Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Pub crawl in Belgravia

As we're currently between the two alcoholic onslaughts of Christmas and New Year me and the lovely Lisa have taken to getting out into the country for healthy walks.

Well, we did for two days then we decided to get into the city for a not so healthy pub crawl. Normally when planning a pub crawl the lovely Lisa will after doing all the necessary research print out a google map with all the details. Not being at work we were lacking in office facilities so based the crawl on one in London Pub Walks. The Belgravia pub walk, having seven pubs in 1.7 miles seemed to have just the right ratio of drinking to walking. 

First up was Horse and Groom, a Shepherd Neame pub.

Like other Shepherd Neame pubs it had a functional bare boarded look to it, but it got us out of the rain, and more importantly on to our first beer. Not that the beer was up to much, I had a Kent's Best which was a bit yeasty and Lisa had a Master Brew which had a harsh bitterness to it. 

We moved swiftly on to the next stop, The Grenadier.

This is a free house with a lot of character, various military gizmos adorning the pub. The log fire was cordoned off in the dining area though which was a bit annoying as we were still pretty soggy from the long wet walk to the station. I had a Rydale Winter's Tale, which was dark but a bit boring, and Lisa had Roosters Polar Beer, which was pale but with a whiff of wet dog about it. 

Next up was the Nag's Head. This seemed quite appropriate as we were wandering around old cobbled mews. 

This was a cracking pub, with a fine selection of hats behind the bar, and caricatures of famous visitors. We also got to sit by the fire which I thoroughly approved of. They had a couple of Adnam's beers on but we tried the Purity Pure Gold, having been previously impressed by their bottled beers. Sadly we didn't think much of this one, as it was a bit too lagery for our taste.  

After that we went to the Star Tavern, a pub we've wanted to go to for some time. It's been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide so it was really time we got round to ticking it.

It's owned by Fuller's so it was Pride for the lovely Lisa while I threw caution to the wind and had an ESB. Very good they were too, if a bit on the cold side. The bogs were very impressive, with gleaming copper pipes, but I thought it best to not start taking pictures in the toilet so you'll have to take my word for it.

We squeezed into the Antelope next, another Fuller's pub which was surprisingly busy. Pints of Pride were swiftly dispatched but we were really in need of some food by now and they didn't seem to be serving. 

We were saved by the Duke of Wellington, something which doesn't happen often nowadays, what with him being dead since 1852.

Chips and pork products washed down with Spitfire soon had us raring to go again and it was on to the Fox and Hounds. We had Young's Winter Warmer in here, and it was on excellent form, like liquid liquorish. 

We called in at a Sam Smith's pub The Cardinal after that. It doesn't have the character of a lot of Sam Smith's pubs and their draught beers aren't anything to write home about, or write on the internet about for that matter, so we didn't stay for long.

We decided we had time for one more so we staggered on to The Buckingham Arms. This has also been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide. It's a funny old world isn't it? You wait ages to go to a pub that's been in every edition and then two come along at once. The Winter Warmer in here wasn't a patch on what it was in the Fox and Hounds but barman's facial hair more than made up for any disappointment. He looked like a teenage Terry Thomas, with a magnificent handlebar moustache that any man would be proud to sport. Well, apart from me because I don't want to look like a twat the lovely Lisa says it would tickle, but the rest of you should get to it

At this point our meticulous note taking had descended into making brass rubbings of the old coins that made up the table surface so it was time to call it a day.  

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Xmas beers

It's around this time of year that I like to drink my own body weight in beer. In the past I've managed to assemble 13 Beers of Christmas (why stop at 12?) but I only had about half a dozen xmas beers for this year. Good job I had plenty of normal beers to make up the numbers!

We kicked off with some of my very own mulled ale. This went down surprisingly well with the non-beer drinkers in my family so I must have done something right. 

Next was Cropton Breweries Rudolph's Revenge. This didn't have any spices in but the combination of Cascade and Styrian goldings hops gave it slightly spicy taste making it a reasonable effort for an xmas beer. Naylor's Santa's Choice apparently had some added ginger but I wouldn't have guessed from tasting it and it could just as easily have been called a Summer beer. Hop Back Pickled Santa also apparently had some spices in but was too thin for my taste. We finally got what we were looking for with Anchor Breweries Christmas Ale. This was smooth and dark with a chocolatey taste but still very drinkable. Annoyingly the label just said "made with natural ingredients and natural flavourings" so I don't really know what's in it but I will be trying to track some more down next year. The last of our xmas beers was Ridgeway brewery Bad Elf. Ridgeway do some interesting beers but you don't see them very often as they're mainly bound for export. This one was pale and hoppy, but not really what we were after. 

Aside from the xmas beers alcohol levels were maintained with copious quantities of Fuller's London Pride and a bottle of Meantime London Porter my favourite brother in law shared with me and the lovely Lisa. And come to think of it a Fuller's Winter Ale may have been in the mix somewhere too. Oh yeah, and the Fuller's Vintage. I'd better stop now before I remember any more. 

As has been noted by other beer bloggers many xmas beers don't really fit the bill and I'll have to make more effort to find some decent dark and spicy ones next year. 

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Going pro again!

I can now reveal the most exciting news in the history of beer blogging, if not the internet!

Sorry, I went a bit Brewdog then.

I do have some news that is pretty exciting to me though: I've got another brewing job. I'm going to be the brewer at a new small brewery starting in Kent. It's out in the sticks, with I think Tonbridge being the closest town. I'll be starting in January and the beer is due to go on sale in Feb.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Bath ales

I've been impressed by Bath Ales recently. I've occasionally had their beers before but not really been too taken with them. The case me and the lovely Lisa guzzled has made me change my mind though, all of them were very enjoyable - they've even managed to make an organic beer that tastes good and a stout that Lisa will drink.

I must admit I only bought the beers because Lisa's family are all rabbit lovers and the beers have what I thought were rabbits on the label. The rabbit turned out to be a hare but the beers were good so I'll be buying their stuff again.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

McFarland's standard is turbid*

I've now finished Ben McFarland's The World's Best Beers. It's really opened my eyes to how much my international beer knowledge was behind the times. It's not good enough to have read Michael Jackson's stuff, things have moved on. I've got loads more beers I need to seek out now, and many from countries I wouldn't have expected. I was also pleased to see that Alley Kat's Olde Deuteronomy, made by my mate Brian Westcott, is rated as the best beer in Canada.

Beer tasting notes aside there are, as I pointed out earlier, a lot of factual errors in the book. I'm going to ignore the minor niggles, like not knowing his beer purity laws properly, so I've more time to rant on about the things that really got on my goat.

When talking about the (excellent) lambic brewery Cantillon he says: "Before white-coated boffins with spectacles, clipboards, pipettes and brains the size of Luxembourg discovered pasteurization in 1860, all beer was made using spontaneous fermentation". This really got me foaming at the mouth.

For starters, Pasteurization was not 'discovered' by some un-named stereotypical lab geeks. The bloke who invented it is actually quite well known and if you can't remember who he is the clue's in the name - Yes, that's right Pasteurization was invented by Louis Pasteur. The bigger point he seems to have missed entirely is that Pasteurization has nothing at all to do with pitching yeast into wort instead of waiting for spontaneous fermentation. Ben McFarland has clearly got confused at some point.

Pasteurization was invented in 1864, but by having a quick peek at what Horace Brown had to say we can see that it was in 1860 that Louis Pasteur concluded that it is living yeast cells which cause fermentation of wort to take place. Perhaps this is what Ben McFarland meant to say.

The other part that I can't resist ranting about was an article on Pilsner Urquell. The general tone of the article is like advertisement from the brewery about how wonderful and unchanged the beer is, which just doesn't fit in with my own experiences. I can't produce any scientific evidence for how Pilsner Urquell has changed but I do know I used to like it and now I don't. I also know it's now brewed under licence in other countries which isn't mentioned in the article.

When he says though that [Prior to Pilsner Urquell being brewed in 1842] "all beer was dark, cloudy and, more often than not, a little lousy." and "all beer was darker than a coal miner's worst nightmare" I do know for a fact this is rubbish, and so should he.

In the same article he mentions that the person who developed Pilsner Urquell studied the latest English malting techniques. I'm not quite sure what he thought brewers in Britain were doing with their pale malt if they weren't brewing with it (making horlicks?) but British brewers were making pale ales, such as India Pale Ales, long before pilsners were invented and a fellow beer blogger has gone on at great length about earlier pale ales here.

I did enjoy the book but as a hardened beer nerd the errors in it really stood out to me. If any other beer writers out there would like a professionally qualified brewer to check their work before publication I'll be happy to review it for my usual fee.

*This in fact a microbiologist's in-joke. I don't just do lavatory humour, I can do laboratory humour too!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Burnt rubber and marmalade

We stayed in last night as the lovely Lisa was recovering from her work's xmas do. It seems she ate a bad crisp.

Being denied the delights of the pub I had a look in the beer cupboard and thought it was time to polish off few Sharp's beers that had been hanging around for some time. The Doom Bar was, as it always seems to be nowadays, pleasant enough but a bit dull. And to think I used to get excited when I saw this beer. The Atlantic IPA was decidedly unpleasant, having the unmistakable taste of light strike about it. The flavour reminds me of burnt rubber, though those more familiar with the emissions of the skunk's anal gland refer to it as 'skunked'.  It didn't make for pleasant drinking but it did answer the question I've been pondering about Sharp's beers - do they use isomerised hop extracts? 

Discerning beer nerds will know that putting beer in clear glass bottles leaves them vulnerable to light strike, unless they've used hop extracts instead of actual hops when making the beer. When brewers like Sharp's, who aren't dumb, sell their beer in clear bottles I get suspicious about what the beer is made of. Having a light struck bottle of Sharp's beer shows that they are still using actual hops, but it also shows that the marketing people can overrule the brewers on bottle choice. 

Having had enough of Sharp's and with a Fuller's tasting evening still fresh in my mind I dug out a bottle of Vintage Ale next. I went for the 2003 vintage, made with Goldings hops and Golden Promise malt. It was an excellent choice as the beer was fantastic. The first sip was, as always, too sweet but after that I got the spicy taste of the Goldings and for the first time in a beer I tasted marmalade. Spicy marmalade might not sound like the sort of thing you'd look for in a beer but it was really very good. 

I've often seen beer writers say they get marmalade flavour from ESB, one of Vintage Ale's little brothers, but I've never noticed it myself before so I was quite excited about this. I'm clearly turning into a proper beer writer - I'll be tasting horse blankets next, you mark my words!  

Thursday, 10 December 2009

My spicy xmas ale has worked ...

... after a fashion.

I was commissioned by the lovely Lisa to make a strong dark spicy beer for xmas so I brewed up a batch of a dark delight with added spices, orange and dried fruit. As I said at the time I was a little concerned I would end up with 40 pints of something undrinkable but thankfully that hasn't been the case.

However, as is often the case with experiments it hasn't turned out quite how I expected. Despite all the dark malts that it contains when I tasted it I found it had quite a citrussy taste which didn't seem quite right. This lead me to try seeing how it worked as a mulled ale, as a lot of ingredients I had put in are found in mulled wine. After gentle heating (to minimise any loss of alcohol, I don't want it to go to waste) I had another taste and it was almost there but a bit too bitter. As with mulled wine I thought some sugar was called for so added a small amount and that did the trick - it's like mulled wine but beer!

It should keep the chill out when me and the lovely Lisa have some over winter, and a lot will be going to family and friends, so hopefully they won't freeze either. I'll also be keeping a few bottles back to see how it ages. Being strong, dark, fruity and spicy I'm sure it will be a different beer by the time next xmas comes around and the changes will be interesting to see.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Fuller's IPA

The bottled version me and the lovely Lisa got on Wednesday didn't disappoint.

Not as good as it is in cask, but that's hardly surprising. Let's hope we see it more often in both versions. 

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Fuller's Fine Ale Club 10th Anniversary Celebration

Me and the lovely Lisa hot footed it up to Chiswick last night for the Fuller's Fine Ale Club 10th Anniversary Celebration. We got to the brewery a little early so briefly considered popping into a pub for a livener. I thought it would be prudent to check out if the event had started first though as Fuller's have always been very generous with the free beer whenever I've been to the brewery. Sure enough, we checked in at the shop and soon had glasses of honey dew clutched in our mits. 

I hadn't been to the brewery shop since it's been refurbished and it's greatly improved. I'd always been a bit disappointed in the past as it mainly seemed to sell wine and I could get a better range of Fuller's beers in my local supermarkets. Now they've opened up and tarted up the shop and greatly expanded the range of their beers on sale. I'm not sure if everything Fuller's bottle was available but to the lovely Lisa's delight the IPA was. 

Look at those beauties

We both have this on our list of desert island beers but I haven't seen it in bottle for many years (I think it's one of those beers that are annoyingly done mainly for export) and it can be hard to track down when it's available on draught. We failed in our quest to find any when it was out in September despite our best efforts. Phoning round Fuller's pubs got a mixed response, some had never heard of it and some had but didn't want it. Well done to the manager of the White House in Guildford though who actually made a point of ordering some after we'd phoned him. Sadly for us we were on holiday when it arrived and he'd sold out by the time we got back a week later. What a disaster.

It would be nice if Fuller's put on their website when their seasonal beers are coming out, or even send out emails to Fine Ale Club members. I've only got one email from them this year and that was some guff about sensible drinking. 

Anyway, having found some IPA at last we clearly had to buy some. We only had a small bag with us so I wasn't sure how much we could carry. Probably three I thought. "We'll need to get at least six" said Lisa. You don't want to come between Lisa and her beer so six it was. 

We carried on knocking back the honey dew for an hour or so until the event officially started with some speeches. There was a Fuller, a Turner and sadly not a Smith but the marketing man behind the Fine Ale Club whose name escapes me. The speeches were mercifully brief short and sweet and then it was on to the main event.

We trooped into the hock cellar for a tutored beer tasting with the Head Brewer John Keeling. Having looked at the seating plan I'd noticed that a lot of beer writers were present, as well as a fellow beer blogger Ron Pattinson. He seems even more obsessive than me so it was interesting to meet him.  

Me and the lovely Lisa had been put on a table right at the front which gave us a good view of John Keeling, and him a good view of us. You might be wondering why he'd want a good view of us, and so am I, but some of the first words he said were: "Is Ed the beer blogger here?" Having an hours worth of free beer inside me I cheered and waved. The lovely Lisa was even more surprised when he turned to her and said "you must be Lisa then".  He'd read we were coming. It's a funny thing putting stuff on the internet, you never know who's going to see it. A photographer lept in at this point and Lisa was a bit perturbed having a big camera pointed at her as she's camera shy.

John Keeling awestruck after meeting me and the lovely Lisa

There was a half of pride for each of us on the table to get us started and ESB came round soon after. In the talk we heard that some beers are best served fresh but some are better after having some time to mature. So Chiswick is best drunk ASAP, but ESB is better after four weeks in the cask. We were asked what we thought of the ESB and my immediate thoughts were "it's free so it tastes great to me" but on reflection it wasn't the best I've had, not as rounded as it normally is. One of the professional beer writers piped up that she found it phenolic and tasted pear drops. Now phenolic and pear drops (due to esters) are well know terms used by beer tasters but the chance of spotting them both at the same time sounded like bollocks to me. John Keeling was more diplomatic however and simply said he hadn't noticed any pear drops. 

Melissa Cole discussing phenolic esters (sorry Rob, that's the best picture I've got)

If I remember rightly it was London Porter next, one of my favourites from Fuller's. They do cask, keg and bottled keg versions of this which led to some discussion on on the merits of cask or keg, as apparently some people prefer the keg version to the cask. 

Beer writer Pete Brown is in the middle pondering the merits of cask vs keg beer. He's shorter in real life than he is on his blog.

The question is a bit of a no-brainer for me. I mean come on guys. Yes, I know it is possible for the keg version of a beer to be better than the cask -  Wetherspoons casking De Konnick proved that for me as it was just too sweet on cask. But really, London Porter will always be a great beer but it's only the cask versions that people will seek out.

Next we were on to 1845, the beer which revived amber malt for British brewers, as it was recreated so 1845 could be made. I've just used amber malt recently so I should be grateful but I've never been a huge fan of 1845. Not to say I didn't drink it, but I've always found it tastes a little harsh. 

Brewer's Reserve followed, a beer matured in whisky cask, which I must admit I wasn't taken with when I tried some at an IBD do. It's funny how perceptions change your tastes though. When I first tried it I was chatting to the Fuller's lab chief who talked of the micro-flora from the casks and it seemed quite sour to me from the bacterial growth. This time we heard about the amount of whisky still left in the casks and it tasted more like a whiskier version of Innes and Gunn. Either way I'm not fond of whisky cask aged beers so it wasn't really my thing. 

May well have been Prize Old Ale next. That would make sense. God, I should have scribbled some more stuff down. Maybe I should check with Lisa. Anyway, we definitely heard about how it was originally matured in unlined wooden vats where all sorts of bugs would grow in it. And how the last Gale's Prize Old Ale now lives at Fuller's in a steel tank where it is blended in with new batches, and topped up with fresh wort to keep it going. All good stuff, and I like the Fuller's versions of the Gale's beers, but I still miss the corked bottle Prize Old Ale used to come in. 

The Vintage Ale comparison was definitely last. We had three to compare, one the latest batch, one about five years old and one about ten. Or thereabouts, it was all catching up with me by then. The new one was definitely too sweet, the middle one very good and I was quite taken with the oldest version too. The difference in the flavours and mouth feel were huge, with the oldest one tasting quite thin compared to the others, no mean feat for a beer of 8.5% ABV. Having had a lot of Vintage Ale in my time I've learnt to always leave it at least a year before drinking but after this I really think I should try and be even more patient. 

The main event was over then and the buffet arrived. The tutored tasting was meant to have lasted an hour but had over run by 45 minutes. I'd enjoyed every minute of it so it was fine by me. One thing I can remember from early in the talk which I've been pondering since is how the importance of balancing quality and consistency with character and flavour was stressed. This is an excellent philosophy for making beer, and it shows through in the beers Fuller's produce.

I still think there's a place for  the occasional unbalanced beer though, but I know I won't come back to them as often. 

We then chatted with Ron and another beer blogger Knut Albert briefly. I know parti-gyling was part of the conversation but I can't really remember why. Probably because we were at Fuller's, who famously make their core range through this wort mixing method. I'd had a lot to drink by this point though and my brain was battling valiantly but I could feel the alcohol had nearly managed to wrestle it into submission. It was time to go home, so we made our excuses and left. We got a goodie bag each on the way out, which amongst the key rings, beer glasses and bar towels we'd been expecting had some rather classy coasters, , a natty ESB mug, a T-shirt for very fat people and more Vintage Ale. Free beer and free stuff, what more could you ask for? There was a certificate of attendence too, which will have pride of place in my training folder at work. 

Thanks to Fuller's for a great night, we had a fantastic time. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Free beer at Fuller's!

Me and the lovely Lisa are off to Fuller's brewery for a tutored beer tasting with the head brewer. We got tickets thanks to the Fuller's Fine Ale club.

I'm really looking forward to this. Fuller's one of our favourite breweries, and free beer always tastes better, so it should be a cracking evening. 

Beers in Botswana

When I meet people from other countries I take the opportunity to learn some useful phrases in their language.

Well, OK, one useful phrase: how to ask for two beers.

I was recently working with some people from Botswana so here’s how to ask for two beers in the native tongue Setswana:

Biri tse pedi

Or to be more polite:

Ke kopa biri tse pedi

So if you're ever in Botswana you're now fully equipped for an enjoyable stay.