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

Monday, 30 January 2012

One Last Time

For personal reasons tonight I need a very special drink. One that I can drink for the very last time. One that I can drink and remember all the amazing times I've had with the beer before.

It's a fitting beer for a fitting end to one of life's chapters, and one which I'll take to it's fullest and enjoy, celebrate and drink with the fondest of memories.

The beer comes from the heart of Yorkshire, from the oldest brewery in Yorkshire in fact. Say what you will about the brewery, but this is the best Barley Wine I've ever, ever consumed, and it comes as a massive shame as the brewery discontinued making the beer a few years back and this is the last bottle I have in my possession. As I say though, it's not a night for sadness, but a night for celebration, and the fact I'll probably never have a Barley Wine this good again - which means for all it's faults - it was a true success.

It's a truly stunning beer. One to sip and savour, one to take your time over. A beer to bring out only when you know the time is right, and leaves you with that 'wow' feeling and you scratch your head trying to think about what just happened. It's liquid gold, it baffles me as to why Samuel Smiths ever stopped making this beer. But hey, it's the last one I'll ever get to drink so I'll raise my glass and give a full felt cheers.

And just like that the beer is gone. The glorious, but fleeting moment has passed and your left with an empty bottle. You wouldn't be human if you didn't feel more than a little upset.

Some of you who know me, may know me as a little closed off; 'doesn't like to share feelings type'. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I enjoy to blog. In some small way it's one of my outlets, one of my ways to get things off my chest. At the big moments in your life, it's not hard to have mixed feelings, to be a little confused. I guess that's what happens when your so filled with joy for knowing someone, but feeling such sadness from the truth that they're gone.

I guess that's about it.

RIP Barbara Briggs, You will be greatly missed. We all love you so very much, something these words I write could never fully express.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Come On Down!

Finally.... I can use my design
skills for good, not evil!
Leeds is truly going to be the place to be for beer in 2012.

This is just a little reminder about Monday the 6th of February. If you can make it down to Beer Ritz between 6 and 9 we'll be putting on a bit of a show and a bit of a spread for you.

We've got Leigh Linley from the Good Stuff to come down with some of his own foody creations to share amongst the people, and we have some beer to go along with it (for free!) to create what should be the first of many - Beer and Food Evenings at Beer Ritz.

Leigh will be talking you though the food and beer, I'll be selling you the beer if you should wish to buy some more, and I've been told that Zak will be around for a chin wag for a bit too. It's going to be a relaxed and enjoyable evening, and a great way to introduce new people to the joys of great beer and food. I've been told the theme for the night will be sweet treats (cakes, muffins etc..) and some darker stuff; nice Porters, Stouts, maybe some Dunkel Weisse and general desert beers.

I think that should be about it. Just make sure you come on down.... but don't all of you turn up at once at 6! Our shop isn't as big as you might think!

As a side note, we've just been given some more really exiting Leeds beer news from Rick Furzer about OpenIt coming at the end of Feb, check out this link to see what we'll be up too.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Celebrate In Style!

It seems it's Burns Night once again! A night that seems to come around quicker and quicker these days. One night to be a little more decadent than one often should.

What better way to start the evening than, not with a beer, not with a whisky, but with a whisky beer!

Ola Dubh is a fantastic beer, and a fantastic range of beers (12,16,18,30,40yrs) from the ever impressive Harviestoun Brewery. If you've not heard of the beer before (I'm sure you have) it's Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil aged for some time in Highland Park Whisky casks (in different respectable ages) and basically translates as 'Black Oil'. This 8% beer pours intensely black in colour, with the most inviting of aromas consisting of; liquorice, roasted grain, oak, vanilla, dried fruit and a little chocolate. The flavours are thick, rich and moorish. More of the flavours really make a push forward in the body, with a little smokiness coming through on the sides of the tongue.

Of course a beer this good deserves a good food pairing.

An this being Burns Night it has to be haggis, but what to pair it with???

I thought up many concoctions and combinations to try out, all sounding delicious in my own mind. - as a side note, haggis is delicious! What's wrong with you Mark??? -

At the end of the day all I could come up with is this though:

Just slap loads of the stuff in a big bowl....

That was dinner then. Those of you out there who've not had the indulgence of haggis, you are missing out, and those of you who don't approve - What's not to like?!?

After literally stuffing my face full of meat and beer, it was time for the after dinner treat that is the king of all after dinner treats, with your dinner treats, and general man's (or woman's if you are one) best friend.


It's always difficult to decide which I think I like better when it comes to beer and whisky when I get asked. I always like to say they're two different arms of the same chair.

Tonight's selection comes from the Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection; a 1994 (15yr) Caol Ila at 45%, finished in Tokaji wooden barrels and limited to only 492 bottles.

It's probably the most bizarre whisky I've ever drunk. Even at 45% (not that strong) and with more than a couple of drops of water, it still delivers a huge boozy hit, which does the amazing trick of making you feel it twice - once after the swallow, and again about 3/4 seconds later after you've thought 'is that it?'. Intensely peaty with some slight rock salt and smoke, but it has a weird sweet apple quality about it making it completely different to anything I've tried. Quite a big hit of orange tanginess too amongst some sherbet buzzing, a truly invigorating dram, even if your mouth is left a little dry and ashy afterwards.

That's probably going to be it for my decadence tonight, I have a game of football to play in the rain... perfect warm up then I guess! I hope you all had something special as well.

Let other poets raise a fracas 
"Bout vines, an' wines, an' drucken Bacchus, 
An' crabbit names an'stories wrack us, 
An' grate our lug: 
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us, 
In glass or jug. 

O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink! 
Whether thro' wimplin worms thou jink, 
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink, 
In glorious faem, 
Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink, 
To sing thy name! 

Monday, 23 January 2012

Beer Psychology

Does your brain allow you to even taste a beer the way it should?

The story of beer, our brains and our preconceived notions of flavour in the realms of psychology and drinking has always really interested me. It's something that I've written about in the past, as have others, but it keeps cropping up in my travels. It's something that has cropped up again because we've recently received a new beer at the shop, but has already sold out.

The beer came from Brooklyn Brewery, and cost £25 per bottle. Granted the bottle was 75cl, finished with elegance and a cork cage closure, and was very strong, but it was still £25 per bottle.
    Say you stumped up the 25 squid for the bottle and took it home to open that night. When it comes time to open the beer, how much of what you paid for it actually comes into play when you taste the beer? Regardless of the taste do you try convince yourself it's a great beer? Even if the beer tastes awful do you tell yourself - "This beer cost £25! It must be good." How many of you would even think that before you even opened the bottle? Yes the beer could be good, it could just as easily be bad, or even not to your tastes but does your mind cover those factors up and play tricks with you to protect yourself from the fact you may have just wasted £25? Could you go so far as to even say your mind makes up a flavour for the beer? Possibly not... but how many times have you been drinking with someone, they tell you what a beer tastes like, and that's all you can taste for the rest of your drink...

You could try your own little experiment yourself. Give someone exactly the same beer in two different glasses blind. Tell them the first one cost £2 and the second one cost £10, I think it may be quite interesting to see what happens.

It can work in the opposite direction as well. If you have a preconceived notion (or thought) that a brewery or a beer is bad, would you ever truly enjoy anything from that brewery or that beer again? True, tastes can change and evolve, but our ingrained feelings can be stubborn as a mule. On the same hand, if everyone else told you that a beer tasted awful, how much of that would influence (or you would let influence) your finial verdict on the beer? Would you believe what everyone else tells you and bow into the peer pressure, or would you convince yourself that everyone else's opinion was your own and agree that the beer was bad?

In such a sense orientated and opinionated world do we ever have our own opinions at all, or do we just like to tell ourselves our opinions are our own? That being said, I'm enjoying asking questions tonight, it's what I do. I feel I'll ask a couple more.

No two beers are truly the same. (or are they?) If you tell yourself you're not a fan of lagers, is that because you've tried them all, or is that because you've convinced yourself that all lagers are bad?

I'm pretty sure a label can put thoughts into someone's head before they even try a beer. Let's say you have 'Beer Geek A' (BGA). Now BGA loves every beer he's ever had from Thornbridge, and actively seeks out their beers to try all he can. Thornbridge makes a new beer. How many of you will assume that before BGA even buys the beer, he'll assume it's awesome, and will tell everyone he knows it's awesome? I know I've been guilty of such things from time to time. If you have a brewery you love, can they ever make a bad beer in your eyes? And even if they do, do you still tell (and actually convince) yourself it's great?

What about review sites like RateBeer. Does the opinion of the 'mass beer geek' outweigh the thought process of the one?

How much can provenance come into play in these matters? After all, if you get told that a beer is much better from the source (over and over again) you'll believe it right? Even if most brewers will go to enormous lengths to make sure your beer reaches you in the same condition that it left the brewery, it's better from the tap surely... well, actually, there could be a little fact behind this.

A few other influencers which could have factual evidence behind, but people put forward as opinion, are as follows;

1. Bottle Size - People think beer from a bigger bottle tastes better, especially when it comes to bottle conditioned beers. There could be truth behind this, but truth people can't understand so they just take it as opinion.

2. Bottle Colour - I know quite a few people (respectable and not so much) who think green and clear glass is not the way to store beer, and immediately think a beer will be 'skunked' before even opening a green or clear bottle - without even giving it a chance! I have my own thoughts and feelings on the subject, and have carried out my own experiments, but at the end of the day, have no real scientific reasoning so my opinions are just that.

3. Glass shape - This is probably the point we can take the most fact about. It's true that the shape of your beer glass can influence the way you taste, smell and experience your beer. But if someone offers you a beer in the wrong glass, that's going to be in your head when it comes to tasting right?

Maybe when it comes right down to it, if you really want to truly experience a beer for exactly what it is, we need to do it blind, in a dark room with no-one else around.

But do we have to?

No, of course we don't, that would take all the fun out of the experience. Better to drink, socialise, and have our drink of choice with the people we love - and make up our own opinions about said beverage.

... or try to at least.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Goblin vs Goblin

I used to drink quite a bit of Hobgoblin back in my days drinking in the Three Horseshoes just down the road, most of the time because it was the only decent thing on though. But that point still remains, it was usually the only decent thing on. I think it's a very enjoyable dark ruby ale on cask, and tonight I have the pleasure of sampling some bottled Goblin. (I received quite a bit for Christmas) I'm making the evening a little more special though, as a good friend Dave, passed me on a bottle of King Goblin to try for the first time.

Regular Hobgoblin comes across with it's classic clear ruby brown appearance and rocky white foam. At 5.2% it's a little stronger than your typical English Brown/Ruby ale, but that surely works in it's (my) favour. Really appealing caramel malt aroma, with some brown sugar sweetness. Really easy drinking, a beer you could sit and neck back all day. Very smooth, a hint of chocolate malt mixed with caramel sweetness and a refreshing citrus bitterness in the finish.

King Goblin looks and smells like a very different beast. A Special Reserve that's "Only brewed on a full moon". It has a fantastic aroma of fresh clementines and sweet candy sugar. At 6.6% it's no push-over and there's quite a few elements to the brew. It's a sweet beer, a slight candy sugar and caramel malt really comes though in the body, but it's much smoother with so much more to it than regular Hobgoblin. I'm getting a slight essence of a sort of horse-blanket mustiness which adds too the complexity of the beer. A little green apple skin and a lot of proper English hop bitterness to the finish of this different and instantly classic beer.

It's a interesting face off, Hobgoblin has that nice full malty body with a bitter citrus finish, and King Goblin has a big sweet body with a nice boozy, rather drying and moorish, finish. My thanks go out to Dave for passing me along the beer, and I hope you enjoy the Porter I exchanged for the King.

Of course I wouldn't be Ghost Drinker if I didn't do something a little crazy with the beers. So with the thinking that these two beers both had their separate elements; what would they possibly taste like together?!?! So with that thought in mind and a third of each beer left I decided to pour them into the same glass for funsies!

Did the blend work?

Hellz yeah!! The two different qualities of these beers compliment each other perfectly! If I was Wychwood I'd bottle this, but that's just me. You have a beer that starts big and sweet with a caramel toffee malt body, and ends up with a pleasant, moorish, slightly bitter body.

Why do I do these things? I've no idea. I'm having fun with beer though, and at the end of the day, Isn't beer meant to be about fun?

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Next Step

Home brewing is all the rage at the moment. That's certainly the case if last night was anything to go by. The Leeds Homebrewers meet up at Mr Foleys the other day seemed to be an upmost hit, and all the beers I tried were on fantastic form, a true success of a night, and great fun was had by all.

Dave from @broadfordbrewer infamy has just posted an interesting piece about where he thinks he could or may take his home brewing in the future. It got me thinking and it fits in quite nicely, because this week I've been drinking quite a few beers from a 'basement brewer' who's poised to take his beers 'into the light' so to speak, and go mainstream with his creations. It's what could be seen as the 'next step' of a homebrewer to commercial brewer.

Nigel Poustie makes Sunbeam Ales.

He's been making them, developing recipes, and coming up with a whole range of beers for about two and a half years now. He still brews from home, producing 25l batches every 2 or 3 weeks, and is currently procuring equipment to be able to produce 50l batches.

Once 50l is attainable he wishes to register as an official brewery and start paying duty so he can start properly selling his wares. In the first five years he told me he wants to establish a good name, become an established Yorkshire brewery, and start selling his beers to specialist beer shops like Beer Ritz. Until then, and while his beers are not legally sellable, you can get any information or pose any questions to Nigel himself by emailing; (until he goes official)

He's a man with ambition, but what about the beers themselves? Well you may have noticed that the labels claim these beers are award winning. And in fact they are! In October of last year, Nigel entered 5 of his ales into the UK National Homebrewer competition, 3 of which won rosettes. The Honey and Lavender Ale won second place in the Speciality Category, and the judges even gave it 'world class beer' points. His Pale Ale won second place in the Blond Ale Category, and his Wheaty blonde was prized third place in the same category.

I received 6 of the ales Nigel makes, and below are a few quick tasting notes on each:

Extra Special Ale 5.2% - A ruby brown coloured ale with an inviting caramel/toffee malt aroma. It's smooth and robust. It reminds me quite a bit of some Thwaites beer. A great marmalade, toffee and dried malt flavour is complemented by some spice creeping in the finish.

Honey & Lavander 4.9% - A pale gold beer with a lively carbonation. Lemon, dry straw and a hint of honeycomb come through in the aroma. It's a soft beer, floral and really fruity. Quite drying and rather refreshing. Superbly moorish!

Wheaty Blonde 4.2% - Another pale gold beer. Big on fruits in the aroma, I'm getting grapefruit, orange and lemon aromas. The flavour is full of floral zest and a long drying peppery finish. Some banana and bubblegum in the body. Light but packed with flavour.

Best Bitter 4.5% - Dark amber in colour. A nice caramel malt aroma with fruity overtones; lemon and orange zest is quite prominent. It's bitter indeed in the flavour. Dry straw and similar flavours to the aroma, it's a perfectly balanced and easy drinking beer.

IPA 5.3% - A fantastic dark amber appearance. An intense fruity aroma, you get lots of mangos, peaches and lychees, but you can sense a good underlying malt bill here. Really rich on the fruity malt flavour, and it has a very nice balance of bitter sweet with a long lasting, almost peppery, drying finish.

Stout 3.6% - I don't think I've ever had a stout at this strength, but it beats quite a few commercial ones I've had! It's perfect darkness. Aromas of coffee, biscuit malts, chocolate orange and a little hazelnut flow from the glass. It's got a great roasted, and almost dairy quality for such a weak Stout. It's light in body, but full on in flavour.

Those were the six beers I was given, and to be completely honest, if someone gave me them blind I'd have no idea that they were made by someone in their own home. The whole range is of an excellent and truly eye opening quality. This is the closest I've come to trying a homebrew that's fully fit for commercial release, fact.
    When will Nigel present his wares for public scrutiny? Only time will tell, but I can guarantee you that when he does, his name will be one to watch. I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors, in this current climate with small brewers popping up all over the place, it can be hard to make a name for yourself. If you can make consistently high quality beers though, people will become loyal to your brand and the beers you make.

Share your passion with others, make the beers you want, persevere through adversity and create a name for yourself, but most of all; just have fun doing what you love - making beer.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Pub Diaries

If there's any of you who missed it, I was quizzed by the Pub Diaries a couple of weeks back. If you want to know who's under the sheet then here you go! :)

Monday, 9 January 2012

Does Strength Matter?

I've been thinking a lot about whisky lately. That's most probably because I've been drinking a lot of it again. (apologies if you stopped here for beer tonight, but this post is going to be about beer's big brother...)

I've been contemplating many different aspects from; region, age, price and perceived value to chill filtering and even new countries making the stuff. Most of all though, I've been really considering strength (Cask Strength whiskies in particular) and what happens to a Single Malt, or any whisky for that matter, when the alcoholic percentage goes above and beyond the 40% mark.

Before I get into it I will point out (and it's the most important point) that whisky is all about personal taste and preference. There is no right or wrong answers when it comes to how your enjoy your whisky, these are just my thoughts. (unless you drink Single Malts with coke :- then your a heathen and should be ashamed!)

It is said that bottling a whisky at Cask Strength is capturing the true essence and nature of that individual whisky. In some people's eyes using water to get the strength down to 40% for a more commercial sale is robbing the spirit of it's... well, spirit! I'm not one of those people. I see no issue with bottling at Cask Strength or otherwise, if I do go Cask Strength, I just have to add my own water.

The thing is for me, once a whisky goes over 45% or so and gets into the 50s or even 60%ers, then I do have to add water to my drink. While I love Single Malts, I'm not a fan of the massive alcohol burn you get from the higher proofs. Don't get me wrong, I love the nice warming effect you get from a 40%er, but take the strength too high and all your left with is a throat stripping liquid which you can't really pick out many flavours because your trying to hold it down.

But add a little water to these strong beasts of fire, peat and smoke, and you dilute them enough to let the flavours come out. The drink then becomes not a test of home much of a man (or woman... or ghost) you are, and what's the strongest thing you can drink, but a pleasurable experience and a provoking drink.

This got me thinking of why distillers bottle at Cask Strength at all. After all, you get less bottles to sell, they're usually more expensive and some just add their own water once it's in their glass. But before you curse me as distiller hater and water adder, remember my first point, and know that these are just my thoughts and preferences.

Of course with all things, something new comes along and decides to throw a spanner in your soup, and completely change the way you think about your own thoughts!

Ardbeg Alligator is one of the best whiskies I've ever had. Not because it's the most expensive, or the most heavily peated or the strongest, but because it's 51.2% and it tastes nothing like that - it has the alcohol presence of a 35/40% whisky.

How many times have you had a beer and said; "it's strong but it tastes nothing like it"?? Well this is just another one of those experiences but with whisky - a 'dangerously drinkable' whisky!
    It's got all the great powerful Ardbeg flavours about it, no doubt. Burnt oak, peated vanilla, sea air and cigars and much more, but it's so perfectly balanced and so easily drinkable whilst still being complex that it's my number one whisky.

It's got the strength of a Cask Strength whisky, but it's power of proof is hidden under a mask of supreme flavour. I know there are those out there will disagree, and say that you can't experience real whisky till you've had something straight from the barrel, but while I can respect these drinks for what they are - they are still not for me, and I'll stick with my lighter Scotch. Unless you give me more like Ardbeg Alligator. I know it sounds like I just want to drink things that are really strong, but don't taste like it, but those of you who know me will know what I'm attempting to get at here.

So to go back to my first thoughts on if strength matters or not;

Strength should not be an issue if you know how to craft a drink which is perfect for the person who is drinking it.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

HomeBrew X2!

I've been getting a lot of homebrews recently. Don't get me wrong it's an awesome thing, it's just tricky to know when I'll get the chance to drink them. It's also tricky trying to decide how to give feedback about said homebrews. Do I give a tweet? a text? What if hey suck?
    Naahh, I thought I'd post about them regardless. Let's face it, it's the only real way of getting more than 140 characters of information across. So without further ado I'll give my feedback on two brews tonight; one from Dean from Mr Foleys and one from David (@broadfordbrewer).

First up is Dave's Nebulous (nice name) - a 6.8% India Pitch-Black Ale. I've heard him say on more than one occasion to me that it was more like a hoppy Stout rather than a BIPA, either way, I'll be going on flavour tonight - not if it fits a perfect criteria; that doesn't really matter. It has a good thick and creamy dark tan head upon the pour. The aroma is very intriguing, the hops are definitely there mixed with a great fruity malt. (Bramling Cross? - most probably a wrong guess) The flavour is great to be honest. You do get a bit of bittering roasted/oaky quality, but it's a little watered back behind a really pleasant fruity malt body and drying bitter hop finish. While it may not fit some people's idea of a BIPA, you can't argue with the fact, this is a perfectly made BEER.

Second along comes Dean's Masters of War; a 7.6% Imperial Brown Stout. I was a bit hesitant about opening this beer, after all it had about 2cm of sediment in the bottle because of a filter issue. I was also given warnings from Dean to pour it into the glass as soon as I could after I open it, or it might fizz and mix up the hefty sediment... oh well, here we go!
    Well I'll be honest Dean, most of the beer went on the counter, but I did manage to get quite a large portion of it to come clear in the glass. The aroma was quite strange, I did get some lemon and coconut, but I think the Sorachi Ace was playing a few tricks with me, (I think it's a weird hop) I even smelt a touch of Cointreau. Silky smooth in body, with a nice tangy carbonation zest. Some nice chocolate flavour came through as it warmed and you got a sense that it was a strong beer. (well they were both strong, so maybe I'd just had too much) I couldn't shake that Sorachi Ace flavour though. It really reminds me of Thai Curries, and I just find it really strange in a beer.
    If you can manage to see the picture (cameras broken) the label was designed by Neil (@EisntCNiel) and it's pretty cool too.

Two really interesting drinking experiences tonight. Two different, and well presented beers, and both a little stronger than I needed for a quiet night in ;)

With the amount of homebrewers we have around Leeds, our quarterly homebrewers meet up at Mr Foleys and my plans to run a Beer Ritz homebrew competition for amazing prizes, Leeds is becoming a fantastic scene for 'making it yourself' and it's something that I hope continues!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

2011; Rise Of The Ghost

It appears that 10 people voted me for their favourite blog in the Golden Pint Awards. I know who you people are and I'd like to give my sincere thanks for the beery love. I know it was only 10 people, but it was enough to win, apparently. It was amazing to see Beer Ritz voted as the Best Independent Beer Retailer, the love for Beer Ritz is humbling to say the least.

Now to celebrate in humble modesty.....

YEAH!!!!!! Break out the Imperial Stout!!! I wanna see a glass of the powerful stuff in every hand! *breaks out in a popular Queen song, and replaces 'We' with 'I'...*

ahem... *puts shirt back on*
Well with that out of the way, it's time for a little reflection. 2011 was an incredible year, it had a few lows, but so many more highs. I posted 156 times which is about 1 every two and a bit days, so I clearly had a lot to write about, and my thanks go out again to you all for reading. I don't really see myself slowing down either..

It's time to look forward though. 2012 is going to be a mental year for Ghosty. Zak wants us to come up with ideas for how we can get more people to come to Beer Ritz, and I've already got a few ideas. Shop tastings sound nice? What about meeting local brewers while they try sell you their beers? More Beer Ritz video blogs, more blogs in general. Loads of new beers on the horizon! (and we're talkin loads!) The possibilities for being creative are unlimited, maybe I'll even paint the shop purple! It's going to be a year that we move the shop forward into the brave new world that beer has become, and it's going to be AWESOME! So watch out beer lovers, cos we're just getting started!

And now my hope for the new year:

I envisage a world where the Corona will be drunk alongside the Mikkeller. A world where Carling and Buxton beer can sit at the same table. I see a future where everyone is free to imbibe whatever they wish, and that their drink of choice, is just that - their drink of choice. Their drink of choice, which does not leave them open to be judged by other's standards of perceived quality or taste. A future where cask and keg can sit on the same bar and offer a world of choice as Tandleman so expertly put it. It's an exiting time in the industry. It's a time of change, a time to shake things up, so what we'll get out of 2012 will really be down to what we put into it.

Are you ready?