Monday 29 June 2009

On Holiday

Right, that’s me done and I’m outta here for two weeks. I thought about setting a few blogs to auto-post themselves but bugger that. I’ll be on twitter while I’m there and I’ve shifted the twitter feed so that it takes up the top part of the blog, so if you want to see what I’m up to then check out that mini-blog. I’ve managed to get twitpic working on my phone too so I’ll put up a few pictures when I can.

Allow me to be solipsistic and link to some of my favourite posts while I’m away.

The If you had to… game is fun.

My 'Ode To's... These are probably my favourite posts and I’ve got quite a few more to come.

The As-Live Tastings.

If you are hungry then click on the FAB POWS – the Food and Beer Pairing of the Week.

Some of my favourite recipes: Crunchy Nut Cornflake Ice Cream, stout ice cream and cupcakes and this totally awesome summer salad.

You can check out my youtube channel. There’s a video over there which I haven’t mentioned on here yet – Innis & Gunn’s Canadian Cask.

And if you get thirsty and want to buy some beers then click the links on the left to beermerchants and BrewDog.

Eat and drink well and don’t write anything unmissable because I’ll miss it. I’ll be back soon, full of vigour, thirst, blog posts, book reviews, holiday snaps of Mythos and a sexy tan. Laters.

Sunday 28 June 2009

Ramsgate Brewery and Gadds' Barely Barley Wine

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying until everyone knows it, but Ramsgate Brewery are going to be big. For a moment forget BrewDog, forget Thornbridge, forget Harviestoun, Fuller's, Sam Smith, Dark Star, forget Oakham; remember Ramsgate.

Their core beers are superb. There’s No.3, No.5, No.7, named after the number of pints the brewer can have before his wife knows he’s pissed, and they are classic ales: No.3 and No.7 are pale and No.5 is a best bitter. Dogbolter porter, which I had cask for the first time last week, is really very good - Fuller’s London Porter good. Then they’ve got a few which are most often found in bottles (although they come out for beer festivals sometimes). I’ve written about these before - India, Ancestors and Black Pearl - and they are all excellent.I went to the brewery and shop a few weeks ago to get a few bottles. They also sell a really good range of European beer alongside the Gadds’ stuff. I got a Mikkeller Warrior Single Hop; a couple of Trappist brews ready for a tasting – Rochefort 8, Westemalle Dubbel; a La Chouffe Houblon; a Taras Boulba, a bitter Belgian blonde; a De Molen Amarillo and a couple of bottles of geueze. Big shop. But it was all about the Gadds’ beers.

And it was two new ones in particular that I wanted; their barley wines: Oooks!, dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvins and Reserve Barrel Aged Barely Wine which is aged in red wine barrels from Chapel Down winery (who also make beer).
Oooks! is a deep red-brown going fiery orange at the edges, the head is thick and creamy and then it’s unmistakably dominated by those Nelson Sauvin hops – brash and bold, resinous, massively condensed tropical fruits, peppery and strong. There’s something about the Nelson Sauvin that I really can’t put my finger on, but it makes it incredibly drinkable. There is something about this that feels like a rich double IPA with plenty of toasty, caramelized flavours. It’s excellent.

The Reserve is a different beast. A near-mythical beast. It’s phenomenal. What makes a phenomenal beer? For me, in this case, it’s a complexity that is almost unrivalled. It’s the same base beer as the Oooks! (minus the dry-hopping) but it’s aged in Rondo 2005 French oak casks and the result is a complete spectrum of awesome. It starts with a brett funk, an air of countryside and chlorine on the skin, there’s understated berry sharpness and red fruits, then comes the base beer all toasty and caramelised, then it goes all red-wine-barrel with spicy wine notes and a near-tannic woody finish and a drum-crescendo of hops. It has an incredible evolution of flavour and you never quite know where it’s come from or where it’s going; there’s a little bit of magic in this beer, something intangibly evocative and different. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve had before. In a very good way.

The great news is that you can buy this beer online or from the shop and try it too. Beermerchants have just got in a selection of the Ramsgate beers and they are totally worth buying. Seriously. Re-read my opening gambit and then go buy some and see for yourself. And there’s a beer festival coming up in a few weeks. Get down there.

There’s a gallery of images here. I managed to sneak into a couple of the pictures taken by Phil, including some where Eddie Gadd the brewer is wafting the aroma of fresh beer my way (just before he gives me a Nelson Sauvin hop pellet which I was tasting for days after!).

Friday 26 June 2009

If you had to...

Hoorah! I go on holiday to Santorini next week and I can’t wait. Two weeks of sun, sea, girlfriend, reading, swimming and continental lager. And I will drink a bucket load of ice cold Mythos, sitting on the beach, in the hot sun… there’s nothing better. I’ve had Mythos in London and it was terrible but over there it’s something else. But I know this for sure: at some point I’ll have a serious craving for big hops. No matter how much I love Mythos, there will be a couple of times that I just need a hop fix to feed the junkie in me.

We’ve paid for extra luggage allowance and I’ve decided to take less clothes so that I can fit in a couple of bottles of beer to drink while I’m out there, which I think is a sensible move. Realistically I think I can squeeze in three or four bottles. But the question is this… what bottles do I take?! Or, If you could choose… Which three or four bottles would you take away on a two week beach holiday? Choose realistically from the beers you’ve got or can easily get.

I still haven’t decided on what I’m taking yet… Do I want all IPAs? Do I want something big and dark and strong? Do I want something refreshing yet complex like Orval? Do I want to take special bottles or standard ones? What the bloody hell do I do?! I’ve mentioned before my difficulty at choosing beers, so how will I manage to pick just a few to last for two weeks?!

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Beer with a Story

There’s something about the creative possibility of big beer which excites me. I found this article in the New Yorker and this article by Michael Jackson about extreme brewing and Sam Calagione and they really are superb reads. If you haven’t already read them, and you love the creativity behind beer, then you must take a look at them. They aren't short, especially not the New Yorker, so get a beer and sit down and take the time out. They are fascinating, inspiring, exciting. They form part of the essence and ethic of why I love beer so much.

The articles show the heart of Dogfish Head brewery and the craft/extreme beer movement in general. The New Yorker is punctuated by the always-intelligent Garrett Oliver who provides the malt to Calagione’s hops while Michael Jackson grabs hold of the creative side of things. And that's what it's all about. It's not just about getting the hardest or the fastest on the extreme beer roller-coaster, it’s about creating works of art, and for some of Calagione’s beers it’s about rejuvenating ancient works of art.

Many of the beers have a story. The Palo Santo Marron, for example, is aged in a super-rare and super-expensive barrel ($140,000 expensive). Calagione explains the inspiration for the continuous hopping of the 60/90/120 Minute IPA series (the combination of a chef talking about seasoning food and a kids game). And he is recreating history with post-modernised nods towards past drinking - Midas Touch, Sah’tea, Pangaea, Theobroma and Chateau Jiahu.

I may be fickle and romantic but this kind of thing really grabs me. Maybe it’s a desire to understand past drinking, maybe it’s the scooper in me who wants to try everything going, maybe I just can’t resist the premise, whatever it is I feel an enormous thirst towards a beer with a story. Especially one told by someone like Sam Calagione.

But what do you think? Do you care about the stories behind particular beers or doesn’t it bother you? Can the story behind a beer make it ‘better’ or more appealing than it deserves to be? What about recreations of old recipes – good or bad? Does the article about DFH make you want to try the beers or does it have the opposite effect?

Monday 22 June 2009

A Piercing Scream

I’ve just taken out my last remaining piercing. At one point, a few years ago, I had 10 metal bits somewhere or other in my body and I’ve had 13 piercings altogether (more if you include ‘stretching’). Now there are none. I’ve only got tattoos left. I love tattoos but I only have three. I’d have an arm full if I could afford it (I’d probably ask this person to design some of it). It’s a work of art. An art collection. I often think - when pissed - how I’d like the outline of a pint on my arse. Maybe I’ll get it done one day. Let’s say if I win beer writer of the year! I don’t quite know how to feel now that I have no piercings left. These were things I had done between 16 and 18 years old. I’m a different person now and they weren’t a part of me in the way they used to be. I was rebelling back then, I think. Against what, I don’t know, but I was rebelling something. Either that or it was a creative way of expressing myself. I was also addicted to the thrill of getting them done. There’s the worry, the excitement, the nerves, the anticipation. It’s a heightened sense of your self. The clinical smell of the studio. The pictures of other piercings all around. You know it’s going to hurt. But you think it’s going to look great. You sit in the chair, a pair of tweezers clamped around whatever you are getting modified, the spot is cleaned, it tingles and numbs and stings, then the needle comes out, your heartbeat races, you breathe quicker, you brace yourself. The needle goes in. It goes through. It burns, it sears, it slides clean in and out the other side, a barbell pushes through a plastic tube, it’s just hanging there, suspended, stuck in it’s new home, a new piece of me. The balls are tightened on each end. It’s done. It still burns. It hangs heavily. A foreign object stuck in me. I’m not used to how it feels, it’s heavy. It takes some getting used to. There’s a huge adrenaline rush like nothing else. Light-headed, full of energy, laughing, excited. What do you think? No it didn’t hurt that much. That’s what they always ask: did it hurt?

You will not believe how difficult it was to find a decent picture for this post. In every one of me where there’s a piercing in shot I am completely wasted or it’s totally unpublishable (because I’m completely wasted). It also seems the digital camera wasn’t invented until 2005, at least that’s how far back my photos go. And if you want to know what I had pierced then use this: if it dangled it got pierced. I got my tongue pierced twice and I twice ended up in hospital because things went 'a bit wrong' (none because of my tongue - one was an adventurous ear piercing which required me to be on a drip for two days). For a while I also had 8mm holes in each ear (as the picture shows). Crazy. One time (read: more than one time) someone placed a straw through my ear and drank their drink. If you are interested, check out BMEzine, I used to love it! I kind of miss them already.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Beer and Food Night at Pete's

Last weekend I went down to Pete’s for dinner and to open a few bottles of beer. He knocked up wicked array of food and he’s written about the dinner on his blog, so I won’t go into the food stuff other than to say this: Pete is a bloody good cook and his dessert was flipping fantastic (the dessert recipe is on his blog post). As he covered the food side, I’ll get the beers stuff down. We started in the best possible way: a bottle of Punk IPA to ease us in. Then came an Boon Oude Kriek, all light and blush and sweet and sour with cherries and an air of a cool summer breeze brushing against a clean t-shirt standing out in the countryside. It was a great pre-dinner drink. We had a Rother Valley Boadicea Pale Ale which was pretty average, kind of citrusy. Then we stepped up a bit and opened a De Dolle Extra Stout. It looks like coca-cola with a frothy head, it smells of coffee, chocolate, smoke and spice. It’s got a great balance to it, an elegant lightness, an earthy hop finish. We enjoyed this one a lot. With the main of sausage stew we had Hopdaemon’s Leviathan, a 6% ruby-coloured strong ale which is very sweet and malty with dark, roasted fruit. It worked well with the dinner (it was a ‘let’s just open this one!’) but for me it was just a little too cloying on it’s own – an earthy porter would’ve been a great match. Hopdaemon’s Skrimshander IPA, on the other hand, is a superb beer. It was here that we opened the star beer of the night: Gadds’ Ancestors. A 9% whisky-barrel aged porter. I really enjoy BrewDog’s Paradox Smokehead for it’s earthy-salty-phenolic quality, but I thought the Gadds’ was even better than that. Smoke, a phenolic, medicinal note and dark chocolate all lavishing around the glass. In the mouth it’s so smooth and clean, so chocolatey and smoky and rich but at the same time elegantly subtle with just the faintest hints of some berry sourness that worked oh-so well. Bloody good. I only wish I’d bought a few more (although, as of this weekend beermerchants are now stocking a few Ramsgate beers - there's a blog post here too). Then dessert and the star pairing: cherry beer with a dark chocolate and sour cherry pot. So simple, so delicious and just perfect pairing. The cherry beer was just the usual red-paper-wrapped one from the supermarket but it was ideal, mixing with the heavy roast bitterness in the pudding and catching onto the pockets of sour cherry. A ballet of fruity and bitter-sweet with roasty and dark. Also with dessert we opened a BrewDog Longrow which is all smoke, cherry and chocolate and fantastic. The beer is totally excellent but it didn’t work as a pairing this time, which just meant that we finished the bottle after dessert with blue cheese - yay! We opened a Cooper’s Pale Ale at one point but I barely had any before throwing it down the sink – I didn’t think much of that one! There was a BrewDog Hardcore IPA to go with the strong cheddar and this was a good match, although maybe slightly overpowered by the brash hops. An Anchor Steam beer also popped up, a classic. And then I had to leave for the train (with bottles left unopened!) home and I was absolutely stuffed. I do love nights of eating good food and drinking good beer just for the sheer hell of it.

Friday 19 June 2009

If you had to...

We’re pretty much halfway through the year now and I want to know: If you had to… Which beer has defined the first half of 2009 for you?

Maybe it’s the beer that you’ve drunk the most of? Maybe it was just a one-off beer that has a great memory or story attached to it? Maybe it was the night you drank too many pints of it and had the best night ever, creating a beer memory to last forever? It could be new or old, rare or everywhere. Whatever it is, pick the one beer that stands above all the others for the first six months of 2009.

And have a great weekend all - I'll be splitting mine between The Bull (for Epic Halcyon) and Brighton (Evening Star here I come).

Thursday 18 June 2009

A Few New Beers

I’ve opened a few new beers recently as well as trying to get through some of the bottles which have been filling the cupboards and fridge. Here's a few notes.

Ramsgate Brewery Gadds’ India 8.3%
A cloudy pale ale. Boozy nose of candy sugar alongside citrus and earthy hops. Really surprising mouthfeel, all thick and biscuity and bready without tipping over into too-sweet. It’s got big hops, earthy and peppery and strong and there’s more booze too. There’s a great middle moment when you aren’t sure whether it’ll go sweet or bitter, it balances on a tiny point, see-sawing, then drops over into bitterness. Really drinkable for the strength and even though it wasn’t super-fresh it still tasted good. I went down to the brewery last weekend so expect more from Ramsgate to come.

Lovibonds Henley Dark 4.8%
Coca-cola colour with a thick and creamy tan head. Aromas of milky chocolate and sweet smoke. Drinking it brings out much more roasted bitterness with dark chocolate and coffee alongside smoke and a pleasing earthiness. It’s packed with flavour and complexity which is great for its fairly modest strength. As it warms it gets earthier and the smoke comes through more (edging towards a great phenolic complexity). I served this with lasagne and it worked really well – the smoke buffers the rich tomato sauce.

Mikkeller Stateside IPA 7%
Hopped to buggery with Chinook, Cascade and Centennial (that's what the bottle says, the website says it's got Amarillo?). It’s a deep amber with little carbonation. The nose gives off caramel, bread, pine, booze and burnt tropical fruit. There’s plenty of sweetness which is balanced by a great bitterness with pine, grass, grapefruit, tangerine and tropical fruits. I don’t think it was especially fresh and so it could be even better, but I really enjoyed this (but then how could a beer with those hops not be good?!).

Kasteel Cru Rose 5.0%
I might write-up a larger blog about this beer but in the meantime let me tell you this: the beer is pointless and completely shit. One word: drainpour.

Nils Oscar God Lager 5.3%
I didn’t expect too much with this one but was pleasantly surprised. It’s a great golden colour with a nose of brown bread, toast and distant lemony hops. The flavours are really clean and crisp with plenty of biscuity malt and some toffee bread finished off with some simple, earthy-lemony hops. Nice one. Follow the link to go to beermerchants, that's where I got mine from.

Kasteel Triple 11%
I don’t really get triples. Maybe I just haven’t had one that I love yet. This was gold with tiny streams of bubbles. It’s boozy at the back of the throat with a gin-like dryness. There’s some spice, something vaguely sweet and more booze. To be honest it just didn’t taste quite right.

Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont 6.5%
I was sitting in the garden reading in the sun and needed a cold, refreshing beer to open. This was my choice and I’m glad I went for it. Wheaty, earthy, spicy with a faint orange peel aroma and distant twangs of sourness. It’s fresh and quenching, some fruitiness, some earthiness, some peppery spice and a great lingering dry bitterness.

Mikkeller Warrior Single Hop 6.9%
A flame colour with a juicy aroma of peach, orange and mango closely flanked by a leathery-pineness. It’s completely hop-heavy and condensed in its bitterness but it’s great for that reason. It’s very bitter, fruity, floral, pithy and roasted tropical fruits with that requisite clawing finish. Nice and I think this one is up there alongside the Cascade single hopper. I picked this up from Gadds' Beer Shop, where you can also get the India.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

The Session 28 (Better Late Than Never): Hollow Way Brew Co.

I wrote this for the previous Session (hosted here) but was feeling a little rough after drinking the night before and didn’t get around to posting it. It seems a waste to just leave it unpublished, so here it is.

I visited Hollow Way Brew Co. earlier this year. It’s an unreal place. Grayson Holloway, the owner and head brewer met me when I got off the bus in the middle of nowhere. He’s younger and better looking than I expected (if a movie of his life were made he’d be played by Kevin Costner circa 1998 or Ryan Gosling) and he drives me in his pick-up to the ranch where he has built his brewery.

It’s only been around for a few years, he tells me. I tell him that I haven’t been able to find any information on the place and there’s no website. They are working on the whole PR side of things and he has big plans for the next year. His girlfriend, Abbie, is setting up the brewpub and she’s also helping out with the website. The brewpub will be the big draw, he hopes.

We arrive at the brewery-come-ranch. It’s a hot and dusty day and the air hangs still, full of the heady aromas of fresh hops. The place consists of two large barns and two old farm houses (he lives in one, the other will be the brewpub). He has around ten acres of land, part of which is used for growing hops (currently Eroica, Green Bullet, Olympic, Symphony and Zeus – a bunch of lesser-known varieties) and part is an established vegetable garden which will supply the brewpub. He also has a large greenhouse where he grows herbs and spices and other delights. It’s a pretty wonderful sight for a beer geek like me.

The brewing area is split in two: the main brewhouse barn and the experimental/storage barn. The main one has the capabilities for one 35hl brew a day, plus 4 UNI conditioning tanks. The other barn is like a secret cave a goodies (plus a cave of barrels and bottling machines). There are old whisky barrels filled with beer, there are a whole range of ingredients like dried fruits and spices, coffee beans and tea. Plus there’s one of his first projects: Wild One. It’s his own lambic which he brewed over a year ago and which he hopes will be ready in another year or so. That’s his baby, he tells me. There is also a Wild Two (working title) ageing in champagne barrels.

Following Gray around it’s clear that he’s hugely passionate about brewing. He started the brewery up after receiving an inheritance and now he wants to make it big. He’s seen the craft beer market take off and he wants to be involved in that. He wants his name as well known as Stone, Dogfish Head, Russian River and Mikkeller. He wants to see his beers flying up the ‘Best Of’ lists. He wants to win awards. He wants people to visit him from far away and to love his beer. He wants to be someone special.

But what are the beers like? I got to try a few while I was there but to be honest I was a little disappointed. I expected more from all of the beers and none of them really delivered. I think Gray sensed that I was slightly underwhelmed and it was then that he said this: ‘They aren’t perfect yet, I know, but they will be.’ His voice was full of a raw emotion, something intangible, something deep-rooted; a sadness that he hadn’t got it right, but a hope that he will. And you know what? He’s an impressive guy. He knows about beer. He knows what he wants and I’m pretty sure that he’ll get it.

Session One. 5%
The session ale modeled on a British bitter. A deep amber with a thick, creamy head. It has a nose of toffee, bread, earthy hops, blackcurrants and spicy citrus. The body is a little thin but it drinks well enough. There’s a good malty base, nice and bready, finished with plenty of rounding-off hops.

Session Two. 4%
A pale ale. Zingy and fresh and light. Biscuity malt and finished with a hefty load of hops. This was a good beer (in the same vain as HopHead) although he tells me that it doesn’t sell too well.

Dark One. 8%
Hollow Way’s stock stout. Big and black. A nose of coffee, milk chocolate, liquorice, heavy soil, toasted nuts and a berry bitter-sweetness. Great nose. Unfortunately it doesn’t carry through onto the palate which is a little one-dimensional.

IPA Two. 10%
A double IPA. This is more my kind of thing. It’s hopped with a selection of the ones he grows at the brewery along with Centennial, Columbus, Simcoe and Cascade: a real hop bomb. The nose is just what you’d expect: citrus and pine with floral hints of mint, and sweet notes of white chocolate and toffee. It’s the best brew I tried there. Brutish, strong, in your face. Fairly well balanced although I’d want it more bitter, in truth, something which he intends to do anyway with the next brew.

Super One. 15%

This one took 15 hours for Gray (and his assistant Jacob) to brew. It then spent 10 days in primary fermentation and a year in whisky barrels. It’s massive and I was so excited about trying it. It pours a thick crimson-brown with little head. The nose is immediately smoky from the barrel aging, then it’s got dried fruits and a slight sourness, blackberries. Drinking this was a little odd though. The smoky and oxidized sour notes clashed in a strange way. The strength was fiery and there was little sweetness to claw it back. Gray is disappointed with this one, but he’s working on a few more in the Super Series (Super Two, Three and Four).

While I was there I also got a quick taste of the Wild One (a big privilege as this was the first time Gray had even tried it!). He tapped a little off into our glasses and held it up to the light: a blush of pink. The aroma: winter fruits, mustard, hay. He was smiling at this point. The taste: still sweet, straying into sour with cherry and under-ripe plums. This one is turning out well and he’s delighted with it. Although it’s not perfect yet.

So there we are, my little trip to Hollow Way Brew Co. Gray is doing some cool things and he sure is ambitious. You may not have heard of him yet, but remember his name because someday soon I’m sure you will.

I didn’t get any pictures because my camera wouldn’t work when I got there. I was really pissed off about that.

Sunday 14 June 2009

Ode to Stella

A mistress. She is everywhere. You shouldn’t but sometimes you just can’t help yourself. You certainly don’t want to get caught doing it though. Especially not around these parts. But forget that. Forget right and wrong. Forget the waxed lyricism. Forget the rare bottles, the hyped-up stuff, the big names. Forget everything. Beer goes deeper than that. Beer is simpler than that. There’s nothing else like it. Nothing hits the spot like a beer. And sometimes a pint of lager is exactly what’s needed. You don’t have to taste it. You don’t have to think about it. You just drink it. And beer’s for drinking. It’s golden, it’s cold, the sun is hot, it quenches like a dip in the pool, it chills like a cool breeze. A pint of lager please. I feel naughty for ordering it. Having a second one is completely outrageous. By the third I’m thrill-seeking. The fourth is the default choice: I’m in now. The sun is going down, it’s warm, my skin is zinging, my friends are smiling and so am I as I sit here glowing with the effects of my summer mistress. Our affair is out in the open. Her name is Stella.

FYI: I usually choose Kronenbourg but it just didn’t have the same ring as Stella when I was writing this! And a quick edit: I NEVER drink Stella. I can't stand the stuff! In this post 'Stella' stands as the symbol and figure of lager-pop.

Thursday 11 June 2009

FAB POW! Sushi

I haven’t done a Food and Beer Pairing of the Week for a while... Let’s get back on it with pairings for a whole bloody cuisine.

I love sushi more than a deadly ninja loves those hot geisha babes. Seriously. I’m like a samurai warrior, only my weapon of choice is a pair of chopsticks. I don’t eat it nearly often enough but when I do I throw it down like a sumo wrestler kicking some ass. It’s healthy like a Prius, fresh like the summit of Mount Fuji, hipper than manga. I like it with more zing than a Pikachu scorned, more fire than a flaming Charizard and to be more gorgeous than Jigglypuff. Salmon skin rolls, I choose you! And beer and sushi: it’s a better than a Battle Royale between Godzilla and Optimus Prime!

Phew! Now that’s over with let’s get on with the show. I’ve had some excellent sushi recently from the stall in Greenwich Market and I’m seriously craving it all the time. Honestly, as I sit here now I just want to dive into big mound of handrolls and go nuts.

There are some wicked pairings to be had with beer and sushi and you are dealing with the spectrum of taste - sweet, salty, umami, sour and bitter (the bitter is in the beer). You need subtle flavours to work with the sweet fish but you also need something which can stand up to the eye-watering wasabi and the pickled ginger. And if you’ve got tempura or noodles then you need something to refresh the mouth after and clean-up all those fatty-salty juices. I think there are two sensible routes:

Option 1: A dark beer with hints of roast malt and smoke and a fair whack of hop bitterness to lift the palate. The beer needs to be light bodied but full flavoured. The result is that the roasted flavours sweeten the fish and the smokiness and hops deal with the wasabi. Look at Gadds’ Dogbolter, Henley Dark, Brewdog Zeitgeist, DarkStar Over the Moon, Thornbridge Ashford and I’m tempted to suggest Schlenkerla Weizen, but I haven’t tried it myself yet so who knows.

Option 2: A crisp lager or pale ale. Something light but hoppy enough to sweep all the flavours up and wash them down again. Think Asahi. Think Kirin Ichiban. Think outside the box: Hopdaemon’s Skrimshander IPA, Gadds’ No.3, Dorothy Goodbody’s Golden Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Brooklyn Lager, Stone’s Levitation Ale.

And there’s an option for ninjas: BrewDog’s Storm. This is one awesomely esoteric beer and it works so well. The earthy smoke and biting hops blend so well with the sushi and add a completely different dimension of flavour. And as the Japanese are big whisky drinkers there is some logic there too (Japanese food + Japanese drink = Japanese awesome – Sugoi!).

Anyone had any good food and beer pairings recently? Anyone had anything good with sushi? And if anyone knows of any ‘BYOB’ sushi places in the south-east then let me know so I can take a few bottles along and have a jolly old time.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

The Bull’s Best of The Best Beer Festival

Here’s a round-up of last week’s beer festival at The Bull. Garrett and Lynne, the landlord and lady, put on a fantastic event and I really hope they’re pleased with how it all went. The beer was spot-on, the food was excellent, the garden was a great place to hang out (the weather stayed dry too) and the atmosphere was perfect. To Garrett and Lynne: It’s you two who make The Bull my favourite pub. You are willing to go that much further than everyone else. Thank you.

To set the scene: I was there on Thursday with Pete from Pete’s Food Blog and Brad and James and friends from Ale Affinity. On Friday Pete and Brad were back again (we couldn’t stay away!), both with their younger brothers. I was with my mate Matt. And Steve from Beer Justice and Phil from Beermerchants were there too. The barbeque filled the cool air of the pub garden with grilling meat and Garrett’s irrepressible laugh rang around his kingdom as everyone chinked glasses and talked and laughed and got pretty damn merry.

I started down low, way down low at a measly 2.7% with BrewDog’s Edge. But measly it ain’t: this 2.7% minx is a flavour bomb. So full bodied, a perfect creamy head, chocolate roasted notes and much more hop bitterness than I expected. One surprising beer that you could drink all night. Next Pete and I went tag-team-style on Saltaire’s Amarillo Gold and BrewDog's 77 Lager (the Amarillo in each being a cozy and chance partnership). Amarillo Gold was very pale, loads of neat Maris Otter grain and a delicately refreshing lemony-citrus finish. The 77 lager was surprising fruity with a great body and good hop bitterness - good cask lager action indeed.

More double-teaming next with Thornbridge Kipling and BrewDog's Dogma. Now it kills me to say this but none of the Thornbridge beers we tried were up to their usual standard. I don’t know why this was, but the fact that it was across the board is worrying. Now Dogma. Here’s something you might not have read around these parts before, but here goes: I don’t care all that much for bottled Dogma or its previous incarnation, Speedball. It does nothing for me except make me mildly giddy. However, on cask it’s much better. There was honey and vanilla and blackcurrant and toast and another creamy head (they give good head at BrewDog) all wrapped up in a slick body. Nice. We also opened a bottle of unlabelled BrewDog’s Atlantic IPA to share around the bench. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, you say? Well guess what… It was a thumbs down from a table of BrewDog fans. I like the oxidized notes in Zephyr but in the Atlantic IPA they are too much (sour and cement-like) and it doesn’t mix well with the whisky warmth and the punchy-earthy-fruity-bitter beer.

I believe we had a burger here. It was very good and very necessary.

Next came two beers from Marble: Pint and Dobber. Garrett told us that Dobber was the bigger brother of Pint and he was spot on. Pint was pale, clean, crisp, quenching, gluggable and finished with juicy citrus hop bitterness. I absolutely loved this beer. Then I tried Dobber and fell in love again. It’s a fantastic beer, loads of C-hop sexiness (I believe I bet this blog at one point that it contains Centennials!), orange and a juicy-pithy clawing finish with a great toffee body. Super, super stuff. And honestly, I would’ve been happy to drink just those two all night, but I was on a mission.

Let’s zip through in a montage: In the following hour, or so, I had: a mouthful of Jaipur, my favourite cask beer, and it was a shadow of itself and this brought a tear and a sorrowful swoon. This swoon was not cured by the half of Pitfield IPA which was boozy like nail polish, had a too-sweet candy sugar body and didn’t deliver on the hops. I had a taste of the Saltaire Blackberry Cascade which I liked until just after I swallowed when it became sickly like a chewy sweet. I appear to have tried Ginger Marble and remember not enjoying that too much. I’m not a big raw ginger fan and this tasted like raw ginger. It was hot stuff (literally as I’m posting this Reluctant Scooper has just put up something about Marble Ginger – he likes it more than I do!). A lot of the others loved it though and I think it could be a grower. Thornbridge Red Brick was just not right. And there was a glug of BrewDog’s Trashy Blonde at some point. This was Pete’s beer and I’m pretty sure he enjoyed it. Phew.

This was where we stepped it up. Another tag-team effort went down here to wrestle BrewDog’s Devine Rebel and the Pitfield Imperial Stout into submission. I can proudly say that we won the battle. The Pitfield was bloody marvelous, all rich and roasty with chocolate and coffee and dark fruits and a super earthiness. This stuff rocks. As does Devine Rebel. It’s honey and marmalade, some whisky smokiness way back in there, sweet but not too sweet, a complex sipper rolling around. Thursday done.

The morning after prompted my post about hangover breakfasts and I didn’t truly recover until I had the first pint on Friday, when I was back on it in a flash. I obviously went for a pint of Pint and it was even better than the day before. After this we went and got on the beer train to Ramsgate, Matt’s local brewery (I didn’t have them on Thursday knowing he was down on Friday). Gadds’ No.3 was a great pint as always; caramel, fruit, earthy hops; a Kent classic that I wanted to drink a lot of. Then came the Thoroughly Modern Mild which had a big sweetness with honey and marmalade (kind of like Devine Rebel) and was an easy-drinking 6% - a mild for winter, when Mild Month really should be. Dr. Sunshine’s Special Friendly followed, a wheat beer with a classic wheaty taste (quality beer writing there), vanilla, citrus and a good butterscotch quality (not a bad butterscotch quality). I’m not a wheat beer lover but I could’ve had a lot more of this. Thumbs up to Ramsgate!

Next I tried Saltaire's Sublime Blonde, which I think was Phil’s. The resounding verdict was that it tasted like Foster’s Twist: lager and lime. Not great. There was a Rye Smile in there but bugger me if I remember what that tasted like. All I know is that we ordered a Gadds’ No.7 and a Rye Smile and it took Matt and me a few sips to work out which was which. After this I went back and had more of my favourite’s from Thursday. Another Dobber, an Edge and another Pitfield Imperial Stout. And that’s where the night ended, I think. There may have been more. I lost track and was just having a good time by then.

There were a few beers which didn’t come on while I was there, the notable one being Thornbridge’s Epic Halcyon (here is the full festival list). The good thing is that now I get to look forward to it another time!

And there we are. I don’t think this is particularly illuminating but I wanted to share my thoughts about the beer and the fun that we had. This was a great festival because it was small and friendly and the beer was fantastic. Marble Dobber won beer of the festival and I can’t argue with that. Marble Pint would have been a close contender for my vote and that’ll be a beer I look out for from now on. Gadds’ No.3 was flawless and Pitfield’s Imperial Stout was epic. You can’t expect to love every beer which is on. Enjoyment is so subjective and the beers which I liked others didn’t and vice versa. That’s why we drink with friends; to compare, to discuss, to try other beers. I had a great time as you can probably tell. Cheers Garrett and Lynne!

Sunday 7 June 2009

Ode to Choosing The Next Beer

I’m at home. It’s the morning. I want a beer for tonight. I need to hurry or I’ll be late for work. What beer? I know, I’ll have that one. No wait, I’m saving that one. Right… this one. Oh yes, this is the one. I’ve wanted to open this one for ages. Oh. Actually… that could get better if I leave it. Maybe I should leave it a little while longer? Put it towards the back of the cupboard. What else have we got? Those are all no-gos. And those are untouchable too: don’t even think about it! We’ll have them next year. Something to look forward to. A promise of a great beer, a great night. Half the excitement is in the waiting. I like that part. It’s the choosing that is hard. What do I fancy? There are no hoppy beers. I want hops. There’s loads of stout. I don’t want stout tonight. What’s in the fridge already? I could just have one of them… Nah, I don’t fancy any of them. I’ll sit here staring into the cupboard and something will jump out at me. In a moment of inspiring care-free impetuousness I pull out a hidden secret. I hold it, I run my fingers over the label, I can taste it already, the bottle is cool to touch, I feel the graze of the crown, I read the name, it fills me with a profound joy, a huge expectation, I want this beer, I put it back. That beer is too special. I’ll wait. What do I want now? What’s for dinner? What am I doing tonight? What beer fits? Beer for an occasion. Beer to suit a mood. Beer to compliment life. What film will I watch? What beer will go with that film? Maybe I should open a stout. There’s that one or that one? No, not that one, it’s my last bottle, once it’s gone it’s gone. Check the fridge again. What’s the time? Oh crap, I’m late for work now. Right, just choose one. This one? I might not want that later? I could put three or four in the fridge but that just seems too revolutionary. Maybe I’ll stop by the shops and pick up something new? I think I need more beer to choose from.

I’ve written about my beer-hoarding problem before. You can find it here.

Friday 5 June 2009

If you had to...

An If you had to… of sorts this week, asking what you eat when you are hungover? It’s not asking you to choose just the one this time, I just want to know what you eat post-beer.

This comes the morning after the night before. Last night I was at a preview of the Best of the Best beer festival at The Bull with Brad and James from Ale Affinity and Pete from Pete’s Food Blog and I am thoroughly hungover and feel like hell (the beer was shit hot though!). I've got to go to work soon but might as well not bother because I pretty much won’t get anything done except for a lot of staring out the window (into a bush) mournfully, hoping the headache and swirling gut will bugger off before I’m back at the pub to later. (Oh the things I do for this blog!)

But here’s the thing, what do I want to eat? What’s the one thing that will sort me out in this time of need? What disgusting trashy feast will lift my spirits? And what do you eat? Are you a coffee and fry up? Bacon sandwich? Tea and toast? Cold pizza? Hair of the dog?

What is the one thing guaranteed to sort you out when you are hungover?

Yes, I am aware that I just used the term ‘shit hot’ to describe the beer last night. While I like to adopt a generally colloquial tone in this blog I feel this may be a step too far. Maybe I am still drunk?

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Best of the Best Beer Fest

I’ve written about previous beer festivals and showcases at my favourite pub - The Bull in Horton Kirby, Kent – here, here and here, and now it’s time to announce another, and this one is potentially the most exciting yet, as the name suggests: The Best of the Best.

This is a 30-odd cask mini-festival featuring beers from seven of the best UK breweries. I received the current beer list last night so here it is. These will all be on from the first day and will stay until they run out. Look closely at the list because there are some crackers.

Edge (2.7%)
Trashy Blonde (4.1%)
77 Lager (4.9%)
Dogma (Speedball) (7.8%)
Devine Rebel (12.5%)

Lord Marples (4.0%)
Red Brick (4.9%)
Kipling (5.2%)
Jaipur IPA (5.9%)
(Epic) Halcyon (7.7%)

Eco Warrior (4.5%)
N1 Wheat Beer (5.0%)
1850 London Porter (5.0%)
1839 India Pale Ale (7.0%)
1792 Imperial Stout (9.3%)

Dark Star
Hophead (3.8%)
Best (4.0%)
Summer Solstice (4.2%)
American Pale Ale (4.6%)
Summer Meltdown (4.8%)

No. 7 (3.8%)
Dr. Sunshine’s Special Friendly (4.2%)
No. 3 (5.0%)
Thoroughly Modern Mild (6.0%)

Pint (3.9%)
Ginger (4.5%)
Bee (4.8%)
Dobber (5.9%)

Rye Smile (3.8%)
Sublime Blonde (4.0%)
Cascade Pale Ale (4.8%)
Amarillo Gold (4.8%)
Blackberry Cascade (4.8%)

How about that? Not bad, eh? Apparently the cask of Devine Rebel (which I tried bottled last weekend and is excellent) is the last one still undrunk in the UK and it’s been sitting in the Bull’s cellar for two months now. I’ve never had BrewDog’s Edge (it's a mild) so I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do with a 2.7% beer? And a cask lager, 77, too. Thornbridge Halcyon is a fantastic English IPA (I wrote about it here) and this is a special one-off version made with Epic Beer which contains Nelson Sauvin hops (read about it here). Jaipur is on the list and this is possibly my favourite cask beer in the UK right now so that brings a cheer from me. Ramsgate Brewery, or Gadds, are a really cool brewery and I expect very good things from them (the mild sounds very good and No.3 is a local hero). I’ve never had any Pitfield beers before but I’ve heard a lot about them, so that is a very exciting haul for the pub (I went to the old shop just once but barely remember it and it was before I was really into this whole beer thing). And then Marble and Saltaire are both breweries that I don’t know too much about so I look forward to learning more, especially the Cascade pales as they are both hopped with Cascades and Centennials, two of my favourite hops. And DarkStar are just great. Enough said.

When is this fine event? Well, it’s this coming weekend, Friday 5th June to Sunday 7th June. The pub is nearest to Farningham Road train station which is about 30 minutes out from London Victoria (plus a 15 minute walk at the other end, but it’s worth it to trek through the glorious Kent countryside). The pub details are on their Facebook page or the postcode is DA4 9DF.

And there will be a BBQ going all day, every day to feed the ravishing crowds.

If anyone is going to come down then let me know. I’ll be there on Friday night and I’ll be really quite drunk.