Tag Archives: Elixir Brewing Co

Onions: the ultimate multi-layered pairing?


Onions. The humble bulb that was worshipped by ancient Egyptians (but then, wasn’t everything?), rubbed on the muscles of Roman gladiators to firm them up, and used as medicine in the middle ages to facilitate bowel movements and erections, and to relieve headaches, coughs, snakebite and hair loss.* Of all the ingredients that spring (ahem) to mind when you wade through the panoply of beer and food pairing, onions have to be pretty much near the bottom. Until now. Yes, when given the chance to try what has to be one of the more unique beers that you’ll ever hope to experience, the other day it seemed apt that the opportunity also arose to pair that beer with pretty much the exact set of flavours in food form. And we’re not even talking about regular onions here, either. No, the layers (ahem) of specificity went far deeper than that.

* That’s quite a weekend

The gloriously named Aji Bhaji – a 7.5% Topaz-hopped amber with caramelised onions, spices and Aji Limon chillies – is just the latest in a series of left-field beers produced by Elixir Brew Co, with Ben Bullen being a sort of brewing equivalent of William Buckland (previous beers Ben has been involved with have included ingredients such as peas, lapsang suchong tea and cous cous). With the sort of happy co-incidence that so often happens when you flip the cap off an onion beer, that very evening it was discovered that Domino’s now offer onion bhaji pieces as a ‘guest topping’ on their build-it-yourself pizzas. The opportunity to pair liquid and solid bhaji goodness was just too enticing to withstand.

After all, the three main pillars of beer and food matching are often stated to be the C’s of Cut, Complement and Contrast. With exactly the same ingredient in each, in front of us had to have been the ultimate ‘complementary’ moment. And so it proved, the beer had a twin dynamic of warming chilli (from the sweet, citrus fruity Aji) and the tangy hum of onions. And the pizza, well, it had fairly imperceptible pieces of gritty overcooked onion. But you could just about taste it, if you channelled everything else out. Onion to onion. Pull them from the soil, add them to pizza and brew with them. Craft.

Onion bhaji beer paired with an onion bhaji pizza. The most specific food-pairing out there?

“Ohhhh wowwww, that is Barbie pink” – Sumac Me Feel Like a Natural Saison


It started with a stapler. Leith’s Pilot Beer have a long-held, and oft-stated, love affair with their Rapesco office hardware. I’ve yet to come across a brewery Twitter account, in my experience, with more of an affinity for thunking pieces of paper together. And yet, it turns out they are not alone. Following a chance holepunch-related tweet in Pilot’s direction*, Benjamin Bullen of Elixir Brew Co suggested a collaboration (one assumes a collab based around brewing, rather than stationery). His cordial offer was accepted – presumably via the medium of crisply-attached A4 documents – and the date set. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of a beer from either Elixir or Pilot, you’ll probably understand what followed wasn’t the typical collaborative beer day.

* If the brewery accounts you follow are full of tweets such as ‘Our new golden ale just delivered to the Tapir’s Treehouse, Bolton!’, then you’re clearly missing out

I caught up with Benjii to get the inside scoop on how two sets of forward-thinking, urbane professionals go about the process of crafting a beer from nothing. According to him, the back-and-forth negotiations went something along the lines of the following (I’m paraphrasing here):-

Pilot – We could do a saison; we’ve got the yeast?
Elixir – I wouldn’t mind doing a red saison?
Pilot – Why don’t we include sumac?
Elixir – Marvellous. I’ve no idea what sumac’s all about, but let’s go for it. Will it be red?
Pilot – Yes
Elixir – If we added kaffir lime leaves, the green would make the red ‘pop’
Pilot – What about cous cous? What would that bring to the party?
Elixir – In the mash? Let’s try it
Pilot – We’ve just bought three kilos of hibiscus
Elixir – Looks like hibiscus will find its way in then, at some point
Pilot – …and some rosewater

Benjii was delighted with the process – it was, to him, a genuine collaboration – everyone threw their ideas around (clearly), conversations were had about what they were going to do, when it was going to be done, and by whom. They kept the malt bill really plain – to allow the colour and tartness to come through; with a base Bramling Cross hopload. Certainly when you’re brewing an Arabian-themed beer originally created for Belgian farmworkers, you want all the ingredients to be noticeable. At one point, chillies were experimented with, but thought to be a step too far – this proves that these kinds of beers, despite the general tone of this blog post, aren’t just ‘chuck it and see’ brews; at all stages, the effects of these wacky ingredients are assessed.

Yet, that said, when the time comes to taste the final beer (pictured above, glowing in the last of the evening sun filtering through the windows of Edinburgh’s Stockbridge Tap), how do you assess it? I’ve never tasted sumac, have no idea what cous cous can do to the flavour or consistency of a beer. How do you quantify things you’ve never tasted before? It was certainly fascinating, trying to pick these ingredients out as defined flavours in the beer. I got a fair amount of rosewater on the finish, largely because I know what Turkish delight tastes like. As an aside to that, it was noticeably dry, limey and tart (from the leaves, and maybe the sumac, I guess).

Certainly, there was almost no trace of alcohol about it, despite coming in at 6.3% abv. As Benjii says, “we knew we could get away with going a little bit higher, because if you’re going to buy a pink hibiscus sumac saison, you probably don’t care if it’s over 6%.” No question; and there was absolutely no doubt about the vibrancy of the colour, either. “When it came out, we were all hoping it was going to be pink,” Benjii continues. “We had an idea that with the hibiscus and sumac it should be pink – but when it came through, we were all looking at it going “Ohhhh wowwww, that is Barbie pink.”

(Oh, and the name? Pilot’s ‘no-pun’ rule went out of the window very quickly – or, at least, was neatly holepunched and placed in a ring binder. In the end, the decision was made to honour the Queen of Soul – and noted fan of Belgian beer – Aretha Franklin, with the pun to end all puns…)

Coffee beers for UK Coffee Week


This week, amongst other things, is UK Coffee Week. Running until Sunday, it’s a celebration of all things jitterbean-related, and acts as a platform for Project Waterfall – a scheme, run in partnership with Water Aid, which aims to bring clean drinking water to some of the poorest coffee-growing regions of Africa. I only started drinking coffee a couple of years ago; I was convinced, for years, that I didn’t actually like it. Incorrectly, as it turned out; my tastes had changed since that distant, shuddering experience. Predictably, when I actually tried coffee again (a Sardinian espresso, no less – deep end), I loved it.

The amusing thing is that throughout this coffee prohibition, I discovered – and enjoyed – other coffee-flavour products. Coffee cake was a struggle, but I got there eventually – even if it did seem like a waste of icing or buttercream, tainted by the evil bean. Coffee chocolate was an easier sell – although I still draw the line at coffee Revels; but then, doesn’t everyone? They taste like several other people have eaten them before you. Actual coffee, though, I merely thought I didn’t like. How wrong can you be? What a waste of all those years. Still, there was always coffee beer.

Yes, before I rediscovered the capillary-widening flash of caffeine-fuelling, I was drinking coffee beer. I admit, this is pretty daft. Still, that’s me. Coffee works so well in beer – particularly (but not limited to) darker beers; as a beer writer I would have been even dafterer to not try them, despite my dislike. The flavours complement other ingredients beautifully as well – things like chocolate, coconut, vanilla. Who knows? Drinking coffee beers may well have been my gateway back into the real thing. Anyway, in the spirit of UK Coffee Week, here are a few of the UK’s best coffee beers. If you’d like to donate to Project Waterfall, you can do so here.

Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA (6.5%)
I last tried this beer on March the 26th, 2011, as part of the prep for this blogpost on a Coffee IPA battle between the Kernel and Mikkeller (a similar idea was had by a fresh-faced Hopzine Rob). At the time, I bought two bottles of the Ethiopian-laced Suke Quto – or rather, a bottle of each of the two batches – and still have one in the cupboard. Produced in collaboration with Square Mile Roasters, and featuring a Best Before of 01/12/2012 – how would it fare, all dusty and three years down the rails?

Pretty well, as it turns out. There’s a welcoming hiss when the grubby cap is popped, and a puff of foam from the bottle neck. As the foamy head layers up in the glass, there’s a palpable whiff of US caramel malt-style sweetness, alongside a touch of the cold cafetiere. Tastewise, things have faded around the edges – I remember, fresh, the IPA flavours charged out from the off, before the coffee arrived (unlike the Mikkeller, which went Coffee>Hops). But the dull flatness is rescued by the hop tinges that do remain, and by the coffee bitterness that has lasted for these three years, pulling through from the finish.

Summer Wine Barista (4.8%)
Barista was one of the first coffee beers I ever tried, I think, pretty much around the time I was experimenting with coffee IPA’s. A very different beast, this espresso stout pours blacker than a Pennine night, and has roasty coffee aroma from the off. As the flavours follow on in a similar fashion, they are joined by an ashy quality that really adds to the dryness. Leather, tobacco, all these bitter flavours wait their turn before arriving, and working beautifully.

Cromarty Brewed Awakening (4.7%)
Speaking of firsts, aside from the eponymous Happy Chappy, Brewed Awakening (coffee beers have great names) was probably one of the first I tried from the more remote of the Black Isle’s two producers. Locally ground Arabica beans result in a real deep roastiness, giving a fantastic backbone. There’s even a bit of caramel sweetness, before the mildly bitter coffee finish. A one-off cask with added sarsaparilla root passed swiftly into Edinburgh folklore when it appeared at the Stockbridge Tap.

Bristol Beer Factory Mocha (4.5%)
Produced as part of 2012’s ’12 Stouts of Christmas’ range, I pushed the boat out a little to include this one – it didn’t hang around for long. Brewed in collaboration with Extract Coffee Roasters, BBF Mocha featured Tanzanian Hope Project Peaberry Espresso, blended with Bristol’s base stout. The main talking-point was how much body it had, despite being ‘only’ 4.5%. The chocolate provided a bittersweet edge, which – of course – worked wonderfully with the big coffee roast. Great stuff.

BrewDog Dead Metaphor (6.4%)
Oh, how did this one get in here? I…er…

Elixir Cool Beans (5.0%)
Ending this list as it began – with a coffee IPA – unlike Kernel/Mikkeller the coffee was omnipresent, rather than merely the opening or closing half. In contrast to the ashen dryness of Barista, or the soft roastiness of Brewed Awakening, Cool Beans comes over more as a green, unripe, almost biting bitterness. If there’s a coffee equivalent of a raspberry, yet to ripen, this is it. Combined with the resinous hop element there too, it’s as different as all the others – proving how unusual and versatile this most magic of beans can be.

Everards to trademark Elixir Brewing Co out of existence


As the brewing industry continues to expand enormously, one of the recent trends seems to be an increase in unsavoury jostling within the market, with regard to beer names and intellectual property. Trademark disputes, unquestionably, are on the rise. British beer is ballooning in scale at the moment – only surface tension is preventing it from going truly bonkers – and over the last few months a number of high-profile disputes have taken place that have caused ripples to appear. Belleville vs AbInBev, Redwell vs Red Bull, Weird Beard vs Camden Town.

To that list, we can now add Elixir vs Everards. The Leicestershire super-regional has threatened legal action against the Scottish nanobrewery Elixir Brew Co over their pending application to trademark their brewery name. In a series of correspondence, I am led to believe that Everards have stated their ownership of the Trade Mark ‘Elixir’, and have demanded the Livingston contract brewery not only withdraw their application, but cease using the name ‘Elixir’ immediately. As I understand it, they have further demanded the withdrawal of all Elixir products from sale, in every UK market, by this Friday.

This means, with Elixir Brew Co not having the money to pursue the matter further in the courts, within three days they will cease to exist.

The reason for this action is a 3.9% summer cask seasonal – Everards Elixir, which was released in the Spring of 2012. The Leicestershire brewery have, apparently, claimed extensive use of the name – although I could find no reference to the beer on their website. According to the Intellectual Property Office, representatives acting on behalf of Everards filed a Trade Mark application for the word ‘Elixir’ on the 8th of August 2012, as one of the 78 owned by the Leicestershire brewery. Filed under Class 32 (beer, lager, ale, porter, stout, bitter), the Trade Mark was filed three days before Elixir Brew Co began their debut social media campaign on the 11th of August.

Given there is so little crossover between the two breweries, despite being in the same industry, it seems some degree of compromise could be reached; after all, the beer review site RateBeer lists 50 different beers that contain the word ‘Elixir’ (a figure which does not include those brewed by Elixir Brew Co, nor Everards Elixir). Further, the E-word is, and was in the process of being trademarked as, the Livingston producers brewery name, as opposed to a name of one of their products. Speaking of which, the first one of those – Elixir Brew Co Benedictine Groove (pictured above) has been on sale for nearly eighteen months, unopposed, until now.

Having spoken to Elixir Brew Co founder Ben Bullen, he respects – and was always willing to respect – the fact that Everards had trademarked the word, despite him registering the name as a website url on the 29th of January 2012, several months before the Leicestershire brewery released their beer. Throughout this process of dispute, to date he has received no contact from anyone at Everards – despite continued calls and letters to attempt to begin some degree of dialogue. No correspondence has been returned, with the trademark representatives of Everards issuing several multi-point letters, evidently increasingly irate in their demands (the initial letter of objection he has apparently no proof of having ever received).

Ben has since retained the services of his own legal team – at no small cost, given he is currently working several jobs to merely collate enough money to cover his brewing overheads. I think he genuinely feels steamrollered by this – particularly that following his representatives’ letter to Everards, wishing to pursue a solution that might be mutually agreeable, the Leicestershire brewery responded with an unchanged set of conditions, and only a week to comply. This refusal of Everards to even discuss their opinions in person seems to go against the individual philosophy of Chairman Richard Everard OBE “I treat people in a friendly way and am always approachable.”

Trademark disputes, and ‘cease and desist’ letters, are nothing new in business – let alone the brewing business. But as the numbers of British breweries increase to such an extent, naming disputes, however they are handled, will only increase. What shouldn’t come into it, however, is the big incessantly crushing the small, particularly if the wronged party publicly states a set of beliefs, yet conduct their position in private, from behind a barricade of solicitors. For the sake of a seasonal beer (with seven reviews on RateBeer), one company looks set to put another out of business. I guess you can only “encourage others to progress”, so far.

EDIT 04/03/2014 9:00pm
As detailed in the comment by Everards below, at around 9pm they issued a statement on their Facebook page stating “We have decided that, as the name refers to the company rather than the beer, we will not pursue this any further.” Assuming Ben Bullen receives this in writing, it shows – to a quite astonishing degree – the power of social media and how it can now influence policy in major companies. These kind of disputes, though, will still continue – and will still occur more often – but maybe outcomes like this, and the others recently, may persuade some who are thinking of putting the clamps on in a trademark battle to seek a more personal approach first, to see if differences can be overcome.

Best new beers of 2013…the best of the rest


Last week, as is traditional for the second week of December, the BeerCast was turned over to the newcomers – the six best new British beers of 2013. They were, in my eyes (in order of release):-

Harbour Aji Limon IPA
Magic Rock Salty Kiss
Tempest Old Parochial
Fyne Ales/Wild Beer Cool as a Cucumber
Bad Seed Saison
Beavertown Stingy Jack

Of course, with twelve months of full-on beer drinking under the (gradually expanding) belt, there were plenty more that could have made the list. As we move into the final blog-posting week before Christmas, it’s time to look back at the rest of the great new British beers we were lucky enough to try, and run down some of the ones that were just as outstanding as the six mentioned last week.

Arguably the stand-out brewery in terms of individual beers that tickled my tastebuds was Alpha State – any of their offerings could easily have made the top six. In fact, it was touch and go as to whether their fantastic Sorachi Red IPA was going in, meaning it was probably the seventh-best beer I had in 2013 (there’s something for the pump clip). Their Neapolitan was also superb, one of the best home-grown dunkelweizens that has been released for a very long time, and another beer that made me reconsider a style.* Citronvand, also (which the photograph above comes from) – pretty much every Alpha State beer I managed to find, essentially.

*Well, consider a style, maybe. Been a while since I was fully versed in the lore of the dunkelweiss

Collaboration beers were, yet again, another trend of the brewing year, and although Fyne and Wild’s Cool as a Cucumber made the top six, there were a few ‘meeting of the minds’ beers that just missed out. Coal Porter, produced by Alechemy and Elixir Brewing Companies, was an absolute cracker, and the pick of BrewDog’s collabfest was also (so nearly) one of the beers of the year; the Imperial brown coconut IPA made by Arbor and the staff from BrewDog Bristol. Likewise, two stand-out dual-brewery offerings that I tried at the Thornbridge takeover of Islington’s Craft Beer Co deserve a mention; Coalition (made with Terrapin Brewing) and the fabulous Twin Peaks, co-brewed with Sierra Nevada.

Two Kernel beers really stood out (‘only two?’ I hear you ask) – the fruit-laden IPA Mosaic, and the perfectly balanced London Sour (although that might well have been released in late-2012). Elsewhere in the other capital, Camden’s Seven Hop Lager proved that golden and fizzy need not be boring – not that we needed reminding of that – and further north, Buxton’s White Wine Saison was the pick of their incredible takeover of the Hanging Bat. Also on drinking trips oop North, an otherwise disappointing trip to Friends of Ham in Leeds was rescued by Summer Wine’s Devil Loves Simcoe, and Marble’s Black Marble also stood out from a trip to the North West.

Ending in Scotland, as I am duty bound to do, four fantastic beers proved that our brewers here are as good as any in the world. Take four styles – a lager, an IPA, a Black IPA, and…er…a pink peppercorn and lychee fruit ale (file under: speciality). I don’t think you’d get four better depictions of those beer types than the following; Alechemy’s Stereotype, which was, for a lager, perfectly hopped (i.e. just enough but not too much); Stewart’s spellbinding Ka Pai IPA; Well Fired Black IPA from Tryst, which I had once, on cask, back in January; and Elixir’s taste-sensation that was Jump the Shark.

Yes, the overall winners of the new beers of the year were largely unusual and rare – a salty beer, a chilli beer, a cucumber beer, etc. Is this what modern brewing is about? Well, yes and no. Most importantly, those were all examples of beers that could have been truly awful if not thought about creatively, planned carefully, and brewed perfectly. The beers in this post today were also superb, and representative of a huge range of styles, from lagers to sours. Yet again, it’s more evidence of just what great shape the British brewing industry is in.

With that, there’s one more post to come in 2013 – our brewery of the year. Who will it be? And were there any beers that you tried this year that should have been in the above list? Let me know in the comments…

Alechemy and Elixir: a twin tap takeover


Tap takeovers. Battle of the Brewers. Events in the beermakers’ pantheon somehow always seem to exude an air of implied menace; even ‘meet the brewer’ sounds as if it could involve a blunt instrument and a trip to casualty if your feedback becomes too honest. Yet, as I’ve said before, these types of nights are crucial to anyone wishing to build a brand, to make the public aware of what you are doing. They are anything but intimidating; they are critical. They are also, just as importantly, bloody good fun – involving the chance to compare and contrast a brewers’ output whilst listening to their philosophy. Take two relatively young local breweries here, Alechemy and Elixir Brewing Companies. The other night, they held a collaborative takeover at the Holyrood 9A, featuring a combined thirteen draught beers from both parties.

Even if you didn’t manage to collar someone from either brewery, you could get an inkling of what they are about simply by working your way through the brews they had laid on. Elixir, for example, brought the 2013 version of their deconstructed liquid mince pie – Minception – and also two hefty kegs of Mincendiary Device – the same beer aged with a different type of chilli (regular Aji and Aji Amarillo). Following on from the infamous Benedictine Groove (the tonic wine and tablet-stacked tribute to Scotland), Elixir – clearly – have an impish exuberance about them, and this really comes over in their beers.

Since launching around a year ago, Elixir have continued with this lively energy, working out of the increasingly busy surroundings at Alechemy (more on whom later). As a contract brewery, tank space is always the limiting factor – yet Benjii and Barry have this seemingly endless supply of ideas. Big brews of regulars such as Conviction IPA and Fremantle Doctor are supplemented by the small-scale specials that, due to their size, can really give a true reflection of their personalities. Look out soon for Elixir’s version of a Finnish Sahti, the lengthily-infused, juniper-laden beer normally produced without boiling, giving it both an immediacy and a unique flavour.

Alechemy Brewing Co, on the other hand, have undergone a huge amount of change recently. Last Spring, when James Davies opened his facility in Livingston, they debuted with a range of 4%ish cask ales, such as Five Sisters and the original Cairnpapple IPA. He’s always felt that a second arm needed to be added, however, and anyone seeking a hint as to the direction Alechemy are heading would have got it fairly quickly after the event at the Holyrood. A 7.5% imperial stout (Panacea). A 7.1% IPA brewed with 42kg of hops (Almighty Mofo). An 8.2% sour lime beer (Scurveball). Alechemy are stepping up the gears several at a time.

Chatting to James, it’s very evident how driven he is, even for such a modest and easygoing character. Adding several new members of staff; slotting a number of Belgian-style beers into their lineup; introducing ‘Freestyle Fridays’ – a relaxed week-ending attitude to brewhouse experimentation. James is now in the process of sorting a bottling line, meaning no more lengthy ferrying to Cumbria and back for his bottles. Despite all this action, and the adoption of a barrel-ageing programme at Alechemy, he’s still keen to continue with the cask session side of the business, balancing both as things move forward.

So, what about the beers themselves? Of the Elixir beers available on the night, the aforementioned Aji’d Minceptions were fantastic – both extremely subtle, despite whole chillies having spent fully three weeks in the cornies. The Amarillo was sweeter, yet the Aji had a gentle rise of heat, coming around 45 seconds after knocking back each sip (and yes, I did time it). From Alechemy, Scurveball was a revelation, tasting like limeade sherbet, and the Panacea was a coating rum and raisin comforter. Alechemy’s new lager, Stereotype, was also fantastic – keep an eye out for this if you ever see it, brewed with two different C-hops, it’s as good a new British lager as I’ve had for a long time.

Anyone new to these breweries would have certainly had their eyes opened, no question – and there were people like that there; I overheard someone contemplating getting an ‘Alchemy Citrus Burst’. They would hopefully have realised that the so-called ‘craft beer’ revolution relies on brewers experimenting, trying out new things. They would hopefully also realise that that doesn’t necessarily preclude the same brewers from producing brilliantly balanced cask ale at around the 4%abv mark – such things are not mutually exclusive, by any means (despite what you may hear). Finally, I would hope people unfamiliar with either Elixir or Alechemy left having gained an appreciation of just how varied beer can be. This, surely, is the message brewers of all scales should be pleased to get across.