Saturday, 19 May 2012

Live Blogging #EBBC

I live-blogged the speed tasting event on Twitter, so below is a collation of all those tweets in one place.

"Beer 1. #EBBC12 Otley Oxymoron. Light and slightly citrus aromas, the Sorachi hops jump out at me, pleasant malt backbone."

"Oxymoron: bitterness is very pleasant, lingering and nice back-of-the-tongue bite. #EBBC12"

"Beer 2: Brains Dark. Hints of chocolate and coffee on the nose. Slightly caramel-tinged. Understated hops, in style for a mild."

"Beautiful tobacco smoke hint and tasty liquorice. Liking this. #EBBC12"

"Beer 3: Marble/Emelisse Collab. Aroma is minimal but fruity & pleasant. Medium bitterness and a really nice bergamot-tannic flavour. #EBBC12"

"Made with tea, this fact is very evident! Really nice, full flavoured. #EBBC12"

"Beer 4, Roosters Baby Faced Assassin............. #saynomore beautifully soft, fragrant, served from cask this is an absolute winner."

"Beer 5: Great Heck Stormin' Norman, nice aromas, good fruit and tasty lingering yeast notes. Really drinkable for 6.5%..."

"Beer 6. Slater's Top Totty. Slight lemony touch, but an overall malt-led affair. Not as bitter as I'd like. Well brewed but not for me."

"Beer 7: Camden Hells USA... Unfiltered, lovely light flavour, malt shines through with the gentle balance of US hops. Superb. #EBBC12"

"Beer 8: Adnams Ghost Ship. Fruity Caramel nose. Nice malt character, really full & lingering, balanced beautifully by new world hops #EBBC12"

"Beer 9: Innis & Gunn, Scottish pale oak aged. Pine and toffee nose, fully hoppy flavour, but the oak aged, vanilla and toffee notes dominate"

"That's not my bag (in a pale beer) I'm afraid. Sorry I&G."

"Beer 10: Leeds Hellfire. Pleasant nose, nice body but it feels a bit beaten up. Bitterness doesn't jump out like I'd hope. #EBBC12"

"I get the feeling this would be a great beer if BC'd."

"I admire Leeds Brewery guy's marketing outlook, he's got it right. But pasteurising hasn't treated this beer well, IMHO. #EBBC12"

The event was great and it was superb fun to meet the guys from each brewery, hear their stories and learn a little bit more about what motivated them.

Beer Glasses - why it matters.

For me, one of the most interesting sessions at EBBC so far has been the beer tasting with glass comparison, hosted by Spiegelau. Our hosts clearly know their stuff when it comes to glassmaking, but they've only been at it for 500 years or so, deep in the heart of Bavaria.

My time working behind bars made me well aware of the fact that a certain type of beer needs a certain type of glass. This was especially true of my time at The Masons Arms, where our range of 60 different beers tested the knowledge of our bar team daily.

However, as much as I have always stressed to people how much the shape of the glass matters, I was completely bowled over by Spiegelau's presentation. Taking as an example Camden Brewery's excellent Wheat beer, a sample was poured into each of Spielgelau's tall wheat beer glass, their tall but slender pilsner glass and finally the joker glass, a tulip pint such as those found in nearly any pub in the UK.

The wheat beer glass really accentuated the nose of the beer, the subtle notes that define a good Hefeweiss drifted gently from the glass. A good, soft head was well retained in this glass.

The pilsner glass, while not dissimilar in shape to the wheat beer glass, is a more narrow, slender affair. The aroma was present, but much more concentrated. It was a sudden burst of atonal noise, rather than all the notes playing out their gentle melody in turn. Again, this glass gave good head, but the mouthfeel was more aggressive, the carbonation was fuller and tighter.

The joker glass, with it's rolled lip, thicker walls and slight discolouration, gave very little - if any - aroma. The head disappeared almost immediately and the taste was metallic and ever so slightly sulphurous. I wondered if the glass I had was in need of renovating, the difference was that marked.

It's worth noting that the joker glass would retail ordinarily for between £1-2, where the Spiegelau glasses would retail for at the very least £7 each (the glass set we were very kindly given would normally retail for £30). The ordinary tulips, while thickness is part of the problem in tasting beers, is obviously more hard-wearing. Spiegelau's technique of blowing the glass, rather than moulding, results in a thinner, clearer glass, which is cut with a laser for a finer finish. The official line is that these glasses are built to withstand 1500 dishwasher cycles - 4 years if used everyday - however I would be surprised if they weren't broken before then, even by the most careful of beer geeks.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Free Beer

The subject came up briefly during the second session of EBBC, in which Adrian Tierney-Jones and Simon Jenkins were offering generous advice on how to improve beer writing.

It's a hot topic at the moment and has led to Dave running the little "competition" in which a number of lucky bloggers who responded to our Rhetoric with reasonable integrity are taking home a bottle.

I was chatting with Neil Walker of Eating isn't Cheating yesterday in North Bar who provided the best example of how to go about requesting beer from a brewery that I've encountered so far.

"If I know I can't or won't be able to get hold of the beer in question locally, I simply send a polite email asking that should the brewery happen to be sending out beers for review, please would they consider sending me one."

As Adrian said in his talk, it's up to the blogger as to how they conduct themselves and indeed up to the brewer to decide how they'd like to respond.

Our point of view has been made clear by Dave, who believes that - as it stands - bloggers make up a large part of our target audience, it doesn't make any sense in business terms to give your product away that easily.

I'd certainly be more open to requests, were it to come down to my decision, if the requests were as polite as those outlined here.

EBBC - Day 1.

Coming back to Yorkshire is always a fun experience for me. I was born and brought up in Bradford, moving up to the Lakes with my family when I was seventeen. So arriving into Leeds for an almighty pub crawl was always going to be an exciting time for me, regardless.

I wasn't to be disappointed.

Leigh put together an excellent night, taking in the true high spots of the Leeds pub scene. Modern, contemporary places such as Mr Foley's, North Bar and The Midnight Bell were counterbalanced with the wonderful, traditional layout of The Grove and - to a lesser extent - The Cross Keys.

I managed to try a reasonable selection of both cask and keg beers ranging from local brews from Leeds and Saltaire breweries, to such exotic treats as Stone Old Guardian and Tipopils. The quality of the beers, in all pubs, was second to none. There was only one questionable pint which was happily substituted with good grace.

Of course, the main idea behind this evening was a miniature twissup, bringing people together who may have only ever spoken via twitter. To this end, I had some great conversations with more bloggers and fellow beer crusaders than I can mention in such a brief post. Needless to say, Leigh himself, who was very kind about a post I did over on my homebrew blog (, did an incredible job of putting the whole thing together. Cheers Leigh!

I'm now looking forward to getting started with the conference proper, first on the agenda being the distribution of the Rhetoric and FitzRoy. Here's to a great weekend ahead.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Spring at Hardknott

It's been ages since I blogged and look, its all changed. Blogger is trying to be Facebook it seems.

I thought I'd just jot a quick note down with some of the things we've been up to over the last couple of months. Some exciting times have been enjoyed and thanks to a new account with Ales and Co in Italy, we're busier than ever. The popularity of our mid-range beers, Code Black and Infra Red, has soared, in cask, keg and bottle too. To the point where we're brewing them more or less non-stop now, a tricky task with only 3 fermenting vessels....

We held a highly succesful Meet the Brewer evening at Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico back in early March, you can see the video of Dave's shenanigans here. I was left at home to babysit the beer on that occasion, it has to be done!

Towards the end of March, we made a brand new prototype beer, completely off the wall. I can't say much more than that just now, needless to say keep your eyes on our twitter accounts, you'll know when it happens...

The next excitement was brewing with John Keeling, in early April. John and his wife, Simone, came up to visit the Lakes and John was keen to come and see our setup and make something new with us, which was incredibly cool. He is a very genial chap, keen to share his knowledge with us and develop a really special beer for the occasion.

John and Jeff Pickthall admire Dave's skills with the mash paddle.

The beer we brewed together has matured very well and was tasting great this week when we bottled the first half of the batch. Again, keep your eyes peeled for news on our twitter feeds.

Lately, just last weekend in fact, I had the pleasure of The Kirkstile Inn's Beer Festival. The Kirkstile is by far my favourite pub in the Lakes, amid stiff competition from pubs such as The Swan Inn, The Derby Arms and The Queens at Biggar. Set against the beautiful backdrop of Loweswater in the northern Lakes, the building is a 16th century stable housing to serve the neighbouring church (kirk-stile or church-stalls). It has a cosy bar with gently glowing fire, low beams and historic photos and artefacts adorning the walls. I was apprehensive about coming as it involved a steady, 14-mile cycle from Whitehaven up into the Lakes, however I was pleasantly surprised at how easy, dare I say it, even enjoyable, I found the ride.
Roger Humphreys, owner of both the Kirkstile and Cumbria Legendary Ales invited me up to the pub and kindly offered me a bed for the night. Extreme generosity from one of the gentlemen of this business. Roger knows good beer and had one hell of a selection lined up, in addition to his own superb range of beers, he had procured casks from Thornbridge, Red Willow, Highland, Magic Rock, Marble and Hawkshead. He had also put on CLA's own superb doppelbock Croglin Vampire, served from cask. Having already polished off 8 pints of beers ranging from 3.9% to 6.0%, for some reason I thought the 8% Vampire would be a good way to finish off the night... a whole pint of it to be precise. I have no memory of leaving the bar and going back to my room...
 Roger gets stuck in to keep the customer satisfied.

Melbreak catches the last of the sun, as seen from the beer garden.

What I do remember though, a great chat with Roger and his head brewer at CLA, Hayley. A great example of friendly beer folk within Cumbria and the industry at large. I also remebered the 14 mile cycle back to Whitehaven to catch the train home the next morning. That was "fun".

No sooner had that hangover subsided then did I find myself on a train bound for Manchester on Monday afternoon. Another Meet the Brewer event loomed, this time at one of my favourite drinking establuishments I've yet had the pleasure of, Port Street Beer House. A great bar, chock-full of great beers. In addition to our contributions of Cool Fusion, Continuum, Code Black and Infra Red (all on cask) and Colonial Mayhem (on keg), I got to try some amazing beers from Summer Wine, Nogne O, and some more Magic Rock. 
The night descended into general mayhem when Dave produced a 3-litre bottle of Infra Red's predecessor from the Woolpack days, Zippy Red Ale. This behemoth had been aging since 2009 and had matured beautifully, the hops had mellowed and rounded into a subtle fruity, slightly sweet, slightly sharp combination. It was amazing.

But (in my opinion) it was topped, incredibly. Some young chaps we were speaking to by the names of Jack, Clifford and Liam (sorry, didn't catch any last names) very generously shared a bottle of Goose Island Lolita with Dave and I. At £22.00, this was a serious chunk of cash and we are ever so grateful to them for sharing. Aged in wine barrels with raspberries, this is an absolute beast of a sour beer. Dry as a bone with the gentle tartness of the raspberry to give it an irresistable edge.
It was really cool to meet Gregg Irwin (@dredpenguin) this week, we gave him a quick brewery tour, and of course got him up the ladder, helping out. He very kindly left us some beer to try too, something we shall be investigating soon, I'm sure.

So now, apart from my bad back, the reason I am writing this now, you're up to date. I'm now very much looking forward to the summer, primarily the Beer Blogger's Conference in Leeds and finally getting back down to London for GBBF (at least). Not to mention a great time ahead brewing more great beer and breaking new ground for Hardknott.