Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Kernel: The Pales

...So let's get onto the beer itself. First up, is the simple Nelson Sauvin (4.7% abv) - does what it says on the tin. Amber in colour, it's a refreshing, zesty thirst-quencher with sherbert lemons and gooseberry on the nose, a sweet, honeyed body and then a high, long, grapefruit-led bitterness at the end of the sip. The sweetness in the body levels all the pithy bitterness out, and manages to be both a no-frills example of a single-hopped pale and a wonderfully balanced beer all at once.

A little more complex is the Centennial-Chinook (5.5%abv). It's darker in colour - my notes say 'Marmalade shade' in this respect - with slightly more biscuit flavours in the body, but still manages to achieve the green, clean bitterness that one wants from a hoppy beer. The nose is ever-so-slightly more herbal, and it's more bitter, even more pithy than the Nelson Sauvin. Although billed as a pale, there's more than enough here to satisfy hop-heads.

S.C.A.Ns (7.7%abv) is a wonderful concept; simply lump Simcoe, Cascade, Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin togethet and watch magic happen. The vibrancy I alluded to in the introduction really applied here; slightly less sweet than the previous pales, the aroma is the ace in the pack here. Lychee, Grapefruit, Orange Peel, Lime, Pineapple all jockey for position with an underlying, slightly catty undertone that reminds you it's a hoppy beer, not a tropical fruit salad. With all those high Alpha-acid hops in there you'd think it would be unbalanced, but no - the bitterness is only rising, and refreshing rather than rasping. It drinks nowhere near it's abv, which seems to be another hallmark of Evin O'Riordan's beers. Another version of this is available now with added Columbus hops.

The beer that rounds everything off was the Citra IPA (6.2%abv). Smooth. Really smooth; sweet, but not cloying, you can guess what a hop called 'Citra' is going to be like before smelling it; lemon/limey, with emphasis on the lemon, but slightly cleaner and purer almost than other other high AA hops. That cattiness is there again, with a hint of Lychee too. The bitterness is light and manageable, and you get another highly drinkable, incredibly tasty beer.

Citra IPA was probably the beer that caused the most stir at the back end of 2010. It appeared in many 'best of' lists and undoubtedly made Citra the hop du jour, a breath of fresh air for hop-heads all over.

To give this beer its due, it's worth bearing in mind that this runs against the style of the year being 'Black IPA's' - or whatever you want to call them. In the face of a worldwide trend, The Kernel's Citra IPA - a simple, single hopped, well made, well balanced India Pale Ale - reclaimed the IPA as the domain of the pale.

Next up: The Darks.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Kernel-A-Thon Starts Here

Trends can often spread like wildfire amongst Beer Bloggers; the way we communicate with each other constantly and our eagerness to share new finds with each other means simply that if your beer is good, it will be known across the land in a very short space of time.

Brewery of the moment is undoubtedly The Kernel. Although 'Trend' might be the wrong word to use, please don't think I'm attaching negative connotations to the term; The Kernel have produced the most exciting beer over the past year - simple as that.

What makes their beer so damn good? If I had to coin one word, it would be freshness. Or maybe vitality. Their beers are so uniformly vibrant in flavour (something Evin touches upon further down), and the flavours so clean, well balanced, that I seriously can't think of a brewer with a stronger portfolio right now. Even the branding works; simple to the point of unassuming, modern and yet all-purpose. When lining them up to take pictures for this feature, the design - geek in me was very pleased indeed.

Over the next few days I'll be letting you know what I thought of their beers, but I did manage to pin Evin down for a little intro.

Despite being quite possibly one of the nicest blokes I've ever spoken to, he spent years selling cheese and trying to write a phD on Samuel Beckett. However, homebrewing soon took over (as it does), and The Kernel was born. When I asked him what inspires him to brew, he said: 'Flavour. Does that mean anything? The fact that there is this world of flavour to explore, and share. To get people to taste things, and to learn to trust their own tastebuds. To experience flavour'.

He's spot on of course; brewers - like chefs, cooks, piemakers, butchers, chocolatiers - are sensualists at heart. It's nice to hear that sort of statement coming from a brewer; surprisingly it doesn't happen that often. He doesn't believe in an all-time-greatest beer either, simply stating: 'The world is too full of wonder and beauty to limit yourself to favourites.'

The Kernel are busy; according to their site there's a collaboration with Redemption which which will be bottled for Kernel and Casked for Redemption. In fact, looking down their news section reads for a collaboration overload; Square Mile Coffee, ZeroDegrees, Glyn from The Rake, Saints & Sinners, Phil Lowry, and Dark Star have all had the pleasure of a day's brewing with Evin.

Anyway - this is just an intro. If you've not tried any of their beers (and there can't be that many of us now, surely) then consider it a beginner's guide. For more behind -the-scenes action, you can check out fellow Leodensian Ghost Drinker's excellent post here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ilkley Beer Festival 2011 Beer List

....Here's the Beer list for the 2011 Ilkley Beer Festival. There's certainly plenty of interest jammed throughout the Northern-centric list; such as Leeds new boys Ridgeside and Burley St Brewing, who are based at the Fox & Newt. Perennial TGS favourites Purple Moose and Marble have a couple of beers loitering around, and the (as featured on TV) Waen Brewery make a rare appearance this year. Other breweries to look out for - in my humble opinion, of course - are Allendale, RCH, and Yorkshire Dales. Jump over to the main site for location and times of sessions. Have fun!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest Blogging @ The Culture Vulture

....I've done a bit of moonlighting on the excellent Northern culture site, The Culture Vulture. Those of you who might want to read my love-letter to the art of conversation in pubs can do so here. I'm saying nothing new, but if I can get a few more people in Leeds into pubs and out of their living rooms then it's job done.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Euston Tap and National Winter Ales Festival

Christ, it's been a busy two weeks. Anyone else suffer from all-the-work-comes-at-once syndrome? After a relatively quiet Christmas, the New Year's been nuts, but the upside of this has been the opportunity to break up a couple of days in London on business with a visit to The Euston Tap.

It's been the #1 venue on my list since reading Adrian's great review back in November. So, what other venue to meet an old friend and catch up over a beer or three. Despite the initial confusion over where the taps are (they're behind the bar, sticking out of the wall, US-style), we then spent the next five minutes deciding what to have. This sounds like a chore-but in reality it's refreshing; it's been a while since I've been stumped by choice. Opting for a Thornbridge Wild Swan and a refreshing, grapefruity Camden Pale (followed by some Bernard in excellent nick), we caught up, whilst every once in a while commenting on the friendliness of the staff, individuality of the space (did it used to be a public toilet, anyone?), the prices (excellent for London) and the sheer range, both on tap and in the monolithically-sized fridges that flank the bar. It's going to be really hard to be in London and not visit, now my cherry has been popped. Visit it. I was so lost in the beer, conversation and the moment, I didn't even take any pictures. That doesn't happen often. Also, if you visit the website and watch the slideshow, you'll see a certain Mr Avery propping up the bar - and if it's good enough for Zak, it's good enough for you. Visit their website for further info.

Back to the North, and I pleaded and fought to take a day off on Thursday to attend the National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester. It's always a pleasure; well run, well organised, a great -and truly seasonal - beer list, and a nice, airy venue. Inital thirst adequately sated by an Okell's Alt - all toffee, caramel, and bready, malt led sweetness - I began on my beer list for the day. Stand out beers? SummerWine's Diablo IPA had all the trademark, golden sweetness for an SWB beer, and, to my mind, delivered a much more aggressive, spicy hoppiness than thier P6 Range. Wonderful stuff, and I'm glad I saved it until last, such is the hop attack. Hardknott's Infra-Red proved too much of a temptation from the bottled bar; and it refreshed the palate following a day of darker beers. One beer I'd had my eye on last time but missed was Robinson's Chocolate Tom. Surprisingly, I got practically no chocolate apart from a mild, milky chocolate hint at the end of the sip. It was, however, a good beer - plummy, red-fruit dominating the palate, with a hint of spice and the aforementioned chocolate-creaminess wrapping the whole package up. Sweet, but not cloyingly so, it was Christmas cake in a glass. Goacher's Fine Light perked things back up with mellow, unmistakable EKG hop notes before I made my big discovery of the day.

This was Hopstar's Smokey Joe Black Beer. I have never - and I really mean this - come across such a well-balanced chocolate beer. Layer upon layer of Dark and Milk Chocolate, a slight hazelnut/almond nuttiness providing a little sharpness, and light as a feather. An absolute diamond of a beer, and at 4.0 abv and not too cloying, I actually went back and had another half. It's not often that happens at a beer festival, either. It won Silver in the Stout category - and rightly so.

My usual drinking buddy, Chris, had never visited The Marble Arch, so obviously the route home was circumvented by a visit. Over post-festival halves of Utility Special, we opted to try the small cheeseboard and a share a bottle of Stouter Port Stout - what a beer! Damsons, Plum, Raisin, Sultana all peeking out from rich smokiness and a surprisingly light finish for a stout. Again, the environment, beer, excellent cheeseboard (and it really was - we opted for 'chef's choice' but really wish I'd have made a note of what we ate) and conversation prevented me from taking too many pictures, but good pubs have a way of doing that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

National Winter Ales Festival, Burns Night and Alfred

...This week's main event is the National Winter Ales Festival at the Sheridan Suite in Manchester. You can read all the details and beer list here, but if it's as good as it was last year then you're in for a treat. The fest has a trade session on Wednesday evening and then opens to the public from Thursday through to Saturday. The guys at CAMRA do a great job organising this and other events, and there's no better place to find a new, untried brewery or five. I'll be going along on Thursday and no doubt will be reporting my findings later in the week.

Closer to home, the ever-expanding North continue thier quest for world domination (or at least North Leeds) with the opening of Alfred in Meanwood on the 28th. There's not a great deal of info on thier site about what the finished Alfred will look like, so you've no choice but to go visit. I'm sure with North at the helm we'll get decent music, a smart bar and plenty of beer choice. Again, one to visit once open, and another welcome addition to Leeds's drinking scene. You can follow them on Twitter here.

Keeping with North, The Cross Keys are hosting a Burns Night event on the 25th. Beer, Food Whiskey and verse are all on offer, so visit the website for tickets. It could already be sold out, but have a try anyway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beer-Braised Sausages

This is a recipe from Nigel Slater, master of slow-cooked richness. It was in the Sunday papers over Christmas and when it occurred to me that I had never beer-braised sausages, it was time to try - and one to share with those of you that may have missed it. It’s one of those dishes that just takes a little preparation, but once it’s in the oven it sits there happily whilst you finish off the beer. As usual, the results depend on the quality of the sausages that you buy so choose wisely (and locally, if possible)! And of course, who can resist dumplings on top to mop up all that beery gravy?
1. Heat your oven to 175c
2. In a pan, brown the sausages on all sides and then set aside.
3. In the meantime, chop a handful of Mushrooms and two Red Onions. Sweat these down in a little olive oil and a generous knob of butter, either in a pan or the casserole dish if it goes on the hob. If the mushrooms soak up the butter, add some more.
4. Sprinkle a little flour on the mushrooms and red onions, coat, and then add a tin of peeled plum tomatoes – not chopped. Stir and simmer, then add half a pint of beer. Stir and season with plenty of black pepper, a little sage and a little salt.
5. Pour this into your casserole pot, stick the sausages in, pop the lid on and place in the oven.
6. Make your dumplings according to packet instructions and then plop on top of the casserole for the final 30 minutes. For the last five, take the lid off and let them brown on top. I actually cheat and switch to ‘Grill’ mode at this point!

Ok – cooking times. Well, it’s up to you. The casserole will be ok as long as there is gravy in the pot, I would say one hour minimum; but you could probably double that – your sauce will get richer. Just try it out and see how long suits you.Beer-wise you need to be going for darker beers; I personally used London Porter brewed for M&S by Meantime (5.5%abv) on this occasion, but I’ve since had good results with Cain’s Dragon Heart. I think that the darker malts add sweetness and a decent alcoholic edge to proceedings; there's no point using beer unless you want to retain the nuances of it in the finished dish.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Roosters Oxymoronic Black IPA

...So we're finishing off this little Roosters week with Oxymoronic Black IPA, weighing in at 6.5% abv. With this brew, Rooster’s have chosen to go 100% with Simcoe hops, both in the kettle and in the dry-hopping. Looking black in the glass but turning deep red when held to the light, there’s a woody note in the nose alongside a bitter-orange pithiness. That might sound odd, but it’s actually quite pleasant after the aroma-riots of the last two beers.

It’s still smooth, but the slight roasted-malt note running through the body does distract me a little, personally. There’s a drying, coffee-led note just lingering on the back there, which is not what I expect from an IPA. I did warm to it as the bottle emptied, but the initial reaction to this was a little ‘well....that’s interesting’. And I think that’s my overall feeling about Oxymoronic. Interesting. Not a bad beer – far from it – just not what I expected, and I'm not completely sold on it.

Overall, I’ve been really impressed with this new threesome from Rooster’s. If these were bottled more often I’m sure they would sell, and I’d love to see the APA in particular available widely - a fantastic beer and my pick of the bunch. I also commend the (moderately) low abv’s on these beers. They are meant for sharing, savouring and enjoying. I did all that.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Roosters 2XS IPA

...Next up is the 2XS, the bigger, badder brother of the APA. Again, a fresh and zingy pint indeed, albeit with a slightly darker amber colouring this time. Nelson Sauvin, Cascade (remember Cascade? Seems like the first beer I've seen in ages apart from my homebrew that uses them!), Chinook, Citra, Simcoe and Citra all jostle for position in the nose. Looking at that hop-list, you know what neighbourhood you're in, and I'm pleased to say 2XS delivers that grassy, grapefruity, slightly catty, green-hop aroma perfectly. If anything, the nose is more tart, and less sweet, than the APA.

There's a good, thick mouthfeel and hints of digestive biscuit in the body; the sip is long and very refreshing. Again, it drinks nowhere near its 7.1% abv. If anything, the hop finish is restrained, despite the 'hop-head' claims on the label - but that's not to say it fails; far from it. What you've got is a slightly amped-up APA and a worthy addition to any modern IPA fiend's vault.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Rooster's XS American Pale Ale

I've kicked off the New Year by picking up some of these limited-run beers by Rooster's. Two Pales and a Black IPA, so nothing in the same ballpark of experimentation as Pumpkin Ale or Jasmine IPA but as we've said numerous times before, Rooster's don't bottle often so it's worth picking these up. Plus, Christmas and the New Year deserves special beers, eh?
So - XS American Pale up first. Deep amber in colour, those extra darker malts in the grain bill give a lovely, sweet backbone for the hops to sit on top of. Chinook, Simcoe, Crystal, Riwaka and hop du jour Citra have all been flung into this brew, so as you can imagine, the aroma is incredible. Gooseberry, Pineapple, Lychee, and (if I can get a bit Oz Clarke for a second) cut grass all vie for attention. Lovely. On the sip, it's smooth (I suspect from the toch of wheat that's present), fresh, and juicy - not dry at all - and weighing in at 5.5%abv makes XS APA quite simply an excellent, quaffable Pale Ale. It is sweet, don't get me wrong, but it's balanced perfectly and in excellent condition too - lively and vibrant.
I'll let you know what I thought of the others as the week unwinds.
Edit - It's not just me that rates it - here's what Hopzine thought....