Wednesday 24 April 2013

Craft Beer World Book Launch!

My book is released next week, which is both extraordinarily exciting and monumentally scary! It’s on national release and available in the UK and US plus a few other English-speaking countries. You can order online or get it in bookstores.

Craft Beer World is a look at the stories behind around 350 different beers. It’s about the more interesting side of world brewing, the more unusual or unexpected beers, which takes a look at some classic beers but then focuses on the way they’ve influenced others and how breweries have evolved beer styles. It’s also, I hope, a bit different to other coffee table beer books in that there are personal stories of when and where I drank some of the beers, adding some important context to the taste.

The official launch is on Thursday 2 May at Camden Town Brewery. It starts around 6.30pm and there’ll be copies available on the night plus lots of beer (including a keg of Tipopils!) on the bar and street food outside. Everyone is welcome, so come along for a beer and grab a copy of the book!

Monday 15 April 2013

Great beer in Paris

Is there great beer in Paris or just £10 pints of Pelforth?

Matt and I started in Cave à Bulles the day before the Paris marathon (so we didn’t drink anything). I hoped to find a few interesting French beers but I didn’t expect to see this many. Wow. What a shop and what a range of beers. From blondes to brunes to bière de gardes and tripels to pale ales, IPAs, Double IPAs and imperial stouts, they had beers of all styles made by French breweries. It took about an hour to choose the bottles I wanted because there were so many which I wanted. This is a brilliant beer shop. 

After finishing the run we went straight to La Fine Mousse. A beer bar that reminded me of Mikkeller in Copenhagen, it had a large chalkboard of beers and a long line of unmarked taps – stylish and modern. With 12 of the 20 taps pouring French beer, that’s what we drank (though the imports were definitely interesting!). Ninkasi Blanche had good body and spice plus a little coconut cheesecake; Page 24 Reserve Hildegarde Blonde was full of bold (Noble?) orangey hop; Outland’s IPA was bursting with floral and citrus and very nice; Agent Provocateur by Craig Allen had an elegant hop flavour with loads of fruitiness; Brasserie du Pays Flamand Super Nova was a great DIPA, all piney and resinous; and Silvanecte from Brasserie St Rieul was a wonderful tripel, balanced and rich and loaded with hops. Not cheap at around €4.50 for 250ml (in Teku glasses), but compare that to €10 pints of standard lager and it looks a lot better. It’s a very cool bar and somewhere I’d love to be able to drink regularly.

Before the Eurostar home I had time for one more stop, so went north to Le Super Coin. A small bar with good music, a few beers on tap and many more in the fridges, it meant I could try a few of the bottles I wish I’d picked up in Cave à Bulles. The first was Brasserie de Mont Saleve’s Sorachi Ace Bitter. A 2.5% ABV beer that’s super pale, massively bitter and exotically aromatic from the unusual hop – it’s very good. Then Volcelest Blonde by Brasserie de La Vallée de Chevreuse which was one of my favourite beers of the trip: classic blonde just better with some soft tropical fruit, sharp bitterness and great body, it’s elegant yet exciting.

I had a few other recommendations which I couldn’t get to, including BrewBerry which in my head is a middle point between Cave à Bulles, La Fine Mousse and Le Super Coin.

My expectations were smashed in Paris. The beers we drank were all excellent and all had a distinct taste to them, something absolutely French, a kind of botanic, bracing bitterness similar to highly-hopped Belgian beers. It’s perhaps not the first choice for a beer trip but if you’re in Paris then there’s definitely great places to drink great French beer.

The top image is from here - it's way better than anything my phone will take. It also shows a lot more images from inside La fine Mousse, which is a lovely-looking place.

Monday 8 April 2013

Paris Marathon 2013

If I ever taste anything more remarkable than the three pieces of fresh orange and the bottle of Vittel that I had at 40km of the Paris marathon then I will have tasted perfection.

I was fine until 32km into the race. Better than fine, in fact; I only had to complete the final 10km in 60 minutes to break four hours. I was enjoying it, I was feeling fit, I was running well and the training niggles weren’t niggling. Then at 34km my body decided, almost in an instant, that it’d had enough. It just broke down. Every step was agony, both in my legs and my head. My mind went from ‘brilliant, there’s only 10km left, I can smash this!’ to ‘holy shit there’s still 8km to go and that’s gonna take me 45 minutes... HOW CAN I HANDLE ANOTHER 45 MINUTES OF THIS HELL?!’ Running the last 8km was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

But those few quarters of juicy orange, a desperate attempt to get some sweetness and liquid into my dehydrated body, were the most wonderful things I’ve ever eaten. I almost gave up the race to devote myself to eating the whole glorious box of fruit, but somehow they energised me enough to lift one leg, then the next.

In the end I crossed the line in 4:09:09. Considering I didn’t run for a three week block in February and March, plus had a week in Germany which definitely didn’t help the fitness levels, and the longest training run I’d done was 16.5 miles, I’m very pleased with that time.

My mile splits show how it all fell away at the end before those oranges saved me!

And the immediate relief of it being over swelled into huge emotion at achieving something for myself and for the hospital who saved my nephew and it left me weirdly euphoric, in a daze of stumbling agony and joyous happiness.

I was going to run the marathon for fun but then things changed and I decided to raise money for Evelina Children’s Hospital. I raised over £800 in a week and that was incredibly motivating; you can read why I chose to raise for that charity here.

Today I can barely walk. Running a marathon hurts. It also makes me want to do better and try harder and I like that. Within an hour of finishing I was already thinking about where I might like to run another marathon, though within five minutes of finishing I was already thinking about where I could get a beer...  

I was in there somewhere... This image is from DC Rainmaker here and it's a great blog about the whole race with loads of excellent images

Thursday 4 April 2013

Cask and Craft: Time to stop the fight

I’m so utterly, infuriatingly frustrated with the whole cask and craft discussion in the UK right now that it makes me wish I wrote about wine because it’s frankly embarrassing. Why is there this in-fighting in what should be a close industry? Somehow the discussion has evolved into this thing which is a monster of misunderstanding, which like a game of Chinese whispers is turning into a bastard of untruths and assumptions. 

The thing which annoys me the most is creating a distinction between a cask beer (I'm using 'cask' instead of real ale throughout because it's the actual container which seems to be causing the issues here) and a craft beer. Some people seem to think that if it’s in a keg then it’s craft and if it’s on cask then it isn’t. That’s just bullshit (where did that even come from?!) There are some breweries who are frequently mentioned – Thornbridge, Magic Rock, etc – because they make both cask and keg beer. Does that mean cask Jaipur is not craft yet the kegged version is? Where does the bottle then fit? A definition of ‘craft’ based dispense is very, very wrong and totally unnecessary.

There are nanobreweries, microbreweries, regional breweries, national breweries... But that’s largely irrelevant, too, because size doesn’t define craft, especially not at the scale of these UK breweries. Likewise a definition based on style is just stupid. Everything I’ve seen on this recently has mentioned highly hopped beers as if that’s the only type of ‘craft’ brew you’ll find. That’s wrong, too. Craft is just a word that’s been sucked into British beer from America and then been applied poorly because no one seems to know what to do with it, which is a genuine problem, but just because the most visible American craft beers tend to be IPAs and they tend to be kegged doesn’t mean that it’s the only craft beer or that we can use that to define craft in Britain.

Craft beer is just a name. An idea that beer is made by hand from natural ingredients and that there’s more to beer than mass-produced multinational lagers. There are over 1,000 breweries in the UK right now and over 95% of them would probably count as craft, I reckon. And over 95% of those probably only make cask beer. All of them just make beer. Let’s not get hung up on a name.
Thanks to @FergusMcIver for sharing it
This piece in the Wandsworth Beer Festival programme typifies the contemptuous crap that is being spouted about beer at the moment and it’s completely wrong and missing the point. I want to rip it apart but it’s just some unbelievably misleading that I don’t know where to even begin with it. It’s like a scared kind of misinformed prejudice, based on dated ideas, which jumps to astonishing conclusions based on assiduous assumptions. And then other people believe that shit.

The simple truth – and the important thing to think about – is that kegged beer made by small breweries isn’t in competition with cask ales; it’s a bonus to sit beside cask on the bar. Pubs aren’t removing cask lines to put in keg lines, they are kicking out the mass-made lagers and to give more kegged choices. And kegged beers aren’t there to dumb down the beer market, they are trying to ignite it with new experiences, new brews (while we’re here: no small brewery pasteurises their beer, few filter it, most use the best ingredients they can find and give the beer a lot longer in tank than their hurried cask counterparts).

Why can’t people see this? Why is there a negative attitude towards it? And why the hell does it matter? It’s about choice and when we get to the bar we can make our own choices; some people will only look at the casks, some will only look at the kegs, others will scan the whole range. Excellent British kegged beer (not flipping ‘Craft Keg’, what a horrific term) is adding extra depth to what we can buy in the bar. That’s a great thing.

I’m writing this as someone who has just written a book with craft beer in the title. I didn’t choose the beers for any other reason than they are interesting and delicious. Craft beer is just a name; I don’t think it’s an actual definable thing and certainly not in any meaningful way. It’s like a farmer’s market. How do you define that when every one you go to is different? You don’t define it but you know what you get when you visit one; some are better than others, some are more commercial, some are more rustic. I simply don’t think we need to define craft but I do think we need to kill the misunderstanding between craft and cask because we need to appreciate that they belong side by side and that one isn’t trying to replace or undermine the other.  

And I genuinely think that spreading false ideas about ‘craft’ is leaving a disjointed and fraying British beer industry which seems to be fighting over a silly detail instead of getting together to support the best tasting British beer.

It’s time to take a modern look at beer, an all-encompassing, open-eyed and open-minded look at beer. Craft beer isn’t just IPA. It’s not just bloody fizzy beer. And cask beer isn’t all boring and brown and flat and warm. Why is there ongoing tension between the two? And how the hell can we get rid of it?

Wednesday 3 April 2013

For a good cause

On Sunday 7 April I’m running the Paris Marathon. You don’t need to collect sponsorship to run it but my intention was always to try and raise a bit of money by doing it. Scared I might not be able to complete the race, I was going to call for sponsors after I’d actually finished. But things changed last week.

On Sunday 17 March my sister Vicki gave birth to Lucas Charlie Hubbard. He was four weeks early and weighed 4lb 15oz but he was healthy and came home the next day. A week later Vicki thought something was wrong so she took him to hospital for a check. Soon after getting there he stopped breathing.

A team of doctors managed to stabilise him before he was rushed to St Thomas’ Hospital in London. No one knew what was happening. No one knew what was wrong. All we knew was that Lucas was really ill.

While all this was happening I was sitting at home alone and had no idea what to do, so I went for a run. I had no idea what news I’d get home to so I just kept on running, wiping away the tears. A lot of miles later I returned and the news was no better: he was in intensive care and they were doing all they could.

The next day there was no more news. Vicki and husband Daryl were with Lucas the whole time. The day after we got news that he was improving. He slowly came off ventilation, slowly started feeding and after four days in ICU at Evelina Children’s Hospital he was opening his eyes and breathing and feeding on his own. By the end of the week he was well enough to be transferred to a hospital near his home.

We still don’t know what was wrong, all we know is that we came terrifyingly, heartbreakingly close to losing little Lucas.

On the long run that night all I could think about was Lucas, so I’ve decided to run the Paris Marathon to raise money to say thank you to the doctors and nurses at the intensive care unit at Evelina Children’s Hospital. Every day they do this for families all around Britain (though especially those in the south east) and any day it could be someone in our family. They treated Lucas and my family so well and we’re so grateful.

Yesterday Lucas was allowed home. Hearing that news is the reason I’m doing this.

Now I just need to haul my undertrained body around the streets of Paris for four hours... If you would like to donate to the hospital then the link is here. 

This is Lucas on his first day home after over a week in hospital