Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Readers of this blog will know I have had mixed fortunes with Brew Dog Beers, but when they get it right, boy do they get it right.
Brew Dog Punk IPA (6% abv) is the best bottled beer I have tasted this year and following after Morrisey Fox Blonde Ale (see previous post) that isn't an insignificant thing to say. Damn, it is one of the best beers I have drunk this year in any format! I can't wait to try it in cask form. The beer is pale gold in colour with a hoppy, fruity, pine resin nose. It opens fairly sweet and has an explosion of tropical fruit flavours before a distinct piney bitterness kicks in. The carbonation is perfect and the malt base easily holds up against the alcohol, through to a deep, fresh, lasting pine and resin finish. Make no mistake about it, this is class in a glass. It has the structure and elegance to stand up against any Yankee IPA as it is less one dimensional, presumably from the use of Motueka New Zealand hops as well as Chinooks.
I was blown away by this beer. Any complaints? Yes. Put it in a bigger 500ml bottle Guys. I wanted more!
Neil Morrisey is a TV star who has a pub and brewery in Yorkshire that will shortly be on our screens, showing how he and his business partner, Richard Fox, who is the "beer expert", went about brewing the "Perfect Ale." I am not sure if the beer below will be it, but it isn't bad at all.
The first effort on sale in bottle is Morrisey Fox Blonde Ale, a 4.2% golden beer. It tells you on the label that it is a "hybrid" beer, "somewhere between a lager and an ale." Well, spot on really, I'd say. The beer opens with a distinct whiff of flowery hops. It is clean and almost dry in palate, with up front bitterness and some herbal notes. Medium bodied with a good malt base, it is astonishly clean throughout, through to a short, clean, dry, hoppy, flowery finish. I could have drunk another couple very happily. This is a well brewed beer and worth a punt. My only criticism is that for me, it was slightly overcarbonated.
Try some. I reckon it is a very decent, well made beer with some character and if these guys are aiming for something that will attract both ale and lager drinkers, then they are not far off the mark.
This beer is also on sale on draught (whether cask or keg, I don't know) in their pub, Ye Olde Punch Bowl, in Marton cum Grafton, North Yorkshire should you fancy a day out.
Friday, 26 September 2008
Readers of this blog may know of my interest in Germany and the German beer scene. I therefore read in the on line version of the influential Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, that German beer is in trouble. They say so in no uncertain terms, with the headline above, which needs no translation. Outsiders and keen observers of the German brewing scene, including me, have said so for some time and now it seems, a major German newspaper has noticed the issue.
They start by saying "When all was well with the world, in Bavaria, in each village there was a small brewery and a tavern. On Saturday evening people would head over for a few drinks and again on Sunday after a good roast pork lunch". The article goes on to demolish this bucolic scene in a withering and hard hitting way. They remark that it is all very well that Germany boasts so many breweries, but their beer is all too similar nowadays. SZ laments that at one time German brewers brewed to suit local tastes and now technology allows them to produce such bland beers, that when they are taken over by the big boys, no-one really notices. Mockingly they say that most German brewers can't even identify their own beer in a blind tasting with others!
Clearly written from a Bavarian perspective, SZ scathingly says people nowadays are happy to "drink green bottles from Prussia". They blast some of the popular German mixes such as radler and cola mix, as well as the generation of alcopops, which they call "funny lemonades". Even the beer purity laws, which state only malt, water, yeast and hops can be used in brewing, can be seen as restrictive and preventing brewpubs diversifying beer styles as much as elsewhere. The article quotes the USA, the UK and Belgium, where brewers can produce more interesting beer to compete with wine. Somewhat surprisingly the article doesn't refer to Franconia where the tradition of village breweries still abounds, but I don't suppose that was the point they were making.
The article goes on in much the same vein and is worth reading if you are remotely interested in how German beer is very much under threat. From our own UK experience it all sounds depressingly familiar and will hopefully be a wake up call to German drinkers.
The article can be found here in German only.
The lure of cut price beer brought large numbers of dedicated drinkers to a fairly anonymous industrial unit in Bury. This is the home of Outstanding Brewing Company Limited. By the time I arrived, a merry band led by Tyson, had been attempting to drink the place dry before the main body even got there. No problem though. Supplies seemed ample.
Dave Porter, the brewer and co-owner (who can certainly organise a piss up in a brewery) talked us through the plant and philosophy of the place. He has two brewing plants. A small 3 barrel brewery and a larger 30 barrel production plant. He teaches brewing from this location, constructs new breweries and in addition to the brewing operation, bottles and kegs beer on the premises. While cask ale is his main market, he will produce beer in other forms on request. All of his normal eleven beers are available as either cask, keg, Real Ale in a Bottle or filtered and stabilised in bottle. He also produces lager. Nothing will be under 4.4% abv as Dave feels the sub 4.4% part of the market is saturated enough. All beer is produced to vegan standards.
So what of the beer? The two cask ales on offer on our arrival were Blond (4.5%) and Standing Out (5.5%). Blond was citrussy with good body, but not heavily hopped. It was very drinkable. Standing Out was, as the saying goes, "dangerously drinkable" with good body, warming alcohol and a good hoppy nose. Later as things deteriorated and judgement became clouded, a bock and a strong barley wine were trotted out. The barley wine as particularly good, with warming alcohol and a very hoppy, bitter taste. Somehow I missed trying out the bock. I also enjoyed the Pilsner Lager (5%) which had perfumy hops and great drinkability.
Dave is still tweaking his recipes and getting his production right, but watch out for these beers. They are good now and will get better!
We left at eleven. I got a text from Tyson waking me up, shortly after half past two in the morning. He had just left the building.
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
A phone call from the landlady of our pub. Do I fancy an hour out in Huddersfield, as she has to drop some stuff off to a friend that runs a JDW there? Considering my plan had been to mooch aimlessly about the house, why not?
The Cherry Tree is a particularly soulless version of the JDW genre, but it was bright and busy. The clientèle was mixed and cheerful. The staff were mature and knew their customers. No-one smelt of pee as far as I could tell. Now Huddersfield is a competitive place for good beer. The place positively hoaches with it, so the Cherry Tree majors on good cask ale with a decent choice both on and coming. I tried a half of the dependable Roosters Yankee and one of the Bora Bora from Elland. The barman asked me if I could identify the unusual ingredient. We agreed it was likely to be chocolate malt. The beer was heavily hopped and brown. I didn't care for it much, thinking the chocolate taste unbalanced the beer more than a tad. Howard Town Monks Gold was more than a touch hazy, but tasted fine.
We had only an hour and a half before the meter ran out. My companion was on the soft drinks and coffee, but she had landlady like things to do later, so that was our lot. I was tempted by the barmaid (a smashing lass in every way) into trying some wine, as it was all on offer. Any wine for the price of the house stuff. Errazuriz Carmanère was so rich and luscious, it filled every corner of my mouth with jammy berry fruit and peppery spice, but the star of the show was old world. Chateau Neuf du Pape (Caves St Pierre) was well structured, silky and complex. I could have had another. OK I did. The landlady bought a bottle to take away. At £7.95 it was £6 and more below its usual JDW price and worth it.
So a rare foray into wine drinking in a pub for me. It will be back to normal tonight. I am visiting Outstanding Brewing at Bury. Tyson will be there. I'll say hello for you.
The 175th Oktoberfest is under way in Munich. I hear on the BBC that Chinese lederhosen is undercutting the price of this most Bavarian of attire. Traditional Bavarian tailors are up in arms.
For those of you interested in such things, C&A in Munich has a huge array of reasonably priced traditional Bayerische clothing on the first floor of its store in Munich. I stare at it longingly from time to time until I am slapped back into reality by E.
Is it all made in China? I don't know!
The photo shows the Mayor of Munich, in lederhosen, tapping the first cask.
Saturday, 20 September 2008
As widely predicted, not least of all here, it seems that the Dusanj brothers who took Cains to bankruptcy and receivership following their disastrous takeover of Honeycombe Leisure, have picked up Cains brewery and nine leasehold pubs from the administrators. They are also seeking to buy 26 more freehold pubs from the former Honeycombe estate. The amount paid was not disclosed.
In a week where the foundations of capitalism have been rocked to the core, the £30 million losses, now nothing to do with the "new" owners, pale into insignificance. Most of this money is owed to HBoS and HMG, who I suspect have other things on their mind at the moment.
Clever pair of buggers these two, but despite my misgivings about it all, I'm glad Cains is saved!
Friday, 19 September 2008
Yesterday after calling in at the Co-op to chat to the Hall Manager about the National Winter Ales Festival, me and the Organiser, my mate Graham - did I ever mention I am Deputy Organiser? - went on a wander round the Northern Quarter of Manchester. I won't bore you with details except to mention one incident, which still has me shaking my head with disbelief.
Bar Fringe on Swan St is a kind of Belgian style bar which is very popular and has long been in the Good Beer Guide. It also sells four or five cask ales. We often call in on our travels, though the beer never reaches the heights it could and some of the staff can be attitudinally challenged. Last night was a case in point. I had a very dodgy pint of Holden's Pirate, clearly past its best and getting cardboardy and oxidised while Graham's Allgates didn't seem to be pulling through. A few more tugs on the handpump and he was told "Hang on, the cask needs tilting". (I don't think I've ever encountered that in a pub.) This was duly done and a murky pint presented. Graham brought it back to where I was sitting. It was clearly all "bottoms" and was not fit to drink. He took it back along with mine. A few seconds later he was back. His request for replacements was summarily rejected with the words "you are not getting a free pint here". He even had to endure the charade of the two young barmaids tasting "his" beer and pronouncing it "fine". Given that we had paid for two undrinkable pints, we left, pints virtually untouched, a fiver poorer and a lot wiser.
Needless to say, we won't be going back and indeed may not be welcome back as I've a feeling that sooner or later, we'll get the blame for this piece of nonsense -it's that kind of place.
I am happy for them to prove me wrong of course!
Liking to provide a contrast, the excellent barmaid in the nearby Angel, insisted on us trying all three cask beers before we purchased and was a credit to the place. The beers were in tip top condition too. Well done!
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Now that I am more or less over my bout of flu or whatever it was, I felt the need to get out. Where to? Rochdale seemed like a plan, it being on a direct bus route, so Rochdale it was.
The Baum is in the 2009 Good Beer Guide and rightly so. The beer is well looked after and the place is terrific, with a sort of wine bar meets beer bar feel. It is in Toad Lane, the heart of the preservation area and one door up from the shop where the Rochdale Pioneers kicked off the co-operative movement in 1844. There's a bit of history for you! Now I am usually unlucky here. Whenever I go in I find the beers not to my liking, while looking wistfully at the pumpclip collection showing what I have missed and the notice board showing what is to come, all more appealing than the current offering. Yesterday was a little different. Greenfield Black Five was dark, malty with a distinct finishing hop bite and Hornbeam Hard Rock IPA while by no stretch of the imagination an IPA, was bitter, full bodied and very drinkable despite being 4,6%. A complete shock was that there was a drinkable Boggart beer on. I wasn't daft enough to stump up for it of course, but the barmaid gave me a decent enough sample. Stand up and be counted, Boggart - at last! Pixie Pale is hoppy, aromatic, tasty and only 3.4%. Nice! Do visit the Baum if you can, the beers were at the peak of cask conditioning and it is a very nice place indeed.
I couldn't leave Rochdale without trying another couple of GBG pubs. The Flying Horse had excellent Phoenix Arizona and a new one for me. Although Green Mill Brewery is in my branch area, I have never got my hands on any. Thus the chance to try Cobra Crystal Wheat Beer was welcome. It didn't disappoint, being spicy nosed and fairly bitter. In the JDW Regal Moon my choice was Bateman's Gold which had the usual Bateman's "house" taste lifted by excellent biscuity malt and a distinct hoppy finish. I finished with a fantastic strong mild. It was sensational, with a deep chocolate malt body and a vanilla finish. Pity I can't remember for the life of me who brews it!
Did I get a bad pint? Well I did, but congratulations first. Both the Baum and the Regal Moon served beers in absolutely perfect condition, at the right temperature and correctly through a tight sparkler. It is such a delight when you come across that. And the bad? Two actually. Both from Hornbeam Brewery whose Hard Rock IPA I had enjoyed in the Baum. Top Hop was at best OK if you were feeling really, really generous and Lemon Blossom was probably as bad a beer as I have had this year. Think of a cross between packet lemon meringue pie and citrus toilet cleaner and you'll be near. Drink for curiosity purposes only!
As always click on the photo for a better view!
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
The types identified are:
- Depressed drinker
- De-stress drinker
- Re-bonding drinker
- Conformist drinker
- Community drinker
- Boredom drinker
- Macho drinker
- Hedonistic drinker
- Border dependents
I think they have missed a trick here though. The beer geek drinker is absent from the list. Perhaps it is because we are not heavy drinkers, preferring to sniff and spit? Or perhaps this nonsense is just a waste of time and money? Anyway I'll find out. It seems that a pilot of how this is going to work in practice is being run here in the North West. It will specifically target heavy drinkers. Over 900,000 households will receive leaflets through the post highlighting the link between drinking and conditions such as cancer and liver disease. How will they know which houses to send it to? Will I get one?
I don't know or care. I am feeling very much better now and after a little light shopping, I'm off for a drink!
The government hopes this "tailored" approach will help 4,000 people in the region to reduce their drinking within a year. I think they will find the recession will do that much more effectively!
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Unless you are lucky enough to live in West Yorkshire where the tulip glass reigns supreme, when you buy a standard British pint of bitter, you are likely to be served it in a nonic* glass. This 1960's invention elbowed the more traditional dimple glass aside, just as the dimple glass had in its turn pushed out the 12 sided handled glass you see in the old "Beer is Best" adverts from the 1930s. The nonic is now around forty years old, is dated and it shows.
Does the glass from which we drink our beer matter? I reckon so. So do the Belgians and the Germans who always serve beer in the appropriated branded glass according to style and custom. We Brits on the other hand think nothing it seems of serving a pint of cask beer in a cider glass or even a lager glass. So what? It's only a pint of beer is the attitude. Quite a few local brewers have however started to use branded glassware of different shapes. My local brewer Lees, has its unique "grip glass" - love it or hate it - and others have their own glassware, usually straight sided or tulip. But more often than not, you will be served beer in a scraped and worn nonic. It is a sign of "Don't Care".
Another brewer to design its own beer glass is Samuel Adams in the USA. The Ultimate Beer Glass is interesting too and is pictured left. Click on the image to see the reasoning behind it. It shows to me that those who care about beer, care about glassware.
So come on pubs, get rid of this out of date glass, pester your suppliers for decent glassware and ensure your staff serve the beer in the right one. It does make a difference.
*The term nonic is short for "no nicks" as the rims of glasses don't touch in storage, shelves or glasswashers, they don't get "nicks" on the rim.
Friday, 12 September 2008
It seems that Caledonian Brewery, now Heineken owned of course, is targeting London for increased sales of their ubiquitous yellow fluid Deuchars IPA. The bloody stuff is so widely available now already in the capital, that this cannot be good news.
I am kind of reminded of Boddingtons Bitter* which, when taken over by Whitbread was pushed nationally with a subsequent decline in quality and reputation. I think a little bit of history might be repeating itself here.
The Morning Advertiser has the story here.
* I know the recipe for Bodds was wrecked before Twitbread got their mitts on it. That's why the Deuchars story rings a bell - it isn't the beer it used to be when brewed first in 1991.
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
Saturday was the annual barbecue at Phoenix Brewery, Heywood. In addition to the staff and some customers, a few of us CAMRA soaks are invited by Tony Allen, the owner and brewer, to partake of various delights from the grill and curry pot and of course Phoenix beers.
As you can see if you click on the photo, the brewery commenced brewing in 1898 and continued to do so until going into liquidation in 1937. Cornbrook Brewery then stepped in buying up all the existing assets (and the pubs) unfortunately with no intention of keeping the business going. You can still see the Phoenix emblem on a few local pubs.
Tony has been there since 1991, having moved the business from Ellesmere Port. He now brews well in excess of a million pints a year. Having a strong interest in all things historical, he has taken to restoring Phoenix to its original form. The building is a more or less complete example of a late Victorian Tower Brewery and despite years of neglect, the buildings are slowly being renovated, initially concentrating on the building fabric. The cobbled yard is splendid and in warm sunshine, despite the rainy forecast, made a great backdrop to Phoenix Hopsack and White Tornado. The brewery itself is in the original malt store and maltings. The Hopsack was hoppy, pale, resinous and distinctive and the White Tornado, quenching, fruity and wonderfully moreish, though I didn't get any more, as it ran out!
Many pints later, we tottered off back to the bus stop, looking back down Green Lane where the brewery tower dominates as it has done for the last 110 years.
For those who are interested, Tyson the Beer Hound was also there and in good heart.
Saturday, 6 September 2008
I was there last night knocking back a pint or two before my evening meal. It was fairly busy and we stood at the bar watching the world go by when this conversation was overheard:
First Barperson: "I see Wetherspoon's has its shutters down. What's going on there?"
Customer: "I heard someone attempted to commit suicide in there earlier today"
Second Barperson "He must have tried the cask beer then".
Hoots of laughter all round.
Thursday, 4 September 2008
A young couple came in and ordered drinks and a meal. I say young couple, they were to me. To Stonch, the young buck, they'd probably be a couple of middle aged crumblies. When the man of the pair came up to pay, he was shocked to find that we don't accept cards. He had no cash. His lass was potless too, so he had to jump in his car, rattle off down the very bumpy lane and seek a cash point. He left his girl as a deposit.
She was pleasant, chatty and easy on the eye. He returned after about half an hour with the dosh, so I didn't get to keep her. Pity that!
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
We spent our last night in Munich. Despite my mixing up exits from the Hauptbahnhof and thus thinking two streets along was in fact two streets down, we found our hotel. Unsurprisingly it was at 90 degrees to where I thought it would be! I've been a little unlucky in weather in my recent visits to my favourite city and so it proved this time. Sunshine and very heavy showers greeted us. Nonetheless we set off for one of our favourite spots, the Viktualenmarkt, the city's major food market and a source of one of my favourite breweries, Landshuter.Their Hochzeits Weisse certainly hit the spot and their unfiltered pils is one of the more palatable of this wretched style. A meander through some of the better known places followed. The Andechser Am Dom, Ayinger Am Platzl where we just missed out on a keller beer from the wood and of course a quick glass of Edelstoff in the Augustiner outlet, but my target was, love it or hate it, the Hofbräuhaus.
This massive beer hall, a tourist attraction in its own right, contrary to what people allege, is extremely popular with Germans. In fact a large number of tables is reserved for them. The Oompah band seemed lazier than ever, seemingly out of puff after about two numbers but the waiters were fast and efficient and, if they like the cut of your gib, don't ask you to pay up front. It was as buzzy as usual and we shared our table with a couple of gorgeous German girls who E later assured me were gay! How did she know? I certainly didn't, though on reflection, they did seem to cuddle up a lot. The beer for me is always dunkel and comes by the maßkrug - a whole litre - at €6.90 a pop. Not too bad. I reckon it's a pretty good beer. We stayed for three, with a reluctant E drinking wine! Great fun. If you ever get the chance go there. It remains a world classic.
And that more or less was that, apart from a quick beer in the Spaten Haus on Sunday morning and a couple at the airport's Airbrau brewpub - shite unfiltered pils and dunkel, but decent weizen. We sat in the beer garden complete with pond and fake ducks while a mere 5 minute walk from our gate! The beer is an amazingly cheap €2.30 a half litre.
My Bavaria trip confirmed my suspicion that German beer is not in good shape. The public are complacent, in most cases will drink any old rubbish and predatory international breweries smell blood. They'll get it I fear!
Monday, 1 September 2008
All this was forgotten though as the company arrived and the ale flowed. Soon I was dry outside and wet inside. It rained going back down the lane too, but by then, I didn't care!
Our next schlep was a mountainous ride over spectacular scenery to Hittisau in Austria. It involved a lot of walking up precipitously steep hills pushing a bike and even more grumbling - ok plaintive bleating - from me. Heidi would have been right at home as cowbells tinkled and the sun beat down. Every small down was punished by a grim slog uphill with the thought of "I'm paying for this" ringing loud and clear in my tortured mind. A long descent did bring us to our lovely hotel, which seemed to have no obvious way in to it. Front and back had locked doors, Eventually a supercilious Austrian geezer let us in and seemed surprised that I should find a hotel with no way in, less than welcoming. I was tired and dehydrated by then which obviously had a deleterious effect on my temper.
I was too tired to seek beer, so that delight had to wait until our one Michelin starred dinner which got off to a bad start as we were put in the smoking area (Eileen hadn't thought to specify). Another contretemps with our snooty friend had us (reluctantly) moved. Now to beer I thought. Only Krombacher Pils or Franziskaner Hefe Weizen. Damn. I asked about Austrian beer, but none was available. Huh!
The next morning it was raining and Hittisau, apart from a lovely church, had nothing in it whatever. So what do do? The bus to Bregenz on the shores of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) would surely provide better beery offering? Well no. It wouldn't! At least not Austrian ones. I'll cut out a long story of fruitless traipsing round. Austrian Export (also called Helles or Marzen) mainly from Stiegl and Mohren was the best we could do. Otherwise it was German all the way. So we sat in the by now warm, weather watching Zeppelins take off from Friedrichshaven and meander over and back, while supping Meckatzer Hefe Weizen from the Allgäu not many miles away across the border. A final drink at the station got us more undistinguished Mohren Marzen. Doh!
I know there is much better beer than this and that it isn't typical, but it shows the German brewers in this border area at least, are elbowing their Austrian counterparts aside. The perception seemed to be that German beer is better and no-one seemed to care at all.
The first photo was taken on the ride in Germany. No I don't know why there is a (working) British phone box there either!
As a footnote to Oberstdorf, I sought out the Dampf (Steam) beer brewpub while E had a kip. I won't send a fiver to the first person who guesses what the beer was like. They had the unholy trinity - an unfiltered helles, an unfiltered pils and a weiss bier. Bet it took some time to think THAT beer range up. I'll tell you this time what my notes say: "Helles - Usual unfiltered mess. Dull, watery and unfinished. Dunkel: Dull, muddy snd yeasty. Hard to tell it from the helles." I don't write too kindly of the weizen either!
I liked the pub though again. I wrote "it should be said that the pub is absolutely superb. A tree (false) dominates the bar, but it works! The brewery sits in the middle of it all and the decor is typical German dark wood, but with good lighting it looks great. I go on to admire the barmaids!
That's a recurring theme of mine in Bavaria. I wonder why?
My notes also say that it is seemingly owned by Hirsch Brau. As I recall it had photos of the Hirsch Brewery on the wall, so maybe I am guessing. I had been drinking!
Bavaria has no such problem. Smoking is completely banned in all pubs, so a level playing field and no need for law revision. Smoking is banned and it is constitutional. OK? This makes Bavarian pubs even more delightful places to be in and as far as I could tell, just as thriving as they always have been. Why am I telling you all this? Well our next stop on our tour was the walking and ski resort, Oberstdorf. We arrived knackered after a long ride high into the Allgäu Alps. Our room looked over towering peaks and a ski lift. It was stunningly beautiful.
After a good meal in a pub owned by the Allgäuer Brauerei who do a strong range of beers with the very decent, chewy, malty dunkel being my favourite, we strolled around the town before the call of beer became too strong. The nearest pub to our hotel would do. After all it was late. Nearly half past nine. I already told you it is early bed in the Bavarian sticks. After assuring the waiter that we only wanted a bevvy, we were shown into a delightful side room in which another family were sitting - mother and young child, father and what seemed to be a grandfather with his mate. All was well until the grandad lit up! The waiter rushed in, threw open the windows and angrily berated the old guy, pointing out smoking was "verboten" and reminding him of the presence of the young child. The miscreant said the mother didn't mind him smoking and the waiter was withering in his reply. A row ensued with the waiter (who was black) being told that this is a German pub - what right had he to tell him, a German to stop smoking. We watched in amazement - public rows in Germany are rare beasts - and the matter was concluded by the family being told to drink up and go. We exchanged glances and rolling eyes with the room's only other two occupants until order was restored.
The waiter returned and politely declined my order of another half litre*. He pointed out it was nearly ten and they'd be closing. Wouldn't a small beer be better? I wasn't going to argue with this guy! A small beer and "ein korn" were duly ordered. "Jawohl" says he.