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

Thursday 29 December 2011

Gypsies For Life!

The last couple of weeks at the shop have been manic, and I mean MANIC! I suppose when you sell four times as much beer in a week as you normally do that's to be expected though. That's my excuse for the lack of posts out of the way, but while I've had time away from the writing, it's still been very fun to read about what others have been getting up to during the holiday period. It was also very nice to see all the local Bloggers and beer lovers in the shop over the past couple of weeks, it made me feel a little inadequate when I saw shopping baskets full to the brim of glorious beer. I clearly didn't drink enough this Christmas. I even spied Tandleman at one point paroosing our specialist beers and we had a decent chat. (He even nearly went away with a Brewdog Badge!)

One thing I did read which made me chuckle was a post by Simon Johnson about his bug bears of the social media and the online writing scene. It made me laugh because, not only do I agree with some of them, I also indulge in some of them. So tonight I'll give out a shout to Scooper by writing about a Rare Collaboration beer which looks totally AWESOME (yup, I love saying awesome, I bet this is pretty craft too...) ;)

First the blurb; Mikkeller's Our Side is a collaboration brew between two 'Gypsies' - Mikkeller and Stillwater: a 7.5% ale in a large and very stunning bottle. (label designed by Lee Verzosa)

"Mikkel and Brian are two of the world's most unconventional brewers. By designing beers at various breweries around the globe, they have found the freedom to experiment and innovate, resulting in unique beers that often blur the lines of definition. After having met at a festival in Bodegraven, NL, the two realized that their first creations both were called Stateside. It was then an obvious decision to make the two recipes into a new product, packed full of piney, resinous hops, and backed by the esters of a farmhouse yeast strain."

The aroma is making my mouth water. It reminds me of the big Italian brews we used to get at the shop from breweries like Baladin and Borgo. Imagine if you will; Hoppy Saision meets IPA and that's the aroma.

It's intensely lively, the first sip fills your mouth with carbonation and CO2, amongst lots of Belgian/peppery yeast - so you don't really get an initial impression of flavour. Give it time to warm and a bit of a swirl to kick some of the gas out, and it reveals a really interesting and complex beer. Soft and floral. Really fruity. It reminds me quite a bit of the Pretty Things Jack D'or Saison. A soft, slightly sweet caramel malty-ness is matched with a drying, peppery Belgian quality which makes it very moorish. Some bitter orange, vanilla, honeycomb and a little citrus peel are in and around the body and the finish is long a drying.

It's a really interesting beer, but if both these brewers are 'cuckoo' brewers, then I'd like to know where they made it...

Would I call it Craft? Would I prefer it on Cask or Keg? Would I pair it with food? Will I give it a video review? ..ahh ballz to it, I'm far to busy drinking the beer! Now can I have a RT Simon?

Thursday 15 December 2011

Either Or Neither Nor

I've never had a beer from Cigar City before. (Interesting name for a brewery as a side note...) I saw this one in Craft in London a few months back and decided it looked interesting enough to stump up for a bottle. Turns out this is a beer in a four part series of beers, each respectively called; Either, Or, Neither and Nor. I spied they had some Or in Craft, but the wallet dictated that I just purchase the one. I'm not sure what the other beers in the series are, but it sounds like a really cool idea, I really like the artwork on the labels too, it's really well designed.

It's been called a Black IPA, but the label suggests a Black Ale, and at a hefty 11.2% it's certainly a snifter job. It's made with "Ty Ty Honey, copious amounts of hops and aged on toasted Spanish Cedar"

If you give the glass a bit of a swirl and get some foam forming you get a decent aroma of all sorts of stuff going on; chocolate, honey, burnt toast, sticky resinous hops, roasted malt and raisins. If you let it settle down a bit you start to get more of, an almost smoky, woody aroma - just enough to give an essence of a Rauch Beer.

It's quite a strange beer. On the initial sip you get a really smooth beer and you expect something really thick and oily. This disappears though, the body and mouth feel is light, and your left with your mouth burning of pure flavour. There's a big orange tang on the back of your tongue after the swallow, but the most obvious element is the powerful woody flavours which dominate your senses. (I've worked with Cedar before in furniture making, it's got really powerful and distinctive aromas, and takes a while to get the smell off your hands... not that it was a bad thing) It's slightly charred, lots of the burnt toast coming through with a drying quality making it very moorish. It's obviously alcoholic, but not in a way which makes you think 'slow down' - I don't think it's as warming as a 11.2% beer should be, which makes it a little dangerous in my opinion.

It's a great tasting beer, I think it would have been nicer if the honey had a little more umph in the flavour - I think it gets a little dominated by all the earthy Cedar wood. A good first beer to have from a brewery which I've not visited before though, I hope I can try some more from Cigar City. If your down and about in Craft, ask them if they have any left!

Sunday 11 December 2011

Epic Black & Tan

Naylor's Brewery, 'The Peak of Perfection' from Keighley. West Yorkshire - The home of UK Brewing.

Naylor's produce a solid core range of 'Pinnacle' beers with a Bitter and a Porter being just two of the range. They also bottle a Black & Tan themselves with two said beers but this was, somehow, not enough for me so I thought I'd blend the two beers for myself. I thought I'd get the proper experience if I blended the two originals myself instead of the pre mixed bottle.

I was going to try and layer the beers like I did with the Yin, Yang mix, but it didn't work this time. I tried really hard too, poured them really carefully, but the Porter just didn't sit on top of the Bitter. Maybe it was something to do with the Bitter being lighter in % than the Porter, or maybe they were both too light. Maybe you can't layer everything, but I still like to try - someone has to, it's tough but I'm willing to do it in the name of science!

I really like the mix. I didn't save a little of each to compare though, I got a little over exited when pouring them together, so I don't really have anything to compare them too. It's not too much of a problem - my giant glass of Black & Tan still tastes great. This was a spur of the moment thing really, and most of the time, spur of the moment things are the best.

Would I suggest you should try it? Well I wouldn't be writing about it if I didn't. It goes really well with home made brownies too!

Note: Brownies made by Sister, not me.

Friday 9 December 2011

Ilkley: New Beers, New Look

Ilkley's back in my 'awesome books'.... not that they were ever in my bad books. They've moved up from my 'good books' to my 'awesome books' because they've started bottling my favourite Ilkley beer: Lotus IPA, as well as their Stout Mary.

Ilkley Lotus is a 5.6% IPA, and I really love how informative their bottles have become. The label states: "Malts - The finest Marris Otter and Crystal, Hops - Cascade and Summit, Water - From the Yorkshire Dales". It's things like this which us beer geeks are interested in, and something we'd love to see on more beers.

The beer itself has a fantastic fruity aroma of orange, lemons and apricots with just a hint of biscuity malt in the background. The taste is a riot of ripe juicy fruits - bittersweet and incredibly easy drinking for an almost 6% beer. Now I'm not one for telling you how good a beer is in comparison to another bee..... oh, no wait I totally am that guy! I had a bottle of Goose Island before this bottle and this is sooooo much better! Plus it's in a bigger bottle! Woop Woop!

Next along the 'new in bottle' chain comes Ilkley's Stout Mary - a 4.5% Oatmeal Stout. The bottle states: "Malts - Pale Malt, Roast Barley, Chocolate and Crystal, Hops - Galena and Bramling Cross, Water - From the Yorkshire Dales." It's not as dark as I'd have expected but each to their own.

A really nice roasted malt and burnt rubber aroma. (I sometimes find burnt rubber in my stouts, and people say it sounds really unappetising.. but that's how it smells, and I'm not trying to put it across as a bad thing.) The flavour is rich and creamy. Big on the burnt malt roasted bitterness but light in the finish, which is really good as it doesn't feel like it's filling you up - a problem I'm finding recently drinking pints of stout.

A point I will mention is that if you doubled the strength of this beer you'd get a perfect Imperial Stout.

Two great accompaniments to the Ilkley range in our shop then. I also mentioned about the new look too though. It looks like their going back to the bolder more colour prominent labels, which is fine by me, I prefer them. I'm not really a fan of the taller bottles (shown left in comparison to the ones above) that are coming into the shop at the moment though. Decide for yourself, but it seems Ilkley rethink their bottle branding every 6 months and continue to improve and develop the brand, which is either - quite expensive, or a passion to produce the best beers they can!

Once again: Look British - we're awesome at making beer.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Ghostie's 2011 Golden Pints

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer
Winner: Ilkley Mary Jane
Runner up: Ridgeside Desert Aire

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Buxton Black Rocks
Runner up: Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12yr

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Winner: Mikkeller Black Imperial Stout
Runner up: Stone Arrogant Bastard

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Dogfish Head 120min IPA
Runner up: Avery Maharaja IPA

Best Overall Beer
Winner: Marble Dobber
Runner up: Hawkshead NZPA

Best Pumpclip or Label
Winner: Black Sheep Imperial Stout
Runner up: Left Hand Fade to Black

Best UK Brewery
Winner: Marble
Runner up: Ilkley

Best Overseas Brewery
Winner: Stone
Runner up: Dogfish Head

Pub/Bar of the Year
Winner: Arcadia
Runner up: The Rake

Beer Festival of the Year
Winner: LS6 Beer Festival
Runner up: GBBF

Supermarket of the Year
Winner: Waitrose
Runner up: Morrisons

Independent Retailer of the Year
Winner: Beer Ritz
Runner up: Bacchanalia

Online Retailer of the Year
Winner: My Brewery Tap
Runner up: Beer Merchants

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Winner: Michael Jackson's Beer Companion
Runner up: Pete Brown's Man Walks into a Pub

Best Beer Blog or Website
Winner: Real Brewing at the Sharp End
Runner up: Rabid About Beer

Best Beer Twitterer
Winner: @broadfordbrewer
Runner up: @Mrfoleys

Best Online Brewery Presence
Winner: Summer Wine Brewery
Runner up: Hardknott

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Winner: Punk IPA Cans in Chicken Arse from Dredge
Runner up: Leigh's Roast Potato Fish Pie and Adnam's Spindrift

In 2012 I'd Most Like To:
Brew some beer with Zak Avery whilst drinking a 4 year old bottle of Dogfish Head 120min IPA.

Open Catagory
Biggest Sellout of the Year: Cooking Lager >> We thoroughly miss his postings about raiding supermarkets for cheap lout and spending evenings with his squeeze. Now he's just another beery geek :(

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Vitesse Noir and Lots of Whisky!

I was pretty damn exited, and slightly confused when I first heard about Hardknott's Vitesse Noir. Mainly because I thought; 'A Triple Imperial Stout... awesome!'  and  'A Triple Imperial Stout... what??'

After finding out more about the beer though, it sounded like it was going to be pretty great. A Triple Imperial vanilla mocha Stout, and at 11% too. Those crazy hardcore Hardknott's produced this by double mashing a double Imperial Stout and then throwing in really rich flavours consisting of chocolate, vanilla and coffee. Sounds good on paper, but the proof is in the pudding beer, so to speak.

It pours pitch black with the darkest of brown hues coming in at the sides of the glass under strong lights. At first appearance it looks pretty lacking in carbonation, but be assured this beer is perfectly conditioned. The aromas are pretty obvious for this one. Chocolate covered, heavily roasted coffee beans leap forth from your glass. Its slightly oaky but I was expecting a little more from the vanilla - I suppose it was always going to be a little overpowered by the chocolate and coffee. The initial taste is thick and syrup like. The flavour is really well balanced, with all the aspects of the beer working together really well. The 11% is masked really well, and makes the beer drink much easier than it should... danger beer! It's not as warming as I thought it would be, but it's still really rich and has a great long lasting roasted bitterness about it.

This beer is pretty innovative. The guys at Hardknott are always trying to push the boundaries of what a beer can be, and why shouldn't they, it's quite refreshing. I thought, in the spirit of innovation and experimentation, that I'd have a bit of a play with this beer too. Not that the beer needs to be tampered with, I just like to have a bit of fun with my beer. I wondered what the brew would be like with a bit of oak aging behind it. I'm quite confident that you know I don't have any barrels to my name, or the quantities of the beer to do this though, so I'll have to improvise...

I decided to drink the rest of this bottle with one of my favourite drinking methods: mixing in a few drops of single malts to give a different thought process to the evening.

First up was Aberlour a'bunadh :- a 59.9% cask strength, straight from the cask Speyside rich, fruity beast. Of course it only takes a couple of drops to get the point across, so that's how things went down. I think this little addition worked really well. The powerful rich fruity flavours of the whisky melded really well with the big beer and made a great warming brew. It was now really woody and nutty, with hints of figs and a lot more vanilla now. Good match.

Next up I thought I'd try it with some Islay Whisky: Bruichladdich Rocks to be precise. I may have gotten a little over exited at this point and added a few more drops than necessary to this glass. I thought an Islay malt would add a different complexity to the drink, but the match didn't really work. The massive zesty, seaside quality of the whisky really didn't work with the rich, fruity and bitter flavours of the beer. Oh well, you have to try these things out to see if they work.... Bad match.

The last choice turned out to be the best. A Highland malt; Glenmorangie Nectar D'or. This whisky is matured in Bourbon casks and then finished in Sauternes barrels giving it great lemon  and honey syrup flavours and sweetness. The additional sweetness of the whisky gives a great, but not overpowering, match to the beer giving it a really long, warming and oaky finish. A really good match.

Vitesse Noir is a really good beer, on it's own, or even with a few drops of whisky added too. (you know us Ghosts love our spirits..) I'm not sure about the wording on the label though... Instead of saying it's "just the tonic that you needed" I would have said - 'Vitesse Noir; it gets you really drunk!' ;)

Everything in moderation, including moderation itself...


Thursday 1 December 2011

Gotta Take The Power Back!

I have to apologise. Some of my posts over the past 2 months have been a little negative, and in truth, that's not the sort of person I want or try to be so it's going to stop. So get ready for the feel good post of the year! :)

Take a decent look at the picture below. Yes it's a little out of focus, but I'm sure you can see what it's meant to be.

This is the face of British Beer! (at Beer Ritz anyway)

Two years ago this would have been a much different picture. Look at the colours, (except Kernel) look at the design ((including Kernel).. they just won brewery of the year at the BGBW awards, they can have a bit of teasing)  Three years back, this sort of thing was a bit of a pipe dream. Sure there was brewers doing innovative stuff, but not on scales like this.

A couple of years back, we were still in USA mode, lapping up all they could give. We were were American Beer crazy, on some levels we still are a little bit.

Last year we thought Italian Craft beer was going to really take off in the UK. Unfortunately that didn't really seem to materialize as much as some of us (me) had hoped.

In todays environment, with the huge increase in costs for such loser increases such as the Higher Strength Beer Duty and costs which are being piled on like, transportation and distribution costs, it's not surprising people have started being choosy with their extra cash. We are in a very good position at Beer Ritz to see where in the world people are choosing to spend this money, beer wise.

People are starting to look British. Even more than that, people are starting to look local.

It is a fact that at this moment, people are buying more British beer than ever in our shop. And I'm pretty damn sure it's not just because of price too. You look back at the picture at the top. Our British shelves have never know such outstanding  'desire' appeal. The up and coming brewers are really going all out in delivering the whole package when it comes to their produce. Great design, great range, and really bloody great beer. I'll be perfectly honest, looking at the two sides of our shop, the British section makes the American section look just a little drab at the moment. It may not be obvious from the image above, so you'll just have to come and see for yourselves. And the image isn't even scratching the surface of the British beer scene. In the year 2000, there was around 500 breweries in Britain, now there are over 750 (is this right? I thought there was more...) (a third of which comes from Yorkshire, Woo!). There really has never been a better time to start getting back into, and being proud of, your local beer. It's full of modern design, full of eye catching and clever marketing, and most of all it's still full of tradition.

You can be pro cask or pro keg, but it's not hard to see that cask ale has made a real come back in the last few years. People want it, they want to try new ones, old ones, crazy ones. You only need to visit any CAMRA festival to see that. Even young people want it! I'm young(ish) and I drink it all the time, I can't get enough of the bloody stuff! Others want it too. I've heard great stories of cask going over to the USA, to be drained dry in under a few hours by queuing customers just wanting to get a taste of pure British cask beer.

A couple of years back there was a bit of a void in the British beer scene. That void has been well and truly filled, stuffed, and is bursting out the seams. Some may argue that the movement was started by brewers like Thornbridge and Brewdog, but I say this movement was started by us, the consumer! We are voting with our feet, now more than ever, and people saw this gap in the market and went for the jugular. They gave us what we wanted, gave us great beer - local beer - and at the end of the day it was DAMN GOOD BEER!

We still have something to address though. There is still too much bickering within our own drinking scene. People are still arguing about the pros and cons of Cask vs Keg, drinking at home vs drinking at the pub, macro vs micro, craft vs everything else, etc...
It's time we stopped focusing on the insignificant differences that separate us, and it's time we started focusing on the things that bring us and this great beer drinking nation together! THE LOVE OF GREAT BEER!

And you know the best thing about this British Beer Revolution....

We're just getting started!!!!