Sunday 30 August 2009

A Wild Time

Somehow, in a short space of time, I managed to accumulate quite a collection of wild beers. By wild I don’t just mean crazy-ass beers with high octane hops or hell-straddling booze, what I mean are beers brewed with wild yeast. Now I’ll be frank, my first few experiences with lambic and gueuze summoned responses such as: fuck off, what the fuck, and just fuck. Now I’m on to fuck yeah. You see, drinking a glass of salmon pink vinegar is not a natural thing to enjoy. But then drinking a glass of gold hop juice isn’t either. My fledgling wild experience was in Croydon’s Beer Circus where the barman informed us it was flat as a witch’s tit. Unsure of whether this euphemism was good or bad, I was soon to discover that it was not good and promptly ordered another Kwak to be able to drink from the cool glass. The next time was a similarly puckering experience. As was the next. But then things started to change… To really throw myself into a sour endeavor I decided to have a wild night in on my own. For this wild night I opened four beers which use wild yeast. Since then I’ve had even more and got to try a few more at GBBF. My mind has been opened and it’s letting in a beaming, acetic ray and I can’t get enough of it and, long story short, I now love them. But onto my ‘wild night’, which consisted of Mikkeller’s It’s Alight, 3 Fonteinen Oude Kriek, Goose Island Matilda and Orval. It was a tame wild night, I’ll admit, but still... The Mikkeller was spritzy and lemony with a lovely fragrant sweetness and a kick of tart. It’s a little spicy, nice and crisp and very drinkable, although not all that wild. Not all that wild can be applied to Matilda which was essentially a spicy, tangy Belgian beer with only subconscious hints of brett. It was interesting but not really for me. Orval, which I wrote about here, is now one of my favourite beers and I’ve got a garage full of them. The 3 Fonteinen was altogether different and absolutely bloody lovely. Clean, easy drinking, tart but not too tart, cherries, a dry bite at the end… wonderful. Beyond this night I’ve since had Oude Geuze Boon which I wrote about here and loved. There was Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic which I’ve had before and hated but this time I really enjoyed it’s woody/savoury quality and the quenching cherries and lemon. There was Ramsgate Brewery’s Reserve red wine barrel aged barley wine which is just remarkable. Plus there were the GBBF beers: Harvey’s Imperial Stout (day before GBBF, shared with Woolpack Dave and Jeff, but close enough), Allagash Interlude and Montegioco Mummia. I’m really intrigued by wild and sour beers. There’s something raw and elemental about them which fascinates me. And they are fascinating beers because they challenge what our minds think beer is and what it can be. More US breweries are going wild and I really hope that more UK breweries start experimenting with brett and other wild yeasts as it could be a pretty big thing (Reluctant Scooper thinks so too).
Bad picture at the top. My bad. I must've deleted it from the camera before saving it. Thank god for twitpic.

Thursday 27 August 2009

As-Live Tasting: BrewDog’s Rake Raspberry Paradox Smokehead

UPDATE: I wrote this ages ago but then Tokyo* exploded and I wrote about that instead. I haven’t edited anything of the original post because that’s how this thing works. It’s a little dated (RE: the GBBF quandary) but it still works. And here is the BrewDog post about the beer.

21.09pm. I’m into the newest of the Paradox range and it pours out a big bowl of opaque black with a head the colour of a sunburnt bottom.

21.10pm. I want to smell raspberries and I’m expecting it. I’m expecting a lot; regular Smokehead is a crazy-wonderful beer but add a heck of a lot of fresh raspberries and I’m there.

21.11pm. It smells like milk chocolate, like kindling smoke, like old and dry wood, it’s earthy and it’s bold. And there it is: raspberries. Not a tart in-your-face kind of smell, more of a raspberry milkshake kind of thing.

21.13pm. Ok, wow. So I had to take a few sips back there and really roll around in it. This beer is seriously something. It has Smokehead’s earthy-smokiness but layered thickly above this are raspberries. They are fruity and fresh, sharp and sweet and the balancing act between barrel and berries is knife-edge stuff.

21.15pm. There’s something really opposing about the sweetness of the aroma and the sharpness of the taste. It draws you back in again and again. It’s an intense and new flavour experiences for me, mixing all the tastes in one sip with a crazy interplay and melding of complexity which threatens to fall over into complicated.

21.18pm. Sitting back and chilling, thinking about the beer, trying to get words to describe it.

21.21pm. I think I was unduly harsh last week (EDIT: it’s more like last month now…) about the British beers at the GBBF. Let me explain. You see, I’m an emotional chap and I lead with me heart so when I checked the beer list for the first time I immediately jumped to those breweries that I most want to drink at an event like the GBBF. When I saw none of them there I felt a little bit let down by the whole thing. I want to see Thornbridge, I want to see Ramsgate, Marble, Oakham, Pictish, Moor, Darkstar, BrewDog. And I want to see them put out their best beers along with festival specials. The fact that these breweries won’t be well represented is sad news to me. But, my plan is currently to go on the Tuesday and the Saturday. Tuesday will be BSF o’clock and Saturday will mean a day on the British stuff, so hopefully I’ll be able to scour the place and won’t find many me-too bitters but will be given an education in fine British ales. But just think, how much more excited would I be if I knew there would be BrewDog’s there, especially if I could get something like cask Smokehead. Pfwoar!

21.26pm. Talking of the GBBF… I don’t usually drink Mondays to Wednesday’s if I can help it to try and restore some balance for the huge drinking that happens at weekends, but this week I am changing that. I have a plan you see… I don’t want to rock up to the GBBF and drink three pints of US IPA and be rolling on the floor giggling like a little girl while all the big boys sip away at their beers completely unaffected and trying to ignore my slobbering silliness. My thinking is that spending a week drinking strong beers will build up my resilience and I’ll be able to drink hardcore with everyone else. That’s the vain thinking anyway; I very much doubt it’ll work like that, especially when I see all those barrels of beers!

21.30pm. The beer is warming up and… uh oh, do I smell cheese? And I’m struggling to tell if I’m getting a wild-ness to the beer or whether that is purely fruit and barrel. I don’t think my palate is sharp enough to deal with this beer!

21.32pm. If you like Smokehead then check out this totally amazing food and beer pairing and a few incredible recipes – the flapjacks are brilliant.

21.34pm. I’m nearing the end and I’ve finished it fairly quickly. There’s something very drinkable and alluring about the beer and I think that’s all to do with its mystery: I don’t fully understand it but I want to. I’m telling you, you can expect me to write the word mystery a few more times in coming posts, it’s my latest fave beer idea.

21.40pm. This beer is quite something. What that something is I don’t know. I’ve got two more bottles so hopefully I will find out when I drink those.

21.45pm. Done-diddly-done with that one. I don’t quite know else to say so I’m out.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Should've Gone To...

I was drinking Oude Geuze Boon in the garden the other day, enjoying the sun and some Kurt Vonnegut, so it goes. Anyway, I was drinking it out of my Gadds glass and noticed that the sun reflects the logo into the head of the beer and I thought that was pretty cool. And of course, that got me thinking… Are there any other glasses with quirks like this, whether they are planned or not? I know Dogfish Head have some glasses (I can't find a picture, dammit) which focus the bubbles to leaves the outline of their logo in the head but are there any others?

I got the beer from Beermerchants and loved it. It's taken me a while to 'get' sour beers but now I'm craving them all the time, especially on hot days. This one was a 2004-2005 and it's bright and fizzy, fresh and quenching, lemony and peppery, oakey and creamy, dry and delicious.

Monday 24 August 2009

A Glourious Weekend

The sun has been high, bright and hot for ages now and it’s bloody lovely. This weekend has been especially glourious. Thursday it was The Bull for their West Kent Pub of the Year celebration. The cask line-up was superb, as promised, but I was taught me a valuable lesson by the English IPAs: I am not immune to hop bitterness. It was the combination of Pictish Simcoe (wonderful, bitter, fruity) and (a one-off cask of) Marble’s Tawny 3 (seriously one of the most bitter beers I’ve had) plus the jerk chicken which saw my soporific, hoporific demise and left me all hopped out (but it was well worthy it as all the beers were wonderful, including, of course, Marble Pint). Cask Worthington White Shield was a rare and glourious treat of a scoop. Friday I visited an old favourite: The Man of Kent in Rochester. This place sells up to eight cask beers from Kent plus German lagers, Meantime keg, Fruli, cider and a fridge of bottles. All my cask beers were great (Gadds No.5, Gadds’ Seasider and Whitstable East India Pale Ale) and a bottle of Rochefort 10 went down a glourious treat in the garden after sunset, playing board games with a couple of old mates. Saturday I went to see Tarantino’s new film, Inglourious Basterds, and it’s honestly one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It’s a complete love letter to cinema and the power of film and reminded me so much of Jean-Luc Godard’s films of the early 1960s. There’s so much that I want to write about this film and I attempted to do so but it started sounding like an essay I’d write at university (I studied the French New Wave and Godard…) so I stopped. It’s tight, sharp, funny, tense, beautiful (Melanie Laurent), well acted, mesmerizing (those long takes, the sweeping shots, the perfect cutting), brutal… Seriously, this film is a complete masterpiece and the final line of the film is utter, glourious perfection. And then Sunday. Sunny Sunday when England won the ashes. It was a very proud day to be an Englishman and I celebrated with a bottle of Cantillon Kriek and then a Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA from San Francisco, which I will freely admit is terrible planning on my part. I should’ve cracked a Gadds’ Reserve or maybe a JJJ. Still, what a result, and what a glourious weekend. The ashes picture is from here. The beer picture is from my phone. It shows the line-up of beers at The Bull, plus there were a few in the cellar or on the other side of the bar – Darkstar APA, Whim Flower Power. The movie poster is from here. I have no picture of the Man of Kent, but that's glourious too, or glorious, whatever.

Sunday 23 August 2009


I try and read as much as possible when I’m at home but going on holiday is the perfect time to really plough through a few books that have been on the shelf for a while. In the same way that I like to share the good beers that I drink, I want to share the good books that I read, especially when they are about beer.

Pete Brown’s Three Sheets To The Wind. I’d been meaning to read this for ages but don’t get through huge amounts of nonfiction at home. But I love nonfiction while reading on the beach. Three Sheets is Pete’s world-wide search for the meaning of beer. It’s funny, it’s ridiculously well observed, it’s well researched and a joy to read. I get through a lot of beer reading and can honestly say that I learnt more from this than anything else I’ve read. It made me think about the personal essence of beer and drinking, and about why I love it so much. It gave me massive wanderlust.

Pete Brown’s Hops and Glory. I finished Three Sheets then went on to Hops and Glory. This is an epic book in so many ways. The story itself is huge; brewing and taking a cask/keg of beer from Burton to India via sea. The history and the research is also epic. It’s doctoral thesis scholarly but in the most readable of ways. It’s got Pete’s laconic humour, his fragile sense of emotion and being and a true beating heart. It's an energetic travelogue and it’s filled with the type of descriptive prose that nineteenth century romance novelists would be jealous of. I could wax lyrical on and on about this… but as someone who wants to write and who loves beer, Hops & Glory is a brilliant inspiration.
Sam Calagione’s Brewing Up A Business. If you want to work for BrewDog then this book is part of the training. It’s Sam’s guide to running a small business and it’s filled with so many great stories about Dogfish Head Brewery. I laughed my way through this, I fell in love with his hard-working ethic, his charisma, his desire to succeed and I was completely inspired again. Whether you want to start your own business/brewery or you just love beer, this is a book to read.

Tim Lebbon’s Bar None. Tim is part of the Blog O’ Beer crew. He is also a successful novelist. I got an email a while back asking if I’d like a copy and said yes. It arrived two days before I left for holiday so it was squeezed into my hand luggage. It’s the post-apocalyptic journey of a handful of survivors to the safe haven of a pub. And beer is very important. The protagonist can only remember his wife when he drinks and it’s both heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. It’s a great walk through memory and time and place and people and I really liked it. The joy of this book is in the way that memories are linked through beer, kind of like the Taste of Memories.

Next I read two non-beer books by Malcom Gladwell. I read Outliers just after it was released and then bought Blink and Tipping Point. Let me say this: I think Malcom Gladwell is one of the greatest writers of our time. He thinks in a way and with a precision of mind that is impossible to comprehend until you read his words. Blink is about the moments when we know something without knowing why - it’s that snap judgment in the blink of an eye. Tipping Point is about the ascension to a moment where a thing ‘tips’ from being unimportant to incredibly important. Outliers is the story of why some people achieve so much more than others. All are awesome feats of academic and psychosocial thinking. If you haven’t read any Malcom Gladwell then you really must.

Chuck Palahnuik’s Invisible Monsters was the last book and I’ve been reading a lot of his stuff recently. This is my favourite book by him; it’s brilliant.

Some of the best moments of my holiday were sitting down in the evening sun and opening one of these books and a cold Mythos. I really do love sitting in the sun, reading and drinking a cold beer. In fact, as it’s a gloriously sunny day today, I think that’s how I’ll be spending my afternoon and evening.

Friday 21 August 2009

Fantasy Pub Week! 5: Entertainment/Extras

Here’s the final installment of Fantasy Pub Week! And this is the place for anything else you fancy in your pub? What entertainment would you like? A TV tuned to soaps/sports/reality TV/music channels? A CD player repeating your favourite albums? How about a house band (any band you like!). Food is important to some – do you want bar snacks or heaving piles of bangers and mash? And who cooks it? Perhaps you want a pool table or bowling alley or dart board? Maybe you want to specify a curry night or a weekly hog roast? Pub quizzes? Pub football team? Anything you like.

Here’s one last reminder about the other categories: Where and What, The People, The Draught Beer and The Beer Fridge.

My Extras... I think pubs are about the people and the beer. And sometimes entertainment can be too much. I don’t want much going on in my place other than people to be there drinking, talking and laughing. However, a few extras would be fine. I’d like a pool table that sinks into the ground when I don’t want it out and in the way. I like quiet background music so a range of CDs will be on occasionally. No house band because I generally don’t like live music in small pubs, but I would occasionally let Dashboard Confessional play an acoustic set. I would play old movies on flatscreen TVs, which would be like moving pieces of art. The food will be snacks – pork scratchings, pies, sandwiches – cooked by someone who really cares about local, seasonal food, Hugh perhaps. There would be both chocolate and cheese boards. We’d have a pub cricket team, Shakespeare and Dickens would open the batting, Don Quixote would cause havoc at three and I’d bat four. I wouldn’t field but would come on first change to bowl ripping leg-spin. Our home ground is Lords, of course. There’d be ‘Ladies Night’ once a month (third Tuesday) where all the ladies get half price drinks (that should keep them happy). There would be a huge and unending book shelf stocked full of good reads. And there is a free taxi service home, should I/we require it.

That’s me done and Fantasy Pub Week done. Cheers all for playing along, normal service will resume next week when I’ll try to do some actual writing about beer. Have a bloody good weekend all.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Fantasy Pub Week! 4: The Fridge

Yesterday we agonized through the cask list but in my Fantasy Pub I also want a fridge full of drinks and perhaps a few lined up behind the bar. Similarly to the cask stuff, you can have three permanent bottles plus the full range of ONE brewery. You will also probably like to have some spirits or something else (perhaps a soft drink, maybe wine or cider or perhaps just more beer), in case the mood takes you, so you can choose three bottles of ANYTHING else you like.

Three permanent bottles
The full-range (or at least most of the range – you don’t need to say which) of bottles from ONE brewery
Three bottles of ANYTHING else

My three permanents: Orval, Pliny the Elder and Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh (I will be cheeky and allow myself a rolling change of the range).

I’d want the full bottle range from Mikkeller.

And my three OTHER bottles: Some BrewDog Tokyo* (instead of any spirits), Coke Zero (to keep Lauren happy) and water (for when I’ve had one too many).

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Fantasy Pub Week! 3: The Draught Beer

You obviously have to have draught beer in your fantasy pub. That goes without saying. Maybe your dream pub has 25 ever-rotating pumps with beers from all over the world, maybe there are just two draught beers which could see you through, but for the benefit of this there are some limitations…

You can have five handpumps. Four handpumps are permanent and one is ever-changing from ONE brewery of your choice. Pick from any brewery, anywhere, still brewing or now closed. And it you’d like one or more of the taps to be kegged then go for it. But bear in mind that this isn't necessarily a list of your favourite ever beers; these are the beers which you'd most like to be able to drink whenever you go to your pub, whether is roasting hot outside or whether it's snowing. (Tomorrow it's bottled beer and I ask for a similar selection - three permanents, one full range - so bear that in mind!).

Four permanent casks (or kegs if you prefer)
One ever-changing cask but from just one brewery

Four permanents: Right now I would choose Marble Pint, Thornbridge Jaipur, Hobgoblin (or a really good mild, around 4%, but something a little bit fruity and hoppy as well as dark and roasty - any suggestions?) and, because it's my fantasy, I’d get Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout put in the cask.

My ever-changing handpump: would have beers from Dogfish Head (so I can work my way through their full range).

And if you haven’t done so yet then check out this post to choose Where you want it and this post to choose the People you want in there.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Fantasy Pub Week! 2: People

It’s the people that make a pub, right? Sure the beer helps but the soul of the place is set up by the people who drink there and the people who work there. This is not to be underestimated. You need a landlord, you need a barman/maid and you need regulars. And remember, as it’s a fantasy list they can be real or fictional, famous or not, dead or alive, or just choose your mates. The way I see it, the landlord is someone to chat to at the bar about anything and everything, the barmaid is a piece of ass and the regulars each have their own special qualities.

A few regulars, up to you how many

My Choices…
Landlord: Stephen King (I bet he’s great to chat to about sport and movies and books and life, although I’m not sure if he drinks now, but that’s okay)
Barmaid(s): I’m going for two because it’s unfair to make them work all the time – Sienna Miller and Cheryl Cole
Regulars: Lauren and my best mates and drinking buddies (all of them), some beer writers/bloggers following the GBBF fun, then Marilyn Monroe, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Barack Obama, Will Smith and maybe some historical figures like Plato and Julius Caesar. That should do it and that should be a lot of fun.

Monday 17 August 2009

Fantasy Pub Week! 1: Where and What

I’m calling this Fantasy Pub Week here at Pencil&Spoon. I’ve been playing around with this idea for a month or two and now it’s coming out of the box. It leads on from Friday’s If you had to… about your fantasy beer festival line-up; this just takes it a few steps further.

I’ll post each morning with a new thing to think about each day – Where and What, Draught Beer, Bottled Beer/Others, The People and Entertainment/Extras. It’s total fantasy stuff made just for you. Forget practicalities, forget that it really should make money if it needs to survive, forget any financial limitations; the only limitations are of your imagination. And if it troubles you then you have teleporters to travel to and from the pub whenever you like. How does that sound?

The first thing is: Where is it? and What is it like? Location, location, location. Where's your dream location for a pub? In the city, in your garden, on the moon, on the beach, overlooking Lords, in a fictional city… anywhere. And what's the view like? What can you see? And then what does it look like inside. Do you want sofas or benches, a large bar or small one...?

I usually put my answers in the comments section but I’ll put them up in the bulk of the post this week… For me I want it on the beach - a warm beach, white sand and crystal blue sea. The only provision is that I have complete climate control so that I can turn the temperature way down and turn on a big, open fire in the winter – nothing beats a strong stout in front of a crackling fire in winter. The pub itself would be open fronted in summer and leading straight onto the beach with an amazing sunset. It has a wooden floor and a horse-shoe bar in the middle. The tables are casual and wooden and graffitied with different-coloured marker pens. There will be old movie posters and pump clips on the white walls.In the winter the front closes up and the fire roars in the back with big, comfy sofas.

Where is your Fantasy Pub and What does it look like?

Sunday 16 August 2009

A BrewDog BBQ

Just a quick report back from the BrewDog BBQ at The Bull at Horton Kirby. I started with a pint of Punk for a number of reasons. One, I find the alliteration and the way that ‘Pint of Punk’ rolls of the tongue completely irresistible. Two, I was in the mood for a big hop smack around the face. Three, I just bloody love the stuff. The pint was spot on; big hops, all that fruitiness – lycees, strawberries, a tropical fruit basket - and a bold gold body of malt.

Next I went for 5am Saint. It’s a new BrewDog beer for me (tick…). The premise is high hop flavour and low hop bitterness all wrapped up in a red ale. This really was something remarkable: all the hop aroma and flavour is right there in the first mouthful but then you don’t get the bitter bite you expect, which is a little unnerving for the first few sips (kind of like getting kicked in the balls without the stomach-churning pain) but it seriously grows on you into this bottomless bucket of flavours. It’s one of those beers that tastes different with each gulp – strawberries, tropical fruits, caramel, bitter oranges, tobacco – and the hop bitterness is there in a tickle-your-tongue kind of way. This was a fascinating, brilliant beer.
Then I went for a pint of Zeitgeist which, speeding past Punk and 5am Saint, was the best beer of the night for me. Full-bodied and smooth, roasty, chocolatey and then this swathe of fresh hops through at the end. It’s not a lager as you or I know it but that doesn’t matter one bit when it tastes this good. I chugged it back super-fast and then went back to the bar, faced with Punk, 5am Saint and 77 Lager (Trashy Blonde had been drunk dry by this point) and I went for another Zeitgeist. Knowing how much of a hop-freak I am, me choosing to have another pint of Zeitgeist says it all, I think.

There was also some great food out too; sausages, burgers, jerk chicken, mackerel… perfect food to soak up the beer. And with 77 and Zeitgeist on the bar, a BBQ was the perfect food to put out, as this glorious piece here explains.

BrewDog BBQ done but don’t forget the West Kent Pub of the Year party this Thursday, August 20th. Garrett is promising awesome and he is certain to deliver. He hasn’t given away any clues so I’m like a kid waiting to unwrap a present on Christmas Day. If you fancy some excellent beers on Thirsty Thursday then get on out there, it’s one not to miss (the details are here, on their facebook page).

The picture is crap as it is from my phone. I did take some shots from my camera but I left it in Lauren’s bag. I’ll try and get something better up soon. In the meantime enjoy the 5am Saint in the top picture with the reflection of Brad/Dubbel in my sunglasses.

And tune in every day this week as I attempt a Fantasy Pub Week following on from
Friday’s If you had to… to try and create our dream drinking place.

Friday 14 August 2009

If you had to...

I thought I was done with the beer festival stuff for a while but there’s one more thing to ask and it only feels right to do it in my own favourite way: An If you had to…

Imagine the most recent beer festival you went to, whether it was the GBBF or a small local one. If you are like me you probably checked the beer list online before turning up. There are familiar names and unfamiliar ones. Some make you shout ‘I gotta get some of that’, others don’t even register. You plot out a little route through the beers you want, starting there, then that one, then that or one. You get there. You see the lines of silver casks, see the printed cards telling you the brewery, the beer name and the ABV. There are as many casks as you’d want or expect depending on the size of the place. But at the far end is a new bar, one not advertised online. This is a special bar with three last-minute additions. But, and this is the question, If you had to choose, which three beers would you want to see on cask sitting behind that bar?

Any three beers from any where. These are the three dream beers that you’d want to see right now. This is total fantasy stuff but it doesn’t have to be super-rare or one-off, it can simply be a favourite beer that you’d love to see at every beer festival you go to. What do they have? And, for a little extra fun, if this Friday begins to drag, who would be the person serving the beer to you? Anyone, male or female, dead or alive, a hero or just someone really fit.

Wednesday 12 August 2009


Thirst. You know how it is. You crave that very particular taste; you know what it is, what you want. And it’s not just a want, it’s a need. It’s a to-the-core feeling of a need being sated. Not many things can do that, can touch and lift in just that way. A pint please. It pours a pale gold, one pull on the hand pump, then another. Thirst. I can taste it now, can you? Another pull and it crowns over the top, elegant, light, beautiful. The exchange: I give you money, you give me that glass. It has that weight to it, the indescribably right feeling of a pint in hand, rising upwards, catching the sun, a hint of the fruity hops before the first mouthful. Thirst. And it’s always a mouthful to begin, maybe two. Long and slow, mouth-filling, cold, embracing all the senses. And relax. Nothing tastes quite as good as that first mouthful. That first pint. What do you fancy?

Right now I’d take a cold Marble Pint or Thornbridge's Jaipur unless I could get something like draught Pliny the Elder from Russian River. I really am thirsty now, are you?

Tuesday 11 August 2009

GBBF Take 2

Yeah I’m still riding this wave but this’ll just be a post focusing on the beer I drank on Saturday at the GBBF with my mates Lee, Matt, Sean and Dave. The intention was to spend Tuesday on the US stuff and Saturday on the UK stuff. Here’s what I managed.

I arrived just before midday and sped to see what was left of the BSF. I saw nothing but silver shelfing and an empty fridge. But as I looked further along there was a huddle of people and I saw one, single cask being dispensed. To my delight it was Stone’s Pale Ale, a beer I’ve never had before. Result! It was pretty good, it tasted a little beyond its best but all the essential pieces were in place and it made for a decent starter beer. I also clocked the fridge still-full of US bottles and eyed that up for later…
On a quick warm-up lap I saw Moor’s Revival (a finalist in the Champion Beer of Britain 2009) and knowing how I loved and waxed lyrical about JJJ I had to try it. It was lovely; really easy drinking and quenching with dry, fruity-floral hops. This is just the sort of hoppy, full-flavoured, sub-4% beer that I’m loving right now (these are the future, I tell you!). Next, because I read a tweet from Steve saying it was on, came Fuller’s 2009 Vintage. I real scoop. It’s caramel coloured, bready, malty and clean and then it goes into fresh, grassy and green hops. It was great to try it from the cask but for me I love these with a couple of years under them when the hops fade down and the dried fruit and brandy flavours ease through. The 2004 I tried here is still one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

Fearing the fridge would clear-out I grabbed some bottles: Ballast Point’s Big Eye IPA (which I also bought on Tuesday and brought home – see the video below!) and Deschutes Black Butte Porter (I also wanted some lagers but the queue for this was almost unending!). The Big Eye IPA is 100% Centennial which was exactly why I had to have it. At GBBF it tasted a little sticky, a little tangy with lots of tropical fruit and a great big bitter finish. I’ve opened the bottle at home and it was stunning: a big bowl of oranges, bitter, juicy, fruity and just all-out-awesome. The Black Butte Porter was classic new-skool porter: full-bodied, chocolatey, smooth, sweet, nutty and very good indeed.
Dinner followed and I had to have another chicken balti pie because it was amazing on Tuesday. It was amazing again on Saturday. I went to the Cains stand for this beer and went for the Dark Mild (not as an intended FAB POW! just to have a beer to wash it down) which was a solid mild. It didn’t match the pie but it was super with some pork scratchings (oh the beautiful pork scratchings!). I also had some Cains Fine Raisin Beer which I loved last year and really enjoyed again this year, in a guilty-pleasure kind of way.

Then Woodland’s Midnight Stout an oily, smoky, full-flavoured stout and a total surprise of a brew. And it was similar in many ways to Cairngorm’s Black Gold which is super-smoky, meaty, roasty and chocolatey. Excellent UK stouts like this are great to find. Following this was DarkStar’s Espresso Stout which was all coffee-bitter and dark and mouth coating; another cracking dark beer from the UK. Smiles all round.

HSB was on and we had to have that one. Matt and I used to go to a pub near university and drink four pints of this while doing the quiz each Thursday. It was £2.50 a pint and just fantastic. The beer is still great and a taste of a memory (see Matt again in this post as well as Lee), although I’m sure it used to be 5.2% before Fuller’s took over the brewing of it?

I love Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout so went for the Wye Valley Bitter which was fruity with a dry hoppy finish but ultimately a bit boring. To compensate for this I had a Montegioco Mummia, one of the beers I most enjoyed on Tuesday. I could drink buckets of this stuff, it’s that good (although none of my mates liked it?!).
More bottles followed… Birrificio Lambrate Ligero which was floral and fruity, quenching and biscuity then into a slightly sour fruit note and a dry, bitter finish. It took us a few sips to get out heads around this one but it was great. Then came a Big Sky Scape Goat Pale Ale which we all decided we would buy a lot of if it was available in the UK: citrus, pineapple, pine and then a cakey sweetness; loads of flavour and all very easy drinking - a lawnmower beer with bite. There was also a bottle of De Molen Vuur and Vlam which my notes tell me is like Orval without the brett. It’s spicy, dry and tangy with peppery hops. Excellent but it took a while to wrap my mouth around it. And there was some Hogs Back A over T too which was smooth, boozy and tasted like brandy and strawberries.

There we go. Another busy drinking day. I had the intention of drinking all UK but got distracted by the US and Italian bottles. I was very impressed with the UK stuff that I did drink but then I pretty much only shot for the names I knew. There were disappointments and there was great surprises and overall I was very impressed by the quality of the UK beers on show throughout the festival.

So that’s GBBF 2009 done. What a festival. It was so much better than I anticipated.

Oh and here’s the video of me drinking Ballast Point Big Eye IPA. It’s one seriously good beer.

Monday 10 August 2009

To The Bull!

Here’s a couple of dates for your beer diary, both of them at The Bull, my favourite pub in the universe (check out their facebook page).

Firstly, a few questions: Do you like BrewDog beers? Do you want to drink cask BrewDog beers? Do you like BBQs? If you answered ‘yes’ to all of the above then read on… The Bull is hosting a BrewDog BBQ this weekend (BrewDog beer + BBQ = win!), the 14th and 15th of August. On tap will be: Trashy Blonde, 77 Lager, Zeitgeist, 5am Saint and Punk IPA. I’m particularly excited about 5am Saint as it’ll probably my only chance to try this new brew on cask. Plus I want cask Punk as that stuff rocks.

Secondly, to celebrate becoming West Kent Pub of the Year (they are up against The Butcher's Arms for Kent Pub of the Year), Garrett and Lynne are hosting a special evening where, and I quote, ‘No expense will be spared in ensuring that the ale range will be one of the best in the UK for that night... no - make that THE WORLD!’ This is a big claim but I don’t doubt that the line-up with be anything less than totally awesome (I’ve tried to get some clues out of them but they won’t tell… If I get them to talk then I get it up on here!). This year I've drunk some amazing beer in The Bull (just see the links here and add on Thornbridge's Epic Halcyon) so this promises to be something special. It’s on Thursday 20th August and the pub is a 30 minute train from London and then a nice 10 minute walk through the lush Kent countryside.

See you there!

Sunday 9 August 2009

Sharing Beer

Beer is for sharing. It’s the friendliest thing I know. Beer makes friendships. A love for beer itself is a long-term love affair. You like good beer, I like good beer. An instant bond. An understanding. A desire to share. We meet up for beers; that’s when we see each other. How’s your beer? Try some. Yeah, that’s good. Nothing else is like it. Let’s go to the pub. What you having? If you’re having that one then I’ll go for this. We talk, we laugh, we relax. The best beers I’ve ever had have been shared - they’ve been talked about, they turn into better beers because of it. Wow this is good. I’m not that fussed. I love it. I love it too. The one who wasn’t fussed gets into it. Actually you know what… We bounce words around, hyperbole, lyrical similes, random tastes and smells and memories. We laugh at him, then we get it ourselves, it does smell like that. We can open another bottle, we can order another half; we can drink more beer. Quantity and quality. It’s about being with friends, sharing something important to all of us, having a great time with a few beers. That’s why we drink it.

Thursday 6 August 2009

GBBF Take 1

It started early, being woken by the blare of Balham High Street and the head-thumping effects of the British Guild of Beer Writers 21st Anniversary bash the night before. From there came a fry-up and a detoured tube journey to Earls Court where I met Brad outside. Like most I went with the vague and vain plan of starting on a few moderately alcholed brews – something in the 4s, perhaps – but that was immediately forgotten as I ordered a cask Stone IPA to start the day. This was a wise and important choice. The first beer of the day is incredibly important: choose wrongly and the whole day can be ruined in a game of catch-up and no one wants that. The Stone IPA was C-hop-eautiful.

Next I had a Bridgeport IPA which I found uninteresting, but Pete Brown loved the stuff. Then I went for a Victory HopDevil, having been disappointed with the bottles. The cask was much better and I’m sure I got that tangy smack of Nelson Sauvins with even a hint of chocolate orange. Solid stuff but not spot on. Then I threw caution to the wind plumped for Allagash’s Interlude, a 10.5% beer with Brett and aged in wine barrels. Astonishing stuff. Impy Malting – who I was really excited to finally meet! - loved it. Lemony, brett, boozy and big, spicy, woody and just pretty damn cool, although I found it a challenge to get through, to be honest, but that may have been because it was barely the afternoon and I was eager for more, more, more hops!
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA followed and I attempted some gonzo food and beer pairing with a chicken balti pie. The beer, for me, was lacking pizzazz and was better bottled. Then I had the Sierra Nevada Stout which I found uninspiring and was eclipsed by Rogue’s Chocolate Stout which is hard to describe without saying awesome. It was a glassful of pure cocoa, so full bodied, so much fun to drink. My olfactory gland was pointing to twelve.

Fearing a vicious backlash anytime around three, I dropped down to some weaker beers to attempt to plateau my buzz. I find dark beers with cherries almost irresistible and the Dunham Massey Cherry Chocolate Mild was really interesting and easy drinking. Vanilla chocolate covered cherry drops. I enjoyed this one at the Irish table with Ally, Boak, Laura, Thom and the ever-smiling Beer Nut; a whole bunch of people I’d been wanting to meet. That was a fun table!

Next I went Italian with Montegioco Mummia, a 4.8% sour with a wine character and a smooth, balanced, almost-savoury middle after the tart beginnings. One of the best beers I tried. Keeping on the same lines I went with The Tap’s Beerstand Berlinner Weisse a 3% cloudy, pale beer with a lemon grove nose and a crisp, biscuity flavour. A proper palate cleanser.

We were sitting with Jeff and Jo, a couple of regulars from The Bull (Garrett and Lynne, the landlord and lady were also there), and each beer run returned four third-pints so there was plenty to try. The best was White Shield Czars Imperial Stout which had one of the best noses of the day and a great, thick body of roast malt. Then came another star: Portsmouth’s Milk Coffee Stout which was smooth, sweet, roasty, chocolatey and then flows into a wonderful orangey finish that was just gorgeous. More beers should taste like this!

And next was the star of the day for me: Captain Lawrence’s Captain’s Reserve IPA, a 9%er overflowing with the green grenades and peaches and apricots and a marvelously fresh and bitter finish. If there hadn’t have been 450 other beers to drink I would’ve sat down with quite a few glasses of this. Then another star: a bottle of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA. I’ve had this before and was disappointed because it totally lacked bitterness but this was totally excellent and lived up to its hype. More US hops next (would you believe?!): Lagunitas IPA which was caramel, piney, pithy hops, pineapple, peach and tropical fruits - yum o’clock.
Then some more dark stuff. De Molen had two giant casks handsomely standing behind the bar. I had no idea what was in them but there was no way I was going to miss out on whatever it was! They were special beers. And while we’re on barrel-aged big ones I tried some Cambridge Brewing Company's YouEnjoyMyStout which was like liking the inside of a bourbon barrel that’s been painted with dark chocolate. If you like that kind of thing then it’s wicked. I like that kind of thing.

Finally I grabbed a Galway Hooker right at the end to raise my glass to the then-departed Irish folk. I think my enjoyment of this suffered thanks to a too-hot Cornish pasty scorching my tongue, a fatigued palate and a day on big hops. I did enjoy the beer though and can imagine sinking a few of them on a hot day.

So the beers were good but all of these beers would’ve meant nothing if it hadn’t been for the people I was drinking with. It’s been mentioned here, here, here and here but it’s massively important - it’s the beauty and the soul of these festivals. The joy is in sharing beers and hearing what is good and what can be missed and for all those offering their glass my way and saying those wonderful words: try this!

I either mention everyone or no-one and I’ve decided to go with everyone… here goes (I hope I remembered everyone!). Beer writers on Monday and Tuesday: Zak Avery, Pete Brown and his lovely wife Liz, Jeff Pickthall, Adrian Tierney-Jones, Phil Lowry and Colin from Beermerchants, Melissa Cole, Jeff Bell and Dave who I shared a few fantastic bottles of Harvey’s Imperial Stout with on Monday; also at the BGOWB do was Greg Koch, Steve Williams, Roger Protz (just a handshake and a hello), Jeff Evans and Podge (the Hairy Bikers were also there but I didn’t speak with them). Then at GBBF with Simon who didn’t seem reluctant in his scooping, Barm, Maeib and too-briefly there was Tandleman, along with the other bloggers already mentioned. And then some brewers - Kelly Ryan and Dave from Thornbridge, Justin from Moor Beer, Stu from Crown Brewery (I need to try some of your beers!), Tonie from Hopdaemon (Skrimshander IPA is a local favourite of mine) and Steve from Ramsgate Brewery and Saintsandsinners.

If it wasn’t for the people, for new friends and old ones, then the GBBF would be nothing but a vacuous shell full of casks of beer and solemn faces. Thankfully it was beaming smiles, belly laughs and talking shit in between swigs of some really great beers. If only all beer festivals could be like Trade Day at the GBBF.

Oh, and I bought some bottles home too.

FYI: Adding all those links took for-bloody-ever!! I need a beer after that. And this post is called Take 1 because I'm going back to GBBF for seconds/leftovers on Saturday!

Wednesday 5 August 2009

The Taste of Memories

I’m trying to work on my monstrously over-sized post about GBBF but in the meantime here's something I wrote a few months ago. I’ve been waiting to post it and seeing that Pencil&Spoon has risen to number 5 in the Wikio wine and beer top blogs it seems like the perfect moment! Thanks all, that’s made my day. I’ve laughed over beer and cried over beer. I’ve used it to celebrate and commiserate. It brings us together. Let’s go for a beer. It’s always there. It’s a part of life. So many great memories punctuated by glasses and bottles and the faintest recollection of how it tasted. And the taste is a feeling. It tastes of more than just the beer. The time I first had Deus. I don’t taste the Deus in my memory, I taste the way I felt that night. I taste the moment: it was warm, I was surrounded by my best friends, it was a special night, one of the best nights. I remember drinking it, I see the photographs now, it brings a smile, it brings that feeling back. It was for celebrating. It was to toast a changing point in our lives. It was a special beer for a special moment. A one-off moment, never had before and never to be had again. That memory will always come when I see Deus. Deus is how that memory tastes. It’s a time machine. A journey back to a great memory. I travel through space and time in an instant. I am back there, I see it, I hear the laughter, I feel the warmth, I taste it. Do you remember when…? We smile when we talk about it. He shares the same memory, he has the same feelings as I do, he remembers the beer, that night, that time, the place, the people. The memory tastes good. And every memory tastes different.
That's Iain, Pez, Matt from a few posts, me and Lee, who wrote this. We're all drinking Deus apart from Iain who is drinking something pink. He did drama. We drank some other cracking beers that night but I can't remember what they were!

Monday 3 August 2009

Drinking Beer is Like Going to a Theme Park

A theme park: a vast world of fun; rides, slides, rollercoasters, amusements; bright colours, loud noises; slow and steady or high-speed-high-thrill - all fun in their own way; upside-down, round and round, 100-miles-an-hour, losing your stomach, lots of laughter. Theme parks kick ass in the fun department. While some people are happy to queue all day to go on the big adrenaline bad-boy rollercoasters where you turn inside out, over, under and back to front, others are content to ride the slower rides all day long, enjoying the helter-skelter, the log flume, the tea cups. These are altogether tamer than the big-thrill coasters but not necessarily less enjoyable. This is kind of like drinking beer, don’t you think?

That 4% sessionable pale ale that you’ve had so many times already is like the log flume. You know that it’s fun and you know exactly how it goes and that’s why you love it. You can also ride it over and over again without getting sick. Yet there are some times, when everything is just right, that the tame little log flume brings such elemental joy that you never want to get off: it’s a warm day, the sun’s shining, you are with friends. It’s the beer that you know you will enjoy.

Next to the log flume are the tea cups and the ghost train. These are standard fare, often uninspiring but can be surprisingly good fun. These are your best bitters and standard stouts. Some are much better than others. The teacups may be rickety and old or they could be new and loud and bright. The ghost train is dark and it sometimes hits the same unscary notes all the way but others can be mysterious and surprising and addictively good fun.

There are also the things which you alone like. The cheesily good fun amusement arcade, the straight-down drop slide, the whack-the-rat, the 2p slots or the dodgems. This is the beer that you love that no one else seems to get; it’s a guilty pleasure, it’s something simple and fun and all yours. It’s a fruit beer, a Desperados, a Coors Light.

Some fun-lovers might like to warm up using the log flume before hitting the big dipper. The big dipper is the 6% IPA. It has high points and low points, or in beer terms, it has bitter hops and sweet malt. You need both or it’s a crap ride. The sweetness starts off low, and that’s where the ascent is, by the time the bitterness comes in you reach the lip of the fall and you edge closer and closer until it drops and soars and you are flying then you hit the bottom and you drink again and it goes up again but this time not so high and it drops and you drink... There are no loops, it’s a straight-forward up-and-down-and-round but it’s still an adventurous one and bloody good fun (this also works for other 6-7%ers).
Then you might like to step it up. This is when you go on the aggressively named showcase ride. This is high-octane thrill seeking. This is out-there cool, this is fun, this is the sort of thing that you build up to all day; you are scared and excited and you don’t know what to expect. This is extreme beer. This can’t be your first ride ever; you are an experienced thrill-seeker. It can go in so many different directions. Maybe it’s a 10-loop coaster. Maybe it’s the highest freefall, maybe it’s the longest ride, the fastest, the loudest. Maybe it’s all of that and more. Maybe it’s a 10% barrel-aged something, maybe a 9% double IPA, maybe a 15% style-pushing stout, a puckeringly sour lambic or maybe it has exotic ingredients. These are the rides that some people hate and refuse to ride but they are also the ones that get the most passionate fans. And people will travel across the world just to get on this ride. Then the ride itself. It should be shocking and surprising. It should make you want to go back on again. It needs soaring highs and gut-dropping lows. It should be a loop of what-happens-next fun where the rider never quite knows which way he will be thrown next. That’s what good extreme beer is. It’s a rollercoaster of infinite joy when done well. It’s a see-sawing balance between too slow and too fast and anticipation and thrill and adrenaline and mystery and fun. You need to be able to do it but not be sure quite how it works. You need to be able to ride it over and over yet still enjoy different things each time (the view, the sound of the screams, the grinding growl of the coaster, the gut-turning speed).

There are also the other extreme rides which are not about any kind of balance but just try to do one thing and do that thing awesomely. It’s the free-falling, stomach-emptying drop. The 0-100 in two seconds. The ride in the dark that you know ends with a monster fall but don’t know when it comes. The 150IBU tongue-splitting IPA or the 22% tooth-rotting, fire-breathing stout. But, and here’s the ultimate downside, you can only ride these high-octane rides a few times before you feel sick. It’s just too intense to ride over and over.

Drinking beer is like going to the theme park and the ultimate beer theme park in the UK is on this week at Earls Court, where I’ll be riding the big ones all Tuesday long (although maybe I’ll heed my own advice and ride the log flume once before jumping on the 9% hop train to Drunktown).

Does this little allusion work? If so, which beers do you think are like which rides?!

I'll be at GBBF on Tuesday for the trade session and then again on the Saturday to finish of the dregs of the UK barrels. There's also a pre-GBBF/21st anniversary do with the British Guild of Beer Writers tonight, which should be good fun. And then The Bull (my favourite pub) has got a Marble showcase on from Thursday. It's going to be a long week... Oh, and I got these images from the Thorpe Park website.

Saturday 1 August 2009

BrewDog Tokyo* Yeah

All the commentary has been done on this beer and so now we just need to know what the damn thing tastes like, so here it is, a straight-up tasting note post and nothing else (except this fine piece of cinema). I decided to shoot a video of it for the whole world to see, but I’ll write about it too if you can’t face seeing me sniff, swirl and sip a beer and then struggling to describe it more eloquently than it’s good.

It’s 18.2% but everyone knows that by now, it’s brewed with jasmine and cranberries, aged over French oak chips for a month, dry-hopped to hell and fermented with a champagne yeast. It’s a thick black pour with a surprisingly bubbly head which soon laces sexily. Holding it up to the light shows the faintest glimmer of red which is really quite handsome. The aroma is big, but not as big as I expected. It’s fruity pretty much all the way with cherries and those cranberries, beneath that there’s a nuttiness and beneath that it’s a box of fancy chocolates and some vanilla-laced wood.

Take a mouthful and it’s big. But then 18.2% is pretty massive. It’s sweet first then into darkest dark chocolate and more fruit but then it flips over and gets floral and hoppy bitter. The cherry sweetness is excellent leading it into the darker flavours and the booze. It’s fascinating and intoxicating. The finish is long and it lingers all around; not just on the tongue but around the whole mouth and in the air and it calls you back in for another go. Then there’s a hotness to it, a freshness that develops as the beer warms, but this isn’t bad and if you put the bottle away for a few years (the best before date is 2019!) then this’ll mellow out.

It’s a remarkable beer. I was drinking it for well over an hour and enjoyed each sip. Now I’m going to buy some more and put it away. And if you go to the website then type TOKYO in as the discount code to get 20% off. This means if you get six bottles you essentially get free postage and each beer costs less than £6. That’s a bargain. Binge away people.
Here’s the old and new* Tokyos. I considered a side-by-side but then thought again… The 12% Tokyo is one of the best beers I’ve had this year and I’ve got a couple left in the cupboard so maybe I’ll get round to a comparison one day, perhaps opening a Mikkeller Black too or a World wide Stout if I can snag a bottle from somewhere! Oh, and one more thing... this beer probably contains about 400 calories per 330ml bottle. Does that bother anyone?!