2007 World Beer Awards

‘Beers of the World’ magazine is one of the industry glossies that sings the praises of the planet’s favourite beverage. I’ve not read one, but apparently they have the usual brewing news and tasting notes on a series of beers. They sponsor annual gongs – the World Beer Awards – the latest winners of which were announced last Friday. Several BeerCast favourites were amongst those collecting trophies, so time for a quick run down of the brews highlighted by Roger Protz (the man gets around) and the panel.

World’s Best Ale
Bitter & Twisted, Harviestoun Brewery, Alva (Sco) 4.2%
Roughly 30 miles from BeerCast HQ in Edinburgh, Harviestoun are one of Scotland’s best brewers. Bitter & Twisted is possibly my favourite beer, so to see it given the coveted ‘best ale’ award was fantastic (it came through the tough pale ale category). By some co-incidence, the night of the announcement half of the BeerCasters were in Kays polishing off a large amount of Harviestoun’s other cracker, Schiehallion, which is simply wonderful on cask.

World’s Best Lager
Budvar Dark, Budweiser Brewery (Cze) 4.7%
Original and best, the Czech Budweiser brewery came out on top in the lager category with their dark beer. Our panellist MrB assures us that it’s seriously good stuff, and rest assured Lagerboy will be looking out for it soon to review. If it’s anything like their lighter coloured Budvar, it’s going to be tremendous.

World’s Best Stout/Porter
Obsidian Stout, Deschutes Brewery, Oregon (USA) 6.4%
American porters are highly rated, and the brewery in Bend, Oregon, now has the world’s best example. Named after the planet’s largest expanse of the shiny black rock, which conveniently occurs just near the town, Obsidian Stout is a ‘satisfying beer with underlying espresso and chocolate flavours’. We’d love to try one, if only we could find it over here. However, the runner up was Fuller’s London Porter, which we’ll be sampling in an upcoming podcast.

World’s Best Wheat Beer
Grolsch Weizen, Grolsch Brewery (NL) 5.3%
I have to say that Grolsch lager is truly awful stuff, so surprising that their wheat beer is deemed worthy of an award by the panel – particularly with the quality of wheat beers from Germany or Belgium. Still, the panel of experts clearly know what they are doing, so hats off to Grolsch. Or should that be ‘strange bottle tops’ off to Grolsch?

In the minor categories – i.e. the beers that didn’t quite get through to snare one of the top four prizes, notables for us have to be the Meantime brewery in Greenwich collecting an impressive haul – their best in show chocolate stout is currently in my cupboard ready for our upcoming London BeerCast. Edinburgh’s Caledonian Golden Promise won the award for ‘Best Experimental beer’ – we sampled that local beauty in BeerCast Episode 1 (thankfully for us we gave it the highest score). Also the award for ‘Best Fruit Beer’ went to Cain’s Raisin Beer from Liverpool (BeerCast Episode 3). Not bad for prune juice, eh Shovels? 😉

2007 Beers of World winners


Mull is the second largest of the Inner Hebridean islands off the west coast of Scotland, and although whisky is the major concern in those parts, beer is also available if you go looking. I was there a couple of months ago, and managed to locate some bottles from the local Isle of Mull Brewery. Just the bottles though, the brewery is tucked away behind a cafe bar at the southern end of Tobermory, and I couldn’t find it. They started in May 2005, and have a five barrel plant in Ledaig where they release a steady range of ales such as Terror of Tobermory, and their Island Pale Ale.

There’s no beer shop in Tobermory to speak of (which is the main town on the island), but the Tescos branch there sells a few varieties, as does a nearby deli, and the ironmongers further up the quayside – which is a first in my experience. I went there on the final day of my trip, trying to find the Mull IPA, but alas all I could find in the three retailers was a paltry two varieties of the Mull brewery’s range – McCaig’s Folly Dark Ale, and Galleon Gold Blonde. So I snapped those up, and went off to catch the ferry back to Oban on the mainland.

McCaig’s Folly is named after the circular tower that dominates Oban (and is pictured on the label). Built by a local industrialist at the turn of the century, it was planned to rival the colosseum in Rome, with a museum and art gallery in the centre. But when he died in 1902 the project was abandoned with only the outer walls completed. The beer is similarly empty, with not much going on. At 4.2%abv, it pours reddish brown, and tastes slightly gassy – almost like a watered down 80/-. It’s drinkable, but summed up in a single word – insipid.

Thankfully the Galleon Gold is far superior. A 5% straw coloured blonde ale, it’s named after a local legend involving a ship of the Spanish Armada. After they were routed by the Royal Navy, the surviving vessels fled around the entire British coastline – many coming to grief on rocks off Scotland or Ireland. The Florenica was moored in Tobermory harbour in 1588 when it suddenly exploded and sank. Reputedly part of the cargo was £300,000 of gold bullion, and it still lies somewhere off the Mull coastline. The ale might not be as valuable, but it’s got a mellow vanilla flavour to it, and is really rather good.

BeerCast News

Thanks to everybody who has been in contact with us here at the BeerCast, we love receiving emails and comments. As we’ve been going for almost seven months it’s probably time for a bit of housekeeping and site news, in between the podcast posts and other beer news (and we’re hoping to record our German BeerCast sometime this week).

We’re now well over 1000 hits and climbing – sadly we didn’t have a prize for our 1000th guest, but the person at Edinburgh Uni who found us by Googling for ‘Bar with Canadian Beer Edinburgh’ hopefully found what he/she wanted. Although I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Hopefully they read our Edinburgh pub guide and ended up somewhere cosy and welcoming. And speaking of which, we’re thinking of other cities for pub guides, so watch this space.

Our BeerCast panel may be expanding in the near future, so keep listening for new podcast guests and bloggers. We’ve now covered 26 beers in all, ranging from the top ranked Coniston Bluebird and Daleside IPA (both scoring 80%), to the outstandingly awful Rodenbach Grand Cru (3%). Panellist Grooben has volunteered to test this independently and report back, just to see if the podcasters sampled one that was off. Stay tuned for that. We’re also amazed at our position on iTunes (we were the 8th most popular beer podcast at one point), given that we’ve only put out seven episodes that’s fantastic. Don’t forget to leave us a comment on our iTunes page.

Also we’re in the process of moving things to a new domain – we’ve splashed out on a proper URL (www.thebeercast.com), so once we’ve got a design up and running (expect an email Edd!) we’ll pull ourselves away from the good people at Blogger and go it alone. For those of you into social networking – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – you can also find the BeerCast on MySpace and Facebook. Come and say hi, add us as a friend, leave us filthy comments. It’s all part of the fun.

Anyway, we’ll be back on the beer soon, thanks again for listening/reading the BeerCast, and special thanks to all the brewers who have emailed us about our tasting sessions. If any others have ideas about what beers we should try, or suggestions for episodes or themes, please get in touch via the email address. Cheers!

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BeerCast #7 – Turning Japanese

Japan has a long and proud history of brewing, and after our European-based early editions, the BeerCast has flown 6000 miles to explore some of their creations. Episode 7 was intended to be our German spectacular – but the lure of Ji-biru proved too strong, and the running order has been somewhat altered. For this episode our panel sample four genuine Japanese beers, three of which were purchased by Richard on a recent trip to Tokyo. Thankfully some information can be gleaned about a few of them, but the Minoh Seasonal beer was almost a complete unknown quantity – but not an unpleasant one, as it turned out. On the panel this week are Richard, Shovels, Andy and Grooben – recently departed from Vancouver and back in Edinburgh (therefore we have a vacancy for a BC BeerCaster. Unless CraigAS wants to take responsibility for the entire country…) Anyway, on with the biru. Irashaimase!!!

1. Yebisu Premium (5%abv)
Sapporo Brewery, Hokkaido.
334ml glass bottle

OK, hands up – this one was bought in Edinburgh. But it was brewed in Japan, as Yebisu (pronounced “Ebisu” is part of the behemoth Sapporo Corporation. First produced in Meguro, Tokyo, in 1890 by the Japan Beer Brewing Company, it was eventually acquired by the Hokkaido outfit, and was resurrected in 1971. As one of the country’s oldest brands, Yebisu is marketed as Sapporo’s luxury product (which explains why we could find it in our local beer retailer rather than any of Sapporo’s other brews). It is named after the eponymous God from Japanese mythology, one of the seven Gods of Fortune. Yebisu is depicted on the label in his usual guise, a portly fisherman with a giant carp under his arm (as he is also the protector of those who catch fish). Will our panel put it in the keepnet, or throw it back?

What They Say“Well known as a beer with a touch of class. Lavished with select aroma hops from Bayern, Yebisu is mellowed over a long period to be a 100% malt premium beer, with select aroma hops producing a pleasant bitterness without any aftertaste. Yebisu has been, and will be, a brand that contributes to the creation of Japanese beer culture.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Not a bad malty lager, it doesn’t linger at all 7
Grooben – More to it than some, but it’s not exceptional 6
Shovels – This is just a standard lager really 5
Andy – Has a feeling rather than an aftertaste 5

2. Angry Boy Brown Ale (6.2%abv)
Baird Brewery, Numazu.
360ml glass bottle

The rest of the beers were purchased from the wonderful Tanakaya shop in Mejiro, Tokyo. Baird beers featured quite heavily in their selection, so I plumped for ‘Angry Boy’ Brown Ale to see what the Japanese do with a classic English style. “We will not brew vapid beer” promises the Baird website, which can only be a good thing. Founded in 2000 by husband and wife team Bryan and Sayuri Baird, they produce a wide range of varying beers from their Shizuoka base. With an admirable philiosophy of ‘celebrating beer’, we had high hopes for this one.

What They Say“Angry Boy is a brown ale that doesn’t quite fit in; it is bigger, bolder, hoppier and more complex than most. It has, if you will, an angry edge. It is somewhat sweet and very full-bodied in the mouth but piquantly bitter and warming in the finish. If you are feeling angst, this is your brew.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Plenty going on there, I really like it 7
Richard – This would reward you the more of it you had 7
Grooben – Has a North American brown ale feel to it
Andy – It jumps in your mouth and throws a tantrum, but not an unpleasant one 6

3. Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout (4%abv)
Kiuchi Brewery, Naka.
330ml glass bottle

The Japanese are highly aware of presentation, and the next beer sampled comes with a label designed around an appealing owl logo. Hitachino Nest Beers are the range from the Ibaraki-based Kiuchi Brewery, and amongst their wares at Tanakaya I came across a Sweet Stout. The BeerCast has yet to come to grips with one of those, so into the basket it went. Founded in 1823 this sake producer only took up the challenge of making beer in 1996. After their successes, the enterprising company turned their hands to wine, planting vineyards near their premises. Their stout is augmented with added Lactose, the sugar derived from milk. This can’t be consumed by yeast during the fermentation process, so these types of beers have a certain characteristic sweetness about them.

What They Say“A perfect mixture of coffee, chocolate, and roasted flavours in the nose and on the palate. No bitterness, but sweet notes throughout to the very finish.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – Pleasingly subtle and growing on me 7
Andy – Dark flavours but with the volume turned down 7
Richard – Tastes like an old style stout, not too sweet 7
Shovels – Got the burnt toast of a Porter, it’s very nice 6

4. Minoh Seasonal Beer (5.5%abv)
AJI Brewery, Minoh.
320ml glass bottle

Minoh is 15km north of Japan’s second city, Osaka, and home of the Aji Brewery. They release a wide variety of beers on the local market, including some unusual brews infused with hemp seeds (called Ganja High), and grapes (Cabernet Ale). Minoh Seasonal Beer gives little away on the bottle as to the contents (at least, it does for the non-Japanese reading buyer), but according to the brewery website is their Belgian-style blonde ale. Given the BeerCast’s recent double-entry forage into the world of Belgian beer, it was always going to be an interesting exercise in comparison.

What They Say“副原料は使用せず、ベルジャン酵母特有の柔らかなフルーツ香と複雑なス パイシーさが特徴です” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – Just as good as other global Belgian style beers 8
Andy – Light, fruity and refreshing
Shovels – Very similar to Belgian beer, very nice 7
Richard – They’ve got this spot on – it’s very drinkable 7

BeerCast panel verdict

Minoh Seasonal Beer – 29½/40
Hitachino Sweet Stout – 27/40
Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale – 26½/40
Yebisu Premium – 23/40

Panellists – (from top left) Grooben, Richard, Andy, Shovels



We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with Episode 8. Stay tuned for details…and please leave us comments on the blog or iTunes, or emails. Cheers!

Tokyo IPA tasting

Another week, another BeerCast fieldtrip – although it’s pretty tough to compare Birmingham and Tokyo. After all, one of them is a glittering, fast-paced neon metropolis packed with exuberance and incredible food – and the other is the capital of Japan (you must have seen that one coming). On a recent visit to the far East I was determined to track down some local beer – stay tuned for two special Ji-Biru BeerCast podcasts in the near future. Thanks to local guide Tim Eustace, I attended a tasting session in central Tokyo. Tim runs regular workshops on different types and styles of ale, with discussions and sampling – educational and fun. The few days I was in town, an IPA tasting evening had been scheduled. Here’s what was on the menu…

1. Shiga Kogen IPA (6%abv)
Tamamura-honten, Nagano
Two Japanese IPA’s to start with, the first of them from Tamamura-honten, a sake brewery founded in 1805. They have since developed into a range of beers, and produce a blondes, porters and a couple of IPA’s. The 6%er we tried had little hops about it, but a nice bitterness and a lingering taste.

2. Ise Kadoya IPA (7%abv)
Kadoya Honten, Mie
From the Mie prefecture south of Tokyo comes another Japanese IPA. Ise Kadoya IPA is really quite fantastic – dry, fruity and hoppy, and very moreish. At 7%abv it packs a punch too.

3. ACME IPA (6.5%abv)
North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg CA
The rest of the tasting event switched to American IPA’s – some of which I was seriously eager to try, others I had never heard of. North Coast’s Californian IPA was one of the latter, but with mouthfuls of citrusy grapefruit was a very pleasant surprise.

4. Full Sail IPA (6%abv)
Full Sail Brewing, Hood River OR
American IPA’s aren’t known for being subtle, but Full Sail IPA is just that. Delicate and zesty, despite the 6%abv – which is high in relation to UK IPA’s, but relatively middling for those from over the pond. I’d certainly drink this again, if I could find it.

5. Stone IPA (6.9%abv)
Stone Brewery, San Diego CA
Bang! This is one beer that needs to be noticed. Over the months we’ve been writing and talking about beer, other (overwhelmingly American-based) websites and podcasts I’ve looked at continually sing the praises of Stone’s beers such as Ruination IPA and Arrogant Bastard, held up as being classics of their type. Their ‘basic’ IPA has everything, citrus, hops, crispness, bitterness, aroma, It’s fantastic. We need to hunt this down in the UK and get it on the BeerCast.

6. Hair of the Dog Blue Dot Imperial IPA (6%abv)
Hair of the Dog Brewery, Portland OR
There are normal beers, and there are Imperial beers – essentially this means everything involved is ramped up a level. In this instance, the %abv is still relatively low (given the direction we were heading), but the taste was certainly not. Frothy and lingering, it was amusing watching Tim trying to explain the meaning of ‘Hair of the Dog’ to the Japanese tasters.

7. Dogfish Head 90min IPA (9%abv)
Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton DE
One from the Eastern seaboard, and another standout American brewery – Dogfish Head. This is what Imperial IPA’s are all about. At 9%abv it’s seriously strong and robust, with a long finish. It goes well with cheese, something I never considered from a beer. But then I’ve never had a 9% IPA before.

8. Hopsickle Triple IPA (9.2%abv)
Moylan’s Brewery and Restaurant, Novato CA
Back west to California and Moylan’s Hopsickle IPA, a triple-hopped Imperial IPA. Tomahawk, Centennial and Cascade hops scream for attention. It’s dark and unbelievably strong. Pouring the last inch out didn’t help, as clumps of yeast added to the mix. The suggested food pairing for this one is blue cheese, which gives you an idea of the taste. It’s really too much.

9. Green Flash Imperial IPA (9%abv)
Green Flash Brewery, Vista CA
The ninth and final beer of the night (and it’s not often I say that) is Green Flash IPA – “It’s all about the hops!” trills the website, but it tastes a bit line a pine air freshner. Having said that, it’s actually pretty good, and a welcome way to end the tasting.

With that, I staggered out into the Tokyo night feeling pretty good. IPA’s are my favourite beers, and I discovered a few crackers. Top three would certainly be those from Stone, Ise Kadoya, and Full Sail. I just need to track them down in the BeerCast’s backyard.

Thanks again to Tim for the organisation, and you can catch up with some more Japanese brews here soon – in a change to the advertised schedule (as they say), BeerCast number 7 will be a four panellist, four beer spectacular from that very country. Check back next week for the podcast…

In praise of…The Wellington

Our recent BeerCast guide to Edinburgh pubs unearthed a few drinking gems in our home city, but a couple of days ago in Birmingham I found one that might top them all. In the Midlands for a few days, I’d perused the Good Beer Guide to check out any suitable alehouses beforehand, and very quickly identified one to chance my drinking arm. The Wellington in Bennett’s Hill is the reigning (and two-time) CAMRA Birmingham pub of the year. But what makes it so special? The intrepidly investigative BeerCast just had to find out.

The exterior looks oddly like a white-fronted office building, but inside it’s a proper pub all the way. Predominantly male customers sit quietly over foaming pints of ale, and the enormous bar dominates the room. A large plasma screen TV shows not sport highlights, but the list of available beers, broken down by brewery, %abv and colour (A=’Pale’ through to E=’Very Dark’). It’s a fantastic way to serve, as you order not by name, but by pump number. Instead of squinting at the pump label and ordering a pint of ‘Spoolman’s Old Toothblighter’, which could turn out to be anything, you get to study the listings like at the bookies before you buy.

You do this by pump number, so you can order a drink by simply speaking a single word – which is brilliant. The Wellington also doesn’t serve lager – apart from a couple of German varieties. Other than cider and a solitary Guinness tap, it’s all real ale. They keep a running total of the numbers served – 2242 so far in 2007. Spirits and old pint tankards line the rear of the bar (given the nature of the place they probably aren’t just for decoration), along with boxes of snuff. You can’t buy food there, they have no kitchen, but you can bring in any food you like and eat it there – they’ll even give you cutlery and plates.

The beer is what it’s all about, of course. The afternoon I was there fourteen of the pumps were in operation, showcasing a range of Midlands breweries. Black Country Ales had three on tap (Fireside, Pig on the Wall Mild, and BFG), Burton Bridge, Worfield, Grainstore and Hanby all had one each. Featured guest brewer All Gates (which is in Wigan) had a couple of pale ales on offer – 4% Fifty Marks, and 3.8% Young Pretender. So which did I try? Given that I was partway through a conference and I was on my way to the Halloween themed dinner (don’t ask), I only had time for a couple – so I sampled Black Country’s BFG (Bradley’s Finest Golden) 4.2%abv, and Worfield’s Coalport Dodger Mild (3.5%abv). The first was a tremendously hoppy IPA, a really refreshing light coloured bitter. The second a dark ruby chocolatey beer with a heavy coffee taste. They were both superb. If you find yourself in Birmingham city centre and in need of a beer – go to The Wellington, you’ll not regret it.

The Wellington, Birmingham