Monday, 18 September 2017

Holidays and the GBBF

Last month it was a great honour to again represent Mordue Brewery at the Great British Beer Festival. Again Workie Ticket was the nominated beer but sadly this time no victory. I recall Roger Protz mentioned in the latest What's Brewing that US hopped beers took the majority of awards this year. In our category of Best Bitters Tiny Rebel's Cwtch was the winner, tasted more Red IPA than best bitter. A great beer none the less.

So results aside my third ever visit to the GBBF trade session was a splendid day. The G-Man (Mordue MD), Grey Wolf (External sales man) and myself ventured south via train for the day. We encounterd various people from across the brewing industry including  (for the first time) beer writer Melissa Cole.

A somewhat surreal moment given that back in 2010/11 meeting Melissa Cole was classed as a life ambition.  Me old muckers from Heriot Watt Uni, Ed and Simon also came out of nowhere around the same time.

Herriot Watt 2007 reunion group 

Another encounter made was the Dredge. Mark Dredge, former lord of the beer bloggers, now beer writer.

I got to sample various London beers and from brewers that you don't often see in the North East. All in all the GBBF was a cracking day out and what followed was the remainder of a short frantic week before going on holiday.

The Vendee region of France is somewhere I'm semi-confident I have visited before on one of my many camping trips to France as a kid. It is quite flat and hosts a scattering of independent breweries. Given that this was not an all inclusive holiday, beers on site weren't served over carbonated and in very small measures. They were however exceedingly expensive.

Beer and French cheese

A highlight of this trip would obviously be a beer and cheese night. This time with exclusively all French cheeses, and the selection on offer was normally vast. Local beers explored were very Belgian influenced with a tendency to be very yeasty and served ether from keg or bottle. Though on this occasion Grimbergen Blonde was the best overall cheese pairing beer.

The holiday overall lacked in session beers (unless you like Kronenbourg). It was rather good however to be able to get some top of the range Belgian beers like Rochefort 8 at around £2 a bottle from the supermarket.

As of most holidays of recent the balancing  act of beer hunting with parenting was in play. Beer budget aside at times the Bairn/s will stress the desire for a certain toys that it is really absolutely essentially mandatory you buy them. Then you will end up carrying that toy around for the rest of the day. Having only one toy that both kids want can trigger protests that could upgrade to a Paddy.

Common triggers for paddy;

a: too much ketchup on plate
b: wrong cup
c: tired
d: Nam flashback

So in short the kids were not entirely used to long car journeys and long days in the sun but still had a great time.
I give the French lots of marks for effort on their beer scene, it seems to have expanded a lot since my past ventures to the country. I did drink a few Belgian ales but one beer I went back to a few times was Fisher Tradition. Sort of like the French equivelant of McEwans Champion in the sense it's cheap as chips, decent, reliable supermarket beer.

Vaguely a Marzen style lager, clean toasty grain and a rounded hint of boozyness in the finish from the 6% abv. Supermarket beer perhaps but the Triple Hop version at 7.2% was one of the beers of the holiday showcasing the effect of much under-rated low alpha European hops. A tad paler than Tradition with creamy burnt caramel and Peach. Really soft with good drinkability.

So overall the France holiday was great. I recommend it if you like Belgian esque type beers and don't mind getting away from the current cloudy hoppy pale beer/cloudy sour (with fruit/ other stuff thrown in) UK trend. It's also good for cheese.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

This Summer

Longframlington beer fest

A summary post you could call it. After not blogging in so long I thought it would be fitting. So far it's been a fairly mixed summer, with June not being the predictably mild to overcast type of month it normally is. Pale ales and lagers were on the agenda, or more specifically cloudy, hoppy paler beers. I noticed this also at Longframlington beer festival, the annual amalgamation of well-selected local and non-local beer meets cider, face painting and a bouncy castle. 

This year the Longfram fest hosted beers from the likes of Box Social, Two By Two, Tempest and Cullercoats brewery. A memorable one was Flash House Hazelnut Stout, Nutella meets liquorice in this medium-bodied, smooth affair. Cullercoats Storm Porter was like a Fuller's London Porter crossed with Old Peculiar. Good substance to it. Tempest Cascadian was also substantial but Two By Two Grapefruit IPA was very pink grapefruit forward but a tad too alcohol and ester heavy for the higher 5.7% abv. A lovely day out of beer with the kids also having fun.

So another highlight this season is WT20. A beer to mark the twentieth annaversary of Workie Ticket winning Champion Beer of Britain. As the folks who work at Mordue know Workie Ticket to be abbreviated to WT on stock labels and the likes. The Mordue equivalant to 1966, 1997 was the biggest year and biggest award in Mordue history. So this year we will be brewing a 6% tribute to the history and the beer. 

An all-round interesting project. The aim here isn't a first runnings or just a higher gravity version of the 4.5% original. I aim to smooth a few edges out taking a slightly different angle but keep largely loyal to the original template.

Moving on. This month has also been my birthday. Thirty three seems irrelevant but the kids are growing, becoming more demanding and learning new things like how to identify beer in pictures and how to wind parents up. New beers are coming out at Mordue. The brewing scene is seeming more and more overcrowded with new breweries, new trends and new breeds of beer elitists buying into them.

Trans-Atlantic Pale Ale in the underback

On the Panda Frog front this summer we have released Amphibious Four. A 4% amber ale brewed with four malts (pale, munich, cara red, crystal) and four hops (Galaxy, Comet, Citra, Equinox). We also have a Blood Orange IPA in the pipe line along with a few re-releases like New Zealand Pale and Oatmeal Stout.

So by no means a dull summer, especially not considering that other new development;

Sunday, 30 April 2017

The 41st Newcastle Beer Festival. Battle of the beers.

I win again. Fourth Battle Of The Beers win in six years.

So it was that time of year again. The trade session at Newcastle Beer Festival is always a great get together for the local industry. From brewers, to landlords, to wholesalers, this year I got to meet the folk from some newer breweries such as Stu Brew and the respective Errant Brewery. Although it seemed a tad quieter this time the stage was still set to unveil this years Battle Of The Beers winners.

This year Battle Of The Beers was a contest of who could brew the best IPA between 4-6%. Being style specific for the first time this removed the 'paper-scissors-stone' dynamic of previous years where if you entered a big porter style beer you automatically had advantage over a mild. So with the many sub styles of IPA the majority of entrants went with US style IPA, followed by some UK style traditional IPAs then the odd farmhouse IPA and even a Peach IPA from Box Socal brewing.

The Mordue entry this year was 5PA a west cost style IPA. The number 5 represents 5% abv and the use of five hops. It's also double dry hopped. Yet from the brewery I was 89% confident of defeat. Out of the tank 5PA had so much late bitterness it was bound to divide a judging panel. Yet on cask 5PA mellowed into a bold ride of grapefruit and citrus pine, I didn't ever think it would be in such superb form.

This year our very close runner-up was Almasty Brew Co Mosaic IPA, a 6% NZ-US hop combo this time unfined. It was reasonably hazy, bold but mellow with lots of complex Nelson Sauvin over a medley of soft fruit and pine. Since 2014 the ex Mordue and Tyne Bank brewer Mark McGarry, now Almasty's head brewer, has entered the local scene with a resolve for on-trend bold, uncompromising beers. His second silver at BOTB  was always going to look good on paper. Like an old tennis rivalry, the former chef vs the biochemist we have both undoubtedly added a great deal to the local beer scene.

So, after the overwhelming realisation of winning despite being convinced it wasn't going to happen and trying for so long it was time to try new beers. Flash House Iron Giant IPA (BOTB third place) was soft-bodied, unfined and citra led. Yet it got to a point where IPA became tiring and I had to sort myself out with some Leeds Midnight Bell, 4.8% dark mild. Shortly after, the recent SIBA award winner 5.3% Daleside Monkey Wrench was tried with its dark fruit and boozy caramel malts.

Elland 1872 the former champion beer of Britain was also on, another big beer with lots going on. All in all only a small range of beers were tried in comparison to what was available but it was a great day out. I learned Olicana hops are nothing like Jester and that Stu Brew would kindly let us borrow there tiny brew kit to do short run Panda Frog batches. Just splendid.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Beer & Cheese revisited


So this was the first group beer and cheese night in a long time. Beer and cheese has been a common feature on the quest over the years. I've done the one-on-one pairing approach to the freestyle try any cheese with X beer type cheese nights. Some group commercial events also.

This group event was a non-commercial 'parents special' you could say. With the added technicality of five children. Would they stay the distance or would everyone leave early to put them to bed? Or would they put us to bed? I was aware things could have gone either way.


Beer and cheese compatibility guide for the night

Note that this time round a new approach was taken to pairing. Selecting 2-3 cheeses per each beer would allow freedom with a degree of order. A halfway point between beer 1 with cheese 1, beer 2 with cheese 2 etc or the opposite 'everyone just dive in' approach. Nonetheless first in the lineup was Augustiner Edelstoff, a proper German premium Hells lager at 5.6%. Bold yet delicate, both Brie and Gruyere provided little for it. Durham Cotherstone was a fair match.

Next up was the anticipated, never tested Mordue Workie Ticket (easy to get from work, very food compatible but never tried it with cheese). In the red corner; Doddingtons Original (a nutty cheddar, makes sense) in the blue corner; Doddingtons Admiral Collingwood. The original was a tad sharp for Workie but Admiral Collingwood with its mellow centre and rind washed in brown ale worked harmoniously with enough salty, chalky bite on this cheese to parallel Workie Ticket's late bitterness.

Next up was Wylam Remain in Light, a 5% pale ale I have never tried. A very hop forward orange, grapefruit, passion fruit type of pale ale . The idea at this phase was to explore pale ale/IPA type beers with bloomy goats cheese and creamy blue cheeses. This beer struck right on chord with Buche Ruffec. Soft tangy Goats Cheese meets hoppy resiny yeasty pale. Meanwhile Panda Frog 5th Panda found almost surprising affinity for Doddingtons Darling Blue. The more weighty, slightly less resiny character helped marry with sweet centre of what's growing to be one of my all time favourite blue cheeses.

So staying with the cost cutting beer from work tactic we next had Panda Frog Hibernator Bock (6.3%) with Old Amsterdam, a nutty, crunchy Gouda. This textbook pairing went down a treat. Unsurprisingly the fondness for beer and cheese was growing. More surprising was the amount of stamina groups of under five year olds can have when it comes to staying up past bedtime. At this time the children had ceased control of much of the house (living room, kitchen, bathroom, Bridge, engine room), or at least the chocolate stash.

Onwards to Chimay Tripel with Reblochon. This gooey washed rind cheese meets 8% boozy carbonation match was originally meant to be Tripel Karmeliet with Delice de Borgogne, a lovely cheese that didn't really pair with anything. Delice was just too funky. Chimay Tripel played its part but a more exciting chemistry was to found in the final round of pairing.

Allendale Barrel Aged Export Stout (7.4%) is a lovely if expensive take on one of the region's finest strong beers. With Stilton there was good chemistry but I felt a less aged original version Export Stout would have done a better job. The beer needed more booze, more bite or rougher edges to go toe to toe with big old salty Stilton.

So it seems beer and cheese has always had an unpredictability factor. Regardless of how many beer author opinions you take in pairing beer X with cheese Y often get; 'well you would think that but actually'. Instinct is probably an equally as useful as literature. Overall this beer and cheese night was a great success, one of the best ever. The great company also made it so.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

5 Years of Panda Frog

The 5th Panda is an anniversary IPA that's pale golden, brewed with five different hop varieties; Simco, Equinox, Citra, Chinook and Waimea. Aiming to divert from my often Centennial heavy approach to the likes of Pandamonium IPA and X2. Despite being a similar abv this beer is paler than Pandamonium and about 40% less bitterness units. Fruity, tropical, sweet lemon and light bodied for drinkability.

So Panda Frog has officially  been a commercial entity for five years. I often wonder where all the time went. Originating from my humble brew kit the oddly named 'Panda and Frog brewery' was the starting point of the Panda Frog adventure. When the name was adopted by Mordue brewery as a side project it became 'Panda Frog brewery' which later became 'Panda Frog Project'.

Filling kegs

Different from regular seasonals Panda Frog beers are conceived as more expermental, personalised recipies usually designed a year in advance of brew day so the wait is long. It's often interesting nearer the time to rejuvenate the past vision of what the past version of oneself was thinking back then.

Our label artist Oliver Fowler has undoubtedly done us proud. I will never forget Pandazilla winning at SIBA north or Dartfrog-48 Dunkel Rye Weizen getting beer of the festival at Durham beer fest ether. These days the project is fronted by Pandarillo, Allelic Drift and Pils holding the line. Whereas back in the day it was rare to see more than one PF beer in the brewery at any time. Some points in the year there were none.

Where it started; fermenting buckets on the living room floor 

I would also note that a lot of Panda Frog goes to wholesalers so it could literally appear nearly anywhere in the UK. Beer 52 and Flavorly have distributed our bottled beers far and wide and we're also getting kegs to SIBA Beer X this year.

So yes five years have certainly gone quick.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Beer and burgers

Admittedly I'm not really a beer and food expert. At times I may have been obsessed with it but more specifically beer and cheese was my forte. On beer and food the majority of the time I normally stick to the book (be that Garret Oliver, Dredge, Cole or whoever). However, when you don't have the book or their isn't any 'textbook' pairings on hand, one develops a sort of instinct.

You mentally line the chosen food option with the array of beer options available and take an experiential shot at pairing. Recently I discovered imperial stout doesn't really go with roast lamb dinner. Yet sometimes you find a winning combo from instinct alone. This was how I discovered the delights of cheeseburger with premium brown/Dark ales, and with bacon cheese, chips and coleslaw involved it's even better.

This comes after years of following the textbook consensus of big hoppy pale ale/IPA with the all American burger. It seems as with pizza, cheeseburgers are a highly beer compatible food stuff.
Though hoppy pale beers do pair great with burgers. Hop forward beers seem to carry big flavoursome dishes well and even salads. Here IPA tends to contrast the fat from cheese and bacon.  The premium brown ale latches on to the meaty flavours of the burger.

Although my two best experiences of this have used Hobgoblin and Riggwelter I'm sure more craft elite friendly options like India Brown ales would work just as well.