Wednesday 26 October 2011

Keykeg Question

I am still getting my head round keykegs. OK, I've examined them at close quarters at GBBF and understand how they work, but my question is about how they are filled and how the beer inside gets its CO2. Now a conventional keg, is filled upside down (usually) through its central extraction spear. Is it the same for a keykeg where the bag takes the place of the spear? Additionally since a keykeg is not subject to applied external CO2 being in contact with the beer and therefore does not "gain" CO2 from the dispense process, my assumption is that the volume of internal CO2 is set as (or before) it is filled and then it stays at that rate during dispense, as it is pushed out by the collapsing sphere. Is the beer pressure set at the filling unit? Can they be filled with beer set at whatever CO2 content the brewer needs? 

Essentially how is the internal CO2 pressure set? Anyone care to enlighten me?

Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Great Northern Beer Festival

For the second time Manchester is hosting this prestigious event, with beers being exhibited by most, if not all, SIBA North members. There is a new venue too, at the Ramada Piccadilly Hotel (though since booking, it is now actually the Mercure Piccadilly Hotel - hotels change hands a lot) and bang in the centre of the city. Publicity has been a lot better this year too - we do learn as we go along - so combined with that and a new and reduced pricing structure for entry, we should hopefully see a huge turnout. All cask beers will be served by handpump and will be sparkled and served with a tight Northern creamy head, as the brewers and God intended.

The festival itself is a joint venture between SIBA (Small Independent Brewers) and CAMRA Greater Manchester, with SIBA underwriting the event, providing the beer (of course) glasses and cooling equipment and running the beer judging competition, and CAMRA who are providing the cellaring, bars and staffing. The cellar is huge with 250 or so casks racked in a temporary facility above the serving area. Cellar technicians are, as I write, running cooling pythons from above and installing the handpumps. It is a rather unusual arrangement, but hopefully it will all work. 

My modest role yesterday was to ensure that the racked beers were in the correct serving position, stable and ready to be cleaned before tapping and venting. Tomorrow I'll be doing Health and Safety checks, as I will on Thursday before we open to the public and throughout the event. I'll also be a judge in the beer competition and looking forward to that too.

It really is an immense and complicated thing to organise, but I rather fancy it is going to be great. If you are coming along, do come and say hello. If you are not coming along you'll be missing a treat.

The list of beers can be found here.

This also provides me with a chance to try Hawkshead New Zealand IPA at last. Hooray. I also have my eye on a few interesting bottles.

7 – 29 OCTOBER 2011


NOON – 10.30PM

Concessions Apply

Thursday 20 October 2011

Tandleman - Bottled Beer Man

All Our Yesterdays was a lovely TV programme that only us old farts can remember.  It looked back on the world as it used to be and was a nostalgist's wet dream.  It is also nice sometimes,  to look back through your drinking career and remember how things used to be and recall with rheumy eyed affection, the times when seeking out the new and unusual beer wise, was not only immensely enjoyable, but overwhelmingly exciting  and when I used to drink a fair bit of bottled beer at home and even, God forbid now, lug them back from my holidays.

In a fit of nostalgia, earlier today, I was looking back at my old beer reviews on the Oxford Bottled Beer Datbase. Along with some other dodgy characters like Des De Moor and Jeff Pickthall, I used to search out the exotic and write about them for the benefit of the great unwashed and was part of a beer community before blogging and while Usenet was still going strong. I had forgotten some of the beers I reviewed and that, in part at least, I used to be reasonably good at it. I have proof of that, which I'll share with you later.

Most of the stuff I wrote was around 1999/2000 and the list of beers includes rare Dutch and French artisanal beers, American beers that even now you don't see here and even the odd supermarket atrocity, plus loads of German ones. Names to conjure with include Yellow Rose Vigilante Porter, St Martinus Rabenhaupt Witbier,San Miguel Cerveza de Invierno 98/99, Great Lakes Brewing Co. Burning River Pale Ale, De Tesselse Bierbrouwerij Skuum Koppe, Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes La Salamandre. Names that don't exactly trip off the tongue, even now.

Looking at some of the reviews I did of beers that still exist, it would be interesting to see if these self same beers would be written about by me in the same way, or whether they or me have changed so much, that it would appear to be a different beer entirely. That's the thing about beer reviews (and other things too), they are a snapshot in time and things change. Some obviously and some subtly, but few beers remain the same, even if the recipe doesn't change. I think most of us that drink a local beer by choice and habit are aware of that, some of us more poignantly than others, as to my mind at least, beers rarely change for the better.

I know I sometimes scoff slightly at exotics and the drinking and praising thereof, but looking back, I suppose it is a phase you go through on the path to true beery enlightenment down the pub. It was fun though and while I don't cart beers back these days, it was kind of exciting at the time. Who can forget the thrill of untangling beers from used socks and shirts and finding them still intact? Happy Days, but things move on and offer some unanticipated compensations. While there aren't many when growing old,  looking back and saying "been there, done that", preferably with a shit eating grin, is one of them and smugly satisfying.

So ending on a high note,  Uncle Tanders even gives you hope for the future when you are in your dotage. Things might not get better, but you were there first, in some ways at least.  

Oh yes - I said I'd give you proof of my beery descriptive prowess. It doesn't get much better than this quote from my description of Mendocino Brewing Company Blue Heron Pale Ale on the Oxford Bottled Beer Database:

"Not Mendocino's greatest achievement flavour-wise (Peter Alexander's description is spot-on as usual) but a very beautiful bottle and label design which qualify it for my "Hall of Fame" bottle shelf above the bar."
Jeff Pickthall

What more proof could anyone want?

Monday 17 October 2011

Dark Beers for Winter

I have noticed that some pubs and publicans have decided, now that the weather is colder and nights are drawing in, that a dark beer, or sometimes several dark beers should replace lighter "summer" offerings. This seasonality seems logical enough to them presumably, but speaking as someone that likes his quaffing beer pale and hoppy, I don't see it that way.

While I have no objections at all to a handpump in a multi pump house being dedicated to something dark, I do have severe objections when the change of seasons means a gaderene rush to choice limiting dark beers, that are often much of a muchness. While I am at this theme, why are there so many awful porters about at the moment? Equally why are there so few decent bitter stouts around?

I do like dark beers, in fact I love them, but they need to have character. Just making a bland dark beer doesn't cut it for me at all and in my view, a pale hoppy beer is essential at all times in most pubs. (I also have long harboured the belief that brewing faults are far more easily hidden in darker beers and that isn't welcome either.)

What do you reckon?

On the same theme: St Austell Proper Black - Black IPA or a roasty well hopped stout? Opinions?

Wednesday 12 October 2011

More Supermarket Beer Bollocks

Having an upmarket break from skulking around Lidl and Aldi, in Morrisons and having bought all the Branston Baked Beans I need for the foreseeable future (best standard baked beans bar none), I thought, like you do, I'd have a gander at the beery offerings. Bloody Hell they are cheap. No need to buy the fizzy pop so beloved of Cooking Lager, as you could get quite royally pissed for a tenner drinking some decent beers and reasonably merry for a fiver if you could force Courage Best down your neck. No wonder people drink at home.

However what caught my eye was this little shelf strap underneath Lees The Governor Ale (Brewed for top chef Marco Pierre White). I spotted something wrong with it. Know what it is? Well I'll tell you. Since it was only brewed for the first time earlier this year, it would have had a bit of a job being "2002 Supreme Champion Beer of Britain". ( In fact that honour went to Caledonian Deuchars IPA.)  While one might also look askance at the claim that it has "intense hop flavours" - in fact it is pretty damn malty - that could be regarded as a matter of opinion, but the 2002 claim clearly is not.

Now I don't know if this is a local or national problem, but don't these supermarket types check things out with people that know before shoving nonsense onto their shelves and thus misleading the public? Not that hard is it surely? 

Top Tip: There is a very good price on Moonraker Strong Ale - 7.5% for £1.85 and it is bloody lovely stuff  too.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Beer Bottle Sizes to be Hit?

It seems that some beer bottle sizes are set to shrink as the industry ponders how to keep up their discount offers in the face of price rises and tax increases.  Sales of smaller size spirits are increasing already, with unfamiliar 50cl bottles becoming more common and it looks like some beers may follow to allow the same price to be maintained for multi pack offers.  Hardly surprising as everything seems to be shrinking to maintain price, from Dairy Milk to toilet cleaner.

Now this is of course unlikely to affect the 500ml size preferred for most premium bottled beers, but maybe, just maybe, it would be possible that we will see some bottle size reductions in the over 7.5% range, recently hit by extra beer duty.  We will have to wait and see on that one, but it could be that some producers would rather see the price increase "absorbed" that way.

Bottled beer sizes and prices are unlikely to affect me unduly of course, as I don't drink much of them, but the subject does allow me to link to my recent experience as a guest at the judging of Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt Final - an all bottled beer event and thus a rarity for me. There was eight beers to try and most weren't bad at all,  but overall it reinforced in my mind, that drinking even decent British standard beers at home is unlikely to give you the same taste experience as drinking them cask conditioned in the pub.  (Hardly news I know and I would say that wouldn't I?)  Funnily enough it is to my mind the bottled versions of what you might called "bitter" in all its forms that suffers most from bottling. Stronger, darker beers tend to taste better and speciality beers probably do best of all, with pale hoppy ones also standing a very good chance of success. 

It was nonetheless a very enjoyable event and good to meet a number of interesting and pleasant people. The winner was, perhaps then unsurprisingly, a dark beer, Good King John from Ridgeway Brewing, who remarkably had two beers in the final eight.  The runner up, Caesar Augustus from William Brothers, could be described as a "speciality beer" being a hybrid of lager and IPA, though to this drinker, it had more characteristics of the former than the latter. It was an enjoyable beer though, like most stuff from this brewery and worthy of its place in the top two. My own favourite was Wild Hop IPA from Harviestoun. I could imagine a few bottles of that would not be a hardship at all, though that's clearly not what the judges thought.  Some veterans of Sainsbury's Beer Hunting remarked to me that the best beer wasn't there, namely Williams Brother's Profanity Stout and certainly this has been echoed on the blogosphere, though I can't opine, as I haven't been able to find it myself. 

So all in all a very enjoyable and different afternoon, superbly organised by Sainsbury's and brilliantly hosted by wine buff Ollie Smith who professed to being a beer lover too.

And you know what? He seemed such a genuinely nice guy that I believe him. 

The full Sainsbury story is here.

Friday 7 October 2011

Showing How its Done

The Wetherspoon Beer Festivals are eagerly anticipated, largely for the thrill of the chase, as we seek out those beers brewed by foreign brewers and other top picks. The most recent festival started on Wednesday, but the official launch for our area was yesterday and in the superb Regal Moon to boot. Other JDW pubs from the area were represented too and hopefully were impressed. I had a chat with two very enthusiastic managers and at their invitation, gave them some advice about beer selection, drawing heavily on Cask Report tips. The Area Manager also promised me an ad in our CAMRA Branch Magazine, so all was well so far.

It was an august crowd that gathered to sample the early array of beers on offer, but most of us were awaiting the simultaneous unveiling of all five Yankee beers at 2 o'clock. Tyson the Beerhound was present, as was the Landlady. Gerald Nodding of Winter Ales fame was there to see how things are done, Eddie Senior and Archimedes made guest appearances and even Joe Stalin turned up, ate all the pies and went. The early beer offerings were a mixed bag of ordinariness to downright unpleasant, the unpleasant being headed strongly by Traditional Scottish Ales Taking the Pith - a beer made from lemon and lime pith. Everyone agreed they were indeed taking the pith. Wadworth Octoberzest tasted like a fruitier version of 6X, with the Wadworth house style showing strongly through, but was pleasant enough. Double Maxim Andersons Best Scotch was unfortunately forgettable in every way.  Caledonian Imperial Russian Stout was said by the landlady to taste of truffles. This was not a consensus view, but on the agreement side, nobody liked it.  Tyson remarked that Rooster's Last Stand was a belated return to form of Sean Franklin, just before he disappears to Canada. It was indeed a fine beer with pronounced hoppiness.

A murmur of excitement ran through the room as pumpclips appeared on the last bank of six handpumps.  No thirds were available due to late delivery of glasses, so halves were procured.  Bend Eclipse Cascadian Dark Ale, wasn't that dark really and though the hops showed through strongly, it was oddly watery.  Stone San Diego Session Ale was much better, but again somehow didn't quite hit the spot.  Odell's 90/- was dominated by caramelly malt, which managed to overwhelm the Perle and Cascade hops.  Fathead's Yakima Sun was more pleasing,  though again malt seemed to have won its battle with hops. Last up was Kalmazoo Black Silk, which was to my mind, the best of the bunch, being toasty, smooth and moreish.

So why the title? Occupying last place on the handpull bank was Adnams American style IPA. What a great beer. Resinous, oily hops, a firm smooth and biscuity malt base, a tight creamy head and at 4.8% proving you don't need to overwhelm with alcohol to make a bloody great beer.  I switched to pints and filled my boots, leaving too late and somewhat the worse for wear.

So Adnam's teach the Yankee Brewers a lesson in making American style beer. Who'd a thowt it? But they did.

The JDW Festival runs until the 23rd of October

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Good Stuff from Cask Marque

Beer wise I had variously good experiences and bad in London last week. On the good side obviously was the lovely weather, which made a little outdoor drinking possible, as well as pleasant strolls to and between pubs. Lists can be boring, but I won't let that stop me, so I'll mention some of the best, just so you know where to go. The Gunmaker's Arms as always keeps their beer immaculately. Landlord Jeff even took me into his cellar to try an impressive new beer from East London Brewing. I suspect that they may be one to watch, so let's er.. watch them. Making a handy little pub crawl is nearby Craft. I've praised them before for very well kept beer and do so again, this time enhanced by three (or was it four?) Mallinson's beers. Only black mark was the mind numbing overly loud music, but then to this old git, modern repetitive beats go into my head like driven nails. None of that nonsense in the Euston Tap though, where I enjoyed my farewell to London beers. I have never had a badly presented beer here.

Another highlight was Kernel Brewery, where we dropped a lot of money in very short order, drinking some very impressive beers.   This is an interesting venue under some railways arches, attracting a lot of yuppie and know-all types, but nonetheless, in the sun, rather fun, though it took some finding.  I had to check on the Dean Swift too.  Since its new cask cooling has been installed, I haven't been in London, but the system works well and the beer is cool and drinkable.  The pub listened to comments and acted on them. That's great. We like it a lot and will be back.

It can't all be good though.  On Sunday - a very warm day - the beer in the Harp wasn't standing up well at all. One pint was sufficient on this occasion.  A couple of poor shows in Nicolson's pubs on the Strand too. That's disappointing as I regard Nicolsons as generally good.  And of course there is the delightful Draft House on Tower Bridge. I love the place for the decor, the big windows and the buzz, but please cool the cask beer. Please, please cool the cask beer.

London has its warm beer issues and none more so than one of my local pubs, but lo, it now sports a Cask Marque sign, so in we went.  The beer was so undrinkably warm, that I felt moved to complain to Cask Marque.  They inspected it on Monday and fed back to me that the beer purchased (Sharp's Doom Bar)  was an unbelievable 23.5C.  That for us old chaps is 74.3F.  Astonishing.  They will follow up with two more unannounced visits to check for improvement.  I suspect I may be reporting more to them, though as winter approaches, cellars will cool. Still splendid service from Cask Marque. Well done chaps.

Of course the other thing about London is how good the pubs invariably are. Traditional, lovely to look at and to be in.  I love London pubs above most others. They are just so.... so......... pubbish.

Let's get the beer right though and a word to the wise, refrigeration is not a bad thing. 

I won't name my local pub on this occasion until I know how things turn out.