Friday 30 April 2010

A Special Beer Night

Another beer night. This one reserved for those special bottles we’d been meaning to drink for so long but just never got around to it, shared with Mark from Real Ale Reviews and Pete Brissenden.

A Pliny the Elder to start. This was pretty much the reason Mark decided to come down from Leeds as I’d promised that I’d bring a bottle back from San Francisco for him. It’s a great beer, pithy, piney, dry and bitter.

Alaskan Smoked Porter 2009, another bottle I brought back from California, poured an opaque darker-than-burnt-out-wood back. Smoke comes straight out, followed by fire and chocolate. First the mouthfeel grabs you, silky and smooth, then the smoke whisps in at the end, bonfire, earthy, fiery but still with chocolate underneath. A great beer, exploding with flavour for 6.5%, and not overpoweringly smoky.

Petite Orval next, the beer kept for the monks at the brewery and only available there - a weaker version of the normal Orval. It smells like rhubarb and lemon, delicious. It’s smooth and dry, lemony and peppery, incredibly drinkable and just like a smaller version of Orval without so much of that familiar dry bitterness. I wish this was commercially available – it’s fantastic.

Russian River Supplication followed with its awesome aroma of glace cherries, lemons and wood. It’s smooth, clean, sour, peppery, full-flavoured. Great beer.

Then for a Fuller’s Vintage 1999. It’s packed with serious dried fruit, syrupy, Madeira, port-like in its age. The body is so full and smooth, there’s a huge marmalade and spicy malt flavour that’s so familiar to the Fuller’s beers, then more Madeira comes through, treacle and caramel and a peppery, intense finish. Wow – the last 10 years have been good to this beer.

Cantillon Saint Lamvinus, bottled about 6 months ago, aged with merlot grapes in a Bordeaux barrel. It’s cherry red with no head, funky and peppery but not massively sour, it’s easy drinking, woody, tannic and dry at the end and seriously tasty. A Cantillon Iris followed which is cold-hopped and has a shockingly good aroma of fruity, peachy and citrusy hops, but those hops clash wildly with the beer, going off like a nuclear reactor on the tongue, smacking bitter and sour simultaneously and it was all too much for me.

An Old Chimneys Good King Henry Special Reserve 2007 brought us back on track and what a beer this is. Rate Beer has this as the highest rated British beer (the Fuller's '99 is the second highest rated on there) and I can understand why. The aroma is coconut, oak, vanilla and chocolate; it’s thick and intense but still remains light and drinkable, there’s roasted berries in there, lots of chocolate, oak and hints of umami which adds a lot of complexity.

Then an Orval side-by-side, one from July 2008 and the other from December 2009. The old one was cheesy, funky and just generally bigger; the new was fresher, more floral. The old tasted leathery, dusty and dry with an underlying candy sugar sweetness; the new had funk and lemons, a fruity sweetness and more pepper. Very interesting to have them together to see the difference of age and both still tasted great. I had a year-old bottle recently which stopped perfectly in the middle of these two and that seems just about right for me.

Next a De Molen’s Lood & Oud Ijzer, a black and tan blend of Amarillo and Rasputin (both oak-barrel aged) made especially for the Pig’s Ear beer festival last year. We had bottle 103/120 – that’s small run stuff. It has the most amazing aroma and like a Proustian time machine I’m back in Hackney, at the bar, drinking with mates, the day after the BGBW Awards Dinner. It’s grassy, peachy, fruity and then comes chocolate, cocoa and some mint. There’s so much Amarillo in there, then dark fruit, then chocolate. It’s so smooth and still tastes wonderfully fresh.

A Drie Fonteinen Geuze was deliciously dry, crisp and sour. It's an awesome beer, probably my go-to geuze.

Then finally a BrewDog/Mikkeller Devine Rebel 2010, bumped up to 13.8%, possibly with a change of hops as I couldn’t taste or smell the usually pungent Nelson Sauvins. The beer is big and boozy, honeyed, very bitter, nose clearing, orangey and just a bit disjointed – it was just too strong for me. Time for bed after this one.

Not a bad beer night, although I had a vicious hangover the next day, one that left me running for the bathroom in fear of being sick while I was frying some bacon! Thankfully it was all made right with a pint of Marble Pint and a fish finger sandwich in the sun at The Bull, which Mark has written about here. It’s good to clear some of the better bottles from the stash every now and then.

We didn’t score the bottles this time, like we usually do for Beer nights. If I had to list my Top 3 it’d be Good King Henry, Petite Orval and De Molen’s Lood & Oud Ijzer. What isn’t mentioned is that the fridge still had a bottle of Pannepot Reserva 2007 and a BrewDog Tokyo*, while a Marble Raspberry Decadence was loitering just in case. 

Tuesday 27 April 2010

The Queens Arms, Corton Denham

Grand for its rural village location, a large garden, sweeping countryside views. The bar of The Queens Arms, in Corton Denham, Somerset, is the heart, there’s a dining area on one side and a more relaxed area for drinking and eating on the other. The floors are worn, the furniture is modern in its antiquity, tastefully miss-matched. On the bar are four handpumps (two from Moor, Adnams Extra, Millstone True Grit, plus a couple in the cellar if you know the right people); behind it are two casks of cider; in keg they have Meantime London Stout (they stopped selling Guinness a couple of years ago); Pilsner Urquell for the beer lover who fancies a lager; Amstel for the guy who doesn’t recognise anything else; a rolling tap, this weekend featuring Duvel Green; and two kegs of cider, one of them local. Lined all around is a widescreen vision of bottles - gins and whiskys, spirits, exciting world beers - pale, dark, sour. On the bar are bottles of Moor beer, packs of eggs laid in the village, a mountain of freshly baked pork pies and jars of mustard. Upstairs they have five fine rooms, cosy, smart, relaxing, ideal for a weekend away.

The beers were fantastically kept and all excellent. Adnams Extra was an ode to the Fuggle with its earthy, bitter fruit flavour while Millstone’s True Grit was brioche and citrus hops. Then four Moor beers, which was good as Justin Hawke, the Moor head brewer, was the guy who greeted me at the bar. Queens Revival (3.8%) was a great, refreshing hoppy session beer. Northern Star was a special dry-hopped batch with lots of Citra, giving a bold punch of citrus bitterness and a quenching drinkability for its modest 4.1%. Raw (4.3%), a Celeia (I think...) dry-hopped version of Merlin's Magic, was like a very good best bitter but better. And Hoppiness (6.5%), a 50/50 blend of Revival and JJJ IPA (this one also dry-hopped with Citra), which with one sniff transported me to the West Coast USA with its big, pithy, punchy citrus – bold, bitter and bloody good to see a beer of this style and quality in a British pub. We also opened a bottle of Moor Fusion, an old ale aged in ex-cider brandy barrels. There are only 700 bottles around; it’s dark and fruity and beneath that comes a dry, apple-skin flavour, a woodiness in the texture, some chocolate and spice. It’s subtle and very special. Then, picking from their spirits, two from the Anchor Distillery - an Old Potrero 19th century whiskey which was smooth, vanilla-licked, charred, vegetal and warming, and a Genevieve gin which had crazy botanicals, a dry finish and an unexpected bready, malty middle.

We ate there too. The asparagus and local poached egg was my idea of spring food heaven, especially with the Raw. My belly pork with bubble and squeak is my idea of any day food heaven, especially with the Hoppiness. Lauren’s bream with tapenade, tomatoes and pepper was swimmingly-fresh and delicious. A rhubarb clafoutis was the lightest I’ve ever tasted and perfect with a glass of sweet Italian dessert wine (the wine list is also excellent and long). The breakfast the morning after was spot on – bacon, sausage, perfectly oozing poached eggs, mushroom, haggis, roasted vine tomatoes and toast.

The best thing about The Queens Arms is the way everything is finished with smart little touches. A fresh flower on the windowsill makes a big difference. We had a sofa in our room and a view out onto fields which tells you to slow down, you’re in the country now. The room has a pack of jelly babies and a couple of magazines. If you want to go for a walk they have wellies, they’ll even make you a picnic if you want one. The pork pies and olives on the bar are great with beer and impossible to resist. There are games in the garden for the (big and little) kids. The way the menus look and feel, the way the staff say hello, the care and attention of everything – it just makes you feel at home, the way the best pubs should.

Some pubs are perfect: a garden for the sun; a respite from the rain where muddy boots aren’t frowned upon; a fire warming the stone walls with its smoky heat; a destination on a spring afternoon: somewhere you can always find good beer, good food and good people. The Queens Arms is one of those rare places. 

Monday 26 April 2010

Bigger... Stronger... Louder... Better?

Ken Weaver has written a great piece on his Hop Press blog about the increasing strengths of US beer. The above graph shows the average strength of new beers added to Ratebeer over the last 10 years - it shows a marked incline for the US and a steady rise for non-US beers. In another graph on Ken's post the figures show that last year over 70% of new US beers added to Ratebeer were over 5.5% (compared to fewer than 40% for non-US).

The second paragraph of Ken’s piece perfectly explains his changing feelings towards strong, rare beer: “Perhaps that’s overkill. Perhaps I’ve had just one too many accidental fusel bombs, one too many bad examples of barrel aging, one too many “Imperial Weizens”, or one too many encounters with Tactical Nuclear nonsense. Have I waited in too many lines for limited releases? Have 12% hop bombs actually made me bitter?”

The whole notion of session beer is different in the UK and US, where something around 6% could be considered sessionable in America but put that beer on the bar in most British pubs and it won’t get touched. It’s a cultural difference. British beer culture revolves around the pub, around drinking a few pints after work, around socialising. It’s modest, reserved and controlled. We had ales before we had the more recent imports of lager and every British brewery has a 3.5-4.5% pale ale or best bitter, which is the beer they are measured against. Every US brewery is measured against their IPA, a 6.5-7.5% beer. It’s hard to separate US beer culture with lager, brought over and brewed by Germans in the late nineteenth-century, surviving Prohibition and evolving into the proliferate beers we have now. The current and ever-growing US craft beer scene is an attempt to create a new history for beer by radically pushing past what is already there. And they keep on pushing.

We are in a period of experimentation, learning what beer can do and what people will drink. Extreme beer is there to satisfy a certain niche, but the foundation of drinking is with the beers you can drink every day - that’s why 5% lagers are the biggest selling beers in the world (that and their enormous marketing budgets). The thing with stronger beers is that they evoke a bigger reaction, good or bad. It’s almost like the beer glass comes attached with a microphone and the higher the strength, or the more processes the beer goes through, the louder it plays back. It’s easy to shout about a 10% rum barrel-aged coffee and coconut imperial stout (I would so drink that) because the experience of it is an amplified one; a 5% stout, no matter how good, will illicit less of a powerful response, especially in those with the loudest voices. It’s interesting to look at the ratings websites too and you’ll see that very few beers under 6% make the top 100 list on Ratebeer or Beeradvocate; it’s not that they aren’t worthy, it’s that there’s almost an inhibition to say that something 4% can be ‘better tasting’ than something that’s 9%, even if both bring the same enjoyment.

Brewers are aware that bigger beers illicit more response so they brew them and sate the thirsts of the most vocal end of the market which creates an upward-spiraling trend for the extremes of experience. Purely by their volumes of flavour they pack a punch where a 3.9% ale can’t, but this isn’t necessarily a reflection on overall enjoyment. Like those love-hate foods, which always have big flavours, people either get it or they don’t and there are passionate people on both sides. Session ale is different to big beer; we approach them and drink them differently. Each suits their own occasion and style of drinking and there is room for them both but it is a little concerning to see the upward trend in strengths. Are these pushed up by a few one-off 10% beers, or are they genuinely rising? Belgium has always had a range of strengths from 4-11%, so these ABVs are nothing new, but their drinking culture doesn’t circle around the pint glass.

I’m all for the strong end of the spectrum, I like experimentation, I’m interested in new beers which push boundaries, but good session beer in the pub is more important, especially if we want to encourage new drinkers. What I hope this amplification of experience and flavour will do is push forward the quality of session beers, creating low-ABV beers which are packed with flavour but still balanced (I think the definition of balanced has changed in relation to beer but that’s another post). Great, full-flavoured beer which you can return to day after day is surely more important than a 10% IPA which you can only drink a couple of times a year?

Should these figures be alarming or is there just a current trend towards making strong beers because of the vocal chorus or reactions to them? Is the session beer dying in the US and is it changing in the UK? Or are we just experiencing an upward spike in strength before we see an upward spike in flavour? In fact, maybe we need to measure the levels of ‘flavour’ in beer and plot these over the last 10 years – would we see an increase...?

Thursday 22 April 2010

Seasonal Beer and Food for Spring

I have written something for the Guardian's Word of Mouth blog. It’s about seasonal beer, focusing on spring, choosing a few beers which are out now and foods which they work well with.

You can read it here.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

FABPOW: Geuze and Crispy Chicken Skin

I have no pictures of these together because I was elbow deep in a chicken, half-pissed and trying to juggle a beer glass and carving duties. I was also busy discovering perhaps the most delicious Food and Beer Pairing of All Time - FABPOAT! Simply this: roast a chicken with lots of salt and pepper add some paprika, garlic, thyme and olive oil. When it’s cooked take it out of the oven and at the same time take a bottle of geuze from the fridge. Pour the beer out, strip the skin off the chicken and eat it with the beer. It’s insanely good. Salty, crispy, fatty skin and sour, citrusy, peppery beer. It’s just perfect. And it’s not just chicken skin either, sour beer is also incredible with pork scratchings and I had a food and beer epiphany at GBBF last year – a Montegioco Mummia with those festival pork scratchings. Sometimes it’s the simple things which have the biggest impact and this is just about the best beer snack going. 

Monday 19 April 2010

Bottle Labelling

I’m writing a piece about bottle labelling and I'm interested in a broader consumer perspective on things.

When you walk into a beer shop or down the supermarket aisle, which bottles stand out the most? Do they stand out in a good way?

Of the premium brands (Stella, etc), who has the best looking and most recogniseable labels? Does the Coors thermo-chromic labelling interest you? Do you like Bud’s aluminium World Cup bottle?

Do you like information on labels such as the hops and malts used?

What are the best labels? From a design perspective, branding and market position. What are your favourite bottles and labels?

Thursday 15 April 2010

Burton upon Trent Twissup: The Details

We’ve now got the plan for the day in Burton upon Trent for Saturday 15th May and we owe a million thank yous to Kristy for sorting it out for us. It’s a different day to Sheffield but I think it looks abusolutely brilliant and at the end we can just carry on drinking wherever we want to or those who are getting the train can slack off early. There is accommodation available, starting from £35 for a single. Here’s the rough plan:

Arrive from 11am - Meet in the Coopers Tavern. Lots of beer on draught and close to the train station.

12:30 - Tour of The Maltings with Graeme Hamilton (this is pretty damn cool!). We would need a full list of names and shoe sizes for everyone for this.

2:00pm - The Dial - trial of Draught Blue Moon and Worthington Red Shield (Carling will also be available for those wishing to drink it in its home town).

3:00pm - White Shield Brewery Tour with Steve Wellington and Jo White (awesome).

4:00pm – Visit the National Brewery Centre. A buffet lunch (courtesy of Kristy!) in The Brewery Tap (we’ll need it by this stage) followed by a museum tour. Everyone gets samples of P2, Worthington E, Red Shield and White Shield to take away, so bring a bag if you want to take it home.

5:30pm - Head to Burton Bridge Brewery, maybe for a tour, definitely for some beers.

7:00pm - Wetmore Whistle (this is either a pub or an instruction, I’m not sure... either way, it means we drink more beer). The rest of the evening is ours to enjoy in Burton so if there are other recommended pubs then that’s the time to go.

People can head off early evening like last time or they can stay over. We need to know in advance if you want to stay (we can get in William Worthington’s house and it’s self-service on a Sunday but that’s fine, I’m sure we can find somewhere to serve us breakfast - there are four single rooms at £35+VAT and two doubles at £50+VAT, there’s also the Three Queens for £55 a single, including breakfast – first come, first served for all). Remember, this is open to anyone who blogs or tweets about beer, but it would help if we knew exactly who is coming so can you drop your details into the form below (either here or on Andy’s blog), including whether you want a hotel or not and what your shoe size is for the maltings.

We suggested a beer swap last time but we won’t do that in Burton, unless people arrange separately.

There we are, get Saturday 15th May in the diary and book the train tickets. How does that sound?! Who’s coming along?

Let's get twissed
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Wednesday 14 April 2010

The Kernel Brewery, Tower Bridge

I first heard about The Kernel Brewery through Chunk who has since posted about it here. Then, when I went up to drink jugs of Saints and Sinners’ Hoptimum at Brew Wharf, Evin O’Riordain, the guy who runs the Kernel, was there. “I need to try some of your beers.” I told him. He then reached under the table, presumably into a magic sack, and pulled out a couple of smart looking bottles and slid them across the table to me.

I opened the Centennial Pale Ale first. It’s no secret that I’d put Centennials into every single beer in the world if I could, so I always like to see it in a single-hop brew. This is 5.7% and pours an awesome flame gold colour with a bold white head – it inspired me to write the word ‘sexy’ in my notes. The aroma is bread and marmalade followed by the distinctively floral and orangey Centennial. The mouthfeel is the winner here and it’s full-bodied, smooth and clean without being loaded with sickly sweetness. It’s toasty and bready with just a hint of sweetness before the hops come through, intensely floral and deliciously bitter with a great orange pith finish. I finished it within minutes and loved every mouthful. It’s lacking sweetness, not in a bad way, and could handle a few more hops for the insatiable lupulin lover like me, but these are quibbles (and incidentally the same notes as Chunk made) – the beer is absolutely spot on.

The Porter is 5.9% and pours a dark brown with a good looking tan head. There’s chocolate, a waft of smoke, some phenols and lots of roasty malt – a classic nose. It’s another wonderfully smooth mouthful, roasty, dry, chocolatey and just a hint of roasted fruit sharpness which adds a great balance to a porter. There’s a long-lasting roast finish, it’s smooth, very drinkable and has a perfect balance of flavour. Fantastic – both beers seriously impressed me.

Inspired by the US craft scene, Evin is brewing once a week beneath the train arches of Tower Bridge, not far from London’s Borough Market. He’s on a small batch plant and bottling and then labeling everything by hand, with love. If you want to try his beers then go along and find him on Saturday’s from 9-4 and he’ll happily sell you a few of his bottles. A few more brews will be available soon and hopefully there will be some casks in the future. If you are in the market, jumping between Utobeer, the Market Porter, The Rake and Brew Wharf then take a bag and make an extra stop to see Evin – the Kernel Brewery is another exciting addition to the ever-growing London beer scene.

Monday 12 April 2010

Westerham Brewery, The Royal Oak and Viceroy IPA

Friday afternoon, a wonderfully sunny day, spring sprung and I’m thirsty for a pint. “You fancy a drive for a couple of beers?” I ask Lauren. “Okay.” She says to my happy surprise. I know where to go: The Royal Oak in Crockham Hill, the pub owned by Westerham Brewery. I want to go because I want to buy a couple of bottles of Viceroy IPA – one for me and one to send for Beer Swap – the beer they brewed for the National Trust using Little Scotney Farm hops.

The pub is about 11 miles away – a nice drive through the country. We arrive and it’s dark inside but that’s fine as it’s sunny and they don’t need the lights on yet. It’s 5.15pm on a Friday at the end of one of the weeks of the school holidays and, as I mentioned, it’s a gloriously lovely day. If any pub is going to do some good business it’s now, right? Apparently not... the pub was shut. Shut! Through the door I could see a few handpulls, all Westerham, all of them I wanted to drink. Dejected we went back to the car and pulled out of the empty car park.

On the way in, about a mile up the road, was a sign saying ‘BREWERY’. There’s only one brewery around this part of Kent so driving back we turned down the rough track road and headed to the barns at the end where the blue, red and white badge of Westerham watched over the surrounding farmland. We didn’t even get out of the car. That was also closed.

We ended up stopping at The Little Brown Jug where I had a pint of something with ‘Hopping’ in the name by Greene King (I think) and a pump clip with a rabbit on an actual spring, the kind of thing which would make the Parade.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long to find the bottles as we went to Tunbridge Wells on Saturday and in a farm store in town, which sells lots of local products, they had Westerham’s Viceroy IPA. Result.

Sunday and I cooked pollack, new potatoes and green beans with garlic and lemon and opened a Viceroy IPA in what is deserving of FABPOW status. The beer pours a wonderful orange with a fluffy head. A swirl and a sniff and there’s some fresh citrus, lemons and lime, underneath there’s peaches and flowers. A mouthful and it’s caramel, a spicy marmalade, smooth with a fruity, vibrant hop flavour, peaches, apricots, spicy malt, a floral perfume and just a hint of Orval-like peppery tartness (there’s something a little wild about the nose... but all in a good way). It’s very tasty with a similarity to Fuller’s Bengal Lancer. It was also perfect with the dinner, the lemon and garlic working a treat with the hops. If you visit any National Trust sites and you fancy a beer then check it out, it’s good.

Now I just need to work out when the Westerham pub and brewery are actually open so I can visit them properly...

Friday 9 April 2010

Welsh Rarebit

I have no idea how I lasted so long without making Welsh Rarebit - it’s delicious! Struck with no inspiration for lunch but having a kitchen filled with all the important ingredients, last weekend became the perfect opportunity to try it out. Plus - you know me - I like to play around with beer and food and this is one of the more famous recipes to use beer as an ingredient.

It’s easy to make. Butter and flour plus milk to make a basic, but thick, white sauce. Add mustard, Worcestershire sauce, strong cheese and a splash of beer (I used Guinness as I had a bottle in the cupboard), stir until smooth with a texture that’s spoonable but not too runny. Then toast one side of bread, flip it over, put the cheese topping on and grill until bubbling but not burnt.

It’s like the most luxurious cheese on toast you’ve ever had. And it goes great with beer too. I suggest a malty brown ale to go in the sauce, although Guinness was also good. To pair with Welsh Rarebit I’d like a hoppy brown ale to match the cheese, the toast and the punch of heat from the mustard.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Blockbuster Beers

Last week The Beer Nut wrote that Beer Doesn’t Matter and went on to decry the cult status of certain rare beers and how they are treated in the beer world. A lot of people agreed with what he posted. Not me.

Beer needs some rock stars, it needs some headline acts and it needs them to create some loud noise about what is happening in the beer world so that news can go beyond and into the non-beer world. The majority of beer drinkers don’t know what an IPA is, what a porter tastes like, why a hefeweisen is cloudy and that some beer is intentionally sour; this entire craft industry is unknown to most drinkers. Why can’t we amp up the volume a couple of times a year and put on a show?

How many beers truly have Blockbuster status? Beers which are brewed once a year and released with a bang... half a dozen? Less? Dark Lord, Pliny the Younger... HopSlam? Kate the Great? They encourage people to talk, to get out of the house and down to the bar, to drink a beer where it was made. If there was a major release every-other week then it’d get boring quickly, but having so few a year means that each still gets to shine. It’s great that a couple of beers have their own day; beer deserves occasions like this. These beers become heroes, they are photographed, talked about, adored, they achieve cult status and A-lister priority. They are Blockbuster Beers.

GBBF and GABF grab the headlines like Glastonbury and they open their doors to thousands of beer drinkers. The majority of people who go to this just like a good beer and don’t chase around looking for certain breweries and names. But what if they knew about certain breweries? What if they’ve heard about one which makes interesting beers and gets on the news? Maybe they’ll look out for something by that brewery, maybe they’ll try something different, maybe they’ll start on a journey into liking craft beer.

Dark Lord Day isn’t just about standing in line to pick up two bottles of wax-sealed imperial stout. They put on other beers, rare beers, one-offs, everyday beers; they have a BBQ, there are live bands; they celebrate their brewery. Pliny the Younger exploded this year and next year you can bet that Russian River will be more prepared. You can also bet that they’ll have more people in line than last year. Westvleteren could be added to this list of rare specials, but it’s brewed year round; it’s just difficult to get hold of. To be honest, the Westvleterens are no more difficult to get than hundreds of other beers, this one is just more famous and you have to go to a little more effort to get it. They are cult beers and that’s a good thing - they certainly aren’t the only cult beers, they are just the ones which beer fans make the most noise about.

The Beer Nut writes that dedicating a day to a rare beer is “another weapon in the marketing arsenal designed to shift units for the highest margins possible: guaranteed no wastage and a product which, once the event is established, will be promoted entirely by the punters themselves. For free. It's not big and it's not clever.” I think it’s damn clever. Punk marketing and new media promotion is far more effective than any other marketing to get the people in to buy these beers, especially in niche interest groups. If I had a business and I knew that I had a product good enough to only sell it once a year and on that day I’d be able to sell out of my entire stock and make money and improve my reputation, while also selling more of my other products in the process, then I’d do it.

The beers sold as one-off super-specials are not everyday beers and they aren’t for everyday drinking. The majority of beer drinkers won’t care that this is happening, but to an interested minority this is a big deal. It is too frat boy my-balls-are-bigger-than-yours to a certain segment of a small niche group and you’ll always get a few who are just there for bragging rights on the BeerAdvocate forums, but for a beer to command a day where everyone is talking about it, where people travel across the world to get it, where there is a build up to it; that’s special. You get the same sort of thing with technology, films, books and music, so why shouldn’t beer have it too?

There is a major bad-side of this and that’s the buying to sell on ebay to make a fistful of fast dollars. That’s uncool. Pliny the Younger sold out in hours because some selfish drinkers queued up, bought four growlers and then left to sell the beer on the internet and ship to the highest bidder. Selling beer on ebay is a scourge of this side of the beer scene. To do this and to bump the prices up so considerably is against the spirit of the beer community. But, sadly, if there’s a market then there will always be the opportune flogger trying to make a few bucks.

The thing with these Blockbuster Beers is that they create positive hype. The day itself is there to bring drinkers together, to socialise, to share beers, and to do this while waiting in line to buy a few beers. It’s not a pursuit for everyone. To most, the idea of waiting more than two minutes to get served is just incomprehensible, but to others the thought of spending a day to get the beer is part of the allure. Not everyone will want to stand in line to be one of the few people to get this on its release. Look at the latest Harry Potter book release where readers waited in line for hours (maybe days) to get it at midnight: some want to do this; some are happy to wait until the next day (or week or month); some just don’t care about reading it at all. Does it do a disservice to books? Far from it. Instead it creates hype and excitement and it makes the news for positive (if a little extreme, but this type of extreme is good) reasons.

“It's hard to know who to blame most: the breweries who pull the strings, or the marionettes who perpetuate the whole sad spectacle. The bottom line, I think, is that you'd be able to buy these ultra-rare special editions in any corner shop for a reasonable price if punters weren't willing to queue up and sell a kidney for them” says The Beer Nut. If you could buy Pliny the Younger in every corner shop then would it matter? If you could buy a favourite beer of yours every time you walked into that shop, then would you? Certain beers should be rare, they should be coveted and it should be difficult to find them or they just become as normal as all the ales lined up in the supermarkets that you overlook each week. Hunting beers down is the choice of the individual drinker; if someone cares enough then they’ll try and find it, if they don’t then they’ll drink what they’ve got and be happy. The fact that I won’t get to drink the majority of Blockbuster Beers doesn’t worry me because I can’t track down one-thousandth of the beers available in the world, but if I do get a chance to try them then I will.

A few breweries in the UK have once-yearly releases but they just slip out into the market with barely a whistle blown or a bell rung. Make something of it, create some noise, get people excited to drink it – it can be a great promotional tool for a beer, the brewery and the industry. Fuller’s could open their brewery to visitors on the day they release the Vintage each year (it’s not Blockbuster, but it’s Cult). They could arrange tours, tastings of previous Vintages, meet the brewers and they could have a few specially brewed beers on. The day would be about seeing the brewery, socialising, getting to try different beers, introducing new people to the brewery while also giving existing fans a little extra. They’d likely make a killing in the shop too.

I think the beer world needs some Blockbusters and it needs a few special days dedicated to a few special beers.What’s so wrong about that?

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Beer Swap Update

So we’ve (or more accurately I’ve) let this slip quietly on by with no action. The original closing date for Beer Swap was 28th March but we will extend that until Friday 9th (we will push the whole thing back a few weeks). We will then arrange who sends to who next weekend. So far we have 35 signed up and it’s looking good. If you still need to sign up then do it here (scroll to the bottom and fill in the box - the address needs to be the place you want it delivered to).

The next step is to start buying the beers you are going to send. Remember, it’s four bottles, as local as possible but still as good as possible. If you are a brewer then you can send your own beers, but only two. You can also only send a maximum of two beers from each brewery. You can send homebrew, if you want (if you are a homebrewer or a pro-brewer then you can send your beers as extras, if this is an option).

When you know who to send to (and keep this a secret, if you can!), and you’ve bought the beers, the next step is the packaging. We can't stress how important it is to pack your beer properly; if it breaks on its way to your recipient then they won’t get to try the beers you have chosen and you won't be entitled to any compensation. No carriers willingly ship beer, so we are responsible for what we send. To this end we must make sure everything is packed very carefully. Sturdy box, loads of bubble wrap, kitchen roll, old t-shirts, popcorn, socks, newspaper, those little foamy things, whatever, just wrap each individually and then also pack the box tightly shut. Don’t forget to put a little note in there to say hello and who sent it (so the recipient knows who to say thanks to!). You can put a fragile sticker on the box if you want to, but if it’s well packed then it should be fine.

Then it’s how you post it. Last year we used Collect+ which was pretty good but we had too many problems. This year it’s totally up to you who you send with. Here’s a few to look at:

Royal Mail will be the most expensive. The top three work by submitting details online and they collect the package from your house/office/wherever and then send it on from there. It’s easy stuff. You just need to arrange a day when it can be picked up from you.

Once you have sent your parcel please email to let us know. And then let us know again when you receive your box of beer.

Then drink, enjoy and blog and tweet about your beers. If you don't have anywhere to write then please let people know as someone will be happy to let you write a guest post on their blog. Remember the twitter account and the #beerswap hashtag. If you’ve signed up then buy the beers and wait until next weekend.

And remember… the Burton Twissup is May 15th! Get it booked in. We’ll bring more details soon!

Monday 5 April 2010

Easter, Chocolate and Durham Temptation

It was 2010 years ago that Jesus invented chocolate. Jumping at any opportunity for a FABPOW, I opened my Easter eggs and looked in the beer cupboard. As if by divine inspiration the golden cross and scripture of the bottle of Durham Brewery’s Temptation shone back at me.

The beer is near-black with streams of sand-coloured bubbles streaming to the top creating a head like a slowly erupting volcano - it looks great. The aroma starts bready, then goes toasty, then moves into nutty, roasty and chocolatey. There’s a sweetness, some vanilla and vinous fruit – sensational. Take a sip and it’s big. The carbonation settles down quickly, there’s a boozy punch, a kiss of sweetness, lots of dark chocolate, deeply roasted fruits, a bitter and earthy finish and a woody dryness to end it all and make you want another sip. Beautiful stuff.

You don’t need anything with this, so scrap the FABPOW. I tried four different chocolates and they weren’t bad, they just detracted from the beer and that isn’t good. Just pour it out and let the beer itself be a luxurious treat.

This is the second beer I’ve had called Temptation. The other was from Russian River and it’s just about a perfect sour beer (it's just about a perfect beer, full stop). I got the Durham bottle from Avery in Beer Ritz; I got the Russian River one from San Francisco (I had it a few times, of course). I would be very Tempted by another couple of each.

Sunday 4 April 2010

The Hop Press: Planet Thanet Beer Festival

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind the last few weeks and the blog seems to have been buried underneath a pile of other stuff. Thankfully I’ve still had time to go out drinking. I posted this little thing on the train home from the beer festival on Friday, but here’s a more detailed re-cap of my day at Planet Thanet.

Friday 2 April 2010

A Good Friday

Planet Thanet beer festival at the Winter Gardens in Margate. It's one of my favourite festivals of the year, no doubt. Good friends, good beer, good location; it's got all you want and need. This year Gadds' Uberhop (a traditional hopped-up lagerale) rocked it; Tryst Corronade IPA was bitter, apricoty, light, dry; Millstone Tiger Rut was a glass of fruity tangerine, floral and oh-so-drinkable - awesome. Some dark beer - Gadds' Black Pearl and Elland 1872 - rounded us up and some more Uberhop and Tiger Rut finished us off.

It was a Good Friday. I love Planet Thanet beer festival.