Glassware grumbles

Last week, this article by Ben McFarland in the Guardian raised a thunderous outpouring of torrentious bile. Ben, the current BGBW Beer Writer of the Year, suggested – in an article I’m guessing was more than slightly tongue in cheek – that it was time to maybe, possibly, get rid of the nonic pint glass from British pubs. As of today, 553 comments later, presumably Ben’s face is up behind every pub counter in the land (or on the dartboard). As much as the shining lights of the blogeratti like to push the ‘snifter of DIPA, and keep the change from the fiver’ attitude, it seems comments like these show the ‘craft’ message is still very much in the minority. Just think if this article had appeared in the Daily Mail…

“Stick to your little bottles and leave the men to it, son”

Unsurprisingly, the spector of manliness pervaded much of the commentary. This person clearly has never chewed his way through a 22floz bottle of Stone Arrogant Bastard. In fact, they would probably never even consider drinking something served in fluid ounces.

“I’m sick to death of identikit pubs with a ‘wide range’ of over-hopped, yellow, ‘craft ales’ made by micro-breweries run by ex-bankers”

Ahh, the other c-word. Whether or not something is craft is something that will run and run, as long as we have no rigid definition on this side of the Atlantic. Also, the longer the financial crisis lasts, the more unemployed bankers will be out there – so this scenario could be eerily prophetic.

“Now everybody including men has to drink from what used to be called “a lady’s glass”? Another sign of the progressive feminization of British society led by London NW1 trendies and health fascists”

Where to begin with this one? Under what circumstances was a “lady’s glass” used? By the wives in their unheated side room, away from the men in the snug? Clearly, someone here fears for their masculinity. They probably also live in London.

“I can’t stand these new Beer Connoisseurs. They are such a collection of bores. They tried to do the same to tea back in the 1990s. It worked for a while before everyone realised a tea bag in a cup is all they wanted. Give me a pint of cheap beer in a pub in an old fashioned pint glass, end of story. Why are people ashamed of it?”

It’s not really the beer Ben was questioning, more the serving vessel. True story – a friend of mine once tried to make a cup of tea in a pint glass (and a nonic pint glass at that), only to have the whole thing crack in half when he poured the boiling water in. Lessons were learned that day.

“I have to say I hate those fancy wine glasses you get with lagers these days and routinely ask for the plain nonik style tankard. Some of them are over a foot long and prone to falling over. Its like drinking beer from a vase”

I actually agree with this – having once seen three Erdinger bulbed pint glasses topple from a bar. The mess was horrendous. Much better for putting flowers in (if you live in London NW1).

“Your assertion that pints are unappealing is ridiculous, clearly many people (including myself) find them extrememely appealing. A pint is too much? Man up! You’re an adult right? Act like one”

Man up! Great phrase. Particularly when slapping the face of a comatose drinker outside the Dog and Duck at midnight.

“While we are at it why don’t we call WWII a draw and ask the 1966 World Cup squad to hand back their winners medals?”

Ah. Maybe it was the Daily Mail after all…

Lagerboy Speaks – Laverstoke Organic Real Lager

As the days begin to finally lengthen, Lagerboy stirs from his sluggish hibernation – dreams of carbonation and CO2 prickle soon to give way to reality. Winter’s no fun for a fizzhound – it’s hard to laze by a roaring open fire with a Kölsch – so he tends to go to ground during the months with lots of letters in them. However, climate change being what it is, Lagerboy has emerged a tad early – and is keen to set about his latest conquest.

Cartoons and motor racing might immediately bring to mind the much-missed Wacky Races – but the playful label of (the lengthily-named) Laverstoke Park Farm Organic Real Lager (4.5%) reveals the gentleman behind this particular golden treat to be 1979 Formula 1 World Champion Jody Scheckter. Having retired from the life of fast cars (having raced in an age where retirement was a decidedly rare outcome), he started a farm in Hampshire.

Keen to be organic and biodynamic (which must be the new organic), Jody’s Laverstoke Farm also grows hops and barley – and being a thirsty South African, beer was very quickly on the agenda. Brewed at contract-kings Hepworth’s, the lager looks a beauty – brilliantly clear gold, with a thin collection of bubbled lacing clinging to the edges. The aroma is grassy and malty, with some caramel in evidence.

Unfortunately, the flavours are a slight let-down. It’s dry and grassy, leading into an earthy, slightly metallic finish. Not every lager needs to be a world-beater, of course (indeed, to some that statement would be an oxymoron). As such, there’s nothing wrong with Laverstoke Farm’s effort – it’s perfectly drinkable, organic, and has a fetching label. But at the end of the day, it’s no Ferrari.

Laverstoke Park Farm website

The Bow Bar’s Winter Beer Festival 2012

This week sees the beginning of one of the more keenly anticipated ten-day periods in Edinburgh – the start of the Bow Bar’s annual winter beer festival. From Thursday the 26th the famed Aitken tall founts will be dispensing (via air-pressure) a range of specially invited cask ales, with several kegged beers also appearing. With very probably only a single barrel of each arriving, be sure to keep an eye out for the Bow’s (twitter feed) as new beers come on.

For the uninitiated, the Bow Bar is one of Scotland’s best pubs – a classic, one-room, mirror-lined drinking house. No music or other distractions (unless the rugby’s on), and with literally several hundred whiskies to go for if a nip towards oblivion is required – it’s simply a must-visit if you find yourself in the city. Even if you’re normally a fan of lively pubs with plenty going on, the Bow is all about the drink – and everyone can agree on that, surely?

So what to sample? Looking at the beer list, fans of the hair-curlingly strong stuff (i.e. BeerCasters) will be delighted – in no particular order there should be Highland Old Norway (9.0%), Brodies Superior London Porter (7.3%) and Hoxton IPA (6.6%), Magic Rock Cannonball (7.4%), Fyne Ales Sublime Stout (6.8%), Orkney Skull Splitter (8.5%), Williams Profanity Stout (7.0%) and Thornbridge Yule (7.4%). There’s an afternoon to savour.

Some rare Scottish beers that will certainly be interesting include Stewart Brewing’s Chilli Reekie (6.2%), Broughton Winter Fire (4.2%), and Cairngorm’s German-style rye beer Roggen (4.3%) – all are certainly worth a punt. Cairngorm’s new neighbours Loch Ness Brewing have three ales down on the list, so look out for those. Also it’s heartening to see that Demon Brew at the Prestongrange Gothenburg have resumed production after the tragic death of Roddy Beveridge, with their classic Porter.

From further afield, the new and unusual (which for me is always the best thing about beer festivals) include the Liverpool Craft Beer Co with their 3.8% pale ale Icon, Allendale’s Winter Dunkel (4.6%), and Box Steam’s Funnel Blower Vanilla Porter (4.5%). I’ll also be after Redemption’s kiwi hop-packed Big Chief (5.5%), and the style-bending Ossett Indian Winter Ale (5.0%).

Oh, and Highland brewing’s Bow-exclusive 3.9% citra beer – called simply Citra

The Bow Bar’s winter festival runs from Thursday 26th January to Sunday 5th February 2012. Check their Twitter feed for up to date information, or their website for directions. We’ll be posting the best of the beers on offer after the festival ends (or maybe during, if there are that many)…

BeerCast #67 – Beer of the Year 2011

The first podcast of any year is always one to look forward to – as tradition dictates it’s our BeerCast Beer of the Year show. As highlighted in our recent preview, the four highest scoring beers we could find from the podcasts recorded in 2011 are re-sampled, and a winner picked. Previous winners are Anchor Christmas Ale 2006 (2007), Hop Back Summer Lightning (2008), Stone Ruination IPA (2009) and Odell Isolation Ale (last year), so whichever beer came out on top this time, it would be in good company. The four beers in our BOTY show were Rogue St Rogue Red Ale (5.2%), Kernel IPA Citra (7.2%), Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest (6.7%), and Thornbridge St Petersburg (7.7%). It’s always interesting to re-taste beers, as they can be very different a second time around…and so it was to prove. Our Beer of the Year panel consists of Shovels, MrB, Richard and Grooben…

1. Dry Hopped St. Rogue Red Ale
(5.2%abv) 22oz glass bottle
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon.
BeerCast#58 scored 34/40 (85%) 15th February 2011
Originally tasted by Richard ; Grooben ; Shovels ; MrB

What They Say“Reddish copper in color, a roasty malt flavor with a hoppy sprucy finish.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – Really very malty, more than I remember
MrB – Mine’s got floaters in it, did I like this?
Richard – As close to an American session beer as you can get
Shovels – Still like it, and I still love the aroma

2. Kernel IPA Citra (7.2%abv) 330ml glass bottle
The Kernel Brewery, Bermondsey, London.
BeerCast#59 scored 36½/40 (91%) 29th March 2011
Originally tasted by Richard 10; Stu ; Shovels ; Grooben

What We Say
MrB – These bottles are six months old, it’s lost some aroma
Grooben – Lost some of it’s Citra-yness impact on the shelf
Richard – Back then it was absolutely great, though
Shovels – Thin, with a hoppy aftertaste, then a musty yeastiness

3. Southern Hemisphere Harvest
(6.7%abv) 22oz glass bottle
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Chico, California.
BeerCast#58 scored 34/40 (85%) 15th February 2011
Originally tasted by Richard 9; Shovels ; MrB ; Grooben 8;

What They Say” Robust hop character presents an intriguing floral-citrus aroma leading to layers of fresh-hop spiciness. Enjoy!” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Nice bit of malt backbone to it, I really like this
Grooben – Difficult to distinguish from their standard beers
MrB – I like it, but it’s no more tasty than other SN beers
Richard – Maltier and more body than the Kernel, it’s a bit soapy

4. St Petersburg (7.7%abv) 500ml glass bottle
Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell, Derbyshire.
BeerCast#64 scored 26/30 (87%) 20th October 2011
Originally tasted by Richard 9; Shovels ; Grooben

What They Say” Rich and dark with smoke, subtle peatiness and the power of the dark malts. Molasses and liquorice and chocolate goodness all wrapped up in a smooth, warming liquid.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – Wonderful balance to it, with no harshness
MrB – I’m not used to drinking stouts, it’s still very tasty
Richard – Absolutely cracking beer
Shovels – Lovely flavours, just a great beer

So those were the thoughts – or re-thoughts – of the panel during the tasting of the four beers that had made it through to the final. The next thing to do was go round the table and give our rankings from 1-4 on the night, plus a beer each that we enjoyed over 2011 and felt deserved a special mention…

“1. Thornbridge… 2. Kernel… 3. Sierra Nevada… 4. Rogue… My favourite beer I’ve had this year is St Petersburg, it’s fantastically smooth and brilliantly made.”

“First for me is the Rogue – I still liked it even though it had bits in, it had a great balance. Second – it’s a tough one, I’m going with the Kernel on memory, then St Petersburg, then Sierra Nevada. I can’t think of anything that’s really stood out for me this year – I’ve been too busy homebrewing.”

“My first on the night and in general is St Petersburg – it’s just a fantastic beer, second is Kernel IPA Citra, which is my favourite beer I’ve had this year. That for me was the Kernel beer that really pulled everything together. Third is Rogue because I really like it still, and fourth is Sierra Nevada.”

“Number 1 is St Petersburg, No 2 Sierra Nevada Harvest. I think I’ll have to go Kernel and then Rogue. But it’s not like any of them are bad. My favourite beer this year – 1000IBU from Mikkeller – which these days is where you have to go to make me go Mmmm. I spent 2-3hrs drinking a bottle in Ghent, and I loved it.”

So in the end there was a unanimous winner – Thornbridge St Petersburg becomes our fifth BeerCast Beer of the Year – and the first stout to take the Golden Mouthchart. Congratulations to all in Bakewell – yet another accolade to add to the pile! Second place – for the second year in a row – Kernel with IPA Citra. The two Americans were next, with Rogue’s St Rogue Red Ale picking up third, ahead of Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest. Four worthy beers, but one worthy winner.

But at this point we were only half-finished – our panel then tasted four more beers – the traditional ‘end of BOTY surprise’ involved four unusual adjunct-enhanced beers from Bières Bourganel in the south of France. Listen to our tasting after the BOTY voting, and check back to the website in a few days for a full review post on four very different beers. Many thanks to everyone who downloaded or subscribed to our podcasts in 2011 – we’ll be recording many more in 2012 – stay tuned..!

  • Listen to the episode on Soundcloud here:

Two from Lovibonds

At the start of the year we predicted big things for a few UK brewers in 2012. Some were experienced players looking to make the next step – others complete beginners starting out. The new boys aside, we’d already sampled plenty of beers from the other producers – so can feel fairly confident in our predictions. One brewer we’ve never tried, however, are (or rather were) Henley’s Lovibonds. Having recently got hold of two bottles from a retailer in London, it was time to put them to the test – and see if our enthusiasm was well-founded…

Lovibonds Henley Dark
Paying homage to London porters of old, Henley Dark contains seven different malts – including one smoked with beech wood from the Chiltern hills. Coming in at 4.8% and 40IBU’s it actually looks like a Coke float – ruby red and highly effervescent. The aroma is fabulous – smoky chocolate, with fruit in there as well. Chocolate on the palate, it’s quite bitter and prickly – with noticeable smoke on the aftertaste. I wasn’t expecting that at all – it really brings a nice sub-flavour to the beer.

Lovibonds 69IPA
Part of the ‘new generation of IPAs’, 69 was produced using the Hopinator – which is either a turbo-powered dry hopping machine, or the best Gladiators name ever. Lovibonds founder and head brewer Jeff Rosenmeier hails from across the pond, so naturally wants to pound hops into everything, given the opportunity. 69IPA is full of those delicious piney, citric hop aromas that modern beer fans go all gooey over. Tropical on the taste, with more pine and a touch of alcohol – it’s completely wonderful, and so drinkable. One of the best British IPA’s I’ve ever tasted.

We’ll hopefully be getting more Lovibonds beers in the near future – so stay tuned for our reviews. Rumours are they’ll be appearing in Scotland with increased regularity…

Lovibonds website

Scotland on the brink of independence?

What would Mel drink?

Scotland is dominating the news agenda at the moment – so either the national team has just lost to San Marino, or it’s something to do with independence. The thorny I-word has appeared again, dragging itself onto the front pages like a mythical sea monster emerging from the Highlands. The SNP administration at Holyrood is locked in a battle with the Con-Dem coalition in Westminster. At stake – the future of the Union. Will the Scots people be given a referendum? Will the vote be Yes, or No?* And more importantly – what effect will Scottish independence have on beer?

If granted the chance to ‘run our own affairs’ (as the SNP mantra has been for the past thousand years) – this could have a critical impact on brewing north of the border. Recently we’ve been looking to the future – with our beery predictions for 2012, and then our list of breweries to look out for over the next twelve months. So delving even further into the BeerCast crystal ball – here’s what could happen to our beloved beverage if Scotland pulls away from the Union…

Scottish First Minister Alec Salmond rejoices after David Cameron’s gamble backfires spectacularly. Given the referendum sooner rather than later, Salmond picks the date to co-incide with the Olympic track cycling. Chris Hoy wins another five gold medals, and Scotland votes for separation faster than a Branflake-powered knight of the realm. Salmond celebrates with a Punk IPA atop Edinburgh Castle, but mistakenly picks one brewed in London.

The UK Government re-instates the 1725 Malt Tax, forcing Scottish brewers and distillers to become more creative. Keg beer production soars, Scott and Bruce Williams become leaders of a tartan-clad brewing underground movement, adding Tunnocks teacakes to every boil. Caledonian recalls all casks of Deuchars IPA from England – MolsonCoors step into the void, and Sharp’s Doom Bar appears in every pub south of the border. Their CEO gets a knighthood.

President Salmond toasts the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn with a Scottish sauvignon blanc, global warming having really taken hold. Citizens of the People’s Republic of Scotland drink heather and juniper-infused wheatbeer on pavement cafés from Dunbar to Inverness. The SNP coax Rob Hill from his Orkney realm, and appoint him brewmaster laureate. BrewDog relocate to Wales in a fit of pique.

The Labour party win a landslide in the UK general election, despite David Cameron banning Scots from voting. President Salmond congratulates Prime Minister Balls, sending him a keg of Black Isle 80/Euro. The new Labour administration removes anti-bootlegger barriers at the Scottish border. As a result, Scotland returns to the fold of the UK. Wales becomes independent. BrewDog relocate to the Isle of Man.

*Rumour has it Alec Salmond has requested ballot papers to list the options as AYE!!! or Naw.