Friday, 29 July 2011

GBBF: A Week of Events?

When Denver is over-run by beer drinkers for GABF each year, the city’s beer bars all put on events to coincide with it. Because of this, the peripheral events are as much as a draw as the festival itself, with beer dinners and tastings taking place for the time of the festival.

The Great British Beer Festival is next week but London doesn’t have the same external focus on events as GABF, but could or should it?

CASK is putting on two excellent meet the brewers: Odell and Kernel (11 Kernel beers on cask and keg. ELEVEN!) will be there on Saturday 30th and Monday 1st respectively. The White Horse has shifted their US beer festival back a month so that it’s now in line with GBBF. The Dean Swift are holding a beer and food event for #IPADay. But is there anything else?

I think it’s a great time to go all-out on beer. GBBF gets in the news, lots of people talk about it and lots of people will want to drink it. People come into London for the festival and also want to take the time to visit other pubs in London. What if places did meet the brewers (who are also in London for the festival)? What if there were beer dinners? Special tastings? Brewery tours? Even an alternative after-party (keg?!) festival? 

GBBF is a different set-up to GABF, where you go in for an allotted slot and drink 1oz samples of as many beers as you can/like, but I think there’s definitely space for a few more events around the week of GBBF to really promote beer to more people.

What do you think? Would you go to events after going to the festival or are you beered-out by then?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Thornbridge and Nicholson’s Home Brew Challenge 2011

Fancy a brew?

I got a press release through from Thornbridge today which might be of interest to quite a few people… As the blog title suggests, Thornbridge Brewery and Nicholson’s pubs are launching The Great British Home Brew Challenge 2011.

It launches on 1 September and the website will be (it’s not live yet). The aim is to find the best of British homebrewing and the winner will have their recipe transformed into a production brew by Thornbridge and will be made available in Nicholson’s 100 pubs across the UK.
Sounds good and I think it’s a great contest with a fantastic prize for the winner. There aren’t any more details yet but look out for the launch on 1 September.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Beer Labels: Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s blog about the type of beer branding which I really dislike. Seeing this post by Boak & Bailey reminded me of the label shown above from Watermill Inn and Brewing Co. Take a closer look and read it through.

I spot a couple of mistakes straight away – a missing apostrophe in ‘lovers’, an extra apostrophe in an ‘it’s’ and premises spelt wrong. I’m hyphen-happy so I’d add some hyphens into this, too – between award and winning, beer and lovers [sic] and hand and crafted. I would also question the use of ‘real pub’ (one assumes that this is opposed to a fake pub). And in the address I’d like a space between the comma and ‘near’. I will overlook the comma after ‘real pub’. The good news is that 'accommodation' is spelt correctly.

What makes these mistakes especially frustrating is that the front of the label has obviously been well-designed and lots of effort has gone into it (see here for more of them - you probably can't tell from the picture but it's very smart with graphics jumping off the label as if it was a 3D model). Even the paper it’s printed on is of a high quality. For this level of design and detail it must have passed by a few people and for none of them to spot those errors is just not good. As the front - even if it’s not a design I personally like (a dog dressed as Darth Vader?!) - looks bold and well designed, I feel some confidence that the beer will also have had the same effort put into it. The shoddy spelling on the back makes me think again.

The beer is actually really, really good. It pours an almost-opaque black-red with a thick, smooth head. The aroma is what grabs me: treacle sponge, raisins, chocolate, figs and a little milk. It’s rich and roasty, smooth and fruity with dried fruit and a cakey depth. I liked it a lot. Not sure if I’d like a few pints of it but by the bottle I enjoyed every gulp.

I know some people aren’t good with spelling and grammar, I understand that, but there’s always someone around to take a look at it and check it. If you aren’t sure then I’ll even take a look at it for you – just email it over to me.

Breweries: please try not to make spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes on your beer labels. As Boak & Bailey say in their post: “Even a small typo can send the message that you are sloppy and careless. Avoid exclamation marks, too: they will make you look hysterical.” Amen to that!

I’ve read my post through a few times to try and make sure everything is spelt and written correctly. I’m sure someone will tell me if not! 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Branding: My Biggest Beer Annoyance

I buy wine by the look of the label and the cue of a few key words which I recognise. For me to look into every single wine I want to buy would see me never looking away from the beer aisle. When I do go for the grape it’s the way the bottle looks which sways my decision because I simply don’t know the flavour differences between a French Bordeaux and an Australian Merlot. Marry that to the price tag (if it looks good but costs £3.50 then I probably won’t buy it) and I make my purchase.

Buying this way means that what I see has to look really good and jump off the shelf into my basket. But what about beer? Over a few years of drinking beers - which I’m sure could be replicated in wine if I drank more of it - I’ve learnt what to expect from a bottle of Belgian dubbel, from a Czech pilsner, a New Zealand pale ale, a British best bitter. So when it comes to a new beer for me to try, it’s the branding which really grabs me.

The bottle label or pumpclip is the beer’s opportunity to catch my attention, draw me in and make me want to buy it, whether it’s on a supermarket shelf or the bar. Some breweries do a very good job, making me want their beers immediately, but others make me frown with disappointment. Take a look at Pump Clip Parade for an example of these beers. Would you order any of them?!

Image is a big thing when it comes to buying something. Some people might like to buy the smutty named pint of ale (“I’ll have a Drew Peacock, love!” 'Drink too much of it and you will!' she replies and Oh! how everyone around the bar lets out a big belly laugh) in the same way that they might wear a fading Fat Willy’s t-shirt with one of those knowing, cheeky grins which says ‘yeah, my t-shirt says willy’. But I don’t like them at all.

It may be a personal choice but a pumpclip or bottle which evokes a farm or steam trains or animals or uses smut or innuendo or cartoons or anything made in Microsoft Word with clip art makes me move on to something else without even trying it. They say to me ‘I’m boring’, ‘I’m not taking this seriously’ and/or ‘I probably won’t taste very good’. I rarely find out if they are good beers or not because I don’t order them.

That's more like it! I love Bristol Beer Factory's labels
Branding is difficult to get right and costs money but it’s also what sells beers to those who don’t know what they are looking for. It’s able to promote the beer but also promote the brewery and give an idea as to what they are like. My tastes might be different to others’, but I like a clean and modern design, something smart but also practical.

Clean and simple and eye-catching. Great beers too.
Compare Magic Rock with Toad Brewery (toad-themed), Marble with Skinners (tossers and knockers), Moor with Nortumberland Ales (some of the worst beer branding in the whole world), Bristol Beer Factory with Fallen Angel (erotic art labels), Kernel with Cotleigh (birds?!). I know which I’m choosing out of these (hint: the first of each comparison is the good one). And is it any coincidence that the better regarded breweries in Britain have the most appealing branding? (And has anyone ever had a really good pint of beer that’s got a terrible, wannabe-funny pumpclip?)

I love the Moor labels.
I judge things I want to consume by their appearance. I’m sure a lot of others do that, too. For new drinkers, if they went into a pub and just saw a line-up of smutty pumpclips then what does that say about real ale? If the pumpclip is bright-coloured and has a cartoon dog licking himself, then what does that say? And will it make them order a beer or not? Faced with a line-up of cleanly designed, smart lager fonts or a few old-looking or pun-laden pumpclips then I know where my money would go. What the good examples I’ve put above do is make me want to order their beers. They look simple and smart and bold, they tell me everything I need to know (style, strength – compare that to the Cupid Stunt clip at the top and I have no idea what the beer is) and they are confident that the beer will do all the hard work once the customer’s attention has been caught.

What do you think are the best branded beers in the UK and what are the worst?

Magic Rock nailed it!
The ‘bad’ examples are just ones I’ve noticed while drinking or looking on PCP. There are many more than just the ones I’ve listed. The hit-list of should-be-banned pumpclip items are: cartoons, animals, smut, farms, clip art/word art, innuendo. Anything more to add? This post could have a quick word-swapping edit run over it and it would easily apply to websites as well. Why are there so many bad brewery websites?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Six Types of Beer and Food Pairing

There are traditionally two thoughts when it comes to matching food and drink: you either go with something which compares or contrasts. I think there are four further categories: there’s a geographical pairing, the ‘calm down’ pairing, there’s the pairing which creates something more than the sum of its parts and there’s the ‘whatever’ match.

A Compare pairing would be something like chocolate and imperial stout, carbonnade and dubbel, roast beef and bitter; matches where the beer has flavours which marry nicely to the food.

A Contrast pairing would see foie gras and lambic, fish and chips and pale ale, cheeseburgers and IPA, where the use of hops, carbonation or sourness is there to slice through the richness and fattiness of the food or the full flavours.

Geographical matches pair up food and drink from the same locations, whether it’s a taste of holidays or the bringing together of two things which are linked by place: gyros and Mythos, Estrella and paella, jumbalaya and Budweiser. They are often the simplest of matches and there’s also some crossover into other categories with this: US IPA and a cheeseburger, for example. There’s a psychological link to some of these, too; the pairing works because we think they belong together or we’ve long been told that they belong together: pizza and Peroni, hot dogs and Bud, oysters and Guinness.

The ‘calm down’ pairing is one which aims to round out flavours rather than boost them. It’s a hot curry with a cold lager or wheat beer. It’s about not overloading the tastebuds with things to worry about. Hops punch chilli heat in the face so a spicy curry and a hoppy beer is just too much. It’s big flavoured dishes with simpler beers because some matches need calming down and balancing out. Sometimes part of the dish can act as the calm down factor, such as coleslaw with jerk chicken, in which case a stronger flavoured beer, like a fruity-floral IPA, can work well.

The opposite of this is the hardest pairing to get right and it’s the sort of match that makes you wonder why any other beers even bother. It’s cherry beer and chocolate brownies, rauchbier and sausage, barley wine and blue cheese. These pairings each make something new, something bigger and better than the composite parts and set the match off in an exciting new direction with an explosion of flavour. It’s also often more unusual or esoteric matches, or bigger and bolder flavours, which create these pairings. And they are the sort that you remember for longer and return to. It’s not appropriate for every match because sometimes you just need to compare or contrast pairing, but sometimes, when you want something special, this is the way to go.

The final pairing is the ‘whatever’ match. It’s about not caring and just taking a beer and drinking it while eating and it working because you want it to. Not everyone cares for planning out pairings and as long as they like the match then that’s good enough.

Six types of beer and food pairing. Are there any other types I've missed?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Blog 500! Why Beer Matters

This is my 500th blog post! I’m being a bit lazy with it and posting something I wrote last year for the ‘Why Beer Matters’ competition, run by Pete Brown and The Publican. Pete posted this on his blog but I’ve never published it here. It feels like the right kind of post for number 500.

Why Beer Matters

Our distant ancestors, the cave men and women, had the campfire. They would gather there, they lived around it and socialised around it, they learnt their life skills in its glowing, flickering flame. It was the centre of the community, the source of warmth, the source of heat to cook, the place where stories were told and learning happened. We don’t have campfires, we have the pub.

It’s the early drinking years which are the important ones. They come when we are trying to discover who we are and who we are going to be, and they help to shape us into that person. In the pub, at this time, we become more socially aware of ourselves and others and catching the eye of a mate becomes the primary motive for almost every action. Strut to the door at 17, acting grown up, feeling 27, ballsy. They let you in (of course they shouldn’t but everyone knows this pub lets you in). It’s the first step. Inside, the area opens up. It’s a man’s world and you’ve taken your first adult steps. Ordering the first pint is a ritual ceremony and with that beer in your hand you are now a part of the adult world.

Those early years are fraught. There’s ID checks, your mates having too many, the knock-back from the girl, the running out of money when you want another drink, learning about life, talking to people, being a shoulder to cry on or a voice of reason, acting stupid, spilled drinks, loose lips and broken hearts. But there’s more than that. There’s the laughter, the fun, the growing up, the being with friends. I can picture the pub we drank in: dark and dingy, a loud rock club-pub, always smelly, always crowded, always smoky, always hot, always surrounded by friends. It was my campfire.

And in that pub, or in others, or at a friend’s house with some bottles, or in the park with some cans, that’s where I learnt so many things, so many life skills: effective communications (ease the raging drunk; say hi to the girl), societal order (that’s the manager so act sober; they are the cool group), self-control (I shouldn’t have had that last pint), budgeting (I’ve got £5.20 and a burger is £3 so what can I get to drink?), how to attract a mate (play it cool, smile, what’s the worst that can happen?), how to deal with rejection (‘Can I buy you a drink’, I slur, ‘Err... no’, she says), responsibility (looking after the one who had too much). And we learn these things on our own, away from the comfort and security of the parental nest. We are growing up, in the pub, pint glass in our hand: the beacon of beer is always there, a flaming torch to guide us.

And it’s always there. It’s the reason and the excuse to catch up with old friends; it’s the oil of our social life. Let’s go for a beer. Beer is currency: ‘thanks for your help, I’ll buy you a pint’. Beer is the offer of friendship: ‘Pint?’ Beer is business; beer is passion. Beer is food, beer is life. It’s there in the good times and the bad, like a familiar friend to laugh with us or ease our pain with us. It’s in the fridge when we get home from work or it’s at the forefront of our minds as the clock hands ache around the last hour of the last day of the week. As we move along the beer-drinking path it opens up a wider view over the whole, vast plains of possibility. It can be the simplest cold lager on a hot day or it can be the most complex, rich barley wine on a cold night. It can be challenging and thought provoking; enlightening and inspiring; light or dark or a thousand shades in between; smooth or rugged; mild or tongue-twisting. It comes in fat, round glasses or tall thin ones; it’s hand-pulled and frothing into a dimpled mug or carefully poured from a dusty old bottle into a crystal tumbler. And then there’s the nonic pint glass: the stunning vision and lasting beauty of great British design, right royally branded with the crown. Holding it provides the same comfort as your loved one’s hand: it just feels right; the perfect vessel, the perfect size and weight. We get halfway through and already we want it re-filled so that it looks handsome and proud and full of colour and life again. It’s the pint glass, that guiding light, which we’ve known since we were taking our first, uneasy grown-up steps back from the bar after saying for the first time, ‘Can I have a pint please?’

Our pub is the caveman’s campfire. We grow up there, we become ourselves there, we make important decisions there, we go there after a long day, we eat, we share experiences, we relax, we have a beer there. It’s changed from those primitive and fraught pub-going adventures and we’ve learnt the important things about life and love and where we are and where we’re going. Now we can just sit back and enjoy it, say cheers to our drinking partner and take a deep, long pull on that pint in our hand. Beer: it’s more than just a drink and it matters because it’s always been there and it always will be; the guiding torch around our campfire.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Equality for Punks and Beer for Girls

I’ve been out of the loop, ain’t I, and I’m trying to catch up. The first day back at work today and I’m distracted by BrewDog vs CAMRA and beer for girls. My thoughts on these can be summed up as: AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!

I wanted to see BrewDog at GBBF because I wanted to drink their beers there because they make some of the best beers in Britain and GBBF should be about the best beers in Britain. Whether it was going to be cask or keg was irrelevant to me and would’ve been irrelevant to all but a small, albeit vocal, group – it was about drinking the beers because I like them. BrewDog will not be at GBBF now. BrewDog say CAMRA cancelled their bar but it seems that it was ‘cancelled’ because BrewDog didn’t pay for the bar, but whatever… To me it smacks of publicity grabbing from BrewDog more than anything else. CAMRA seem to have told BrewDog what to do to be involved and BrewDog haven’t done that, even if CAMRA did make some changes to what was initially discussed – if BrewDog really wanted to be involved they would’ve made it happen.

It’s frustrating to see this happen. I thought, perhaps naively, that BrewDog would be more interested in getting their beer in front of 60,000 drinkers than getting 60,000 hits on their blog. Are they being treated unfairly by CAMRA or are they trying to make problems?

What we should do, I think, is immediately forget everything and simply just look forward to the best week of British beer and drinking of the year. GBBF is a brilliant event and I always look forward to it and always enjoy it. BrewDog won’t be the only good brewery not there and there will be hundreds of great beers there to be drunk and that’s what’s important, right?

And then, unrelated, beer for girls.

Really? I do prefer boy’s beer, but I can have an open mind...

MolsonCoors have announced some new beers called Animee. They are made with malt, water, hops and yeast but that’s probably as close to ‘beer’ as it gets. Just look at them. They look like fancy flavoured water which wants to be more exclusive than it is (the packaging and the pale colour of it). They have fruit flavouring added to them (they come in standard, rose and citrus) and they are even low in calories. Calories!

Women don’t like beer because it looks like beer, smells like beer, tastes like beer and it’s fizzy and bloats you and it makes you fat. We all know this, right?! These new beers from MolsonCoors, a seven-figure commitment, answer with the developed negative of the stereotype of why women don’t drink beer. It’s black and white. It's patronising and regressive. And it’s bullshit.

I don’t think we need gendered drinks and I don’t think Animee will be a success (there have been two pieces on the Guardian about girly beer and Glyn has blogged about it, too - they seem to agree with me). The problem is a cultural thing specific to Britain; go to Europe or America and things are different. In fact, go to the top beer bars in the UK and things are different – women do drink beer, you see. Perhaps not as many as we'd like, but will Animee be the answer? 

If these beers are still being made and they are selling well this time next year then I will buy ten case of each of the three flavours and throw a massive party for a load of women at my own expense. I’ll even provide rice crackers as snacks and buy copies of heat magazine for us all to read.

If it does get more women drinking beer, if it’s these beers which they are drinking, then I still think that it’s a backward step because they couldn’t be much further away from being like virtually every other beer on the market, so what’s the benefit of that overall? 

I guess the trouble is that you can’t spend a few million quid on educating millions of drinkers; it’s almost impossible and it’s intangible. But it’s easy, with deep pockets, to develop tangible products like Animee. But it’s not the products themselves which we need because we already have them. We have thousands of delicious beers in the UK and there are many thousand more of them around the world. And there are millions of females who drink alcohol. Only education and a cultural mind-shift will likely bring the two together. These beers, I fear, will only push more people away and cheapen the appeal of good beer for a huge portion of the potential market. 

What are your thoughts on either of these? 

I double-teamed these two issues because I’ve written 498 posts and this will become 499. I want something a little lovelier than a derisory post about girly beer to bring up my 500th post. 

A Front Line Report on Beer in a Spanish Tourist Resort

Of course, my two week frolic to Spain was not just an excuse to escape to the sunshine and sandy beaches of the Mediterranean, it was a cleverly veiled covert beer research trip. This expedition was to look at restaurants, bars and supermarkets to see what the local choices are.

On the first supermarket trip I saw a well-stocked beer aisle, red with Spanish lagers and green with those from Northern Europe, plus the bright blue of Illa, Menorca's own beer. It also featured bottles of Guinness, Magners and Strongbow, Paulaner wheatbeer, Judas, Desperados and a few non-alcoholic cans. I was there for the Spanish beers.

To begin, an observation: The first night out I ordered a beer, as follows: “Hola. Beer please.” “Small or large?” was the response. Obviously I said large. It arrived a few minutes later in an unbranded nonic pint glass. It was Estrella Damm. I do not believe that Estrella Damm should ever be served in nonic pint glasses. Later in the break I ordered both a 'small' and a 'large' Estrella and they arrived in lovely, branded and stemmed glasses, either 20cl or 40cl, not in bloody pints. I realised, with that first pint, that I'd stepped into a parallel version of England located on a Spanish island. However, the thought of pints of Estrella did bring me some joy as I imagined the burly, burnt Brits with their beer-drink bravado sinking four pints and stumbling home drunk blaming the heat for their inability to walk in a straight line. Ha! Estrella is 5.4%. Ha! It's not like the 4% lager you gulp at home, mate!

Anyway, here's what else I found in the aisles of Spar. I hope, for anyone visiting Spain this summer, it may help you in your drinking:

Estrella Damm. As mentioned, it's 5.4%, but one assumes, being dainty and English, that it is less potent and therefore one to smash by the pint. I like Estrella a lot as a holiday beer. That extra strength translates to extra flavour and body. It's honey, bubblegum and bread and it's refreshing.

Illa is the local beer. It's brewed with local grain. I wrote a blog about it last week. I drank lots of them while I was away and I’m still not sure if it’s meant to taste the way it does or not. I still liked it though. This is the one craft beer brand I had in two weeks.

Cruzcampo is 4.8% and good when cold and served in small measures. It's got a lovely dry finish, like the hot air, that makes you go back for more.

The Spar have their own beer, imaginatively called Cerveza. It's 4.5%, it's pale, has lots of bubbles, lacks body and tastes of very little. Drink it very cold and very quick when you are very thirsty and you'll be slightly satisfied. Otherwise, don't bother.

Mahou is another bright red branded Spanish beer. It's 5.5% and more bitter than the other beers, making it dry and quenching and perfect for small measures and little plates of food. My scribbled notes suggest tobacco, sherbet and crackers which coincidentally is also the preferred diet of supermodels.

In one place I found Duff. Duff! I've written about my desire to drink animated beer before (in which I say that I never want to try it - curiosity overpowered me), to have that moment where I down a delicious pint of it in seconds with a refreshed 'aahhhhh'. Fortunately, tasting of very little, I managed to drink this bottle cartoonishly-fast.

Xibeca, a 4.6% beer from Damm, is, I guess, the cheaper brand from the brewery. It's called a pilsner but, given the dramatic lack of hops, I'd question that labelling. I bought a litre of this for not many euro cents and that's probably the best thing to say about it.

The opposite end of the brewery scale is Voll Damm. At 7.7% and in a dramatic, dark can, it calls itself 'Das Originale Marzenbier'. I did wonder if it was Spanish Special Brew but a tweet from Boak and Bailey confirmed that it's not tramp juice. It tastes good too; smooth and sweet, full-bodied, lots of toffee and caramel and just enough hops to not make it cloying. One for beer geeks.

Cruzcampo make a stronger beer, Gran Reserva, at 6.4%. It's a richer amber colour than the normal brew and it's subtle but very enjoyable: tangy malt, a noticeable hop presence, a little peachy aroma and a sherbety sweetness.

And San Miguel also do a fancier, stronger beer: Selecta XV. I liked it a lot. I walked past a restaurant where everyone was drinking this deep amber beer in fancy glasses and I had to go in for a closer look. I asked what beer they had and the waiter said San Miguel, probably assuming my Englishness and considering his fancy beer too delicious for me, and I resigned myself to a usual golden beer. However, I got the darker one. It's very tasty: caramel, little chocolate and lots of hops.

Normal San Miguel ain't too bad either. I had a couple of lovely 30cl glasses of it with a table covered in tapas (local food). Refreshing, light, quenching; everything a lager should be.

Next come three non-alcoholic beers, purely bought out of research and curiosity. Free from Damm looks like beer but definitely doesn't taste like it. Eyes-closed it could be sparkling water. One good thing, mainly of appeal to the calorie conscious who want to appear like they are drinking beer but are in fact not, is that there are only 33 calories in the can.

With almost three times the calories, is San Miguel's 0,0%. If you drink it very cold it isn't offensive, otherwise it is offensive. Order Diet Coke instead, or, even better, a proper beer.

And finally, Cruzcampo's Shandy, a 0.9% thing which tastes exactly like lemonade and nothing like beer (though it still looks like beer). It tasted so much like lemonade that I added gin to it to make it taste better.

I must also report back that I had Heineken and Amstel, though I do not recall them in great detail. The Heineken, however, was delivered when I expected to receive an Estrella and came as a shock to my delicate tastebuds. It appears that I don't enjoy Heineken very much. Amstel is ok.

These are my research findings. My preference is for Estrella Damm as my day-to-day drink, though I did like the stronger brews, especially the one from San Miguel. If you go to Spain this summer, as many millions of you will, then you will find that the sun is hot and the beer is cold and that’s all you really need to know, though it is, for a beer geek like me, fun to try a little of everything. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Illa, Cervesa de Menorca

I came away knowing that this little island makes its own beer, but all I knew was its name: Illa. The internet seems almost oblivious to it, with only one or two Google searches returning anything. Luckily, Menorcans, whether it's just what they do or whether it's for the benefit of tourists, are good at promoting the things they make here. Walking into the first supermarket, I saw those blue and white bottles on the shelf (next to a sea of green and red cans of lager) above a sign which read 'Beer from Menorca'. Another sign I read a few days later explained that the beer is made from 'the unique challenge of grain grown on the island'.

It's 5.5% and trying to translate the label I think it's unfiltered and unpasteurised. It certainly looks that way when you pour it out: it's an opaque, burnished gold. This is the first sign that this beer is not just a me-too continental lager that it could've so easily aped for the tourist market. This beer is different. It has a lemony, peppery aroma, it's dry and refreshing, the hops bringing a bite of bitterness and it finishes with dry, zesty lemon.

I like Illa a lot and for a holiday beer it stands above the usual hot-weather cold-lagers. I've drunk lots of bottles of it already and I'll drink more before I leave. The lemon-pepper bite reminds me a little of Orval, of brett, but it seems to be in all the bottles I've had, and anyway, it tastes good and it makes a great change from the Heineken-a-likes. It's also a great beer to go with fresh seafood and warm sunshine.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

G&T in 3D

Menorca has a gin distillery! Sweltering in the late-afternoon heat of Mahon, we chanced upon Xorigeur while wandering around the port. For a town that seemed asleep as we walked alone past closed shops, inside it was as if a bus had dropped off a load of middle-aged drinkers who were now over-excitedly helping themselves to the wide choice of spirits while barging others out of the way so they could take a picture behind tables crowded with bottles. Not knowing if we could just join them or if we had to pay, we just grabbed glasses and poured samples for ourselves. Gin, Triple Sec, numerous multi-coloured herb liqueurs, all sorts of things.

I was most interested in the gin. It's leftover from the British rule of the island but is now one of the Menorca's flagship local products. It's very good too. Light and smooth, dry and bitter, lots of lemon and a floral, peachy quality which is really nice. It's often served as pomada, a mix of gin and bitter lemonade, but I favour it with tonic.

As nice as it is, it just makes me wish I could have the G&T I made myself a few weeks ago. And if you like G&T then I urge you to try this combo because all of a sudden, in one perfect glass, G&T changed. It was like tasting it in 3D; G&T squared. It was simple, too: Sipsmith's glorious gin, Fever Tree's amazing tonic, lime, ice. Gintastic!

I bought myself a litre bottle of Xorigeur gin a few days ago and I need to empty it before we leave... Anyone know any good gin cocktails I can easily mix up?!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

FABPOW! Paella and Estrella

It's too easy, obvious even, but the Food and Beer Pairing of the Week, this week coming from beside the beach in Menorca, is paella and Estrella (which like last year's gyros and Mythos has a likeable rhyme to it).

This is one of those matches which is made perfect in the mouthful. Sure, the bright lift of carbonation, the sweet body and the dry quench of hops help, but the flavours themselves only go so far together. Paella and Estrella is a psychological kind of pairing where local flavours come together. It's why dumplings and Gambrinus work so well in the Czech Republic and why Carbonnade and dubbel work so well in Bruges, but take them somewhere else and they lose something: the psychological link lifts them up.

Paella: Fishy rice, rich and salty, golden from the tang of saffron, livened by lemon and fresh with seafood. Estrella stamps in rather than slides over, with its full body and hints of bubble gum, sherbet, honey and bread. There's an inelegance to it but it works like a pint of bitter and a ploughman's served in a pub garden: because it does, because they seem to belong on the same table, because it's simple, a no-brainer. And of course they taste good together but it works best because it's two local flavours enjoyed locally and that's enough for some of the best food and beer matches.

Friday, 1 July 2011

When beer goes bad: Acetaldehyde

Acetaldehyde smells and tastes like fresh green apples in beer. Open a bottle of Budweiser to taste it as Bud contains a little acetaldehyde which adds a fresh, crisp flavour. If it’s present in stronger beers or in higher volumes then it might smell like bruised old apples, solvent or paint.

At the beginning of fermentation the yeast gets to work converting sugar to ethanol and acetaldehyde is formed as a precursor to the booze. The yeast will usually then convert the acetaldehyde into ethanol in the latter stages of fermentation. Too much acetaldehyde is usually a sign that the beer is ‘green’ and the yeast hasn’t had a chance to do what it needs to do (this could be if it’s taken off the yeast too soon, crash cooled or filtered out too early). To avoid it the key is to allow the beer to properly condition for the yeast to convert all the acetaldehyde.

If a beer becomes oxidised post-fermentation then the formation of ethanol can be reversed and create acetaldehyde, which can then become acetic acid and turns that fresh apple flavour into funky cider vinegar and that’s definitely not good in a beer.

If your pint smells like apples then the brewery were probably in a rush to get the beer made and it’s a sign that the beer is a little too ‘green’. If it smells like paint or bruised apples then there are bigger problems. If it smells and tastes like cider then send it back. It’s worth noting that some particular yeast strains give off more acetaldehyde than others but this is a personal concern of the brewer, not the drinker. Unless it’s present in very high volumes then it’s not unpalatable and some like the flavour.

Is acetaldehyde something you’ve noticed in beers before? Ever had one like solvent or cider?

This is one of those flavours which I don’t mind in small volumes, but it is one which is easily fixed so should never really be there (unless deliberate) as it should naturally disappear if you give the yeast enough time. If there’s any more simple science stuff to add then please put it in the comments – I’m not a brewer or scientist so I’m trying to keep it simple.

This is the last off-flavour post for now. We’ve had Diacetyl, Autolysis, Light-struck, Phenolic, DMS and Oxidation. I’ve got a few more that I want to go over later in the summer but these are the big few that it’s good to know about.

I used this and this to help write the post. I also used Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer for all of them. And thanks to Mark from Beer. Birra. Bier. who looked over the posts for me and spotted some terrible errors.