Thursday 30 June 2011

When beer goes bad: Oxidation

When oxygen gets to a beer after fermentation then the beer is in trouble. The typical flavours you can expect are cardboard, paper and wood, while extremely oxidised beer can become sherry-like and sour. In a fresh beer these stale are not good characteristics; in an aged beer, particularly vintage ales and old ales, these can be good things. It’s a matter of taste and of relevance to the style.

While the brewers need oxygen to stay alive, if it gets into the beer it can have the opposite effect. Oxygen can get to beer at many different stages during beer production, some when brewing and some with filtering and packaging, but it becomes most relevant after fermentation. In fresh beer oxidisation is bad. I find it one of the least enjoyable flavours, imparting a dry mouthfeel like you’ve got a piece of paper stuck on your tongue. It can also evolve the malt flavour in ways the brewer didn’t intend – pale beer can mutate into honey or sherry qualities while dark beer can get these sherry notes plus dried fruit, which many actually enjoy, but it can also reduce the depth of malt flavour and leave it thin.

In aged beer oxidation can be a good thing, especially if the beer is stored correctly, as it can add complexity and depth. It can also be a bad thing in aged beer if it’s turned sour and lost all its flavour. Oxidation in aged beers is a complicated one and very much an individual taste depending on individual beers.

The oxidation process can also bring back foes from fermentation such as acetaldehyde (which can then turn into acetic acid), while diacetyl can speed up the staling process.

Any oxygen in beer after fermentation is bad news but heat and motion can speed up the oxidising process. Shipping beers internationally in non-chilled containers can result in the beers arriving at their destination oxidised (so if you’ve ever been disappointed by an exciting new import from afar then consider the distance it’s travelled and the cargo conditions). Likewise, kegged beer sitting in direct sunlight can suffer the effects of oxidisation (the light is ok here, the heat isn’t). Beer needs to be kept cool and still for it to have the best chance to stay fresh.

Beer oxidises. Thankfully there are ways of softening the blow of opening what you think should be a great beer only to find that it’s going bad. While it may develop interesting depth in some beers, it’s not necessarily a good thing, particularly in fresh beers. Do you like the flavour of oxidised beer?

I used this post to help me write this blog.

Wednesday 29 June 2011

The Craft Beer Co, Clerkenwell

With 37 draught beers and over 150 bottles, The Craft Beer Co definitely starts off in the right direction.

Not far from Farringdon tube station, the brother of Cask Pub and Kitchen opened this week proudly fronting London's largest beer selection. And what a selection it is: house beers from Mikkeller and Kent Brewery; permanent keg fonts (with each font having three taps each) for Mikkeller, sour beer, lager and imports (with more fonts to spare for IPAs or saisons or stouts or whatever); a long line of casks from some of the UK's best breweries; and a bottle list which reads like beer porn.

Downstairs is wide and thin with a long bar, the whole place made to feel bigger by the mirrored ceiling. There's lots of standing room (to perve over the pump clips and fridge contents) plus stools and tables, music plays at just the right volume to blend with the background, the bare decoration of stripped wood and dark furniture works well against the white walls and flashes of the striking red logo. Upstairs is quiet and lined with tables for those who want to get comfortable and spend the evening working through the line-up of beers – a fire place in the middle and windows all around make it homely and airy. It's not cheap, pushing £3.50 a pint of cask and keg starting just under £4 a pint, but those prices are almost expected in London. Importantly, it's got a great atmosphere already with staff who know what they are doing and are passionate about it.

Being bold, I think Craft will almost immediately become the number one beer destination in London, and that's with a lot of strong competition (Southampton Arms, Cask, The Rake, White Horse, Euston Tap). It's got the biggest beer selection (with something to suit any taste), it's got unique beers, it's in a good location, there's a great atmosphere to the place and it feels like a pub to sit down and drink in. 

The Craft Beer Co is now open. You should check it out.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Holiday Beer

A week today I’ll be lying on a hot Menorcan beach. After a very sunny Sunday and Monday, I wake up today and it’s been raining. It’s that kind of warm-air rain that only a sticky summer can have, rain which makes it feel muggy and tropical and needs a crack of thunder to lift the heaviness. With the prospect of more sun to come, both here and on holiday, my thoughts are far away and thinking about a two-week break involving not much more than lying in the sun, reading a huge pile of books, swimming in the clear blue sea and drinking lots of cold beer.

Holiday beer is some of the most fantastic beer in the world. Mythos is one of my favourite beers because it’s wrapped up in so many amazing memories. And it’s the memory and the moment which makes a beer special – any beer. If every beer you ever drank was alone and in a room painted white to be as unstimulating as possible then you’d soon stop drinking beer and you’d never enjoy it – beer is great because of the context we drink it in.

The best beers are the ones which carry a story with them and holidays create lots of stories and memories. It’s that cold beer on the hot beach reading that great book; the sea-fresh fish by the harbour, the people passing by, the beer you finished in seconds because you were so thirsty; the beer you drank as the sun was setting, making you feel on the edge of the world, relaxed; the beer you share with someone special where it’s about you and them and the beer is just the golden glass that sits between you.

The beers themselves are special in the moments you drink them. I’m sure we’ve all brought these beers home to recreate the summer magic on a grey autumn afternoon and it doesn’t work. There’s just something special about the combination of sunshine and local beer and the moment.

I always look forward to that first cold pint in a new place. This year it’ll probably be Estrella. It means the holidays are here. It means I can forget about swirling and sniffing and sipping and writing tasting notes and trying to work out what hops are in it and I can just drink it while on a warm beach with white sand in my toes, relaxing, reading or just staring at hot girls in their bikinis. Holiday beer rocks.

What holiday beers have you enjoyed the most and why were they so good?

Sunday 26 June 2011

When beer goes bad: DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide)

DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide) smells and tastes like sweetcorn or stewed vegetables and is most susceptible and perceptible in light lagers and pilsners.

Stuart Howe describes the formation: “DMS is formed during fermentation from dimethyl sulphoxide which is formed during kilning from the precursor S-methlymethionine [SMM]. The reason it is found more commonly in pilsners is that the more gentle kilning of lager malt removes less S-methylmethionine than that of ale malts.

SMM is a product of malt germination and the more kilned and roasted the malt is the less SMM there will be in them, this is why pale lagers are more susceptible to DMS than dark ales (interestingly, in the case of a beer like Carling, the malt is kilned to specifically allow a certain higher-than-usual amount of DMS into the beer). When brewing, the malt gets mashed with hot water to create wort. Once the wort has been transferred (with the SMM coming with it – there’s a direct relationship between the levels of SMM and DMS) it is boiled and DMS is produced and then typically it is evaporated out with the boil. If the boil is covered then DMS struggles to escape, so will stay in the wort. If the boil is short then some DMS may still be present, so a long and vigorous boil, uncovered, is the best way to see off DMS. If the beer cools too slowly then more DMS could also be created.

Some people are more sensitive than others to the flavour; I don’t mind it in a lager, where it can be appropriate, but only in small volumes and only if it’s corn-like. If your beer tastes like cold, stewed cabbage then that’s never a good thing. Like most of these characteristics, DMS is naturally present in beer but it’s only when it hits higher perceptible levels that it becomes a problem.

Ever tasted sweetcorn/DMS in a beer?  

There’s lots that can go wrong when making beer but thankfully most of them can be controlled. If I’ve missed anything important about DMS then it’d be great if you add it below. Also, this shouldn’t be confused with beers made with corn as an adjunct as that is something different (although DMS can still be present from the usual brewing method). I used this and this to help me out with the post.

Friday 24 June 2011

When beer goes bad: Phenolic

Plasters, Islay whisky, TCP, smoke, clove; very few beers should taste like this.

A phenolic aroma and flavour should be present in some beers, including wheat beers and some Belgian ales, where it gives a faintly smoky or clove-like aroma, but if you find it in a pale ale, lager or bitter then things aren’t quite right. And this is another off-flavour which some people are more susceptible to tasting than others.

The phenolic flavour most often comes from a reaction between chlorine and the phenolic acid naturally found in malt; this could be from the chlorine content in the water (especially if it’s untreated) or from a cleaning solution used in the brewery which contains chlorine.

This aroma and flavour can also come from the yeast (wheat beer yeast, for example, will produce it, and I’ve had a few wild beers which have smelt like smoky swimming pools). Peated malt will also have this flavour but it will often add a different character more along the lines of charred toast than TCP. 

If a phenolic flavour is appropriate to the style then it’s fine. I’m sensitive to the flavour in beer and I don’t like it at all – I like wheat beers but not ones which are heavy on the clove. I also sometimes taste it as flinty or like concrete. Interestingly, however, I love massive smoky whiskies (and I really like stouts aged in smoky whisky barrels - if the flavour is from a barrel like this then it isn't an off-flavour). When it shouldn’t be there it dives out the glass at me and I find it undrinkable.

Is this a flavour which you can easily detect in beer? If so, do you like it or hate it?

I only realised recently that it was the clove-like flavour which I didn’t enjoy in wheat beers and some Belgian ales. I typically described it as ‘spicy’, which does no justice to what it is; it was just the word which meant to me that it tasted a bit funny.

For this post I used this and this for references.

Thursday 23 June 2011

When beer goes bad: Light-struck or Skunked

Beer contains hops (it also contains sulphur). Hops contain alpha acids. When hops are boiled the alpha acids get isomerized and become isohumulone. When light hits the isohumulone compounds it breaks them down and causes a reaction with the sulphur in the beer and produces some of the same stinky chemicals that skunks spray. Hence the term ‘skunked’ beer.

Brown bottles offer the best protection from those beer-harming UV rays, green bottles don’t help much and clear bottles offer no protection against light. Open a beer in a clear bottle and it will have a similar dusty, funky character to any other beer in a clear bottle; that's not some unique British hop you're smelling, that's skunked beer. All bottles let through some light and therefore all are susceptible to being light-struck. Casks, kegs and cans are safe from the light.

Beer can be light-struck almost immediately in direct sunlight; it takes a little longer in non-direct daylight and a little longer still in fluorescent light (the sort of light that brightens the supermarkets which have aisles filled with beer...), but it can happen quickly. And it’s the hops which make it go bad; Coke or wine in clear glass bottles aren’t affected the same way.

I’ve never smelt a skunk but I have smelt and tasted skunked beer and it’s bloody horrible. I now won’t buy beer in clear bottles because I hate the aroma and flavour of light-struck beer. Sometimes it’s just a little moldy and funky, like over-stewed vegetables, dust or damp cardboard, other times it’s like sewage or really bad breath. Sometimes it’s like all of the above. Never is it nice.

I don’t understand why any brewery would make beer and then put it in clear bottles when they know it will be affected by light. I’m guessing it’s a marketing choice but if that decision is done on aesthetics while knowingly spoiling decent beer then what’s the point? Some well known beers have an essential quality of being light-struck (Newcastle Brown Ale, Shepherd Neame and Becks to name just a few) so the brewers are making decent beer and then having to let the light do its damage to create the flavour. Why?

I also think beer in clear bottles looks cheap and horrible.

It is possible to use clear bottles without it getting light-struck but it involves using tetra-hop extract, a lab produced hop replacement that is pre-isomerised and doesn’t get affected by light. The trouble is that it doesn’t taste much like real hops (the beers it gets used in don’t taste much like real beer though...).

Beer in clear bottles is bad. If you want to taste it for yourself then buy two beers in clear bottles (although they will already be affected by the time you get them), leave one in the light for a week or two and the other in a dark cupboard and then try them side-by-side (for more extreme results leave it in direct sunlight but watch out because it’s horrific).

Do you buy beers in clear bottles or not?

If I’ve missed any interesting science stuff then let me know below. If you know why a brewery uses clear bottles then also please tell me. Of all the off-flavours I think this is the stupidest because it can largely be avoided simply by using a different coloured bottled. And sure, most people are used to that flavour in the beer, but that doesn't make it right, does it?

I used this and this to help write the post.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

When beer goes bad: Autolysis

Have you ever had a beer which tastes like marmite, burnt rubber or soy sauce? If so, what you are tasting is yeast cells which have died, ruptured and spilled their beer-spoiling guts into your brew...

Autolysis will be most common in old beers and I’ve had it often in aged bottled-conditioned strong ales but it’s also possible in fresh beer, where it will produce a burnt rubber aroma and taste. As a flavour I don’t mind it in strong, dark beers, finding that it adds a depth of complexity to the beer if it’s not too overpowering, but given its umami, marmite-like flavour (marmite being yeast extract), I’m guessing it’s a love-hate thing with other people.

What causes autolysis? Firstly, unhealthy yeast cells are more prone to it than healthy ones because they are weaker. It’s also due to stresses put on the yeast during fermentation. It can be caused by too-rapid warming or cooling of the beer during fermentation; a fermentation temperature which is too warm; exposure to high temperatures after fermentation (keep that bottled beer somewhere cool!); the hard work of trying to ferment a strong beer can leave the yeast cells dying in the beer; and strong bottle-conditioned beers rely upon the secondary fermentation to keep them going and if the yeast inside gives up then autolysis comes along.

I asked Mark from Beer. Birra. Bier. to look over these posts (because he homebrews and knows lots of stuff about beer) and he adds the following about autolysis: “A big thing here is oxygen. If oxygen isn’t present when the yeast cells are multiplying then the cell walls of the yeast cells that result will suck. Leaving beer on yeast cells for long periods of time will also cause autolysis and crappy unhealthy yeast cells are just more likely to want to explode and die.” (I love the last line and have visions of crazy, lazy kamikaze yeast cells self-destructing because they’ve had enough!)

This piece by Moritz Kallmeyer is very informative. Interestingly, as well as imparting those flavours to beer, the autolysed yeast cells also release “proteolytic enzymes which degrade beer-foam proteins and also increase protein and carbohydrate hazes,” it releases lipids (fats) and will increase the pH value, affecting the perceived flavour. None of these are good things.

Autolysed beer is generally not good because essentially a major part of it has died. Have you tasted beers which have these flavours? Is it something you like or dislike in a beer? Have you ever had a fresh beer with these characteristics?


This is another flavour which won’t do you any harm and which can add an interesting complexity to strong, dark beers, although it can kill fresh beers and leave them undrinkable. As with all the off-characteristics it’s down to the perceptible level and individual taste. Autolysis is also something which I knew nothing about until a few months ago; I’d tasted it but had no idea where that marmite flavour came from (glutamic acid is a breakdown product of the yeast). If anyone has anything to add to the science stuff which I may have missed out then please do.

And this is a question which I could use some help with (because I'm writing these posts so that I can learn stuff): In very hoppy beers, often ones around 7-8% which aren’t exactly fresh but also aren’t old (let’s say 5-8 months old), I’ve tasted rubber bands and assumed it’s come from tangy, intense old hops. Is this autolysis or is it from the hops? My instinct, because it doesn’t taste great, it towards autolysis...

Tuesday 21 June 2011

When beer goes bad: Diacetyl

If you’ve ever experienced a butter or butterscotch flavour in your beer than you’re tasting diacetyl. The interesting thing about diacetyl, I think, is that not everyone can detect it as a flavour; of those who can detect it, some like it or don’t mind it, while others can’t stand it.

Diacetyl is a natural product of fermentation and is created and given off by the yeast cells early in fermentation. The yeast cells then take it back within themselves towards the end of fermentation and convert it into something almost tasteless – if a brewer stops the fermentation process before the yeast has finished its conversion, or if the fermentation stalls, then diacetyl will still be there (stopping it early could be the result of a need for brewing speed or just a slack move by the brewer; if it stalls early then the yeast is probably not healthy enough).

Lower temperatures towards the end of fermentation could see lazy yeast leaving behind diacetyl. One way to combat any leftover diacetyl is to include a diacetyl rest in the fermentation process, which involves slightly raising the temperature to poke the yeast into a final burst of action and leaving it for a further day. Diacetyl is an easy thing to prevent or control unless you’ve got a yeast infection.

An excess of diacetyl can be the result of a contaminated yeast which isn’t up to the job of converting the buttery flavour into a flavourless one, so the yeast needs to be fit and healthy. It could also be the result of an infection or bacteria in the yeast or the presence of wild yeast – some of these produce diacetyl. However, some strains of yeast just throw off more diacetyl that others when they ferment (pale ale and lager yeasts often do).

Beer shouldn’t taste like butter but small amounts are appropriate to some beer styles – pale lagers and some pale ales. In larger volumes diacetyl can give a fatty, slick mouthfeel (as if there is some melted butter in your pint...) which is very unpleasant. If your pint tastes like butter then you might not want to finish it, but that’s down to individual tastes and it’s not a fault that will do you any harm.

Diacetyl is one of the off-flavours which many find easy to recognise and can sniff it out an arm’s length away. I used to enjoy the flavour in beer (mmm, this has a delicious buttery taste!) until I realised that it shouldn’t be there and now my inner beer geek just screams out DIACETYL! whenever I taste it. I now only get on with it if it’s in small volumes. Are you sensitive to diacetyl? Do you like it, tolerate it or hate it?

This is the first in a series of posts looking at when beer goes bad. Being neither a brewer nor a scientist I’ve tried to keep it simple and from a drinker’s point of view. If I’ve missed anything interesting or important out then please add it below.

I used Beer Sensory Science (a great blog!) to help with this post.

Sunday 19 June 2011

FABPOW! The Search for the Best Beer for Sausage, Chips and Beans

Two weeks ago I asked an important question on the back of many failed attempts to find the answer for myself: what is the perfect beer for sausage, chips and beans? This weekend I made it my mission to get the definitive answer by using those responses.

The beers were gathered and I soon realised that I had to call in some assistance, so I invited Mark and Matt over to my sausage party. We started off with seven bottles but this jumped to nine by grabbing two other possible choices from the fridge. I could see from their enthusiasm for all things sausage, chips, beans and beer that they were well up for this, even if it was possibly the most ridiculously geeky thing we’ve ever done: three of us squashed around a small table with three plates of food, nine bottles and nine glasses and an hour talking about sausages.

We had a mix of beers from pale to dark, bitter to fruity to smoky to sour. The sausages were Waitrose gourmet pork (cooked to slightly beyond caramelised...), homemade chips cooked in the oven and seasoned with salt, pepper, a little paprika, a clove of garlic tossed in and a pinch of thyme. The beans were beans.

Anchor Bock was my first sip with a sausage. Smooth, chocolatey and surprisingly light bodied, it works ok and just handles the beans but veers off in different directions at the end and almost crashes.

Monsieur Rock was suggested by Andrew from the Bottle Shop, where I picked up a few of the bottles. He thought it was be a refresher able to lift the heavy flavours off the tongue and I could see where he was coming from. Sadly the beer got lost in everything and didn’t work but it's such a good beer that we finished it off alone after eating.

Bath Barnstormer, with its dark, fruity malt flavours, was nice but the badass beans blew it away and left it a little lifeless.  

I picked the Strong Dark Mild from Kernel and Redemption because I wanted a dark mild and I love Kernel and Redemption. It was probably a little too bitter to work and left the flavours blurry rather than clear.

My fridge is a constant source of Avery Brown Dredge so we grabbed one of them and I’ve never tasted a beer that works so perfect with a meaty, herby sausage. It was amazing. The almost-savoury bitterness means it’s made for meat, herbs and garlic. However, it is not made for baked beans...

Rodenbach was an interesting choice but it totally makes sense if you think of it like a ketchup or HP sauce with a beer-as-condiment match (because I think Rodenbach tastes like tomatoes and vinegar). The first taste got me excited: the beans softened the sourness and the flavour profile works really well, sending it off in an exciting new direction, but between forkfuls of food it doesn’t work so well and, as Matt said, it doesn’t sit with the tone of the meal, which calls for something simpler.

Purity Pure Gold was a late entry, plucked from the fridge in a desire for a pale British beer with British hops, and we’re glad we did grab it as it was excellent. It doesn’t add anything in terms of flavour but it does a great job of clearing the palate and compliments the mouthful. Together the food and beer taste better, and that’s always a good thing.

Rochefort 6 was my choice for a Belgian brune and was also my choice as the best match of the night. It doesn’t do anything special but it’s able to balance everything out perfectly. The simple, dried fruit body, more carbonation than found in the other beers, plus a dry bite of hops in the finish were spot on. Uncomplicated and excellent. Somehow it also made the chips taste more potatoey.

Finally there was Schlenkerla Marzen, which Mark and Matt chose as their top match. Like a sprinkle of MSG it makes the whole thing taste bigger and meatier, complementing the sausage and the beans excellently while adding its own flavour to the overall pairing. It did work superbly well.

All three of us listed Schlenkerla and Purity Pure Gold in our top 3. Matt and I had Rochfort 6 in there and Mark had Rodenbach (for sausage alone Avery Brown Dredge was a winner – if we have somehow created the perfect beer for sausages then I’ll be inordinately proud of that). If we hadn’t been geeky enough already we then spent half an hour discussing the relative merits in depth while we sipped the rest of the beers.

What is interesting in this example is the type of match you want for the dish. Rauchbier was spectacular with sausage, chips and beans but do you want something spectacular with such a simple meal? I don’t. It’s a meal we eat without thinking; a regular meal that doesn’t want beautifying with beer, but one which can benefit from a nice choice, so I want a beer which is equally simple and complimentary to go with it. The extension of this is that the beer should be something you drink before, during and after the dinner – where Rodenbach and Schlenkerla work really well as flavour explosions, I don’t want to drink them (mainly because I don’t really like them) away from the plate.

That’s what pushed Purity Pure Gold forward: it’s a simple beer but a good one. You can open it while sizzling the sausages, sip between mouthfuls and then finish it after you’re done eating. The same with the Rochefort which works before, during and after.

So there we have the definitive selection of the best beers to eat with sausage, chips and beans. My FABPOW would be Rochefort 6. The malt sweetness, the carbonation and the dry hops work amazingly well to compliment and then to cut through the fat and creamy, beany sweetness. If you want something completely different, but completely awesome, then go for Schlenkerla Marzen which is a faceful of meat.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

As-Live Tasting: Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA

9.00pm: And relax! Long day: up early, writing, work, gym, dinner, shower. Now to drink beer. 

9.01pm: My mind’s doing summersaults and my fingertips are eager to tap at a keyboard and do the stream of consciousness thing so it's As-Live blogging time. Think and sip and tap and drink.

9.02pm: The Kernel’s Suke Quto Coffee IPA. 6.9% ABV. This is batch 2 and another collaboration with Square Mile Coffee Roasters. It smells ridiculously good. The beer’s beneath my nose. I’m stooping over and around it to try and type but I don’t want it to move away.

9.04pm: And then as if by magic the aroma moves. It goes from super citrus, all hops up in your face, through chocolate and then into a mix of those dark coffee grounds and tropical fruit. Coffee: check. Hops: check. It's a Coffee IPA.

9.05pm: Still smelling the beer.

9.06pm: Gulping beer.

9.07pm: Wow. This is different! Coffee and hops and booze. It’s exactly what I need right now. The body is classic Kernel, smooth and full (how do they do that?!), there’s toffee sweetness, then coffee roast, then hop fruitiness, then hop bitterness, then coffee bitterness, which is the lingering aftertaste. It’s a beer which drinks more sequentially than any other I’ve ever tasted.

9.09pm: Answering emails... 

9.14pm: I’m loving the chocolatey depth in this beer. I often get chocolate flavours in IPA but this something else. Where does that chocolate flavour come from in IPAs?

9.15pm: I need to iron a shirt. Tomorrow I’ve got to do a presentation in London at 8am. Who organises presentations at 8am? One day I’ll have someone who will do my ironing for me. Either that or the sort of job where I don’t need to wear a shirt.

9.22pm: This is the sort of beer you drink in minutes to try and work it out, to try and find out why you like it so much, why it works when something says it shouldn’t (coffee and grapefruit isn’t a classic combo). I love that quality in a beer – the unintentional speed drinking to try and understand it. More coffee comes through the further down the glass you get and the warmer the beer becomes. The bitterness gets more apparent, both from hops and coffee.

9.24pm: I had the first batch of this beer a few months ago but it was only a couple of mouthfuls so don’t remember it much. I know it was in the Dean Swift and Tandleman was there. Then I went to the Tower Bridge Draft House and had a burger. You don’t forget details like that.

9.27pm: I’m sure I’m meant to be doing something important right now but I have no idea what that is.

9.30pm: Oh! Some news for anyone who read the sausage, chips and beans post last week... a mega sausage, chips and beans beer taste-off is happening on Friday. I’ve got lots of beers and I’m calling in assistance from some sausage-loving beer drinkers. Results will be posted next week.

9.33pm: You know what’s most interesting with this beer? Every mouthful tastes a bit different to the one before. It started with the hop explosion, then came the unlikely marriage of coffee and hops, then the coffee became the star, then it started to taste drier and more bitter and now at the end of the glass it’s like a hardcore chocolate orange. And every gulp is great. It could’ve been a crazy clash but it isn’t and it works.

9.37pm: Beer’s done. I loved it. But then it’s Kernel and Kernel only hit home runs. My only worry is that this beer is packed with as much caffeine as lupulin, so one will keep me up all night and the other will make me sleepy, like necking sleeping pills with a Red Bull. Fingers crossed that won’t happen.  

9.41pm: Time to look away from a computer and into a book. Kernel’s Coffee IPA is gone. Anyone else had this? If so, what do you think?

UPDATE: This is a post-live note to add that the colour of the beer isn't as dark as it looks in the picture. It's a dark beer for an IPA but it isn't brown.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

The Foundry, Canterbury

Off the main shopping street in Canterbury, down a small side-road and past The Cherry Tree is The Foundry, a new brewpub in the city. An old brick building with impressive high paned windows and a rusted and worn sign, it’s a smart two-storey place to eat and drink where the beers are brewed downstairs and the food prepared upstairs.

The Canterbury Brewers are Jon Mills and Tom Sharkey and they are using a new 4-barrel kit to make the beers to supply The Foundry and The City Arms, which is part of the same parent company owned by Jon (they also have The Beercart Arms). They currently make three beers: Foundry Man’s Gold, Torpedo and Canterbury Wheat.

Foundry Man’s Gold is a golden ale brewed with Magnum hops for bittering and Citra added post-boil (I know this because when I visited they were brewing so I knocked on the door to be nosy just as they were adding the Citra – “Stick your head in there,” Tom said, directing me to the hops). The Citra immediately jumps out with peach and apricot, plus a little floral fragrance, and it’s light and fresh and very tasty, with the sort of bitterness that doesn’t overpower but definitely gets noticed. At 4% you could happily pass a few hours drinking it.

Torpedo is an amber ale hopped with Bramling Cross and Cascade. The aroma is a subtle mix of British earthiness and American floral and citrus, with more fruitiness evolving through the glass. It’s very clean drinking with a simple background sweetness and a big, lingering British hop bitterness, the sort that gets in your gums and hangs at the back of your throat. It’s one of those modern, pale best bitters which is really drinkable a full of flavour.

Canterbury Wheat is an American-style wheat beer hopped with Target and Cascade. It’s light gold with a slight haze to it and the aroma is immediately interesting – hints of spice, bubble gum and vanilla and a little citrus pith. It’s light and gulpable and the yeast plays an unobtrusive role while still adding a lot of interesting flavour and a little body – it reminded me of an unfiltered lager. The bitterness levels are higher than usual, adding a peppery finish which works well. This beer is served on cask but also runs through a chiller so it’s served slightly colder than the other two cask beers.

The beers are great and all were served in perfect condition. You never know what to expect going to a new brewery, especially one which only started serving their beers two days before you visit, but I was impressed by all of them.

Alongside the Canterbury Brewers beers The Foundry serves a couple of local ales and cider ciders and four Meantime beers on keg. The food is also excellent with a wide choice of dishes on the menu from snacks to feasts. The beer-BBQ ribs, made with a wheat beer and honey marinade, were fantastic.

The Foundry only opened on the 10th June but inside it feels like it’s been established for a long time, with friendly and knowledgeable staff plus drinkers who already look attached to the furniture. It’s a super addition to Canterbury drinking and if you are in the city then it’s a must-visit place. It’s also one for the beer tourist to travel to, especially if you add in a visit to the Bottle Shop and La Trappiste and the many, many other pubs.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Southampton Arms, Kentish Town

“Ale Cider Meat” and “Ale & Cider House” are the two signs which catch the attention from afar and tell you that you are close to the Southampton Arms (I always think it’s closer than it is when I walk to it from Kentish Town tube station, and seeing that sign puts the finishing line in sight). Outside it’s a simple two-door boozer, one of which isn’t used, with a huge waist-to-ceiling window in between, letting light through to the otherwise delightfully dark bar (pubs like this should be dark).

Inside it’s narrow and long with the sort of bare wooden floors that have been blackened and worn with time and the passing shuffles of thirsty patrons. The bar curves like a backward “J” and it’s ruggedly handsome bare wood exterior flows throughout. It’s the sort of pub where you can amuse yourself through a pint just by looking around and taking it all in: the mis-matched bar stools, the close-together tables and chairs which often need people to move to allow others to pass, the small tiled fireplace, the room leading off from behind the bar (what’s in there?!), the piano which gets played a few times a week, adding a wonderful old-time feel, the low-hanging lights, the gold-rimmed clock, the chalk board sign which tells you it’s cash only, or just fawning over the beer choice and the colourful pump clips.

Starting at the curve of the bar a small hot plate keeps the roast pork warm for the rolls they serve, then it’s two Camden Town Brewery taps (the brewery is a 15-minute walk away), then 12 handpulls. Behind the bar are up to eight ciders on gravity plus spirits. The Southampton Arms prides itself on only serving beers and ciders from independent producers and the beer line-up is always thirsty reading as they serve from the top breweries in the UK. The beers are also charged at reasonable prices, with pints under £3.

The food selection is great too, with a choice of simple porcine snacks with your pint: pork pies, pork rolls, sausage rolls, scotch eggs.

The beer is well-kept and the choice is always excellent, ranging from pale and hoppy, to best bitters, to big stouts, to brewery rarities. It’s also a great place to drink with a buzzing, lively atmosphere made up of a mix of young and not-so-young, all gulping the great beer and cider, often sharing tables and stories and suggestions for what to order next.

I’m fairly fickle when it comes to my favourite pubs but the Southampton Arms is currently my top drinking spot in London.


These photos are not mine. You can tell that because they are in focus and well composed. I got them from Travels with Beer, one of my favourite beer websites. You should check it out.

Also, if you were the guy on Friday night in the Southampton Arms who told me you like the blog then thank you, you made my week.  

Wednesday 8 June 2011

FABPOW! Black Isle Yellow Hammer with a Summer Supper

A golden summer ale with a fluffy white foam, this beer bursts with a lively balance of citrus zest and floral freshness from the Cascade hops. It’s incredibly clean in the flavour with the hops shining bright and vibrant rather than muted or squished together anonymously (you know how sometimes hops in beer just become a white noise of bitterness, lacking any clarity in their flavour? This is the opposite of that). The mouthfeel and body are that of a just-pulled pint of cask ale, with a soft carbonation. Combine that with the sort of bitterness that exemplifies the dictionary definition of balance and drinkability and this is a cracking beer for the sunshine.

For dinner I had fresh lemon sole, baked potatoes and salad. A simple summer supper, something I'll cook most weeks, something light and healthy and fresh. The lemony, zesty quality in the beer chimes with the lemon in the fish and the dressing on the salad (usually just oil and lemon) while the creamy, starchy potato is lifted by the body of the beer.

Black Isle's Yellow Hammer is a bottle to open in the garden with a dinner that wants a light burst of freshness to bring out the fresh flavours in the food. Make sure you've got a couple of bottles though as you'll drink the first one fast.

Monday 6 June 2011

FABPOW Wanted! What beer to go with sausage, chips and beans?

I need your assistance and I need some suggestions for a FABPOW! (a Food and Beer Pairing of the Week!)

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve tried to pair a beer with sausage, chips and beans without success. It’s one of the greatest meals in the world (add egg as well if that's your preference) and my lazy Friday dinner of choice (Friday also being a night when lots of beer bottles are emptied) but I just haven’t found a beer to go perfectly with it.

I’ve tried stouts and bitters, brown ales, dark lagers, ambers, pales ales. Nothing I’ve had has worked. The sausages and chips are the easy bits and most beers work with that, the difficult part comes with the beans – sweet, savoury, creamy, mouth-filling; they aren’t beer’s best friend.

Personally, I think the beer needs some dark malt, lots of body and sweetness and a fair amount of booze, something around 6%, but I'll try anything if it works. I’ve never tried a bock because I want to have an English beer with it but that’s possibly the next step I’ll take. I also think a good oatmeal stout could work but I haven’t found a winner yet.

So help me out: what beer do you think will be ideal? I’ll try and do a taste-off with some of the suggestions soon.

Image from here

Sunday 5 June 2011

Katz’s Deli, Burgers, Pizza and Fried Chicken: New York Feasting

New York wasn’t just about getting drunk and watching baseball. We were also there to eat as much as possible.

Burgers were the early focus and Shake Shack, 5Napkin and Burger Joint were the top three targets.

Shake Shack at Citi Field
Shake Shack came at the baseball, a soft and cakey bun and a succulent slab of meat. The experience of having it with a great beer in a ballpark made it even better.

5Napkin: Great burger, crap photo
5Napkin came at the end of a long drinking day as we hustled to order before they shut. The fattest hunk of beef, a round and glazed bun, basket of fries and a bottle of Racer 5 (Matt had Racer 5 anyway; I made the mistake of not ordering it). I almost fell asleep on the pillowy bun, the lull of a lupulin haze and the hit of jet lag taking their toll, but it was still brilliant.

Burger Joint
Then there’s Burger Joint. What a place. It’s one of those used-to-be-secret hangouts, hidden inside the plush hotel lobby of Le Parker Meridien (you can tell how fancy it is by the use of ‘Le’ instead of ‘The’). We swish through the revolving doors to see nothing but a reception desk and a sweeping red curtain, but look a little closer and there’s a small, dark alley between the desk and curtain and inside that alley is a sign: an illuminated burger and an arrow. That’s all you get.

Inside it’s small, busy and warm, with walls lined with photos. The servers are squeezed into a small space, running as fast as they can when you can only jump forward or back two steps. Ordering is easy: do you want cheese or not; how do you want it cooked; do you want onions, gherkins and sauce (go Fully Loaded); do you want fries, soft drink or a beer.

Burger Joint burger with Sam Adams
The burger is excellent – no frills bun, oozing cheese, a stack of tomato and onions struggling to stay in place, and a great piece of meat. The Sam Adams Lager we have with it is the best we’ve ever tasted it.

Burgered out, we moved on to pizza. Just down the street from Mugs Ale House in Brooklyn is a by-the-slice place cutting floppy, hot triangles from huge rounds of pizza. It was so good I had to order another. The top of our pizza hit-list was Artichoke Pizza but when we were researching it the website didn’t work so we gave up hope and forgot about it, only reminded of its existence when we walked past one on the way to Chelsea Piers. Still stuffering from a massive lunch we shared a slice but probably could’ve forced ourselves to eat a whole pizza it was so good – we went for the eponymous choice, a creamy white-sauce base topped with artichoke and cheese. It was amazing (and the first ‘white’ pizza I’ve had – I’ll definitely be having more).

Matt wanted chicken and waffles (no idea why – the idea of fried chicken served with waffles and maple syrup is beyond me but I think he wanted some culture or something) so we headed to Amy Ruth’s in Harlem for some soul food. I ordered Nandos-style: chicken wings, fries, coleslaw. It was the best chicken and coleslaw I’ve ever had. Like normal fried chicken and coleslaw but about 100-times better - highly recommended.

And then there’s Katz’s Deli. An NYC food attraction in its own right, complete with a queue to get in, door men and tickets. Most famous for selling ridiculously big sandwiches, it was also where the ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’ was filmed.

Walking in you are given a ticket as you hit a humming wall of noise and excitement. This place is like no other deli. It’s huge, it’s completely packed with people eating and there’s a five-deep queue to get served at each of the six serving points where enormous men wearing blood- and meat-juice-stained aprons wield giant knives and slice massive hunks of meat before organising (stacking – the meat comes about two inches thick) them on top of impossibly thin (comparatively speaking, anyway) pieces of bread.

The hunger builds as you see the people in front of you turn excitedly with their skyscraper sandwiches as they look to seat and eat. And this place is all about the sandwiches. They also serve a few Jewish classics, and then sodas, fries and sides from a second serving area a little beyond the unending line of sandwich making, but it’s mostly about the meat and bread.

We order a pastrami on rye and a Reuben and it’s made fresh in front of you with the maker taking boulders of beef and slicing a few pieces off for you to try while they work. The meat is just about the best we’ve ever tasted – impossibly tender and full of flavour. When the sandwich is ready it’s passed over with a pile of pickles on the side and we turn excitedly and begin the hunt for somewhere to sit.

It’s really busy so spare seats are a premium, even if this place can fit around 300 people in, and you have to fight through a queue of people just to get into the dining ‘space’ (space isn’t the right word as there is none of it...). We find a spot, sit and prepare ourselves for the meat mountain. The Reuben is corned beef (not like the stuff in tins), Russian dressing and cheese, somehow held together by the bread which is really just a form of transport for the meat. The pastrami is thin slivers of fragrant pink meat served with lots of mustard and piled between rye bread.

Brace yourself for meat sweats...
The sandwiches are insane. They are so big, so juicy, so meaty and so good. It’s hard to not be impressed just by the volume of food you are getting, but it tastes great too. The pickles on the side provide a bolt of sharpness to cut the richness while the fries (we couldn’t not order them once we’d seen how good they looked!) are chipped perfection.

Katz’ Deli is the Globe of sandwich-making; food theatre from beginning to end, with excitement (look at that sandwich!), fear (how am I going to eat this sandwich?!), suspense (can I finish this sandwich?!), a chase for seats, the gut-wrenching choice of what to order, the sounds and sights of the people in the dining audience. It’s an amazing experience.

We ate and drank far too much in New York and it was brilliant.

Friday 3 June 2011

The Session #52: Beer Collectibles and Breweriana

About three years ago I started collecting bottle caps. Every unique cap from a bottle I’d drunk. There were red ones and yellow ones, black and silver and blue; most had brewery logos, some had other designs, each had something different. Caps became scalps, a leftover from the bottle I’d had. They were a collage of what I’d had to drink: a green and gold Mythos from Greece, a shining reminder of the shining sunshine; my first Westvleteren saved like a valuable old coin; a Fuller’s Vintage I’d kept for a couple of years complete with the headband of label; a Stone Ruination and the grizzly gargoyle. Whatever it was, I’d take the cap off the bottle and add it to the others.

It started as a small pile which grew to a big pile which then moved to a plastic pint glass which then overflowed into another small pile which became a balancing act of a big pile. To keep the unwieldy collection under control I would need to take regular audits, spreading the caps out, keeping the good ones and dropping any duplicates and boring ones – the collection became stronger, better. And so on until my little stash of bottle caps became an ever-evolving snapshot of my drinking. I always enjoyed adding a new cap to the pile, hearing that plastic-softened chink of metal on metal. I’m sure that I had big plans to do something with the caps. One day.

When I moved in with Lauren, to share a flat with her and her OCD tidiness, the cap collection didn’t make the journey, left behind like forgotten toys (they might still be in my parents’ loft...). I decided to start fresh on a new collection so it was a physical memory box in the form of ridged bottle tops. This new collection didn’t last long...

“What are you doing with that bottle cap?” Lauren would say.

“Just going to put it on the top shelf and keep it.” I reply, politely smiling.

“Why?” She asks.

“It’s a nice cap, look.” I show her it. It’s got a nice logo on it.

“No, it’s not. You aren’t keeping it.”

“Oh, just this one, it’s a really cool one.”

“No. What are you going to do with it?”

“I don’t know. Just look at it. I like keeping them. Maybe I could make a picture from all the bottle caps I save.”


Knowing better than to argue over a bottle cap, I threw it towards the bin, probably missing. Unable to break the simple habit of keeping the caps, I briefly attempted to keep a secret stash on the highest shelf where she couldn’t see. These were just the rarest ones I had, the ones I couldn’t possibly bare to throw away (“But it’s from Russian River!”).

I just checked my stash. Only two remain, hidden under the huge wedge that is Don Quixote (great book), missed by Lauren. Two caps does not a bottle cap collection make, as the very famous saying goes. I just threw them away.  

I guess I don’t keep bottle caps any more.

I have, however, started keeping some of my favourite bottles. “We can use them as vases!” I said, trying to distract from the fact that I’m just keeping old, empty bottles of beer. It’s working, for now... although I’ve only got three (I’m being very, very selective). I used to have a small bottle of BrewDog Zephyr but I guess that went away with the caps. There was also a Petite Orval but that’s gone too. Lauren's better at over-tidying then I am at hoarding crap. 

This month’s Session is hosted by All Over Beer.