Monday 30 November 2009

I Write About Craft Beer

When I first watched the ‘I am a Craft Brewer’ video I felt an immense sense of pride. This video expressed so simply why I love beer and want to drink it and I felt that I was a small part of that magic. I watched the video again last week and was moved by the message once more. For me it’s a love letter and a thank you note in one; it’s thoughtful, emotional, meaningful and perfectly written, saying both ‘I love what I do’ and ‘thank you for loving what I do’. The follow up to this was an ‘I am a Home Brewer’ video, taking much of the same script but making it their own, in their garages and kitchens (this video couldn’t be a better symbol of itself and of how homebrew relates to craft beer). Watching these again inspired me...

I write about craft beer.

I love craft beer. I am passionate about craft beer.

I love writing about craft beer.

The market is dominated by large breweries who care more about how much they are selling and not what they are selling. I want this to change. I can be a part of helping this change.

Ask me why I don’t buy their beer and I will tell you. I will say it loud and proud that I support small brewers, that I support local brewers, that this beer was made by hand, lovingly crafted. Ask me why I don’t write about multi-national faceless breweries and I will tell you that I don’t drink their beer.

I care about craft beer. I am excited about what you’ll brew next. The choice of my next beer is so important. I can have anything I want and you give me that choice. You make it interesting, you make it exciting.

The internet is alive with passionate people wanting to tell others about their love of craft beer. We celebrate the innovation, independence, curiosity, collaboration and character of craft beers. We are a part of the beer family.

And as writers we are our own community. We support each other. I read what you write, you read what I write. I tell you when I think you’ve written something great and you tell me.

We do it alone, we do it with friends. We do it on blogs and websites, in papers and magazines, we use social media, we make videos, we talk about it; we do all that we can to tell others about craft beer so they can enjoy what we enjoy.

Some get up early, some go to sleep late. Most of us do it for nothing other than a sense of pride and a love of writing and great beer. I write about craft beer because I want to. I write about craft beer because it’s very important to me.

I write about craft beer because I can.

I’m not afraid to write what I think. I’m not afraid to promote, to enthuse or to challenge. I don’t care about the bad stuff, that doesn’t matter. It’s the good beer I care about and I want to tell others about it.

I am stylistically adventurous and categorically devoted to writing about great beer. I’m not afraid to be interesting and to write things that you won’t see anywhere else. I’m not afraid to be creative, innovative, different.

Tell me that I don’t write proper sentences, that this paragraph is too short, that some of these words aren’t real. I don’t care about that.

I write about craft beer and I can do that.

Beer is capturing the minds of the world and I am proud to be part of changing its reputation from lowly to elevated. I will illuminate the strengths of craft beer. I will stick true to my standards and my beliefs. I will educate those who seek to understand what the craft brewers have created.

Tell me I can’t be taken seriously because I write about beer.

Tell me that it’s stupid to associate eloquence to that liquid in my glass.

Tell me I’m wasting my time.

I am not wasting my time.

Together we can spread the message.

I am inspired by the beers I drink - by the beers you brew. I want to inspire with the words that I write. I want to educate others about great beer, tell them how it tastes, tell them why this is better than that, tell them why this beer is important.

I will drink good beer, lovingly made. I will tell others about it because I write about craft beer.

I write about craft beer.

So here’s a toast. To everyone who makes the beer so that we can write about it.

And to everyone who writes about it: cheers. We write about craft beer. Here’s to you. To us.

Sunday 29 November 2009

The Hop Press: Trashy Beer

My post is now up on the Rate Beer Hop Press. Last week it was about the best beer you've ever had or your favourite beer, this week it’s about your trashy beer. The one which you shouldn’t love but you just do. It’s probably one you grew up with, a beer which comes fully loaded with great memories. It’s important because beer is more than trying to find that perfect beer or the next great scoop or one of those famous, rare bottles. Beer is what we make it and sometimes a crappy, trashy beer can taste better than anything else in the world.

Here’s the full post.

And tell me, what’s your trashy beer? Mine... read the blog to find out. Although if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might be able to guess.

Friday 27 November 2009

All Lit Up

As so often happens, topics around the beer blogs prompt posts or replies from others. This week blogs were alight with talk of the smoking ban (which was enforced two and a half years ago). The Pub Curmudgeon started it in a great post which I find hard to disagree with. Tandleman blew the doors off judging by the number (over 100!) and voracity of the comments (it’s a fiery issue!). And Dave summed things up very well as a landlord and ex-smoker. It seems to be a big ol’ can of worms.

Personally, I don’t like smoking. I never particularly minded it in pubs because it was always just a part of it – people smoked in the pub, that was fact. I only cared when I was eating or if their smoke shrouded me. For me, Tim has summed it up perfectly: ‘If I farted in a room and wafted it in [a smoker’s] face they would be offended. If my fart was comprised of chemicals that are going to kill them they would be even more upset.’ I’ve been in pubs which have almost cleared because someone farted. It’s not very nice. And just because someone is smoking on the other side of the room, it doesn’t mean I will be unaffected: smoke just isn’t very nice. And it kills people.

Smoking added to the atmosphere in some places, that’s undeniable. It has also, as Curmudgeon’s post puts so well, taken people away from the pub. Will it be the death of the pub? Frankly, if pubs are closing because people can’t smoke in them then there are bigger societal and industry issues that need looking at. Will this start anti-booze lobbyists? Probably, but they won’t get anywhere fast (it’s not the booze that's the problem, it’s the people who drink it and how they drink it).

The smoking ban is clearly an issue to some very vocal people. If you want to smoke then fine, do it, it’s your choice. But how do you expect me to sit in the pub, swirling and sniffing my pint, trying to write detailed and eloquent tasting notes, when you are blowing that smelly smoke into the air. Come on, have some consideration.

In other news, I heard something about a beer made with 32 penguins. I bought one. I’ll reserve judgement until I try it.

And the picture is taken from Godard's A bout de souffle. Belmondo makes smoking look cool, but then most movie stars of the 60s and 70s did. Only the heinous bad guys smoke in movies now.

Thursday 26 November 2009


On Tuesday I went to a Champagne tasting. It was arranged for London Food and Drink Bloggers and held at Bibendum Wine. The email came in, I read it and immediately I was intrigued: four champagne houses; a non-vintage, a rosé and a vintage from each. Importantly the word ‘free’ was in there. We had champagne from De Castellane, Lanson, Moët et Chandon and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.

I arrived not knowing much, to the point that one of the first things I said was completely incorrect (for some reason I thought that Champagne went through an initial fermentation in oak before moving to the bottles?! I don’t know why). Thankfully Andrew (who I’ve drunk wine with before) was there to help me out (he’s also a Beer Swapper!).

I learnt a few things about Champagne that I thought were interesting (hopefully I will recount them accurately). It uses three grape varieties: Chardonnay (white grape which adds finesse), Pinot Noir (red grape which adds body and structure) and Pinot Meunier (red grape which adds fruitiness). It’s fermented in stainless steel like wine but then undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle when sugar and yeast is added (like real ale) – this is what gives the fizz (like real ale!). It’s initially bottled with a crown cap and racked with the cap facing down, it‘s then moved and twisted regularly so that the yeast collects by the cap. After a while (years) the cap is popped, the yeast is removed and a cork is fitted (sometimes an extra dosage of sugar/sweetness is added). Unlike wine or strong beer which will evolve, Champagne aims to keep a constant taste from when it’s bottled to when it’s opened (although some change is inevitable if kept for a long time - in terms of drinking time, the rule of thumb is that however long is spends on yeast in the bottle, it should be opened within that time again, so if it was on yeast for three years then it’s best drunk within three years). And did you know that Morrisons have slashed their Champagne prices and are now selling them for a loss? This was a sore point with the producers.

I don’t drink a lot of champagne as it’s one of those things you open for a special occasion (I’ve got too many special occasion beers as it is). As I don’t drink much, I don’t know much about the taste other than fizzy and dry, moving into yeasty and biscuity. What I found while drinking them was, like when drinking lager, it’s the little differences that really stand out.

Move past that initial hit of fizz and it reveals itself as light, elegant, crisp, fruity, sharp. It took me a while to readjust the taste buds, but I got there. Some were sweeter than others, some drier. Some had fresh apple sweetness and tang, others had a bitter lemon dryness to them. Some were bready, others less so. The size of the bubbles also became perceptible as we moved around, with the bigger ones feeling clunky and unrefined.

The Lanson rosé had a berry hint but between fizz and dryness it was a void, the Moët rosé was a taste of summer strawberries, the Veuve Clicquot rosé was sweeter and picnic-perfect. The non-vintages had a simplicity to them all with the Veuve Clicquot being my favourite with a nose that made me want to stick my head in the glass. Taste-wise it had more complexity to the others. more body because of a higher percentage of Pinot Noir, a zippy freshness to it. And the vintages, which ranged from 1998-2003. The 2002 Veuve Clicquot smelt like brie and sour apples, which I was reticent to say just in case shouting ‘mmm, it’s cheesy’ is a major faux pas, but it turns out this is normal. Interestingly, this opened out in the glass and after a minute or so it became bready and sweeter. Personally, I liked the 1998 Lanson Vintage the most. It was exactly what I wanted and expected from Champagne and had a great come-get-me nose of brioche, yeast and bread then an intriguing pithy bitterness at the end. That was the flavour I was hoping for, the extra complexity I wanted (maybe it was this ‘extra’ that made it stand out to me, preferring more to less, maybe it was a familiar bitter finish that caught my attention).

It’s great drinking wine with people who know and understand it and I learn a lot from them. Wine challenges me to begin but it’s very interesting to come from a beer perspective into a wine tasting like this and ultimately it’s just people tasting and drinking different glasses of booze. Strangely, it’s the similarities to beer which I always manage to pick out – an aroma, a taste, some sourness, that yeasty sweetness which I love in some Belgians. I guess the question is would I buy any of these? The Lanson vintage was £37 (overall the prices ranged from £25-£40+). That money would buy me a lot of great beer. I suppose it’d be nice to have a few bottles of fizz lying around though, just in case.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Stout Night

I’d been saving up bottles of stout for ages in the lead up to one big, black blow-out beer night. Two weekends ago I finally held Stout Night to coincide with my 25th birthday. I’ve had a couple of beer nights before, where we open lots of bottles, drink, talk about them and then, for the fun of the competition, we give them a score out of 10. It’s no science, it’s no geek-fest, it’s just good beer and friends. This time around our beer night was themed so that all the beers (except one, but it was as black as the rest so it’s okay) were stouts. The range went from 3% milk stout, through coffee stout, stouts with chilli, barrel-aged stout, stout with wild yeast and up to a very imperial 17.5% stout. Pete, Brad, Lee, Sean and Matt (he doesn't write or tweet, he just drinks the stuff) came to my house to drink it (Pete missed the first half as he was at Twickenham and then had to battle high winds and fallen trees on the train journey). This is what we had and how we scored them (the bracket score of the first eight is the average of the others added on to suggest Pete’s):

Almost a year old, great beer to start on, bitter chocolate finish was superb for ABV, suffered from over-carbonation, unfortunately. Classic British bottled stout. I got it from beermerchants.

Mark: 7
Matt: 7
Sean: 6
Lee: 6.5
Brad: 8
Total: 34.5 (41.5)

Smoky flavour to it but lacking something in the body and in the middle to make it more drinkable for us, less bitter than Dorothy.

Mark: 5.5
Matt: 6
Sean: 7
Lee: 6
Brad: 7
Total: 31.5 (37.5)

Lactic, smooth, sweet. It is what it is. When would we ever grab a can of this to just drink it?

Mark: 4.5
Matt: 3.5
Sean: 5
Lee: 4
Brad: 4
Total: 19 (23)

Big, burnt roasty nose, unexpected monster coffee flavour for ABV, earthy richness but a little thin in the body. If this was 6% with the same flavour then it could be brilliant. I think it’d make a great breakfast beer, if that’s your kind of thing.

Mark: 6.5
Matt: 6
Sean: 6.5
Lee: 6.5
Brad: 7.5
Total: 33 (39.5)

Probably the most recognisable beer in the world and the most famous stout. It had to be in the fridge. The flavour is classic and recognisable too. From the bottle it was thinner and fizzer than the keg. We had a long discussion about Guinness and how people feel about it. These scores are based on the bottle.

Mark: 5.5
Matt: 5.5
Sean: 6
Lee: 5
Brad: 4.5
Total: 26.5 (31.5)

Fun over. Things step up dramatically here. The highest rated UK beer on ratebeer. Interestingly, the beer was three years old to the very day when we had it (14/11/06). That’s pretty cool. It’s got an amazing nose of chocolate, nutty/oaky/coconut, then a rich, silky and oily body, roasty, raisins and berry sweetness, oak. Wow. I have another bottle of this and I’m so pleased about that, it’s incredible.

Mark: 9
Matt: 8.5
Sean: 8
Lee: 7.5
Brad: 9
Total: 42 (50)

Beer brewed with coffee and Belgian chocolate from beermerchants. This was a very memorable beer as a chorus, like a Mexican wave, passed around the room of ‘WOW’ when each of us smelt and then tasted this one. I expected it big, black and bitter. It wasn’t. Lee said it best: ‘Kind of like if Willy Wonka made beer.’ It’s got a candy sugar and cocoa nose, very sweet. And it tastes like this too - sweet, chocolatey, cocoa, not much coffee roastiness. It’s actually laugh-inducing in a good way and really fun to drink. I wouldn’t want much of it, but a glass was great.

Mark: 8
Matt: 8
Sean: 8.5
Lee: 8
Brad: 8.5
Total: 41 (49)

From the first ever batch. Not the 18.2% starred version. Thick, dark pour, full roasty nose, smoky with a sweetness in the flavour and roast bitter finish. Very good but not as awesome as the Big One.

Mark: 8.5
Matt: 7.5
Sean: 7.5
Lee: 9
Brad: 8.5
Total: 41 (49)

At this point Pete called to say he was nearby. To refresh ourselves we shared a bottle of BrewDog in a moment affectionately termed a 'Movember Mouthwash'. We didn’t rate it because it wasn’t black. It was also a bit disappointing but it’s for a good cause.

Big and rich, roasty, thick, great balance, great beer, enough said.

Mark: 8.5
Matt: 7.5
Sean: 7.5
Lee: 8
Brad: 8.5
Pete: 8
Total: 49

Only 200 bottles of this were made (bottle 124/200). Complete with a great label designed by Johanna Basford. It was aged in an Ex Dunmore Taylor Bowmore 1968 cask. I loved the nose to begin, plumy, smoky, islay, chocolatey but after a while the oxidisation seeped through like cloying tomatoes and vinegar (not undrinkable, just unusual). There’s a lot going on to taste - sourness, roasty, whisky barrel – but the oxidisation was fairly overpowering, unfortunately, and it wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

Mark: 7
Matt: 4.5
Sean: 3
Lee: 4.5
Brad: 6.5
Pete: 6
Total: 31.5

Following the sharpness in the BrewDog we opened a stout deliberately ‘infected’ with Brettanomyces. It’s full-bodied, roasty and rich like charred steak, then comes the sour, fruity yeast and it’s unique and wonderful with a strange yet very drinkable balance. I got this from Beers of Europe.

Mark: 8
Matt: 7
Sean: 7.5
Lee: 7.5
Brad: 8
Pete: 7.5
Total: 45.5

Smooth, chocolatey, delicious. Just a masterpiece of a beer and personally I think it deserved higher scores but it suffered for being too well made and not esoteric enough to sit between all the other extreme flavours.

Mark: 9
Matt: 8
Sean: 7.5
Lee: 8
Brad: 8.5
Pete: 8.5
Total: 49.5

No it’s not a stout, but it is black. I wanted to open this and share it as it’s one of the only bottles in the UK, as far as I know. I’m glad I did. Lots of fruity bitterness, big old c-hops, a lemon disinfectant wipe quality which isn’t a bad thing. The roasty-bitterness is not overpowering which is great as it allows the hops to really come through. This is a very cool beer, I just wish I could get more of it.

Mark: 8.5
Matt: 9
Sean: 9
Lee: 7.5
Brad: 9
Pete: 7.5
Total: 50.5

Italian imperial stout brewed with dried chilli peppers. It’s sweet and chocolatey, smooth and drinkable with (very) distant earthy pepper warmth at the back of the throat. Good beer, although I would’ve liked a tiny bit more heat. This is another that suffers from being too ‘nice’ and doesn’t punch you in the face with over-the-top flavour.

Mark: 8
Matt: 7
Sean: 6.5
Lee: 7
Brad: 7
Pete: 7
Total: 42.5

Bottle from beermerchants, imperial stout partly barrel-aged. This one does punch you in the face with over-the-top flavour. Nice bourbon oakiness, chocolate and a roast finish, smooth and very drinkable. A totally great stout. Brilliant. Beermerchants have Older Viscosity available now, that's very tempting...

Mark: 9
Matt: 9
Sean: 8.5
Lee: 8
Brad: 9
Pete: 9
Total: 52.5

Bitter – check. Chocolatey – check. Oatmeal – check. Lovely stuff. Their 12th anniversary beer.

Mark: 8.5
Matt: 8
Sean: 8
Lee: 8.5
Brad: 8.5
Pete: 8
Total: 49.5

The big finish. A 17.5% beer. Heady, boozy, thick, vinous, port-like, sweet, warming, bitter like dark chocolate, maybe slightly oaky/woody. Quite similar to BrewDog’s Tokyo* and totally fantastic. Another bottle which I got it from beermerchants and I want more. A lot more.

Mark: 9.5
Matt: 9.5
Sean: 9
Lee: 7.5
Brad: 9.5
Pete: 9
Total: 54

BrewDog played the encore. A crazy spectrum of flavours which I wrote about here. Roasty, berry-sharp, smoky, all a bit much but still quite enjoyable.

Mark: 7
Matt: 7
Sean: 7.5
Lee: 6
Brad: 7
Pete: 7
Total: 41.5

Stout Night finished. After this I walked Matt, Lee and Brad to the station and managed to lose Pete and Sean. Then I found them loitering and we had a dodgy kebab with some really hot chilli sauce. Then we came home and opened a Punk Monk and watched TV.

Beer nights like this are always interesting. Some of the beers deserved higher marks and probably would’ve got them if we hadn’t had so many different, varied, esoteric bottles to open. The scores that they get shouldn’t mean too much and looking back over them I just think, ‘wow, did I/they really give it that mark?!’, but that’s just how it works. I am almost certain that if we did the exact same line-up of beer and people in a few weeks time the scores would be different. But it’s not about that. It’s about sharing a lot of great beer with mates and talking about them and enjoying them.

The top three on the night were:
Mikkeller Black
Port Brewing’s Old Viscosity
BrewDog/Stone/Cambridge Juxtaposition

There were a cluster of beers scoring 48-50, which is also interesting, and any one of these could easily have scored higher on a different night. As for the top three, I’m not surprised Mikkeller won as it’s a great beer, but also, after all that 10% stout, to have something so much bigger really awakened us. The Old Viscosity is just great and the Juxtaposition was a blast of hoppiness which I think we were all craving, so this stood out. I think retrospectively my top three were: Mikkeller Black, Old Viscosity and Good King Henry, so not far off the overall. Now I need to start collecting stout again as my stock has been completely depleted.

Monday 23 November 2009

The 2 Kents Beer Festival

Question: What do you get if you take the Kent pub of the year, the Kent club of the year and add a shuttle bus and 60 casks of beer? That was the deal for the 2 Kents Real Ale Festival over the weekend (I posted the beer list here).

I started at The Bull. Lauren and I went up there and met Brad, Pete, Pete’s girlfriend Heather and Shaun. Unlike Pete and Shaun, who went straight for the 9-month aged Dark Star Imperial Stout (10.5%), I started low, requesting something pale and hoppy. I got Whim’s Arbour Light, a little 3.6% hoppy treat. I threw this one down as a stomach liner before following Beer Festival Rule Number 1: If it’s on and you want it, drink it. There have been too many times where I’ve seen a beer and thought, ‘yes, I have to drink that but I’ll get it next’ only to see it finished before I get there. So, my second beer was Moor’s JJJ IPA (9%). I loved the bottle and the cask was great too; big, earthy, full-bodied, bitter. It tasted much more barley wine-like in the cask compared to the bottle, which made it great by the half, but not really one to order by the pint.

Then came a succession of Tryst’s, another one of those Scottish brewery worth shouting about (there are a lot of them now and I stand by my claim that Scotland is one of the best brewing places around right now). Blathan (4%) was pale, hoppy (most things were pale and hoppy...) with a great floral and citrus nose, just delicious, follwed with Corronade IPA (4.2%) a zippy-citrusy US IPA. Then the Brockville Pale (3.8%), hoppy, fresh, clean; a great session beer. And Raj IPA (5.5%) which immediately reminded me of White Shield with a sweet bready nose and lots of earthy hops. Very nice. There was also a cask of Brewer’s Swansong (6.9%) but (and this is morbidly ironic, I know) it hadn’t dropped so wasn’t ready. This beer has a good story behind it so I hope to try some. Before we jumped on the bus to Dartford Working Mens Club there was time for another quick half, this time it was Moor’s Revival (3.8%). My notes simply say: ‘Pale, hoppy, tick.’

In Dartford I started on Marble Brew No.1 (4.1%). Marble Pint (3.9%) with a little extra oomph. Another pale and hoppy but better than all the others. Fruity, clean, deliciously bitter, luminescent in the glass. I tried it alongside Pint and that was on brilliant form too. Then came Brewdog zeitgeist (4.9%), one of my favourite cask ‘Dogs, which wasn’t as good as I’ve had it before but still a great beer. Brad had a Pictish Samhain Stout (5%) which everyone agreed to be spectacular - chocolatey, full bodied, roasty, as perfect a British stout as you’ll find. Then a Marble Ginger (4.5%), which may have fully converted me to ginger beers.

I tried the 2 Kents (5%) beer which the two landlords brewed at the pilot brewery of Shepherd Neame. Hopped with Amarillo and Cascade it was a really nice brew. I like that Sheps are brewing these little side-project micros, it’s a good thing, and having tasted this one, Dambuster and Grumpy’s Pale Ale, the beers are pretty good too. There was some Oakham Attila (7.5%) which reminded me of a cross between a US pale ale and barley wine, pale but full and malty and citrus hoppy. I had some of Pete’s Paradox Isle of Arran (10%) which seemed to have much more body and punch than the bottle. Then my final beer in Dartford, York’s Centurion’s Ghost (5.2%), another Great British stout, flavour throughout (how many stout have I had that just fall flat and thin in the middle?), sweet candy nose, chocolate, smoke, bitter roast.

I also had two hog roast rolls which were completely delicious and utterly essential at that stage of the drinking.

Then back to The Bull. There was some Dark Star Imperial Stout which was just too much for me, too big, too bitter and too boozy for that stage in the drinking and there was some Punk IPA which was kicking ass. And then it was time to go. The Bull pulled it off again. Great beer, great place, great people, great time. It was good to try some different beers from different breweries; breweries I wish I could get more often. Tryst are definitely one I’ll be looking out for, along with Whim and of course Marble.

The landlords at these two places really know their stuff and the beers selected were seriously good. Rarely have I been somewhere where all the beers were of this quality. Great British beer is great.

I've just remembered a couple of others but instead of trying to thumb them in somewhere I'll add them at the end. There was an unremarkable Dark Star Oktoberfest (5.2%) and a remarkably roasty but unchocolatey Chocolate Stout (4.7%) from Abbeydale. And no, I didn't drink all of these myself. Thankfully we were all happy enough to pass our glasses around, sharing the great beer.

Sunday 22 November 2009

The Hop Press: *That* Question

My first proper Rate Beer Hop Press post is now online. It’s about that question, the one which I’m sure we’ve all been asked many times before: What’s the best beer you’ve ever had? Or, what’s your favourite beer? Or, what beer would you take to a desert island? Or any variation on that.

The full piece is here. If you'd like to comment then I don’t mind whether you did it here or there. My Hop Press page is here.

Thursday 19 November 2009

The Bull and Dartford WMC: 2 Kent’s Dual Real Ale Festival

There are three different beer festivals coming up in the next three weeks. On the 26-27 November is the White Horse’s Old Ale festival, from the 1-5 December it’s the Pigs Ear in Hackney (I'll be going on the Friday - anyone around after BGBW dinner?) and this weekend, the 20-21 November, it’s the 2 Kent’s Dual Real Ale Festival held between The Bull, Horton Kirby and Dartford Working Men’s Club. The 2 Kent’s will be split between the two venues with 30 beers on at each place. There will be a shuttle bus running back and forth between the two, so you can (must!) visit both, and a great selection of food will be at each - hog roast at the WMC and the famous curries at The Bull. The beer list is below and it’s fantastic, I think, for two small pubs in Kent to get such a brilliant line up. Included in it are some rare cask treats, including a special beer brewed with the two landlords at Shepherd Neame (I’ve heard it’s a C-hop bomb). This beer list is taken straight from their facebook page.


Chocolate Stout (4.5%)

Blue Monkey
BG Sips (4.0%)
99 Red Baboons (4.2%)

Jamaican Ginger (6%)

Golden Bud (3.8%)
Impy Dark (4.3%)
Wasp Nest (5.0%)

5 AM Saint (5.0%)
The Physics (5.0%)
Punk IPA (6.0%)

Dark Star
Russian Imperial Stout (10.5%)

Kelham Island
Easy Rider (4.2%)

Revival (3.8%)
Merlin's Magic (4.3%)
Peat Porter (4.5%)
Triple JJJ IPA (9.0%)

Pale Gold (3.8%)
Silver Fox (4.1%)
Silver King (4.3%)

Yankee (4.3%)
Cream (4.7%)

Shepherd Neame
2 Kents (5.0%)

Brockville Pale (3.9%)
Blathan (4.0%)
Carronade (4.2%)
Raj I.P.A. (5.5%)

Arbour Light (3.6%)
Hartington Bitter (4.0%)
Hartington I.P.A. (4.5%)
Flower Power (5.3%)


Miss Germany (4.1%)

Trashy Blonde (4.1%)
Zeitgeist (4.9%)
77 Lager (4.9%)
Paradox (10.0%)

Dark Star
Hophead (3.8%)
American Pale Ale (4.7%)
Porter (5.0%)
Oktoberfest (5.2%)

Dizzy Danny Ale (3.9%)

Ginger Helmet (4.7%)

Pint (3.9%)
Brew No. 1 (4.1%)
Ginger (4.5%)

Autumn Leaves (4.3%)

Atilla (7.5%)

Light Ale (3.6%)
Big Red (4.0%)
Turning Leaf (4.5%)
Revolution IPA (4.8%)

Brewer's Gold (3.8%)
Samhain Stout (5.0%)

Bangtail (3.7%)
Special (3.9%)

Carouse (3.7%)
Cuckoo (4.1%)

Shepherd Neame
2 Kents Festival Ale (5.0%)

House Beer (4.0%)

Brighton Rocks (4.0%)

Centurion's Ghost (5.2%)

And... In addition to all that, they have a number of casks waiting in the wings at The Bull, including:


Speci-ale (5.8%)

Kelham Island
Riders On The Storm (4.5%)
Roll Away The Stone (5.0%)
Pale Rider (5.2%)
Rohrback Scotch Ale (5.5%)

Hoppiness (6.5%)
Slow Freddy Walker (7.3%)

Port Stout (4.7%)

There we go. Not bad, eh? I’ll be there on the Saturday. It’s very tempting to head up on the Friday too... Anyone else going? It takes just over 30 minutes out of London (the train to Dartford goes from London Bridge too, so if you are there to drink BrewDog at The Rake then come down after!). I know the beers I want to try across the two places, but which of these are unmissable?

Wednesday 18 November 2009

A Campaign for Great British Beer

Oliver Thring’s piece for The Guardian’s Word of Mouth has opened up the issue of lager and CAMRA. For me, it’s one of those annoyingly frustrating topics in beer that doesn’t look like going away and just gets more and more irritating, without the hope of resolution.

CAMRA (the clue is in the name) have built themselves around pushing and progressing real ale in Britain and beyond. They have a bad reputation but that’s an aesthetic thing which will take years to shift – it took years to grow it so asking it to change is a moot point. If it wasn’t for CAMRA then beer wouldn’t be where it is now. The trouble is, beer is moving on in the UK and the CAMRA-shackles are slowing it down because of their dominant name and standing in the industry. And this isn’t going to change. CAMRA won’t shift their key ideological stance and rightly so. LOBI are new into the debate (I've written about them before). They have nothing like the standing of CAMRA and I don’t ever expect them to. LOBI are lager, CAMRA are real ale and there’s a loggerhead in the middle which isn’t shifting to allow the two to work together. This is about the loggerhead.

I’ve had cask lager at CAMRA beer festivals and that’s not the issue; it’s the kegged version which crosses the line. Would I like to see keg beer at CAMRA beer festivals? I guess so. Why not? Tandleman (in a great post) points out that CAMRA don’t have a style or category for lagers, which leaves them in the ‘speciality’ section. I think calling it speciality is making it something ‘other’. I’d love to see a cask lager category added for judging and maybe this would encourage brewers, too. But, more lager needs to be brewed over a prolonged period of time before this will happen. As there isn’t the support for it, and it’s generally more expensive to brew, then will this happen?

It’s tempting to look at the US and their dispense system, which is more keg than cask. In terms of brewing they are the front-runners in the beer world right now (sure they don’t have the history, but their influence is undeniable). If more brewers are going to follow the US footsteps then maybe we will see more British beer made for the keg. Maybe this will then see more people generally (as in, the non-real ale crowd; as in, the masses) turned on to the delights of craft brews (the stigma of the handpump is a hard one to shift). I have no problem with keg beer and I’d like to see more of it. See: Meantime, Lovibonds, BrewDog.

CAMRA won’t change their essential belief and why should they. I don’t expect to see kegged, micro-brewed lagers at CAMRA festivals any time soon. I do expect to see more lagers but I also expect them to taste like pale or golden ales, which neither appeals to the lager market nor the real ale market (call it lager, make it taste like lager – I love Schiehallion because it tastes great but it doesn’t taste like lager as I know it). One question, though: LOBI represent lager but most (maybe all) of the brewers they support also brew ale, so do they promote the ale side of things, too? The debate just spins around and around.

For me, it is, and always will be, about Great British Beer. The yeast which ferments it doesn’t bother me. The dispense doesn’t bother me (pour it straight from a jug, I don’t care as long as it tastes good). A re-seeding to cask-condition doesn’t bother me. CO2 doesn’t bother me. The staling reputation of CAMRA does bother me, but as drinkers get younger I think it will change. GBBF shows how popular beer is, even if it is like a big theme park. As for lager and LOBI, Tandleman writes, “they must stand or fall by their own ability to penetrate a market which is likely to be indifferent to them. An inconvenient truth? Maybe, but the market will decide.” I completely agree. It’s hard not to. Craft lagers are going up against the huge brands and they won’t win. It’s logical for an organisation like LOBI to start with the real ale drinkers and work their way out from there – it’s a ready-formed market. Of course, the other side of this asks: will those out-spoken members of CAMRA, whose voices raise above all the others, accept lager? The institution may accept it; the (minority of) members may not.

I don’t like these constant ‘battles’ against CAMRA. I am a member but feel no reason to defend them unless they do wrong (if they banned cask lager then I’d have an issue, although it is still the Campaign for Real Ale...). They have downfalls but it’s those ‘downfalls’ which have elevated them, and British beer, to where it is now and we should all be thankful. From here British beer needs to grow. Anything that hopes to ‘challenge’ CAMRA or promote something similar has to start from the bottom and redress what has already been done. We’re a long way off that. This isn’t a CAMRA vs. Lager/LOBI debate and they have to work together, I just wish that there was a Campaign for Great British Beer - whatever it is and however it’s served - because I think the future of drinking in Britain is much bigger than just cask real ale.

I hope that the size of the debate on The Guardian will open some eyes to beer and give it a more prominent place. I like to think it deserves it. A lot of us drink it and a lot of us really care about it. Barm has also covered the story here, focusing on the CO2 side of things, in a good, to-the-point post.

Monday 16 November 2009

Rate Beer Hop Press

A while ago I was asked if I’d like to write for RateBeer. The idea is to get young beer writers who are not established in the mainstream to become the ‘professional’ face of RateBeer, adding unique content to their Hop Press. The hope is to make it the site for beer around the world. Seven different areas are represented by writers; six of these are in the US and one is International. I am the International man.

We each have a blog and we each have a day to post on. My day is Sunday and this is my blog. As an introduction, all of the writers have posted something today and then normal service will begin from there. This is my first post, titled My Beer and Me.

I’ve prepared some interesting blogs which will hopefully get more and different exposure to Pencil&Spoon. My blog is still my number one – it’s my baby! – but the Hop Press gives me a new space where I can try some different things. It’s basically Pencil&Spoon subbing as a ringer for another side once a week - it won’t change how I play here but it’ll give me a chance to play with others. The first post is up. The next one will be there on Sunday 22nd November. Check out the Hop Press as there are some great writers on there and hopefully it’ll become the best place on the web for varied and interesting beer content.

You may have seen me tweeting about having wordpress woes the last week or so. This is why.

Sunday 15 November 2009

Swapping Beer

The intention for Beer Swap was to share beer and talk about it with others using social media, bringing people in the beer community together. It was about giving someone else a taste of what you can easily get hold of. It started as a blogger project but through the power of the internet it quickly and excitingly developed into more. But something really interesting has developed since everyone received the names of who they are sending to: we are all searching for local beers, we are trying them, we are enjoying them and then proudly talking about what we have found. I think that’s great and it’s something that I didn’t expect. In my own search I wanted to incorporate where I lived previously and where I live now. The two are only about 20 miles apart but they open up a lot more breweries to choose from. Where I am now allows me to reach into Sussex, where I was before allows me north and east Kent. Maybe this is stretching the 30-mile rule, but I think it’s okay… I wanted to send some bottles from Gadds as I think they are the best brewery around here, but as beermerchants stock them and as they are/were 40 miles away I chose not to. I ended up buying all of the beers in shops that I can walk to and shops which I go or weekly. To be sure I was sending the best stuff, I took the bottles off the shelves and I tried them again (research purposes) and suddenly those bottles which I automatically walked past come alive and knocked me on the head for not drinking them regularly. How could I have just walked past these so often? Ignoring them, looking for something more exotic. Silly me for looking elsewhere.

I eventually settled on sending Hopdaemon’s Skrimshander, Whitstable Brewery’s Raspberry Wheat, Westerham’s Little Scotney Pale Ale and Harvey’s Star of Eastbourne. I won’t tell you what they are like, that’s up to Sam Lanes from Real Ale Reviews. I also put a little bottle of Biddenden cider in for him to try as a bonus extra. My box arrived up north a few days ago (although sadly Skrimshander didn’t survive the journey, oops – I’ll send a replacement or two). I know a box is on its way to me – I can’t wait to receive it and drink them! There are still a few weeks left to send, receive, drink and write. I think Beer Swap has been great fun and I love seeing all the #beerswap hashtags coming in (I keep it constantly on my tweetdeck). I’m surprised at how well it’s been taken up and I’m sure there’ll be another in a few months time. For now, what it’s done is show me just how willing we are to share what we have and how eager we are to try new things. It’s also shown that I must look at what’s made on my doorstep as it’s really quite good.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Lauren’s blog: What it’s like to go out with a beer geek

Oh dear, what have I done? Inspired by yesterday’s blog to/about my girlfriend Lauren, she has decided to write what it’s like from her side of things... This could also be subtitled: the view from the other half (or the other side of the table), as some of the pictures will confirm. And this is all her doing, too.

If you read Mark’s blog regularly you will know he has a long suffering girlfriend, I am that girlfriend and I thought I would give this blogging a go.

Mark is a beer geek and this has both pros and cons. Let me start with the pros, hmmmmm, yes the pros, actually let’s come back to that and let’s start with the cons.

I am most frustrated by the amount of Mark’s times he dedicates to his love of beer. He is either drinking, reading, buying or writing about beer, this leaves very little time for anything else, and most importantly no money for presents. When cleaning the flat I often come across bottle tops (Mark insists on hiding these on the top shelf where he thinks I won’t find them... wrong!) and empty bottles (he has taken to using these for flowers; I think this is to stop me throwing them out). Our wardrobe, commonly used for clothes, is used to store beer, and until recently a whole corner of the bedroom was taken up by a box of beer (it might be worth mentioning the 19 bottles I’ve just ordered from Brewdog... I’m eyeing up that corner again). The fridge is always full of beer which I am not allowed to lay down to make more room for my hummus and Coke Zero. I hate washing the odd shaped glasses and finding space for them in the cupboard (Mark is very precious about his glasses). I have been dragged along to beer festivals, often bribed with chocolate and biscuits and magazines. I am often the only female with her own teeth (I haven’t taken her to any good beer festivals, just the down-market smelly ones, so this is probably my fault!) and Mark always leaves me alone while he finds anther beer lover to talk to, and this seems to invite strange drunk men to sit next to me and strike up conversations about the odd band which have been deafening me. After a festival, beer night, pub, or evening in front of the tele with a few beers, I have been kept awake listening to Mark talking in his sleep when he has had one-too-many (yes, it’s quite odd, and he often laughs in his sleep when he has had more than 2 pints, weirdo). And I always know when he’s getting drunk because he doesn’t stop talking, yabbering on about everything and anything, usually beer-related.

And no, I don’t want to just try a sip. I don’t care how good you think it is, I don’t want to try it.

The pros of being with a beer geek are the sheer passion and enthusiasm which I find so infectious. I enjoy smelling the different beers, looking at the pretty labels and watching that smile on his face when he opens the special beer he has been waiting for all week. I enjoy listening while Mark tells me what people are saying on twitter, who is drinking what and where, and reading the lovely comments on his blog (I’m sure there are more pros than this... she gets to go on lovely day trips to different pubs... anything else...).

Sometimes I do wish Mark wrote about biscuits or cake because the tasting would be much more fun and I could share in his enthusiasm, but really I enjoy his passion, and I know it makes him happy. I think that my life would be quite dull without Mark’s interest in beer and the pros far outweigh the cons. I am so proud that this beer geek is all mine.

(During the writing of this blog I also discovered how annoying it is when you are trying to write whilst somebody talks to you. I will in future leave him to write in peace).

Lots of love from Lauren.

There we go. All I have done is a quick clean-up edit. I think this post is great and it made me smile. What do you think your other half would write if she had the chance? See if they’ll do it! And I’ll be reminding Lauren of this post on Saturday night when she comes home and sees six very drunk chaps and a lot of empty bottles of stout (plus general food carnage) spread around the flat.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

The Spoon to my Pencil?

Lauren often asks me when I’m going to write about her on here. “What do you want me to say?” I ask her. “Just tell them how I’m the best girlfriend in the world.” “You’re the best girlfriend I’ve got...” I tell her, “but it’s a beer blog and you don’t like beer.” “Oh.” She says.

To begin, she doesn’t actually drink beer. This is both good and bad. It’s good because she can be my driver. It’s bad because I’d love to share these bottles with her and have her get excited about them with me. I’ve tried hard to get her to like it but it’s not going to happen. Lauren does, however, have a great nose for smelling beer. And a great ear for listening about it. You see, whenever I am anywhere with a beer or whenever I’m doing things which I write about on here, Lauren is usually always there. She’s the one next to me in the pub reading her magazine (the bribe to keep her there so I can have a couple), the one opposite me at dinner while I talk to her about something beer-related, or how I wish they had something else on, or how next week I plan to open this bottle or that, or she’s sitting on the sofa while I sit behind at the table tapping into the laptop, “spending more time talking to people on twitter than talking to me”, posting blogs, or she’s in the driver’s seat while I give (always bad or wrong) directions to some distant “old man’s pub”, or she’s listening to me describing why this beer is good and that beer isn’t or how this one could be better or how I wish I could go here or there, or she’s putting beer glasses back into the cupboard or moving bottles around in the fridge because they take up more room than the food, or she sees me putting away my latest beer order and wonders when I’ll spend some money on her for once, or she’s answering questions as I playfully quiz her on my latest blog post (“You’re my favourite beer blogger,” she told me once, “but then I don’t read anyone else’s blog”), or she’s patiently waiting for me to post a blog, or read a blog, or send a tweet, or buy the bottles I’ve been staring at for ages which took us an hour out of our way to get, or she’s following to a pub (“honestly, it’s just around this corner” I say, hearing the feet drag) only to walk straight out because there’s nothing on, or she’s waiting to start eating her dinner while I take pictures of mine, or she’s planning her next few weekends around my drinking schedule, or she’s kicking me out of bed when my 5am alarm clock goes off so I can get up early to write or she’s woken up late when I steam back in at midnight (I’m sure she’ll tell me what I’ve forgotten, too).

And then there’s the times when she talks to me about beer, when she mentions hops or buys me some of my favourite bottles, when she says she likes something I’ve just written or she suggests going to London to go to some pubs or she says, “I bet that beer would be great with chocolate cake”, or when I catch her looking at my blog and reading the comments people leave, or when she smells a beer and picks out aromas I hadn’t, or when she clears away all my empties and tells me that she likes this label or doesn’t remember me drinking that bottle, “what was it like?”, or when she genuinely takes an interest in what’s in my glass.

I’m quite lucky, I think.

I write this blog but there’s always someone else there, someone who probably should hate beer but tolerates it and listens and actually knows a lot about it because she cares about what I care about. I guess she’s the real Spoon to my Pencil.

Sorry if this is gushy and sentimental but that should keep her sweet while we go for a huge steak dinner at the Hawksmoor on Friday (she doesn’t eat meat) and then drink around Borough, followed by a massive and potentially messy beer night at ours on Saturday, followed by more beer on Sunday and Monday (she will also hopefully be cooking me dinner on Monday). Plus next weekend at The Bull’s huge beer festival, the weekend after at The White Horse’s Old Ale Festival, then the British Guild of Beer Writers Dinner (which she isn’t coming to) followed by the Pig’s Ear beer festival the next day and then the next weekend on a London pub crawl.

Monday 9 November 2009

C-Hops and Change-Ups

Some posts I write and they get sucked up into the backlog and don’t get around to being posted. Or, like this one, when they are posted they have aged horribly. Luckily, only the background colours of this piece are dated, the full-frontal beers are still in bright colour and relevant. So rather than me re-writing this, just focus on the good stuff, the US beer stuff. Mmm. Nothing like that first beer refreshment, especially when it’s a 9.8% hoppy, old ale opened at 1.30am after a couple of hours of pre-World Series nap. Last season I drank a different beer with each game of the World Series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5a, 5b) but, as it wasn’t planned further ahead than the first game, the beer choice wasn’t all that spectacular (there was a Bud and a Root Beer as part of the selection!). I vowed to drink better during the next World Series. That time has come and I do have better beer, it’s just that I don’t really feel that thirsty at 1am, plus something stops me opening them just for the sake of being able to write a blog post about them. But I’m drinking now (or was when I wrote this) – I’ve got a Founder’s Old Curmudgeon Ale while I watch the fifth game of the Fall Classic. Old Curmudgeon (from beermerchants) is red/amber with a heady and fruity nose of cherry, bread and old orangey c-hops. It’s malty, full bodied and smooth, it’s fruity, there’s toasty grain and caramel and then into a dry, bitter, woody finish which rolls into a vanilla oakiness further down the glass. The one thing I love about the Founders beers are their labels – they are great to look at – but the double edge to this is that I have no idea about style or ingredients from it (I like my bottles to come with a style – although the Old on this one is a hint – and a geeky list of the hops used). The Founders website describes Old Curmudgeon as an ‘old ale brewed with molasses... then aged in oak.’ It’s not the most refreshing first beer of the day, but then it is approaching 2am by now (or it was...). I also opened a beer with Game 2 - a Southern Tier Iniquity Black Ale (also from beermerchants - this is a recurring theme...). At 9% it’s black-red, smooth with a great hoppy aroma – oranges and dry, spicy pine – and filled with a caramel and chocolate malt base. The hops live mainly in the nose and flavour and aren’t tongue-smacking-bitter, which is a good thing - it’s one of the first hoppy dark beers which I’ve really enjoyed (I don’t ‘get’ the citrus-floral bitterness and roasty-bitter dark malt combination). While we’re on US beers (...writing to keep the zzzs away...), I’ve had the Founders Double Trouble (from beermerchants) a couple of times and that’s a wicked IPA with cakey malt and a bitterness which clings and claws through grapefruit, orange pith, tropical fruit and a floral flourish. It’s 9.4% and 86 IBU and just my kind of thing – I’d love to get it super fresh from the brewery. Then the Mikkeller/Three Floyds Oatgoop (from beermerchants), a deliciously drinkable hoppy oat wine with a whole spectrum of malt flavours and a big punch of those deliciously more-ish US hops at the end. There was a Lost Abbey Devotion (from beermerchants), a Belgian-style blonde, orange-gold, zesty and peppery, light and drinkable, fruity – I don’t love blondes as a style but this one I liked a lot. Finally, an Alesmith Yulesmith (from beermerchants) with its caramel sweetness to begin, falling deep into fragrant and floral, then piney and punchy c-hop bitterness which hangs around for ages (it was good but not as awesome as the AleSmith IPA I had with the first game of baseball this year). The baseball finished last Wednesday night and the bloody Yankees won the World Series. I haven’t watched enough games this year, which is a shame. If nothing else it’s a good excuse to open some new beers and drink them at a stupid time of day, if you are thirsty. And as you can probably tell, I’ve spent quite a lot of money at beermerchants recently and there are more in the cupboard which I haven’t opened yet – their selection of US beers is broader and more interesting than all the other online beer-sellers and I like them for that. Also, the odd tense-thing going on in this post is, I know, a little confusing. I guess you can expect that with something initially written at 1.30am and then edited at 5.30am a few days later and then edited again (and finally posted) a few more days later at 8pm. I've been getting into some strange writing habits...