Sunday, 31 July 2011

Mordue meet the brewer. Mordue brewery. 30/07/2011.

"One. Two... One. One, two" taps the mike "One. Two... One. One, two"

Meanwhile head brewer Craig would be handing round samples and chat to pub goers. During my time at Daleside I was the official roadie for parts of the Daleside meet the brewer tour. But this time it would be different, I would be the brewer, and support man Dave would be the one holding back the crowd surfers. Another big difference would also be that this meet the brewer would be exclusive to the North East CAMRA branch, held on the home turf of Mordue Brewery itself. Additional to this the CAMRA group would also witness a bit of the magic of the brewing experience themselves as (due to it selling out so fast) I would be in brewing a batch of Northumbrian Blonde.

So, knowing I would have to manage both a tour group and brewing, much preparation was needed. Everything was weighed out in advance, malt samples were prepared and the answers to many obvious questions were revised;:

'yes, I'll sign your sandals'
'yes I'll sign your tickers book'
'yes I'll sign your girlfriends ass'
'no I won't sign your girlfriend's dog's ass'
'no, I'm not sure how many barrels per year we produce, but give me a minute with a calculator and I could have a good guess'

But in the end none of these answers were needed, and our CAMRA friends got a nice tour whilst my batch of blonde sat quietly steeping in late hops. Boss man Matt Fawson and Dave 'the yeast-maister' later took over as various beers were sampled. I even ended up showing off Elizabeth (currently not in use) and some bottles of oak aged 1750s porter (bottled a few months back from Elizabeth herself) were cracked open.

So all in all not bad for my first meet the brewer as the brewer and the CAMRA crew were rather entertaining. Lots of more technical than usual questions and was totally digging the beards. I myself might get the Zakk Wylde look one day. So all in all a grand day out for all.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Growing my own hops

Now I am aware of a few bloggers who have done this and reaped the rewards, but none of them in anywhere as far north as Northumberland. But as it was my birthday present I thought I would finally get round to giving it a go. Apparently the tubs have to be kept indoors for a few weeks and germination takes 2-3 months. After that they are unleashed into the elements of Northumberland and if I will be very chuffed if I get any cones off them.

Sadly it doesn't tell you what hop variety your growing but if I do manage to grow any hops from it my plan would be to use them for dry hopping.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Some old school beer literature.

The world was a very different place in the 1970s. Judas Priest were at large, classic films like Rocky and Scum were invented. CAMRA was just making a name for itself and beer blogging didn't exist. I didn't exist.

Richard Boston's Beer and Skittles is a book that provides a very informative and personal perspective of the British beer scene from the '60s and '70s when beer meant mild, bitter, stout/Guinness, occasional strong ales or the growing trend that is continental lager beer. Pubs were architecturally sound havens for the working man to smoke, drink and play pub games like billiards. They were also under constant threat from the unstoppable evil empires of tied pubs owned by the infamous 'big six' whose tied houses were constantly being adulterated and manipulated by the brewer to suit commercial needs.

The book, like many other beer books, briefly covers the the history of beer going back to ancient civilisations and (just like Pete Brown did many years later) the origins of the pub are also explored. The brewing process, homebrewing (very popular in the 70s) and pub games are also covered to some extent. The strong support of pairing beer and food doesn't really go into any guidelines of how to pair beer and food but does give a lot of old-school cooking recipes such as Guinness stew, and steak, kidney and oyster pudding which include beer. Back then good bottled beer apparently meant Worthington's White Shield, Guinness (then bottle conditioned), Newcastle Brown Ale and keeping beers such as Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy Ale (RIP) and Courage Imperial Russian Stout.

The thing I find most interesting about this book, is that it gives an insight to a bygone era.
Admittedly a lot of it did remind me of the numerous occasions I've got chatting to old pub locals about beer. Many an old local has the opinionated old codger in the corner rambling about how things were 'back in the day' and how much better pubs and beer were before the 60s. Perhaps one of those old codgers was Richard Boston? Who knows, but what I did realise was that where most modern beer authors rave in celebration about the successess of CAMRA and artisan beer over the decades this literature gives the reader the impressions of an underlying insecurity from the author. The tone is fiercely defensive of all that is small, traditional, original and authentic or in short all that was under threat in an era that was progressively becoming more mainstreamed, mass-marketed, mass-advertised and just boring.

But my favourite part of this book, is the bit that illustrated that some things haven't changed. Apparently many followers of the 'big six' and the new kegged beer  had written off the 'real ale' market as small, dying and comprised of old flat caps who in ten or twenty years or so would have all died off. Now where have I heard that before? Funny how I'm reading this over thirty years later and the 'real ale' market looks far from dead, yet very occasionally I still hear this same opinion.

So in conclusion, not a bad read at all. To celebrate finishing it I thought I'd crack open an old school beer so without the much mentioned White Shield at hand I thought I'd go for a Directors Courage, one of the first bottled beers I ever tried.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Is it cos I is black?

Black IPA can be a contraversial subject these days. I mean isn’t India Pale Ale meant to be mean pale? That’s like painting a black Labrador white and calling it a white black Labrador (WTF!). OK not the best example. But I think part of the concept of the style's inception was to be totally rebel, new world and bad ass. That’s why many people snub it and that’s why it’s sometimes given the alternative name Cascadian Dark Ale.

Up till now my best impression of a black IPA have been from the all powerful Stone Sublimely Self Righteous ale, that goes brilliantly with steak (topped with the strongest Stilton cheese you can find) and chips, but this Italian beast, picked up at Gradi Plato in Rome tells a rather different story.

Birrificio RuRAle Castigamatt, at 7.5% is jet black in colour and has a bottle label that looks like it’s been styled from a super bike or formula one racing logo. The aroma is slightly baffling and seems to switch between liquorice, coffee and  dark chocolate one minute then perfumed tangerine and spicy hops the next. Then on the first taste it starts with this slick oily mouth feel, sherbet, orange roast grain then all of a sudden… WHAM! The full force of high alpha American hops comes at ya like a tiger in an intense finish of bitter espresso coffee combined with a super crisp dry hop bitterness.

The thing with this beer is it kind of grows on you the more you drink of it. Once you're past the shock and awe the intensity is embraced, but don’t get me wrong this beer isn’t just about boldness. Compared to Stone’s version this beer has a lot more mystery and subtle nuances with a sort of smooth espresso like intensity. Honestly I wasn’t expecting to like it this much so that’s a thumbs up from me.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

All Romed out. Holiday conclusions.

It was only three days ago now that I spent my last beer of the Rome holiday sat in Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa (aka the Football pub) enjoying the last beer of the holiday. The German smoked Bock Gaenstaller Brau Affumicator sure leaves you with a craving for smoked cheese and bratwurst sausages.

A tiny little pub with football strips and scarves adorning the walls and a beer range largely dominated by European imports it's a good place to stop by for a few beers before or after dinner. This is quite convenient as it's directly opposite Bir & Fud and it's definitely worth mentioning as the last of the big four beer hunting destinations of the holiday.

But now, with it all over, some Rob's Beer Quest Awards... 

Best overall beer range: Brasserie 4:20. If you count the bottled beer list that included vintage lambics, US craft limited edition beers and even vintage bottles of Hardy's Ale going back to 1995 costing over 100 euros a bottle you could also say it has the most expensive beer range.

Best place to embrace the Italian beer: Open Baladin. Co owned by Birra Baladin and Del Borgo brewers Open Baladin is no less than a world class palace of worship for Italian beer. Here I discovered many of the most exceptional beers of the holiday. Although the food menu is a little limited to mainly burgers, chicken wings etc it's still exceptional.

Best beer of the holiday: Montegioco Open Mind. Never tried anything quite like it and according to the bar man wine wort was used in its production. Interesting indeed.

Best food: Bir & Fud (but the desserts at bar 4:20 are still hard to beat).

Best beer and food pairing: Del Borgo Re Ale Extra with a pizza at Bir & Fud. Totally effortless. Can't remember the name of the pizza it but it had sausage and potato on it and although any hoppy pale ale would have done the job this one was exceptional.

Best staff: Brasserie 4:20.

Best Place for a session: Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa (it's also marginally the cheapest)

Most decorated bar: Open Baladin..Especially with the giant hanging transparent picture of Teo Musso (Baladin) and Leonardo Di Vincenzo (Birra del Borgo) holding a giant goblet of beer in some kind of garden displayed above the bar.

That's it, happy times. But remember if you do go to Rome to look out of the small armys of little Indian blokes hanging around big tourist attractions trying to sell you umbrellas, roses, hats and the like. Then you have the blokes dressed as Roman soldiers trying to get pictures of you posing with them for 10 euros... And don't give tips, as I said to the wife, "were British, not American and we don't do that unless we think their worth it".    

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Rome part IV

The Trevi Fountain

In short, my Rome holiday so far has been truly awesome. Combining great beer and being surrounded by history, culture and architecture has been a brilliant combination. But don’t expect hunting beer in Rome to be easy. Unlike destinations like  Brussels or California, you will need to look a bit harder for great beer and when you do find it, it won’t be cheap. The Italian craft beer movement is still currently blossoming and if you have trouble finding the likes Bir & Fud or Open Baladin a small number of bars and restaurants around the city do have small range of craft beers available.

St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

So after the last post I managed to talk the wife into a further trips to Bar 4:20 where I tried some Nogne Imperial Brown Ale,  double IPA from Japan and 8Wired iStout from New Zealand before I was finished off by a De Molen Bommen & Granaten barley wine style ale (memories of this were quite vague though you can just about read it in the notebook). Open Baladin was also re-visited for a taste of some Del Borgo Genziana, a saison with a spritzy red fruit like character. Opperbacco Tripping Flowers was another delightfully subtle, elegant example of Italian craftsmanship with sweetish elderflower like notes. Exceptionally fresh.

My first Open Baladin experience

Another interesting beer of the holiday was the Stone-Baladin collaborative brew, Super Arrogant. An 8% powerhouse that looks very similar to the original Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale. The aroma is intense and threatening, like you can tell a brutal burst of aggressive hops is upon you on the first taste. In short it smells a bit like Arrogant Bastard Ale. But the wave of cascading citric hop resins swiftly opens up to bold caramelised malt and sappy red and stone fruits. It doesn’t hit you as hard as Arrogant Bastard Ale will, and even though I’m an Arrogant Bastard Ale fan I do find this more interesting, like an Italianised version of the original.

Chocolate cheesecake made with Baltic Porter matched with Baltic Porter.

After this we headed off to Bir & Fud for the second visit of the holiday for some pizza, Extraomnes Zest and a few more Del Borgo beers. But it hasn’t all been about beer hunting. I’ve checked out the Colosseum, the Spanish steps, tried my first Campari and orange juice, endlessly avoided people trying to sell us hats and umbrellas and tried some really nice Chanti whilst watching the world go by sat outside a street restaurant.  

I tried cigars with smoked beer, imperial stout and red wine but still think malt whisky and dark rum are the best matches.

In many ways the Italian brewing scene has taken on a similar approach to what the Americans did, taking on any worldwide beer style as their own. But where the yanks frequently set out to make things bolder and more in your face the Italians turned to straight creativity with an open mindedness and respect for the balance and subtlety that was so valued by their influencers. Many are probably aware by now of the strong Belgian influence in Italian brewing, and like them their practices draw no rules, borders or boundaries just possibilities. It’s this kind of attitude that’s given Italy such a diverse array of craft beers in the such short period of time the Italian craft beer movements been around.         

The beer list at Open Baladin

And as we come to the last day in Rome, tonight we will be visiting the last of the top 4 beer bars in the city - Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa, or the Football pub. Hopefully there will be some good beers on the menu to round off a great holiday.

Lapping it up at Bar 4:20

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Rome Part III

Bir & Fud is a must visit place for beer hunting in Rome. Its ethos is simple and patriotically Italian -craft beer meets the beautiful simplicity of Italian cooking. The best part is that the pairing of pizza and beer requires very little thought processing, it’s a very difficult thing to get wrong and if you like pizza then this is the place for you. 

The other half of the menu (that’s not pizza) is comprised of various antipasti dishes including the local dish of rice balls stuffed with mozzarella which for some reason tasted familiar.
The Pizzas were also amazing and the beer list filled by an array of Italian craft beers. The uber-fresh unfiltered tasting Italiano Tipo Pils and highly quaffable Orsoverde Wabi went down nicely and for me the beer of the night was the Italiano Vu-Du, a Dunkel Weizen with a silky soft chocolatey mouth feel and notes of bubblegum and banana.  
But after so much beer hunting, the next day we decided to do a bit of sightseeing and walk up to Quirinal to the Trevi fountain then to the Piazza della Rotonda to see the ancient temple known as the Pantheon.

 It seemed surreal walking the busy cobbled streets then suddenly, round the next corner, the giant historic structure emerged. Inside it was even more architecturally awe-inspiring containing the tombs of Raphael and Italian royalty.

To me this came as a bit of a shock as I never knew about it. I mean ever since the movie and the early episodes I was a childhood fan and Raphael was one of my favourites. But I’m sure the likes of Michelangelo and the other Ninja Turtles are getting on a bit now.

Moving on and it was time to get lunch and have a wonder round Piazza Navona before heading back to the hotel to prepare for another evening of beer hunting. So far, it's been an awesome holiday, the next aim is for more time in Open Baladin and maybe Bir & Fud.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Rome part II

Day two and we decided to have a morning walk out to the Trastevere, check out the sights, market and see if we could find Bir & Fud for an evening meal later on. I must note that it isn’t the easiest places to find but we got there in the end. Rome has all the ambience of a very ancient city, but with a modern element built into it. Cobbled stone streets, lots of old buildings, fountains and churches. The bonus of the trip was definitely discovering the fantastic beer shop Gradi Plato almost by accident whilst leaving the Campo di Fiori market. A tiny little shop packed to the brim with mostly new school world beers. Choices were made carefully under the full awareness that whatever was bought would have to be walked back with me. I also got chatting with the bloke behind the counter, he seemed interested in my blog and Mordue brewery.

So with all thoughts on beer and one our core targets Open Baladin nearby the obvious next move was to head for Open Baladin to check out its glorious well decorated stylish bar harbouring a huge range of Italian craft beers. First up for me was the Troll Dau’, a light quenching 3.9% saison style beer that was just the thing considering the hot weather. Helen also liked it, and preferred it to her delicious hop-forward golden ale Troll Dorina. I preferred the Dorina so we made a good swap.

My bets were that Helen would the like heavy sweet nature of the historic recreational brew Baladin Nora and I was right though she seemed to like my Montegioco Open Mind even more so to the point she found it hard to put down. To date one of the most exceptional beers of the holiday its aroma seemed fairly mute with a touch of that brettanomyces character. On the palate however it was fantastic, think soft peaches and cream with a tart berry sourness contrasting it perfectly. Then in the finish a creamy soft honey sweetness comes back followed by more echoes of tart berries. This beer has the balance of being light yet fullish bodied, soft, composed and elegant with a very controlled sourness.
Additionally the 7.5% seemed to speed up the walk to our next destination, lunch at Caffe di Marzio at Piazza de Santa Maria in Trastevere. More specifically this meant the very dry, resinous cascade hop influenced Lariano Extraomnes Blonde with a selection of cheeses before we found ourselves sat by a fountain in the sun eating the most delicious chocolate and hazelnut ice cream I had ever tried. With it not even being evening time yet I had to agree that this day was straight kicking ass.


Monday, 4 July 2011

Rome Part I. Brasserie 4:20.

My Rome adventure started 3am Friday morning forcing oneself up to get the early flight. The three hours airbourne would take us to Rome Fiucimino airport where we would wait a tedious hour or so for our coach driver to arrive to take us to the hotel. By this point a power nap was required if we were to survive a first night session at the much acclaimed Brasserie 4:20 which thankfully was just a short walk from the hotel.

So after having to take a de-tour or two we finally got to the stage where we could see the giant bright green 4:20 sign just down the road. This is what I had been waiting for, finally after a good eleven hours travelling and suspense we were finally there I thought as I pace walked oblivious to all surroundings like a transfixed beer hunting zombie towards the big green digits. I always get these moments of suspense and uncertainty before finding a big beer hunting destination. What if it’s closed? Or we can’t find it? Or we get lost? You know how it is, but a few moments later and I realised the wife was trailing 30 or so yards down the road trying to keep up as I had subconsciously picked up the pace .

“Rob, wait for me!”


Anyway inside looked pretty damn awesome, and a good ten minutes were needed to scope the beer range before finally decided to start on a Nogne Pale ale straight from the keg. A textbook American Pale of excellent quality. In short the options were between a good number of cask or keg conditioned beers complemented by a separate set of fridges for your bottled beers. I found a lot of focus was given to international , especially American or American inspired beers. Lots of big Imperial Stouts, Porters, US style IPAs and so on with quite a few Belgian Sour/spontaneously fermented beers thrown in the mix. Like Zak menitioned, lots of big names from the new world of beer are there. De Molen, Jolly Pumpkin, Lost Abbey, Mikeller, Stone, De Struse… So basically a beer bloggers paradise.

It would be almost logical to think that whoever decided on the beer list was reading a lot of UK beer blogs for a while. They were probably like ‘hey, the Beer Nut thinks this one’s good let’s get it’ sort of thing. Not that that’s a bad thing. Every single traditional element of your regular pub is absent. Instead you get super modern, super new wave, new age this is the beer revolution! An attitude I have often secretly yearned for from my Alnwick local the John Bull to adopt. I’m not saying the John Bull should become another Bar 4:20 or anything (it would totally alienate the locals) but an element of progression of some sort would be nice.

Ahh the takeover fantasy floats to my mind this very moment, the little hanging pub sign replaced by giant bright green digital letters ‘JOHN BULL’, a row of craft keg taps replace the John Smiths tap, food cooked with beer and (former) landlord Gus Odlin foaming at the mouth with anger in a cage somewhere nearby.

Anyway, we ordered some food from the slightly small, rather sea food influenced menu and to start I tried pairing up Boon Foederhio with Oysters. Beforehand I was thinking I really needed a middle of the range Irish Stout for this but the nice quenching sourness of the Geuze seemed to work brilliantly with the slippery, slightly salty nature of the Oysters and a squeeze of lemon enhanced this even more. Brilliant.

Next up, a hop burger with cheese was paired up nicely with a Revelation Cat West Coast IPA . A nice clean, slightly light bodied IPA with citric floral hop resins cascading in the finish, the chips were mega crispy too.

To finish things off myself and Helen shared for the chocolate cheesecake made with Baltic Porter with two different beers (the one I thought would pair best and the one recommended by the waitress to pair best). An Imperial Stout by De Molen was one. This bold, thick bodied roasty monster matched the cheesecake well but the bitterness of the roast grain and hops seemed to roller coaster over it a bit. Uncommon Baltic Porter on the other hand, which was very coffee, hazelnut and toffee like seemed to blossom into this symphony of chocolate and creamy dark fruit when paired with the cheesecake.

After this it was time to call it a day. Satisfied with the first day it was back to the hotel for us.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Gone to Rome

That's right. Zak did it, Mark did it, and now I'm finally checking it out - one of the current hottest, trendiest locations to explore great beer.

The Vatican, the Colosseum the Sistine Chapel the Pantheon it's all there. But the main question is which one of them has the most exciting range of bottled and draught beers? Or is that just a bad joke?

Anyway I will be using the guidance from Mark and Zak to hunt out the various bars and specialist beer shops around the place and do some sightseeing on the way. In the meantime I will be leaving Matt (the Daddy) Fawson and new man Dave (former Cameron's micro lab elite) to keep the Mordue brewery working soundly.

More to come...