Monday 28 February 2011

Paint the Town Red

To paint the town red: To have a bloody good night out.

I’ve had a few decent nights of drinking over the years, but none of them have been so impressive as to coin a popular and lasting phrase (not yet, anyway).

Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford, at one point a Lord and another Earl of Tyrone, is the protagonist at the heart of the phrase and, it seems, one of the great drinkers of Victorian times. Nicknamed the 'Mad Marquis', contemptuous of many, especially women and the police, he once rode a horse in the Grand National (coming last), is thought to have been the perpetrator of Spring Heeled Jack, a character of high-jumping Victorian folklore, and was a lively drunk who liked a brawl or a bet.

The famous phrase was born after a successful shoot one day in 1837 when the Marquis and his mates were celebrating in Melton Mowbray in what seems to have been an especially heavy session, one which ended with the town a new and livelier shade after they literally painted parts of it red, including, if the above image is to be believed, the White Swan pub sign, the post office, the toll gate and a few watchmen or toll keepers (who we can also assume lost a drunken scuffle with the finely dressed young men).

I think it's a great story; one legendary night out and almost 200 years later people are still using the phrase it coined. 

I’ve been interested in popular phrases and their links to the pub for a while now (always looking for a book or blog idea...) and it was Ian Marchant’s fantastic The Longest Crawl which told me this story (plus some extra searches here and here). What other common phrases originated around the pub or drinking? I’ve found cock and bull, wet your whistle, mind your Ps and Qs, gone for a Burton and one for the road, but what else?

There is another potential origin of the saying which states it comes from the US about 50 years after the reputed Marquis but this is nowhere near as interesting a story as a few chaps dressed in fine silk lording around with paint pots (and probably pint pots), so I’m choosing to believe the more interesting of the two.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

FABPOW! Jambalaya

I video blogged! Below is the written version which doesn’t show me doing the eating and drinking and is hopefully more coherent.

Jambalaya: a jumble of French, Spanish and Creole in the southern states of America; a jumble of meat, vegetables and fish; a jumble of rich and spicy, smoky, meaty and savoury with bursts of sweet prawns or tomatoes. It’s a paella or pilau which has been uprooted and fallen down near the Gulf of Mexico.

I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe and it was great. If recipe reading is too strenuous then do this, with some stirring in between: chicken, smoked sausage; onion, pepper, celery; garlic, chilli (I used scotch bonnet), bay leaves, thyme; stock; rice; prawns. 

It’s a great dish for a beer, with tastes and textures calling out for the cooling cut of carbonation, and so with it I wanted to try a few different ones, to try and see what worked best and why. I like dark beers with spicy food as the chocolatey, roasty depth acts like a Scoville sponge, rounding out flavours, while there’s a smoky/savoury bridge in them which can bring flavours together. Many people like pale ales with spices, something I’m more wary of because hops and chilli tend to fight rather than play and like two naughty kids when you put them together they get naughtier and noisier rather than quieter and calmer. I also couldn’t resist trying it with a lager. If someone in a Southern US state was going to have a beer with their dinner then chances are they’d have something like Bud. Jaipur was there because I was drinking it while cooking dinner.

Smuttynose Robust Porter. Chocolate, smoke, a savoury depth and a long-lasting roasty finish which develops as it warms. With the dinner it worked really well to begin, being a cooling sensation against the fiery scotch bonnets, but when the long finish came out from its six degree slumber it rubbed against the spice and intensified it - imagine a cup of coffee when all you really want is a glass of lemonade.

Caldera Pale Ale. What a nice beer. A noseful of Cascades, smooth and crisp without the bitter hit I was expecting but enough to make you go straight back for more, making it very drinkable. The underlying sweetness in it made it work really well with the richly savoury dish, slicing through the chorizo smokiness, but the hops at the end, rather than rounding it off, add a little jagged edge. Still a nice match up though and something I’d have again.

Thornbridge Jaipur. A glass of Centennials, fruity, floral, a spectrum of oranges and a long-lasting bitterness. It’s the first bottle of Jaipur I’ve had in ages and I enjoyed it. However, it didn’t like the jambalaya. The bitterness in there became harsh with the spices, earthy and tangy.

Budweiser. I’ve got no problems drinking Budweiser and as a beer it fascinates me, particularly its history. It’s very pale, doesn’t bellow out a huge aroma (most people drink it straight from the bottle so forget late hops), but has that classic bite of apple. It’s clean and crisp, cold from the fridge it’s uncomplicated and easy to drink: it is what it is. With jambalaya... it was perfect. I wanted it to just be ok, but it was spot on. With the spice a little lemon character came through which cut through everything, an unexpected burst of sweetness was enough to fight off the saltiness and it cooled everything down and balanced it out, making it the beer I wanted to drink more of.

The jambalaya was delicious. It’s also a dish which throws out different challenges to finding a good beer to go with it – chilli heat, smoke, delicate prawns, rich rice, a heavy and sticky texture, tomato. I tried all the beers over and over (until at the end of dinner I couldn’t move for an hour) and Bud was the one I kept going back to: it just worked. It was uncomplicated and improved the flavours in both the food and the beer. Next time I should try it with Dixie, a New Orleans lager for that local flavour. Until then, Budweiser gets FABPOW’d.

Saturday 19 February 2011

My Beer Travels on Facebook

I spend all day at work on facebook. I do this because it's my job, not because I've got nothing better to do. I also spend a lot of time telling people how important facebook and social media can be for a business. Then I realised that I'm really lazy with my blog's facebook page and that I've got lots of cool images just saved on my computer from my drinking jaunts and not posted anywhere else... Huzzah! Now those photos are on my facebook page. Trips to Belgium, USA, Czech Republic and BrewDog are all on there and I'll add more to them in the future. Take a look.

Thursday 17 February 2011

This Week in Beer: 14 February

Hooray! It’s a great little boozer with a great selection of beer. I was planning on going there this weekend but I might skip it now as I’ve got a feeling it’ll be a bit busier. Congratulations to a deserving winner.

CAMRA reinforce all stereotypes

This one image tells the world media that only a certain type of person drinks real ale. It should have been a celebration of the best of British pubs, a chance to show that pubs are great, particularly ones like The Harp which serves great beer. Instead we get this image. And these ones (I also got the one above of The Harp, which is much lovelier - they are all taken from the CAMRA website, but they are also on facebook). All the hard marketing and PR work to try and appeal to younger people or a broader audience has been wasted. Couldn't they have found a token 20-something from somewhere?!

Fyne Ales Jarl is delicious!

I loved it at GBBF last year and it’s taken me until last week for me to find it again, getting a really good pint in the excellent Southampton Arms (where BrewDog 5am Saint was also excellent from the cask). Then I had it in the bottle and it was even better. Imagine all the fruits in the world condensed into one great beer, fresh and tasty and at 3.8% you can have a few of them. Fantastic. The Fyne website is selling them. I like Fyne a lot, they make some great beers.

Thornbridge release Italia

A lager brewed with Birrificio Italiano. It’s 4.7%, pale, clean and crisp, a soft body, a lasting noble bitterness hangs around while some playful herbs and fruits (mint, lemon, red berries) come out. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while and I like it a lot – I really hope they brew some more lagers.

Thornbridge also bottle Wild Swan

Not many beers under 4% work well in bottles. Fyne Jarl is one which does. Another which I had this week is Thornbridge’s Wild Swan. I didn’t know what to expect but it’s really good – pale gold, lots of elderflower, lemon and gooseberry. It’s like a ray of summer sunshine on a cold February evening. MyBrewerytap are selling the Thornbridge bottles - sell also the pick n mix.

BrewDog launch IPA is Dead

Bramling X. Citra. Nelson Sauvin. Sorachi Ace. All 7.5%, all 75 IBUs. It’s a fascinating look at hops, particularly trying to get the IBUs all the same and then following it up with lots of late hopping. Bramling X is peppery and punchy. Citra is fruitilicious. Nelson Sauvin is a kick to the uvula. Sorachi Ace is divisive, lemony and floral, subtle and different. As an experiment of hop profiles, it's really interesting to try them, particularly for a hop geek like me. But I do feel like a cliché when I say that the Citra is the best (Citra is too cool). 

BrewDog release Punk IPA in cans

I’ve got some (not quite as many as pictured above). I can’t wait to drink them.

The Red Cross loves Dogfish Head!

A rogue drunken tweet was accidentally sent by the tweeter of the Red Cross, talking about drinking Dogfish Head and #gettngslizzerd. She sent it from the work account instead of her personal account. Whoops. Dogfish Head have turned it into a PR goldmine, encouraging their fans to donate to Red Cross. The Red Cross also dealt with it pretty well. It’s a good, fun story for beer!

UPDATE (18 February): I was going to make an update here anyway and now it’s been pushed along by Tandleman. What I wanted to do was qualify my CAMRA statement, which I don’t want to come across in the wrong way. Below is a version of a comment I’ve just left on Tandleman’s blog.

I spoke to CAMRA's Marketing Manager about the image yesterday and told him my thoughts. I understand the hard work which goes into CAMRA and that it's all volunteer-driven. Those guys rightly deserve to be in that picture and deserve their plaudits for choosing the best pub in the UK, no one can argue that and it'd be unfair if they weren't there. But look at the other pictures there as well and it only shows just one demographic of drinker. If CAMRA are using that as a promotional image (which if it's on their website and facebook page then I'm assuming it is) then I feel they needed to at least try and display a broader range of people, particularly as I was told that there were other demographics drinking in there during the presentations (and there always are as it's got a broad set of customers). CAMRA want to add more youth images to their marketing campaigns, to show a broader range of drinkers, and this was a chance to do so (although I also understand that they couldn't just ship in ready-airbrushed young people and put a half-drunk pint in their hand!).

There is no dig at the people in the picture, that's for sure, and they deserve a round of applause for their hard work. My point: young people drink real ale too, you know.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

FABPOW! Musa Beer Dinner

It’s taken too long to get this posted but it’s finally here. The dinner which me, Zak Avery and Pete Brown held at Musa, in Aberdeen, was a success with all six food and beer pairings working wonderfully, brilliantly well. Therefore they are all worthy of FABPOW! status.
To get to the pairings took a few weeks. It started by us choosing two beers each, any two beers as long as they were bottles which BrewDog could get in the UK. Then many emails bounced between us and Dave More, the excellent head chef at Musa, as we tried to come up with the best possible courses and pairings, tweaking this little detail or that. Eventually we got there.

Stone Ruination IPA with haggis spring rolls and black pudding bon bons (my choice). This beer is a favourite of mine, one which blew my mind with the awesome power of hops when I first had it a few years ago. At 100 IBUs it’s not exactly a light beer to start with, but who cares, it worked superbly with the richness and spices in the dishes with the bon bons being like onion bhajis with a blood sausage twist – as beer snacks go this one is a winner.

Dogfish Head/Birra del Borgo My Antonia with tortillitas de camarones (Zak’s choice). A great beer hopped with Saaz, Warrior and Simcoe, giving lemon pith and a floral, biting bitterness above the smooth body. It cut through the spicy prawn pancake and salsa with ease, providing that slice of carbonation and burst of palate-livening hops.

Maui Coconut Porter with belly pork marinated in Punk, garlic, ginger, chilli and more for three days, served with couscous and a rich jus (my choice). The smooth, chocolatey beer has an uplift of coconut and fruity-floral hops which married so well with the spice in the dish (I love dark beer like this with spice) and the deliciously fatty, roasted meat, while the nutty match of couscous and coconut was a bridge to hold it all together.

Brooklyn Brown Ale with chimmichuri lamb and goats’ cheese croquettes (Pete’s choice). Another great match with the roasty beer working so well with the lamb, spices and the warm cheese, with the earthy English hop bitterness cutting through the whole lot. If anything it needed a touch more body to carry off the punch of cheese, but still a really good pairing.
Then came the fun course: Dark Horizon ice cream shooters (Zak’s choice). The beer is big and rich, 15% of dark chocolate, coffee and dried fruit, and that topped with vanilla ice cream was just incredibly good, rich and thick and playful.
Cheeses to finish with a Fuller’s Vintage 2010 (Pete’s choice). Valdeon and Brie de Meaux, served lightly grilled on thin toasts, which was a twist on serving the course but it added a little gooey warmth to the big-flavoured cheeses which were served with a couple of chutneys. The beer stood up to it all and rounded off the whole meal elegantly in the face of some tongue-smashing cheeses.
It was a great dinner to see how different beers can compliment different flavours and textures in food. It was also good fun and each one was worthy of a FABPOW! Musa’s a cool restaurant too, with a couple of BrewDog beers on tap and a decent fridge filled with bottles. If you are going to the BrewDog bar in Aberdeen then that’s the place to line your stomach!
Thanks to Johanna Basford who took the good photos (I took the Ruination and the Brooklyn and all of us obviously got too carried away with the beer to bother with taking photos of the last two courses).

Monday 14 February 2011

To Beer, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Image from here.
I’ve written a few romantic poems (surprising even myself with some of these powerful rhymes!). Feel free to use these or to pass on to loved ones.

Some beers are red,
But few are blue,
I’m opening a bottle,
I’ll pour some for you too.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Beer makes me very happy,
Especially awesome double IPAs.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Beer is my favourite thing,
Except when it makes me fall over.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Beer is a wonderful drink,
Which is why I write these lovely links.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Beer is made with malt and hops,
And you can buy it from the shops.

Friday 11 February 2011

Brood: Why Craft Beer Means Something

Picture from here

Craft beer is a term which means something to me. Granted, it’s an idea of something, a mentality as much as a tangible product, something for a certain type of drinker (someone who cares about the background, the taste; has interest in where it’s from and what it is), but to me it’s something which is relevant and important to the world of beer.

Say the term craft beer in the street and not many people will have heard it before, but only the dimmest wouldn’t make some connection in their mind between the term and the idea of brewing with some notion of the craft in mind (opposed to the industrial scale). Say hand crafted beer and it might be easier to understand; artisan maybe takes it to the next level, makes it sound a bit fancier, but tells you something about scale and heart. Now say real ale and maybe people will understand the concept a little better, but in reality, what is that person thinking? I guess the majority think brown beer, they see stereotypes. Ask them to try and describe what real ale actually is (why it’s called real ale) and I bet most people won’t be able to tell you accurately and nor will they care. And that includes many CAMRA members.

Yes, craft beer is an inherited notion from America, but it has a general meaning and that makes it important. The fact that we can use it in the UK or in Italy or New Zealand or Brazil, surely that means it’s a name which makes sense, which is transferable? Language evolves, colloquialisms develop and people evolve with them, which is why it’s fine for me to say awesome or dude or sweet (As in “Holy crap dude, your sweet new ride is awesome!”). Yes, they are Americanisms, maybe diverting from their original usage, and not everyone likes them, but at least you kind of know what I mean by it.

Perhaps Craft Beer is a term which is more readily used by younger drinkers. I recently wrote a piece about attracting new drinkers to real ale and every one of those I interviewed said that marketing and image puts their mates off. The term ‘real ale’ is part of that. Craft beer might be a marketing name, an overall capture of a concept, but it works, particularly with younger drinkers, and real ale could do with a similar image update – a modernisation of a term which can make it appealing to more people. Come up with an alternative and maybe we’ll use that instead. Maybe we won’t because ‘craft beer’ works. What about Slow Food, Green Living, Detoxing... they are concepts but they are important ones which people have an umbrella understanding of.

And it’s not a division between good and bad tasting beer; not all craft beer is good just like not all real ale is good. The division can’t be made there because it’s too subjective. I wish we could just call it Great (or great) British beer and there be an assumption that it's excellent. In reality we don't say we're going out for a 'craft beer' it's just a beer, but that's not where the usage is important, where it becomes relevant is in making beer sound more interesting, more appealing, more delicious, more inviting. 

Craft beer has a meaning which transcends the beer world and means something to many of its drinkers, whether it’s a lifestyle choice or just a vague understanding that what you are drinking isn’t Budweiser. But, more importantly, it can mean something to those who don’t drink it and that something is likely to be more attractive than real ale. Plus, how do we describe those beers that are now in kegs or the bottled beers which aren’t bottle-conditioned? Labelling them ‘beer’ seems a little unfair.

I don’t think we need a one-line meaning of craft beer for it to be applicable for use – it’s a moving target of an idea. I also think regional brewers can be craft brewers. National brewers can as well. The difference comes with the heart that’s behind the beer and that’s an intangible variable. Maybe my argument is that almost every ale brewery in the UK is therefore a craft brewery and we just need to sharpen the image that beer has by associating it with the craft – just because a brewer can empty a mash tun with the push of a button doesn’t make it less of a craft than the assistant brewer shovelling the hot malt out. This probably makes it a marketing decision but British beer could do with a little rebranding, right?

Craft beer means beer made for a more discerning audience than the mass-market beers that ubiquitously line bars around the world. It’s a suggestion that what you are getting has more investment than a hefty marketing budget; it has a heart and soul, it’s made for people who prefer taste to TV commercials. The majority of real ales in the UK are therefore craft beers. I like the term and it makes sense to me, yet others are so against it and argue that it means nothing every time the word pops up on the page. Maybe it’s parochial British pride in not wanting to adopt an Americanism, but in a beer world where the term is understood by people, especially when we don’t have an alternative term, then let’s use craft beer.

Does craft beer work in the UK or not? Do we have something better which isn’t just ‘beer’?

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Tea: My latest obsession

I can’t drink beer all the time. I have to go to work and have the kind of job where opening a beer at my desk would be frowned upon. I also like to have a couple of booze-free days a week. And then there are the early mornings, which see me needing a livener of caffeine, not a sharpener of booze. All of this, plus my desire to learn more about different drinks, has seen tea become my latest obsession.

Builders’ tea was ruined for me a few years ago by my housemate at university who said it tasted like beansprouts. Ever since that moment, every tea has tasted exactly like that, some mildly and others so strong that I’m almost distracted to start chewing it.

My first sidestep away from Sainsbury’s own label was seeing the black boxes of Twinings with flavour descriptions on their front. I got the Breakfast, the malty Assam and the intensely smoky Lapsang Souchong, just to see what they were like. Then I found Teapigs in Waitrose and couldn’t resist the brown box with the cool brand, even if I could’ve bought about 300 bags for the same price. The addition of Teapigs to my shopping basket was the moment of change which saw me going online and buying a box of almost all of their teas, which come in cute and handy two-bag (or temples, as they’re called) sample boxes as well as in larger boxes or as loose teas.

I don’t know much about tea (this helps) but I’m fascinated to see it described in the same ways as wine or beer (and now coffee) with tasting notes and descriptions. And that was the trigger that made me realise that tea wasn’t just Tetley’s.

Chamomile tea is a relaxer, soothing anxiety, aiding sleep. This caffeine-free tea is made with whole flowers, like a cute sack of golden buds (which swell when brewing as the picture shows). It’s a pale gold, clean, floral and delicate, a little minty and uplifting, a little pineapple sweetness. I really liked it.

Peppermint tea is good for the gut, another caffeine-free brew, it smells amazing and zingy-fresh, vibrant and minty which carries through to the tongue and leaves a tingle of little kisses behind. It’s refreshing and not overpowering, with no harsh bitterness. If you’ve never had peppermint tea then you need to try it!

Tung ting oolong is a blue tea, somewhere between green and black. It’s very delicate, floral like a field of daisies, rapeseed in the summer, light and interesting.

Chocolate flake tea is malty Assam plus cocoa beans, chocolate flakes and a bit of fun. It smells like cocoa with a slug of Baileys in it (the bag before brewing smells like a fancy box of chocs) but the taste is much more subtle than expected, still lots of chocolate flavour in there and the background of tea. It’s a bit cheeky.

Yerba Mate is an interesting one. It’s called an energy brew, a Red Bull for Amazonian tribes, a should-be favourite with celebs due to the detoxing and weightloss credentials it holds. It’s a musky green with a pungent earthy aroma, a little smoky, the way an old jumper smelt when pubs let you smoke, it’s got a bitterness as well, but not a harshness, and a hint of cannabis. It’s smooth, there’s an underlying sweetness and I liked it a lot; it’s like green tea but better.

Rooibos is a red tea, another that’s caffeine-free, and it smells the best of the whole lot, like jam roly poly and stewed apple mixed with something lightly, sweetly floral. There’s a jammy, nutty flavour to it but it’s a background depth, not like drinking syrup. Fig rolls, sweet tobacco, blackcurrant and even a little earthy smoke all come through – yum.

Popcorn tea is another fun one which mixes green tea with toasted rice (plus a tiny nugget of popcorn), leaving a light and nutty brew which does taste like popcorn and adds a sweetness. Green tea for the cinema fan.

Chilli Chai mixes Assam tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom pods, chilli and vanilla. The temple is a picture, filled with colour and fragrant chunks. Spice plumes out the cup but the taste is delicate and not overpowering – spicy, fruity, fragrant, a tingle on the tongue.

Silver tips white tea is plucked within two hours of sprouting, and only sprouts for two weeks of the year, before it’s left to dry naturally. It’s a lilac-brown colour, doughy, floral, raisiny and grassy. Smooth, subtle and refreshing, but really interesting to taste.

Darjeeling Earl Grey is floral and lemony, the bergamot giving off something different to any Earl Grey I’ve had before, tasting fresher and less like chewing a cup of stewed flowers.

Mao feng green tea has a fruity-floral aroma with a background savouriness to it, not bitter or brow-curlingly bad, as some green teas are, this is light and lovely.

The Breakfast tea is the staple. I got a big box of it. It’s like all the other Breakfast teas, just better.

Apart from the Earl Grey, the green tea and the Breakfast, I got two bags of each to try. When I order again I will be buying a big box each of the Yerba Mate, Chamomile and Rooibos, plus more Breakfast (I might even make the step up to loose tea!), and maybe some irresistible peppermint. What I like about all of the ones I tried are the subtle flavours and the freshness of them, not tasting like old beansprouts or cardboard, and there's something for all times of the day, whether a breakfast wake up or an evening relaxer. It’s taken tea from an everyday work fuel to an interesting drink of great variety. Teapigs also look fantastic – it’s a great brand and a great product with interesting words written on the boxes. It’s not cheap but then the beer I buy isn’t cheap either, choosing to pay for quality over quantity.

Of course, it also got me thinking about beers made with tea... an Earl Grey IPA, with the floral flavour hitting a different note to the hops; a green tea pale ale with a different depth of flavour, a different type of bitterness; a lapsang souchong stout, smoky and intense in a way smoked malt can’t produce; peppermint tea porter making the best mint choc chip beer ever; a Rooibos red ale, adding nutty, jammy flavours to it... Or, what about a tea temple with Assam tea, a few pieces of malted barley and a couple of small hop leaves to give you a beer in a tea cup? I’d love to try that.

Tea: my day time drink just got more interesting. Anyone else had any different teas that are worth trying or different places which sell interesting varieties?

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Craft Beer, why it’s the right name

This morning I wrote a blog about why I like the name ‘craft beer’ and why I think it works in the UK. Then I got thinking… this is probably a topic which lots of others have an opinion on, so I thought I’d tell people in advance and see if others want to blog on the same topic and then post on Friday 11 February (short notice but most people probably know how they feel about it already!).

It’s a hot topic in the UK, some liking it and others hating it. Whether you agree or disagree, I don’t mind, but if you do disagree then come up with a better argument than ‘it doesn’t mean anything in the UK’ (yawn). And if you do like it then say why and why you think it works. It’ll be interesting to see the range of different opinions on this one…

Post any time on Friday if you want to take part.


I’ve got an idea on a beer blogging project called Brood. It’s like the Session but more of a sideways glance, encouraging bloggers to look a little differently at topics in beer (some important, some irreverent), or addressing ideas differently… This would be an ideal topic for Brood, as would ‘Why Budweiser is the best beer in the world’ or ‘Why I hate/love football in pubs’. Would people be interested in a semi-regular blog project like that? Taking ideas and encouraging people to write on that same topic and see what the different opinions are, with different people choosing the topics.

Friday 4 February 2011

The Session #48: Cask, Keg, Bottle or Can...

This month's Session topic is from Reluctant Scooper, one of the finest drinkers and bloggers I know.

Some people guzzle up beer in any form, from any where, served any how.

I’m one of them.

As a drinker I want to try lots of different beers, maybe every single beer, maybe just some of them, it depends on how busy I am at work. I’m still on the exciting bit, the search for the forever-elusive Best Beer In The World, where the promise of the next pint makes me drink fast, with hope, with excitement, with anticipation. New beer (plus the desire to occasionally socialise) is what takes me to the pub, to beer shops, to blogs and websites. I want to drink them or hear about them or read about them. That's why I do this.

Being this kind of drinker all that truly matters to me, when it comes down to the bare-boned-knuckles of the bar brawl, is that it arrives in the glass in a good condition and tastes totally amazing (or at least tastes like I want it to taste in that moment, subjectivity being a powerful thing and all that).

So if it's the stuff in the glass which touches the lips which is the most important thing, then does it matter how it got to that glass?

Of course it doesn't!
Keg beer. Oooh, sexy keg beer, Craft Beer in a Keg. It's the Future! Maybe. I’m excited to see more breweries filling kegs, but then I would be, wouldn’t I, with one longing eye always looking at the US and their beers. The thing is, it works in the US because the beers benefit from that little tickle and push of fizz on the way out and that extra coldness – the big hops, the big bodies of those beers, they get brighter, bolder but lighter and guess what, they are tastier! Put a 4% bitter through it and it won’t work, but a 6% pale ale or a 9% stout... Why am I excited about kegged British beers? Because it’s an extra choice. Because maybe someone who’s never tried ale before will give it a go. Because maybe more British brewers will give lager a go. Because the beers being put inside these kegs are the ones I want to drink.

Bottles! I love bottled beer, you know that. Pubs are scary so I drink at home. I'm also lazy. Or tired. So a bottle on the sofa is easier than a pint on a bar stool. I've had some wonderful, amazing beers in the bottle, beers which could only be so good because they've been in a bottle or because I've poured them out of that bottle at a special moment. Bottles are good. I spend too much money on bottles of beer.

I don't need to start on cans. We all know how I feel about them. GIVE ME GOOD BEER IN CANS! Yippee. THAT’S the future. Maybe.

And cask beer. That great and glorious product that British beer is based around. What a wonderful thing. A perfect pint of cask ale is a dream to drink. Completely unbeatable in the beer world. Full stop. But only if it's well brewed and well kept, they are delicate things those casks of beautiful beer.

So look. I like all beers, right. Most of all I like how they taste when I drink them. But, and here’s where the argument falls over, some beer is shit. I’ve had as many, or more, average or bad pints of real ale than I’ve had great pints of real ale. I’m not just talking about boring beer. I can appreciate it if it doesn’t get my tongue doing backflips of joy as long as it’s fresh and in great condition (I’d rather have a boring beer well kept than an exciting beer poorly kept; who wouldn’t?). The same is true of bottles, with as many poured down my sink as down my throat (a very wise man once said life’s too short to drink bad beer). Some beers are brilliant in the bottle, some should stay locked away forever, never touching glass. I've had less shit beer in kegs and cans, but then fewer are filling these with the beers I want to drink, so the sample is skewed, for now. But then, the majority of kegged and canned beer is not the stuff I want to drink, if that makes a difference (NOTE: The best beers I’ve drunk so far this year have all come from keg!).

This is what’s important to consider: some beers are just better in casks, some are better in kegs, and some need a container like a bottle or a can. NOw consider this: the cask, keg, bottle or can only carries it to the drinker. In an ideal world we’d all drink from the conditioning tank in a brewery. The key is this, and it’s the epicentre of this whole discussion: the beer going into the container has to be great in the first place. Get that bit wrong and you might as well serve it in a recently-emptied crisp packet.

As long as it's good in my glass than that's all that matters to me. I've said it before. I'm almost certain I'll say it again (bemoaning the single-minded REAL ALE ONLY! crowd, or the FILTERING IS THE DEVIL! groups, no doubt). It's the taste what counts; it's how it makes the drinker feel that truly matters the most. Beer is the Best Drink In The World because it's democratic and there's something for everyone. It’s a baited discussion but if a pasteurised beer sold in a can tastes great to you or me, then why are we even having this discussion? As long as you are willing to at least try it and not dismiss it point blank without even considering it as an option, then let’s happily sit here and drink our beers and talk about the weather, women or what we saw on TV last night.

Good beer first (the 'good' being highly subjective and individual, of course), container second. Simple as that.

However, and this is exciting, we’ll soon be able to get Punk IPA in cask, keg, bottle and can. This means, definitively, that we’ll be able to know once and for all, settling all squabbles forever and ever, which is the best. So, and I’ll take this challenge for the team, it’ll be WINNER TAKES ALL. Punk vs Punk vs Punk vs Punk: what’s your money on?

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Beer Bloggers Conference: What is it?

The inaugural European Beer Bloggers Conference is coming to London on the 20-22 May 2011. I am helping with the organising and my role is to find breweries and speakers and keep people informed about what’s going to be happening. Bloggers have started signing up and we’re approach a fifth of the capacity already (we can squeeze 100 in), without much promotion. This is a post explaining more about what the Conference is and what it is not, for those who want to know a little more.

It’s a weekend of beer filled with informative sessions from a range of different people on a range of different topics, plus a couple of evening sessions where we can really concentrate on the drinking. We also get two dinners (one with the good side of MolsonCoors - maybe now including Sharp’s! - and the other with Wells&Young’s) paired with different beers plus we get a few hours at Fuller’s on the Sunday which includes a brewery tour and a tasting (and maybe more depending on what extra sessions we can arrange!). The whole thing is available to anyone who blogs, writes or works or is involved in food and drink and wants to attend.

It’s a chance for European beer bloggers (and there are lots of us!) to get together in one place. It’s a social thing as much as anything else, an opportunity to meet friends new and old and bring social media into real life. The best thing I’ve found about being a beer blogger is how great it is to hang out with other bloggers or brewers or just beer lovers – there’s nothing like it and no other industry comes close in terms of the people. It’s also really beneficial to meet with brewers (and for them to meet with bloggers) and learn a little more about what they are like and ask and answer questions.

As I am trying to get the sponsors, I’m now going after the breweries and speakers who I think people will be most interested in seeing there (if you’ve got suggestions then say!). Imagine the bottle party night which has eight of the best breweries in the UK all pouring their best beers for you? And a Live Blogging event where we get really interesting beers brought to our table and are told about them? (Before anyone asks… I don’t know if we’ll get any cask/keg beers during the conference itself due to the venue limitations – we will have it in the evenings). All the attending breweries will be announced in the coming months, as will attendees as they sign up.

It costs £65 and that gets you everything involved with the Conference, which includes two beer dinners and everything you can drink during the days and evenings (you won’t go wanting for booze!). The only thing you’ll need to pay for is hotels and travel (which might include a tube trip or two). That’s a seriously good price for what you get, right?

The agenda is currently blank (with a few pencil marks) because we want to know more about what you would like to see, so leave any suggestions below or email me or Allan, the organiser at Zephyr Adventures. Possible ideas so far include: a twitter blind-tasting (drink a beer, send tasting notes to twitter, guess what it is, all of which we can track online) followed by a discussion on twitter validity or using twitter well (or similar); an off-flavour session where we taste off-flavours in spiked beers and learn what makes them ‘off’; open debates about industry issues; a tech-session on products; a session about maximising SEO; debates about issues involved with blogging (copyrights, use of video, sponsors, etc); how to use social media better; Live Blogging where breweries bring bottles to us like the best speed dating event you’ll ever experience; PR and social media; food and beer pairing; making the step from online to print; and much more... Also, what topics would you be interested in for keynote speakers? The future of beer writing? The beer industry from a brewer’s point of view? Why social media is important from a brewer’s point of view? A general talk about social media and its importance? Beer around the world?

The Conference is not a trade show. Yes, it relies on sponsors, but it isn’t about them, it’s about us, the attendees. And anyway, would 20 breweries giving you free stuff and talking to you about beer be such a bad thing?

It also won’t be boring. It might be called a Conference, but remove images of dull lectures from your mind. This will be filled with interactive sessions about topics which are hopefully of general interest to the community of beer lovers, plus many of them will also contain actual beer for you to drink during it.

I understand that some people don’t know what the Conference is or why they should go. I thought the same until I went to the one in Colorado in November. What it is is a great chance to be with other bloggers (beer, food and wine are all attending), drink some good beers, socialise, meet brewers and industry professionals and maybe even learn something or come away thinking about blogging or beer differently. Whether this Conference will make us better bloggers, I don’t know, but it will be a great few days. 

It won’t be for everyone, I’m sure, but for those who are interested they will definitely get a lot from it. I really hope lots of bloggers attend because it’s going to be a great event - a unique event - bringing together the best of brewing and blogging in one room and mixing it up with lots of information and lots of fun, plus a couple of dinners and plenty of beer. It’s also around the same time as we’d be having a Twissup and it’s an opportunity to get into London and also visit a few pubs or breweries (which we can maybe make part of the weekend). Plus, as I’ve said, you can’t beat the price of £65 for incredible beer and two beer dinners! You can sign up at and more information will be up there regularly.

Who is planning on going and what sort of sessions would you like to see there? 

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Introducing: Magic Rock Brewing

Huddersfield has just gained a brewery! Magic Rock is a new adventure for the guys behind myBrewerytap with Stuart Ross, formerly of Kelham Island, Acorn and Crown Brewery, heading up the brewing duties.

Brothers Richard and Jonathan Burhouse are the investors in the brewery that will be based in the outbuildings of their family business in Huddersfield, a business which has been importing and wholesaling crystals and natural gifts for the last 40 years – hence the name Magic Rock.

“The intention is to brew modern flavour-forward beers inspired in part by US craft breweries in order to take advantage of the current real ale boom and an expected increase in discerning drinkers seeking more flavourful beers,” explains Richard. The Magic Rock beer will be available in casks, kegs and bottles, focussing predominantly on cask but increasing bottles with demand. Their core range will be as follows, plus a number of seasonals:

Curious - Pale Ale (3.9%)
Rapture - Red Hop Ale (4.5%)
High Wire - West Coast Pale Ale (5.5%)
Dark Arts - Stout (6.0%)
Cannonball - India Pale Ale (7.4%)

Brewing will begin in March 2011 and Stuart officially starts working for the brewery today, helping in the set up. “I’ve always enjoyed Stuart’s beers, which always seemed very true to style and well crafted - he’s not intimidated by big abvs and he’s open minded to new methods of production and dispense,” says Richard. “He’s also young, enthusiastic and likes modern big hopped aroma and flavour in beers.” Richard and Jonathan will also help out on the brewing side, having taken a brewlab course last year.

“When Rich asked me if I'd be interested in being the brewer we talked about beer styles and different breweries and found we both wanted the same from a new brewery,” says Stuart, who has most recently worked at the Crown Brewery in the Hillsborough Hotel, Sheffield, where the beers have been very highly regarded. “I've always worked with other peoples’ recipes and brewing equipment and I'm really looking forward to putting my own stamp on a new brewery and new beers."

Magic Rock will have a 12bbl brew length initially with a large hopback included in the kit to help build hop character into the beers. They are starting with two fermenters, so brewing will be limited initially due to fermenting/conditioning space, but they’ve committed to another two fermenters and hope to install those within a few months, depending on demand for the beers.

The focus will be towards US-style, hoppy ales done with a modern twist for the UK pub market. I love the pump clip/label which is different, sharp, modern and will definitely stand out on the bar against its contemporaries and rivals. Stuart is also a great brewer who loves drinking the styles of beer he’ll be making. I’ve enjoyed many of his beers from Crown so it’ll be good to see him flex his brewing muscles in a place where he can start from the beginning.

You can follow them online as the brewery develops. The website is now live. There’s a facebook page and you can follow the action on twitter: @MagicRockBrewCo, @MagicRockStu and @mybrewerytap (myBrewerytap is run by Richard but the two businesses are separate, although the Magic Rock beers will be sold through mBt).

With a dedicated team of people who love those beers, I think it’s a great new addition. Look out for Magic Rock beers in the next few months!