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

Saturday, 31 March 2012

In Defence of Wood

I see barrel aged beers getting quite a bit of schtick these days on other beer blogs and things like twitter (For example, Rob put up this post whilst I was actually writing this one) I think it's unfairly so too, because when people write about them, they all seem to get lumped in together under one same broad style, when most of the time people are only just talking about one or to beers.

I was really surprised to see a comment on one of Tandleman's posts the other day, from a respectable beer enthusiast I may add, which stated; "There is no such thing as a great barrel aged beer" which was a comment response to my promoting of Harveistoun's Ola Dubh being one of my 'greats'.

At first I was a little confused, as if to say 'are you really serious?' but then it made me a little sad because, while that may be one person's opinion about the style of beer, I think it's a very closed minded opinion. The comment seems to put forward the idea that said person will find all barrel aged beers terrible, and will dismiss them all before even trying them.
    I didn't even understand how someone could be so broadly dismissive when you've certainly not tried all the barrel aged beers the world has to offer. It's a bit like saying all Jazz music is horrible after listening to just one generic Greatest Jazz Hits Album.

Let's look at barrel aging though. It's purely a practice of aging beers in wooden vessels, which could have been previously used to age and store a multitude of beverages like; whisky, wine, rum and even other beers etc. If we take the premise that barrel aged beer is beer just aged on any form of wood (which it is) then I think some people drink, and champion, barrel aged beers more often (and in some cases, unknowingly) than one might think.

After all, many Belgian brewers have been using wood for centuries. Would you say that Rodenbach Grand Cru is a bad barrel aged beer? OK, it might not fit into our definition of 'barrel' when it's aged, but it's still matured on wood! (huge wooden vats to be precise) Barrel aging isn't just for the new young guns in brewing. It's not what's hip/cool/new in at the moment, it's been around since we learned to craft wood. Hell, even Green King barrel age quite a few of their beers, something which many people seem to forget.

I could go on for quite a bit about the virtues and my love of wood (I took a degree in furniture after all) but I thought now would be a better time than any to just get stuck into some of the stuff!

Fraoch 22 is a collaboration between Williams Bros and Auchentoshan distillery. It's a beer in a series of beers which sees Fraoch aged in a multitude of different casks for each individual release. This time this 11% beast has been aged in ex Sherry casks from Auchentoshan and was limited to 12,000 bottles. Some people out there will talk of chasing trends, and buying the 'special barrel aged beers' a brewery produces - just because we lap up anything special they make. Bollocks! I saw this beer, I thought it would be good and I bought it, because I wanted to. I wasn't under any conformity to buying it. I just really fancied it... and I wasn't wrong about it being good.

This light red amber, crystal clear beer  presents itself with aromas of pure rich caramelised tangerines and sweet honey. It smells slightly vegetal with hints of floral heather inviting you in. The beer is sweet and rich with an incredible smoothness which really lifts and compliments the vanilla, toffee, smoky oak and nutty honey flavour that you get from the whisky. Slightly toasted meringue and a touch of lime with just the smallest hint of smoky heather. It's a sort of, Barley Wine meets Rauch - which is re-donkulously delicious!

I love me some wood aged beers. I guess if you don't, then I just feel sorry for the fact that you don't have to palate for it. I would say stop acting with such a one tracked mind, but I'm guessing you've already laid down your rails. Barrel aged beers will always play a big part in my life, it could be because I really like whisky, it could be because I really like my wood. I'm not really bothered - I just really like the stuff. Anyway, here's my top five favourites (so far):

1 - Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
2 - Harveistoun Ola Dubh
3 - Orkney Dark Island Reserve
4 - Firestone Parabola
5 - This beast - Fraoch 22 aged on Auchentoshan beastly casks.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Double, Double Trouble

It was our usual monthly stock take at Beer Ritz this morning for me and Beth, which generally means counting hundreds upon hundreds of bottles of beer to make sure it's all still there, and that Jeff hasn't stolen it all. After 6 hours of hearing my own voice talking numbers, it was fair to say I was in the mood for a good drink or two. And so, after a trip down to Arcadia for a nice late afternoon pint, I found the ever amazing Hawkshead Cumbrian 5 Hop was just what the Doc ordered for a bit of refreshment.

After that though, I fancied something a little darker, so it was back home to raid the fridges. I wasn't in the mood for anything uber heavy though, just something dark, so 'what's the choice?' I asked myself... Well I had two Imperial/Double Black IPAs which I haven't had before in there, so I thought that they'd do the trick!

First up was Faithless XI from Toby at Red Willow Brewery. A 7.2% Imperial Black IPA, not a bad afternoon drop for a Tuesday! Pitch black with a chalky tan head. Aromas abound of grapefruit, lemons, sweet green apple, sherbet, a little fresh grass and only the tiniest hints of roasted oak coming in right at the back. The initial mouth-feel is a little thin, but that's exactly what I was looking for. It's a really fruity beer, similar to the aromas, but this is a completely different DBIPA than I've had before. You get a bit of roasted bitterness in the body, but the finish turns this into a radically different beast. I'm getting a lot of menthol/spearmint flavours, which eventually die down to reveal a subtle, almost smoky burnt toast flavour. This beer isn't like any of the other ones in this style out there I've tried. That's why you should try it too.

Second up (because one just isn't quite enough) comes from our ever popular Buxton Brewery. Imperial Black, a 7.5% black monster that comes across the nose with waves of grapefruit and heavy pine, some green apple and pear, and with a bit of a swirl I'm also getting subtle hints of whisky too. Thumbs up so far! A lot thicker than the R.W. beer with an initial huge burst of orange pith to slake your bitter lusting. Small hints of caramel malt compliment a complex, but very smooth body, with just a tiny bit of lactic creaminess. While the first bottle was a fine (quick) refresher, this (in a bigger bottle) is more of a beer to relax over and enjoy whilst you watch the sun go down - perfect.

Some out there like to think of BIPA and DBIPAs as a non-style or a bastardised version of things past. I say that we all have our own individual voices which shall be heard, and what might not be something to someone, can be much more to others. I really like BIPAs and DBIPAs when they are well produced, and these two hit that mark spot on.

Well played guys, I really enjoyed these beers.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Remake of a Beer Legend: Poltergeist 2

It's been a while coming, but after myself and Matt Lovatt brewed Poltergeist quite a while back, and after it had all disappeared, we knew it would only be a matter of time before we brewed something again.

Today it came time to brew Poltergeist 2! (don't worry, I'm not calling it that...)

This brew was to be more towards what I originally intended for the beer: a new world hop influenced strong Amber Ale. Last time it was too dark, and not juicy enough for me. Don't get me wrong, I thought it was a damn tasty beer, but you can always improve on things.

So, after waiting the good part of three/four hours for UK Mail to turn up with our ingredients, we started our (very late) brew day. Here's what went into it:

2.800kg of Pale Ale Malt
2.000kg of Munich
0.400kg of Cara-Munich
0.300kg of Cara-Malt
0.150kg of Torrified Wheat
(we ended up with just short of 22 litres)

100g of Columbus
100g of Galaxy
100g of Crystal
Here is how they were added for our 60min boil:

5g of Columbus @ 60mins
15g of Columbus & Galaxy @ 20mins
40g of Galaxy @ 10mins
40g of Columbus @ 5mins
100g of Crystal @ 5mins
The rest of the Columbus & Galaxy to steep for 15mins after boil.

Apart from the late start, the brew day went pretty perfectly. Matt was a little disappointed with the OG of 58 (we were shooting for 60) but I thought it was close enough. We used a culture of San Diego Super Yeast (the super hero of liquid yeasts) that Matt had previously used to ferment a previous beer, so the results should be quite interesting, fingers crossed it doesn't go too mental. After some aeration with an aquarium pump, it was time to wrap the fermenter up in a blanket and jet off to Arcadia for a couple of jars.

I'll be posting notes and evaluations on the beer once it's ready, and hopefully it may be ready to take to the next Leeds Homebrewers meet up at the end of April, but for now I need to come up with a name:

Possible possibilities include:

Phantom of the Amber
Spectral Matt
Matt's Revenge
Amber Phantom
Spooky Brew
Spectre Ale
Haunted Hops
Collaboration of Spirits
Two Ghouls

Any others you can think of, let us know! You'll be hearing from this beer sooooonn.... :}

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Serlo de Burgh

Give a child a toy, and he'll undoubtedly play with it.

Give a man an experimental brew kit... and you can bet he'll brew you a beer.

Not just any beer either:

Serlo de Burgh is a six hop, six percent IPA brewed by Ol Fozard at Roosters, and is a beer I really like the story behind; "Serlo de Burgh was a powerful Northern Baron who commissioned the building of Knaresborough Castle. Originally the Baron of Tonsburgh, Normandy, he accompanied William The Conqueror to England and was granted the Manor of Knaresborough as a reward for his part in the Norman invasion and is subsequently regarded as the first Lord of Knaresborough." - Good stuff, but how does the beer match up? Many people have been uneasy about the hand over at Roosters, claiming, that the beer wouldn't be as good, and that Sean's would always be better. Now Roosters made no official date of when the actual final hand over happened so people wouldn't be able to tell, and by all accounts it seems to have worked fine, I've had quite a lot of Roosters beer over the past few months and it's all been great.
   This beer has been produced with hops from America, Australia and New Zealand, but as we know it takes more than shoving loads of tasty hops into a kettle to make a good beer, so what's it like?

Well, it has a very inviting aroma; I'm getting peaches and apricots, fresh straw with a lemony twist, sweet sugars, sherbet and orange with lime... it smells damn fresh too!

The beer starts like a fresh fruit salad. It has quite a bit of carbonation to it and when it rolls over your tongue, you get a great big smack of fizzy orange bitterness, which is intensely refreshing.. and rather awakening. It has a real zing about it which really hits all the sweet spots. Intensely fruity as I said, the flavour matches the aroma very well, and I'm also getting a good sense of biscuity malt in the background. Soft, floral and dangerously easy drinking for a 75cl bottle of 6% beer. It's balanced, and while it might have a sense of subtlety and restraint about it, to the keen taster, it's a real master-class in beer production.

I don't think the brewery could have been put in better hands.

Fantastic beer, great story and overall feel about this beer, I can't wait to see what the guys come out with next.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Brooklyn Invades Leeds

I've never had the chance to meet Garrett Oliver before. I say chance because it's not the first time he's come to Leeds to share some of his wares. So when I got an email from Ben at James Clays asking me if I wanted to come down for a lunch with him and try some of his own personal beers with a small group of West Yorkshire bloggers - to say I was exited would be putting it extremely mildly!

The lunch was to be put on by Mr Foley's Ale House, and the ever impressive chef - Tyler Kiley, who had the daunting task of preparing a 3 course meal menu to go with Garrett's beers... a menu which he slaved over for the best part of 3 days.

For starters we indulged in some spicy chicken wings which were absolutely coated in a deliciously fruity but hot sauce, which I think I remember Tyler telling us he wanted to see our fingers and faces covered in by the end of it. It was to be paired with Brooklyn BLAST - an 8.2% IPA - a really nice beer to start with; fruity, balanced and poured from bottle conditioned "ghost bottles" (loved that part). I think I remember they were called ghost bottles because the beers served were from the breweries private stash, and most of the beers we had don't normally go into the bottle.

The main course was a fantastic pulled pork sandwich (14 hours slow cooked!) with classic thick cut wedges, and homemade sauces of mustard of barbecue sauce. This was paired with 6.9% Mary's Maple Porter. The beer had a nice earthy, woody, slightly roasted grain quality, but also had a subtle sweetness from the shed loads of Maple Syrup used in the production of this Porter. This was the pairing of the meal for me, I thought the beer and the food balanced each other perfectly.

By this time there was quite a bit of a buzz around the room as we all became a little more relaxed and as the beer flowed. This was all to come to a abrupt silence though, as the desert course was served. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and Vanilla Ice cream floats was the order of the day. At this point you can forget everything you think you know about beer. I took an inhale and I was lost for words, all I could produce was a laugh as if to say 'that's one of the best things I think I've ever smelt!' Leigh gave it a bit of a better write up than I managed.

That was the food portion of our time together. We moved onto some after dinner drinks next. First up was The Companion. The Companion is a beer brewed in line with the launch of the Oxford Companion to Beer, and just as the book was produced by a collaboration of writers, the beer was made by a collaboration of people, who also had a hand in producing the book too. TC is a 9% Wheat Wine (sort of the brother of a Barley Wine)  and is made of 55% wheat and 45% barley (all floor malted) and then given a Champagne yeast to give it an extra bit of sparkle. I thought it had a slight earthy, sherbet, fruity flavour and it reminded me of Deus ever so slightly. Garrett told us that using wheat made for a much lighter body to the beer, and he wasn't wrong, it was great!

"If you've tried this beer you've
almost certainly met me."
The last beer on offer was the hit of the event. Cuvee De La Couchet Rouge Rose was a 10% beast which you couldn't really put into one particular style category. Essentially it was Brooklyn Local 1. aged for about 9 months in bourbon barrels with the addition of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lees added to the barrel from the Red Hook Winery. The result appeared to be some sort of Gueuze style beer from initial aromas. The flavours aren't as powerful as a Gueuze though, but are still just as complex. Stone fruit dryness, with a slight hint of Brett and a slight acidity, it was truly a fascinating beer and one that got even better when some of the yeasty dregs of the bottle were added.

After all that we all kind of felt a bit of a subdued contentment, and could have all probably gone for a long snooze. Garrett is a truly inspiring man, when he talks everybody listens. He spoke to us so fluently and so passionately about the thing he loves the most - his beer, his craft and beer in general. We heard tales of his connections to Yorkshire, we heard tales about Roosters and Daleside and many other breweries he's done collaborative brews with. He spoke of many things and we all sat, listened and soaked up all he had to say. It's very hard not to be infected by his enthusiasm, it's something that I found incredibly refreshing to see as well, seen as he's been in the game for quite a while. He's a very genuine character, and it doesn't matter who you are, he has time to listen to what you have to ask or say and he'll throughly engage you in conversation. It was an honor and a privilege to meet him and to come on this great day out, and what a day it was!

The festivities didn't just end at Mr Foleys though. We got the blogger troop together, and after a few cheeky halves in Veritas and the Vic, we made our way up to North Bar. This was where Garrett and the head brewer from Nogne O would be hosting a bit of a Meet the Brewer Q+A. More people turned up for this and we all had a fantastic time. It was really nice to get to have a good chat with Eric Ottaway who's the General Manager of Brooklyn Brewery, particularly about the business side of things and what the future might hold for them and craft beer in general.

I think I've rattled on for long enough now, but I will say that not even the following morning's hangover could take my smile away.

I will give a shout out to all the Blogging Massive who came along, it was really cool to see everyone again. Nick and David have already written on the same subject, and I'm sure they won't be the last. I give my many thanks to Dean, Ben and the James Clay team for inviting me along and setting the whole thing up, and props go out to Tyler for the fantastic meal. My final thanks go to Garrett and Eric for providing such an epic day, and one which I'll remember for quite some time.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

One Week. One Day. Two Pies.

It's still International Pie Week this week by the way, and while my plans to have a different pie with a different beer everyday were a little over-ambitious, I've still managed to power through two different matchings today. Before I get into that though, a couple of words from me about International Pie Week:

It's International Pie Week for crying out loud! What could be better than a week dedicated to the celebration of the pastry type foods that have been with us for hundreds of years! Slaking our hunger, providing us nourishment and comfort at the same time, you just can't beat a good old pie. I'm not just talking of one sort of pie though, no no, IPW is a week for all pies across the globe; from sweet to savoury, from different fillings to different verities, open or closed - All Pies Welcome! Have it with what you like too, peas and chips, mash and gravy, and if your a little more greedy like I am - have pie with a side of Burger!

I need my pie with a beer though. Sorry to all the kids out there, but you won't reach true piedom until you get to 18 and have your first Steak 'n' Ale with a pint of Best in your local pub.

Speaking of which, Let's see what I got down me today:

My Cottage Pie doesn't
make for good photos.
My beer does though....
First up was Cottage Pie with Gadds' and De Molen's collaborative Fresh Hopped Bohemian. Many of you out there will say Cottage Pie doesn't fit into the pastry category. And you'd be right, but it fits into the Pie category. Remember, IPW is about celebrating every pie, in all it's forms... Hell, you could even have a fish pie if you wanted.

This combo worked really well together. Creamy soft, fluffy mash with a crispy top, sitting upon chunky, meaty beef, smothered in a rich gravy sauce. When you get this together with an uber fresh, bitter and dry 6%+ IPA, which cuts through your tastebuds, your getting a view of what it's like to be truly decadent, all whilst in the comfort of your own armchair. Sheer bliss at lunch time.

The next meal of the day brings me closer to the real home of my pie love.

A thing of beauty.
I know Tanders would get mad at me that I wasn't enjoying this in a pub, but as much as we'd like to admit we can, we can't be in the pub 24/7 unfortunately.

A proper Steak and Ale pie. Served with a Tag Lag Golden Ale - a beer from Barngates Brewery from Ambleside - the heart of the Lake District.

The only thing I can really say about this, is that it was perfect. End of 'pie lovers' story, I do hope you have your own.

Here's to International Pie Week!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Ghostie's Rough Leeds Bars Volume 2.

It's been a while since I did the last one of these posts in my list of the ten rough bars and pubs of Leeds. That's because the last one was my first, and I wasn't all that keen on doing the next.

Second up: Hoagy's... and doesn't it look great!

Once again, no pictures of the inside, I wasn't getting anything shiny out in the actual place. I dressed to fit in this time to try and blend in - beanie, rough hoodie, tight jeans and some Adidas shoes...

I rocked up at the bar, eyes down, and tried to survey the scene. Seemed this was kind of a third rate Spoons of a place - lots of very old, gangster looking type pensioners, and lots of 20-30yr olds in a collection of tracksuits, cheap bling and all the sort... all there to grab a big cheap meal and get blathered. Wall to wall gamblers, huge plasma screens blearing out a different sport on each - you know the type of place.

I considered asking if they had any Craft Beer available, but then thought better of it...
    "Half a lager please mate" I asked the landlord. No suggestion of which was asked, just half of the very cold stuff placed in front of me. No lies here when I say that while the server poured my drink, he also poured himself a half of lager and proceeded to drink it at quite a rate. I did the same... it was cold, and I didn't plan on sticking around. Straight sided tumbler - same as the last pub.

The place was quite large, but seemed to be pretty busy. I can't really say that I'd like to spark up a conversation with anyone there though. This was all on a Tuesday afternoon too! Call me yella, but I wasn't about to rock up on my own on a Saturday night - I've heard some pretty interesting stories.

That was Hoagy's then. Pool hall they might have upstairs, but to me that's just more ammo for people to use on a Friday night brawl.

I've started this little list with a couple of easy pubs. Rough Hoagy's may be, but it's not that rough - I'm saving the best for last...

...And the last I will not be going in alone.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

15 Years

Stone Brewery have been going for just over 15 years now, and have been going from strength to strength (no just in terms of beer..!) So it would only be right that they brew a 15th anniversary ale to celebrate.

This Escondidian Imperial Black Ale is something which should be respected. With the first hiss of opening this 10.8% juggernaut, a wave of fresh hops wafts across my nose, even at a couple of feet away.

Blacker than black with the most compact brown/dark tan fluffy head. What an aroma! Big on the dark chocolate and also big on the piny resinous hops. Lots of coffee, a little oak, some liqourice, rummy raisins, a hint of apricot and orange and a dab of leather. It kind of smells what I think you might get if you mixed a bit of Ruination and Stone Russian Imperial Stout together.

A very silky, velvet like mouthfeel. The most immediate thing you notice is the bitterness behind this beast. As the beer warms ever so slightly, and your mouth adjusts a little, a lot more qualities and flavour complexities come about. There's a lot of bitter chocolate, which is intensely drying to the mouth and makes you want more before you've even put the glass down. You do get quite a bit of a classic Stone hoppiness to this beer. In fact as I drink I can't but help be reminded of the hoppiness you get in Double Bastard. The alcohol is quite well hidden under rich mocha tones mixed with the chocolate and dried fruits. You can't help feeling there's two sides to the beer though: the darker side, but yet, the lighter side - perfectly balanced too. There's a lot of sticky resinous pine in the bitterness making it known this beer has enough hops to kill a bear. It's the perfect counterbalance to the dark side. Stone's 15th Anniversary BIPA is a great beer, that's putting it mildly.

I've not come across any other brewery in the US that does Black IPAs quite like Stone. When they brought out their Self Righteous, I'm pretty confident in saying that we were all blown away over here in the UK. I'll raise the rest of my glass to Stone Brewery tonight and say a big Cheers! to the last 15 years...

And here's to the next 15!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Local - Good or Bad?

This month's session will be undertaken whilst on a session of local beers in my home. Hosted by Hoosier Beer Geek, the title of this topic is "What makes local beer better?"

I'd prefer to talk about both the good and bad points about local beer as it relates to my experience of.... well; local beer.

I am a firm believer that local beer certainly does have both good and bad points. Let's start with the one of the good points I hear many people talking about; 'Freshness'. When it comes to fresh beer, obviously if it doesn't have to travel far to get to you, or was bottled/casked not to long ago, it will taste better than if it was older. This is only a minor point though, and is something that (most of the time) applies to beers with a more, hop forward, recipe. Some beers aren't meant to be drunk fresh, and could stand some cellaring before consumption. This moves me onto a bad point about freshness. I've drunk some beers in my time, by brewers who've been too quick to get their beers into the pub/shop, and they haven't had the full, proper time to condition. This is where freshness becomes detrimental to beer. If a brewery is only down the road, that doesn't mean it should be selling you it's beers as soon as it comes out of the fermenter, straight for consumption - all beer requires a little bit of sitting time. Some people may be quick to get their casks/bottles out ASAP, as keeping them at a brewery costs lots of time/money/space. It doesn't make for a good beer.

My 3 local ales for the evening 
A good point that some take from local beer is about community. And yes it is a great thing. We all should be supporting our local businesses and helping them grow. After all if we don't, they won't be there for long; something I have unfortunate first hand experience with. The bad thing about this though, is that living around Yorkshire, there are so many new and cool breweries opening up these days that it's hard to choose who to go with. And unfortunately, sometimes some people can be given a bit of a back seat. I'm all up for supporting local businesses, but it's just hard to know which sometimes.

I'm trying to keep things brief tonight because I could easily go on and on about this, but I can leave it as such:

I not sure if there's a definitive answer to why local beer is better. In fact I don't think local beer is better. I've had many a crap pint from a brewery within walking distance from the pub I drank it in. But it's not all like that though. I've had so much good beer from fantastic local breweries which I'm very proud to call my local breweries, but then again I've also had similar experiences from breweries which I can't call my locals.

I can tell you the best part about local brewers though: Working at Beer Ritz, there's no better thing than calling up a brewery and asking for some of their beers, and having said beers delivered to your shop doors the very next day!

- That's the real bonus of having local beer!