Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013. A year to remember.

Yep, that's right it's the end of year post. And although in this day and age I haven't been arsed to go along with the likes of 'Open It's' or 'Golden Pint awards' I've stuck with the old end of year post.

It's been one hell of a year for Rob's Beer Quest. You might not think it, given the mediocre number of blog posts I've managed to put out this year but besides that it has been monumental and arguably one of the best years of my life. To open things up in spring X2 (squared) won battle of beers at Newcastle beer fest, and was not expected. Following this we had Killswitch 51 and IPA with SIBA awards prior to what was obviously the highlight of the year.

Huddling with the masses around the stage at London Olympia as Roger Protz role-called the winners. Best bitters, "with the gold, those stalwarts from the North East Mordue Brewery Workie Ticket". A monumental day, and if that didn't top things off we even got two Golden Pint award mentions here and here nearer the end of the year.

The Mayoress pronouncing me and Matt battle of the beers champions

But hell, 2013 wasn't just about awards. It was the year I realised I won't be a twenty something year old for much longer (scary). My baby girl, Susie, took her first steps (game changing, like in Jurassic Park when the Velociraptors learned how to open doors). Plans were made, lessons were learned, cool people were met. There was no shortage of brewing action and our new apprentice Josh played an integral role during September's 'Operation Black Beaver Storm', involving colossus order of Oatmeal Stout for the Spoons Octoberfest.

Although in many ways it was much like any other year, but for me it was a year to remember.

Pandamonium hops
The Bairn
Cherries defrost for another batch of Al Cherry Pet
Keg beers from around the region ready to face SIBA judgement
Champion best bitter
The sun goes down over Alnwick

Monday, 30 December 2013

The eleventh beer of Christmas

Panther Brewery Festive Panther

From Norfolk-based, 2010 upstarts, Panther Brewery comes this 4.5% dark ale with mulled spice. It's bottled conditioned also, giving you a yeasty woody tang that's almost Belgian dark strong ale but without the alcohol. Prickly mulled spice, liquorice and dark chocolate are the highlights here and there seems to be a lot of bitter, yeast and spice going on over the darker grains. Overall a full flavoured beer with a bit of a bite to it.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The tenth beer of Christmas

Brasserie D'Achouffe N'Ice Chouffe

It's a big sweet centred, simple natured 10% Belgian strong ale and it's one of the highlights of this years series. Fruity warming almond like notes, rounded malts and subtle spice throughout make this all in all a very approachable and lovely beer. Excellent stuff.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The ninth beer of Christmas

Innis & Gunn Bourbon Stout

This one raised some intrigue. Innis & Gunn branching out into stout hey? Word was out earlier this year about their take on an IPA. Word was also out that it was awful, and I can see why that wouldn't work. It just wouldn't. I mean imagine someone playing out tracks from Cannibal Corpse's Tomb of the Mutilated... on the pan pipes. It just wouldn't work.

The truth is I don't mind Innis & Gunn beers at all. In the right mood and moment they can be quite special, my only critique being that they do get a bit repetitive across the board. Sweet with spirit like alcohols and an overall viscous feel is way they usually go and this beer follows suit.  It also has some added peppery spice from crystal rye malt contrasting sweet plain chocolate and vanilla. Warming bourbon spirit like alcohols dominate throughout.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The eighth beer of Christmas

De Struise Tsjeeses Kerstbier 2013

A peculiar looking bottle label for the mighty 10% Belgian monster of a Christmas beer from the much respected brewers from De Struise. Did I say monster? Such a strong term for such a lovely beer. Tsjeeses meets the drinker like a warm bear hug of warming sweet spice, malt and creamy yeast. Deeper still we have mixed berries, leafy hops, brown sugar, caramel and plum. Incredibly drinkable for such high abv, you could call it a bold display of subtlety from a beer that isn't so much instantly likeably but gets better as you drink your way down the glass. Top class Belgian seasonal.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The seveth beer of Christmas

Emelisse Winter-Bier
Never had anything from this brewery before so this should be interesting. A Dutch-brewed Belgian style quadruple/strong ale in short. A big boozy Belgian like thing full of dark candy sugar, alcohols and malt is what I was expecting. But at 9% it's certainly drinkable for the style. Prunes, apricot and peach fruits are at the fore with boozy candy sugar and caramel. Carbonation is on the low side so the finish is noticeably sweet fruit cake and yeasty notes. .  

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The sixth beer of Christmas

Anchor Our Special Ale 2013
Makes it in the line-up every year it seems, and every year its a little different. This year's offering is a little on the dry side. Medium light in body featuring ginger, Christmas spice, liquorice, coffee and fruit cake before a pine like dryness coats the mouth. A good one to seek out. Always loved Anchor, stylish bottles, old school labels and good honest products.      

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The fifth beer of Christmas

Brew Dog Santa Paws
Christmas Scotch ale infused with heather honey is what the bottle says, and at 4.5% you could probably call it a session Scotch ale. It's deep mahogany, almost porter coloured and dominated by robust stone fruits, dry heather and resiny hops with a central sweetness. It has a rough and ready sort of feel about it and finish has that typical Brew Dog dry bitterness and no sticky sweet malt heaviness usually associated with the style.
All round this is a good drinkable characterful stuff, and an interesting take on festive beer. If you like your Christmas beer on the more angry side and less malty-spicy/cuddly this is an obvious choice.     

Friday, 6 December 2013

Panda Frog Makarov

Russian Caravan Tea
Well, until now I can't say I've ever brewed a tea beer before. Makarov (named after the ex-Russian army service pistol) is a 6.4% brown ale heavily hopped with Northdown and SPALT hops before being infused with Russian Caravan Tea. This is a blended tea that features the smokey Lapsang Souchong variety.

To me all my Panda Frogs are like my children, so coming back from a weekend break after the blending to try the final version was certainly interesting. Makarov is a big cedary, woody, bulky brown ale. The tea appears in subtle nuances with smoke, pine and earthy hops over a central big almond like malt sweetness. It might not be your typical December seasonal, but I cant wait to get this bottled and home for Christmas.  

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The fourth beer of Christmas

Samuel Smiths Organic Chocolate Stout 

A new one from the old school Yorkshire outfit, and by no means the first Sam Smiths beer to be featured on the twelve beers of Christmas. This 5% Chocolate stout pours opaque black with an obvious nose of fresh cocoa. Its medium bodied, creamy and smooth with a predominant Cadbury's instant hot chocolate sort of flavour over underpinning roast grain and liqorish. A very tasty, instantly likeable little number but in all honesty probably not my favourite Sam Smiths Stout/Porter.

The only problem I have with it is that about half way through it started coming across a little fake, a little overdone. Hell they nailed the 'chocolate' bit on the head but somehow the 'stout' bit seems a tad lost. Like some very commercial fruit lambics it seems to grow tiringly sweet and two dimensional after a while. On the other hand if I wanted a beer to match say a chocolate cheesecake or similar this is what I would turn to.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The third beer of Christmas

Mordue Brewery Howay in a Manger

You probably guessed I'd put a Mordue one in somewhere. But wait, is that the new glass featuring the official new logo? You saw it first here on Rob's Beer Quest. This batch of 'Howay' was brought to you in part by Mordue apprentice Josh ('shamone' Josh) on one of his first brew days ever, and a splendid job he did indeed. Basically Howay is a straight to the balls Mordue classic. Straight down the middle best bitter with a citric hop influence in short. Biscuity toffee smooth malt over citric hop underpinnings. Almond hints and a finish that's bready grainy and soft. It's tasting mighty fresh, you might want to buy a bottle. Howay buy a bottle. Howwaaayyy!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The second beer of Christmas

Staffordshire Brewery Cheddlelton Christmas Ale

Coming in at number two is this deep, ruby-hued, 4.6% festive ale obtained from a farm shop way down south. For some reason the brewery likes to emphasise on the bottle that the beer is triple filtered (as if it's a good thing) yet the product doesn't suffer from it so much. This one opens up malt heavy with sweet toffee apple meeting prickly winter spice and bitter English hops and liquorish. Slightly bittersweet, rich but with an ashy dryness that's almost astringent in the finish. Not a bad seasonal beer at all.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The first beer of Christmas

Robinson's Old Tom

Behold the fourth consecutive year of Rob's Beer Quest's annual twelve beers of Christmas. Opening things up we have reliable classic with a cigar (much like the first first beer of Christmas way back in 2010). We've had some memorable entries over the years. You could now call them the thirty six beers of Christmas. But this year I will be trying to avoid last year's approach of 'the twelve supermarket (3 for £5, quid a bottle or any neckable grog I can find) beers of Christmas.  As least to some extent anyway.

You could probably call Old Tom A benchmark UK brewed Old or Stock ale of the modern era. As recently as 2009 the World Beer Awards 2009 gave this beer the prestigious award of 'world's best ale'. I remember participating in the judging from home via beers sent from Beers of the World Magazine. I scored it highly.

When it was announced I remember thinking; World's best ale? Really? Good beer but.... Really? Besides, I honestly don't believe any beer could hold such a status.

Anyway where was I, o yes Old Tom the first beer of Christmas. I would probably recommend this as a go-to winter warmer, dark and strong it's all figs and fruit cake. Mature fruit meets sweet muscovado sugar in the finish with warming alcohols. A beer with plenty of depth and an old-school feel. It becomes obvious why it wins awards, plenty going on and difficult to fault.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Another observation

So after getting back from my holiday it appears that I have missed another good attempt to define craft beer. Ed's Beer Site lays down the straight forward approach for those less familiar with beer on how to pick out what's craft and what's not.

According to Ed, if grapefruit is the flavour the beer is obviously 'craft'. This may cover a lot of territory but there's a lot more to craft beer than this. To fall into the craft beer category the craft brewer must be seen as a craft brewer via some or all of the following means;

  • Has opened for business in the last 5 years or so.
  • Uses terms such as 'Rebel', 'Craft' or 'Dog' in the brewery name.
  • Kegging, and edgy cool looking pump clips
  • Has a product range consisting of at least one IPA, one Pale Ale, a Saison with an optional 'craft' lager, Amber or Black IPA.
  • Barrel aged and sour beers make you cool, but remember any Belgians outside of Saison's, Sours or IPA hybrids is a no go. Most authentic Belgian ales are malt forward, bold but subtle and nuanced. Malt forward subtle and nuanced = boring old world = Not craft.    
  • Try not to employ any old people. Remember young and cool is the image your after.    
OK so once you've followed most if not all of these steps you can state as M.D of 'Rebel Dog Craft brew' that you're the soul point of difference in the UK brewing industry. Second to this your products offer an oasis of hop-driven nectars amongst the ocean of boring brown bitters and insipid mass market lagers. Remember to act relatively oblivious that the marketing and business model has been copied many, many times in the endless cycles of beer fans picking up the mash shovels in a 'we wanna be cool like those guys' kind of champagne.

But don't get me wrong, I have nothing against big hoppy IPAs, Black IPAs, Imperial black rye Saisons or any of the brewers who produce much of the most progressive, interesting and excellent quality beers in the country. Furthermore brewers copying ideas from other brewers is hardly a new thing. Cast your mind back ten to twenty years or so you'll remember the ubiquitous droves of small independent brewers churning out session bitters and blonde ales galore. Back then calling yourself traditional was cool and being adventurous involved brewing something darker and/or stronger than 5%.

I am merely pointing out that many brewers have a tendency to follow each other. Think of it a little like the social groups of the school playground. The geeky kids hang together the same way the sporty kids occupy their own space on the playground. The 'craft' types warm to each other the same way the regional or the 80s/90s micro upstarts warm to each other. Different opinions and different views on what makes great beer. Does forcibly cramming as many ingredients into a batch of beer make it any better? Does it matter if your entire product range is dosed up with crystal malt and English hops? This is entirely subjective.   

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

UK brewing industry; pick your side

In Alien vs Predator (videogame and the film) you have three sides; Aliens, Predators and Humans. Three races trying to annihilate each other in a battle to the death. In the UK brewing industry you have three sides; Big brewers, craft brewers, real ale brewers. Each side faces a brutal struggle for market dominance in a battle for survival. So which side are you on? Big, craft or real? Let's run through them now:

'Real': Your the traditionalist, your down to earth, you care about the subtle nuances in 'balanced' beers. Cask beer is best and always will be but wait your outdated your yesterdays child you know nothing about progressive brewing and your doomed to fail.

'Craft': You're the non-conformist, leading the revolution. You've got big edgy pump clips that practically glow in the dark and (in your own mind) you're using more new world hops per barrel than anyone else making you a supposed honorary arm of the nation's brewing elite. Sadly anyone can market products like you, and tailor a typical 'craft' product range contract-brewed by whoever. 

Big brewers: Unlike the above two groups, who normally respect each other you are the ruthless market overlords who will stop at nothing to maintain market dominance. You may help out the smaller brewers in some ways but to some of them (now that the government has backed down on that evil duty escalator thingy ma-jig) your the main villain again.

OK, so a lot of the stuff written above is a little exaggerated. The majority of brewers don't fall strictly into a category and amongst most of the industry there's a good coherence and mutual respect. I have always felt this, it is part of what I love about being in this brewing industry. Their are however some very elitist sectors amongst the above three industry segments that arguably let their side down. On a whole I'm against the whole craft vs real vs generic brand thing, they all have a place on the market and there's normally plenty of overlap. A long time back I remember once thinking 'is it wrong to love Tokyo* and Daleside Bitter?' Very different beers both brewed with pride and a belief in the product.

As it happens 'craft beer' (add own definition here) is the vogue and everyone wants a piece of it, including the big guys. With reference to post like this and the responses to this post, it becomes more obvious where the divides in the industry are. It was kind of an inevitability that the micro brewing sector could only go so far before the multi-nationals intervened. So who will win? Will a patented official craft beer definition ever come about? Will progressive brewing ever dominate the world erasing the need for any 'lowest common denominator brands'? Or will we all be drinking something from a part of a multi-nationals portfolio?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

CAMRA awards lunch 2013

Probably the poshest scran I have ever paired with Workie Ticket
As you might have guessed this post is related to Workie Ticket's earlier victory win of Gold in category at the GBBF this year. And last Saturday it was it was time for us to receive our award, and hang out with some of the other award-winning folks at the National Brewery Centre in Burton upon Trent.

A beer dinner where an award-winning beer was paired with each course  The above picture, Workie Ticket with Goat's cheese and Red Onion Tart with Rocket & walnut salad served with Balsamic Dressing was one of two appetiser options, the other was served with Fyne Ales Jarl. But overall the feel was for an emphasis on old school beer, and for the most part this was of excellent quality. Elland 1872 Porter is a great beer, a multi dimensional experience that's big and chocolaty one moment then dry and smokey the next with some late bitterness.

We got to listen to Roger Protz do a few talks, all the brewers said their piece and there was even a short cameo from ex-Thornbridge Stefano Cossi. The strange bit was listening to Colin Valentine spark up time to time half expecting him to start ranting about the 'blogeratti' (back in the day it was the hottest topic of the time). Overall it was a great day out. Lots of good food, good beer and good conversation about beer, a splendid day out.  

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Operation Red Thunder

Behold Panda Frogs most brutal offering to date

Weighing in at 6.8% abv and around 95 IBU on the richter scale Operation Red Thunder is a an Imperial red ale featuring masses of resinous Amarillo, Cascade and Columbus hops over a huge chewy malt base. I'm rather pleased with it and am especially keen to try the kegged version. The aim here was to produce something bold but balanced. Deep red in colour, this one should smooth out nicely with a bit of age. Keep an eye out for this one.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Alnwick beer festival 2013

So it's that time of year again. The Alnwick Beer Festival 2013 has been long awaited this year, and as many may know runs in conjunction with Alnwick Food Festival in the town hall. After last year the big question for me was; would Mordue be there, or not?? As it turns out, we were! Autumn Tyne and IPA were in good form and selling well.

This year (as last year) there was a theme. The theme 'Counties' meaning beers from the various counties of the England. Some solid classics were on offer, York Centurion Ghost was always a solid dependable choice for a dark strong ale. Thwaites Wainwright was its pleasant sessionable self though Hopback Summer Lightning seemed a little tired, a mere shadow of its best. Blonde ales seemed a plenty, so did bitters. In fact you probably could have confused the theme with 'session bitters and blonde ales from the different counties of England'. No Stout this year, or Porter, Scotch ales or Wheat beers. Wharfebank's Hop of the World Galaxy gave a smidgen of hope to those on the hunt for something a tad more out of the ordinary. This beer reminded me distinctly of one of those home brews that got tucked to one side eventually making its way to the sink. Flat, sweet caramel but no Galaxy. Yet make no mistake plenty of quality beers were on offer with the likes of Stonehenge, Pictish Brewing and Black Paw all having worthy offerings but after a while it got a bit repetitive. Good festival though, definitely worth a visit.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Wild Beer Modus Operandi

Boy did that summer seem to end quick. Anyway it's time to settle down with some wild and crazy bottled beer, this time from a brewery way down south in lovely place called Somerset.

Basically Modus Operandi (not to be confused with SKA brewing Modus Hoperandi) is a barrel-aged old ale that's been given the old wild yeast treatment. I'm sensing a little Gale's Prize Old Ale or Russian River type inspiration from this one. That signature 'Brett' nose is evident, then it initially hits you with rasping strawberry, caramel and cherry. A sweetish body with subtle woody-caramel undertones is contrasted by tart acidity running right to the finish. Lots of berry flavours, and not assertively sour. Somehow there seems to be a lot going on for its modest 7% abv and I also found this to be a good beer for steak and stilton sauce although I imagine it would be great with duck or venison.

Overall an intriguing and well balanced bit of brewing and as far as specialist sour beers go this is a good call.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Workie Ticket

As a brewer the beers you invent are like your children. You watch them develop before releasing them into the world. The beers you brew but didn't invent are like your adopted children, try to change them if you like but some are best left alone. One such adopted brew I've got to know very well over my few years at Mordue is Workie Ticket.

I often say to visiting Brewlab students that Workie is the most old school beer we do. Some would call it a brown ale, others a Scotch ale cross best bitter ('style hybrid' dare I say?).
Workie Ticket is a classic ale of the North East region that's been around since way back into my school days. Chocolatey almond goodness meets rugged grain and underpinning hop bitterness in the finish. It's northern beer with character that almost echos decades of Geordie history.

Workie Ticket is  retro. It's the notes you've heard before yet not quite in that order. It's like Oasis 'Wonderwall' suddenly sparking up on the radio. This beer sits alongside its cousin IPAs, blonde ales Panda Frogs and others and is yet still at heart and soul of Mordue Brewery.

Workie Ticket is a lovely beer and I am a proud successor to its architect.

In addition to this I am even more proud to have been representing this arguably iconic North East beer at the Great British Beer Festival in London this week. With the Mordue team we represented our region, our brewery and our Workie Ticket.

Mordue Workie Ticket; champion beer of Britain 1997, champion best bitter of Britain 2013 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Return of the Killswitch

Killswitch 51. 51 IBU's, OG 1051.

Many will remember Killswitch 51 as Mordue's entry to last year's battle of the beers at Newcastle beer festival. This year we're bringing it back. Well I say bringing it back, as it's not quite the same beer. Let me explain.

It's always a difficult decision to make when dealt sub-standard hops. Never had I seen Galaxy hops so brown. Do you use them anyway or substitute completely? So in short Killswitch 51 (2012 version) became a sort of kit car beer, where a lot was made up as we went along. Though in the end we were happy with the outcome.

This year however we had the hops to make this beer the way it was originally intended. The original article you may say. Deepish amber with Melon and liquorice, smooth pine and backing of cinder toffee mellowing things out. Still Munich malt based although more complex and floral I would say. Strangely enough both brew days yielded the same exact 1051 original gravity. Killswitch 51 is available in cask and (very shortly) in keg form and for those who didn't guess the origin of the name first time round, then this link reveals all. I will be trying to hunt this out for sure.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Pleased To Meet You

If you haven't worked it out it's the name of the pub, or should I call it a bar. Pleased To Meet You is a relatively new craft beer hotspot in Newcastle I have been meaning to visit for a long time. It seemed everyone's been, except me, so I had to do something about it.

Before I start I must mention that this isn't another one of those bars you wished you could sit in for an entire day and try the bulk of the beer range getting merry in a sort of beery paradise. This is more of a bar you wished was situated next to your house, so every few days you could pop in to try something new, whether it be more beers from the taps, new whiskies, wines or even cocktails. You could devote an entire evening just to getting to know gin, or you could continually chase the changing guest draft beers. In short the emphasis on choice here is epic, with an atmosphere that's very charming and friendly.

So where to start, cask or Keg? Way more was on offer than could possibly be consumed in a sitting. The likes of Dark Star, Thornbridge and Marble were out in force while Tyne Bank and Mordue held the local front. A few beers down the line and the urge for something different arose. Amble Butcher's Chorizo and saffron mash with a De Struise Westoek XX is a half decent combination. This weighty 8% Belgian strong ale has a sweetish body and lots of tart wild yeast character with dark fruit. Classic Belgian to the core. Rustic, nuanced and unpredictable. More of a random wildcard pairing given the menu advises pairing this dish with 'gutsy red wine or a powerful hoppy IPA' but it worked ok.

Next up was the dessert named 'coffee and doughnuts' with my chosen beverage Dark Star 1910 Porter. This beer is one clean cut hit of Espresso with bitter dark chocolate that contrasted my doughnuts quite well. The menu suggests pairing an imperial stout but I honestly thought a heavy barley wine or rich Belgian strong ale would do better at lapping up all the sugary deliciousness of this dessert.

Next up a beer from the menu under the category 'peculiar' meaning not really fitting in a style category. This I like. Bristol Beer Factory Vintage 2012 sort of comes across a tad like a well aged old school barley wine but at 6.6%. Nice dried sultana and apricot esters over underlying woody notes. Probably excellent with a nice medium strength cheddar that's all about the texture.

The wife enjoying a Mojito IPA, a combo of rum and Jaipur IPA

So after a cracking evening was time to finish by turning to the extensive whisky range. Scottish, English, Japanese, American......

Again, this is probably worth another visit.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Beer and Jambalaya

Three beers from the fridge

One pan of Jambalaya

But which one to pair with it???

This is another one of those posts that arose out of coincidence. So it was Saturday night and the wife was cooking Jambalaya. I was pondering over which beers would be the better match for this Southern American dish. It later occurred to me that Mark Dredge had covered this way back in 2011, coincidentally using an almost similar set of beers. Nothing wrong with repeating an experiment I thought, so let's get them all opened.

Well it was almost a repeat. A big difference here was that this Jambalaya recipe was taken from the Hairy Bikers, and does not involve scotch bonnet chillies (like Dredge's Jamie Oliver one). In other words, the Dredge was obviously pairing beers with a much hotter dish. Jambalaya is a kind of mixed meat spicy risotto and in Dredge's 2011 experiment, the unexpected winner was the underdog, none other than your staple macro brewed Budweiser lager. For this reason my equivalent, the Graffenwalder Pils was the favourite to conquer in tonight's pairing challenge.

Grafenwalder Pils.

Shoppers at Lidl supermarket may be familiar with the 4.8% Grafenwalder Pils. Brewed probably in some random UK-based factory owned by a faceless corporation. At only 85p per can it's not a bad take on your standard pale lager. Heavier and less neutral than Budweiser with a touch of cooked corn/DMS about it which I don't mind too much. With Jambalaya I immediately noticed what Dredgy was on about. The clean refresher certainly works with this.  The lager sits back whilst cleansing carbonation provides a nice contrast.

Arbor Triple Hop #8 (Mosaic Nugget Simco)

A nice, hoppy, bottle-conditioned 4% blonde ale. Plenty of soft fruity citrus and pine going on here. The slight yeast haze brings a smoothness combined with soft carbonation. For some reason it seems a bit thin, but nice flavours with the Mosaic thing obviously dominating. Enjoyed this greatly with Jambalaya, the nice citrus theme complements the mild spice nuances of the dish nicely. This beer might not have the cleansing power of carbonation Grafenwalder had but for intensity and flavour harmonies it sure hits the mark.

Maui Brewing Aloha B'ak'tun

Now for something different. Aloha B'ak'tun is a 7% Belgian stout aged with chocolate and spices.  I never realised when I bought it that it was a Christmas beer, and a bloody good one at that. Christmas beer meets stout. Cinnamon spice leads to big sweet dark chocolate and coffee, alcohols warmth and Christmas spice. For me this is my favourite stand alone beer of the three. However with Jambalaya the mix is crazy. Bitter dark chocolate contrasts the spice brilliantly yet everything else meanders off in various directions. Very complex but doesn't completely work. It also seemed a bit weird drinking this on a sunny July evening.

So in conclusion this was a close one between the Arbor and the Grafenwalder. I honestly thought that if this dish had chilli kick the 85p lager would have walked it. But because both beer and food were on the moderately subtle side myself and the wife both agreed that Arbor Triple Hop worked the best.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Behold the next Panda Frog; Pandamonium IPA

Shed fully assembled and ready for craft brewing...



Excessive quantities of US hops...


That's right, another Panda Frog project has been released into the wilderness. Pandamonium IPA (I just couldn't resist that name), soon to be kegged and bottled, is the sixth instalment of the Panda Frog saga. 5.5% and 80IBU. Brewed in the style a classic Californian IPA, Pandamonium is bright and vibrant with plenty of that classic grapefruit kick and smooth resiny pine. Great fun was had brewing this one, especially the hour-long weighing out of hops interval. Officially the 'brewing my dream IPA' long time fantasy has been fulfilled and the results were most pleasant. But don't just take it from me, hunt the stuff down now.  

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Kernel and Curry night

Beer and curry, a difficult combination to beat. Beer and pizza comes close. Tonight's chosen beer, The Kernel Pale ale Mosaic is a single hop variety IPA from the much reputed Kernel brewery in London. The curry was by none other than Alnwick's newest and finest Indian restaurant and takeaway Mivesi.

The thing about bitter beers with spicy food is that it only seems to work up to certain extremes, beyond which it becomes painful. For me this combination edges towards the pain threshold but works well enough that it doesn't matter so much. The Sri Lanka curry offers coconut, tropical and lemon flavours that complement the beer well whilst intensity wise nether hop bitterness or spice seemed to dominate. Overall a nice yet rather intense pairing that almost borders on the 'intense bitterness with intense spice = pain' theory.

I found the Mosaic hop to be quite fascinating and complex, combining a little of that galaxy esque floral melon and passionfruit with soft citrus and a bitter lime edge. The aroma is very pungent with a smooth bitterness and there's a slight earthy dimension to it to. This is obviously one of the new breed of super hops that can act great as a stand alone hop variety in a beer. A good offering from The Kernel, though you would never guess it was a single hop beer.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Down memory lane

Is it me or does chap on the label look more cartoony than he used to? That aside I'm sure this beer used to look darker.

Basically McEwan's Export goes a long way back in my beer-drinking history. It's been a hell of a long time since I last re-visited it so, seeing it on the supermarket shelves the other week, I thought 'what the hell' and picked up a bottle of the first beer I ever tried. So before Mordue or Daleside brewing, before Rob's beer quest university days and the rest of it around 70ml or so in the bottom of a tumbler glass was all my dad would allow me. The dark brown liquid with the frothy white head poured from a can. To be honest I never liked the taste much, but I felt like a big man drinking it. An acquired taste you may say. Eight or so years later I would be exploring new beers like Carling, Stella or Newcastle Brown.
My first year university days involved a lot of beer consumption. As the grant for the term came in I would visit the local Booth's supermarket to stock up on bottled beers. Bottled ales from around the nation would adorn my bedroom shelves from the Waggledance to the Old Peculiar. Yet the odd four pack of McEwan's would always be tucked away at the back, four red cans to conveniently take to the next house party or stash for the odd camping trip.

Towards the end of the night is when the McEwan's would come out. The sub on the bench role is how I used to think of it. Once I'd lost the will and abilities to ponder over the nuances of a Black Sheep Riggwelter or the closest local micro's 'Real ale in a bottle' (the word 'craft' in those days existed only in America) the McEwan's would be cracked open. Often accompanied by lashings of Bells Whisky it was almost like a chill-out beer - cheap and requiring little effort to appreciate. The correct terminology, taken from a former, great blogging master is neckable grog.

I think everyone needs neckable grog in their lives from time to time which is partly why I picked up this bottle. I have never tried the stuff from the bottle but pouring it out into a glass for analysis was almost like studying ancient ruins yet somehow the nostalgia wasn't as strong as I thought it would be. In fact I remember it  different to this, darker with more deep grainy flavours. I suspect it might have been toyed with over the years. The aroma and initial flavour is of sweet, burnt cinder toffee. Sweet, grainy, crystal malts follow into the finish. It's obviously heavily filtered with a prickly carbonation (a common feature of many triple filtered, pasteurised supermarket bottled beers) but there's still a very subtle underpinning of English hops.

All in all it's not a bad beer. Looking back at all I've tried between now and my first taste poured from the red can I've had a lot worse. The blandest mass market lagers. The vinegary pints, the half stale on the way out pints, diacetly bombs and ropey, vegetal and even explosive bottle conditioned beers. All of them fall short of this. McEwan's Export is the sort of beer you'd be happy to find in some distant beer desert abroad at a Scottish themed bar, or at someone's party in a working men's club where options are severely limited. Yet sadly that's probably the best praise I can give it. Happy memories though.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Partizan Grisette with salmon

Beer and food is something I haven't covered much in a while. The sequence of getting the specific beer in for the specific meal then getting round to actually blogging about it requires some effort.
Partizan is a brewery I have heard about but never come across before. One of the new wave of London-based brewers with labels that look kind of funky.

Anyhow, the saison with salmon is a combination recommended by none other than the beer and food master himself, Garrett Oliver. I could immediately see how it works, Partizan Grisette Saison is through and through a lovely light crisp and snappy beer with a clean-cut bitterness with lots of signature Belgian-esque yeasty herbal, peppery and lemon notes going on. It cuts effortlessly through the meatiness of the salmon whilst marrying well with a lot of underlying flavours of the dish. Similar yet different to small number of Saison type beers I have tried before, Grisette is definitely the most light and quenching. Overall a quality beer and, thanks to the wife, some quality home cooking.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

X² Battle of beers winner presentation at Lady Greys

Last Tuesday myself and the Mordue crew were presented with the official Battle of the Beers certificate for the X² victory. Being at Lady Grey's some great beers were available to compliment the large quantities of quality scran that we were treated to at our VIP buffet (including some very fine scotch eggs).

Me, Matt and the G-man receive award
So a rather splendid evening, with some highlights including chatting to the Newcastle Beer Festival organiser and various other folks about beer. There was then the sampling of the last-ever keg of Panda Frog Pandazilla, which, at one year old, seemed closer to a vintage porter than a black IPA. Check out the video on the Cannybrew website, featuring interviews with the G-man and myself running out of things to say.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Getting high on your own supply

Mordue IPA from the cask
One of the perks of working in a brewery has always been the free beer. Taken from a bright cask or a conditioning tank substantial quantities can be consumed at home in support of a range of bottled beers or just 2-20 litres to last the night. The problem with it is that in general fresh beer doesn't keep well in the plastic containers, and at some point I usually end up dwelling over the discrepancies between this batch and the last, and the one before that. Like constantly taking notes in a ticker's notebook, at some level it takes the enjoyment out of it.

The ideal take home container for me is the three-litre bottle. A fine carriable volume for taking home, to a friend, or even to your local park bench. Anyway, this weekend I have been enjoying my three litre bottle of X² at the new local Indian restaurant Mivesi. You can take your own beer and the curry is bloody good too.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Newcastle Beer Festival 2013, X² wins battle of the beers!

This year Newcastle Beer Festival's Battle of the Beers involved 15 entries from local brewers. Various styles were entered, and each was brewed with two hops and two malts only. Style versus style, hops against wheat, wheat against rye against best bitter against more hops. In the end, there could only be one...

That's right, that's me, Matt and the Mayor... shamone!
(photograph by Bill the Bus)
So, what was that I was saying about simple beers...

So, feeling like the bloke who just won Masterchef serving cheese on toast done to the highest standards it seemed very surreal. Sure I dream about work a lot but never anything like this. Fair enough the X² project was a simple plan that went very well - there was a lot of attention to detail involved. Attention to the basics is undeniably crucial.  

So, after winning the biggest award since Pandazilla got the silver, it was time to celebrate. Although I didn't manage to hunt out as many beers as I initially intended (mainly because I was talking to so many people). I got round a good selection of beers. Obviously my first point of call was the Mordue section, seeing how  X² and its brothers - Panda Frog Bullfrogs At Dawn, IPA and the two month aged 6% Rye IPA were doing. After this I thought it would be good to start on the lower abvs with Arbor Mild West which was pleasantly grainy-chocolate all over. Cullercoats Shuggy Boat Blonde was a very pleasant session blonde/bitter with British hops all over it. With a similar theme but with less dryness Fullers Brit Hop (Fullers Hardknott collaboration) was smooth and mildly peppery. So turning to something totally different and a tad nuts, Anarchy Grin and Bare It wasn't quite as aggressive as it sounded, loaded with both hops and wheat beer yeast there were nuances of all sorts.

Moving on, Edinburgh based Stuart Brewing Ka Pia intended to showcase a new hop that to me reminded me a little of Green Bullet (but less blunt) with citric bitter lime throughout. Tynebank Tropical Haze was a light textured wheat beer, heavily carbonated with lemon and lime and lingering mango notes then Allendale End 39 Amarillo Rye had a nice upfront hoppyness yet the rye element seemed on the subtle side. The 2012 local upstart Out There brewing showcased their excellent wheat beer Laika, smooth vanilla and subtle spice with a sweetish texture. Many people's favourites were on offer from the likes of Roosters and Plum Porter from Titanic.

For me this was probably the most memorable Newcastle Beer Festival ever. Check out the video from Sky here. I was truly honoured not only to support Mordue by winning battle of the beers but to be part of a movement driven by the collective of (largely young) new brewers entertaining the region on a whole. We're a diverse bunch, and the region's brewing scene now has never in history been this exciting. It was great to chat to all the folks from Anarchy, Allendale, Tynebank, Cullercoats and Hexhamshire. To you and the others I salute you all. Because this, this is our time.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Simply put, this is X²

Well, it's that time of year again. Basically X² is Mordue Brewery's entry to this year's Battle of the beers at Newcastle Beer Festival. Last year some may remember my post about single malt beer Killswitch 51. Well this year the rules are slightly different; the beer entered has to be between 4.5% and 5% abv and brewed with two malts and two hops.

Tight rules maybe, but the scope for diversity here could be huge. Think speciality grain, adjuncts, spices, process changes and variable yeast strains that can be employed. Think Belgian spiced blonde, wheat, rye or spelt beer or even a strong mild. However this time I chose the other route, I chose to think simplicity. To me this seems fitting from a brewery known for its straight-forward flavourful beers to come out with a straight forward competition entry.

Simplicity can be quite a powerful thing. I remember Andy McNab once mentioning that the more complicated something is the more likely it is to go wrong. Kind of true. I also love brewing simple beers. Beers that just work the way they are without turning to multiple numbers of ingredients. Don't get me wrong, as much as I love the complex master plan recipes I do admire simplicity.

So no, there's no algebra involved here, X² is basically a 4.7% IPA brewed with two base malts and two of my favourite hop varieties. Am I naive thinking this could possibly win? Well given last year's result, it can be safe to say this is anyone's prize.

Mashing in: Pale malt and lower colour pale malt

Can never get enough of these
Yeah baby!
So simply yes this is X², keep an eye out for it at this years Newcastle Beer Festival next Wednesday.