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

Saturday 4 October 2014

Time To Go Back To The Drawing Board?

I've been away from the keyboard for a couple of months now.. I guess that's what happens when you get put in charge of the best beer shop in the WORLD!

Enough of the melodramatics though, it's time to jot down some recent thoughts I've had about beer!

I'm sure we're all aware of the Rainbow Project beers that have come about recently. 14 different breweries, 7 different beers - looking at the list of who was involved a few weeks ago I was sufficiently excited. Now I managed to get down to North Bar when they had all 7 on draught, of which I had a third of each beer. I can remember back to the night and feeling very disappointed with the offerings. I thought about it again on Monday and thought maybe I was being a little unfair. I decided to grab a bottle of each and give them a proper evaluation to see if it was just the small quantities I had or something else that put me off the beers that night. Over the past few days I've been working my way through the range of 7, and here's my honest reactions.

Red - Pogonophobia - Magic Rock/Evil Twin
A 7% Belgian Red Ale
The aroma on this comes across very strong, lots of wild redcurrents, cherry flesh and a touch of oak - a bit more like a red wine than a beer. It's very complex from the get-go, very drying, good tart flavours, but I'm finding it very thin. It just loses it's flavour very quickly and you're left with a long drying vegetal note alongside some tartness. The issue I think with this beer is that it's a interpretation of a Flanders Red ale, but only aged for 8 months! It's too young, Flanders beers are aged for years!

Orange - Rainbow Saison - Beavertown/Naparbier
A 9% Saison aged on Jerez barrels
This one really left me stumped. It smells quite good, if you like the smell of wine... White wine grapes dominate the aroma. Huge on the oak and wild green leaves, there's also a touch of pepper lying around under the wet hay. It's a very fruity beer in the body, but it's incredibly unbalanced, I can barely manage to pick anything out individually. You get left with a very long lingering toffee apple and melon flavour and quite a sickly sweetness - possibly from the Jerez barrels? Not something I was a fan of...

Yellow - Yellow Belly - Buxton/Omnipollo
A 11% peanut butter biscuit Imperial Stout
I get the peanuts, I get the biscuit, but all I can really smell is Baileys... And the taste? A lot like Baileys too... Some harsh alcohol in the finish. That's all I can really say about it. Baileys.
It's the packaging that really gets me though. I get the name, I get the idea - yes, being prejudice is a dick move, and doing it anonymously is cowardly, but why dress the bottle like a KKK member?!? It kind of feels like someone saying they're really against burgers but wearing a Mc Donald's t-shirt...

Green - GJH Double IPA - Hawkshead/Lervig
A 7.5% Double IPA made with green juniper & hemp
The aroma you get on this beer is like grabbing a handful of hop pellets, and crushing them in your hand. Big on the piney resin, lots of toffee, huge hop oils all the way. This is one hell of a dry beer, it almost strips the moisture from your tongue. Very green, very bitter, and honestly, not in the best of ways.. It just seems a little too harsh. If this is the juniper and hemp I don't know, but it kind of feels like a load of hop oils were added to this beer as an afterthought...

Blue - Rainbow Quadrupel - Partizan/Mikkeller
A 10% Quadruple aged in Cognac barrels
Now I was impressed with this beer on the night, and I am more so again. Big aromas of caramel malts, wild strawberries and toffee popcorn. The taste itself is very sweet. It's got rich burnt brown sugars written all over it, it's more of a Barley Wine than a Quad. It's got a very thick mouthfeel, very syrup like, but not cloying. Surprisingly drinkable for a 10% beer, the alcohol is very well hidden. Thumbs up.

Indigo - Indigo Child - Wild Beer Co/Toccalmatto
A 8% Sour ale infused with flowers
This is a lot like a Saison blended with A Gueuze. Loads of lemon peel, stone fruits and pepper in the aroma. It has a really nice flavour to it. Lots of vegetal and mineral flavours combining to leave a tartness in the finish which slowly fades. It's sour and savory at the same time, and while it is a little thin in the body it's perfectly balanced. Nice example of a Wild beer indeed.

Violet - Empress Stout - Siren/De Molen
A 8.5% Imperial Stout brewed with black pepper
This one had me a little bemused until I read it was made with some peated malt. Things made a little more sense then... It smelled a lot like an export Baltic Porter with a good deal of black roasted malts and slate like mineral quality. The beer had a huge body to it, which I found surprisingly sweet. Lots of raw honeycomb, big on the chocolate, and the peat delivers a nice touch of oaky smokey flavours. I'm not sure what difference a five hour boil makes to a beer mind....

After trying all 7 again I'm still unconvinced on some. The thing that ticked me off on the night though was the strength of all these beers. Doesn't anyone have the balls to make a 5% beer anymore? As 7 is the rainbow theme were these brewers not allowed to dip under this mark %wise? That's why I ended up drinking a lot less than I thought I would at North Bar, because they're all ridiculously strong! And why I had all the bottles over a space of 3 days.. I truly feel it takes more skill to make a 3,4,5% beer with a great, well balanced flavour than any 12% DIPA with far too many hops in it than that's necessary.

Some excellent ideas though, I just feel some were better executed than others. And remember, these are just my opinions! I spoke to many people at North Bar about them, and many people loved them!

For me though, Rainbow Beers? I'll stick to my black and white...

Thursday 24 April 2014

Alternatives to "Craft Beer"

We got sick of the 'What is Craft Beer' debate possibly before it even began... At the shop it's a term that myself and the staff cringe at.

We choose not to use it. If customers choose to that's fine, but over time we have developed a few terms for the beers we like which you might often hear us using around Beer Ritz.

Most of the imaginative verbs and adjectives should rightfully be credited to our resident American to Yorkshire transplant; Jeff, but without further name dropping I shall give you the low down of our alternatives to "Craft Beer"

OK, so one might have a beer that's


or if that's just not enough, a

Boon Scoon (see also; Booner)

There is also the beer that's a



Skenge Henge (see also; Skenger and Total Skenge)

There are many times when we'll have a beer that's a

Cream Dream

or a mighty

Cream Dream Supreme

... as in "That Imperial Stout was a Cream Dream Supreme last night!"

Finally, when we try a beer that's so brilliant, so extreme, a beer that's almost orgasmic in qualities... X-Rated almost... we have a

C*m Splash

We do of course have many, many more... but they're only really appropriate when we're on personal time, between each other..

Forget 'Craft', call good beer whatever you feel like!

Tell your friends, spread the joy...

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Is It All About Image - A Night With Rogue

There's a lot to be said about design when it comes to the industry of alcohol. Get it right and it can lead you to great success, no doubt.. get it wrong though and it can lead to failure, or even ruin. While I've come across my fair share of what to me is good and bad design in the beer world, I wouldn't say I've come across many beers whose design outshone the beer. When looking into what sells beer, it's initially how it looks on the shelves compared to it's competitors.. If it looks better, it must taste better surely? That gets the product sold in the beginning, but if the product fails to live up to the customers expectation then they'll be very unlikely to repeat another purchase. Consumers are fickle beings.. I should know, I'm a consumer after all.

Where am I going with this though you ask? Well, A few years back I saw on the Rogue Brewery website a few beers which, quite frankly, looked more like fine sculpture of modern art rather than beer. The monolithic bottles displayed such aesthetic beauty that I just had to have them! Unfortunately, I couldn't find anywhere in the UK to buy them at the time. A few years passed, and last year (was it last year, or is it two years already? boy time flies!) Friends of Ham in Leeds opened. In a happy coincidence a few months after they opened I saw some tweets from Bacchanalia in Cambridge that they had some of these allusive Rogue bottles for sale. Thinking nothing of it at the time (as it would be silly of me to go all the way to Cambridge just for a bottle of beer) I couldn't help but wonder if FoH would get any in as they usually take a van down there every now and again I'd heard..

Turns out they did. And just like that, I was back to four years ago, the big feelings of excitement you get when you know you can get your hands on a beer you've wanted so bad since the first saw it. Geeky, yes, but it's true. I do get exited by the notion of new interesting beers. It brought all the feelings that make me so passionate about beer, which I know is just a drink at the end of the day, but it's something I'm damn passionate about. I don't think I'd still be involved in the industry if I wasn't. I just had to have some of this beer, it had now become a personal mission.

And tonight I did.

Did it live up to my expectations? Did that beautiful package, that black obelisk of precious cargo, did it do the beer justice inside?

You're damn right it did. 

Thursday 20 March 2014

A Greene King 'Craft Ale House' (Woodies)

So tonight was the launch of the new crafty version of our local Woodies pub. You can ask the question, what happens when Greene King throws loads of money at one of their pubs and tries to jump on the "Craft Beer" bandwagon... Turns out, they do a pretty damn good job of it!

I'll now take you through a bit of a photo montage of my evening tonight...

The first thing that was evident when we walked in was the selection of cask ales displayed on separate mini interchangeable chalk slates... making scanning the busy bar a thing of the past:

Next up was the bar itself.. Smart, professional and looking good, with 8 permanent cask beers (mainly local) and 4 guest ales. Tonight we went for some St Austell Proper Job, Abbeydale Pale Ale and Roosters YPA, amongst some bottled beers.. (pretty good right! All were in great nick too.)

Speaking of the bottled beers, this was the main centre piece behind the bar, with a very large variety of spirits either side:

The selection was quite honestly impressive for a Greene King pub. I think what impressed me most was the sheer variety though. Goose Island IPA sat alongside Becks, Punk IPA alongside Budweiser, Anchor Porter alongside Fruli, St Stefanus alongside Newcastle Brown Ale and Brooklyn Lager, and many more.. There is literally something for everyone!
    Speaking of which, they even had my personal favourite of the Greene King range:

Not only was the selection great, but it was brilliantly informed as well with a variety of menus giving plenty of tasting notes..

The decorum of the new interior is especially nice, and gives you the feel of a cosy village/country pub. They have a lot of interesting features also, like stools made from books:

And polished floors, where sticky carpets used to lay:

Woodies even passed the toilet test (new pubs getting a face lift but not fixing up the loos...) Passed with flying wall colours!

It's clear they're still passionate about the 'deal' factor. There are plenty of chalk boards around to tempt you with great looking foods, or bargains like "buy a bottle of wine, get a free cheese board" sort of thing.

Overall I went into the pub tonight getting ready to be let down, but silently excited.. Turns out I wasn't disappointed, quite the opposite! I genuinely think what they've done with the place is actually special, be it Greene King or not! You can't help but smile when people are drinking keg Punk IPA and keg Greene King Yardbird alongside one another... Bringing me back to the choice factor once again, Woodies really does now have something for everyone. Fancy a really nice beer? They have it.. Fancy a Yager bomb? get two! With a side of Lagavullin 16yr!

Woodies is definitely worth a visit now, I do recommend. And considering it's literally next door to Beer Ritz, a few of my other favourite haunts do finally have some true competition! they have battleships in the board game section.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Generosity - It's Contagious!

A couple of months ago I received two parcels in the post. There was no note on them, or letter attached, so I was slightly shocked when I opened them up and found 48 bottles of beer with my name on them! The bottles came from Harviestoun Brewery.. 24 of their new Pale Ale and 24 bottles of their new Amber Ale. At first, I thought there must have been some mistake, and they only meant to send me one bottle of each and not a full case each. I received no e-mails or letters on the subject mind, so could only assume that this was part of the huge generosity that is Harviestoun life.

It would be incredibly rude not to post my thoughts on the beers here then, and with my last two bottles I'm going to do just that now! (had to make sure I liked them right!)

The Ridge - 5% Pale Ale
Named after the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, this fresh and zesty Pale Ale combines hops from both the US and the UK producing a bold flavour.
    The aroma is intensely fruity - big on the peach and mangos, with subtle hints of grapes and lychees creeping in the background. With an added mixture of lemon, lime and orange peel zest in the aroma, this Pale smells like the perfect accompaniment to any summer barbecue, or even just a mild spring doing the gardening!
    The flavour is initially light and floral leading you into false sense of quaffable security... - That's when the very powerful bitterness hits you, completely coating your cheeks and throat in a beautifully moreish and refreshing manner. The smaller bottle size will also have you reaching for another before you even sit down... Possibly dangerous at such a drinkable 5%!

Broken Dial - 4.5% Amber Ale
A beer packed so full of Simcoe hops you'd be forgiven for thinking this beer had come from America not Alva! This beer has such an incredibly juicy aroma it's almost impossible to put it down.. It smells almost like a mixture of jam and marmalade. Sweet peach and pear flesh on top of a sweetness which makes you recall honey drenched oats.
    The flavour is perfection. A true cut above any other Amber Ale I've tried before, and believe me, I've tried my fair share... American Ambers just don't do it for me, and British ones are normally just too boring in my eyes. This however, is packed full of flavour. With a perfect balance of sweet meets bitter it commands your attention - think candyfloss sugars that meet orange rind bitterness which then has strawberry syrup poured on top. More than that I can't say with words.. It's a beer which needs to be drunk to show you what it is, and I'm seriously not just saying that. Maybe I've been blinded by how much I love this beer, but right now I don't really care...

P.S. I bloody LOVE that mouse! ;)

Note: These are 100% my genuine feelings on the beers, they were a gift to me from Harviestoun Brewery, one which I managed to pass on a little when I shared a good portion of the bottles with staff and a few customers in Beer Ritz.

Sunday 16 March 2014

The Beer Wanker

So there we were, last night, propping up the bar in one of our frequented drinking establishments. Beer was flowing and we were having a great time of it with some very tasty sampling! There was a couple of blokes standing next to us at the bar having their own conversations just as we were when one of the gentlemen grabbed the attention of the bar staff..

"This beer is off"

Now being a customer, he's well within his rights to return a beer which he's not keen on, but he had already drunk half of the pint.. "I know what Jaipur tastes like, and this is not it" he continued. As any respectable bar staff member should, apologies were given and he was asked if he'd like it replaced with, what we were told was a fresh barrel of Jaipur that had just been put on. The barman had enough sense to only replace the half of beer that had not been drunk mind!

No issues there really. Half way through his new half though he spoke up again saying this was not right either.. "It doesn't have that normal tang that Jaipur normally does, it's still not right." After much explaining from the staff how it was a completely fresh new barrel they eventually ended up giving him a free half of a different beer.

We asked to sample the Jaipur. It didn't take us 3 quarters of a pint to realise that there was nothing wrong with the beer whatsoever.

Beer wanker.

Friday 14 March 2014

The 'C' Word Is Spreading

I'd like to think I've come a long way from my first pints of Tetley's Smooth flow, at 18, in one of my locals - Woodies, down the street. My tastes in all things have grown and evolved significantly since those days gone by, but looking at the world of beer today I would still NOT call myself a c***t beer drinker.

I've always refused to get involved in the 'what is c***t beer' debate as I think it's pointless, well to me it is anyway. I took a degree in furniture construction... I know what a real craft is and what isn't. What is interesting about the term however, is how it's transferring from the beer label to the pub name or shop window etc..

As mentioned, one of my locals is Woodies. It's the kind of pub where you'll down five pints of generic lager whilst sticking to the floor and then go for a dirty kebab afterwards, but it's also the pub where you learnt to drink beer so you still love it when you grow older. Woodies has been closed for renovations for the past couple of weeks now, and I didn't really think anything of it till we got one of the bar staff in the shop the other day...

"We don't know if you guys know but we're re-opening next Thursday and would like to give you some free vouchers for drinks!"

That's fine, I thought to myself, thinking I'd go check out the new paint job over a free pint of Carling... The bar man continued to explain what they we're going to be doing though.. Turns out it's going to be called "Woodies Craft Ale House" which will be serving a selection of 12 different local hand pulled beers, and will have 20 different c***t beer bottles in the fridge selection.

Immediately I figured it was another pub jumping on the c***t bandwagon, but I wondered whether or not that was actually a bad thing... Woodies had been expanding their cask selection for a couple of years, and taking better care of it. With that in mind and the addition of 20 different bottled beers behind the bar I can only say it's going to be for the best! ...or is it? I reckon it could go either way. It might just be 20 different varieties of Blue Moon...

I guess I'll get to find out this Thursday...

Thursday 23 January 2014


I think collaborative beers between two (or more) breweries get a bit of a harsh rap at the moment. Lots of people seem to say that they're 'novelty beers', or 'one-offs' that are marketed at just the beer fan boys/beer geeks/hipster beer noobs who will 'obviously buy them' even though the price might be a little higher..

Let's look at that point first. Price. Yes 99% of the time the colab beers are a little more expensive, but if anyone actually took two seconds to think of why that might be the average joe might not run straight to the response of "It's just another one of those expensive limited beers that the posh beer geeks buy"..

If there are two brewers working on the same project, do you think they're going to spilt one brewers wages between them?? I reckon that might have a little something to do with price margins...

These brewers don't just do the colab beers to satisfy the supposed 'geek market' either. It's a fantastic opportunity for brewers to work together on a beer and share knowledge together. One might learn new techniques from the other and vice versa.. The other might use new ingredients they've never heard of before! It's in a brewers interest to try colab brewing really if they're interested in expanding and growing their information banks on beer. Show me a brewer who knows everything about beer and I'll show you a person who's stopped caring about brewing.

This brings me to tonight's beer.. obviously a collaborative brew;

Red Willow & Brewfist More Or Less - 6.1% Amber Ale

A proper looking amber ale if there was one, brilliant deep red mahogany appearance with crystal clear ruby clarity. The nose is chock-full of amber malts. Sweet toffee and caramels.. burnt sugars, dark cherry flesh and unripe plum skins. Plenty of stone fruit aroma too.. lots of apricot and hairy peaches.

It's a really juicy beer, full of fruit, plenty of fresh (not dusty/dry) American hops. It also has a great amount of caramel malt backbone to give it a depth of flavour that I've rarely seen in a amber ale! I think the addition of wheat and chocolate malts not only adds a slight sweetness to the beer but also a really pleasant softness making it very drinkable. It's one hell of a beer! I may even go so far as to say the best beer I've ever had from Red Willow..

More of this please!

At the end of the day, if collaboration beers still aren't your thing, no one's forcing you to buy them...

Friday 10 January 2014

Your Local Offie's For Life, Not Just Christmas


Pfffttt.. A misery of a month. Dark days, cold nights and generally constantly wet. It always baffles me then why people choose to make themselves even more miserable by choosing this month (of all of them!) to stop drinking! Why would you deny yourself the one simple pleasure to make the month go just that little bit quicker? In case you didn't know, the liver is the most bad ass organ you have which can recover from any punishment you might think it has received over Christmas in a couple of days!

January is the one month of the year when local off licenses (like ours) and local pubs look over the takings sheets and start to have a little panic. "It's always slow in January" we'll tell ourselves, but should it really be? And could we be doing more to encourage more (but certainly responsible) drinking to lift the spirits in this dark and weary month?

It's how I always like to say... Don't drink more, and don't drink less! Just drink better. There's no hidden meanings in this, I just mean drink better.. have a better attitude to alcohol. If you think you need to take a month off at the start of the year then I really don't think you have a healthy attitude (or lifestyle) towards alcohol. Look further into the reasons why you feel you should be having such a big break from the good stuff. I know we all get a bit more merry than normal around Christmas, but we shouldn't let things get so bad that abstinence should be the option. I mean, I like a pie for dinner from time to time, but I never have so many as to say - I can't eat those for a month now...

I think you know what I'm trying to say... even so, we all know January sucks... But don't forget about us. We, the little locals who don't have big people backing us up in the slow times. Little locals that depend on the people's trade, *your* trade. We are more grateful than you can know for your trade.

And I can tell you this for certain, it's a service we are very happy, and proud to deliver.

Don't make January feel more bleak than it needs to be...

And please, let's have a little more fun!