Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Marble Brewery: The One for 2010

My beer of the year was Marble Pint. It was totally deserving – it’s clean, hoppy, pale, so fruity and drinkable and rammed with flavour; a marvel at 3.9%. In a year where I’ve been chasing big, brutal and hoppy, this just side-stepped in and took all the glory from beers of much bigger fame, and it was also able to change my mind about ‘boring pale ales’. In truth, I would’ve happily drunk pints of Pint every single day. It’s a quality British beer, made to be drunk in the pub, brewed by a great brewery.

And it’s not just Pint that deserves praise. Earlier today I had a couple of pints of Manchester Bitter, a 4.2% pale bitter, fruity hops, delicious body, bitter but not too-bitter, juicy, gluggable. The word ‘Bitter’ has come to stand as a negative thing. It’s one of those old-style English beers, murky brown in colour, autumn fruit flavour, dry hoppy finish... It’s a classic style but one which, in its frequent incarnation, drags English beer back a peg or two from where it deserves to be. Manchester Bitter raises the bar on what a Bitter is. I just hope others follow it.

Beyond these there’s Dobber; Marble Pint plus a bit more - big bitterness, loads of fruity hops, so clean and fantastic. There’s Ginger, a fruity-spicy ale rich with the fresh ginger and tongue-tinglingly good. Chocolate Marble is a quality, full-flavoured stout. Then there’s Decadence and Special, two 750ml champagne-corked and wax-sealed bottles; one imperial stout, one barley wine.

BrewDog were my Brewery of the Year for 2009. More than anyone else they’ve kicked the arse of British beer and pushed it forward. For the quality of the beer, BrewDog also stand up to their media hype, and that’s very important. Part of why they are my brewery of the year is their social media presence, which cannot be denied or overlooked – they use and exploit it to their benefit better than anyone else (but the beer still stands up to it). If I were to stick my neck out then I’d say that Marble are the British brewery to look out for in 2010. They won’t be as loud and obnoxious as BrewDog but they will make a lot of incredible beer. I know for sure that I’ll be watching them and trying to drink their beers as often as possible. I hope that a new brewery will mean more beer and more availability. I also hope they bottle some more of their specials. Remember Marble. Drink them as often as you can. Taste just how good British beer can be in 2010.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Hop Press: I rate beer

I’ve come to a decision and committed it to my latest Hop Press post... I’m going to start rating beer. For a year I will ‘rate’ and enter the score into Rate Beer for each unique beer I drink. I started on Christmas Eve (I was going to start on 1st January as that’s the most logical starting point but I’ve had too many great beers over Christmas that I didn’t want to miss out) and will continue until the end of 2010.

I have my reasons: I want to be able to look back at what I’ve drunk come the end of 2010; I want to understand the rating process and how easy/difficult it is and the pros and cons of doing it; I want to see if I become obsessed with raising my total or if I get disillusioned and disinterested in doing it after a while.

I haven’t entered any rates yet but I’ll start soon – I have a few ready to go in. The Hop Press post also asks: if you rate, then why do you do it?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone, lots of love and festive cheer and all that. May the next few days be spent with friends and family and be filled with good food, good drink, happiness and lots of presents.

I finish work at 12pm on Christmas Eve and intend to pretty much stay drunk from then until January 4th when I go back to work again. I’ve got some great beers ready to open and share and I can’t wait.

If you are stuck for presents then what about a share in BrewDog? It seems they need people to buy a few more... They want £2.3million from Equity for Punks but the deal was always that they needed to raise £500,000 in shares by January 8th 2010 for any of the investments to be valid. They’ve now revealed that they are still £175,000 short of that target. Essentially this means they have so far sold about 1400 shares and need to sell another 760 in the next two weeks or they have to hand back the £325,000 with their tail between their legs. I wasn’t going to mention it but then got a great email from a British brewer (not one from BrewDog!) and here’s part of what it said:

…Now, I don't know them, or want a job with them (it's fucking freezing in Scotland ALL YEAR ROUND) but as a young (!) brewer, I recognise their importance to craft brewing in this country. Let's not forget that Dickie was at Thornbridge when Jaipur and St Petersburg came out, giving the microbrewers a right kick up the arse at the time I was just starting my brewing career. What about Hardcore IPA, and its ability to hold its own against the big DIPAs of the US? And do you not get butterflies in your tummy when they release a new beer (and not just when it’s the strongest beer ever)?

Imagine craft beer for the masses (which a big new brewery will achieve), AND the Abstrakt range for us beer geeks!! I know the business investment side is flawed, and I know your thoughts on the whole thing. But dare you not dream? ...I'm desperately worried they won't do it, and I really, really want them to.

This investment is as much about buying into a mentality as it is a financial one. I think they spiked their own drink with the Tokyo* thing and that was a bad move, but they know that now. BrewDog are at the exciting forefront of current British brewing. Love or hate them they make people talk and more people know about beer because of them (and British craft beer is getting seen and heard further away). Luckily for them their beers stand up to all of this attention and taste great. They are young, they are determined, they are passionate and they are doing great things for beer in the UK. If you can afford it and you want to be a part of the future of quality beer in the UK, then go on, treat yourself to a Christmas present and buy a share in BrewDog. Wooly Dave has written a great piece on this too and Brewdog have posted a Call to Arms. I really want BrewDog to succeed in all of this.

In other news, I’ve now booked my flight to the US. I’m going to San Francisco on 4th February for Beer Week (flying back 11th). I’m not bothering with the Extreme Beer Festival now and will focus on SFBW, ripping IPAs and monster steaks. Brilliant. My trip also coincides perfectly with the release of Pliny the Younger and I’ll be at the Double IPA Fest where it debuts outside of the brewery bar. If anyone wants to come then get your flights and I’ll see you there! My next job is to make a list of all the places I need to go and all the beers I need to drink. Could take a while...

Before I go, there’s still time to give your votes for the Beer Awards of the Year and if anyone is interested in the Sheffield Tweet-Up on January 23rd 2010 then just say – everyone is welcome. Oh, and if you haven’t seen them then you really must watch the Elf’d Blogger videos (1 and 2) created by Tandleman – brilliant!

Merry Christmas!

And the picture is from here.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Brewed a Stone's Throw Away?

Stone to open a Brewery in Europe? from stonebrew on Vimeo.

Something potentially exciting to think about before Christmas: Stone are entertaining the idea of opening a brewery in Europe. It’s just an idea now and they are looking into it, searching for locations, seeing if it’s financially viable, seeking an RFP (Request for Proposal). See the video above for more details or their blog post is here.

I think they should come to London. We need more beer brewed in the capital (even if it is American!) and we need a cool American-style beer bar attached to the brewery that sells great craft beer. A few brew sites have closed in recent years so it’d be interesting to see what’s going on with them now – Stag, Youngs, Bunker, or there’s room for development somewhere, I’m sure - Meantime, for example, are moving/growing into a bigger site soon. Here's a list of London breweries, past and present. The other reason I’d vote for London is that I’d quite like a job there and I can happily commute from Tonbridge.

I also suggest Holland or Scandinavia as the beer culture there would surely be welcoming of a brewery like Stone. Or, they could pitch up in between a couple of monasteries in Belgium and freak out some Monk’s with their big Bastard beers.

I think this is a cool bit of news. I’ve long liked the idea of beers being contract brewed in the UK so that they are fresher or more locally produced, but this is an even better, bigger step. Perhaps a coalition of the bigger US craft brewers could be formed to set up in the brewery – Stone, Dogfish Head, etc, spreading the cost more, or just allowing different contract brews and import/export. Who knows. In their own words, they don’t know where it’s going to go but they’re gonna find out. I’m excited to see the developments.

Any thoughts on where would genuinely be a good place for the brewery to go? Do you think this could be a good business move? Would you rather drink Stone brewed in Europe than US, assuming they taste exactly the same, or is there something essentially lost between brewing in San Diego and Europe?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Beer Blogger Awards 2009: My Winners

Personally, I’ve had a good 2009. I graduated from a Masters degree, I started a career, I moved in with my girlfriend, I wrote the first draft of a novel (and another 35,000 words of a second), I became an uncle and the BGBW award topped it all off. Beer-wise it's been a great year too. Lots of new beers tasted, new favourites found, new friends to drink them with and lots of great memories. But... it's time to announce my winners for 2009. It’s been really hard to select most of these, hence why I’ve gone for some honourable mention choices too. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then most of the winners will be familiar names – I like to talk about the beers I enjoy the most. I did a semi-similar thing last year and my choices are quite different and I’m sure that this time next year they will be very different again.

Feel free to take these categories and the logo (designed, like Beer Swap, by Robsterowski from I Might Have a Glass of Beer – cheers!!) and paste them into your own blog, alternatively you can email me your winners and I’ll post them on here or you can comment yours below.

Here are my winners for 2009:

Best UK Draught Beer: Marble Pint (Thornbridge Jaipur is a very close second)
Best UK Bottled Beer: BrewDog Tokyo* (Thornbridge Bracia and Zephyr are close behind)
Best Overseas Draught Beer: Too many choices... Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Captain Lawrence Reserve, Bear Republic’s Racer 5, De Molen Amarillo... Ultimately, Racer 5 reminds me of a good couple of days in London and I won’t forget it in a hurry
Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Pliny the Elder (a few Mikkellers are up there)
Best Overall Beer: Marble Pint
Best UK Brewery: BrewDog for being constantly interesting, pushing and progressing British beer and making people talk about beer (Thornbridge, Marble and Gadds need mentioning and with all moving to bigger breweries it’ll be interesting to see how 2010 fares for them)
Best Overseas Brewery: Mikkeller
Best Bottle Label/Pump Clip: BrewDog’s Atlantic IPA (shame the beer isn’t as nice as the label!)
Pub/Bar of the Year: The Bull, Horton Kirby (The Rake is runner-up)
Beer Festival of the Year: GBBF (Planet Thanet is second – love that festival)
Supermarket of the Year: Sainsburys (Tesco almost got it for introducing Gonzo Imperial Porter, 77 and zeitgeist but they took away Orval in the process...)
Independent Retailer of the Year: Utobeer
Online Retailer of the Year: Beermerchants
Best Beer Book: Pete Brown’s Hops & Glory
Best Beer Blog: Reluctant Scooper
Best Beer Twitterer: @reluctantscoop
Best Online Interactive Brewery: BrewDog (for their ability to go viral – no one else in UK brewing has that power)
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Anything with the pork scratching at GBBF!
Open Category: Best Beer-Related Thing about 2009 is...: All the new friends I’ve made and all the great new people I’ve met through beer (The Best Non-Beer-Related Thing...: Becoming an Uncle!)
Next Year I’d Most Like To... : Drink in the US and make some beer-money from writing...

Dubbel, Rabidbarfly and John Clarke have commented their winners here. Chunk, Knut and Andy have blogged theirs. And I think Kelly from Thornbridge needs a special mention for putting the year of blogging into a poem!

2009 has been a good year... Here’s hoping 2010 is even better!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Hop Press: Opening the special bottles

This week’s Hop Press post is now up. As it’s nearly Christmas and I’m planning on opening a few nice beers to share with family and friends, the post is about the special bottles which are saved up for certain moments or special occasions and how the actual opening of these bottles becomes a real and tangible event.

I’ve written about my beer hoarding before and how I just buy bottles and squirrel them away waiting for an 'event' to warrant their opening. It’s left me with a nice looking beer cupboard, that’s for sure, but I really should get around to drinking them, because, after all, the opening of them is an event in itself (and the drinking is good fun too). I’ll definitely be opening a few nice ones over Christmas and New Year.

Here’s the full post.

Maybe I should make my New Year's Resolution: Just open the bloody bottle and drink the thing!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Announcing: Blogger Tweet Up in Sheffield!

We’ve (Andy from Beer Reviews, Mark from Real Ale Reviews and myself) been discussing a beer tweet and blogger meet up for a while and now we finally have a date and a place: Saturday 23rd January 2010 in Sheffield.

The plan is simple: get to Sheffield train station for 12pm and the first pint will be ready and waiting for you (you just need to order it and pay and the bar staff will hand it over) in the Sheffield Tap (it's the new bar at the station). From here we will wander around visiting The Hillsborough Hotel, The Devonshire Cat and wherever else is considered must-visit.

The idea is that we can all meet up in the ‘real world’ and get to know who the real people are on the other ends of these avatars and blogrolls. Or, in other words, it’s a bloody good excuse to get pissed in Sheffield with other people who love good beer!

The Hillsborough Hotel (see Crownbrewerstu for more details - he's the one that makes their beer) is a good end stop if people want to sleep rather than get the last train back to god-knows-where. If anyone is around on the Sunday then we can go to Manchester or Leeds for a few more beers – I’ll be gunning for North Bar in Leeds, I think, or maybe the Marble Arch...

Everyone is welcome. Are you in?!

I’ll be coming up from London. If you book through East Midlands then tickets are £5 each way to Sheffield. At those prices it’s tempting to pop up every weekend, even if I don’t make it past the Sheffield Tap. One thing which might be important... if the football teams qualify on the next round of the FA Cup and are drawn at home then they will be played the weekend of the 23rd Jan. Could that be a problem or could we drink around it?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

If you had to...

It’s been a long time since we had an If you had to, but it’s back!

It's simple: If you had to choose, would you rather have a cold, crisp pale beer in the hot sun or a warming, big, strong beer on a cold day?

You can only choose one, so would you rather the refreshing quality of cold beer or do you like the snug feeling of a warming beer?

And, thinking sideways, looking at 'extremes' of beer drinking, do you know if there has ever been a beer designed to drink warm or hot? I'm not talking mulled beer, just a beer that is made to be served hot, an intense coffee stout, perhaps? If this hasn't been done, then how long before it is?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Beers for Christmas Day

December 25th is my favourite day of the year. I just love it. It’s also the only day of the year when I can fearlessly open a beer for breakfast and drink through until I fall asleep watching TV, having eaten and drunk way too much. After yesterday’s post about the fantasy Christmas, this one is about what I will be opening.

I plan my Christmas drinking carefully and I save up bottles all year for it. I match not only the food but the mood and the time (which is important in a 12-hour-plus drinking marathon). My usual day starts at my parents’ with presents from Santa. Then the first beer. Then we play with whatever toys we get. Then another beer. And another. Then dinner and more beer. Then Lauren comes over and we open more presents. And a beer. Then we go to Lauren’s house (she drives, of course) and eat and drink some more with her family.

I wrote about last Christmas here and it’s interesting to see my choices (it’s always interesting to look back and see how far this thing has developed). I had Innis & Gunn’s Triple Matured beer with the turkey and it was completely perfect – fruity, oaky, slightly sour. Whatever your thoughts on I&G, that was a wicked-good match. As for the others... there’s more beer maturity in my choices now, although I’m guessing next year I’ll look back and think ‘why did I have that?’

Here’s what I’m having this year, sharing them with my Dad and hopefully my sister’s boyfriend:

It starts on Christmas Eve. I'll be at home with a few bottles. I have a Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper, which seems appropriate, there's also a Delerium Noel to keep up the festive cheer. There are plenty of bottles around so we'll pick some more depending on what we feel like drinking.

Christmas Day starts with coffee stout for breakfast. Always. I have Saints & Sinners Insomniac or Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch Weasel and one of them will get opened. Then we’ll want something zingy and light to get us through the morning. I have a big bottle of Mikkeller’s USAlive which is ready to go. It’s 8% and should be like drinking c-hopped fizz with a little funk – sounds perfect to me. By this point we’ll be getting hungry, so a pre-dinner bottle of Orval, perhaps, or a palate-sharpening gueuze. My Dad, preferring dark beers, might go for a mild.

Then dinner comes. In the past I’ve attempted to pair to starter, main and dessert but the food alone is a battle of stamina and strength and adding three different glasses of beer in there just gets a bit unnecessary, so this year it’s one bottle – one big bottle made for sharing. The food is always turkey and all the trimmings. My favourite meal of the year on my favourite day of the year, so it needs something pretty damn good to go with it. I haven’t decided for definite yet but it’ll either be Deus or a Chimay Blue. The Deus will gently wander in offering sweetness and spice and a great lightness to work perfectly with everything on the plate. The Chimay is dried fruit and bready sweetness with a great complexity to plonk itself right in the middle of your tongue and let everything work around it. Both will be great. If I was serving the bottles between more than two or three then I’d open both.

After dinner I won’t be fit for much but a nice, big stout to sip on will be good (although I virtually cleared my stock on Stout Night). Or a Fuller’s Vintage. Or maybe Moor’s Old Freddie Walker – liquid Christmas pudding, as the label says. At Lauren’s in the evening I'll probably take a few bottles but won’t get around to drinking too much as I'll be at full capacity from all the food. I’m sure there’ll be a special bottle in there to share with her Dad – I’ll raid my garage on the way.

That’s the plan at the moment (although I may find something else hidden away in the cupboard when I get home). Sounds like an awesome day to me. What will you be drinking?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Hop Press: Fantasy Christmas Drinking

Tomorrow I’ll be posting the beers that I will hopefully be drinking on Christmas Day but this one for The Hop Press is about the fantasy line up of beers that I wish I could be drinking - you know me, I always want to drink what I can’t get, the special bottles that are rare and famous and ‘Best’ listed – I’m a fickle, thirsty beer geek.

What would your fantasy Christmas Day of drinking involve? Rare bottles, favourite casks, festively themed beers? You also get presents - a weekend away and one bottle of beer, plus you can choose the movie you watch on the day.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

I’ve tried the Penguin

I’ve tried the Penguin.
Just a sip.
Tom passed it over,
He said try this.
Dark and still,
It lulled in the glass.
The nose is gentle,
But it’s deep and intense.
Richly barrelled, sweet and smoky,
Dark chocolate, berries and history.
A taste.
Just a sip.
Big, boozy, bold.
This is beer? Yes, it’s beer.
Whisky warmth, peaty smoke,
Port-like sweetness, chocolate notes.
Hardly Antarctic, it left a burn,
I sip some more then give up my turn.
Big, hot, involved,
It’s going to make you think.
What am I drinking?
What is this thing?
Be careful, be open-minded,
Be intrigued, be impressed.
The Penguin is here,
It’s a lot more than just a beer.

Tom in The Rake (judging by his rate it made him go all poetic too) was passing this around to a lucky few. My bottle is at home where I am Tactically storing it in the fridge in case it goes Nuclear. I can’t wait to try it again. I need to get my head around it - it’s like nothing else. It’s one of those beers to share with a group of friends. It’s one to talk about, that’s for sure. It’s more than just beer because it’s so disputed, rare and strong. I can’t wait for more because I want to know how it really tastes when I sit down and really experience it.

Friday, 11 December 2009

The Beer Blogger Awards 2009!

The year is almost over and there becomes an inevitable point (for me, anyway) in which we take a look over our shoulders and evaluate how the past 12 months have been, before looking forward to the next. As Beer Swap rolls on (there’s no hurry, just drink and be happy), Andy (from Beer Reviews), Mark (Real Ale Reviews) and me thought we’d announce another joint project: The Beer Blogger Awards 2009.

We’ve come up with 20 categories to try and find the best of the best from 2009. All you need to do is copy the categories and give your answers in your own blog post. For anyone who doesn’t blog, then feel free to email your answers to Andy, Mark or me and we will post them for you on our blogs.

It’s just a bit of fun, celebrating all the good beer that we’ve had and where we’ve had it plus it’ll be interesting to see how everyone’s drinking year has been. If you aren’t based in the UK then wherever it says ‘UK’ replace it with your country. Here’s the categories:

Best UK Draught Beer
Best UK Bottled Beer
Best Overseas Draught Beer
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
Best Overall Beer
Best Bottle Label or Pump Clip
Best UK Brewery
Best Overseas Brewery
Pub/Bar of the Year
Beer Festival of the Year
Supermarket of the Year
Independent Retailer of the Year
Online Retailer of the Year
Best Beer Book
Best Beer Blog
Best Beer Twitterer
Best Online Interactive Brewery
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Open Category: You Choose
Next Year I’d Most Like To...

For the Best Beer choices you can give an honourable mention to any runners-up, if you wish. The food and beer ‘pairing’ of the year could be a slap up dinner or it could be a bag of peanuts, whatever you thought was the best. The Online Interactive Brewery should be the brewery who you think embraces social media in the best way (we’re an online community so let’s champion the best of the rest of the online beer community). The Open Category allows you to write your own category and answer (Bargain of the Year, Beer Drinker of the Year, Beer Moment of the Year, etc, anything you like). Next Year I’d Most Like To... is another open category, maybe you want to go to GBBF or GABF or Belgium, maybe you want to start homebrewing, maybe it’s just drink more great beer, whatever you hope 2010 has in store. And use links too, so if you’ve written about a beer which you think is the Best UK Bottle then stick a link to your blog on it.

Let’s get them all published by the end of 2009 so we can start a fresh on the 1st January and look forward to the beer delights that 2010 has to offer.

Here’s to 2009!

The image is from here where you can buy the glass (which holds 3-4 pints!). We are (hopefully) in the process of designing a logo for the awards so that it can be used any time we wish to award something to someone.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

US Beer Trip, Anyone?

I’ve been working on a plan to go to the US for a couple of days now. I’m going to drink as much awesome beer as possible and I want to do it properly (plus it's my first beer trip Stateside). There are so many places I want to go but I have to limit myself this time. This is my current plan...

Fly to San Francisco for Saturday 13th February. I’ll catch the end of SF Beer Week. On the Saturday I’ll chill out, wander around, so to some bars, drink new beer and just get generally over-excited about where I am and what I’m doing. There’s a barley wine festival on but it’s not my favourite style and I wouldn’t want to spend an evening drinking it. On the 14th is the Celebrator Best of the West beer festival which ends the Beer Week, so I’ll be there. On the Monday I’ll mooch around, do the tourist things, drink a few more beers. Then I will go north, possibly Monday evening. This will give me two days to visit Russian River, Lagunitas, Bear Republic and wherever else. Then back to San Francisco airport and fly to Boston (I’ve found decent airfare for doing the trip as three single journeys – £525ish) on 18th for the Extreme Beer Festival (why not, eh?!) and some more drinking around in some bars (doing the West Coast and East Coast in one trip). Then fly home on Sunday 21st.

What do you think? Anyone done these before? What things should I be doing? What should I be drinking and where?

And, anyone fancy coming along for the trip?! Or part of it? I think there will be a few people in Boston when I’m there. I’m arranging to meet some people at different stages of the trip too. Hopefully there’ll be familiar faces and names at each stage, which will be very cool. I hope to book up the flights in the next few days. The rest I'll worry about after.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I've had some great beer recently

I’ve had a lot to drink in the last few weekends with the Old Ale Festival, some London drinking, the Pigs Ear and some bottles at home. Here are some of the highlights...

Birra del Borgo’s Re Ale Extra (cask). Italian IPA, hoppy, fruity, bready, toffee, bitter, easy drinking. Just a perfect example of crisp, cool and delicious Italian beer.

Bear Republic’s Racer 5 in The Rake (keg). As above with MORE. Tropical fruits, mangoes and oranges, bitterness, body – just more American-ness. I’d been waiting to try this one for ages and managed to drink in on Thursday and Friday last week. Fantastic. More beer should be like this (most beer should be like this).

De Molen’s Amarillo (cask, I think – definitely draught). The colour of peach flesh, bright and so incredibly fruity with peaches, apricots and mango, full bodied and sweetly delicious, punching bitterness adds an easy drinking and more-ish quality. After we’d left The Rake earlier in the day I had a string of disappointing beers and probably sounded like a broken record repeating the words ‘I want a Racer 5’ but then I had the Amarillo and Oh My it’s awesome (and like a completely different beer to the bottle).

De Molen’s Lood & Oud IJzer (bottle). A Pigs Ear festival special mixing Rasputin and Amarillo in a black-and-tan-in-a-bottle. My mate Matt bought this for us. Just an awesomely good beer. You know, one of those beers that you want to bathe in, that you want to drink for hours just to keep tasting it and experiencing it’s fruity hops, the roasted malt, it's stunning balance. It’s understated considering it’s mixing two big beers and it’s constantly interesting. I probably should’ve bought a bottle for myself to take home.

Durham Temptation (bottle). A brewery and a beer I’ve heard lots about. This was great. Dark fruits, bitter chocolate, vanilla sweetness, smooth, big (this was late in the day after starting at 11.30am so I can’t offer more than Gordon Ramsay-style brevity with my notes).

And a bottle of Goose Island IPA (bottle) on the Saturday with a takeaway curry because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I forgot just how good this beer is. I need to buy more of it. So easy drinking, fresh, vibrant, fruity, delicious. I will never fully understand why anyone buys and drinks bottles of lager when they can have something like this.

I'm thirsty now and it's early in the morning. I'm craving the fruity hops in the Amarillo and Racer 5 (my on-going hop love affair is showing no signs of abating, even in this cold weather). Bear Republic is on my list of places to visit next year. I guess De Molen is too. And Birra del Borgo... It's a long list. A long, expensive list...

Monday, 7 December 2009

What's Next?

I’m still on a high. Lauren is getting sick of me saying things like: ‘I’m an award winning writer now so I don’t need to do the washing up’ and ‘what shower gel do you think award winning writers use?’. The thing is, I want to write and I cannot not write. Take me away from a laptop or pad of paper for more than a day or so and I go a bit nuts. It’s not just therapeutic or comforting; it’s the one thing that I can do so naturally that sometimes it’s scary to re-read (although sometimes it’s bad scary). I’m still learning about beer and trying to form my thoughts on it and communicate them effectively, but for me, I hope this is a reward for the quality of my writing above everything else. A lot of people ask why I get up at 5am, but I do it because that gives me three hours to write in the morning before work. If I didn’t do it then I couldn’t write. It’s an easy decision for me.

This weekend has had me thinking about what’s next, so I will commit them to the page.

I have goals beyond this blog, my notepad and my twitter account. I’ve written a novel and a half but these are waiting to the side for now. I’ve started writing for RateBeer’s Hoppress but I can do more than that. I now need to start trying to get commissions for pieces in papers, magazines and on other websites. I need to travel more, read more, learn more and drink more. I’ve got ideas for small blog projects which I’ll get out there soon and I’ve got ideas for larger projects which I’m working on and trying to hone and perfect (what’s the heart of it? What’s the story?). There’s a lot that I want to do and this, I hope, will be the springboard into my writing career.

Personally, 2009 has been a great year for me. I graduated from my Masters (in Creative Writing), started a career, moved in with Lauren and became an uncle. I think 2010 could be an even better year, but it will be what I make it – it’s in my hands now (or, more precisely, in my tapping fingertips). Ben McFarland is the youngest ever winner of the Beer Writer of the Year and he was 28 at the time. I turned 25 three weeks ago and I believe I’m the youngest to win an award from the Guild (correct me if I’m wrong though). As a goal, let me say this: in 2011 I want to be the Beer Writer of the Year. Now I’ve got almost two years to get there, starting from now.

As for this blog, it carries on the same, hopefully getting better all the time. I want to keep up the FAB POW!s and the As-Live Tastings, I want to do more videos as I’ve been lazy with that recently, there will be more things like Beer Swap where everyone can take part in something, I want to travel more, I want to keep writing different pieces and hopefully I’ll drink more, better beer.

I’d also like to thank everyone again for all the messages that I’ve received - it’s been very humbling. Without any readers this blog wouldn’t be what it is now. It’s also always great to hear from people who read this thing so it was especially nice to hear from first time commenters. Cheers guys. Now watch this space!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Hop Press: A pint of imperial stout, please

This week’s Hop Press post is inspired by the Old Ale festival at The White Horse, Parsons Green. You see, the smallest measure of beer they served was a half pint and I don’t really think a half pint of 11% beer is all that sensible in the pub, especially when there are so many other (strong) beers you or I want to drink.

I think that so much of British drinking revolves around the pint glass but as the beers change the glasses need to also. I like third-pints but we don’t see them anywhere, plus I’d argue that they are seen as emasculating to your usual pint drinker (it’s a mentality-thing based on the principal that beer is served in a pint glass. Full stop). There was recent move to introduce a two-thirds glass but personally I think making the third-pint more visible would be better.

The nature of British beer is evolving and I think the vessels it is served in needs to evolve too. What do you think? Are you happy with a half-pint of imperial stout at a beer festival or would you rather it was served in a smaller glass? Or do you just want a full pint and be done with it.

I’ve only scratched the surface on this one. It’s a big area to look at, encapsulating the drinker, the drink, the history, the culture; it needs to look at who drinks what and the changing beer scene plus it needs to take into account the beer geek side of things… and the whole thing is wrapped up inside a ‘please drink responsibly’ banner.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The beers are on me!

I haven’t stopped smiling for about 10 hours now. Literally. Winning the British Guild of Beer Writers New Media Writer of the Year is a big deal to me. I guess, considering the award, I should’ve announced it via a tweet but Pete Brown (Beer Writer of the Year, deservedly) and Dave (runner up in New Media) got there first, so I’ll just blog it instead.

I get up at 5am every day to write about beer because I love doing it. To be rewarded for something you love is just a fantastic feeling. To be rewarded for my skills as a writer (whether it’s 1,000 word blog posts or 140 character tweets) is even better. I felt that I’d made a transition beyond ‘beer blogger’ a while ago and now I can officially say that I am an Award Winning Beer Writer! I like that.

The award ceremony was excellent. Nice food, superb beer pairings, good people. Pretty much a triumph all round, I’d say (apart from the tankards not making it down to the hotel!). Now I need to try and work out the best way to spend the prize money. Lauren has requested £100 of it for putting up with me but I laughed that off straight away. I’ve already checked out flight costs to the US and I think I’ll be heading over there early in the New Year (when’s Pliny the Younger released?!). I’ll pop across to Belgium too. And maybe GABF in September. Maybe Italy. Definitely a little tour of UK breweries… Seems I might need to start saving a little extra of my own for all this!!

I’ll be in London all day drinking. If you are around then let me know (tweet, comment, email, whatever). I might buy you a beer.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Drinking Beer Swap

After all the organising, the blogging, the tweeting, the hoping things would work out, the collect+ problems, the broken bottles, re-sending those broken bottles, the chasing people up and pushing them along, and then more chasing... after all of that I finally got around to the best part of Beer Swap: getting my bottles and drinking them.

Darren from Blog O’Beer (and @blogobeer) sent beers to me from Manchester. When I returned from the collect+ store I was ridiculously excited about opening the package to see what I had been sent. And it was real excitement, a great sense of fun, just like Christmas. I was delighted with what I unwrapped: Marble Ginger, Chocolate Marble, Outstanding Stout and an Outstanding Pushing Out – four brand new beers to me from two very exciting breweries from the North West.

I started with the Ginger (the 6% version this is – there’s also a 4.5%). The label says this is ‘fiery and intense’ and it certainly pours a colour that deserves that description. The nose is dominated by ginger and that goes straight through to the taste – candy sugar then in to fresh, sweet ginger and peppery spice, fragrantly earthy with a dry, bitter finish. I had the 4.5% Ginger Marble at The 2 Kents Beer Festival and I’ve grown to love it after initially not enjoying it. I had this with belly pork and spicy butternut squash (just like this one I had with Ruination) and it was perfect – a FABPOW! waiting to happen. This is an impressively different bottled beer.

Next was Chocolate Marble (5.5%), a near-opaque red-black pour with a tan head. A full roasty nose, chocolate, caramel, a lactic sweetness. It’s a great drinking stout, dark chocolate, a roasty richness, more of that caramel sweetness and a long, earthy finish. A lovely bottled stout, easy drinking and uncomplicated. And this was followed by the Outstanding Stout (also 5.5%). I was interested in the comparison between these two and it was immediately clear as I poured the Outstanding – it’s darker and fuller-bodied, the aroma was chocolate again but with smoke and liquorice this time, less sweetness and no lactic quality. The taste marked them apart too with this being fruity and ever-so-slightly sharp (in a fresh berries kind of way), full bodied, lots of liquorice and sweet smoke, smooth and with a long, dry, earthy-bitter finish. This had big flavour throughout and was very good. I think bottled stouts are very hit and miss. There’s often a whole middle section of the beer missing and it tastes thin or watery. These both got it just right.

I finished the evening with Outstanding’s Pushing Out, a strong golden ale (7.4%). It pours a great looking amber red with a fluffy head but then things get interesting... A big nose which is immediately like pick n mix, fruity and sweet, but then beneath this it’s earthy and peppery, minty with the slightest hint of Orval to it (this added a great depth and a little tang which mirrored the fizzy sweets in a pack n mix, although I’m not sure if it’s meant to be there). The taste was more of the same – a bag of chewy sweets and then in to a great bitter finish, not too strong but still assertive, and there was a lingering nudge of sour (again, I thought this was better for it!)... I liked this beer a lot. It made me smile and that’s good.

Thanks again to Darren for sending the beers down. It was great to be able to drink new beers from breweries that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. I didn’t know about Outstanding before this but now I want to know more. As for Marble, well I’ve got a real soft spot for them, thanks to enjoying them at The Bull, and I think they are just great. Now I just need to venture up to Manchester to drink them where they come from.

Beer swap rocks!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

What is Extreme Beer?

I’m interested in extreme beer as a concept. I want to know what it means. I have a lot of questions about it.

Is ‘extreme’ about the ingredients used to give an extremity of experience - strength or bitterness, for example? Is it to do exotic ingredients like fruits or spice? Is barrel-aging a constituent of extreme? Wild yeast? Imperial yeasts? Does it now need to incorporate extra tricks to be extreme – Randall the Enamel Animal, perhaps? Does packaging or the beer name count? What about marketing?

I think the notion of extreme beer is changing. Not long ago a 9% beer would’ve been scoffed at but now it’s scoffed down. Beers which rip your tongue to pieces with hop bitterness are craved rather than feared. Strong beers are cool. Barrel aging is normal. The words Imperial and Double are familiar. I’ve tasted a lot of fruit and spice recently - the different ingredients being used are no longer shocking.

I find the notion of ‘extreme’ difficult to succinctly put down in a few words because my mind is on a rollercoaster of different thoughts: it’s awesome, hit me harder; it’s terrible; it’s so specialist; it’s us vs. them; it’s all too Dionysian (it’s becoming Apollonian); it’s a bastardisation; I want my beers hoppier, darker, crazier; I want my beers easier drinking, lighter, sessionable; I want to see what’s coming next, I want to taste it.

Beer is always changing and moving forward so it’s natural that the outer reaches of its capabilities are explored. But is this a progression of beer? Or is it just too much? Are brewers having to get more creative to satisfy the thirst for extremities? Or do they need to get smarter? What now counts as extreme? Are beers shocking now? And if not then how far will a brewer need to go to shock? Are British beers getting more extreme (not just BrewDog)? And, perhaps most importantly, do you like and drink extreme beer? Whatever that may be.

I got the picture from here. Maybe that’s the next step.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Beer Hunter-Gatherer

We are innately tuned to be hunter-gatherers. It’s how we lived and it’s how we evolved. The manly job of the campfire community was to take their weapon out into the open plains and take down a wild animal to feed himself, his family and his friends. No catch, no dinner. And this is hard-wired into our nature – the desire to go out and get things, to provide, to feed, to consume.

We leave our caves and the warmth of the radiators, we go to the store, we hunt up and down the aisles, gathering and filling our basket with vegetables, cleaning products (home and personal) and various condiments before paying for it and taking it home: we still go out and we still bring stuff back, but there’s a whole middle bit which is often missing (handing over cash is not quite the same transaction as spearing a beast). Of course, there are those who do hunt their own food and cook it, but these are the exception not the rule and they do it more for sport than survival.

Could it be that this innate instinct now shows a version of itself in our search for good beer? Does the thrill of the chase satisfy us on a deeper level than sensory pleasure? Is walking into a great bar with some money in your pocket the 21st century equivalent of walking into the jungle with a freshly-sharpened weapon? In the pub you know you’ll find something, you just don’t know what – it might be a standard ale or it may be a fantastic beer that you’ve wanted to try for ages. In the jungle you may find a bony monkey or you might find a great, fat boar.

Everyone has that thing they love to go after and buy. Maybe it’s the latest album or game, new clothes, books, meals out, wine… going out to get these, the ‘thrill’ of the chase to the shop, the moment when your money is transferred, delight at taking something home or enjoying where you are. Some of this survival nature has evolved itself away from hunting to survive and into hunting things for personal enrichment and pleasure. The next time you go into a pub and look up and down the handpumps before choosing the beer you want, stop and think how similar that is to hiding behind a tree in a loincloth and throwing a spear at a wild animal. The need of the instinct has changed, but the enjoyment and satisfaction hasn’t.

Or something like that, anyway.

I got the picture from here. It also has some other fun beer-related pictures, although some are a little... primal.