Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Some Tasty Old Things at Fuller’s

“As you will know, I am a professional drinker… and you are all amateurs,” begins John Keeling, the Fuller’s head brewer, as he invites us to open and drink the bottle in front of us. This is an old beer and by old I mean very old: 2nd September 1891, to be precise. Yet it was only bottled recently… The beer is the first in a new series for Fuller’s called Past Masters and it involves looking back at old brewing records and recreating them as closely as possible. For all the open-mouthed e-gazing at what’s going on around the world in terms of modern developments of brewing and the boundary-breaking beers being brewed with superhero hops or mind-bending processes, I find it constantly and deeply interesting to think about how a beer would’ve tasted a hundred years ago or more, so the Past Masters project definitely appeals to me.

XX is the first of the Past Masters. Technically it’s a XXK but you can also drink it fresh so XX works (in ye olde brewing days, X denoted a mild beer, XX was a strong beer and XXK was a strong beer made for keeping; the Fuller’s version is a strong beer which can be drunk now but which should also improve if kept, you see). Ron Pattinson had a hand in the recipe and the history side of things and he was also there for the brewing of the beer which is a pale strong ale (an early example of a Burton Ale), 7.5%, made with Plumage Archer malt which was a variety used from 1903 onwards (close enough to 1891...), sugar and heavily hopped (53 IBUs) with Fuggles and Goldings. The recipe is pieced together as closely as possible from the original and it represents a “rediscovery of the past,” as John Keeling put it.

It’s young in the bottle (brewed over summer then aged for three months) but it’s simultaneously intensely flavoured yet subtle, as if there are things in there wanting to be found but still hiding away, not ready to come out yet. The malt is immediately impressive and mouth-filling, then combining with the hops to create an oral IMAX experience which edges towards a savoury taste, not sweet, with some hints of candied orchard fruit and an estery, botanical, dry finish from all those hops and the booze. It’s good but it promises to get better…

The dimension of time is what Fuller’s are looking at with these beers. They are at once about looking back to the past to recreate a recipe not tasted in many generations, but at the same time these are beers which will last for a generation themselves and they will change over that time. As such, the Past Masters work as a new sibling to the Vintages and Brewer's Reserves which are designed in a way to make them ideal to leave for a few years to develop.  

I find the aging process fascinating. I also love the idea of the Past Masters series and look forward to seeing what comes next – it’s a chance to taste a tangible and sensory glimpse at history, recreated as closely as possible for us to drink now. Who knows what will actually happen to the XX but I intend to buy a few and wait a couple of years to find out.

I will also be buying a lot of the Vintage 2010, which we tried on the night along with Vintage 2005 and 1999 and the two Brewer's Reserves - we were there specifically to look at aged beers. The Vintage '10 is absolutely fantastic already (sometimes they need a few months or years to develop but this is already beautiful). I was admiring the cherries and almonds in it and then a sudden burst of mandarin caught me off-guard and got me even more excited. This is the best fresh Vintage I’ve tasted (even if I have only had a few of them) and I hope it will get better and better.

The XX is now on sale at the brewery shop in Chiswick. I think the Vintage is also out now.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Pencil, Spoon and a Shiny New Tankard

It was the British Guild of Beer Writers annual awards dinner and ceremony last night and I’m incredibly proud and excited to write that I won the Online Communicator/New Media category for the second year running!

I entered into five categories (why not, eh?) but it was the Online one that I wanted to win the most. I get up stupidly early to do it and I spend unreasonable amounts of time on it, but I do it because I love it.

Like Zak Avery’s post, I hope to write more but I’m in desperate need of a fry up, so the blog (for once!) will have to wait. I’ll be drinking in London today, say hello if you see me. 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A beer decanter, one for Santa?

Last weekend, while carefully pouring a bottle of beer between five glasses, trying not to disturb the heavy sediment in the bottle, my mate suggested the use of a decanter for the beer. A beer decanter. Why had I never thought of that before? How many times have I opened a big bottle only to have the last glass of it pour out murky and filled with yeasty chunks. You can do it with port, whisky and wine, so what about beer?

In Belgium, they sometimes serve 750ml beers in baskets with the bottle leaning at a 30-degree angle so you can pour without much disturbance of the bits in the bottom, and that works well, but in other places, or at home, the bottle is poured and then returned to upright, sloshing around the stuff left in there. With more breweries using larger bottles (ones which you can’t pour into just one glass), it makes sense to pour them from their container in one go into a decanter and then fill up glasses from there, right?

Beer isn’t the same as whisky or wine in that it’s carbonated, but unless it takes you hours or days to drink your beer then this probably isn’t anything to worry about. It would work best with those bottle conditioned 750ml beers which you either want to share between a few friends or drink yourself over an evening.

Decanting beer – does anyone do this already? Does everyone do this and I’m just way behind? Or is it a stupid idea because those bits never hurt anyone? Either way, I’ve got one on my Christmas list this year (and if I don't put beer in it then I can always put wine in there!).

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Open It! Reminder

Dust off those special bottles because Open It! is coming very soon... Friday 3 December to Sunday 5 December, get the good bottles out of the cupboard and get them open. Don’t hold back thinking that a worthy special occasion will come along soon, that you might get a new job next week, a promotion next month, win the lottery, get married, have some kids, whatever. They don’t come very often and the last thing you want is to go to that bottle in a year and find that it’s past its best. This is the chance to make a special occasion just to open that bottle.

It’s as easy as that and everyone can take part: Open a bottle or two (share them if you want – an Open It! Party) over that weekend and then tell others. Write a blog about it, tweet about it (#openit), use the facebook page or just talk to people in real life while you drink that beer you’ve been saving for ages. Do it between 3-5 December and tell us what you are drinking and how it is.

Just Open It!

This is another joint effort between me and Andy from Beer Reviews.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Lovibonds Sour Grapes and 69 IPA

Lovibonds’ Sour Grapes is sensational. There’s no need to build up to it, I’ll just throw it straight out there. It started as a beautiful mistake when a batch of wheat beer caught an ‘infection’ and started to sour. They poured most of it away but, because they liked where the taste was going and knowing that a bit of lactic acidity isn’t the worst thing in the world, they held some back and put it on tap at the brewery in Henley – it sold out in a weekend.

Sour beer is an acquired taste. It’s not like a pint of bitter that’s gone bad and tastes like someone’s spitefully added old milk and lime. These beers have been knowingly inoculated with wild yeasts to turn their beer a particular way. The lambics and gueuze of Belgium are the classics of the style but American brewers are experimenting with wild ales with increasing regularity. They can range from subtle to eye-watering; from a spritz of sherbet to sharp lemon or sour vinegar. Many are aged to allow their flavour to properly develop, this means they often come with unrivalled complexity and flavour, particularly those also aged in wood (which most are). A number of different yeasts can be used, from the naturally airborne ones to specific varieties; the most widely know is called Brettanomyces (or just Brett) and it’s responsible for a lemony, horse blanket, leathery flavour – other yeasts give more or different levels of sourness.

With their beer, Lovibonds bought three Pinot Noir wine barrels which were previously used to hold English sparkling wine. Each barrel was filled with beer and inoculated with a different yeast: barrel one got pure Brettanomyces bruxellensis, the Brett native to the Brussels area and the one used for the classics of the style; the second got the yeast from a bottle of Oud Beersel and the third is from Drie Fonteinen. The aim was originally to blend the beers to make the best combination, a practice used in Belgium which separates lambic from gueuze: lambic is a vintage from one batch of beer; gueuze is a blend of any number of vintages from different barrels. The Sour Grapes that Lovibonds took to The Rake on Monday was an unblended (the tap clip said gueuze but it was lambic) keg of the pure Brett barrel (they will likely blend the others in the future).

The result is a 4.6% beer, crystal clear and evidently Champagne-like in aroma. The sharpness hits the tongue immediately but it mellows almost as fast, leaving lemons and wine. Behind that there’s a biscuity, bready flavour which perfectly counters the sour, then comes the barrel adding a depth of wood, some texture and something which I often get in these beers – wotsits. Not like the finger-staining cheese flavour, more like the after taste, that savoury hit on the swallow. Lambic and gueuze is not generally the sort of thing to drink by the pint but Sour Grapes is something I could happily drink two or three of, where the sharp flavour is refreshing rather than rasping and each mouthful is interesting. It’s a definite British stamp on a Belgian classic and an American vogue style and it works very well - everyone else must’ve liked it too as it sold out halfway through the night. Hopefully what’s left of the other three barrels will come out soon...

The reason we were at The Rake on a Monday night was for the launch of 69 IPA (Lovibonds brought other beers with them, including the Sour Grapes and a keg version of Dark Reserve). It’s a 6.9% American-style IPA hopped with Warrior and Centennial. It also undergoes a unique dry-hopping where an old keg has been converted to include a hop filter and a flo-jet and the beer is pumped and circulated through hops for four days – two days with Centennials and two days with Columbus. The ‘Hopinator’, as it’s known, adds an intense aroma to the beer, picking up all the leafy aromatics from the hops but little extra bitterness (it’s like a Randall the Enamel Animal only more prolonged). It’s another beer which stands apart from the others in its category. The hops are monsterous, the aroma is like a cloud around your face made from bitter oranges and the finish is long, dry and intense, calling you back for another mouthful to get that sweet hit of caramel at the beginning. It’s big and bold and all the better for it – it’s a taste of West Coast America brewed next to the Thames. I also love the tap handle and bottle label (the bottled version, incidentally, is less heavy-hitting on the hops and very easy drinking).

Lovibonds are making some fantastic beers and they are different. One thing that can’t be said about the brewery is that they are copying anyone else: they stick to kegs, their range is tight and well built (a wheat beer, an amber, a dark ale made with home-smoked malt and stronger versions of the wheat and dark) and the brews look and taste great. I wish I could get their beers in more places, particularly the two headliners in this post. They have a tap room open at the weekends in Henley which generally serves all their range and I should get over their sometime – so should everyone else (it’s also a lovely town!). Whenever the keg revolution properly begins in the UK (which it will!) they will already be there to wave it in, slap it on the back and say: “It’s about bloody time too. Now here, try this!”

I got the pictures from the Lovibonds facebook page.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ten Words Beer Bloggers Use Too Often...

...Or use too loosely when describing beer!

It’s too easy to use – ‘Mmm, this beer is so hoppy!’ – but what does it mean? Is it aroma hoppy, bitter hoppy, all-round hoppy? Is it juicy hoppy, earthy hoppy, floral hoppy, fragrant hoppy? Is it good hoppy or bad hoppy?

See above. ‘Mmm, this beer is very malty’. But is that caramel or chocolate? Bread or coffee? Toast or toffee? Is it full bodied or not? Is it sweet or not?

Citrus?! Oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit count in the citrus bracket. If it’s citrusy then in what way – juicy, bitter, sharp? Does it smell like a grapefruit skin, pith, juice or flesh? Does it smell like lime or taste like it? If it tastes like it then is it a sourness or just a flavour?

What does earthy mean? What does it actually taste like? Like mud? Like stones? Like brick? Like leaves? A herby bitterness? Coffee grounds? Vegetal?

Tropical Fruit
Abundant in American hops but which fruit is it specifically? Pineapple, mango (what variety?!), kiwi fruit, passion fruit, papaya, guava, lychee... each have their own specific flavour so what do you actually taste?

Another generic hoppy term along with citrus, earthy and tropical. What flower does it smell like? Is it elderflower? Roses? Fields of daisies (whatever that smells like)? Spicy floral, orange blossom or even the tack of spruce or pine? This one is harder than the others to nail and get accurate.

‘It’s got a lovely crisp finish.’ What the hell does that mean? I write it all the time but now I’m looking at it properly I don’t get it... It’s a quenching finish, maybe a little dry, definitely vague.

But it is like milk or dark? If it’s dark then how dark? Is it creamy or bitter? Subtle or full-on? Does it taste like actual chocolate you’ve eaten before or is it just kind of roasty and chocolatey?

Dried Fruit
The reserve of the winter warmer or hidden in a nice stout, but you can dry almost any fruit, so which is it? Are we talking generic raisins or perhaps the tang of a dried apricot, maybe even the candy depth of a dried pear?

Ah, now this is a big one. A catch-all for anything a little different. Struggling to pick out what was in that Belgian blonde, the word spice goes in the note book and I’m almost satisfied, but what spices are they? The ting of metallic clove, the pungent heat of ginger, the tonsil tingling crack of pepper, a festive dusting of cinnamon, fruity green chilli or fiery dried seeds, is the coriander orangey and floral or dry and freshly ground. This is the one I chase around the glass trying to work out what that spice is.

There’s 10 to start with but what else is there? I nearly used the words Awesome, Great and Delicious but pulled them out before posting and replaced them. I'm definitely guilty of all of the above and I'm sure I'll continue to use them, just maybe I'll try a little harder to get the right word from now on!

Picture from here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Beer Bloggers Conference Days 2 and 3

Surprisingly day 2 (days 0 and 1 here) didn’t begin with the kind of show-stopping hangover I expected. Sure, I felt like hell, but it was a mild version of death and one that was easily cured with a breakfast of American proportions. That and more lavish writing about sunrises and mountains.

The conference started quietly with four presentations on technical stuff such as social media, mobile apps and tools to use which help to track buzz and sentiment, but this was more interesting on a day job level and not so much for the blog. The one piece of information which interested me more than any other is that between 2008 and 2009 there was a 700% annual increase in the time users spent on facebook. That’s not people sign ups or hits; that’s how long they use it for and it signifies a change in the way people use the internet. That’s a pretty big deal.

Lunch came next. Jay Brooks and I were going to head to Twisted Pine until Greg Koch invited us to the Mountain Sun (yeah, I’m name dropping). We walked in the unseasonal November heat, arriving with a glisten of sweat and gasping for a beer. Mountain Sun is a cool place, kind of a hippy cafe and restaurant with a brewery out the back. The beer is good which I found by working my way through a sample of six. My favourite was the Killer Harvest, a fantastic pumpkin beer that was simultaneously light and creamy with hints of spice. Lunch was good too – a huge burger, of course – even if we did have to eat it in two minutes flat to make it back to the conference (and even then we were 15 minutes late).

Every meal should look like this
The session we made it back late for was Women and Craft Beer. This was the controversial one of the weekend and sparked lots of debate (too much debate to resurrect here – my opinion is that beer is for everyone so why do we need a specific craft beer movement for women...). Thankfully, Greg Koch restored order to the room with his key note speech, an engaging look at the beer industry from a number of different angles.

Then came the wild hour of the weekend: Live Beer Blogging. It works like this: one hour, 12 breweries and 12 tables, each table with up to 10 people around it, huddled over laptops and phones. That’s five minutes for each brewery at each table and they have to pour one beer and talk about it: it’s speed dating with breweries. As the bell rang to start, the first beer was poured. Ours was Mountain Standard Double Black IPA from Odells. Before we knew it the bell had rung again and a gasp was followed by a mass gulp with glasses being emptied ready for the next brewery visit. I was tweeting on my laptop, taking photos on my camera and trying to write in my notebook, all whilst trying to listen and drink – multi-tasking as its best. As well as the Odells, we also had: a Deschutes Fresh Hop made with Crystal hops straight from the harvest to the kettle; a New Belgium La Folie 2010 which I discovered is universally loved by everyone but me – I just don’t like Flemish reds and think they taste like tomato juice; Dogfish Head poured a 2006 World Wide Stout which was chocolate, cocoa, vanilla and wow. Breckenridge, New Planet (gluten-free beer, but you wouldn’t know it), Great Lakes (great porter), A C Golden, Karl Strauss, Widmer (Brrrbon was all about the bourbon), Rogue Chocolate Stout (poured by Sebbie who is the one on the label) and Great Divide (an Oak Aged Yeti to finish) also poured. The hour was intense and I think most people started feeling it (the booze and the speed) about half-way through as heads started to spin – great fun though!

After the speed drinking we had an hour free so I went to my room and watched X Factor highlights while wrapping up bottles of beer in my pants (English meaning, not American) to bring home – rock and roll. When we met in the hotel lobby again we had to wait almost 45 minutes for the world’s most incompetent bus driver to pick us up who then, when she finally arrived, managed to lodge her bus in the middle of a car park (known locally as a ‘parking lot’) for 15 minutes to the detriment of the oncoming hangovers of the drinkers onboard, who needed food and beer pretty desperately. My note book simply reads (and I have no idea when I even wrote this): ‘Stupid bus driver.’

Eventually we made it out and over to Boulder Beer Co, another great brewpub filled with great beer. Mojo, their IPA packed with mango, mandarin and pineapple, three flavours and aromas that make any beer more awesome, brought me back to life. We had tacos, which I ate with a knife and fork like an English gentleman, followed by more beer: a fresh-hopped amber, an Obovoid oaked oatmeal stout, a Hazed & Infused (a great hoppy pale ale) and a few others, I don’t remember what - I was busy schmoozing with Mariah (Mrs Calagione!) from Dogfish Head.

After dinner the pub crawl began. Five bars in town were offering a free beer to each of the conference attendees. I went to the first one and then soon after somehow found myself walking through frat parties on the University of Colorado campus towards an unnamed speakeasy somewhere with Greg from Stone and about six others (it all goes a big hazy around this point). When we finally arrived (the promised 5 minute walk turned into 15) it looked like a backwards hoe-down in 1950s middle America with two singers at the front and people dancing (actual dancing) in a very small square of space, with wood-panelled walls all around. We ordered a beer and I sat perplexed until it was time to leave. Some things are too odd to comprehend. We ended back in Mountain Sun where we stayed until 2am (drinking more of that fantastic Killer Harvest).

Mountain Sun
Day 3 was short and sweet. Three bloggers talked about their sites while everyone else sipped beermosas (Breckenridge’s Agave Wheat mixed with orange juice, although I preferred the beer on its own – it was really nice and refreshing). Then Jay Brooks discussed the future of beer blogging (there is no answer but we are it) and the closing statements were made followed by the goodbyes and the ‘come to [insert US city here] sometime and I’ll show you around.’

The whole conference was better than I expected and the evening events were great fun. But more than all of that it was about the people I met and how they made me feel welcome, how they extended welcomes to visit them or offered to buy me a beer because I was in their country, how they love beer, how they are keen to recount their story to others or just to chink their glass and say cheers. Beer bloggers are the people who love beer so much that they want to tell others about it and they make for great drinking partners.

A final beer and burger at the airport and I was falling asleep as I waited to board the plane. It was exhausting, interesting and so much fun. I could’ve spent another week in Colorado visiting Boulder and Denver, going to more bars and breweries, climbing some mountains and eating more burgers, but I had to leave. It may have been a crazy three-day adventure but it was totally worth it. 

Thursday, 11 November 2010


In the last week I’ve drunk beer from bottles, cans, casks and kegs. Some were good, some not so good, some fantastic, but one thing connected them all: they were served in a glass.

And a glass is the only way I want my beer to be served to me ready to drink it. Where it comes from before that doesn’t make a difference as long as the beer tastes good.

Glass bottle (bottle-conditioned or not), plastic bottle, cask, keg, key keg, wooden barrel or can, I don’t care – I really don’t care – as long as the beer tastes good (and preferably tastes really good). Does anything matter beyond the taste?

If a beer benefits from keg then put it in a keg; if the fizz and chill of a keg will kill the subtle flavour then use a cask; if a beer will suffer in a bottle then don’t put it in one (that’s mostly aimed at any British beer below 4% - how many of those are actually good in a bottle…?); if it works in a can and the brewery can can it, then do it.

Good beer is good beer and that’s all that matters, right?

For more on this see: Pete, Glyn (and again), Martyn (the first paragraph nails it) and Robbie. Picture from here.

Beer Bloggers Conference Days 0 and 1

You are going where, for what?!

I’m going to Colorado, in America, for a conference for beer bloggers.




That’s how it began. The whole notion of wanting or needing a conference for beer bloggers is a strange one to get your head around. What will it be? How will it be of benefit? Who will go? I didn’t know the answers before I went, but it’s very clear now I’m back. It’s about bringing people together, about having them discuss the issues specific to what we do, about looking at beer online and about drinking beer with new friends in the real world.

I landed the day before the conference and spent the first night in Boulder, a university town at the foot of the jaw-dropping Rocky Mountains with a population of 100,000 and a lot of breweries to keep them happy. Along with the conference organisers, we drank in three of the breweries: Avery, which was busy and brilliant, a long line of taps, a wide choice from 4.7% pilsner to a 16% Beast, where the 10.4% Maharaja IPA was one of the best beers I had all weekend, mango and pineapple, big and strong but dangerously drinkable; Draft House, with a bar out front and a brewery out the back with a large dining and drinking space between, serving Colorado Brewing Co beers, it also fed me a huge burger and a sampler flight of beers (above), including a kolsch, pale ale, fresh hop IPA and a porter; Walnut Brewery was our final stop (there was a sports beer in between where I had a Fat Tire) where the Brown IPA was fantastic. Jet-lagged and awake for 24 hours, it was time for sleep before the big event.

The conference itself began at 2pm. Jet lag being the bitch that it is, I was awake at 6.30am. I passed the time by: writing descriptions of the beautiful sunrise onto the mountains; walking to Liquor Mart and spending almost an hour walking up and down the looong beer aisle trying to decide what to bring home; getting a breakfast in IHOP, which was the most appropriately named place but pretty grim (not grim enough to stop me going back the next day); walking to a bar for a beer only to be refused because they didn’t accept my ID and wanted my passport (everyone gets ID’d in Boulder) and then when I left 30 seconds after entering a car was lying on its side in a narrow, quiet street lined beside the bar and a police car was already on the scene while a guy with a skateboard was just staring. I’ve no idea how that happened.

Then, finally, the conference began. A large room filled with tables facing the speakers at the front with attendees all staring into smart phones or laptops. Julia Herz from the Brewers Association kicked it off with an interesting string of facts, most of which I neglected to write down assuming there’d be some kind of handout. Then Jessica Daynor from Draft magazine talked about what bloggers can learn from print writing which was a great session but raised a number of questions about if or why bloggers want to learn from print or if the online medium allows for a freer style and approach – a fascinating discussion. There was an hour on SEO which would’ve been helped down with a few jugs of very strong beer – it wasn’t bad, it was just spoken in a language I don’t understand: computer. The final conference session was about beer and food, which was actually more of a drinking session in which you talk and think about food for two hours without actually eating anything, making everyone very hungry. After this we left the bright lights of the conference room and jumped on a bus.

Oskar Blues is the home of the canned beer apocalypse, or so says the sign as we walk into the bar and brewery, a silver and grey industrial cube which opens into a great, wide space backed with huge tanks of beer and a cage-like bar at the front. Everywhere you look it’s a warehouse of silver tins; some 12oz, others 100bbl. It’s a seriously cool place and somewhere I could drink everyday given the chance – it just feels good to be in there, as if you’ve come home or you’ve been there a thousand times before. The beers are great too. Dale’s Pale Ale stands out as being packed with tropical fruit and citrus with a balancing bitterness to finish, an Amarillo fresh-hopped firkin of the Pale Ale was even better, while a bourbon barrel aged Ten Fidy was rich and mouth-filling, intense, oaky and delicious. At 9pm we were sent back to the hotel for the final event of the day: Bring Your Own Bottle Night.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: every attendee brought with them a selection of their favourite or local bottles and they were set up in a large room for people to help themselves (over 100 people, six beers each – that’s a lot of beer). I literally beer-geeked-out. Just imagine that concept, imagine a room of amazing beers, most of which you’ve never seen before, all free and ready to drink: an all-you-can-drink beer buffet as I heard it described. And I treated it as all-you-can-drink, pouring a few mouthfuls at a time before moving onto the next and then the next, greedily knocking them back like a kid in the greatest free sweetshop the world has ever shown him. Sadly, because of the excitement, I don’t remember much of what I had beyond the first five beers. There was a Upright Four Play sour which had boobs on the label (so of course I remember that one), a Brooklyn Black Ops (wow), a Dark Lord 2008 and 2010 (woah that’s sweet), a Russian River Sanctification which followed the tongue-bruising stouts perfectly, and then just so many others as I moved around the room talking to different people, meeting new people, explaining to everyone that yes I had come all the way from London just for the conference and nothing else. At the end they had to physically remove us from the room, which was still half full with beer which the opportune among the group grabbed before going. Having had enough, I stumbled along the corridor to my room where my roommate Reno (possibly the coolest guy I’ve ever met) and I watched some Scottish guy on TV and decided the simplest of action plans for the next day: drink too much beer.*

*Yes, this post is mostly about the drinking. There are many more photos of the weekend here.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

European Beer Bloggers Conference 2011

On Sunday, at the inaugural Beer Bloggers Conference in Boulder, Colorado, I stood up in front of the room and announced that there would be a European Beer Bloggers Conference in London in 2011.

I’m working with Zephyr Adventures, the organisers who also arrange successful wine and food conferences, on the European one. My role is to help sort out a venue, hotels and sponsors, plus have an input in the agenda and generally tweet and blog the hell out of it – my ‘payment’ was being taken to the US conference to see how they did things over there.

I get to have a good say into what I think will work in Europe. This means that I will be trying to arrange the weekend that I really want to go to. I saw the sessions which worked and the ones which didn’t work so well in Boulder, or at least sessions which wouldn’t work so well in front of a British and European audience. The difference is simple: the European beer blogging community is smaller and people already know one another quite well, therefore the event needs to be more social than academic. Plus, I don’t think there will be many European bloggers who want a two-hour session on maximising SEO, studying analytics or the benefits (or not) to adding adverts to your site (correct me if I’m wrong and we can arrange it!).

I’ve got lots of cool ideas for the conference, there are some great sponsors already and a great location and I’m personally very excited and I think all the other beer bloggers should be too (and I’m not just saying that!). A live beer blogging (kind of like speed dating with breweries) will almost definitely happen, a Bring Your Own Bottle night will be an in-person help-yourself beer swap, there’ll be two beer dinners, I’m hoping for a brewery visit or two, a twitter blind tasting, some food and beer pairing... Not your usual ‘conference’ activity, so I suggest you shed the notion of a boring lecture-style conference; this is an online conference and therefore it’s about all the voices in the room.

I’m sure some people will wonder what the point is but for me it’s about galvanising the beer bloggers and improving the overall quality by looking at issues that surround what we do (such as twitter beer reviews/tasting notes and if they work; the effectiveness of blogging; the industry involvement; the future of beer writing; an open debate about do’s and dont’s of blogging), discussing them in a practical and involving way. It’s also about having a great weekend drinking great beers! It won’t be academic, it’ll be practical and interesting and based around beer and the internet and the best ways of communicating – even if you have no interest in a ‘conference’ it’ll still be a fascinating weekend of events which you won’t be able to enjoy anywhere else, that’s for sure.

It’ll be in May or early June and will last two to three days (Friday and Saturday will be the core, with beer dinners each evening, and then a Sunday plan will be there for those who want to stay on longer - Sunday will hopefully involve a brewery and a London pub crawl, so nothing too demanding!). It’ll be very affordable (it’s currently going to be £65 to attend, but this might change, and that cost will include the evening meals and all the beer you can drink) and we’re also working with hotels to find a good rate for attendees. And it won’t just be UK beer bloggers – I hope there will be European bloggers, US bloggers, industry people, breweries, brewers (pouring their beer), beer writers, food and wine bloggers/writers and more, so quite a mix. It’s also the perfect opportunity for a brewery to talk to the key online writers and present their beers to them.

What do you think? Are you interested in this? What would you like to see at the conference? (This is the US agenda) If anyone has any ideas for sessions then let me know and I'll add them to the list - this is about what we all would like to see there! I’ll be writing about the US conference more and you’ll hopefully get a good feeling about what it was like (and it was excellent!). We’ll be announcing all the important details (dates, venue, hotel, sponsors) in the next few weeks and then in the next few months we’ll announce the definitive agenda as it gets decided.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Cheers Kelly!

I’ve had a lot of great Thornbridge beers in the last two years. Jaipur is always a big neon sign which pulls me uncontrollably towards it; Bracia is just about the best beer I’ve tasted; Halcyon Vintage 2009 is fantastic; Kipling is an irresistibly great beer; Lumford, Alliance, Handel, St Petersburg... the list doesn’t really end.

This one’s for Kelly Ryan. It’s a simultaneous virtual wave goodbye, a man hug and the chinking cheers of a fresh pint before he heads back to New Zealand. And it’s deserving because he’s taken the time to talk to people, to write blogs and read blogs, to update twitter, to answer questions (and there have been times when I’ve sent strings of emails asking questions I don’t know the answer to just to make me seem less stupid) and to ask them, to engage with people, to say thanks if someone says they’ve enjoyed a Thornbridge beer or to find out why if someone didn’t enjoy one (if such a thing is possible), and, of course, to make great beer; it’s about making the time and putting in the extra effort just because he’s passionate and cares. Britain is an exciting place for beer and Thornbridge are at the forefront of that – long may it continue.

I'm sure many others will join in raising a glass to say cheers to Kelly, all the best for the future and make sure you get your new beer (whatever it is and wherever it’s made) sent over to us!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Blogging from Boulder

I am in Boulder, Colorado, for the inaugural Beer Bloggers Conference. It’s at the base of the stunning Rocky Mountains in a town with 11 breweries (three of which I went to yesterday, including Avery Brewing whose Maharaja IPA is fantastic). The conference is a three-day event packed with loads of cool beer stuff including some key note speakers, a couple of beer dinners, some food and beer pairing, live blogging, a bring your own bottle night and a bar crawl. The agenda is really interesting, although I don’t think it’d work so well being so ‘e-academic’ in the UK – we’d need a more practical event, for sure. Still, I’m really looking forward to it! There’s a twitter hashtag for it - #bbc10 - which is already pretty active with people making their way across America into Colorado. Tonight is a dinner at Oskar Blues and then we’re drinking bottles brought by all the attendees in a free-for-all help yourself kind of thing – it’ll be like a tickers paradise!

Expect a couple of posts over the weekend but right now I need to go to a place called Liquor Mart and buy more bottles than I can realistically carry home.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Fast Food FABPOW! Big Mac and KFC

What is the best beer to enjoy with a Big Mac or a bucket of KFC?!

It’s usually the sort of thing we eat from the bag rather than taking it home and serving it up on a plate, but that shouldn’t mean it’s less worthy of finding a beer to pair it with. Sometimes it’s right to make an effort with the less finer things in life and treat them with a little reverence. That’s what this is for.

I once sat opposite a mate who ate a Big Mac in two mouthfuls. Two! He almost choked on the second bite but he managed it and it’s a sight I’ll (sadly) probably never forget. I’m no Don Gorske when it comes to Big Macs but I’m guessing it’s the most consumed burger in the world (can anything compete?) with something like 550 million sold in the US alone each year. Whenever I have one I’m filled with the same feeling I get when I drink a bottle of Bud: it’s incredibly familiar to me even though I very rarely ‘enjoy’ them; it’s as if their flavour is implanted in my brain and one mouthful is enough to trigger the Big Mac sensor. I think it’s the special sauce, the gherkin and the spongy texture which makes it, that and the handful of salty fries which follows it down and the cheese which lingers throughout. It’s delicious and anyone who says they don’t like Big Macs needs to stop being so unbearably gourmet and cool and just enjoy the trashier things in life. But, and this is the important thing, what beer to have with it?

I had two thoughts: a pale ale and, inspired by He Said Beer, She Said Wine, a Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, which is listed as the ideal beer for a classic hamburger. The London Pale Ale didn’t cut it, being neither toasty enough for the bun nor fruity enough for the condiments and cheese. The Indian Brown was the opposite, being too big and overpowering for the flimsy little patties (it would be good for a fat charred burger, blush in the middle, but not on the McDonalds version). Not wanting to fail I went back to the fridge and looked for something else... the choice was a Granville Island Kitsilano Maple Cream Ale, which my ex-boss had brought me back from a trip to Canada. The beer was smooth, nutty, toasty and had a depth of maple syrup and a crisp, earthy finish – a nice amber ale with plenty of flavour. Put that with a Big Mac and it’s fantastic! The maple sweetness keeps everything in control, the toasty depth in the beer matches the sweet bun and the beef, while the earthy hops rein in the sour gherkin, sticky cheese and the sweet special Mac sauce. It was spot on and I challenge anyone to find a better match (I lay this out there because I’m quite happy to buy more Big Macs and eat them with good beer just to see what works best!).

During my teens KFC was a sort-of nemesis and the cause of me ballooning to a fat 15 stone (seriously). When I worked in retail, which was the worst three months ever (mainly because I was fat and unfit and struggled to stand up all day), I’d have a large KFC variety meal at least three times a week, washing it down with a pot of gravy. I rarely have it now (despite walking past a KFC at least twice a day) but I still have a deep-rooted love for it stuck somewhere in the dark recesses of my late-teens. To rekindle that love affair I bought a variety meal with its two pieces of chicken, two hot wings and crispy strip. I picked out two beers to try with this one: a Goose Island IPA and a Meantime London Lager. The Goose Island overpowered the whole thing being a little too sweet, floral and fruity, but the London Lager, a beer made with East Anglian malt and Kentish hops, was remarkably good. The chicken takes on a buttery flavour with a peppery finish from the finger licking secret blend of 11 herbs and spices. The beer has a buttery edge, hints of toffee and then a lingering dry finish and with the chicken it couldn’t have been a better match, complimenting and then refreshing the palate from the grease ready for another gnaw. You can’t beat a Coke with KFC (it’s the fizz and sweetness which does it) but this was pretty damn close.

So a Maple Cream Ale works wonders with a Big Mac and a London Lager loves a KFC. Both beers are quite subtle and that’s necessary because the depth of flavour in these fast foods isn’t the equivalent to having a freshly-grilled slab of meat in a burger joint or a plate of home-fried chicken. They are made for mass-appeal so the flavours are simple and unchallenging, this means the beers served with them need to be equally simple so they don’t overpower.

This FABPOW! (the Food and Beer Pairing of the Week!) is beer and fast food and why the hell not. I even thought about taking the bottles with me to McDonalds and have them Sideways-style to get the full eating experience, but then I thought better of it... What would you have chosen to go with these? What about with a Burger King Whopper? A Subway? A Greggs pasty?

Monday, 1 November 2010

What does ‘drunk’ mean to you?

What's your definition of being drunk? It’s a term I use often and casually but when does it trip over from being ‘not drunk’ into ‘drunk’? And how carefully should we use it?

Is it when we have an elevated sense of enjoyment? Is it when we’re laughing more, talking rubbish and offering to get the next round in? Is it when we stand and feel a little ‘woo’? Maybe when we realise that we’re beginning to slur words a little and everything is getting slower (except time which is speeding along)? Is it when we know we’ve had a few and that the next has to be the last? Is it when we leave the pub and stumble around, knocking into mates, lacking control? Is it when we sit on the train and the carriage starts to spin and we’re not entirely sure what’s going on? Is it when we’re throwing up somewhere or passed out?

I don’t know the answer to this one myself but I’m interested in what people class as drunk or not drunk and where on the spectrum of inebriation ‘drunk’ actually falls. Is it having had one too many or is it having had five too many? Are you ‘drunk’ when you reach your personal limit (what is this limit - a couple of pints or the point at which you can’t drink more without passing out) or is ‘being drunk’ a lot more than that? The dictionary says “being in a temporary state in which one’s physical and mental faculties are impaired by an excess of alcoholic drink; intoxicated” which leaves it open to debate.

And how carefully should we use the term ‘drunk’? Is it negative as if to suggest you’ve done something terribly wrong or is it a casual term? Does it all depend on the situation and the actions? What do you think?

This video (above) and this one shows some really drunk people. My favourite is the guy in the second video who is given the breathalyser test but thinks it’s a bottle and tries to drink from it!