Saturday, 28 April 2012

Midwest Brews at the White Sox

We leave Metropolitan Brewing Co and jump on the red line to U.S Cellular Field to see the White Sox. There's some craft beer here and we need to find it...

Miller Lite, PBR, Genuine Draft, Coors. Then the Midwest Brews stall with the longest line in the ball park.

Bell's, Summit, Leinenkugel and others. We take an IPA but I don't remember the brewery. Having just left there, we also get a Metropolitan Krank Shaft, a Kolsch, beautifully clean and soft with stone fruit and balanced hops. Perfect ball game beer.

We also get a PBR. Just because. It's not very good. And we see the Red Sox sock it to the White Sox.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Miller beers at Miller Park

Miller Park. Home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Lager town.

Miller Lite is hard to ignore it with all the advertising and all the blue taps pouring it. It wasn't the first light lager but it was the first to get big. That kind of makes it important. Miller Genuine Draft and High Life follow. Where the Lite tastes of almost nothing, High Life gives a bit more and Genuine Draft gives a little more than that. Sort of.

After those, we go looking for craft beer. We might be in one of the most important American cities for lager, but we want more than that. New Belgium Fat Tire, New Glarus Spotted Cow and Milwaukee Brewing Hop Happy deliver three hits to counter the three Miller strike outs. No home runs, though.

More beer. More baseball. The Brewers lost.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Wrigley Field and Old Style

Wrigley Field. Chicago Cubs vs St Louis Cardinals; two of the most important beer cities in America squaring up on the old diamond.

I'm drinking Old Style - the beer of the Cubs. The scarves the ground are giving away tonight show the beer with the tagline of 'Authentically Krausened'.

It doesn't taste of much. Lager. The light version (yeah, we had that, too) is drier, simpler. It's good for watching the ballgame with a hot dog.

We look for good beer in the stadium but can't find it. It doesn't matter; we wanted Old Style. The Cubs win in extra innings.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Spicy hops

I've been doing some hop reading and writing recently and so sources call particular hop varieties, mostly British, 'spicy', but I've never understood what that actually means...

It's not like chillis, it's not like festive spices, not Asian spices, so what is it?

I haven't found a good way of explaining it rather than the non-descript 'spicy'. I kind of get what it means as it's a tangy feeling - a sensation rather than a flavour - an earthy, peppery character, but I haven't got better than that.

Anyone got a better way of describing it or thinking about it? Or is spicy one of those words to put next to hoppy and malty on the list of beer terms which don't really mean anything?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Hawkshead Well Hopped

Three beers from Hawkshead Brewery, all 6% ABV, all part of a new Well Hopped range.

Windermere Pale includes Goldings and Citra. Really pale gold with a thick white foam. Citra jumps out first with that pungently sharp grapefruit, pine and orange character, then the bitterness is like a steam roller, hitting the tongue and growing and growing and never giving up but never getting too much. Something peachy pokes through then come grapes and elderflower and a big fruit bowl of other delicious things. The doesn’t interfere with all those hops, which is a good thing.

Cumbrian Five Hop includes Fuggles, Citra and Amarillo. It’s darker than Windermere Pale, pouring an amber colour. Lush apricot-like Amarillo comes first, then juicy tangerines, then some earthy, herbal stuff in the background. The malt is more bulky in this, giving a more rounded texture and some tangy caramel to hold everything together. Where the bitterness in Windemere Pale hits and grows, this one hits and hangs around throughout. For me, it doesn’t have the impact of the other two, but it’s still damn delicious.

New Zealand Pale Ale is Green Bullet, Motueka, Riwaka and Nelson Sauvin. Those names alone are enough to get my thirst raging. I might not have smelt a more awesome beer this year. Oranges, tangerines, pineapple, perfumy grape flesh, nectarines – it’s like fruit juice and I love that. The colour is right between the other two and it holds a beautiful foam throughout – the foam on all these beers is excellent. The body is big but somehow doesn’t have a noticeable malt profile – it’s just somehow there holding the hops up onto a big platform for them to holler out loud. Bitterness kicks on the way down and just makes you want to drink more. Beautiful.

A showcase of hops and a showcase of great brewing – these three are really excellent. They are all made on cask as well, though Windermere Pale and Cumbrian Five Hop are both much bigger in bottle. One complaint, which is pedantically minor, is that I want to know all of the hop varieties used in each beer not just two or three of the five. At least the NZPA tells me everything that’s in there.

I don’t drink enough Hawkshead beer. I need to drink more because they make very good beer.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Planet Thanet 2012

I go with the intention of trying as much new beer as possible. I get there, grab my glass, and go for an old favourite to get started – Gadds’ No. 3 (properly English with that mouth-coating background of malt, a distant sack of apples and pears and the epitome of balance). This makes sense. It’s a little warm-up before we properly get on a beer tour of Britain.

Finding a seat, I read through the beer list and scribble some notes and ticks and arrows, just to make it easier for later when I’ve been up and down the bar a few times – it’s about drinking tactics.

So I start with No. 3 and then I fancy another Kent beer because the festival is in Margate. I’ve been reading about steam beer recently so went back to Gadds for a Common Conspiracy – the body is bulky yet refined, it’s dry and has a brilliant candy and floral aroma; a little taste of San Francisco in East Kent.

From now I’m off on my beer tour. There’s names I know and those I don’t. From Ramsgate Brewery I get about 30 miles away to Hop Fuzz, a new Kent-based brewery. I order The American, 4% and made with US hops. “Do you want to try it first? It tastes weird,” says the guy serving. “What’s weird about it, I ask?” When the reply is “tangy and piney” I expect that I’m getting a huge hop bomb the likes that this man on the bar has never experienced before. Instead it delivers more phenolic smoke than a bucket of Laphroaig, so I order Williams Bros. Ceilidh instead. It’s super pale, sweet first then comes a doughy, almost chocolately note, followed by fresh grass and a clean bitterness. It’s good but lager in cask...? I think I’d rather take it on keg.

It’s then back down south and to Kent Brewery where Summer Wheat was an intriguing mix of light esters (banana, clove) which strike at exactly the same time as the big dose of German hops which instead of giving a delicate finish makes it rocket off in an unexpected direction. It’s a brilliant little tongue twister of a beer.

Then I went for the hops. Dark Star Revelation was on the exciting edge of balance (‘like sitting on the edge of a mountain’ my notes read...), never sweet and never too bitter but loaded with proper juicy American hop flavour – seriously good. Then Gadds’ South Pacific IPA, which was unexpectedly subtle for the 6.5% ABV but great because of it – lemony, floral and tropical fruit. This was part of an IPA threesome along with West Coast IPA and East Kent IPA, which was No.3 on some serious steroids.

And then my beer of the festival. Made by Canterbury Brewers at The Foundry (a cool brewpub), Hoppin’ Belgian is the best example I’ve tasted of Belgian yeast and American hops getting it on. I hate citrusy C-hops which clash with clove in most Belgo-American beers but here it was beautifully done – an amazing aroma of mango, tangerine and pineapple, super juicy, then more fruit and fruity esters with no nudge from the phenolic side, just a faint spiciness which lets you know it’s definitely Belgian. It was so good I had another. And I almost went back for a third half. (Canterbury Brewers’ Red Rye was also one of the best beers on the bar. A sweetly nutty aroma plus a little rye spice then zesty and punchy from the Chinook and Citra.)

Summer Wine’s Diablo IPA almost split my tongue in half with brutal bitterness so a Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout came along to sooth with its chocolate milkshake vibe, light roastiness and delicious balance – it’s a fun beer and I really like it.

Then looking back over the beer list and the ticks it’s more Gadds beer, more Bristol, more Dark Star, some Otley. Outstanding’s SOS gave the beer tasting note of the day: ‘like gunning Persil from a sponge’ as it was so bitter. Another cask lager, Peerless’ Storr, was unfortunately a glass of butter which was dumped and swapped after one sip. There was a Stewart beer, a Thornbridge, Tryst, a Waen and a Crouch Vale Amarillo – all breweries and beers I’d had before (except the Stewart Coconut Porter which I can’t really remember drinking...).

My intention to drink far and wide didn’t really happen, looking back. Or it did happen but it was down roads I’ve been on many times before. I stuck to the breweries I know and trust and when I left that safe path I got hit with diacetyl, TCP, too many hpos or just boring beer. But I got to drink a lot of excellent beer from the breweries I know and I’d rather play safe and drink a beer which I know is good (or from a brewery I know make good stuff) rather than risking something new from a brewery I’ve never heard of – that seems to be where my drinking is now.

I think there’s a Premier League of breweries in the UK and when their beers are on the bar it’s hard to ignore them, even if I’m looking to try new things.

The photo at the top is the beer festival 15 minutes after the doors opened... Seriously.  

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Bamberg Baked Beans

What happens if you take a classic recipe – Boston Baked Beans – and add a bottle of Schlenkerla Rauchbier to it?

Boston Baked Beans is something I’ve wanted to cook for ages. Eating burnt end beans in Brooklyn kicked off the obsession which was compounded by seeing this recipe on Food Stories (Helen definitely writes the best food blog around). Those mixed with my curious side which wondered how I could beer-it-up.

Rauchbier was the obvious answer. It’s low in bitterness, uniquely meaty and smells like the fire these beans should be cooked over. It’s also incredible with the rich flavours of meat and beans (see: sausage, chips and beans). 

I took Helen’s recipe from Food Stories and halved it as I was cooking for one. I soaked the beans and then when I put them on for their initial cook, the part where you boil hard for 10 minutes, I under-filled the water by approximately the volume of a bottle of rauchbier. When they were into the gentle simmer stage I poured in the beer.

(I then went for a run, knowing I had an hour until I had to do anything. Getting back from the run, the house was filled with the smell of bacon, sweet smoke and the smokiness of beans cooking.)

Then the recipe just went as it should and over five hours after I started (the actual time needed to concentrate on any cooking is about 20 minutes, the rest of the time you just let it cook) it was a dark, bubbling pot of delicious-looking beans. 

Does it taste like smoke? Not especially, which is a shame, but you still know a bottle of beer’s been nearby as it gives a background depth and richness. I guess the smoke is dominant in the aroma which is driven off in the cooking, but who knows. To enhance the smokiness then smoked bacon would pimp it. And this obviously needs a rauchbier on the side. I had the Helles and the Marzen – the Helles was too delicate but the Marzen wrapped me in a beautiful cloud of meat and smoke.