They Brew it, I sell it, You Drink it... and so do I..

Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012, A Few Thoughts

It's been an interesting sort of year... more than anything it's been one heck of a short year. I don't really know where the time has gone, it feels like it was only yesterday I was falling asleep as the ball dropped for last call on 2011.

I don't think a whole lot has really changed in the beer world, but there's certainly a few things worth noting whilst looking back on the bar menu calendar that is 2012.

- One welcome change that we noticed was the introduction of the third pint measures in most of our favourite bars and pubs. A great change if you ask me.

- It seemed that the Black IPA fad kind of seemed to finally fade out and there's not as much fuss about them any more.

- People kept trying to search for the new big thing in beer, be it the new big hop variety or super strength beer or crazy new beer style, but I never really saw anything materialize.

- We didn't all die on the 21st.

- As is the norm for all years, new breweries opened, old breweries closed or moved (notably Tetley's) and existing breweries expanded (notably Kernel) or got new play things like Magic Rock's new bottling line (which is great news for Beer Ritz patrons!)

- It's been a fantastic year for beer festivals. Great shout outs go to Indyman, Leeds International, GBBF and many more - may it continue next year!

- A great new bar made more super beer available to the lucky people of Leeds, that and quite a bit of ham too. With the addition of a Brewdog bar in Leeds coming in February, I can confidently say that Leeds has shaped up to be one of the best cities in the North for drinking great beer. Long Live bars like North bar, Friends of Ham, Veritas, Whitelocks, the Cross Keys, Arcadia, Mr Foleys, Alfred, East of Arcadia, the Midnight Bell, Pin, Brewery Tap, The Hop... the list goes one and on...

- Speaking of Leeds, it was like all our birthdays and Christmases came at once when the Beer Bloggers conference came to town! What a stupendous couple of days that was!

- Who could forget the festivities of North Bars 15th Birthday too...

- A little closer to home interesting happenings went on at Beer Ritz. Continuing a theme from last year, international beer sales continue to fall of the cliff in favour of local British beers of which the sales continue to go up and up. It truly is a great time for British brewing.

- With the help of Leigh we've put on some great food and beer matching events at the shop, and even though it's been a while since the last one I hope it's something we can do more of in 2013.

So what else can we expect from 2013?

Will we see new beer styles coming out? probably not..

Will there be more bullshit about 'Craft' definitions? probably..

Will there be new beers? certainly!

2013 will certainly bring big things for beer, so let's welcome it in with a bang tomorrow and raise a glass of your favourite beer to.. urmm.. beer!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Can too much choice be a bad thing?

It's a question that's been floating around my head for a while, and is something that popped in specifically last night whilst I was trying to choose a good Brandy. I can't remember if I've even had a decent Brandy before, I'm pretty sure I haven't, or at least not knowingly anyway. I ended up going for the one pictured to the right.

Back to the Brandy later, but now onto the subject of choice. It's far too often I hear these days; "There's too much choice, it's impossible to decide!"

My first thought or want of a response to this statement is "Well that's because you're an indecisive person who doesn't actually know what they want..." but this response is only thought of because it's a statement I've heard so very often. These statements aren't actually from people who don't know what they want at all. They know exactly what they want - beer! But when you've only seen what the average pub or supermarket has to offer all you life and you step into a shop which sells over 600 different beers you've never seen before, what are you supposed to say?!

Coming from someone who doesn't drink much (if any) wine, I can't say how crazy I find it to pick out a bottle of wine as a gift for someone when looking at the mass of selections on offer in any wine merchants or even supermarket. I had the same problem with the Brandy the other night.

This is where I ask for assistance though. I don't just state "There's too much choice!" and leave with the most recognised label on the shelves... I ask an employee who knows more about the subject matter than I do to advise me. The only problem facing the person looking at 600 beers they've never seen is that they don't know about the beer!

This is what it's all about - Education. It's all well and good having the biggest selection of beers in the country, but if you've not had any of them and don't know what you're stocking, then how can you sell it to your customers properly? If you know about what you sell, which I can unashamedly say our Beer Ritz team do, then you can talk to your customers about the products, engage and let people leave with beers that you know they'll love instead of just another four pack of Fosters. I didn't have a clue what to order when it came to my Brandy last night, but I asked and was given the low down by someone who did know, and came away with a very delicious tasting drink.

The places where choice is abundant are becoming less so these days. Is having a limited choice everywhere something that seems more appealing than having to take a couple of minutes to make a more discerning choice?

Is too much choice a bad thing?

Of course it's not! But you're going to need to be able to sell that choice to people.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Down Time

What constitutes down time to us? I suppose it means different things to different people, or even multiple things to the individual. It could be enjoying a good book by an open fire, or a pint in your local in the window seat as you do the crossword, some people even do exercise! Your down time is your time to rest and rejuvenate, to relax and unwind. Another important part about down time is that it gives you much needed time to think.

Last night I had some down time. It started around 8 o'clock. I got my big coat and gloves on and walked to the bus stop whilst I tried to avoid falling over on the ice. The usually quiet Wednesday evening bus trundled along the twenty minute journey into town with an unusually large number of revelers. I was able to drown out the rowdy chants with a bit of soothing iPod beats. I also avoided any eye contact with any sort of different creature in fancy dress by scrolling through iPhone tweets...

I swear the inventions made by Apple are only purchased to allow me something to distract from the surrounding world..

I get to my destination of down time. A short walk takes me to the usual, the classic, the ever 'good call' - North Bar.

North is a place where all types and kinds of down time unfold for me. I quite often enjoy a nice quiet drink or two sat at the bar. Other times I like to sit at the bar and get smashed and order lots more beers than my wallet should really allow. The quiet drink though, is one I had last night. During a quiet drink I'll usually be surrounded by other like minded people and enthusiastic bar staff, who enjoy the finer beers in life. I very often like to have a chat with random strangers who also sit alone at the bar. You can have a lot of fun chatting to someone you don't know over a beer... that is, as long as they look like they're up for a chat!

A party group of about 30 walk through the door and the two bar staff give each other the "every time December.. why!" kind of look. A couple leave quickly but I stay sat at the bar. I won't be letting a rowdy group spoil my half of Gadd's and De Molen's fresh hopped Bohemian Pilsner! Besides I'm at the end of the bar and I'm not in anyones way.

Faces coming in look red from the cold. Faces going out look red from the beer.

Time passes, another half is ordered.

Another big group of people of about ten strong walk in and straight back out again. The staff don't look too displeased... after all, the bar is rammed full on a Wednesday evening.

I take a look outside for a while and see a car and a van driver try to turn into a side road at the same time. Fingers are flipped and shouting ensues. The van driver gets out and the car driver speeds away quickly, narrowly avoiding the van diver. It kind of makes me feel better in that one instance. The knowledge that I'm having a good time, and that I don't have that kind of anger about me is soothing.

I have another chat about whisky this time with the man to the left of me. As I said, I don't mind talking to like minded people on my down time. People drunk out of their skulls... I actually don't mind talking to them either.. It's highly entertaining!

Pork Scratchings? Yes please!

Sure I could be on the comfy couch right now drinking this Duvel Triple Hop, dry hopped with Citra (which btw, was phenomenal!) reading a book or two about beer - which sounds pretty perfect, don't get me wrong! But I'm at the bar, being engaging. Talking to people about passions and life, and you know what? It's a fantastic way to spend my down time!

I leave North Bar at an undisclosed or unremembered time...

Did I move onto another bar in the morning hours? Well I was on down time, but that's all in my history now. And it was in this down time which I had last night, when I had some time to think, where I wrote this on a few scraps of paper.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Golden Pint Awards 2012

I've always considered the Golden Pint Awards to be a great bit of fun, even if it is only really observed by our own little beery world. I think it's a great opportunity to give a shout out to the brewers and others in the industry that really deserve it, so without further babbling, here's my list for 2012...

Best UK Draught Beer: Hawkshead Windermere Pale. runner-up Roosters Fort Smith.

Best UK Bottled Or Canned Beer: Oakham Green Devil. runner-up  Moor Hoppiness.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Oscar Blues Dales Pale Ale. runner-up Nogne-O Oaked Sunturn brew.

Best Overseas Bottled Or Canned Beer: Flying Dog Kujo. runner-up Brewfist Caterpillar.

Best Overall Beer: Oakham Green Devil. runner-up Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

Best Pumpclip Or Label: Rukus Brewing Hoptimus Prime. runner-up Pipeworks Brewing Ninja vs Unicorn. (just look at them!!)

Best UK Brewery: Ilkley Brewery. runner-up Hawkshead Brewery.

Best Overseas Brewery: Stone. runner-up Mikkeller.

Pub/Bar Of The Year: ARCADIA Headingley, Leeds. runner-up North Bar.

Beer Festival Of The Year: Leeds International Beer Festival at Leeds Town Hall.

Supermarket Of The Year: Sainsburys down the road from us - for consistently having a crap selection of beer and thusly not competing with us!

Independent Retailer Of The Year: Beer Ritz of course!

Online Retailer Of The Year: Beer Paradise.

Best Beer Book Or Magazine: Melissa Cole - Let Me Tell You About Beer.

Best Beer Blog Or Website: Tandleman. runner-up Real Ale Reviews.

Best Beer Twitterer: Melissa Cole. runner-up Kristy McCready.

Best Online Brewery Presence: Thornbridge.

Food And Beer Pairing Of The Year: Applewood Smoked Cheese and Moor Amoor Peated Porter from the Beer Ritz beer-and-cheese-off hosted by Leigh.

In 2013 I'd Most Like To See: More UK Breweries making Imperial Stouts!

I guess that's all for now. Let the chaos and heavy drinking of the Christmas and New Year season commence!!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Do Brewers Know, Or Want To Know??

We've all had an instance of having a bad bottle of beer before. I know I've certainly chucked a couple of beers down the drain in my time, be it because it was infected, flat or just not very good. But the ugly question of what to do about it when it happens has been popping up in my head for the past few days...

Do you quietly slag off the beer on twitter hoping that the brewery won't see your tweet...?

Do you actually tell the brewery, on twitter or otherwise...?

Do you take it on the chin and accept that this is now part of "crafty craft beer culture"...?

Or do you (go to an extreme in my opinion) and not buy beer from that brewery again...?

We get bottles brought back to the shop from time to time (it's actually very rare) and we obviously give a refund. When it comes to a case of beer that's infected the brewery is usually informed and it is replaced or refunded, but when it's a single bottle would they like to know..?

I suspect that the brewers would actually like to be told.. or would they? I'm not a commercial brewer so I wouldn't really know. Also, I know myself, telling a brewery that I had a bad bottle from them would be quite embarrassing.. It smacks of me trying to say; "I had a crap beer from you, I want a free one now!". I think this is what some others might think and so, just take it on the chin and chalk it up to a bad bottle and move on without saying anything.

I've also heard some conspiracies about brewers purposely putting out beer that they know isn't up to their standards.. I didn't really pay this any mind, but thinking about it, all these new breweries that are starting up and have a hard time of it on the cash terms, if they make a big batch of beer and it's got a slight fault do they A; sell it and know that someone will drink it, or B; chuck it down the drain and lose a hefty sum of money which is quite vital to a new brewery? This is probably over thinking things a little too much, but I still think consistency is one of the most important things in beer when it comes to customer loyalty.

Another thing that's really bothered me lately about consistency is bottle labels. Now every now and then we'll get a case of beer without any labels on. This obviously happens when a case from the fermentation room gets mixed up or something similar. This problem is very usually quickly fixed. We'll give the brewery a DM, and until now all brewers have been very polite about sending us a sheet of labels which we put on ourselves.

More often than not unfortunately though, it's the odd one or two bottles in a case that don't have a label on. It would be a little pedantic to go asking the brewery to mail us one label.. or would it?

It's really difficult to sell a bottle of beer without a label. Really. Not to mention possibly illegal? Most of the time they go in the pound bin, which is very damaging to the brewery from a customers point of view. "What beer is this?" they ask.. "Why doesn't it have a label?" to which answers are given but looked upon like it's a bit of a poor show.

I know quality control is a very high priority in every brewery, but when it's coming up to the busiest time of the year, it's not a time to rush things and make simple mistakes, they end up costing a lot more, in my view.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

What Makes A Good Whisky

You can find a lot of comparisons and quite a few similarities between breweries and distilleries these days. It's not just brewers who compete with each other for titles... For instance, lots of breweries like to make beers as strong as possible. Some distillers like to make whisky as strong as possible. Some breweries like to make a beer with the most IBUs in the world. Some distillers like to produce the most heavily peated whiskies in the world. Some breweries and distillers like to produce the world's most expensive beers and whiskies... the list goes on, but there is something you can take from this.

When it comes to asking the question of what makes a good whisky the answer is always going to be one which is based on a personal level. One persons good Scotch might not fit into another persons good Scotch; for instance, I really don't like Laphroaig, but I know plenty of people that do.

Just as "what is craft beer" is seen to be answered on a personal level by most people, what makes a good whisky is also going to be answered on a personal level. I do have a good rule of thumb (which I stole off Zak) when it comes to identifying a good beer though. It all comes down to drinkability for me. If it's going to be a good beer it has to be a beer which delivers the second time round. How many times have you told yourself; "It's good, but not as good as the first time I had it..." I know I have many times. Maybe this is to do with us big-ing the beer up in our heads or maybe it's not.

I think the mark of a really good whisky is one that you want to come back to time and time again.

Sure you can get a whisky which is stupidly strong, or ridiculously flavour packed, and while these might be very 'good' whiskies, I've never really been that drawn to them, and I certainly only drink them here and there. It's pretty difficult to be impartial though and actually identify the difference between a good whisky and a whisky I just really like. This is where I think the drinkability comes back into it. This is still a personal opinion, but I think a whisky which you can have a few drams of without it destroying your throat or making you hit the floor is a much better whisky.

It's very often that the entry level whiskies from distilleries are the ones I most favour. Look toward Edradour 10yr, Highland Park 12yr. Bowmore 12yr and Ardbeg 10yr. Calling them the standard whiskies that the distilleries make would be doing them a great diservice, because they're anything but 'standard', but these are the whiskies I often go for.

Don't get me wrong I do love my crazy whiskies. The pictures I've added alongside here are deliberately whiskies I wouldn't drink much of, but that's not to say I wouldn't appreciate them, not at all. The thing is though, it's always the entry level whiskies I find myself coming back to, because of their drinkability, and I think it's that that makes them good whiskies.

Speaking of good whisky, I thought this was a fantastic (but a little expensive) idea!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Bradford Cockerel

It's back to Roosters brewery this week for another interesting looking bottled beer. Roosters bottles are rarer than hen's teeth round here, and when they do show themselves on our shelves they don't roost for long! In fact the case of this beer we got into the shop sold out in a matter of hours...

Transatlanticism is a hop forward Porter coming in at 7.3%. It was brewed in collaboration with David Bishop, who took part in the Rooster's home brew competition, with Transatlanticism being the winning entry.

The aroma is rich and roasted with hints of toasted oats and dry hay. There's also a lot of fruitiness about it too with orange marmalade notes and a little sherbet citrusy/spritsy quality. It looks fantastic in a cleanly polished glass, almost like a big round solid block of jet.

The first thing you notice about the flavour is the big roasted barley hit that rolls across your tongue. This mellows out leaving a gently bitter taste with dry coffee, some earthy essence and just the right amount of warming alcohol so you don't knock it back too quickly. If you look a little deeper you do get the big presence of the hop bruisers coming out, with big names like Cascade, Chinook and Simcoe adding to the dry fruity punch. More dry hopping on top of that with Cascade and Centennial only adds to the hop profile.

As I was drinking the beer I didn't really think that it was a hop forward Porter though... I didn't think it had enough body about it. On further evaluations though I realised I've never actually had a beer which has described itself as a 'hop forward Porter' so i've got nothing to judge it against in terms of style, so that argument is rather redundant. I guess the best thing to do was judge this as a very nice beer, and at the same time, something a little different from Roosters brewery.

It would be great to see a few more of their bottles on our shelves now...    

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Night With A Rooster

Arcadia real ale and wine bar in Headingly hosted a Meet the Brewer night a couple of days ago with some of our local favourites - Rooster brothers Ol & Tom Fozard. Now I didn't exactly manage to get down for the talk they gave, which I heard was very well received, but I made sure I got down for all the beers they had put on show.

Buckeye 3.5%
The first one I opted for was the most obvious choice for a starter, but not a Roosters beer that I'm actually familiar with. Buckeye is a pale gold session Bitter with an inviting straw/grassy/citrusy aroma - think lemon and hay too. On initial sips (gulps) you notice a light bitterness among a very soft and floral body. It's not that light for the % though. The gentle malt backbone which is supported by new world hops gives a really nice body and mouthfeel. Finish it off with a classic Roosters bitter sweet finish and it's a real good refresher. A beer that can easily be supped in five minutes with you going back for another 3 or 4 without worrying about the next day. A great starter.

Fort Smith 5.0%
Next along the line of pumps was Fort Smith IPA, which is a little bit of something special! I've had this brew a few times before, but it's not a beer that I can see getting old anytime soon. It's only a shade darker than the Buckeye and the five big name hops used in the beer push the aroma in the general juicy hop direction. You can tell from the first sip how much flavour this beer really has - it's a hop bomb powerhouse, but at the same time still has that classic soft and floral Roosters quality. It's got some dry sherbet and tonnes of orange rind. It's really juicy, but very bitter too, a bit like a orange and grapefruit juice mix. It's a bit of a strange IPA but not in a bad way. It seems to be very new world-ish but at the same time you know you're drinking an English IPA.

Londinium 5.5%
For the last of what was on show, Londinium coffee Porter really finished things off nicely. It's a pitch black beer with sweet mocha aromas. On further analysis I get hints of chocolate and a little dusty dry oak. It's got a really nice thick rich malt body which gives a perfect mouthfeel. It's a beer packed out with flavour; lots of vanilla, roasted coffee beans and oaky/woody notes - I can agree with Tom when he says it makes a great nightcap.

Rooster Brewery seem to be going from strength to strength these days. I think their pump clips might even be winning me over when I can see them all side by side like they were. After hosting a homebrew competition they went on to produce the winning entry on their trial plant to be put in bottles. We got 12 of these bottles at Beer Ritz. They took about 2 hours to sell out.... I'm pretty confident that's the quickest we've ever sold a case of beer. They've also had what looks like great success in relaunching the Outlaw Brewing arm of the company, for more info on this pop over to Leigh's blog to get the downlow. I'm looking forward to seeing what they come out with next.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Special Reserve Evaluations

A Master Class of taste and complexity...

Buxton Brewery have just released a Special Reserve series of beers and it can only be described as a ludicrously small amount. The third in the series, Bomba, was limited to only 30 bottles, so it's no surprise I didn't mange to get my hands on a bottle! (a lucky few got to try some of this Bretty Imperial Stout at the latest Borefts Beer Festival from a small barrel.)

I'll finish with the first in the series, and start with the second: A Imperial Smoked Rye Porter.

I had plans on making a Imperial Rye Stout and calling it Gone-A-Rye but when someone mentioned that if you say that fast it sounds like another word I decided against it... I like Buxton's name much better anyway;

Smokey and the Band-Aid
I was told I should drink this sooner rather than later as the smokiness was falling away slightly. On first nosings, it seems that this couldn't be further from the case and smells almost as powerful as Schlenkerla Marzen! If this is smokiness dying away, I can only imagine what it was like fresh! Delicious aromas of smoked oak and peat fill your nose. Subtle hints of spicy rye and a little caramel are there too. A little fruit, some apple and plum skins - overall a beer I've smelled too much and really need to get stuck into...

Wow. This is a perfect flavour mix combination. Drinking no where near it's 7%abv, the bottle states they "scoured" the Earth for the malts in this beer... it should have said 'scorched' the Earth! Intense and complex burnt woody flavours with some ash are mixed with an almost vinous quality. It's pretty much a blend (in my eyes) of Ardbeg Uigeadail, a dash of Port, Schlenkerla and all the flavours of a strong Buxton Porter. And that is definitely something I can get behind!

The second S.R. is the first S.R., and quite a different beast indeed.

Barrel Aged Tsar 9.5%
Limited to only 112 bottles it's another one from a very small batch. While this beer may have sat in Bourbon barrels for six months, Buxton's head brewer is not a fan of overpowering flavours by barrel aging, so barrel aged Tsar is blended with regular Tsar before bottling - which I think is a great idea. Aromas come by the dozen! Huge vanilla and sweet honeycomb, a little sherry and fiery oak soaked in Bourbon. More fruit here as well - plums, raisins and apricots which smell like they've been coated in caramelized toffee.

In my last post I wrote about my dislike of the use of Bourbon barrels for aging beer, bar a few specific cases. Seems I've been proven wrong once again... But I've been proved wrong because this beer seems like it's been made by a brewer who actually knows what he's doing with barrels... Perfect body (not flat), great length, and the Bourbon is no where near overpowering. Toffee biscuits, chocolate and molasses, spicy malts and even a touch of dry, hoppy bitterness if you look for it. This beer does drink to it's strength and it's obvious after a couple of mouthfuls... not that I'm complaining on this cold hallows eve!

Two fantastic beers from Buxton brewery. Who would have thought it would be possible to improve on the already totes craft amazeballz Buxton Tsar? ;)

Asked for me.. I'm gonna check ebay for the third edition...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Relic, Legend, Folly, New vs Old, England vs America

Me and Jeff (@juffage) had another one of our little bottle shares tonight. Jeff, being an American, always has a good supply of bottles from the US that I'm always interested to try. I always have a good supply of aging beers that Jeff's always interested to try. It only makes sense that we get together every now and again to drink some of these beers together, bringing beers from both sides of the pond to join in epic beer geekery.

Jeff brought out the big guns from the states in the form of a Dark Intrigue - a 75cl bottle of Bourbon Barrel aged Imperial Stout (Storm King) from Victory Brewing. As Jeff had never tried these two; I brought a Thomas Hardy's Ale from 2006 and a Harvey's Imperial Extra Double Stout from 2003.

The Thomas Hardy's may have been the strongest of the three (11.7%) but it was the lightest in colour so we decided that should be first. At the moment, TH is not being produced, and Jeff had heard quite a lot of hype about the beer so I thought it was time he saw what all the fuss was about.

Appearance: Thick caramels, Brandy like in observation.
Nose: Huge on the honeycomb, almost like mead. Plenty of booze. Burnt caramels and treacle with lots of apple and orange fruitiness.
Taste: Tonnes of toffee. A small hint of aniseed and plenty of meaty flavour (that word umani or umnie or whatever...) Possible raspberry flavour is mixed with candy sugars and loads of burnt brown sugar sweetness, which is a little cloying. Some whisky and Brandy flavour is there to remind you of the power of this beer.

"It was the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset."

 - you don't see descriptions on beer labels like that these days.... and I especially like the part where it states you should leave the bottle standing "for 48 hours to allow settling" before serving if disturbed.

Next up was the monster from Harveys. A 9% beast with a legendary status amongst beer geeks and CAMRA award givers alike. This was the last corked bottle I have, they're produced with crown caps now, so this last, 2003 vintage, was quite a special deal.

Appearance: Liquid coal, like looking at a block of solid jet.
Nose: Scorched leather, crispy burnt beef, soy sauce and smoked tires.
Taste: On first evaluation it's probably a little oxidized, but it's really not putting us off. The body seems to be thick and chewy but light at the same time. It's like drinking a blend of beef jerky that's been soaked in soy sauce - just incredible! There is a bit of sweetness about it, but it's a very Port-esk beer.

This beer is nothing short of legendary, historic, epic and epically strange. I must insist that anyone who hasn't tried this beer; find it.

Jeff's contribution to the swap was this bottle of the dark stuff from Victory. When he asked me what I'd like to try, I didn't hesitate when I saw this one in the list - Regular Storm King Imperial Stout is a fantastic beer, aging it in Bourbon casks just seems like such a good idea. This 9.1% American powerhouse has quite a bit in common with Harvey's Imperial Stout: I've never tasted a IS like Harvey's before, and I've never tried an IS like Dark Intrigue before.

Appearance: It pours with an interesting looking layered head.
Nose: Smells like a vanilla ice cream and cola float, with s'mores blended in, topped with coconut.
Taste: "candy medicine" was Jeff's first observation. It's a lot like a watered down Bourbon which masks pretty much everything else. Some sickly sweet oaky resin, it's a weird beer indeed. I'm pretty confident this is how the beer is meant to be, and unfortunately it's just a bit of a mess. It's a real shame, as Jeff and I were very exited about this beer, and it took some effort and time to get it here. Unfortunately it just didn't hit the spot..

It's 2 - 0 to Britain I'm afraid...

I said this sounded like a good idea, and it does... Bourbon Barrel Aged Storm King sounds great, but like many things that sound great - sometimes they don't end up how you expected them to. I've had quite a few Bourbon aged beers over the last couple of years, and I've been disapointed more times than I've been impressed - and don't even get me started on rum aged beers! In my opinion, if you're going for barrel aging; stick with the Whisky casks, specifically: Highland casks.

Sometimes New is not better...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Here There Be Dragons!

A couple of days ago, a few of us home brewers took a trip to visit the Copper Dragon brewery in Skipton for a nice little tour, a couple of drinks, and some prize giving for our home brew competition. I got there a little late but still had a great time being showed around the plant by brewer Rob. There was not as big a turn out that I'd hoped there would be, but I guess some might have been a bit beer-ed-out the day after the IndyMan beer festival had closed... Oh well.. their loss..

The brewery itself is an impressive beast. At only a few years old it's still a very shiny beast too! They have a 90 barrel brew length kit (can it still be called a 'kit' at that size?!?) which is just about 7500 litres - that's a lot of beer!

It was interesting to see how the brewery is operated. The control panel above (Captain Rob's Helm) is pretty much where all the magic happens. Hard to believe you can brew 90 barrels of beer without having to move too far from a A4 sized screen. With no one having to shovel out mash tuns as well it all sounds rather civilized and relaxed!

It's very clear if you get to talk to Rob that he's a very passionate man when it comes to beer. He has some big plans for future brews, and I for one can't wait to try his specials as they come out. Be on the look out for a winter special and possible CDPorter. At the moment they have 4 large fermenters (5000 litres each) and 8 smaller ones... this is soon to change to 12 large fermenters so production is certainly set to increase.

I think some people tend to forget sometimes that the slightly bigger breweries can, and do, still make fantastic beer. They're not really the bad guys here. Not the boogy man, or the monstrous faceless co-operations. If you get a pint of Golden Pippin served correctly, it's a thing of beauty, and in my opinion, encapsulates a fantastic example of a 'Proper Yorkshire' pint.

Copper Dragon has a heart and a soul, and on a cold autumn night in Skipton it was showed to us that it is warm with a fiery passion for making great and consistently great beer. It's not a gamble when you buy a pint of Copper Dragon. Unless it's the end of the barrel you know what you're going to get - plain old good beer - that's something that should be praised.

Here's to beer.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

East vs West Coast IPA; A Call For Examples

In my latest IPA post, there was quite a call for West coast and East coast IPAs from America to have their own style categories. I can sort of see why. I can see a big difference between English and Scottish Ales and they're only a few hundred miles apart. I guess it makes sense for Ales that are a few thousand miles apart to be a little different... Point taken.

I've had my fair share of American IPAs, too many to remember to be honest, but I've never actually done a side by side (knowingly anyway) of a West and an East coast IPA together. I'm going to be gathering together a selection of each to pair off against each other, but that's where I need a little help. Whilst I've had plenty of US IPAs I don't know what characterises each side of the pond, and that's something I'm going to try find out.

Those who know me will probably know that Geography is one of, if not, my worst subjects. (or is it spelling and grammer...) Sure I can bore you with useless trivia about earthquakes and volcanoes, but when it comes to actual places, I'd have a hard time telling you where Manchester is in relation to Leeds... With this in mind if I was told where a beer was from in the US I'd probably (80% of the time) not really know which side it was from. Sure I know which side classics like Goose Island IPA and Brooklyn IPA come from, but if asked about others I usually have to look it up.

So I'm asking the beer blogoverse for more classic examples from both the West and the East coasts of the US and any that you think would work well against each other in displaying what's best about each side.

Answers in the box below please :)

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Beer Fusion

Cantillon Rose De Gambrinus.

 - A beer which is synonymous with pure quality and flavour when it comes to what beer can be. A beer that is so drying, so moorish, so epically brilliant, you feel it sobers you up more than it gets you drunk. A beer for the ages; one to share with your grandkids as they get older.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.

 - A Game Changer of a beer. It's probably the only Chocolate Stout you ever really need to try, but more likely the one that all others will get judged against. A powerhouse of a liquid, a beer to warm your heart and pump warm blood through your veins. One you reach for in the depths of winter, but also in the heights of summer to pour over your Salted Caramel ice cream as Rick Furzer would have it.

I think you can see where this is going....

What's better in a dessert than dark chocolate combined with tart raspberries? It doesn't get much more delectable and decadent when it comes to the finer things. Black Chocolate Stout comes forward bringing the booze and the body. Luxurious vanilla and caramel, supreme roasted malts with a really smooth body which makes the chocolate presence seem almost like it's been melted into the glass. Cantillon Rose De Gambrinus provides the little bit extra. That tart hit of fruity flavour which you see in a Black Forest Gateau, that something which balances and enhances the sweet and sour. Herbal leaves and an oaky mouthfeel only contribute to a flavour that is not overpowering, but balanced and composed.

Blending these two together is a match made in heaven, which creates something so unique, so different, but still familiar to both beers - only joined in unison. There are simple rules to follow when doing this though. When using the fruit beer, you do not need a lot. You may think the BCS would be big and overpowering to anything, but you can also see from the picture how much Cantillon I used. You do not need a lot.

What you end up with is a fantastic union of flavours which were meant to go together. It's pretty hard to describe too, so I can only suggest that you try this for yourselves. It's something I hope, something that should catch on. I've had a lot of opposition in the past when blending beers together. People say "That's not how the brewer intended it to be drunk!" ...but you know what, I paid for it, I can do what I want with it! There's almost limitless combinations of of beers that can be mixed together, just ask anyone who likes a Black & Tan.. but at the moment I can't get enough of mixing Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout with fantastic Belgian Fruit Beers.

Blending these two beers together isn't crazy.

It just makes sense.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Six Styles Of IPA

I thought it was about time I gave this a go...

I wrote a little while back about whether or not IPA was still IPA because of the vast multitude of styles that were available these days. It's a bit of a problem, not just because of mindless quibbling between the blogarrati, but because it's also a big problem to outsiders wanting to get into the beer world who are left puzzled, confused and sometimes annoyed about what an IPA really is.

I've come up with a list of six different categories that IPAs can fit under to try come up with some sense of a "more organised" field of vision... at least for me, and for people I need to explain IPA to. (it's a constant question in Beer Ritz.. "what's the difference between these??") I'm sure others will have their own lists...


First Style: American IPA
You know them, you love them, at one time you knew this was all you needed from a beer... That great clear golden caramel colour. That juicy, fruity, resinous citrusy aroma.. all those classic American IPAs.

The IPA to the left is a classic example which comes from Ska Brewery. Modus Hoperandi comes in at 6.8% and has all those flavours you're looking for in an American IPA. Lots of caramel malt and big candy floss sweetness mixed with that huge hit of grapefruit which leaves that clean and moorish finish. Ska Modus also has a bit of a difference in flavour which lies in the banoffee pie region, very tasty indeed! American IPA is my first style, and it's an all-encompassing style too. From North to South, from East coast to West coast, they all come from the same land of the US and need to be unified as such. You can't really go wrong with, I'd say, 80% of American breweries that produce a standard IPA... my classic examples would consist of beers like Goose Island IPA, Odells IPA and Stone IPA.

Second Style: Continental IPA
This style has a lot and a lot of variety to offer, but still needs to be under the same flag. Belgian IPA, German IPA, French IPA it all goes in the same category; all IPAs from the continent (some clarification will come at the end) It's a style that's a bit difficult to explain, but you know when you're drinking an IPA from the continent.

Vuur & Vlam is a 6.2% IPA from De Molen. This is the original Fire and Flame IPA, and you can't say they're not trying with the hops. Galena, Cascade, Chinook, Simcoe and Amarillo are all in the mix. The aroma is pure grapefruit and peach juice. It's got a big carbonation on it, but it's still obviously an IPA... an IPA from the continent. Purely delicious, and that's all that really need be said.

Svea IPA is a 7% gem from De Struise. It has an aroma about which leads you to believe it could fit into the English IPA style which is to come next, but it's not. Loads of malty sweetness , with extra sweet drawn from lots of Belgian candy sugars. It has a soft and subtle carbonation for a beer from Belgium , and it's very refreshing to see. A nice balance of some herbs and spices interplay with malt sweetness really well making it better than the sum of it's parts. It reminds me quite a bit of wood aged IPAs from breweries like Green King, and I guess the uber beer geeks will get that reference.

Third Style: English IPA
English IPA is a style like White Shield is an IPA. White Shield would be the poster boy for this style. All the malt backbone and non of the fuss! Hops take the back seat of the carriage here...

Crate IPA is 5.8% and has an aroma like an English giant of a beer. Loads of orange rind and sweet hay. A touch of jam and brown sugar is there to back things up and make you want to dive straight into the glass. While the beer might be all about the malt, there's still the small dose of bitterness to be found in the finish. It's perfectly balanced - sweet then bitter, with a fantastic body. Some woody hints, lots of dry straw and a big mixture of sweet fruits; grapes, peaches and apricots. It's a very good beer, but I can't help thinking the label needs a big "Crate Brewery" stamp on it right in the middle.

English IPA - More about the malt than the hops. A beer that can be aged!

Fourth Style: Experimental/Flavoured IPA
Who's not tried an experimental of flavoured IPA? You all must have seen them at least... The Black IPAs, the Coffee IPAs, a lot more people are making them these days.

Arbor Ginger IPA drinks easier than it's 7% label. It has a subtle ginger aroma about it, the ginger gets a little dominated by the hops - a sort of juicy ginger orange. The ginger is certainly there in the flavour, but it's just not very prominent. It fights a bit of a losing battle with the big bitter hops, but you needn't take that as a bad thing. IPA? Yes! And it's a very good one at that.

Experimental and flavoured IPAs are most welcomed these days. Things like Black IPA and Coffee IPAs are proof that brewers are trying new things and getting good results. If we didn't have that, beer would probably be a lot more boring.

Fifth Style: Uber IPA
Time to bring out the big guns. This is another wide style fitted into one. All those Double IPAs/Imperial IPAs... The IPAs which probably have too much hops in them to be financially viable, or more ibus than the human palate can handle.. The monsters of high flavours and high abvs - you know the sort - palate destroyers.

Moor Hoppiness is a new one to the scene, and although it's 6.7% might not seem too 'out-there', it more than makes up for it in flavour. Overwhelming aromas of citrus and sherbet.  It's flavour enhanced, pushed to the limits. Peaches, apricots. Tonnes of fruit and loads of bitter pith. It drinks no where near it's strength and becomes dangerous because of the fact. An instant classic and an evident bruiser.

Uber IPAs have their place for sure. Like before, if they didn't, beer would be a much duller place for it.

Sixth Style: The "What were you thinking IPA" Category
We've all had one or another at some point. A so called IPA where you really can't see what the brewer was trying to produce, or you can and it just turned out in a big mess. I'm sure you can think of one or two..

The Flying Dog and Brew Dog International Arms Race beers come to mind here. Calling these two IPAs is going one step too far for me. They're beers made without hops. It's like cutting the fat off a fine cut of beef and eating that.

The Flying Dog version has a huge woody and herbal aroma, but far too much spearmint has been added in. It's all over the place. Far too many flavours trying to compete and it makes it too unbalanced. It's messy. There's lots of fruit. Orange and elder-flower are up front, but it's not redeeming. The Brewdog version is slightly better, but that's only because it's a little more balanced and subtle; flavour-wise. It's just a cinnamon and ginger beer though. It's the furthest thing away from an IPA I've ever had. Two unfortunate drain pours..

I like to blow the malt trumpet when it comes to IPAs, but it needs to have hops in it too, not even a lot, just some.

It's easy to say, "Oh, IPA is just IPA at the end of it all" but that's just not the case anymore. So I shall be promoting new IPAs that come into the shop under my six styles from now on:

1. American IPA
2. Continental IPA
3. English IPA
4. Experimental/Flavoured IPA
5. Uber IPA
6. What were you thinking IPA

That's not to say these styles can't interlink though. Of course you can have an Uber American IPA, or an Experimental Continental IPA. English IPA will always be a bit of a firm stand point for me though. English IPA tastes like White Shield does.

I'm open to any other styles, as long as they can't already be incorporated into my current six.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Homebrewers Visit to Copper Dragon Brewery - 7th Oct

This post has been in the pipeline for a while now so apologies for being rather slow in delivering...

You may remember the homebrew competition that myself, Beer Ritz and Copper Dragon set up a while back entitled: Operation Remix. I mentioned at the end of the competition that there would be a special event for any homebrewer or would-be homebrewer to take part in.

Come the 7th of October (the first Sunday) we will be having a little get together at the Copper Dragon Brewery for a bit of fun, drinks and prize giving! An invitation has been given to homebrewers far and wide, Beer Ritz staff and the judges and everyone who took part in the competition to come down to the brewery for the night.

Brew beer? come along!

The itinerary for the evening is as follows:

18:00 - 19:30 > Brewery tour and question time
19:30 - 20:00 > Prize giving. (winners who can't attend will be mailed)
20:00 - 21:00 > Couple of drinks in the brewery and a beery chat.

The Bistro serves food until 6pm on the Sunday, so if anyone needs a bit of feeding before hand they're welcome to turn up earlier. I've been informed that the brewery is just a short 10/15min walk from Skipton Station, and is easily located on Google Maps for those who have not visited before.

We hope to see you all there on the 7th of October at 18:00. It'll be a great opportunity to gain a bit more brewing know-how, whilst having a good time with like minded people over a nice beer.

See you soon!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

OK Comics (and beer)

Last night saw one of Leeds' beloved shops turn ten years old: OK Comics! They decided to throw a little party for anyone who wanted to come along. And while it was a slightly odd sort of side street-street party, the guys were incredibly generous by managing to dish out twenty boxes of pizza and an assortment of drinks to anyone who decided to pass by, for free! Pizza, beer, cake, cookies and comic book heros... what's more to want?

Well turns out in the next street over, Leeds brewery had put on a special beer for OK at the White Swan. So after things were packed away in one street the gang moved one lane over to try the beer. I ordered a pint and was disappointed. It was sour. Damn. I took it back, worryingly noticing the bar maid still going at the hand pump. "I think this is the last one" I said. "Sorry" was the response, "we've just hooked over the next one, can I change that for you?" Turns out they had four barrels of the stuff in the cellar. Hurrah! Game back on..

The beer had perfect clarity, but it was a shame the glassware was slightly dirty.. I'd say get the renovate out guys, but that's just splitting hairs really. OK is a gently citrusy bittersweet Pale Ale with a nice fruity malt backbone to it. Dry straw, lots of orange pith, lemon and lime and a little cooking apple skin which contributes to a lasting moorish, drying bitter finish. It was a perfect example of what Leeds can do well - light % Pale Ales and Bitters, and while I left the White Swan at half nine I do get the sneaking suspicion that they probably got through all four barrels last night...

I had a very fun night. Thanks, and Happy Birthday to OK Comics, here's to the next ten years!


Monday, 10 September 2012

Leeds International Beer Festival Part 1

Last night saw the close of Leeds' International Beer Festival, and myself and another Leodensian Beer Blogger; Leigh have decided to team up together to share our own thoughts and sum up a few different beers we tried at the festival and our general impressions.

I began my night with an unfamiliar scene of arrival. Leeds Town Hall seemed to have been descended upon by beer lovers from all walks of life and beer experience.. all drinking the good stuff on the steps of the mighty Hall with carts and vendors of food dotted around and in between the fest-goers dishing out hearty foodstuffs. It was welcoming.

I purchased my ticket on the door and wandered in. This was my first ever visit inside the Town Hall, and all expectations were met as the building interior truly lived up to all the hype that I've heard about it.

Band in full swing

Stunning interior

Anyone spot Zak Avery - A last man standing...

When I got my free glass it was time to fill it with some beer! I headed straight for the American selection and got stuck in straight away with;

Beer 1: 10% IPA from Ska Brewery: Decadence.
I'd like to think I'm no stranger of the notion that is decadence, but this beer didn't really stand up to that word, or did it?? It was surely a formidable beast of a beer, but it certainly didn't drink anywhere near it's strength, and like many other festival goers, my half was gone before I realised it! It was really great though. Big citrus fruits punched above their weight whilst soothing caramelized malt and alcohol blended together to warm your throat and make you want more at the same time...

This was my only real issue with the festival... no one serving proper thirds, the amount of strong beers on display would have benefitted from this.

Beer 2: Hardknott Thank Chinook It's Friday, 4.3% Bitter.
As I crossed the Hall I was confronted by two familiar friendly faces from Hardknott. After a quick peruse of their wares I decided to go for the Chinook Bitter from keg rather than the cask version that was on offer as well. Whilst being decidedly colder than the cask, it was still a very pleasant bitter. Fruity bitter tones made for a refreshing and easy drinking beer from Hardknott, and the conversation of when will we see some more low abv beers like this in the bottle from the guys ensued (light heartedly of course..)

Beer 3: Ilkley VPA, 3.3% Victorian Pale Ale.
Crossing the Hall once more I "bumped" into Melissa Cole by the Ilkley stand and managed to get her to sign my book of hers, which I just 'managed to have on my person' at the time... Magic Rock Stu then rocked up for a chat and after I declared the opinion that I thought Ilkley were the best brewery in Britain at the moment we all decided to try some of their beer.

The VPA Dinner Ale is another one of their Origin series, and like the others in the series, is one I hope that will see a regular place in the Ilkley roster. Combining hops from Kent, Australia and New Zealand this beer is an incredibly flavorsome, but light and easy going beer. It's the NZ hops that really shine through here though, releasing their classic juicy fruit flavours into a beer of only 3.3% which you tell yourself; "I really could drink this all day!"

The picture also shows off beer 4 of the night which was next: The Chief, 7% Double IPA.
I've tried The Chief once before and was confused by it originally. The first time I tried it I had the version made with a Belgian yeast and whilst it wasn't what I was expecting, (from a American style DIPA anyway..) it was still a very good beer. On the night however, this version of The Chief was much more to my preference. The Belgian influence had been ditched and more of that 'America meets Yorkshire for a Double IPA showdown' was able to shine through... and shine it did.

For my last beer of the night I moved to the stand next door which just happened to be manned by Thornbridge.
Beer 5: Chiron, 5% American Pale Ale.
This was something that went great with the odd bit of ham from the Friends of Ham stall in the centre of the room. Meat being carved, good friends all around and a refreshing, spicy but citrusy pale ale was a great way to finish the night, and the perfect palate refresher/cleanser after many different beers.

I had a really good time, and while some people had a little moan about the layout and organisation, I would back up the guys here saying it's their first fest and I think they did really well. Being an International Beer fest it could have probably done with more International beer, but there was enough great beer for me to make it a great night. Thanks to all who made it possible, and here's to next year!


Like I said though, I've been working with another Leeds Beer Blogger this weekend to try get as much coverage of the fest as possible. So, for another perspective, and another few beers from the festival, I'll invite you now to head over to Leigh's blog; The Good Stuff for 'Leeds International Beer Festival Part 2' and Leigh's impressions of his night.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Special Brew

We sell a lot of different beers at Beer Ritz, around 600 in fact, but there is one out of all those 600 which is more well known, more famous than any of the others. You tell people the name and they know it, even if they've not tried it, they know it. I know I've never tried it and I know it. The reasons why it's so well known in this country are probably for the wrong reasons... You see, this beer is rather strong, but looking at the bigger picture you can buy a lot of beverages these days which are much stronger than 9%...

We hardly sell any of this beer these days at Beer Ritz, in fact I can't remember the last time I sold one. The reason for this is a simple one... when the Strong Beer Tax was introduced last year, the price of this beer was raised so much higher than previously that people turned their noses up at it. This, a beer brewed since 1950, which I can add is probably decades older than most UK breweries, has now been relegated to a corner of the shop to gather dust thanks to a tax which seems so unintelligent it borders on the obscene.

Looks rather nice wouldn't you agree? Apparently this is how it's served at the end of the brewery tour where it's produced. It's seen as one of their best beers and is served in chalices and shown off to people. It's only in the UK where it's looked down upon, something which the brewers do not understand.

As I'm drinking it, I don't really see what all the fuss over here is about. Sure it's not the best beer I've ever had, but it's by no means the worst I've ever had. I've had so many beers that weren't even up to this mark and I know this by fact. It would be very interesting to put this in with a group of Belgian Triples or strong French Ales and have people taste blind to see their reactions. I reckon no one would actually be able to tell what it is. After all, how many of you out there have pre-judged this beer without ever trying it... I know I did.

But we now end up in a situation where it no longer sells because of tax laws... could other beers go this way?

A Special Brew... we don't sell it anymore

People round here buy cheap Vodka instead

Well played Government.