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

Tuesday 31 July 2012

5Day Imperial Stout Spree: Day 5.

Day five came around quick didn't it!

Today's Imperial Stout comes from Brewdog.

AB:09 - 17.1% - 37.5cl - £14.49

Say what you will about Brewdog, I've always maintained that those guys know how to brew a dark beer, and in that regard I've never been let down by a bad dark dog. Just look at some of the previous examples: Riptide, Tokyo*, all the Paradox range... All winners.

AB:09 is a fresh sample having been bottled on the 2nd of April this year, and shows obvious signs of a buzzing and lively carbonation. With a small self sustaining cappuccino like head, it truly invites curiosity from the senses.

All the classics are in the nose. Charred Oak, vanilla, raisins, mocha, dark chocolate - all the usual stuff that tells you it's going to be pretty powerful, even before any has even passed your lips.

It's thick, it's heavy. It's resinous and it's outrageously bitter. It's immensely warming, and it's really woody like a Single Malt. It's incredibly drying and moorish, and while the flavour drops away quite abruptly after a big flavour explosion, you're left with that warming soothing effect. Dark forest fruits are complimented by black burnt rubbery malt flavours. There's some sweet liqourice and tar with some leathery hazelnut, but it's mainly about the oak.

I didn't really know anything about this "Cranachan" Imperial Stout, so I decided to give it a look up. The flavours made much more sense once I'd found out Brewdog's process. This beer has been aged in single grain Whisky and other Oak barrels , and is brewed with "a mountain of dark malts, loads of oats, Scottish heather, honey and local raspberries." After that description, all the flavour profiles and complexities make much more sense to me, but I'm no more, or no less impressed - it's a truly beautiful beer.

Let's look at the price now. £14.49 ((we're still looking at Beer Ritz prices if you've been following along (..see post 1)) and yes it's a limited bottle (number 1374 of 5754), yes it's got lots of crazy ingredients in it, is 17.1% and has been finished off in an expensive way, but the whole range in the Abstrakt series has been this price. Surly some were more expensive to make than others. And if so you're not really paying for the beer here, you're paying for the name that goes on top of it. It may well be an excellent beer, really excellent indeed, but I won't be rushing out to buy another anytime soon.

I guess that's the end of my 5Day Imperial Stout Spree. It's been fantastic fun, and I've got a great insight into the breweries in the list and I've taken much inspiration from the week. The week's over now though.

Or is it....?

Monday 30 July 2012

5Day Imperial Stout Spree: Day 4.

This is a big one.

A well known brewery, very close to home. I pour the bottle out and immediately feel worried by my observations.

The recipe comes from a Courage formulation from the 1850's. The brewery you must have heard of. It's our own Thornbridge, and it's the turn of their Thornbridge Hall Courage Russian Imperial Stout.

Looking at the bottle stats I have a beer brewed in April 2011 and bottled in December 2011. Malts are Maris Otter, Amber and Black Patent. Hops are Apollo, Hallertau Hersbrucker, and the beer is 9.4%. It comes in a 33cl bottle and was £13.19 of my hard earned cash.

Why was I worried? Well as I poured the precious liquid out, it looked thin. I was expecting a completely opaque devil of a beer, but what I saw was a very dark brown with ruby hints liquid. Was I to be disappointed? I really hoped not, I really wanted this beer to be good.

The taste?

A revelation.

Any thoughts of body or conditioning were thrown straight out of the window in the first mouthful. It's perfect. And that flavour! It goes on for an age. It changes, it evolves, it becomes something that's so much more than just the sum of it's parts. Maybe I'm waxing lyrical here, but I can only speak the truth. It's thick, it's rich, it's outstanding. The different layers of flavour complexities range from the vinous, dried fruit bouquets on the nose, to the first sip where it's sweet malts, honey and hazelnut. This moves to a big full on body. Black malt burnt notes providing dry dark chocolate bitter tones, mixed with a big fruity rum essence. Then you're left with the huge long finish. It lasts for an age with it's immense bitter but warming effect, as if you've just had a sip of your most expensive Single Malt as you sit back and say wow.

Just wow.

But we have to talk about that price. £13.19 for this bottle of beer? It seems almost daft... Thornbridge must have had their reasons though, I'm just finding it really hard to place them right now. It wasn't finished in any expensive barrel or had any crazy ingredients into it. It wasn't aged for 5 years before release, and it really hasn't travelled that far to get to my door. I could hazard a guess that they may have had to pay a lot to get the rights to reproduce this recipe?? Maybe they just thought that's what it was worth? It is their beer after all... maybe they might tell me...

Would I buy this again though?

In a heartbeat.

Sunday 29 July 2012

5Day Imperial Stout Spree: Day 3.

The sun is shining on this lazy Sunday afternoon, it's time for another Imperial Stout hit to continue on this journey... and it's my 250th post too, Woop!

Today's edition comes quite similar to yesterday's. Same size 25cl bottle. Same finishing production being aged in Cognac barrels. Similar sort of strength too at 10.9%... but twice the price of the Nogne O, coming in at £12.19.

It's time to indulge in some Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged in Cognac Barrels... or, you know, MBGBWIOSCB for short.... whew!

Much different in appearance to the previous Nogne O. Perfect conditioning is obvious with the beautiful dark tan head forming and lasting outright. Aromas are desert personified.

Vanilla, dark chocolate, espresso, Brandy with caramel, cocoa powder, a little wood and dark dried fruits. It's absolutely fantastic.

As I hold it up in the light it looks like a block of solid black jet, it's quite amazing, time to dive in. This works really well together, I think it's the addition of the weasel coffee that bulks out the body and manages to bring the whole thing together. The rich decadence is positively alive with flavour; rich forest fruits, oaky presence, black treacle and obvious drying Cognac. Bitter chocolate, with the oats working really well here too.

It's easily the pick of the bunch so far, but there's just something about my personal tastes that say to me that Brandy barrels (be it Cognac, Armagnac or other) just do not work as well as Whisky barrels when it comes to beer aging. It's probably just because I prefer my Scotch to my Brandy though....

What about the price though? 12 quid for a 25cl bottle of beer? A couple of years back I would of expected it to be a limited addition of about 500 bottles for that price. I looked at the possible reasons for cost in the Nogne O bottle, and this is a very similar beer. Could the sole reason it's twice the price factor in from the cost of this weasel coffee?? I can't be sure, I just know it's pretty damn good. Would I buy again though?

No. Once is enough at that price.

Join me tomorrow when things start to get really expensive, from a pretty local brewery too!

Saturday 28 July 2012

5Day Imperial Stout Spree: Day 2.

Day two kicks off with beer which you could say is small but mighty. This brewery is pretty well recognisable by the label and comes over to us from Norway. Yep, it's Nogne O.

Nogne O Imperial Stout. Aged in Cognac barrels for 1 year. 25cl bottle. £6.39

It's got what I really look for in my preferred I.S. aromas; loads of oak, sherry, vanilla, burnt raisins, roasting rubber, lots of woody pine and some charred caramel and honeycomb.

It pours flat as do most barrel aged beers... The mouth feel is a little thinner than I was expecting and it starts a little sweet, but then this moves into a huge woody drying effect matched with bitter Cognac flavours and roasted warming goodness. It wasn't what I expected it to be, the Cognac dominates a little too much maybe and doesn't really work well with the beer in my opinion, but it's not too bad. It's a good beer for multidimensional properties. Woody and leathery, rich roasted coffee and dark chocolates, some vanilla and liqourice. If I was pressed though I'd say take the regular Imperial Stout version over this one any day... it's twice the size for less money and a better beer.

Speaking about the price; this beer's almost twice the price of yesterdays goo goo g'joob, and it's in a smaller bottle too. Could this be because of the year aging in Cognac barrels? After all, it costs a lot of money to store beer, and C-barrels don't come cheap either. Could it also be the transport costs to get it shipped over to us. It certainly isn't our stupid strong beer tax, this one's only 9% compared to yesterdays 11%. Maybe Nogne O just like to charge a little more for their beers? I personally think it's a combination of the first 3...

Join me for Day 3 tomorrow where I'll be looking at a same size bottle which will be twice the price of tonight's, once again!

Friday 27 July 2012

5Day Imperial Stout Spree: Day 1.

After all the fun I had with my 5Day Barley Wine Spree, I thought it was about time I had a little spree on my favourite beer style as they're starting to pile up a bit at home at the moment.

Bring on the Imperial Stouts!

Over the next 5 days I'll be trying 5 new additions to the cabinet, whilst looking at the beers themselves, and the aspect of price. I'll begin that the price of all the beers to be drunk vary massively. I can also state that they all came from Beer Ritz. Now, as a Beer Ritz employee, I can confirm that we do not charge more for some beers than others. We have a standard mark up on all the beers we sell. If some are more expensive, it's because they were more expensive for us. I will be looking at price as a big part of these next 5 days.

First up comes from Arbor Ales and was brewed to celebrate their 5th birthday.

goo goo g'joob is 11%, comes in a 33cl bottle and is £3.69

It initially looks like it's going to pour flat, but then an incredibly thick and close nit foam erupts forth. Aromas of roasted hazelnut and burnt caramel are mixed with some burnt rubber and toast. It's got a very interesting flavour. Quite dry and tart with some vinous and fortified wine hints. There's a big bitter essence coming from the intensely roasted malts and a great full rich body which is greatly complimented by the addition of oats and maple syrup in the brewing process. The finish is long and intense but has the alcohol well hidden, a lovely start to this little trip.

Worth the £3.69? Yes, again and again. A bit of a bargain for such a nice 11% beer, in today's world, in my opinion.

Join me for day 2 won't you? I'll be looking into what happens when you have a smaller bottle at twice the price!

Friday 20 July 2012

Aging Your Hops

I had to dive far to the back of my beer cellar for tonight's indulgence.

I enjoy taking really hoppy, really strong IPAs and beers of such, aging them for a good amount of time and exploring what happens to them. The last one I tried was a one year old Halcyon. I thought what had happened was really interesting. The hops had almost disappeared and what was left was almost a Vintage Ale. None of the bitterness, it was sweeter, more mellow, something completely different to what is was originally - and just after one year.

Tonight's aged beer comes from Flying Dog Brewery. This bottle of Double Dog, a 11.5% Double IPA, is pushing three years old now, and I'm rather exited to see what's happened to it. Looking back at my very old tasting notes I stated of a fresh bottle; It's outrageously bitter and has a massive alcohol punch which makes it's presence felt!

It looks very promising with a carbonation respectable of a fresh sample. The aroma smells delicious. It's all about the caramel, the nuts, the malty, sticky pine resin (some peanut butter?). It sort of smells a bit like someone's mixed a few drops of Thomas Hardy's Ale into a strong American IPA.

Wow! I don't really know what to make of this one. It has much of the flavours of a fresh bottle, but at the same time you can still tell that this is an old bottle. Strange. The uber bitterness is still there, and the obvious booze is still just as ravenous as before, but this holds things together in a play named 'lessons in extreme beer'. I can imagine this beer would probably stay the same for another couple of years or so, it's got a good bottle conditioning on it. Sticky sweet, and also boozy bitter, it sort of doesn't want to work, but it does. The finish is quite vegetal, and whilst it's quite drying, there's still lots of toffee and caramel sweetness swimming about. It's a very tasty beer, I'll take my time and enjoy this big dawg!

I'm not a fan of the beers that claim "drink this as fresh as possible"... who knows when that is, or when it will go bad. I don't see much point in making beers which need to be 'consumed within two weeks' of production. Unless you live next to a brewery, it's bad business practice - you'll get a lot of returns. It goes back to the White Shield argument. W.S. is a fantastic IPA which says it will get better as it ages on the bottle, I wish more IPAs said that. Asked for Double Dog... the test of time has done nothing wrong to this beer.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Lifestyle Change

I drink a lot of beer.

If I'm being honest with myself I drink on average about 3 pints a day. Days off are few and far between and that was fine for me. I enjoy myself and don't consider to be hurting anyone or being a menace to society. This post may seem a little personal. Well, it's my blog and it's where I write about my life so that's what I'm going to do.

I have a condition. It's not a dangerous condition or anything life threatening, but a condition it is, and it's something I've had for around 7 years now.

Last week during some time off, I decided it was time to finally do something proper about it and went off to the Docs for some medication. Things were explained and medication was given and I was feeling good about it.

I asked the Doc how things might be different and, to be honest, if I could drink on these pills. I explained my background to her, I explained I worked at Beer Ritz and that I enjoyed a beer quite a bit. She told me I was drinking far too much, which when I thought about it, was something which I could not truthfully disagree with.

She told me for the first month or two on these pills, until things settle down a bit, I shouldn't be drinking more than a pint a day, and should have at least two days off a week. 5 pints a week. That's what she advised. At least for now. Going from 3 pints a day to 5 pints a week is a bit of a shift.

That means no more three pint-ers after work in my local Arcadia. It means no more lazy afternoons spent in North bar drinking all the crazy beers on draught. It does not however mean I have to massively alter my life though. I can still go to Arcadia and all my favourite local haunts. It just means I may have to have something else after the first pint. Once I get used to the pills, I can start to re-evaluate my limits and see where things go from there. But for the foreseeable future, it does mean that I won't be attending any more 'Open Its' to drink my way through 10 different Imperial Stouts!

I won't be going anywhere. Don't worry, this isn't a post about 'Giving up the Ghost' so to speak. I'll still do my beer reviews, my pub reviews and still live a ghoslty blog life. It just means things might be a bit slower and a more relaxed pace than normal. Not really a bad thing I guess...

Will I be able to manage? Of course I will, but I'm not saying that temptation won't be crawling up my back constantly. I'm hoping these pills will do the trick. If they can I believe it will improve my quality of life 100%, and I also reckon going from, what some would say, a 'binge drinker' to a very moderate drinker will also vastly improve my quality of life if I'm being honest with myself.

The next few weeks is going to be a rather interesting, and lifestyle changing time. I took my first lot of meds today and I'm hoping it's going to be the start of a better life. Fingers crossed!

Life of moderation. It's probably about time...

Sunday 15 July 2012

International Bitterness Unfamiliar

International Bitterness Units or IBUs for short.

IBUs can be a funny old thing. It's said that you can only really detect IBUs to around 100 or so, (it will obviously differ from person to person... e.g. some people can handle hotter curries than others..) and so anything higher would be a little bit pointless. I should also really be calling them Theoretical International Bitterness Units because after about 100 there is no true method of calculating exactly what the IBUs of a beer really are. (or at least not one that I've heard of yet)

Arbor Ales have come up with a beer for the 2012 Olympics called 2012 Double Black IPA (7.5%) and you guessed it, it's supposed to have 2012 theoretical IBUs. If this is to be believed then it puts Mikkeller's 'I Beat U' and it's 1000 IBUs to shame really. I tried to put this to the back of my mind and give it a whirl anyways...

It's certainly an interesting beer. A large closely packed creamy head rises from the mysterious black liquid like a muffin rising in the oven. Not what I was expecting in the aroma... Dry coffee, pine nuts and digestive biscuits all play with chocolate orange and caramel sweetness.

The remnants of the bulging head refuse to swirl in on the top and now bob about like a huge iceberg in a black sea as I take my first sip. Is it bitter? Hell yeah it is! But it's a perplexing sort of bitter. From the first sip it's that kind of; woody, burnt rubber, super roasted coffee bitterness - the kind of bitterness you'd find in a Imperial Stout, but without much of a body to back it up so it goes a little bit too over the top and leaves your mouth feeling a little stripped.

As it warms it becomes a little less harsh and a bit of malt sweetness tries to creep in, but it's still pretty dominated. Here's where I get a little confused though about IBUs. They say the IBUs are calculated by the bitterness levels of the hops added in the boil, but I don't really think much, if any, of the bitterness in this beer is added by the hops - I think it's all delivered by the extreme dark malts and dark malt variants. The honest question I pose here is, Do malts contribute to the IBUs of a beer or not?

And another question is; This is the first Olympic beer I've seen. Fair enough I've not actually been looking for any, but I thought we'd have at least a couple more by now...

Friday 13 July 2012

To Pass On The Torch

I'd ask "when does the student become the master" but it's not really that sort of question here, more rather; when does the student become capable enough to produce something to a similar standard as the predecessor, and modify it to make it his own creation?

Tonight I sample two unique creations which come from under the same roof. One from a well known brewer who we shall call Hardknott Dave, and another from a 'sleeping bag placed round the same campfire' whom we shall call Hardknott Alex.

It's Hardknott Dave's Rhetoric vs soon to be Alex's 1248 brewery Fitzroy IPA!

It's pretty obvious to say that anyone who trains under a certain brewer is going to take experience, expertise and a certain flavour profile of said brewer. After all, I've heard many a person say - oh yeah, you can tell so and so made this...

It can't ever really be as cut and dry as that though when a brewer learns under another and then moves onto his own thing. I know Magic Rock Stu worked for Kelham Island for a while but I personally don't see any comparisons between Pale Rider and High Wire. Sure, Stuart may have learned how to make great beer at Kelham, just as he did at quite a few places, but it's the cumulation of a vast learning experience which he takes forward and mixes with his own thought process which he uses to make something unique to him.

Fitzroy IPA is a 7.2% US IPA hopped to hell with Apollo, Citra and Cascade, and boy does it show! A sucker punch of caramel, mango, honey and grapefruit wafts across on the lively carbonation. A beautiful body only plays havoc to the fact you know you need more of this beer before you put it down. Drying. Bitter. Such a huge fruity knockout effect though, it reminds you of the first time you tried a fruit salad after your first big night out with the folks thinking your were so grown up. A beer which is remarkably different to beers that Hardknott Dave has produced, but you still get the slightest.... faintest hint of his voice creeping in the background, just to remind you, that at one point in the past, Alex worked at the Hardknott Brewery. It's not a bad thing.

The following beer is only differentiated by a small white label stating this is bottle number 16 of 24 and is 'Rhetoric' - a Quasi-Bombastic Beer!

As a kid did you ever get penny sweets? Did you ever get those aniseed balls and those candy necklaces? Well if you got a fresh batch of those, stuffed them in a paper bag and secreted them away at home for after dinner, then this is what you'd get if it was ever liquified and put in a glass.

It's 10.2%, there's no getting away from that... It's a quad, true. But it's a quad from the Lake District, it's different, it's ashamedly unique, but at the same time it's ever so slightly familiar. It's a riot for the senses and a roller-coaster for the tastebuds. Is it the best beer Dave's ever made? Well no... that's my personal tastes though (I loved his first ever Aether and always will), but that's not the point - this is still a great beer. Dare to run the gauntlet of deep warming alcohol and east world spices and you won't end up disappointed. I got his beer for free, in fact I got both these beers for free, and I couldn't be more grateful - tonight has been somewhat of an eye-opener.

It turns out that even if you think you know a brewery, and can almost expect what a beer they produce will taste like, just remember... more often than not, hopefully they'll surprise you.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

10 Reasons Why It's Better That People Now Know About Good Beer

I was reminded by a re-tweet tonight of a post that was made a while back by one of our favourite beer lovers; Ding, and I'd like to give a little retort to what he wrote back then.

I'll give Ding a lot of respect. There's not many an English man who will move to the beer desert that is the states and be impressed with the beer scene over there... it's completely different to the great things we have over here, be it pubs or cask - you can't ever truly replicate what the UK has. Sometimes with Ding (and others) though, I fear a little bit too much of a curmudgeonly attitude creeps across, and I think even the best of us need to remember that it's not all as bad as we like to think it is...

In saying that, I'm going to give my list of ten reasons why I think it's better that more people know about good beer, in response to what Ding has to say:

1. Ding speaks of limited beers being unavailable unless they are followed religiously for releases. Now I'm sorry, but if you want to move back to a time where you can go to a store and pick up as much of said beer as you like, then it's not really a limited beer, and we could be seen as a little greedy. If more people want to get their hands on 'limited' beers, it just means those who truly claim to 'appreciate' these beers more, will have to try a little harder. Otherwise, leave them to others who still want them.

2. Beer events are getting more crowded yes, but that's not the beers fault, that's the fault of the organisers failing to organise properly and putting a cap on ticket numbers. Asked for pubs - they've always been generally busy. More places are starting to serve good beer, and so more good pubs are starting to become popular for the reasons they should be. If things are still run just as efficiently and properly I don't see why that should be a bad thing. So you can't get a seat on a busy Saturday eve, are you still really complaining about the amazing pint in your hand?

3. The UK is seeing a great resurgence in cask at the moment, and good cask beer at that. I think it's up to us that we send more to our brothers in the US, and certainly teach them how to cellar and serve it correctly, so that any cask (good or bad) isn't consumed within 60mins of tapping like locusts on a lettuce... Give more people proper cask, it's great!

4. In any subject there will always be people who think they know more than others, especially when they don't. It's a great time for education. We get so many people in Beer Ritz these days saying "We really liked that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale you recommended last night, do you have any other similar Pale Ales??" If imparted correctly a little knowledge can be the start of a inspirational journey.

5. Beer is becoming cool. I don't see why that's a bad thing at all. If people want to remark on the (good or bad) pint I buy, it allows as an opener for debate or interesting conversation. If you don't like talking about beer, don't drink beer or around other beer drinkers...

6. People aren't stupid. They can tell if they like a beer or not, and generally aren't bought in by the slogans and marketing. It's about taste, not 'craft'. If they like drinking a certain beer, they will continue to do so... it's up to breweries to try create something else that will appeal to people. Products shouldn't be promoted by giant billboards screaming "BUY THIS CRAFT", they should speak for themselves. People can make up their own minds.

7. Prices have climbed yes, but in many areas this should be the case. Increased use of quality ingredients, specialised equipment and more demand should all point to better beer. In most cases this is true, we are drinking much better beers than we did even 10/20 years ago.

8. The beauty of choice.

9. The introduction of good beer into places that have never really seen it has created so many new opportunities. People are being trained how to serve beer correctly. Almost lost skills are being re-learnt, jobs are being created and businesses are growing. It's such a great time for the beer industry, we are truly about to move into a new golden age.

10. If you're worried about anyone drinking your 'good beer' then you really don't really get beer at all. Beer is NOT exclusive... It couldn't be more inclusive, whether that be good beer, bad beer, craft beer, bottled beer, cask beer or keg beer - beer is for everyone and should always be for everyone, regardless of the content. Saying a good beer is wasted on an uneducated palate is dumb. Is a good beer wasted on the uber beer geek who's had far too many?

There's never been a better time to get into really flavourful beer. The more people we can get on board the better, it's great for these reasons and so many more. Would you really want to be the only one left holding the candle if it went out? If you do I can imagine that it's a pretty dark world out there.

Don't try push people out of the club.