Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Old Dairy Brewery Fresh Hop

Lovely place is Kent, don't really see enough of it.

The county hosts a scenic landscape of hop fields, oast houses, southerner folk, gardens and stuff like that. It's also the brewing place of my former Heriot Watt homie Edd Wray, who for this particular brew drove his bald ass down to the local hop farm and back on the brew day to collect the hops for this brew. I myself have never brewed a fresh hop beer but have tried a few from the US. So on receiving this 4% bottle conditioned offering I decided to go straight for the opener with no waiting to let it settle.

The aroma wasn't quite what I expected, kind of grassy wet earth with subtle sweet stone fruit, not like sticking your head into a fresh bag of fuggles. Some nice flavours here though, lots of leafy grassy hops seem to dominate over a slightly sweet malt centre of subtle summer fruits before it kicks into the familiar raspy peppery, leafy bitter prickle of English hops. The fresh hop presence makes itself known with a damp and plush sort of feel.

Overall an interesting drinking experience, a straight forward session bitter played in a different key. To hunt this one down you'll need to head over to the Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight in Canterbury which takes place from 28th September till October 12th.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Alnwick Beer Festival 2012

It's that time of year again. The Alnwick Beer Festival has always been a highlight of the year for me. Every year The Alnwick Round Table make it slightly different and last year's Scottish beer theme was changed to a new brewery theme, celebrating the large range of new existing (and one non-existing) breweries springing up and around the region. Sadly this meant they would be cutting back on the old timers. No Durham beers this year, no Big Lamp and no Mordue. Those who remember last year's festival may recall Mordue Northumbrian Blonde selling out first, which lefrt me a little confused as to why it wasn't chosen this year.

But none the less a good set of beers was put forward, with the likes of Anarchy, Tyne Bank, Cullercoats and Coquetdale out in force. It was time to hunt out some new beers but for me Cullercoats' Jack the Devil is a beer that needs a second try to fully appreciate. Dark, lots of tart berry fruit with a kind of rugged traditional feel about it. Tyne Bank's Southern Star was juicy, with an aromatic New Zealand hop influence and Black Moss by High House Farm was pleasantly chocolatey and malt forward. There were plenty of old reliables to complement the new beers. Wylam Bitter, Jarrow Bitter, Auld Hemp and Allendale Wolf are all good to fall back on but for hop head beer geek types Wylam's vibrant single hopped Chinook was the most assertively hop forward beer in the building.

Baby Susie, first beer festival at 4 weeks old
Anarchy brewing Blonde Star was the first beer to sell out mid afternoon Saturday, and through it all the Alnwick Food Festival was up and running outside featuring bottled beers brought to you by Allendale Brewery and 3 Wise Monkeys. Like last year there were plenty of cheeses, pies, cup cakes, sauces and plenty of other local produce available plus an awesome range of teas available from festival newcomers Bari Tea. There was even some bread made with Mordue Geordie Pride (finding out that sold out quick was a kind of consolation prize) from Dough Works.

One of my favourite stalls, Allendale brewery brought a range of bottled beers
So all in all similar to most years the whole beer fest/food fest thing was about good beer, good company, familiar faces and the odd pie or two. A good show all round.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Stout. It's a strong word.

Stout. It's a strong word in craft brewing I tell you that. Dry, chocolatey, velvety, grainy, leather, vanilla, fruity, boozy, pithy, sweet, imperial, smooth, with oysters or just straight bitter. Stout is a world in itself and to the inventive minded brewer the basic stout recipe can be thought of as a platform for an almost endless number of tweaks, variations and speciality ingredients. As versatile as your plain bagel you could say, yet many of the greatest stouts I've ever tried have been just that.

In recent times the North East's reviving beer scene has had a good go at tinkering with the style, Tyne Bank's rich cherry oatmeal stout and Durham Brewery's rogue geuze meets imperial stout offering Diabolus are two examples. Yet even previous to that the region hosted a good number of quality stouts. Allendale Brewery's Tar Barl and McConnells from Jarrow are two quality straight down the middle dry Irish-style stouts. Mordue's All Hallows is a bit of an all rounder (look out for it this Autumn) and Durham's Black Velvet is pretty much self explanatory. Then you can't forget the charms of Big Lamp's Summerhill Stout.

Yet apart from Durham's Imperial 10%  Temptation the region has had little to offer in the way of real heavyweight stouts. However, since last week Anarchy Brew Co of Morpeth has released not just a heavyweight stout but a bold form of the style that has never been brewed in the region.
Sublime Chaos is a 7% Breakfast stout brewed with great quantities of oatmeal and coffee. My sample was taken from the brewery in the form of a take home bright bottle (being a new parent makes attending new beer launches a fair challenge).

The viscous black liquid was in short a big bold burly complex epic of a stout that's sublime but too well held together to call chaotic. Think silky, oily, viscous, full-on oats countering husky, bitter grain and liquorice. Some heavy hop resins and viscous alcohols erupt in the middle and build into dark winter fruit-like overtones whilst the coffee infusion creates a prolonged note of rich coffee that's almost a constant. I was surprised to hear from Simon how much coffee was used in making this and despite how obvious the coffee is it never seems to dominate but just add to the whole experience.

Being a big fan of oatmeal in brewing and more recently real coffee (very helpful to new parents) has probably made me all the more biased. Like a good mild ale, oatmeal stouts are a weakness of mine. My advice, seek this one out.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt

It just so happens that a university friend of the wife's now does PR for Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt which takes place this Autumn. She got in touch and asked if I wanted samples and my answer was yes.

So finally after all these years of beer blogging, all these years of watching the young upstart bloggers haul in crate after crate of free beery delights I finally get sent some free beer (OK, it's my own fault really for not making much effort with social networking, plus beer blogging for the soul purpose of getting free beer is very bad practice).

So anyhow, six beers, six different brewers, my unbiased opinion, here it goes.

Nethergate Lemon Head 4%

Nethergate is a brewery I have rated highly for a long time. Both Umbel ale and Old Growler are old favourites of mine so I was expecting the 4% Lemon Head to deliver something at least decent. In short it certainly delivers on the lemon front, with a fair bit of ginger in there as well giving a nice bite to it. The finish is almost tonic-like with very subtle biscuity malt undertones. Great as a straight forward palate cleanser or one to knock back in the summer.

Wadworth Horizon  4%

Very pale gold to straw in colour, dry, savoury and almost pilsner-esque with a very faint hint of citrus. Drinkable enough, but other than that, not much going on.

Batemans Mocha Beer 6%

Promised much with the general description and a big mocha chocolate aroma (lovely volumptuous chocolaty stout like thing here we come). Not quite. Opens with boozy burnt grain in a heavy malt palate of dark chocolate and espresso notes. The finish gets taken over by that distinct powdered hot chocolate note you got in the aroma. Somehow its not quite all tied together and comes across almost artificial at times. Still a pleasent enough beer.

Wye Valley Dorothy Goodbody's Blissful Brown Ale 4.6%

Light chestnut brown and laced with sweet nutty grain and a light creamy mouthfilling caramelised malt texture. Slight almond note in the finish and balanced with only a whisper of hops. Also subtle and tasting a fair bit lower than its 4.6%. A sound beer, yet worlds apart from the big coloured malt laden Brown ales of the North East region. None the less here is subtlty done well.

Williams Bros Prodical Sun 4.1%

Now here's a Scottish brewer with a fondness of the unothodox. They don't shout about it the way others do but Williams Bros brew in a style of their own using a fair number of odd-ball ingredients along the way. This beer is no exception, although by far not my favourite Williams Bros beer it doesn't fail to be interesting. The mid golden liquid offers a peculiar initially plush mix of strawberries and cream, grainy toffeeish chewy ovaltine and a lychee-like slightly hidden hop bite. Quite difficult to pull apart but the finish quickly tails off to airy dry spruce notes. It's certainly worth a try.

Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons 4.2%

In short a deep reddish black porter cross mild hybrid. Rich chocolaty dark fruit dominates over some yeasty notes, English hops and a bite of burnt grain in the finish that turns it a touch sharp. All in all very flavourful and well brewed.  

It's good to see the supermarkets promote new beers. So remember folks Sainsbury's is a wonderful place. Their own brand ketchup is the finest around and occasionally they change their bottled beer range.

Don't miss the Great British Beer Hunt. There are 20 beers in the final which will be sold at stores across the country. Ten of those will go through to a Grand Final on October 5 when one beer will be picked as the best, and will go on sale for six months across the UK.

Friday, 7 September 2012

We must honour and hold true to each other

"We must honour and hold true to each other" I Am A Craft Brewer 3:22

In 2008 Stone brewery's 'I Am A Craft Brewer' video summed up the unity and collaborative spirit of the craft beer industy in the US.

I've been working in the UK brewing scene for long enough now to realise that us micro, small and even regional brewers in general more than get along. We realise our market doesn't work the same as others where say market presence, brand image, customer loyalty and efficient production methods are the tools to achive market domination against rival companies (look at Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Ford, Kellogs etc). I';ve realised from experience that Greg Koch's message of unity within the craft beer sector doesn't always run 100% true (I'd call it 99%). Other brewers on one hand are (usually) our friends and each one works in a kind of symbiosis with the other. But on the other hand they are also market competitors.

Whether or not you see other brewers as friends or more as competitiors the unwritten constant between us is normally mutual respect. But when you hear of something like this happening to a local micro like Brew Star (now Anarchy Brew Co) you suddenly realise that not everyone in the industry sees things the way you do.

OK, so as a quick parody let's say us folk at Mordue discovered a brewery in a distant county called Cordue. Would we then feel our identity was being threatened adn be inclined to sue the balls off them? Perhaps Cordue was devised as a deliberate copycat company with copycat brands? Or perhaps it was the name of the head brewer's much loved pet hamster? Is it really a big enough deal to make a fuss over?