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

Sunday 30 December 2012

2012, A Few Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what else can we expect from 2013?

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

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

Will there be new beers? certainly!

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

Wednesday 19 December 2012


Can too much choice be a bad thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is too much choice a bad thing?

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

Thursday 13 December 2012

Down Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passes, another half is ordered.

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

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

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

Pork Scratchings? Yes please!

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

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

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

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Golden Pint Awards 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Overseas Brewery: Stone. runner-up Mikkeller.

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

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

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

Independent Retailer Of The Year: Beer Ritz of course!

Online Retailer Of The Year: Beer Paradise.

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

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

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

Best Online Brewery Presence: Thornbridge.

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

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

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

Friday 7 December 2012

Do Brewers Know, Or Want To Know??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 5 December 2012

What Makes A Good Whisky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Bradford Cockerel

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

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

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

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

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

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