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

Tuesday 19 February 2013

"Americans Can't Make Beer"

We've started doing weekly beer tastings in Beer Ritz. We open up a couple of beers each Saturday and offer samples and talk about the beers with our customers. It's a great way to get more people involved, trying and talking about beers they've never had before. There has been something that's come up recently though. Our last tasting featured Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Wet Hopped IPA. It's a fantastic beer, and while we got our way through four cases of the stuff (selling, not drinking) there was four separate instances where customers said to me and James: "American beer?? They don't know how to make the stuff!"
    Not wanting to be deterred we made the effort to really sell up the beer to these customers and show them around the range of American beers that we have to offer. Still leaving skeptical, but with an armful of new beers to try from the states seemed like a win in our books. It was slightly saddening though that this was still the opinion of some of our customers. We'll be trying to change those sorts of attitudes with these weekly tastings.

Speaking of American beer, if you came to me with a bottle of beer which was a; Belgian Style Double IPA, 9%, 100 IBU's, aged with Brettanomyces, Citra and Apollo hopped to the hilt and aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels, from Alaska, I'd say you'd have a beer which was gonna be all over the place, over the top and a complete mess of a beer.

How wrong could this Ghost have been?!?! This is truly a Masterpiece in brewing and how to create something wonderfully balanced and enjoyable at the same time. Huge aromas of lemon and lime, sherbet, orange and stone fruit skins paired with (surprisingly) Brett and Chardonnay qualities. I really don't think it was a fluke that these ingredients have come together so well. It's supremely fruity with floral overtones like rose petals. It also plays host to a wonderfully dry, spicy woody essence which makes the moorish finish long and complex. Apple and melon jostle for supremacy among straw and hay while peppery yeast seems to bring everything together under a harmonious blanket that is a truly perfect beer.

Americans can't make beer? Like Hell they can't!!

Anchorage Brewing - Bitter Monk. Bitter Monk? I bet the Belgians would be if they could taste beers like this which they didn't produce themselves!

Friday 15 February 2013


It's been a long busy day today. Beer has been moved and sold and at the end of it all the only thing on my mind is getting to an easy chair and a pint. I forage through the fridge, find myself something that looks tasty and pour this out..

It's a dark and diabolical looking beer, with an aroma which tells me this nourishing pint is going to make me live again. Thick rich chocolate mousse, cocoa nibs, vanilla, black forest fruits and a little oak all rise through the air as if to say "Why didn't you drink this on Shrove Tuesday when you were getting rid of all your other rich foodstuffs..."

That's exactly what I thought this was on the first mouthful - this isn't a beer, this is a foodstuff - this is desert in a glass! So rich, so smooth, so moorish! Even at 7.8% I'm wishing the 75cl bottle was bigger and that I had some black forest gateau or a triple layer fudge cake to pair alongside this bottle of restoring black magic. Sweet vanilla and black fruits play host alongside roasted black malts and liquorice with some smooth earthy/woody tones adding a slight tartness in the finish. Without doubt, a masterpiece of a beverage.

I'd heard this is the strongest beer the head brewer has ever produced, which got me wondering, at this level of quality, why the brewery in question doesn't make more beers like this. I reckon they've probably done the math though on how much it would take to produce beers of this strength on a regular basis.

This is one beer I really, really wish wasn't limited to only a few bottles...


For those curious amongst you...

Thursday 7 February 2013

Does Freshness Equal Provenance??

We're all probably aware that Sam Adams has starting bottling it's Boston Lager at Shepherd Neame. The UK Boston has finally made it into the shop and while we still have a few bottles of the US stuff left I thought it was a good time to do a side by side tasting. I had heard that the idea to start bottling the Lager in the UK was to provide a fresher beer to the UK consumer, but just because something is fresher, does that make it better, the same, or worse...

Well the bottles certainly look different. There is also a visible difference in the beers too. The US version seems to have a slight haze on it and the UK version seems to have much more carbonation about whilst being very clear. I'm not really getting any difference in the aroma.. things looking good with a some slight doubt still lingering.

So what are they like?

Well I'm not messing about here.. these are completely different beers... funny that, as they came from different breweries hmm...
The US version has the classic taste that I know only too well from Sam Adams... a thick sweet malt juicy Lager full of orange and lemon flavour with a little sherbet and caramel. The UK version is much thiner on the mouthfeel, almost watery in comparison. It's sweeter as well, and not in a nice way, and for some reason I can really tell that this beer is from Shepherd Neame... not that I'm aiming that as an insult, I've just had a lot of Neame beers and they do have a distinct character.

Two very different beers... Will the UK care? No, not really. If anything, I reckon they'll drink more of it... take that which ever way you like, I'm taking it that if imports stop and production takes over for the supply in this country - it's a bad thing.

Brewer's do know what they're doing. Don't get me wrong on that. But the same ingredients, the same yeasts, even making sure the water is chemically the same are not the only factors when it comes to making two beers the same. Especially when they're thousands of miles apart.

Strange thing is, the UK version is 4.8% while the US is 4.7%....

Monday 4 February 2013

Beers Gone Wild

The Wild Beer Co range are a new line of beers to Beer Ritz, and very welcome ones they are too, we genuinely can't keep them on the shelves at the moment! I had the Wildebeest not too long ago (see thoughts here) and was very impressed so I thought I'd give the rest of the range a go, first up was their Pale...

Fresh - 5.5% Pale
Apparently this beer isn't going to be the same twice as it's brewed with the freshest hops from northern and southern hemispheres every six months and the unpredictability of each harvest can influence the character of the beer. It looks worryingly flat on the pour, and I won't lie, the bottle was flawed. The bottle states; "Whilst consistency is (rightly) the benchmark of most beers, we've gone Wild with Fresh and thrown away the rule book" - they're not wrong there unfortunately. Luckily enough I had another bottle on hand which looked much more promising. Aromas of lychee and pine sap are very evident, mangos, lemon rind and some sweet caramel are abuzz too. It's a juicy beer indeed, fruity too; peaches, white grapes, a general fruit salad with sweet earthy caramel notes and citrusy grassy overtones. Very nice beer, I don't think the bad bottle has anything to do with this beers unpredictability, I just think it was a one off - it happens to everyone..

Scarlet Fever - 4.8% Red Ale
An interesting aroma from this one. Big on the caramel and toffee malts, hints of coffee, brown sugar and some juicy citrus coming in at the end. At only 4.8% it has a lot going on for it in the body. It's a little thin on the mouthfeel, but it still has a real depth of flavour. Loads of malt and a little spice, a little oak, dark berries, sweet caramel and dark toffee with jam spread on top. I think Red Ales can be quite difficult. In this one the new world hops are battling with the amount of malts making it a little unbalanced in my opinion, but it still works and is a very sound beer.
(...I said it was a little unbalanced, but as I got further down the glass it started making a bit more sense to me and I started drinking it much quicker! I think all it took was some time to warm and fully open up - it's a really good beer.)

Epic Saison - 5% Saison
Saison has always been a style to beer geeks that has had a bit of a stigma attached to it. Many, many times I've heard, "sure, it's a really nice Saison, but it's no Saison Dupont..." In truth I think it's something that's quite hard to overcome, not only because Dupont is so good, but (without taking away from it) it's also a very over hyped beer at the same time. Epic Saison fits in on a different level though. Epic is brewed with Sorachi Ace. Sorachi Ace - a hop which always makes me think "...naaaah, pass". This is probably the first beer I've seen it work in! Aromas come forth of lemon sherbet, cut grass, zesty orange and a slight peppery spice. The Sorachi Ace is very prominent in the taste, but here it's well balanced by a long lasting spicy finish. Herbal, grassy, hints of pear drops and lemon & lime. Drying but juicy, easy drinking, very pleasant - the first beer I've ever enjoyed with Sorachi Ace in...

Madness - 6.8% IPA
Moving onto the last of my stash comes their IPA. I'm starting to get a real sense of Wild's beer style now and it's something I'm actually rather fond of. This IPA is quite herbal/floral on the nose and possibly a little soapy. Hints of pine nuts and orange with lemon rind are there too. On the initial gulp I noticed a really big sweet caramel finish, which then moved into a bitter taste which clung to the sides of the tongue. Flavours run pretty rampant here. Fresh cut grass, pine resin, caramel biscuits, and once again loads of fruit like some sort of blended fruit cocktail of flavours. Drink wildly different? Well yes actually, these beers have been a lot different, and it's been a good thing.

I can peer six months/a year down the line and I picture some crazy beers from Wild Beer Co coming in the Beer Ritz direction. I can say that I'm really looking forward to whatever they have to offer, after all, they look pretty damn good without even trying them!

Sunday 3 February 2013

Sublime To The Ridiculous

Behind all the talk, all the hype, all the facade and all the shit which no one ever wanted in the first place Brewdog do make good beers, when they want to of course... It's a shame really, as beers speak for themselves at the end of the day. If they're good, people will buy them, if not they won't get purchased again. I know for certain that if Brewdog didn't make good beer no one would put up with any of their stunts or attention grabbing games.

Look at their recent AB:11. Let's ignore the whole Abstrakt concept. Let's put aside the fact it's a very expensive beer limited to only 9819 bottles. Let's just look at the fact it's a beer. It's a 12.8% Imperial Black Barley Wine beer at that too. Evaluations of the nose are very intriguing. Ginger biscuits, caramel shortbread, honeycomb and slight liquorice. The flavour is quite something. For a beer made with ginger, black raspberries and chipotle peppers it is unsurprisingly strangely chaotic. All the ingredients shine through very prominently surrounding a very sweet but not cloying body. A little oak and spicy smoke, a little tartness around the edges. Hints of caramel like you find in the little nuggets in caramel flavoured vanilla ice cream sprinkled with ginger crumbs. It's truly a delightful beer. And that's all it need be. No hype, no fuss or pissing about, just good beer...

375ml of sublime black gold. All the rest is just noise.

Now take a beer like Ghost Deer. I'll make no pops about the name here, just about the fact it looks like a bottle of poppers instead of a beer. Truth be told, the small 6cl bottle is a perfect measure size to experience this beer. Yes it might be 28%, but it's still just a beer (people still seem to have no trouble knocking back 15% wines or store brand litre bottles of vodka...) Aromas of this beer are slightly similar to the last; hints of honeycomb and almost fortified caramel. You'd probably expect a beer that's so strong to be a dark one, but like the country that invented strong beer this is a supersonic Belgian style blonde ale. Being the world's strongest fermented beer means nothing if it tastes like terps... happily, it doesn't. For a beer that's 28% it's not as ridiculous as it would seem to be though. Port/sherry-esk, herbal, dark/dried stone fruits, caramelized caramel sweetness and a touch of warming booze like a fine rum. It almost kills me to say this, but it really does push the boundaries of what a beer can be, well over the line.

It's a ridiculous beer... but still a sublime one at the same time.

Forget the so called hype. Don't even conform to the non-conformists. Just drink the bloody beer and enjoy it.

Friday 1 February 2013

The Landlord

Pete Brown gave some interesting thoughts in this nice piece about Timothy Taylor's Landlord here and how it's one of the world's best beers - and rightly so, it's a fantastic Yorkshire pint. The informative article got me thinking about the beer today.

Landlord is a beer which I grew up drinking... that and Tetleys. My youthful drinking usually took place in a bar or pub which only usually had one hand pump and the rest of the bar filled up with nasty keg fonts. I never fancied drinking lager - too gassy for me, so it was always the ale, most of the time being Landlord. Back then I thought nothing of it, it was just a drink to get me drunk with my friends.

A few years back when I really started getting into beer my choices started to vary massively, I went to better drinking establishments where there beer was kept properly and lines were cleaned regularly. I always came back to the ale though, you just can't beat a really good pint of it. When I first found Arcadia I always loved the selection of ales they had on, everything was always new to me so I tried as much as I could. I noticed that Landlord was always on show mind.

One eve when there wasn't as much choice I decided to get a pint of Landlord. It wasn't the same, I really wasn't too keen on it... I knew it wasn't off or faulty, but something about it just tasted a little too clean to me. I know Arcadia pride themselves on having the cleanest lines and the best tasting beer, but the funny thing is, looking back, I grew up on dirty Landlord in a rough(ish) pub and had got very used to that taste.

Strange how you can get used to the taste of something...