New Book Review – Brewed Awakening

Brewed Awakening is a new book written by Brooklyn-based beer writer Joshua M Bernstein (as well as, coincidentally, a new coffee stout from Black Isle’s Cromarty Brewing). We were recently sent a review copy of the book – which is subtitled ‘…behind the beers and brewers leading the world’s craft brewing revolution.’ Flip over to the back cover and no less than the three tenors of the movement give their praise for the work – Domingo (Ken Grossman), Carreras (Greg Koch) and Pavarotti (Sam Calagione) – so it certainly comes highly recommended.

The book has several highlights – one of which is the feel of the thing, with a chunky yet concise build you can imagine standing a snifter of IPA on top to make an impromptu table (indeed, the inner cover is embossed to almost resemble this). The overall theme of the layout is great – faux-stained pages, torn notebook scraps and the book’s many photographs ‘held on’ with fraying tape. The dust jacket removes to become a beer map, a quick-guide though the constellation of styles and recommendations.

This is another high point, as Joshua selects about 150 beers to try, with a few at the end of each chapter (with one, notable, exception). The tasting notes are brief but amusing – the entire book is written in a relaxed, informal style – ‘Hops – I love those pungent, floral cones something fierce’. His definition of craft beer – a ‘nebulous, controversial, confusing term’ is one that can be readily applied – ‘to me craft brewers are any breweries that make flavourful, unique beer that you’ll never see advertised during the Super Bowl’.

Brewed Awakening is certainly well written, and is interesting to read – but it’s aimed fair and square at the US market. Despite the ‘world’s craft brewing revolution’ tagline, most of the non-US beers suggested are limited to those available in the States (which isn’t a criticism, I can understand the logic). For British readers – other than those interested in what’s going on in America – there might not be much to hold them in, as the vast majority of the ‘beers to try’ simply can’t be found here.

One chapter that will interest us Brits is the one on cask ale (the one with no recommendations) – I can imagine some American beer fans reeling at the knowledge that an opened cask only lasts three or four days. I find it fascinating that cask ale is now a trend in craft beer – everything’s come full circle, it seems. The book even has a full-page checklist for the cask/curious ‘Ask when the cask was tapped; Request a sample; How cloudy is it?; Ask the bartender to remove the sparkler before pouring’ *

It’s an interesting book, certainly. Although many of the beers and breweries featured will be unfamiliar to British drinkers, that shouldn’t be enough to put you off Brewed Awakening. It handles the different styles and brewing techniques well, is very engaging, and there’s more than enough to keep you turning the pages. It’s clearly one for the craft movement – as you’ll see if you scan the index for beers from our home country – Scotland’s BrewDog – p3, 13, 14, 62-65, 124-125; Scottish ales – p102, 103.

The familiar, tired comments of James Watt aside, I’d heartily recommend reading the book. UK readers might not get hold of any offerings from Smuttynose or Three Floyds with any regularity, but it’s still worth discovering the philosophies of the men and women behind the story of craft beer.

Brewed Awakening by Joshua M Bernstein is published by Sterling Eipcure, and is out now in the UK, priced £16.99 ISBN 9781402778643. It is also available on Amazon UK here. Thanks to Chandra at GMC Distribution for our copy

* My advice to the cask/curious on this particular point is – leave the sparkler alone. But then, I am an uncultured Northern heathen.

BeerCast #68 – Summer Wine Showcase

For 2012 we’re plunging into an Olympics-frenzied maelstrom of patriotism, and for the whole year only featuring British brewers in our podcasts (well, until we get to Christmas – you can’t have a Christmas BeerCast without the Anchors). First up in our year of best of British is a showcase of one of the most promising producers in the whole United Kingdom – Yorkshire’s Summer Wine Brewery. Having started a handful of years ago, the two guys behind the project (James and Andy) have come incredibly far, and are putting out a range of styles in a variety of different methods of dispense. That is surely something to celebrate. On the panel today – Richard, Shovels, and a BeerCast debut for our 22nd panelist – Calum.

1. Covenant (5.2%abv)
Summer Wine Brewery, Honley, Holmfirth, Yorkshire.
330ml glass bottle

What They Say
“Continental speciality malts provide the slightly sweet backdrop. A rich, reddish amber hue is the canvas for the best US hops to paint their picture; one of citrus, tropical and piney hop impressionism. An easy drinking, lowly bittered, high aroma delight of a beer.”

What We Say
Calum – Brewed for a wedding, I can see why – everyone would like it 7
Shovels – Nice peachy smell, nothing wrong with it at all 7
Richard – Doesn’t taste too strong, nice hoppy profile to it

2. Teleporter (5.0%abv)
Summer Wine Brewery, Honley, Holmfirth, Yorkshire.
330ml glass bottle

What They Say
“A Rich dark porter brewed with 10 different malts giving a sweet roast richness that is balanced with just enough fruity hop character. Smooth fruity notes lead you into a dreamy malt body, where notes of cocoa, caramel and vanilla melt into a moreish finish.”

What We Say
Richard – I could smell that all day, rich, creamy chocolate 9
Calum – Strong mouthfeel and a lovely milky sweetness
Shovels – Fruity at the end, it’s very nice 8

3. Barista (4.8%abv)
Summer Wine Brewery, Honley, Holmfirth, Yorkshire.
330ml glass bottle

What They Say
“Dark malt bitterness leads to roast coffee set against a sumptuous creamy mouthfeel. Ground Arabica coffee is added to this beer at the end of the boil and allowed to steep, giving you a real coffee hit throughout. The beer finishes with a touch of forgiving sweetness.”

What We Say
Shovels – Initial disappointment, but I actually quite like it 7
Richard – Lower abv coffee beers have more drinkability but you have to trade off some of the body 7
Calum – Roasty coffee aroma – the Teleporter is more rounded

4. Lime & Coriander Saison (6.0%abv)
Summer Wine Brewery, Honley, Holmfirth, Yorkshire.
330ml glass bottle

What They Say
“A light & fresh fruity Saison, the fresh zesty estery yeast plays beautifully with the slightly peppery coriander followed by a refreshing blast of zesty citrus lime. A light fruity & hugely drinkable farmhouse ale that conjures thoughts of spring & summer.”

What We Say
Richard – The herbal edge wraps into the wheaty part, limey aftertaste 8
Shovels – Get both coriander and lime, sparkly and refreshing
Calum – Not a style I’m fond of but it’s floral and easy going 7

5. Cohort (7.5%abv)
Summer Wine Brewery, Honley, Holmfirth, Yorkshire.
330ml glass bottle

What They Say
“You may have had Black IPA, but you’ve never had a Double Black Rye PA.
Cohort is a double IPA brewed with Pale, Rye, Carafa and other speciality malts that marry together with a plethora of New World hops and a Belgian Yeast to create something entirely unique.”

What We Say
Calum – Perfectly balanced, really smooth, this has got everything
Richard – I like the malty flavour and the rye spiciness 8
Shovels – Rye adds great body, it’s the best beer of the night 8

– (clockwise from top left) Shovels, Calum, Richard

BeerCast panel verdict
Summer Wine Cohort (25½/30)
Summer Wine Teleporter (25½/30)
Summer Wine Lime & Coriander Saison (22½/30)
Summer Wine Barista (20½/30)
Summer Wine Covenant (20½/30)

  • Listen to the episode on Soundcloud here:

Stay tuned for our next BeerCast, as we get to grips with another podcast brimming full of British beers for your listening pleasure…

Magic Rock takeover the Stockbridge Tap

Stuart Ross looking his best…

Magic Rock Brewing are one of the new kids on the block, having been operating for about eight months from their Huddersfield base (which I hope is an enormous circus big top). It says something about the state of the modern British beer scene that even given that short space of time, the Magic Rock boys could take over a pub 230 miles away and pack it to the rafters on a random Wednesday night. Co-founder Richard Burhouse stood on the bar of the Stockbridge Tap and admitted his astonishment that such a thing could be possible.

For something like that to happen, you need several things to align together. Firstly, the brewery needs to be active, garnering support for their products and building that following. Magic Rock are highly proficient on social media, and regularly put on launches and takeovers. You also need the encouragement of your customers – the Yorkshire area is a hotbed of beer bloggers, and they regularly sing the praises of their output. Finally – and of course, most crucially, you need to walk the walk. Having recently been voted second best new brewer for 2012, they are clearly off to the races.

The finishing line for the latest beer run was the Stockbridge Tap, and we arrived at 5pm to watch Archie frantically dashing from bar to cellar, vanishing like a bearded mole to make sure the beers were ready to go. Magic Rock Curious was first up – a zappy blonde ale that only clocks in at 3.9%, but runs away with a Fyne Ales Avalanche-like flavour (or even Jarl, as was suggested to us on Twitter the other night). Next, we compared cask and keg versions of Dark Arts – for a 6% stout, the cask version was wonderful – roasty, rich and slightly smoky. The keg version paled by comparison, being cool and bitter, and almost sharp.

From then on, the evening consisted of a series of stunning beers, one after the other – like going over Niagara Falls into a vast lake of drink. Cannonball on keg looked like a strange, creamy orange soup – but tasted wonderful. Magic 8 Ball (also on keg) was sublime, a fruity, hop forward assault. Following that, there was a special one-off dry hopped cask Human Cannonball – why not cask a 9% DIPA? On this evidence, it should be done more often – warm, rich caramel and toffee. I can’t even remember the Bearded Lady to be honest, but if drinking an imperial stout in five minutes is any clue, it must have been just as good.

Forgive the hyperbole in that last paragraph, but to get to this stage in less than a year is quite something. We sampled two of their beers in BeerCast #63 back in August, and stated that the beers showed potential but needed a bit more. Clearly, they had only just begun bottling then, and now they have found that bit extra and then some. RateBeer named Anchorage Brewing as the best new brewer for 2012 – they must be seriously good to outpoint Magic Rock.

Freebies – the ten-finger discount

Beer bloggers are fairly low in the grand scheme of things, by and large (until you gain elevation to the higher echelons of the bloggerati, of course). The vast majority of us have day jobs that don’t involve booze – unless you count staring wistfully out of the window at the building opposite and idly thinking of imperial stouts.* Largely self-funded, we spendinvest a small fortune in beer, and in travelling to festivals, drinking trips or to meet brewers. We’re about as far removed from problem drinkers as you can get – I’m guessing I fork out way more than 45p a unit for my habit.

One easy way to reduce some of the costs is to get things on the free – by requesting samples. The thinking goes that breweries, as businesses, need publicity to increase sales – so won’t mind dishing out a few bottles to keyboard superheroes up and down the land. This has come up in recent weeks due to a chap on Twitter firing off messages to all and sundry asking for samples of ‘real ale’ to help him write a book on the subject (although some digging revealed he doesn’t, as yet, have a publishing deal – and CAMRA have distanced themselves from him).

Fair play to the guy for trying, you would suppose – but I’ve always found requesting samples a bit seedy – as do some of the breweries, judging by their four-letter responses to him on Twitter (although despite that, he has got a pretty large haul of beer for his ‘book’ already). If I can sit on my sanctimonious high horse for a moment – I buy beer instead of asking for it (direct from the brewer if possible), as this way it helps them as well as me. Of course, what ‘help’ my vague, rambling bleatings about grassy hops and chocolately malt do them is anyone’s guess.

Of course, if you get a PR email from someone asking you to feature a product – that’s a whole other ballgame – and one that is up to each individual blogger. Pete Brown wrote an interesting piece on the subject last October** – and I would say that at the BeerCast we follow the broad consensus – i.e. if you push something onto us, we’ll take it – but will review it as we see fit. This is now known as the ‘Oxford Companion to Beer Paradox’.

In short, I would feel vaguely embarrassed writing begging emails/tweets to brewers – I write enough of them to my girlfriend, for one thing. I remember when we first started, we got sent a case of a brand new beer from a large English regional. Having reviewed it, objectively, as being pretty average I then received another email from the MD thanking me for our ‘refreshing honesty’, and assuring us that we’d be considered for more new releases to review when they came out. That was in 2008…

*I certainly hope the people in the building opposite know that I’m thinking of imperial stouts, anyway.

**On an unrelated note, I am also available for tours of the Czech Republic as Mark Dredge’s wingman…

Cromarty Brewing launch

Two weeks ago we met with Craig Middleton, founder of one of Scotland’s newest producers – Cromarty Brewing Co. Highly enthusiastic, Craig told us about all kinds of different projects in the pipeline – but also that he was launching both of his beers (plus a bonus) into Edinburgh on the 17th of February at the Kilderkin. So, of course, we turned up to sample his beer and see what kind of flavours he’s getting into his early offerings.

First up was his debut beer, Cromarty’s flagship – Happy Chappy (4.1%). A ‘new wave pale ale’ that has been doing the rounds on the Black Isle, but has only just made it to Edinburgh. A golden session beer, it has a lightly floral nose, with some soft citrus on the flavour. Maybe a touch more carbonation would lift it, but as an initial outing, it shows a huge amount of promise.

Next on the list was Island Shuffle, which is essentially Happy Chappy brewed with German yeast, and then dry hopped with Columbus. The difference was immediate – a big lemon zest aroma, then much more bitterness to the palate throughout. The body is slightly lacking for the hop profile – but in a dry-hopped 4.1% beer that’s very often be the case. The zesty fruit flavours definitely make up for it.

So Island Shuffle was good, but Brewed Awakening was better. A 4.7% coffee stout, being jet black it looked the business – and also delivered a roasty coffee bean aroma. Coffee on the flavour, with a touch of caramel sweetness, before the bitter roasty finish. Here the smooth body helped, giving the coffee more chance to come through – and in that respect it reminded me of Summer Wine’s Barista – one of the best UK lower-abv coffee stouts.

Expect more good things from Craig once he gets a few months under his belt – there’ll be plenty more of interest descending from the Black Isle, without doubt…

Cromarty Brewing website

In search of something special…

My name’s Richard, and I’m a Rater. Not a ticker – there’s a difference (at least in my mind) – Tickers are like trainspotters, whereas Raters are more like locomotive enthusiasts who ride on the trains as well as writing down the numbers. Admittedly, that analogy doesn’t make the beer community sound any sexier, but there you go. Tickers record merely that they’ve had a beer – Raters actually review each one as they go, and objectively put forward their thoughts.

Anyway, recently I approached a milestone – I had ended up on 999 entries on RateBeer. What to sample to get me into four figures? Something extra-exciting, or extra-rare? (RateBeer and Beer Advocate both being famous for boosting rare beers above their station – but that’s another post). Really, there was only ever one thing I could turn to. The first non-lager to pass my lips. The gateway to a lifetime of beer love. Boddingtons.

Not for me the urban corner swigging cheap cider. Nor the later, more shameful, generation weaned on alcopops. My introduction into the pleasures of booze – and yes, drinking can be pleasurable, don’t ever forget that – was a bitter. That’s if you forget about Carling Black Label, of course. So many cans of fizzy piss. In more ways than one.

No, being raised in the North West of England, it was the cream of Manchester that I fell for, the exotic yellow tin drawing me towards it like a flame. Having the strange widget bobbing inside gave you the sophisticated option of drinking it from a glass – or the unsophisticated one of tearing the metal open to see what it looked like. A tiny plastic heart. Beating life into our beloved.

As with everything else, these days it’s a mere shadow of its former self. Bod’s (not Boddies – Bod’s) used to be a symbol of Northwestern pride. Sold to Whitbread, production was switched to other plants. Hop extract was used instead of the real thing. The original 18th Century Strangeways brewery plant was demolished. Once InterBrew (now Ab-Inbev) acquired Whitbread, the writing was on the wall.

Bod’s has changed a great deal over the years. But then, so have I. We both have a higher malt component, for one thing. Is it time to move on? Soft, very smooth and with almost no alcohol in evidence – the fond memories do come back, but they are fuzzy around the edges. Sweet, biscuity water. It used to be the cream of Manchester. Now, like myself, it’s merely fading into a faint, middling bitterness.