Friday 30 October 2009

FABPOW! Chouffe Houblon and Paprika-Roasted Chicken

Those handsome be-gnomed bottles of La Chouffe had been sitting in the cupboard for a while, next to each other like a beer-warped cartoon version of Twins. The thing is, 750ml of 9% beer is quite a lot, so I wanted to share it. Sharing is good. Plus I wanted to compare the two side-by-side and have them with friends and food. The good news is that I’ve finally done it and the result was such a roaring success that it gets the illustrious FABPOW! status.

Beer first - La Chouffe and Chouffe Houblon. Both 9%, the difference being that the Houblon is a Double IPA Tripel, meaning, essentially, that it’s got a lot of American hops in it. I expected them to be the same base beer with one hopped-up, but judging by the colour difference this isn’t the case – the Houblin is much lighter. La Chouffe is a caramel colour with a spicy-bready aroma and a prickly mouthfeel with softens and sweetens as it relaxes in the glass. Houblon is all that plus a wonderful, smooth citrusy-floral hop flavour that’s so drinkable; not overpowering, not tongue-splitting, not aggressive, just really delicious. The Houblon was quite a few months old so the hops had mellowed, I’m sure, but they were still in there, teasing and tantalising.

And then the food. I roasted a chicken covered in sweet and smoked paprika. It was stuffed with garlic, lemon, thyme and rosemary. This sat on top of loads of onions, garlic and herbs and some potatoes, all seasoned and paprika-ed. I had this with roasted tomatoes, onion, basil, thyme, garlic and olives mixed into cous cous with some of the chicken juices. There were also some cursory green beans with garlic and lemon. It was a great dinner. Served with the beer, it was even better.

The beer and food together was just effortless perfection. The spice and hop combo in the Houblon lifted the smoky-earthiness in the chicken and sweetened it while the soft carbonation played little tricks with the richness of the dish. It probably shouldn’t work given that the food is quasi-Mediterranean and North African while the beer is Belgian with an American punch, but some pairings just work so unequivocally and so simply and this is one of them. That roast chicken might now become my dinner party staple, in which case I need to find a few more bottles of the Houblon.

This is the first FABPOW! for a while, so has anyone had any decent food and beer pairings recently? FYI, dessert that night was cr̬me brulee with a Bourbon County Stout Рit was almost great but the beer just overpowered it.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Weathering the ‘Spoons Beer Festival

Tonight I’m on location in the pub for a spot of gonzo blogging. The picture above is my view (although my eyes, thankfully, are a little clearer than that). I’m here because it’s the first day of the Wetherspoons Real Ale Festival and I’m actually quite excited by a few of the beers that are on between now and 15th November. I’ve got two here with me now - Dambuster by Shepherd Neame and Purkmistr Bohemian Schwarzbier – while I wait for my sausage, chips and beans to arrive.

The pub isn’t too busy tonight, but it’s a big place so it’s probably-definitely the busiest bar in town. It’s the first time I’ve dared bring the laptop out through fear of being accosted. And what was the first thing that happened as I sat down and placed by shiny new kit down? I was accosted (by accosted I actually mean spoken to politely). By a semi-drunk, friendly old chap who was impressed by my ‘graphics’ and who said to me, when I told him I was going to connect to wifi, ‘I’m going for a piss, I bet you’re not on when I get back.’ He was quick, I’ll give him that, but I was quicker. In your face semi-drunk, friendly old chap who pees at speed.

[Dinner arrives. Here comes a short interlude while I eat my sausage, chips and beans...]

[Update: This is cheaply delicious. £2.99 well spent.]

Now the beer. I went for the Shepherd Neame to see how they fare with pale and hoppy ale using just Cascades. To be honest I didn’t expect much but I’m totally, pleasantly surprised – it’s good! It’s pale and crisp and an ode to the English(?) Cascade – citrus, floral, sweet tobacco, earthy, pithy, great come-get-me aroma and really quenching. It reminds me of the Cascades I used for the Smoking Hops experiment. I only had a half but I want more now.

And the Schwarzbier (brewed at Marston's), which I’ve just finished. I now have a dirty plate and two empty glasses next to me. Where’s the service in this place? The beer was another good one. Really good actually. Chocolate, smoke, liquorice; good body, great looking. Nice one. Two good choices so far.

The next challenge: get to the bar, buy more beer, don’t get laptop stolen. Question: How does one do this...?

Answer: Safety first. Close laptop, slide into bag, go to bar, order more beer, return to seat, get laptop back out. It doesn’t get stolen (incidentally, I don’t have this trouble getting a new beer at home...).

I’ve got the New Zealand beer now – two international ones on for opening day, good stuff HumphreyGalbraith’s Mr G’s Luncheon Ale. It’s copper coloured, it tastes okay, it’s a little hoppy but a little middle of the road and forgettable – not bad, just not as good as the others.

I’m impressed with the festival line up and there are a couple of must haves – Thornbridge Pioneer, Toshi’s Amber Ale from Japan and Grumpy’s Pale Ale from Tomme Arthur from Port Brewing/Lost Abbey (brewed at Shepherd Neame) really stand out. Luckily, as I work and live so close to this place I can pop in every day to see what’s on. This means the next three weeks will mainly be spent nipping in and out of here. I think I can cope with that.

[Back to the bar...]

[Another Dambuster. And damn it’s good.]

I haven’t talked about Wetherspoons properly before in a blog. I really must. I have plenty of stuff to say about them. I guess by spending every day in one for the near future I’ll be flooded with inspirational words. At least the wifi works. And the beer is good tonight. And there aren’t too many chavs around.

It’s probably worth noting that writing ‘At least the wifi works’ was a kiss of death. I now have no internet you fickle fiend.

So yes, this post was finished and published back at the flat. So much for on-the-spot, in the thick of it ‘live action’ stuff - at least I wrote it all in the pub.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Beer Swap: Buy, Send, Receive, Drink, Write!!

Alright then. We’ve done all the calling for swappers and now we have the final list. Instead of randomly drawing names we split the list into North and South and then further into bloggers and tweeters. We then hand-paired everyone up based on where you are from, what you do (blog/tweet) and where you want to drink from and in most cases it’s interweaving, so you won’t be doing a straight swap with just one other person (there are a couple of exceptions). We are keeping the draw secret for now (because it’s more fun that way!) and won’t publish it whole, instead you will each get an email in the next day with the details of who you send to and their address (you won’t know who is sending to you until you get the beer or unless they contact you). It looks like everyone can use Collect Plus, so this looks like the best option (it’s £4 compared to four-times that with Royal Mail) – details will follow on the email from anyone who might not be familiar with their service.

One idea which has come up (thanks to Tania) is using a beerswap blog to collect everything together at the end and allow everyone to post what they got and what it was like. This is a good idea so if we can work out a good way of doing that then we will. Existing bloggers could just copy and paste from their blog or add a link across.

Here’s the list of Beer Swappers, twitter name followed by a link to their website:

markdredge - Visit website
chilliupnorth - Visit website
edwards80 - Visit website
steelrazor / HopZine - Visit website
RichardMackney - Visit website
reluctantscoop - Visit website
unclewilco - Visit website
BGRTRob / HopZine - Visit website
petebrissenden - Visit website
SeanEClark - Visit website
woolpackdave - Visit website
ToonBeerFest - Visit website
the_beer_bear - Visit website
kristym809 - Visit website
adamcroft - Visit website
mitcheladams / thatchersarms - Visit website
fletchthemonkey / realalereviews Visit website
Samlanes /realalereviews - Visit website
Alan Walsh realalereviews - Visit website

We’re delighted to have so many taking part and what better way to use social media than to swap a few beers around and then talk about them?! We’ve done our bit and now it’s over to you to buy and send and receive and drink. You all know the rules (if not then look here). You all know the 4th December deadline, which means it’ll be good to post your beer off in the next 2 weeks. In the meantime, keep twitter busy by using @beerswap and #beerswap so then we can all track the action. Hopefully you'll all enjoy some great beers in the next few weeks.

Any problems with any of the links then let me know and I'll fix them.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Drinking Around

You know what I want to do more of? Drinking around. I feel faithful to the few pubs which I regularly visit, but there’s so much more out there that I’m missing out on. After the visit to the new Thornbridge Brewery, Brad and I were faced with a mini-dilemma: where next? We had a few hours of drinking time left and Chesterfield station was our starting point. Sheffield was nearby, as was the Coach and Horses, or we could’ve gone to Derby or Leicester or even back to London for a few. As we were with the Reluctant Scooper we went to Derby and visited three incredible pubs and it made me crave going to new pubs.

I want to drink in Sheffield, Leeds and Norwich. I want to do a massive tour of Manchester, its breweries and the surrounding area. Huddersfield is calling me to The Grove. If BrewDog are opening a bar in Aberdeen then that’s calling, as is Glasgow or Edinburgh and I want to grab a few pints of Moor beer in Somerset. And this is just the UK based drinking, don't get me started on the other places…

The places I want to visit will serve me beers that I know about but they will also give me an opportunity to try new beers from breweries that I haven’t encountered before. And that’s important. While I’m happy drinking the beers from the breweries I know, I want to know about more breweries and the best way to do that is to get out there and drink the stuff. And this is one of the reasons that I wanted to get a beerswap going. But I need you to tell me, where should I go and what should I drink?

There are also the rumblings of a big blogger meet up early next year, so this might help us decide where is best to go!

Friday 23 October 2009

Beer Swap: Here It Comes!

We’ve already had some big news this week but this one could be even bigger: Beer Swap! We’ve had a couple of blog posts, there’s been lots of twittering, we’ve gained a hashtag and @beerswap, an email address and, most importantly, we’ve got a lot of interest, so much interest that we’re expanding beyond the blogosphere and into the tweetgalaxy. We’ve thought it all through and we’re ready to go (the only thing we can’t control is the bloody postal strike!).

The idea for this is to share beer. It’s about giving and receiving the best bottles which are local to you but which are not easy or possible to get further away. The aim is to drink some new beers and then to write about them, either in blogs or on twitter. It’s all about sharing.

And here are the important pieces you need to remember, one more time: Send four bottles of beers which are local to you. Local means within about 30 miles of where you live, if possible. They must come from at least two breweries. If you brew your own then you can send that, commercial or homebrew. They must be good beers – quality is more important than it being ‘the most local’. Don’t worry if someone in the same area as you wishes to send beer from the same brewery - it doesn’t matter because it’ll be going to a different recipient. Go for bottles which the recipient is unlikely to be able to get hold of in their area (just because you live near Badger’s doesn’t mean you should send one because they are in all the supermarkets). Please package them safely; no-one wants to open a box of broken glass and stale beer. And finally, when you receive the beer then say thank you and enjoy them and tell everyone else about them.

In order to pull it all together, this is the next step: email your name and the delivery address to Also, tell us your blog and twitter names if you use them. And, if there are any areas that you particularly want/don’t want to drink from, then add that too. If you wish to use Collect Plus to send/receive then indicate (check the website – but be warned that we send liquid/bottles at our own risk, and so on…). We are compiling the names and putting the draw together but we need to know exactly who is in. A lot of people have said yes, but we need a hard yes, a definite ‘I’m in for Beer Swap!’ And only come in if you can definitely do this – we don’t want someone to go without! The deadline is 6pm on Monday 26th October. We will then get details out of who you send to on Tuesday 27th October. Then we have four weeks and a few days to send/receive and drink.

One thing which has been looked into is postage. The strike could cause problems. Parcel Monkey and Collect Plus seem like decent alternatives and Andy and Mark from Real Ale Reviews had some success with Collect Plus (the deal with Collect Plus is that you post/pick-up from selected stores or centres and you can check where these are online – it’s £4 to post a box of beer).

We have also made a decision on the drawing of who sends to who as we have now opened out to everyone – bloggers will be paired with bloggers, tweeters with tweeters. This is important because we want to create interlinks on the blogs. I’m sure if some tweeters wish to write guest posts then there will be bloggers around who will oblige.

Use #beerswap and send tweets to @beerswap or @chilliupnorth and @markdredge. We have a posterous too so send pictures to the email/twitter and we will deal with that. But first of all, send us your name and address (and where you want/don’t want beers from and if you wish to use Collect Plus) to so we know who wants to play (and don’t worry, we’ll keep your addresses safe).

On Tuesday (hopefully!) you’ll find out who you send to, so get buying the beers!

As this is a collaboration with Andy at beerreviews he will be posting the same blog this morning. Have a good weekend everyone, drink well!

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Equity for Punks

That BrewDog thing. It’s been the beer event that we’ve been waiting for thanks to their viral marketing and social media campaign. Now we all know that it’s Equity for Punks there seems to be a lull as if it isn’t as significant or groundbreaking as perhaps everyone hoped. But come on, this is a big deal. And never ones to shy away and get on with things quietly, this is also a brave move: they are offering out their pup for anyone who wants a piece of it.

The financial guff involved in this deal literally means nothing to me; ask me to string together a sentence and I’ll do it, ask me to answer a mathematical puzzle and I fall into a swirling tomb of numbers and symbols. What I do know is this: if I give them £230 then I will ‘own’ a piece of BrewDog. I will also get 20% off any orders I make online and with each beer I buy I am financially supporting my investment. The amount of equity I’d get for my money, assuming I buy just one share, is 0.0009%. This isn’t really all that much, so do I want to own such a tiny amount of them? You know what, that’s not the point.

I think I’ll be echoing the sentiments of others when I say that I’d like to be a part of Equity for Punk just to be a part of the brand. I wouldn’t go into it expecting to make a handsome profit but I would go into it to support what they do. You see, I like James and Martin. And I like what they do, in and out of the brewery. They are young, they come across as shy in person (passion is a great thing to fight through shyness) and they are ultimately just trying to run their own business and make a living. Punk marketing, viral campaigns, controversy - it’s just part of what they do and an integral part of their brand. And what a brand they have developed in such a short period of time.

I guess the question that needs answering is will I buy equity? The answer is no, not right now (beer blogging doesn’t pay so well and £230 is a lot of money to me). The price might put a lot of people off, especially at the younger end of drinking where their brand affinity is closest, but that’s the amount they want for one share and one thing is for sure with BrewDog: they know what they want and they don’t want to compromise. If I had the money then I’m pretty sure that I would buy in, even if it’s only one share, and in the future then maybe I will. But like I said, it wouldn’t be for the financial investment. It would be for support, kind of like buying a football season ticket (of course, this sort of thing has been done with football clubs too).

I buy into the BrewDog ethos and mentality every time I purchase and drink their beers. I feel a kinship to the way they think, I like their beers, I like that their beers have become events, I like talking about their beers, I like drinking their beers, I like how non-beer people now know about BrewDog and I like what they are doing to the British brewing scene. Equity for Punks is a brave, balls-out move. So what if people think they have over-priced themselves, this is about more than just a number and a pound sign, this is about being a part of the most progressive brewery in the UK and following them with a more vested interest for now being involved. Love the beer, own part of the company, care a little more about what they do.

Monday 19 October 2009

Some NewDogs

You know me; I want to try each new BrewDog with such voracious thirst that I don’t think twice about ordering every time a new beer is released. I’m not ashamed by this and in actual fact I love that a brewery can build up the same sense of anticipation that a blockbuster movie or new CD from a favourite band can, and that’s cool. At the weekend I finally got my paws on the newest BrewDogs: bashah and Nanny State.

Bashah first, brewed in collaboration with Stone. The eyes vote first and they give a massive thumbs up for the awesome bottle label. In the glass the thumbs rise again: opaque brown-black with a lacing tan head. Then it’s the aroma of chocolate and spice, an earthy bitterness, fruity hops with hints of pineapple and candy sugar. It’s a nose that makes me do those olfactory summersaults, loving it more with each sniff, dipping my nose so close that it comes out with a drip of beer on the end. And then the taste: chocolate, roasty and spicy, earthy then into those fruity hops, teasing and intriguing instead of thump-you-in-the-head, then a cakey sweetness and more fruit and all the time that chocolate. And that fruit. What is that fruit? I love that fruit. The only thing I’d question is the style - a Black Belgian Double India Pale Ale – but I quite like it, it’s very… BrewDog and Stone. I’ll happily go all out and say that this is one of the best beers I’ve had this year. But then there’s Nanny State. If bashah fingered the style over substance button, this beer full-on fists it. And I’ll be honest: I was wary. I said in this post that I would’ve loved them to make a 1% beer with moderate bitterness that I could happily drink a few pints of and not fall over after. I understand why BrewDog made this beer, I like why they made it, but I don’t like what they actually made. Firstly, it tastes like How To Disappear Completely. I was impressed that they used a lot of hops the first time, the second time it’s like an inferior cover track. Secondly, it’s just too bitter to be drinkable and the whole point of a 1.1% beer is for it to be drinkable (unless it’s ‘point’ is to provoke…); I put this one down and felt hop-stoopid and soporific as if I’d just finished a 9% DIPA without the boozy warmth. Thirdly, it’s great that this beer is weak enough that it doesn’t qualify for booze tax, but why didn’t that pass on to me? I paid £2.49 a bottle, which is the same price as bashah. If it’s that expensive because of the number of hops used then it’s a waste of hops and I just wasted money on a publicity stunt.

Not everyone likes BrewDog, I understand that and they surely understand that too. Personally, I love them, but sometimes you have to tell the ones you love that you don’t like it when they call you ‘pudding’, or when they always put your things away in different places every bloody time they put them away. Bashah is one of the best beers they’ve made, in my opinion, and it proves just how good they are be at brewing (see also: Tokyo*, zeitgeist, Zephyr). Nanny State shows how Punk marketing isn’t enough to make a good beer and, after all, it has to taste nice above anything else.

Their latest hullabaloo kicks off tomorrow in London. I will commit my guesses to the page, just in case I’m right: they offer to sell ‘shares’ in the brewery so we can be part owners, or they open up their doors for license brewing so that beer from around the world can be made and distributed quicker and cheaper in the UK (hopefully the 'new dog' in town will be from Dogfish Head...). I will be there tomorrow, I can't wait.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Big Blogger Beer Swap: The Next Steps!

Awesome take up so far, reaching out to more than just beer bloggers and into brewers and pubs and non-blogging drinkers. This is good. Beer Swap is out there and I’m sure we can snare a few more in this week… Before we finalise the deal, here’s some more things to sort out between us.

1. The number of bottles? I’m going to say let’s do four. It’s probably better to go for a moderate number for a few reasons: cheaper postage, cheaper to buy the beers, quicker to drink them, shorter blog posts.

2. The type of beer you send is totally up to you, but I’d say make it the best local stuff you can find. Don’t just send any old crap because they brew down the road, get the good stuff. And try and go for a bit of variety, so send beer from at least two breweries. And if you brew your own then feel free to put that in too.

3. How the hell do we select who sends to who? This is the tricky thing logistically. I think the sensible starting point is to create as North/South divide and draw between them. I also think it’d be better if it’s all interlinked, so you don’t just send and receive with the same beer brother. I think randomly drawing names works, so maybe Andy (or here) and I could do a live draw over twitter.

4. Finishing dates. You need to send, receive, drink and blog by is the 4th December (blog it any time in the week before) and then we can do a little round-up for the 6th December. I think this works…

Anyone with any more ideas then throw them in. Anyone who hasn’t said so yet and wants in, then let me or Andy at Beer Reviews know. I will post next week about the next step, which will be drawing the names and sorting out who sends to who. Until then, buy the beer and use the #beerswap hashtag in twitter so we can keep track of everything!!

And a huge thank you to Barm/Robsterowski for the logo – it totally rocks! I’ve got another idea which needs a logo so I might drop you an email… I can only pay in beer though!

Friday 16 October 2009

Sainsbury's Beer Competition

I don’t buy many beers in the supermarket anymore. There are a few which I pick up whenever I see them, the others I get when I want a specific beer. The supermarket is now the place for me to get those everyday drinking beers, just like it’s the place where I get my everyday eating stuff. But how can I resist a beer competition, eh?

Part of me wanted to buy a bottle of each beer in Sainsbury’s competition, part of me didn’t. The part that did wanted to do so out of pure thirsty curiosity, for the tick and the scoop. The part that didn’t feared a line-up of average beers. In the end I didn’t buy them all. What I did do, of course, was stock up on BrewDog’s, happy to see 7% and 9% uber-hoppy beers on the supermarket shelf for a little as £1.29, significantly reduced if it’s 3 for 2 (I also saw it for £1.59 and on a 4 for 3).

Williams Bros did pretty well in the competition, getting four beers out there. It seems that every other blogger got sent free bottles to review. I didn’t. I paid for mine. To be honest, I found an underlying earthy smokiness (the water, perhaps) which wasn't quite to my taste and left me a little disappointed overall, which was a real shame. These are not bad beers at all, it’s just that I’d heard a lot about them recently and they didn’t live up to my expectation. The 80/- was a little unsatisfying but I’d definitely try the lager again though and I should've picked up an IPA (Midnight Sun is a cracker and I want to try some more of their historical beers). Williams are definitely a brewery to keep an eye on, I think.

I thought Wood’s Shropshire Lass, hopped with Fuggles and Cascades and dressed in a decidedly effeminate yellow and lilac outfit, was pretty good - fruity and very drinkable - and I’d like to try it on cask. I also had a couple of darker beers too. Wolf’s Woild Moild was decent enough and Allgates' Porteresque was roasty but I thought it was a little too thin and sharp, nice earthy bitterness though. For me, the best beer in the festival – by a long way - was Chaos Theory. It’s a fabulous beer and when it’s opened as fresh as a daisy it’s a real bitter-fruity bomb. I like it a lot.

I hope the competition was a success for Sainsbury’s and I hope that it made people buy and try new beers. I hope this opened a few minds to the different craft beers being brewed in the UK and I hope it will encourage them to drink differently. I hope that the BrewDog’s didn’t scare too many normal people and I hope that Chaos Theory gets a year long run. I hope that more supermarkets attempt a similar thing and I hope that in the future the Sainsbury’s beer competition will run and that the supermarkets will be able to put the bottles on the beer aisle, rather than with the barbeques or the tins of Christmas chocolates, which are almost impossible to find.

While we’re on supermarket beer, I found 77 lager, zeitgeist, Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale and Gonzo Imperial Porter in Tesco at last. I’m very happy to see all of these in the supermarket, especially if the Tesco also stocks Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, some Chimays and Orval. The Classic Pale Ale was one of the nicest bottles of everyday drinking beer I’ve had in a while and the Gonzo was really very good indeed (bold, smooth, chocolatey, rich, nibbling hops) – I just need to find a Tesco near me which sells them because they are ones to keep in the fridge.

I’ve written about supermarket beer before, here and here. Oh, and that image at the top is Brewdog's from the post I linked to above.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Lager of the British Isles

It’s British Lager Week, didn’t you know. On Tuesday I went to the White Horse on Parsons Green because Melissa Cole (see this post) was hosting a night on behalf of Lagers of the British Isles (LOBI – check out their mission statement on their website as it’s a good one). Basically, a number of chaps from a number of lager breweries spoke while we drank their beer.

The first was Hepworth’s Blonde which I’d had before from the bottle. I didn’t think much of this. The Freedom beers came next – Pilsner, Lager and Dark Lager. The Pilsner had a biting dry finish, the lager was sweeter than the Pilsner and/but less interesting and the Dark was brown bread and caramel (but not all that dark). Cotswold Brewing Company followed with their smart and simple bottle labels. 3.8 was clean and biscuity with a faint citrus finish, Premium (which uses Cascade hops!) had little aroma but more biscuits and a dry, hop finish which was really tasty.

Then things stepped up: Harviestoun’s Schiehallion, with its great fruity-floral bitterness and full, smooth body, is a really cracking beer. Staying in Scotland, next came WEST (beer menu here): St Mungo was berries, shortbread and a lovely dry finish which gets sweeter as you drink; the Munich Red was okay, but reds aren’t really for me; and their Dunkel, a dark, roasty, smokily dry beer was spot-on (it might also be worth saying that while drinking the WEST stuff I wrote: Is Scotland the best brewing country right now? Interesting thought, there’s probably a post in that idea…). Towards the end there was also some Cotswold Autumn lager (no link) with a stone fruit sweetness to it and a Cotswold Wheat Beer which was very drinkable, citrusy, fruity, 'wheaty'.

What was great to see was that all of these beers were also being sold on draft in the pub downstairs; I’ve never seen so many different lagers available in one place. There was also a few cask ales on which were very tempting, but after all that lager I was thirsty for more and went for another Schiehallion, which really is super (interestingly, I wonder how cask lagers fit into CAMRA’s ideas? I’d guess they don’t.).

I don’t drink much lager, as you might know from reading this blog (save for bathing in Mythos whenever I can), so it was really interesting to spend an evening drinking just that and it reignited something in me from my holiday to Greece in the summer, that ‘lager, it’s the little things…’ You see, it takes drinking a few in a row to really appreciate that it’s the tiny nuances that make the really big differences – the citrus hop in one, the fuller body in another, a sweeter aroma, a dryer finish. Lagers don’t punch you in the face with a bag of hops and they don’t fill your mouth like oily stout, so there isn’t that esoteric wow factor to them. But it’s all relative. Comparing a lager to a big IPA is like comparing chicken soup to chicken madras, but compare a tin of soup to a Michelin-starred chicken broth and hopefully you see my point. What lagers do have is the power to sate, the simplicity to gulp without thinking or a subtle complexity to make you think if you want to and just something about them which suggests belonging and friendship and drinking together with mates for the pure fun of drinking together with mates. It’s great to see that there are some really good lagers being brewed in the UK right now and good luck to LOBI.

Great to see Dave there and Oliver Thring too, the best food writer I know of. Oz Clarke was also there, thankfully I didn't see him burp-back tasting. Eww. And British Lager week runs from the 12th October to the 18th October.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

The Big Blogger Beer Swap!

…Because we haven’t got enough beer already!

This idea has been bouncing around for a few weeks now (thanks to the thirsts of Andy at Beer Reviews, nee Beer Blog, and Mark at Real Ale Reviews who inspired the initial discussion) and I thought I’d open it out to everyone… The Big Blogger Beer Swap!

Here’s the deal: I live down south and rarely get to drink local beers from other parts of the country, which is a terrible shame. If you live up north, or west, or east, wherever, then you might not have tried any of the beers which I can find any time I go to the supermarket or farmer’s market, so… why not just arrange a big swap, so that we can all try a few new beers!?

What do you think? Would you like to take part? If you are up for it then just let me know by commenting below, telling me the rough area that you are in, and I’ll sort it out. I think a box of 5-6 local beers (the best ones in your area, not just any old crap) would be perfect, just put them in there safely and send them to the other blogger, then receive your box sent from another blogger, drink and a few weeks later we can have a big, interweaving blog-up about it (plus the tweets in between, of course). Easy.

If you are in, then how should the swaps be chosen? Do you want it: secretly drawn (I’ll draw it, request addresses and then email the relevant details on), drawn at random (a lottery which I’ll record and post online and you can then contact the other person to arrange everything), drawn so the person you send to also sends back to you, or drawn with specific regional organisation (for example, I might fancy a box from the North East, so I’d choose someone from there; you might want a London/South East set, so you’d request someone down this way).

And let’s set some preliminary dates: Two weeks to organise the idea and get people together; two weeks to get the beers bought and sent; two weeks to drink them; a week to write and post and collate everything together. That leaves us around the first weekend in December, so a little pre-Christmas treat. How’s that for everyone?

Who’s in?!

I don’t know whether to open this out to include Ireland and Europe as the postage step-up would be a big increase. Any thoughts on that? I don’t want to exclude people... I guess if you’d be happy to ship outside of the UK, or happy to ship from from Europe in, then just say and we’ll see what we can do.

If, like
Dave and Stu, or any other brewer (home or commercial), you want to send some of your own beers, then go for it, that’s cool.

And if anyone would like to come up with a logo then that’d be good – it doesn’t have to be anything special, just a beer bottle with the title in there, or something, I don’t know… then we can try and make it a yearly thing? Hell, this could even just become a general beer-swapping forum, for bloggers and drinkers, one and all!

Any other ideas for this? Just email or comment...

Monday 12 October 2009

One Today

A year ago today I made the first entry on this blog (a post which doesn't make too much sense now - lots has changed from that; my other blog has been updated and is not about screenwriting, my other website no longer exists). 90,000-odd words and 161 posts later, here we are. A lot has happened in that year; I’ve drunk lots of new beers, learnt lots of new stuff, been to some cool beer-places, met some great new people and made lots of new friends. It’s been a great year for me. And a great year personally too - graduating from my master’s, starting a career, moving into a new flat and writing the first draft of a novel.

The thing with a blog is that it becomes a diary and it lasts for as long as I want it to be there. This means I can track what I was thinking and drinking and it makes for interesting reading, being able to look back and see changes. It took me a while to find my voice and my place but now I’m really pleased with what I’ve got here and I’ll raise my glass to you all tonight because without people reading my stuff then it wouldn’t be what it is now. Cheers!

And check out the blog tomorrow morning as I’ll be announcing a new idea which I hope you’ll be interested in and want to take part in…

I haven’t decided exactly what beers tonight to drink yet, but there will definitely be a Bracia in there as I’ve had some great times with Thornbridge and there’ll be some BrewDog too as I’ve had a lot of their beer this year and James asking me to write some food and beer pairing for them was a major boost for me; it gave me confidence to write more, better.

Friday 9 October 2009

One for the brewers (or the writers, musicians, businessmen, filmmakers)…

I know a few brewers read this from time to time and I’m wondering something (just my curiosity, nothing more)… There are books that I read or films which I watch and then think: damn, I wish I’d written this. But, are there any beers out there which make you think: damn, I wish this was my beer?

Maybe you’d want the commercial success of it, the critical success or just the personal success, knowing that you’ve brewed something which you completely love. I think there must be at least one beer out there which you jealously crave as your own, maybe the one which made you love beer in the first place… And this can extend to home brewers too. Or, which do you wish you could recreate? And why not open it to everyone: which brewery do you wish was yours? Who is making the beer (or doing the business/marketing) which is most closely aligned to the type of thing you want from a brewery? Hell, if there’s books/films/songs you wished you written, then tell me them too. I’m in a spritely and curious mood this morning fueled by waking up early to write.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Stella, an All Time Low

All Time Low are my favourite band. Not many days or weeks pass when I don’t listen to their albums. The ‘There’s a story at the bottom of this bottle…’ line on my blogger profile is from one of their songs, Dear Maria, Count Me In. I saw the band play on Monday in London and they were awesome.

They released their third album, Nothing Personal, a few months ago and one song immediately caught my eye: Stella. It wasn’t until I’d listened to it a few times that I started to work out the lyrics. Here are the words (or go to the bottom of the post and play the first video to sing along - there's a few of my favourite songs are at the bottom too, just because):

3pm on my feet and staggering
Through misplaced words and a sinking feeling
I got carried away
Sick, Sick of sleeping on the floor
Another night another score
I'm jaded, bottles breaking

You're only happy when I'm wasted
I point my finger but I just can't place it
Feels like I'm falling in love
When I'm falling to the bathroom floor
I remember how you tasted
I've had you so many times- let’s face it
Feels like I'm falling in love alone
Stella would you take me home?

2am I'm on a blackout binge again
You know I don't need sleep
And I lost my keys,
But I've got so many friends
And they keep, keep me coming back for more
Another night another score
I'm faded, bottles breaking


One more reason I should never have met you
Just another reason I could never forget you
Down we go, the rooms spinning outta control
Lose yourself in a chemical moment
The night life's taking its toll
That's just the way it goes
Come on, Stella would you take me home?

Yes, a song about beer from my favourite band. And yes, I did have a pint of Stella at the gig. The music was great, the beer was terrible, but you can hardly expect a nice handpulled pint of real ale at a punk-pop concert, especially when half the people in there aren't even old enough to drink, can you? It's a shame, a Punk IPA would've been perfect.

Anyway, does anyone know of any other songs about beer or named after beer? Or, like BrewDog’s How To Disappear Completely, are there many beers named after songs? There must be quite a few out there...

The Remembering Sunday video is by sadisticxemoxwhore and it's really cool.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

In Search of a Local

I’ve never really had anywhere that I’d call my local; somewhere close that I’d want to drink in regularly, whether it's just a quick pint after work or a long session after work. At university there were a few places spread over the three years but nothing that I’d qualify as ‘my local’. Now that I’m living in a new town I saw the opportunity to find somewhere new to drink, so on Friday I went out looking for one.

I don't want or expect much from a local other than a decent pint and a good atmosphere (if I want more then I can travel and get more), but I had a criteria to judge the pubs against. Location: How far away is it? What’s near it? What do I pass on the way there and back? For example, if it’s near the supermarket then it possibly allows me a sneaky pint because ‘there were, like, really long queues in the shop’. Beer, Range/Quality/Price: What beer do they have – cask, keg and bottle? How well is it kept? How much does it cost me for a round? Atmosphere: What it’s like inside? Quality of the landlord and locals. Decoration. The way it ‘feels’. Extras: Do they serve food and what’s the quality, range and price? Any entertainment, music, quizzes, bar games, TV, etc? Is there a garden?

Pub 1: George and Dragon.
Five-minutes walk, out of the town. Not near much and wouldn’t ever be ‘just passing’. Beer: Harvey’s Best Bitter and Bombardier on cask; Guinness, Strongbow, Bulmers, Kronenbourg, Fosters, etc, keg; Bud and Newcastle Brown in the fridge. My Harvey’s was fairly well kept, no complaints. A pint and a diet coke cost £3.85. Atmosphere: Large place, lots of tables; bit of a locals’ local, busy with salubrious old chaps; working man club feel to it; pretty bad service. Extras: Lots of TVs turned to Sky Sports, two pool tables (which we couldn’t get to work) and free dartboard. Didn’t see anyone eating. Overall: Not terrible, beer fine, ok for watching TV or playing darts. Lauren didn’t like it.

Pub 2: Punch & Judy.
Location: 12 minute walk from the flat, but close to the mainline train station. Have to walk the length of the high street to get there and back so pass a lot of things on the way, including supermarkets and takeaways. Beer: Harvey’s Best Bitter, Sharp’s Doom Bar and Flowers IPA on cask; Fosters, Carling, Kronenbourg, Strongbow, Guinness on keg; Bud and Newcastle Brown in the fridge. I had another Harvey’s which was better than the previous one. Pint and a coke cost £4.10. Atmosphere: Nice feel to the place, good mix of people, music playing, friendly bar man, cosy. Extras: bar billiards (which swallowed my pound so I had to get the barman to refund it), regular live music, cool jukebox. Overall: Really nice little pub, friendly and welcoming, fun, good range of beer. I was given an old £5 note though, which was annoying. Lauren liked this one.

Pub 3: The Humphrey Bean - Wetherspoons.
Location: Five-minute walk down the high street, two-minutes from work, right in the centre of everything and I pass it almost every day. Beer: Six cask beers on, I think – Hobgoblin, Bank’s and Taylor Dragon Slayer, Leveller, Ruddles, Abbot and Pedigree; usual bottles, fairly cider-heavy; usual keg stuff including Tuborg, etc. My Hobgoblin was no good, but then I haven’t enjoyed it since they dropped the ABV from 5.2%. Lauren’s diet coke was also pretty crappy. It cost £3.50 (they wouldn’t accept the bum old fiver either…!). Atmosphere: As usual, not too busy for 8pm on Friday night. There were bouncers on the door, which is never a particularly good sign. Amusingly, we did see two laddish oiks dressed exactly the same, walk into the pub. That made us laugh; they looked like right twats. It’s a big ‘Spoons though, lots of seating for food, a huge garden out the back. Extras: Lots of food, cheap deals, quiz machines, free wifi, free condiments (I don’t want to pay for mustard when they give them away!). Overall: Not great. Bad beer this time. But I can’t help but be drawn back to it. I have had a couple of good pints in there and I’m now in the habit of ‘popping in just to see what’s on’. It’s not the best pub but not the worst.

Pub 4: The Man of Kent.
Location: The closest pub to me, less than a three-minute walk. I pass it on the way home from work (and on the way to work…). Beer: Harvey’s Best Bitter on both handpulls; Strongbow, Guinness, Fosters, etc, on keg; lots of alcopops in the fridge. The worst kept Harvey’s of the three. It cost £4.10 for ale and coke. Atmosphere: Ok, fairly busy, small pub but lots of seating and different areas. Didn’t feel especially comfortable, lacking atmosphere. Extras: Music, TV showing Sky Sports, not sure about food as we didn’t see anyone eating. Overall: Disappointing. Beer wasn’t good and Lauren’s coke wasn’t great (it seems there is disparity in how coke is kept, as well as the ale). They also looked at me as if I was trying to pay with soiled tissue for handing over the dodgy note (what?! I didn’t want to be carrying it around all night!); I didn’t feel welcome after that, as if idle local gossip was beginning. Neither of us liked it.

So my search for a local was disappointing and my earlier fear that Tonbridge is a beer wasteland was confirmed. Part of the problem is that I now compare every pub to The Bull and very few can ever come close. The Punch and Judy is a pub that I’d want to drink in regularly as it felt like the best place to hang out, but it’s the furthest away. The Wetherspoons looks like it’ll be the pub I drink in most often, although I can be door-to-door with The Rake in under an hour, so that’s always an option...!

After the little crawl I came home and opened two bottles of beer and enjoyed them more than the cask stuff I'd had out in the pubs, then I pawed through the beer collection and saw some cracking bottles in there, begging to be drunk. And then I realised something… if it's just about the beer then the best place to drink in Tonbridge is probably my flat. But as we all know, it isn't just the beer.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Why I write a beer blog

It’s not about beer. It’s about people; beer provides the context.

It’s for me to write and read and think every day. I write so that I can become a better writer, so that I can think about things in a different way, learn different perspectives and put my words to my experiences. That’s the challenge: it’s about describing the sensation of the senses; describing feelings and actions that are so natural and casual that we don’t even know they are there.

I don’t just write tasting notes because I can read them on ratebeer or wherever. I want to write about other stuff because beer is more than just how it tastes. I want to drink more beer, better beer. I’m happy to drink shit beer too, why not.

I love reading other blogs. I read them all. I don’t always comment, but every morning and evening I read them.

I blog to drink. I drink to blog.

I don’t know everything about beer. I don't know that much. I know enough. I’m learning more every day.

It’s a personal thing. A kind-of diary.

I wax lyrical. I write in unbalanced ways, it doesn’t matter. I’m pretty emotive. Nearly always positive. Over-passionate, perhaps. So what? I come up with frivolous ideas, An As-Live FAB POW! anyone? I write first, think second: write with your heart, re-write with your head.

I write things so other people will think. I hope they will comment. Comments are where blogs come alive, that’s where the interesting things are said, the disagreement, differences in opinion, sideways conversations.

I try to be different. I can write in a different style with my beer stuff to everything else that I do; I can be informal, colloquial, hell I can even make up words and generally disregard rigid punctuation. I can swear, if I like. It’s liberating. Or I can sit down and try and be articulate and precise and thorough. I can write what I want and how I want. Freedom of speech, and all that.

I’m not a journalist. I don’t want to be a journalist. I seldom write about news because others do it better. I have no expectations from the blog. I don’t think I’ll make my fortune as a beer writer. But I do take this blog seriously. I won’t put up a post that I think is crap. Sometimes I’ll write a post and then it stays on my computer for months before it’s ready to go. I wrote a draft of this post ages ago. It feels like a good time to get it out.

I just want to write things which people read and enjoy.

Beer means a lot to me, sharing it with people means more; this blog is about sharing.

If you blog, then why?

Friday 2 October 2009

If beer didn’t make you drunk…

I was walking to the pub (FYI: check out that link to see what beers are on this week - that's a wicked line-up!) a while ago with Pete and his brother, David, and the discussion turned to this horribly obese chap who had a (mythically?!) super-efficient liver that enabled him to drink gallons of beer every night and not feel any effect (except, of course, that his 20+ pints contributed to his already-monstrous girth). This then turned to a musing along the lines of: would you like to be able to drink and drink and drink and never get drunk?

So that’s the question: would you enjoy beer as much as you do if it didn’t come with the drunkenness?

I’m not saying the falling around, slurring, loss of motor controls and all that, I’m more interested in the stages from the first beer, through relaxing, into the merriness. You know how it is, a few beers in, where you talk shit, laugh more, feel happier; that fug of warmth and belonging and relaxation. And this isn’t about getting drunk, per se, it’s more about that 'beer feeling’.

This can probably be separated into further questions: would you prefer drinking if you can go all night and never get pissed? Given a choice between never getting drunk no matter how much you throw down, or getting drunk after one beer, which would you prefer? How important to your enjoyment is the whole inebriation process? What do you think...