo hops in the copper. You could call it my take on the eminently drinkable 3.6% Mordue Summer Tyne, which we will be brewing a lot of this summer, but at 20IBU's my birthday barbecue next weekend should finish off most of the batch.   

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Broad Chare, Newcastle

The Broad Chare is a recently opened pub situated in the Quayside area of Newcastle. It has a modern, smart interior, nice looking menu and a great range of bottled beers. A good reminder that Newcastle still has plenty of great pubs and that I don't get myself there nearly enough.

So to start I went for the very straightforward Wylam Bitter. I have enjoyed Wylam beers many times in the past. From memory Silver Ghost was brilliant on form, Locomotion No1 and Bohemia are good takes on tradtional lagers and the likes of Rocket, Angel and Admiral Collingwood were also well-crafted session beers. So the new beer Writer's Block, brewed exclusively for the pub got my attention this time.

Sadly, the cask version was not available

Despite the slightly pale golden hazy appearance the aroma is fantastically up-front and fragrant with distinct lychee and citrus fruit notes. Apparently this beer is dry hopped, check out the video for it here. The palate is light bodied and loaded with more lychee, lime and spice finishing with lingering dry, sharp hop resin like notes. Loads of hop flavour for a low abv beer, the only downsids being it was served a tad over-chilled and a slight catty astringency in the finish spoiled it a little. Other than that, a sound beer. 

Anyhow, after going through a few from from the bottled beer range we headed off to the Bridge Hotel where (by some strange coincidence) we ran into the Daleside brewery brewed Alnwick IPA on cask. Then in the Head of Steam we got hold of some Mordue Geordie Pride, a beer recently manipulated by myself to my own liking.

       Like they say; 'I is gettin high on me own supply'

But soon enough the temptation to finish the night off with some Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout became too strong so back to the Broad Chare it was. It is an awesome pub that would have been better if more of the hand pulls were active. Really I should have booked a table but there's always next time and given how lively the place was I have a feeling it will be sticking around for some time.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Cooking my own beer dinner

It's been a while since I cooked. When I say that I mean properly cooked. I have often felt the urge to cook up my own beer-food preparations in the style of Leigh or Dredge but from experience I know that leaving it to the wife is the safest bet for consistently great meals.

Baltika 7 makes a nice appetiser
So given my very limited cooking skills (scrambled eggs, jacket potatoes, oven chips and steaks deliberately done seconds each side to watch them bleed all over the plate (yeah!)) I knew I had to choose something simple. So with a bit of planning I was ready to go the whole three courses.

To Start.

Baked camembert with caramelised apple chunks served with Jennings Sneck Lifter.

Basically this was chosen by the wife and is a simpler version of what was seen here. The simplification being that the cranberry sauce was redcurrant sauce and came from a jar and no parsnip crisps were involved. I also forgot to season the Camembert, but it was still delicious.

So basically the Camembert went in the oven whilst I heated up the sugar and margarine and fried the apple chunks in the mixture till they softened. After about ten minutes it all goes on the plate with some redcurrant sauce.

Delicious. It's just  a shame that the beer of choice didn't do much for this dish. Maybe if I had chosen a bock or sweet stout it would have been better but the robust roasty character of Sneck Lifter just didn't do it. I get the impression this beer would be more at home with a hearty roast beef dinner or similar, but never mind. As they would say on the telly 'Im sorry Sneck Lifter, but it's a no from me'.

Next up. The mains.

Roast Chicken, carrots and Gruyere mashed potatoes with Hook Norton Old Hooky.

Another simple one. The chicken was stuffed with garlic and stuffing and roasted whilst the mash was adapted from my Lucy Saunders The Best Of American Beer & Food book. The tricky bit was converting the units.

3 potatoes
50g double cream
25g margerine
25g sour cream
50g grated gruyere

(serves two)

Potatoes were boiled up, drained and mashed before being mixed in with a pre-heated mixture of butter and cream. Then I mashed in all the sour cream, gruyere and seasoned with salt and pepper. I also boiled up some carrots to go with it and served it with cranberry sauce.

Overall, a very enjoyable preparation, nice flavours, but it was a tad dry. Old Hooky was a nice match for the chicken and married nicely with the savour flavours of the stuffing and cheesy nature of the mash. The wife was also impressed and even admitted that I had now finally proven to her that beer can go great with food. The trick here was using a nicely food versatile pale ale, so a thumbs up to that one.

The dessert.

Black forest Gateau with Lindermans Kriek.

Another one that went down well with the Wife as Helen generally likes fruit beers. As for the preparation. Well, truth be told, I cheated.

None the less, the Kriek went brilliantly and the original idea came from Fiona and Will Beckett's book An Appetite for Ale. Chocolate, fruit plus sweet fruit beer equals a nice approachable combination for those easily intimidated. But even though I cheated on the dessert at the end of the day I quite enjoyed the cooking experience and Helen enjoyed not cooking even though she did the washing up and had to offer a bit of guidance at certain points.

From the folks at the Panda and Frog home brewery; Cheers

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Rob's Beer Quest Celebrates Post 200!

Rob's Beer Quest makes it to post 200!

First of all I would like to thank the fans, followers worldwide, and not least my wife Helen for all the support. All the staff at Daleside and Mordue breweries. Friends and family. All the great bloggers out there. Kerry King (feel free to visit the brewhouse any time mate). Jeff the milkman. My West Highland terrier Troy and Chewbacca.

Thanks for all the support and inspiration over the last 3 years of Rob's Beer Quest. It's been a long and eventful quest so far even though most beer bloggers I know, unless they started recently have already passed the 200 post mark. But it's not a big deal, I take my time. Beer blogging has taught me a fair deal about many of the new beers and emerging beer scenes around the world. I realise that if I had just kept my beer geekery to myself and not got into blogging, it wouldn't have been nearly as exciting.

Like I mentioned in post 100, the beer blogosphere is like a soap opera, constantly evolving and changing. New blogs start up while others hand in their badge. New subjects, new controversies, new product launches. They all get the attention as many beer blogs provide an insight to the opinions and perspectives that are constantly developing within the world of beer. But amongst all this it is important not to lose track of the here and now, the real world as some may call it.

As some have heard, recently my time at Mordue brewery has taken an unexpected turn. My co-brewer Mark has taken his bearded self to work at the up and coming Tynebank brewery and has left me as the sole brewer at Mordue. A few posts back Ed mentioned that now I'm the only brewer, I must be (by default) the head brewer. Technically being the only brewer makes me the sole brewer, but does it make me the head brewer? My duties are the same, but I do have more responsibilities and obviously I have more work to do. But it's not always so lonely, boss man Matt Fawson watches over me and keeps a check on how things are going a bit like the old Darth Vader - Darth Sidious relationship. He helps out when he can.

"Rob, did you remember to put up those two nines for the Woodman's Arms next thursday!?",
"Yes Master."

But as many of you know I am a collector of head brewer, brewery owner and beer writer autographs (as long as they work for and support the right kind of brewery) so if I am the head brewer that technically means I need to get my own autograph. After a long time pondering, and confirmation from Matt (he even said I could have a special 'head brewer' tea mug) I have came to the conclusion that I am in fact the brewing being of Mordue brewery.

Here goes, my own autograph.

I should get a badge or something

I never thought I'd see the day. But anyway as it's post 200 I thought it would be the done thing to celebrate with another beer just like I did with post 100. Where last year's beer was a straightforward well crafted session ale, this year's has new world limited release written all over it.

Goose Island's Pepe Nero is an American take on the Belgian beer style Saison. The twist is that they've made it black and thrown black peppercorns into the mix. An intriguing concept and in fact not long ago Rob Derbyshire did some good coverage of this on HopZine. He sure is right, it does have a lot of that Belgian yeast influence, a bit representative of a dubbel but without the body. To me it seems a little dry with a medium to light body and plenty of complex spice, funky banana and subtle black pepper notes going on. As you go through it the banana and Belgian yeast influence builds and so does the melody of black pepper, spice, plump malt and subtle hints of vanilla and cardamon.

An intriguingly deep, complex, balanced and interesting beer with plenty of subtle twists and turns to keep one interested. It's the kind of beer you would want to ponder over when contemplating a thesis, engaging in poetry or eating peppered steak. Not in your face but full of hidden depth. Nice. It's a good job I know where to pick up another one.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

An old friend

Occasionally during one's quest of beer discovery comes moments of almost re-discovery. Whilst the beer-hunting instinct is to continually move on and hunt out the next new exciting craft beer, moments can occur when forgotten gems from eras past can be re-discovered. 

A long time ago now, before my time brewing or Rob's Beer Quest, Hop Back Summer Lightning was frequently found in my fridge. In time it became harder to find in the local supermarkets, I moved out, moved on, and even when I did come across it, it was overlooked for the next new beer style or special release. But just the other week I happened to be in the Lake District at a lovely supermarket with a great beer range called Booths

But Summer Lightning isn't just a classic for being a great beer, in the 80s Summer Lightning represented an evolutionary point in British brewing. It's a fore father to the style we know today as the English golden ale. Although today virtually every British brewer has some form of golden ale not many of them are 5%. Pale golden and well composed with fruity English hops throughout and a balancing quenching malt backbone. Summer Lightning sure is a re-discovery from the past that's great when enjoyed outside on a summer's evening.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Granite 2009 meet's Colston Bassett Stilton

It's one of those matches where you can just tell it will go well together. A bit like Rauchbier and bacon, salt and pepper or Batman and Robin. I bet when Batman was interviewing for the position of sidekick and Robin walked through the door in he just knew he would fit the role (I mean he's got it all, the costume, the cape, acrobatics, cheesy lines). But I digress. Granite and Stilton even sound compatible, and the bottle label does advise it.

But did it live up to the hype? Well the beer certainly did. A 10.4% barley wine that pours a might dark shade of ruby brown (could this be from that extended boil time Dave was on about?). Aroma wise I get vinous  fruit cake notes. Plenty of alcohols and a touch of smoke. The palate is a bold array of sweet alcoholic notes over underlying caramel malts and a rugged smokey peaty edge. This is a huge characterful, untamed barley wine and the lush creaminess that Colston Bassett has to offer contrasted it well.

I love Colston Basset Stilton. It's not the strongest of Stiltons but it has a great balance of texture, acidity and flavour. Granites bold malts just wrap around it and the bold alcoholic notes play on the sharpness of the Stilton. As far as beer and cheese pairings go, this one was immense. One of the best I've ever tried and definitely the best for Stilton (and that's beating many shit hot barley wines, imperial stouts and Belgian strong ales). I just wish I had another bottle.