Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Non-Seasonal Seasonal Beers

....It's always fun to stock up the cellar prior to Christmas (I start using this excuse from about October onwards), but it's always much more of a pleasure to start cracking them open and simply enjoying yuletide drinking. Personally, I think most 'Christmas' beers are overrated, often rebadged (if you're in a pub) or simply 'house' darker beers with a few spices thrown in as an afterthought. The only British Christmas ale that I genuinely like is Bateman's Rosey Nosey, which brings a wonderful toffeeness to the table everytime. So I stay clear in general and reach for some old friends. And, before we get started, my tip to accompany Christmas pudding is....Schnieder Aventinus - everytime.

Robinson's Old Tom (8.5% abv), for me, is a bit of a Christmas tradition, and seems way more seasonal than 90% of the rubbish out there. Tons of red, jammy fruits, a slight hint of smoke and a warming alcohol touch as it slips down. Wonderful, especially with a few shards of dark chocolate.

Another big beer that feels seasonal is Ringwood's Old Thumper (5.6%abv). I'm a fan of most of Ringwood's output but OT is a big, big beer with a deep red colour, with a lot of biscuit in the body, but a sort of spice on the aftertaste that I can't quite place. I do love the stuff, though.

Finally, JW Lees' Brewer's Dark (3.5%abv)marries those roasted malt flavours that you crave this time of year, along with a nice, bready, yeasty note, but with a much more restrained abv. It is a little thin, but I think it's got enough about it flavour-wise to get away with it.

But you can't drink heavy beers all the time - when at a friends house to get some boxing day footy in, he'd bought some of Marks' 'Belgian Lager', so we got stuck into those. Brewed by Haacht, I was fearing the worst, but it came through OK - a pleasant surprise, actually. Clean, spritzy, and with a very pleasing, ever-so-slight hint of Brett on the nose, this lager was actually way more palatable than the one we put alongside it - an (entirely pointless) new 'blonde' version of a well known lager which shall remain nameless at this point. I'd probably try this again, actually - but not until the summer.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Muffins!!

Righto chaps, just one last chance to get a post in before the Christmas break. Here's one I actually did for Leeds CAMRA's New Full Measure Magazine this month, but thought I'd share it for those of you who don't get it in your part of the world. They don't take long at all to make, and once you've got the hang of it, you can tweak the recipe as you see fit.

Christmas Muffins (makes 9)
You will Need:
200g plain flour
3tspn baking powder
½ tspn Bicarbonate of Soda
75g Demerara Sugar
Pinch of Nutmeg, pinch of cinnamon
An orange
50ml Milk
60g Unsalted Butter (melted)
1 large egg
200g Sultanas & 25g chopped Glace Cherries
A Muffin Tin

1. Preheat your oven to 200c
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb, and sugar. To this, add Nutmeg and Cinnamon. Melt your butter and leave to cool. Get your orange, and squeeze the juice into a jug, then add milk until you get about 150ml. Add the (cooled) butter, milk and orange to the mix and then add the egg and beat. Don’t be worried about lumps in the mix – this actually makes better muffins!
3. Fold in the fruit and scoop into muffin cases.
4. Sprinkle a little Demerara sugar onto the top of each muffin and bake for about 20 minutes.

These muffins can be a great accompaniment for warming, fruity beers such as Theakston’s Old Peculier. I've also enjoyed these (or variations of) with Brooklyn Chocolate Stout, Chimay Red and Moorhouse's Black Cat. The spices in the muffins perfectly compliment the complexity of deeper, richer beers that are abundant at this time of year. And, when baking, the house smells great.

Have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year, guys. Cheers.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sierra Nevada Hook Up with Homebrewers To Mark 30th Anniversary

Great news for Sierra Nevada acolytes - to coincide with their 30th anniversary next year, they will spend 2010 collaborating with other major US craft brewers to create some special beers. All proceeds will go to charity.

In line for collaboration will be Craft Beer gods Fritz Maytag (Anchor) and Jack McAuliffe (New Albion), along with homebrewing trailblazers Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhardt. As a nascent all-grain homebrewer myself, I think that this is a really nice touch; there will be many people (including me) who have spent hours poring over notes from these two guys. Also, it’s great of Ken Grossman to acknowledge how Papazian and Eckhardt have done more than their fair share to contribute to the Craft Beer boom of the last 15 years.

Keep an eye on the website - the beers will be released throughout the year, starting with the first release in March. Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary will come out in November. God only knows how we in the UK are going to get out mitts on them, but I’m sure we’ll try. We can be a resourceful lot when we want to be!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 Review

Well, it’s that time of year when I cast my mind back to what we’ve tasted, seen, and cried our way through in 2009.

My Blog of the Year spot goes to Thornbridge's brewer’s blog. I like the simple design; the articles are always interesting and present a nice mix of brewing inside-knowledge, know-how, and personal experience. As a budding microbrewer myself, this aspect really interests me - I've really enjoyed following thier exploits in brewing and running a growing business throughout the year. For me, Kelly and the gang are always happy to share their experiences, which is again sometimes lacking in the brewer/blogger relationship. Blogging should be embraced by brewers – we are, after all, the beer drinkers that take time to shout from the rooftops our love of their product. And I do love Thornbridge’s beers – to me, they represent a vibrant, young, questing set of brewers who represent this country at the highest level. British Brewing dull? Not these guys. So well done, Thornbridge, and I look forward to drinking in 2010 with you - mine's a pint of Kipling.

Other honourable mentions go to the ever-excellent Boak & Bailey, Zak Avery’s YouTube Vlogs (still effortlessly head and shoulders above the rest - and apologies for not making the TNP tasting - I was busy failing my driving test) and The Beer Nut, which is consistently engaging and honest.
My Beer Venue of the Year award goes to Pivo, a great beer bar in the middle of York. I’ve always said that York is a real hotbed of great, solid English pubs and beer – and having a little slice of international craft beer on the scene ices the cake, really. It’s very small, but perfectly formed. I’m going to find it hard to visit York without dropping in from now on.
Kudos to Leeds Brewery for opening The Brewery Tap, which brews its own Leodis Lager on site. I’m not massively enamoured of the beer, but I like the idea. What about a Koelsch for the summer, guys?

Beer of the Year – always a tricky one. This year I’m copping out with a tied #1 spot for Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch – which managed to be the hoppiest beer I think I’ll ever drink and yet retain excellent balance – and Nogne-O’s IPA – another masterclass in balance between hops and body. Thanks for the memories, guys.
Also memorable were Dark Horse’s Hetton Pale, Orkney’s Red Macgregor, Dogfish Head’s Johnny Cask, Taddington’s Moravka, Sleeman’s IPA, Stone's Levitation Ale ,Meantime’s London Pale and Young’s Special London Ale, which I am finding is taking my addiction to one type of beer to a whole new level. Wonderful beers, them all.

Beer Event of the Year goes, without a doubt, to Flying Dog’s tasting, which happened at The Cross Keys in September. The full post is here but it made such a nice change to go a well run event, with great hosting by James Brophy, and meet so many great people who are passionate about beer. Thanks again to all involved. North’s Orval & Cheese day was random-yet-inspired, and The Barge and The Owl in Rodley ran their annual beer & music festival to even greater numbers than last year, proving that the appetite for family-oriented community beer events is still there. Well done, lads.

Next Year? Well, more of the same I hope. I’m getting married in September, and my honeymoon will take in Milan, Florence, Venice and Verona – so I’m hoping to finally fill that black hole I have in my knowledge about Italian Craft beer. If anyone has any pointers for me, drop me an email. Can’t wait.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Hop to open in Leeds

Just time for a quick one. The Hop, Wakefield's music and beer joint, is to get a twin here in Leeds, which will open in the Dark Arches area in March next year. The Hop is the brainchild of Ossett Brewery chairman Bob Lawson, and will boast excellent live music served alongside some great beer. Sounds good to me.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tetley's To Go, Tetley's To Stay

...An interesting piece here from the Yorkshire Evening Post about Tetley's. Although it's been confirmed that the brewery will now be closed in Summer 2011, it would that Tetley's Bitter and the Tetley's brand will not.

Looks like those rumours that have been bubbling away in recent months about covert Tetley's test-brewing in some of Yorkshire's larger breweries may have been true, after this space.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Lunch at Sandinista

One of the downfalls of being someone who writes about beer and food in their spare time is that sometimes it's hard to switch off. It's hard to simply 'have a pint' sometimes - you may think that you're relaxed and chatting to your mates, but in reality that pint in your hand is being sniffed, examined and the details are being stored in that vault inside your head so that the next time you log onto Blogger you can tell the world what that beer was like, so that other can follow you and create a shared experience via the wonder of the internet.

It creeps up on you in other ways, too. Simply planning somewhere for lunch - especially if it's somewhere you don't know - becomes less of an off-the-cuff thing and more of a military operation. There's news places to go to, your mind implores. Research tells you this place does this beer on tap, or this places' noodle soup or home-baked bread is out of this world. And forget 'The Perfect Hand-cut Chip'. You forget that food and drink blogging is subjective, and all of a sudden you can find yourself in a strange place, ordering strange food for the sake of it and not really having fun. In fact, it all seems a little like work. Switching off, I am recently re-discovering, is fun.

On Friday we decided to do a little Christmas shopping. It was a fine, bright but cold winter's day in Leeds, and we did well to avoid the dreaded 'Christmas Market', fast becoming a temporary Sodom for Loiners. Laden with goodies, and feeling very satisfied with ourselves at a stress-free morning, we popped in to Sandinsta for lunch.

I can't even count the amount of times I've been here - it's a standard - that's why I don't write about it. Sandinista's warm atmosphere, spot-on staff and familiarity was the equivalent of taking of my shoes and putting my feet up in front of a roaring fire. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap. Yes please. A quick peruse of the menu flashed up the words 'Pork Belly Bocadillo' and I read no more. One of those for me, thanks.

A group of guys came in, ordered identikit Amstels and settled in for some Friday afternoon half-day working beers, all laughs and in-jokes. A regular followed, sitting at the bar and drinking coffee, lazily making conversation with the barman whilst leafing through The Times. Bob Dylan and Cream lilting over the chatter.

The food arrived with a smile, and it was heavenly. Succulent Pork Belly, crispy at the edges and topped with a sweet apple chutney, pressed into a crisp, chewy Ciabatta. Dutch Patatas - cubes of crispy potato smothered in melted cheese and spring onion on the side. Sierra's legendary Pale Ale giving just the right bite and bitterness to the jammy meat, and all was well. All was very well - the perfect lunch, right there, without even trying. On a whim. Hell, spontaneous even.

I didn't intend to post about this (hence the hastily taken picture), but Friday's lunch made me remember all that is good about food and drink. Place, people, and relaxation; just what happens when you let your guard down.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Satays and Bath Ale's Gem

Ok, if you've never made a Satay dipping sauce, here's how. What I like about it is that it's really easy to whip up but impressively tasty at the same time. If you've got people coming over for something to eat and don't have a lot of time to prepare, this is perfect. The only thing you definitely need - trust me - is a blender.

This sauce serves 4.

For the sauce, you first make a paste by blending one onion, 1 whole chilli (take the seeds out if you don't want it too hot), 3 Garlic cloves, and a tbsp of soft brown sugar. In a pan, heat a tbsp or two of oil (vegetable will do - don't use olive) and add the paste over a medium heat. Stir well, cooking the paste out a bit, and then add 3/4 tin of coconut milk, a splash of Soy Sauce, and a squeeze of half a lime - or lemon if that's all you have. Then, add about 125g of crunchy peanut butter. Stir it all in well over a medium heat, and that's the sauce done.

To eat this with, I usually skewer some prawns and either pork or chicken bits (if using chicken, batter strips out and thread through the middle - it stays moister this way) and griddle quickly over a high heat. You can pre-marinate the meat if you like, simply using a basic oriental marinade of soy sauce, garlic, chilli and ginger, along with a little brown sugar.

I had a bottle of Gem by Bath Ales in the fridge and seeing as though it was cold, opted for this rather than the Gaffel Koelsch that I had planned. It worked out well, that underlying sweetness that Gem has setting off the meats nicely and also quenching the heat more than adequately. The Gaffel followed suit later on in the evening, whilst watching 30 Rock. Sorted.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Arcadia, Headingley - Redux

Market Town Tavern's Arcadia in Headingley underwent an expansion in the last couple of months, taking over the unit next door to it. As the best place to drink in Headingley by a country mile, this was welcome news. It's also heartening to see quality being rewarded - pubs may be closing all the time but when things like this happen you realise that some decent pubs, owned by companies with attention to detail and respect for the trade, are doing ok. Plus, it may be controversial but I'm all for a dead-wood clearing exercise.
Anyway, onto the pub. We chose yesterday lunchtime to pay a visit and see what was going on. The usual friendly, relaxed atmosphere and staff remain, as do the tin beer posters and assorted other breweriana (including a gorgeous plate for Goose Island's Matilda that I simply have to have) that adorn the walls. The extension means that both the ground floor and upper mezzanine area have more or less doubled in size, and it's a tasteful job.
Feeling peckish, we noticed that the food menu had been slightly scaled back, and also in price - which was a nice surprise. Given that I rate the Hamburger as one of my top five beer foods, I decided to give the guys a chance to impress with a Blue Cheeseburger. Excellent it was too, a big, rough, meatball-esque burger and a great cheese that started off buttery and then hit you with that sharpness that you need in a blue cheese. A chewy bun, and slices of tomato rounded it off well. My partner's felafels were also given the thumbs up - as were my other friend's Bean Chili.
From a range that included Saltaire's Winter Warmer, TT Landlord and Copper Dragon's Golden Pippin, I gave Vale Breweries' Vale Pale a go; a very much no-nonsense Pale with a decent floral aroma. A nice alternative to Landlord, I thought. Their Wychert Ale had much more depth, with a fruity nose, a tight, creamy head and a treacle/bonfire toffee vibe in the body which aptly fitted the freezing temperatures outside.
We left happy in the knowledge that Arcadia remains improved, and putting the rest of the Drinking - Pits in Headingley to shame.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Midweek: Cheddar Ales' Goat's Leap

...I've been wanting to try some of Cheddar's range for a while now, buoyed by hearty recommendations from the likes of Boak & Bailey and others over the last year or so. So when Foley's started stocking, I was quietly happy.

Not only that, but Goat's Leap turned out to be what I hoped it would - outstanding. True to style, it's a big IPA with a sweet, toffee-centric body, but with a light yet astringent 'Green' hop attack going on in the nose, along with a pleasantly long and refreshing bitter finish. At 5.5% it's one to maybe keep your head around, but I could happily drink a lot of this. Kudos to both Foley's and Cheddar. Top marks for pump-clip design, too.

I must have been on a Hop mission during last week's session, because I also managed to finally try a beer made with Motueka hops. I confess to a bit of a blind spot - as both a homebrewer and beer nerd - when it comes to NZ hops. Mallinson's Motueka is a single varietal beer, and they've kept the malts to a simple Pale option in order to let the hops shine through. And shine through they do - a smooth pint with a citrussy, distinctly Lemony edge. I was expecting something more floral and maybe even earthy based on what I'd read, but the aroma and finish were pure zest. Very nice indeed. Learning through beer sure is refreshing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Roosters 2010 Roster

Here's a sneaky peek at what to expect from long-time TGS favourite Roosters (and thier experimental arm, Outlaw) in the first half of 2010.

Very drinkable, copper coloured session bitter. Nice body. Crystal malt and Northdown hops create a balance palate with a nutty finish. Easy drinking.

A lovely pale beer made with a blend of Lager and Simpson’s malts. The addition of Tetnang hops makes this the perfect modern lager. If you had just won Gold in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics this would be your choice at the bar. Pale as the snow, glides down easy, a lager style drink. A winner for sure!
MARCH 2010:
A signature Rooster’s pale ale enhanced with dried shamrock makes this the ideal beer for celebrating St Patrick’s Day. Not wanting to compete with the incredible range of stouts out there we are offering this fantastic alternative to celebrate the day. Golden in colour, moderately bitter and an excellent session ale.
APRIL 2010:
A quintessentially British ale to celebrate St George’s day in style. All the ingredients, from the malt, to the water, to the yeast, have been carefully selected to create a showcase for quality local produce. This a Great British Pale Ale not to be missed.
MAY 2010
Ideal summer session beer. Pale coloured beer made with some malted wheat and Chinook hops from the Yakima Valley in Washington State. Grapefruity bitterness. Light and dry and easy to drink.
JUNE 2010
Made with Golden Promise malt, Cascade hops and Elderflowers. Well balanced moderate bitterness, big aromas, long length of flavour.

Nice to see a few variations; Elderflower and darker beers coming through from the kings of Pale Ale. I can honestly say I've never even heard of a beer brewed with Shamrock!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ilkley Brewery in SIBA Success

Congrats to Ilkley Brewery, whose Mary Jane Golden Ale won Gold in last weeks' SIBA Northern Beer Competition. They'll now go through to the finals, which is a tremendous achievement for a company only 6 months old.

You can find Ilkley's beers at Foleys in Leeds, Bar't'at in Ilkley, The Corn Dolly in Bradford and, recently, the famed Fat Cat in Sheffield amongst others. We'll be running a little piece on Ilkley and their history in the new year. In the meantime, check out their wares. Solid, tasty session beers all round.

You can see the full list of Northern winners here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Orkney's Dark Island

Just enough time for a quick midweek post before getting onto some Champion's League action. Last night I had the pleasure of a couple of pints of Orkney's Dark Island at The Victoria, Leeds (Who were playing Fleet Foxes and Neil Young all night- an excellent choice).

Smooth, with a tan head, Dark Island was just what was called for as the rain lashed against the pub windows. There's a slight smokiness in the body, along with some raisin notes and a briny, salty edge on the way out. Very moreish, and well balanced for its strength. Do try.

I've read that Orkney are expanding their brewing site. Given that I've yet to try one of their beers that wasn't top-notch, that's' music to my ears, for one. Bring it on.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

For The Veggies....

It's not often at all that I cook something entirely without meat; just call me old-fashioned. But I put this together last night literally using what I had in the fridge and cupboards, and it was awesome, full of flavour and warming on a Halloween night. A tasty happy accident, indeed.

Smoked Cheese & Herb Risotto (Serves 2)

Not much of a recipe, more of a method - simply throw about half a packet of risotto rice (Arborio) into a pan with a large knob of butter - very large. Melt the butter over a low heat and coat all the grains. Meanwhile, make up a pint of chicken or vegetable stock with a stock cube. When all the grains are coated are turning slightly translucent, add the stock slowly, stirring all the time. Leave the heat low, and keep adding stock when the rice soaks it up. When the rice has taken on a much stock as you like, stop adding it.

At this point, you basically season the rice. I added: A grind of black pepper, a large pinch of dried rosemary and a larger still pinch of dried sage.. I also tore up a few spinach leaves and chucked those in. Finally I added about 50gms of Smoked Cheddar, a grate of Parmesan and another small knob of butter to emulsify the whole thing. When the cheese has totally melted, serve.

I was hankering after something Belgian to go with all those herbs, and luckily had a bottle of Brugse Zot to hand. It's an ok beer, but sings a little better when served with food. Brugse Zot has quite a high level of carbonation, which cleanses the palate after the intense, thick risotto, and this also makes it a lighter choice. There's a ever-so-slight citrus on the finish, and the usual Bretty wet-grassiness on the nose. The Rosemary and Sage manage to be picked out by the beer.

Anyway, a simple - and very quick - recipe for darker nights. Give it a whirl.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Copper Dragon's Trueman Ale

Copper Dragon, those stalwarts of the Yorkshire Beer scene, have announced a new, one-off brew to celebrate the birthday of Fred Trueman OBE, who was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame this year.

Although not a cricket fan, I'm eagerly awaiting this new brew - CD don't veer from their standard range often, if at all, and Golden Pippin will hold a special place in my heart - as I'm sure a lot of Yorkshiremen will agree with - and their Challenger IPA is a firm favourite, too
The first 200 bottles of the ale will be individually signed and numbered by Head Brewer, Gordon Wilkinson and made exclusively available to guests attending a Gala Dinner in aid of the Freddie Trueman statue appeal, created and supported by train operator Northern Rail. Beer and cricket lovers will join stars from sport and showbusiness in the celebrations at The Queens Hotel, Leeds on Wednesday 17 March 2010. So it's not available quite yet, but keep your eyes peeled.

Steve Taylor, MD of Copper Dragon (pictured, along with Gordon Wilkinson and Veronica Trueman), describes the new beer as 'A Golden Ale that brings memories of Cricket Summers' ,and it will be available in Cask as well as bottled via the usual outlets.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Bother?

The universe moves in funny ways. Recently, I was asked no less than three times in one week, by three different people in three different pubs, why I write about beer. Given that I’d read a couple of articles in the blogosphere recently along the same lines, I thought I would put together an answer - at least for myself. Why do this?
For me, it’s simple philanthropy. When I enthuse about something, I simply want other people to enjoy it too. Whether it be beer, films, music or books, I simply have to tell people I know about what’s good out there – hence one reason for the name of the blog.

Alongside this, I have somewhat of a social conscience. Our family trade was Butchery, and I grew up valuing ‘the smaller guys’ in terms of food retail. I never shopped for meat or veg in supermarkets until I had to (ie moved out of home, to somewhere with no Butchers, or Grocer’s). This saddened me - and at the same time that I was learning to fend for myself, food-wise. I’ve always been into food and travel, and getting into beer was just an extension of that. I started TGS as a food site, with recipes and supplier profiles, but as the ‘Farmer’s Market’ explosion happened a couple of years ago, so did the number of sites that did what I did, only much better. Then, over a pint, I realised that my twin obsession – Beer – needed the love.

These breweries that I loved were not getting airtime. As simple as that. So I switched focus, and the site remains that today. I wrote my first post proper, and haven’t looked back since.
The only way I know how to do this is to write. I’ve always written in my spare time – mostly short fiction, with a couple of published stories under my belt. But whereas writing fiction is essentially a narcissistic and insular thing to do, blogging about beer and ‘shouting out for the smaller guys’ fills another need; giving me that philanthropic glow.

People may scoff at the odd food/beer matching article. But I really don’t care – the amount of friends and colleagues I have nefariously weaned off cheap lager by serving them great meals alongside a great beer more than justifies it as a going concern. Without it, they would not have made the leap, and that’s what it’s all about.
It’s the same for highlighting the smaller, independent breweries. I know full well that the majority of you who read TGS regularly (ie, my trusted buddies who I link to) are in the same boat, so in some respects I’m preaching to the converted. But for everyone of my fellow beer geeks, there are one or two ‘interested unknowns’ who drop by. And if they go up to a bar and pass over a pint of ‘Italian’ or ‘Danish’ lager brewed in the UK, for an independently produced beer – and enjoy it – then that’s the bullseye. That’s one more customer for the craft guys.

The Micros and Crafts that we all love don’t get into supermarkets; they don’t have publicity budgets or sponsorship deals with Champions’ League football teams. So I will do it for them. For free. Why? Because I want them to do well and not disappear because if they did, I would have one less great beer to drink.

Don’t get me wrong - It’s not all good. For every great beer I drink, I’ll drink two that are dull, plain, boring, or just bad. But I don’t blog about those – because it’s not the point. The blogs’ called The Good Stuff. Plus, taste is subjective, and what I consider pisswater could be another man’s nectar. I will always try to be constructive. As a rule of thumb, if the beer moves me to write, then it’s good. The rest of them – well, if they want to get mentioned on here, they must simply try harder.

TGS is not primarily a beer news site – again, there are tons of sites out there that do that better than I do. I will not wade into arguments about Beer ties, PubCo’s, or Binge drinking. It’s not my place. I may comment on other sites simply to throw my hat into the ring. I’d much rather debate the ‘bigger issues’ over a pint, in person. And, as those who know me will testify, I do, often.

Speaking of ‘in person’, another way that blogging has brightened my life is by bringing me into contact with some genuinely great people, and to some great pubs, breweries and bars. We all have beer in common and I’ve yet to meet a fellow beer blogger or beer professional who had turned out to be a complete twat. We all have a common goal, and I think we do pretty well, between us, of championing the right beers, breweries, and issues at the right time – in a much more honest way than the mainstream press. We are the ones at the pumps, buying the stuff. I’m not a journalist; I work full-time, so I do what I can do. I have no ‘party line’ to tow, or editorial bias worries. This is all a hobby and I try to treat is as such.

So there it is. A long post, so thanks for reading, if you did. Here’s to more great beers coming our way. And If I had one piece of advice to give to people who love beer it’s this: Brew your own all-grain beer. You’ll learn more about beer brewing it than any amount of reading or tasting. Not only that, but you become the first rung of a ladder that ultimately provides great-tasting and unique beer to the masses. This is the spirit of truly Independent Brewing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nogne - O pt 2: Brown Ale

Ok, I’m continuing my NO love-in with their Brown Ale (Bottle-Conditioned, 4.5%abv). Remember last time - I said that I thought that their tastes lie more US that UK – well, Brown Ale confounded that one. Smooth in the body, dark ruby in colour, and with a gentle, spicy hoppiness rather than a massive kick to the face, this is one subdued, elegant Brown, rather than the steroid-pumped, chest beating US Brown that I expected.
There’s a slight creaminess to the body, and a residual sweetness that makes this one very smooth, drinkable beer, with a whisper of smoke at the end of the sip. This is one beer I would love to try on tap and can imagine many a cold night in Norway was soothed along with such a wholesome beer as this. Again, it’s Brown Ale, but a new version, and I quite enjoyed it. Not as much as the IPA though!
All in all, NO push all the right buttons for me - passionate about beer enough to make a life out of it, and stamping their own mark on styles as they go along. Here’s the second part of Greg Koch's NO video for you to get the full experience; showing off their wonderful looking brewhouse and larder. I’m off to go order some more; from their site, I can see there’s plenty more out there for me to try. Do check the site out, it's full of info for any NO nerd. Recommendations are welcome, guys.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

'Spanish' Pasties

Now that Autumn is well and truly here, may I suggest this warming little spanish treat. Loosely based on the Spanish or Portuguese Empanada, these are a typically Yorkshire version; bigger, and with more of everything. They also taste good cold, so bake some up, and take them along to your bonfires next month. I also totally advocate using frozen pastry; the quality is excellent these days - although feel free to make your own, if you like! As usual with me, all measures are approximate - so put more or less in of whatever you like. But here's what I did.

1. Firstly, take one large potato and chop into chunks. Par-boil the pieces until soft enough to put a skewer through. Drain and set aside to cool.

2. Now, make the filling. In a large frying pan or wok, heat up a large glug of olive oil, and add: your potato chunks, 200g of diced turkey thigh, 100g of Chorizo, chopped into small cubes, one large, diced red onion, and one 1 small diced pepper. Fry gently until the veg is soft and the meat browned. When done, add a little more oil, and about 4 tbspns of Tomato Puree. Mix and coat the mixture. Then add 3 chopped or minced cloves of garlic and two chopped chillies. Add a dash of Tabasco, too - it adds a little sweetness. Add a teaspoon of water, and season the filling mix with salt, pepper, and some dried Rosemary.

3. Leave the mix to cool - very important - and preheat your oven to 200c.
4. Roll out your Puff pastry, and re-knead if frozen (I find this just helps it get more pliable). Roll into sheets and, using a saucer, cut out four circles. You should be able to get two from each sheet.
5. When the mixture has cooled, divide it onto the sheets, and fold over and crimp to make pasties. If the mixture is not cool, your pastry Will fall apart, so don't jump the gun here.
6. Glaze with oil, butter, egg or milk and bake for about 20 minutes until crispy.
7. Crack one open, and enjoy.

You can make these as hot as you need, but do add the chilli - it makes them what they are. You could also experiment with the fillings, and add fish or pork, if you like. You'll notice I've used Turkey thigh meat rather than chicken or turkey breast - I find that the thigh is not only tastier, but remains moister much longer. These pasties can be frozen, too, as long as all of your meat is fresh the first time around.

To combat the heat, I washed these down with some of William Bull's Red Angus Pilsener. this chilled Australian offering had a little earthiness in the body, but was certainly crisp enough, and had masses of lemon and lime sherbertiness on the nose and the end of the sip. Very refreshing indeed, and stove off the chillies with no problem at all.
Overall, an interesting beer that I would drink again, if only to give a more serious appraisal. Still a pint of this on a hot day wouldn't go amiss at all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nogne O - pt 1

I can honestly say I’ve never had a beer from Norway before. This, along with the fact that Nogne-O (‘Naked Isle’ in Norwegian) was started up by two enthusiastic homebrewers made me make a beeline for a couple of their bottles whilst perusing UTOBEER earlier in the summer. I had to pick them up there and then, because I hadn’t seen their wares further North at all.

Although I didn’t know what to expect, I’d seen some excellent videos featuring them on YouTube and had a feeling that their tastes would lie more American than English. I was right, at least in the case of the IPA (Bottle conditioned, 7.5% abv); Chinook and Cascade hops give us that US-Style grapefruit/citrus punch on the nose straight away. And, in my bottle, it was this huge aroma that impressed me the most. Aroma can be hard to maintain in bottled beer, so Kudos where it’s due.
Another really interesting aspect of the IPA was the colour – it’s really quite dark for its style; easily the darkest IPA I have seen. This complexity presumably comes from the addition of Munich malt to the grain bill alongside the classic combo of Maris Otter pale malt and Crystal/Caramel malt. This nice twist gave a biscuity, slightly wheaten undertow to the firstly sweet, then massively bitter taste. It’s also a thick, chewy mouthful, with tons of body. For me, a great beer – and this is what I really enjoy – ‘twists’ genre rather than overhauls. I want my beers to give me something new whilst staying recognisable, and they boys from Nogne-O have done that with their IPA.

Anyway, I’m tasting these beers this week, so I will let you know how I get on with Brown Ale, a style very close to my heart, in a few days. In the meantime, here’s some Nogne-O Vid-eo to enjoy; Greg Koch from Stone visited the guys in 2008 and made a diverting little doc whilst enjoying great food, beer and scenery. That guy has a great job.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Foley's Oktoberfest/Ciderfest

A little news update - Foley's are hosting a little Oktoberfest of thier own throughout October, with additions to their bottled range of Jever Pils, Lowenbrau Oktoberfest, Paulaner & Flying Dog Dogtoberfest Marzen to name a few. In addition, they are doing thier bit for independent Cider makers (is that the right term?) by running a Cider Festival alongside - all ciders on tap, and rotating weekly, all month. Do go and check it out, if Cider's your thing.

Also, congratulations are in order for Williams Bros, who have had an excellent run at the recent International Beer Challenge. Midnight Sun won Gold, Alba picked up a Silver medal and the perennial stalwart Fraoch won a Bronze. Williams are a bit of a cult hit right now, with thier beers picking up consistently good reviews for both flavour, diversity and label design - this might sound a bit wooly, but this means a lot to me. So well done, lads. I can heartily recommend both the 7 Giraffes and Red Als. Interesting, forward-thinking brews.
You can check out Williams' new website here, and read the rest of the result of the IBC here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Weekend Jaunt to Edinburgh

...Time for a long weekend, for sure. Work's been pretty stressful of late, and planning a wedding on top leaves much room for taking a weekend off every once in a while. So, for no real reason other than it seemed like a nice place, we took off to Edinburgh.

It is a nice place, with a new and old town - each offering a very different view of Edinburgh's rich history. Obviously, amongst all this sight-seeing and (as always) shopping, comes a few chances for that refreshing pint along the way. Firstly we lit upon The Abbotsford, situated in the heart of the New Town. Busy enough on a Friday lunchtime, the staff were friendly and the beer in good condition. We sat at the bar and ordered up a pint of Brewdog's 77 Lager. I'd never had this before, but a lager, or pilsner it ain't. Maybe the bottled version is. What it is, is a light copper-coloured, unremittingly dry (thanks to that Amarillo),bitter Pale Ale, with slight honeyed malt coming through on the body. I liked it, but am not sure if I could have managed another one - it was a 'big' beer indeed.

Later on, we ate in The Mussel Inn, a busy seafood restaurant not far from The Abbotsford. Busy & vibrant, this place is definitely one to go to again. The food was excellent value for money (half a kilo of mussels with fries for under a tenner) and the service snappy and friendly. An improved extraction system in the kitchen wouldn't go amiss, though...

We spent the next day largely sightseeing, but with Leeds playing Charlton, we both (honestly, Louise is as mad about Leeds United as I am) needed to find 'A bar with Sky Sports on, but not filled with twats' for lunch - which luckily we did in The Albanach, on The Royal Mile. Belhaven 80 Shilling and Best provided smooth, fruity and completely easy drinking post-lunch accompaniment (the game was a draw, if anyone cares).

Later on, post-supper, we managed to squeeze into the Cafe Royal. Although Deuchars IPA is ubiquitous up here, it was nice to see most (men, anyway) people in here drinking Ale, rather than Tennent's. My pint of Kelburn Carte Blanche hit the spot - again, pale and fruity, but with a slowly appearing bitter hit at the end of the sip. I wonder how many people were drinking this, rather than Deuchars. Red Smiddy was also on, but not tried. Cafe Royal is worth checking out, although I'd like to go back when a little quieter - the decor is wonderful.

Finally, worth a mention is Royal Mile Whiskies - great staff, and enough Whisky to satisfy every taste - as well as a decent range of scottish ales (McWilliams, Brewdog, Orkney, Fyne). Thanks for the advice, guys.

Things I learned in Edinburgh: 1. Deuchars do loads of beers - not only IPA and 80 Shilling. Seasonals range from Blueberry infused creations to IPA's with US hops. Didn't see any of them, though. 2. There are a lot of Americans. 3. Despite bars and pubs having hundreds of Whiskies available, people still drink Bells and Jack Daniels. Sigh. 4. Next time I must leave enough time to visit the Bow Bar.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meet The Brewer: Matt Brophy & Flying Dog

I was lucky enough to be invited down to The Cross Keys last night for a rare chance to meet Matt Brophy of Flying Dog, their Senior VP and Head Brewer. Events like this can often go the way of Beer Festivals; when done right, they can be great chances to meet people you admire and sample beer in a great setting; when done wrong they can be horrid, soulless, corporate junkets. Luckily, this event was done right. Good Beer, Good Food, and Good People.

Firstly, Matt turned out to be a genial and knowledgeable host - positively dripping with enthusiasm, he guided us non-stop through pretty much most of FD's beers (details of which you can find on thier site rather than me list them all here), feeding us comments on origins, ingredients and other minutiae that beer nerds like us love, whilst we drank and nodded sagely. Matt discovered brewing through the writing of US homebrew legend Charlie Papazian, and decided that a life in barley and hops was for him. After some formal brewing education he made the trip from New Jersey to Colorado and, after a stint at Great Divide Brewing, ended up at Flying Dog.

After a small introduction to the brewery and the legend of George Stranahan, we moved onto the beers; in order, the Woody Creek Wit started us off, but in my opinion was shaded slightly by the arrival of In-Heat Wheat - tons of banana and phenols on the nose, and a wonderfully smooth, almost Almondy aftertaste makes this one of my favourite FD beers. Thier flagship Doggy Style Pale Ale gave us that benchmark US Craft brew taste right off the bat - boiled candy in the body and floral yet bitter Cascade hops dominating everything else. Old Scratch Amber Lager proved to be a sweeter variation on the same theme. Tire Biter Golden Ale was an interesting one; very pale for US standards and with a slightly belgian horseblanket aroma offset with peppery hops, it paired up very nicely indeed with the Seared Scallop that accompanied it.

I found the Garde Dog a little uninspiring, and Road Dog Porter, albeit very tasty and with smoke and chocolate in all the right places, seemed very pale indeed to what should constitute Porter in my mind. However, Kerberos Tripel soon revitalised my taste buds - what a great beer. Sweet, with a nice belgian malt complexity and earthy aroma, this was one beer that I didn't want to stop drinking. But I had to, as the Horn Dog Barley Wine and Double Dog IPA's arrived. Horn Dog, although very sweet indeed, proved to be a lot smoother and more restrained than I thought it would be, and the Double Dog IPA did what it said on the tin - this was one huge IPA. Dogtoberfest provided more of that smooth, easy drinking craft beer that FD do very well when not running off to the limits.

The beers just kept getting bigger. Gonzo Imperial Porter took me back to my first taste of FD all those years ago, and matched perfectly with the little slice of coffee ice-cream that accompanied it. As the night wore on, and the volume in the room increased, a couple of really special beers rounded off the night. Dog-Schwarz, a smoked double lager, was a revelation - I'm not a big fan of smoked beers at all but this was balanced so well, it's kind of made me think that I need to reappraise smoked beers. Wonderful stuff.

I asked Matt whether he was planning to commemorate the fifth Anniversary of Hunter S Thompson's death in February - he told us that although that wasn't decided yet, they did have their own milestone - a 20th Anniversary, marked by Raging Bitch (gotta love those names) - which, as if by magic, appeared at our hands. The lady sitting next to me exclaimed it to be a true 'Breakfast Beer' - and upon sipping, I could see why. Pure, pure grapefruit - on top of a massively sweet, almost cloudy body. I guess it's an IPA with a belgian twist - almost like loading Orval with a shot of IPA and masses of hops, if that makes sense - but if FD continue to produce this, then the world could be facing an Amarillo hop shortage pretty soon. The aroma was something else, and I've never come across anything so fruity in a beer without it being a fruit beer!

A great night, all in all. Tasting the majority of FD's beers in one go like this has given me more of a sense of who they are, and their identity - which is what these events should do, but so often fail to do. My drinking partner, relatively new to the world of beer, came away a firm fan, and that's one more guy buying good beer. Our thanks go to FD, North, The Cross Keys (particularly the waiting and kitchen staff who were, quite honestly, amazing) and James Clay for landing such a coup. Let's do it again sometime.