Sunday, 25 March 2012

Beer Reviews: Dark Star - Golden Gate 4.5%
              & Brouwerij Emelisse - Rauchbier 7%

I was pleased to see another Dark Star beer on the bar when I visited Tap East a few weeks ago. I'm a big Dark Star fan, their Green Hopped IPA was probably my favourite beer of last year, so I'm always keen to try one that I haven't had before. Advertised as an Aromatic Autumnal Ale and brewed with North American west coast hop varieties, only less of them, it pours a dark golden colour with minimal white head and has a tasty malty caramel apple aroma. An initial bitter crabapple taste becomes a smooth rich-tea biscuit maltiness, leaving a pleasant malty caramel hoppiness in the finish. An interesting and unexpected beer to find in March when the nights are drawing out but it's well placed and welcome on these cooler evenings.

My beer tonight is a smokey one. Here's the problem I have with smoked beer, in previous experience it tastes like smoked cheese. Now don't get me wrong, I love smoked cheese but I don't actually want to drink it. Many years ago I had a bottle of Schlenkerla Rauchbier in a cobbled together 'beer styles of the world' case. Initially I loved the smokey cheesy-meaty flavour, and then I realised that I had only drunk about a tenth of the glass. I think I tolerated about half of it before I admitted defeat. That was 16 years ago. It was therefore with more than a little trepidation that I poured out the chestnut brown beer with it's foamy, light golden brown head. The colour caught me by surprise as I was expecting something much darker and the smokey smell was much tastier too, it actually made me salivate. It is of smoked meat with definite cracked black pepper aroma, very close to pepperoni or salami but a little sweeter. I hesitated, then went for a big gulp. Sweet smokey malty applewood and the oily juice that forms on the top of pepperoni sitting atop of a pizza straight from the oven, with a tiny chocolate fruitiness, were the flavours that hit me. Astonishing. Much sweeter and delicious than my smoked beer memory served me. A light bonfire-smokey aftertaste had a roasty nutty creaminess to it.
Brewed with an unique combination of five different malts, and with a large percentage of smoked malt from Bamberg, so the brewery blurb says, this Dutch smoked beer from Kamperland (apparently a town in Zeeland and not a Motorhome Themepark), has totally made me revise my opinion. It was suggested to me by a very helpful lady with bright orange hair when I was at Utobeer in Borough Market a little while ago. 'At the very least' she said 'if you don't like it, it's in a smaller bottle than the Schlenkerla, so there's less to drink'. I couldn't argue with logic like that, and I'm very glad that I didn't.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

"The Beer What I Brewed": Brentwood Gold 4.3%
Gyle Ref: 27/12

Possibly the most self-indulgent blog post, however as it marks the first full-mash beer that I (admittedly helped) brew I thought I'd tie it in with a review of one of my favourite beers.
I picked up the polypin last Friday (16/3) from the White Horse on my way home from work and was met by the irrepressible Roland, co-founder of the brewery, who could quite happily have talked all evening. I was fortunate that they had another favourite beer of mine on at the bar, the Chestnut Stout a deliciously malty slightly smokey roast chestnut ale, and was introduced to the chap who apperently has a freezer full of chestnuts to sustain production year round.
Bidding farewell I cradled my prize and carried it carefully to the car, where my wife and children were waiting to go home. I knew I had to play the waiting game as it takes time to settle so it was set aside and tucked-up for the night.

So what is it like? Well, as I hope that you can see from the picture it pours a delightfully bright old-gold colour with a faint off-white head. There is a little smokey pine, orange marmalade and a hint of lemon of the nose, conjuring up perfectly the memory of weighing out the Cascade and East Kent Golding hops to go into the brew. It runs lightly over the tongue with a thin to medium body. Sharp tangerine and a big pine flavour melts into an orange lemon citrus taste, again evocative of those hops, and the refreshing golden taste is a perfect match to late afternoon sunshine. A little oily pine and a touch of grapefruit citrus in the aftertaste underlines a simply wonderful beer, testament to the skill of the brewer.

    I had a wonderful day at the brewery, detailed in an earlier blog, and to be drinking the fruits of my labour and sharing it with friends is something a bit special. I know that all too soon the beer will be gone, and all I will have are my memories and my certificate on the wall, but while I still have some left I'll just go and help myself to another glass.

Cheers !                                                                                                                                                                           

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Beer Reviews: Dark Star - Partridge 4.0%
                        & Flying Dog - Wild Dog 9.5%

First up is Dark Star's Partridge described as a Best Bitter brewed in the Sussex Style with East Kent Goldings. The more observant amongst you will notice that I had this beer at Tap East in Stratford City in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. The link between both of these beers is that they were both purchased at Tap East but the latter was actually drunk at home. Back to the Partridge, it pours a wonderful golden brown colour and a creamy off-white head. Malty sweet applewood notes on the nose belie a sharp malty bitterness on the tongue. Little stabs of pear sweetness break through and are most apparent on the back of the tongue and the roof of the mouth making this a wonderfully fresh tasting beer, possibly down to 'the late addition of aromatic hops'. A delicious semi-dry sweet aftertaste lingers like an early Autumn sunset. Golden brown, texture like sun, and very moreish.

Flying Dog - Wild Dog Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter to give it it's full title is, exactly as it states, Gonzo Imperial Porter aged for 3 months in the barrels of their neighbour Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey.It pours a very opaque deep dark brown with a light brown head that billows then diminishes quickly on pouring. There's a big oaky aroma with a sweet whiskey sweetness too. Rich and thick on the palate, the big dark oak chocolate whiskey alcohol taste disolves sweetly into a raisin and date fruitiness which is only a little dry. A light woody flavour, like walking into an old church, is dominant in the aftertaste with hints of milk chocolte, coffee and dark rum. This beer is a heady complex treat best sipped gently somewhere comfy and quiet. It is all enveloping and simply wonderful.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Brentwood Brewery Experience Day

Today I went for a Brewery Experience Day at the Brentwood Brewery Company, not far from where I live. It's something that I had wanted to do for a while urged on by friends and family so I phoned up and booked myself in, and what a great day it was.

I arrived just before 8.30 am and was given a warm welcome from everyone there and introduced to Sophie de Ronde, the Head Brewer.Taking off my coat I was given some basic health and safety advice, ten sacks of malt and a cup of coffee. Well, it was a little more involved than that. We were going to be brewing Brentwood Gold, one of my favourite beers (actually I have lots of favourites from Brentwood) and the malt went into the mash tun. I won't go into all the ins and outs of what went into the mash (you'll have to go yourself if you want to find out) but while it was sparging Sophie went through the chemistry of the malt and what was happening to the grain in great detail. She had prepared an excellent presentation for the whole process throughout the day. I found this very informative particularly in respect my own ambitions as a home brewer, and was delighted that she had also prepared some notes on brewing theory that I could take away.
The mash was then transferred to the copper for boiling and with the addition of the hops it was time for lunch at the White Horse pub, a Good Beer Guide regular just up the road. This was a buffet lunch washed down with a delicious pint of Brentwood Gold and soon it was time to head back to the brewery to carry on brewing.
When we got back I was handed a shovel and a wheelbarrow and was given the job of clearing out the mash tun.

Towards the end of the boil more hops were added before the wort was drained and cooled before being transferred to the fermenting vessel. I mixed in some dry Nottingham Ale Yeast with a little of the hot wort before this was then pitched into fermenter to do it's wonderous work.
And that was basically that. Sophie presented me with a certificate to commemorate the day, and I will be returning in a week or so to pick up some of the beer that I helped to brew. I am under no illusions that I brewed this myself, Sophie and the team have to take most of the credit, however it was wondrrful to contribute to the process. It was a good working environment with a bit of banter and everyone there was more than happy to answer my constant and sometimes inane questions.
I'd like to thank everyone involved for a truly fantastic day, right from my first experience of ringing up to book it, to being given a lift back to my door at the end of the day (with a bottle of Essex Lager - cheers!) it was nothing less than magical. Sophie was particularly patient with me and I thank her especially, not least for the many samples I had to taste throughout the day. I also wish James well when he moves to take up the Head Brewers position at Tap East.
If you are considering doing the Brewing Experience Day, I urge you to do so as I guarantee that you will have a wonderful time and your labours won't be fruitless, as not only do you get to brew great beer that others can enjoy, you'll also get some to take home for yourself. I'll be drinking to that very soon!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Where everybody knows your name ?

Looking after your local, because it looks after you?

Do you have a local? You know, the place that you feel at home as soon as you walk in. Where you know you can have a great evening but equally a quiet drink if you like? Somewhere you can find your own space if you've had a hard day at work, or if you want to do some work?

I suspect you do. I also realise that by writing a beer blog that I am going to be read mostly by those of you who have more than a passing interest in beer and possibly pubs as part and parcel of this. Perhaps your lucky enough to have a pub that you know serves great beer and that's why you go there, perhaps it's just to meet you mates so you'll drink whatever's on offer, or maybe it's just because it's a bolt-hole just up the road and so you'll swallow whatever they are offering 

Having a 'local' is quite a subjective thing. You can have more than one, perhaps near where you work and where you live, perhaps more than one in both locations, although I'm guessing that if you have, say, more than five (!) in both locations you are either extremely gregarious or drunk most of the time! Enough has been written about pubs and the decline of pub culture that you know the importance of supporting your local pub, but how do you support it?

Is it enough to just drink there? Probably not. According to CAMRA, pubs which relied mostly on beer sales accounted for around half of all pub closures in 2011. There is obviously going to be some natural wastage, but back street locals and some historic building are being converted into homes or laying idle because they weren't supported. This may well have been because the beer was sub-standard, but do we have the ability to change that? I'll repeat that, do we really have the ability to change that? Does it make us arrogant to ask a landlord or a member of the bar staff if they would mind stocking a different beer or take a course in looking after their beer properly. The successful Cask Marque campaign has gone a little way to help this, but I have been discussing the disparity between pubs in the J D Wetherspoon chain online and with some friends. Now, I am fortunate enough to count one of the pubs in this chain as one of my locals. It keeps it's beer in excellent condition and always has a beer by a local brewery on it's hand-pumps except when there is a national festival, but I know that this doesn't apply to all Wetherspoon pubs. The staff listen to what the customers want, and indeed actively seek out the advice of it's regular customers on what beers they want (within reason), so you can see why I patronise it.

Could your local do this? Do you know? Have you asked? Perhaps it's times to be more than just a customer and be an active consumer, then maybe you'll fear more involved than just having the staff know you by name.

I'm not for one minute suggesting that every pub in the country should be a 'boutique beer bar' although if you've been to somewhere like Craft Beer Co of an evening you'll know that they have major pulling power, but actually I can't think of a single pub I know (and believe me, I know quite a few) that serves fantastic beer (or cider) that has a problem attracting customers. I'm not saying that this is certainly the case everywhere, particularly in more rural areas, but it has to be a major contributing factor.

If the landlord at your local is moaning about lack of custom or falling beer sales, then maybe you could offer to show them somewhere that isn't? Try and get the message through: good beer, served well is good for business. If you like the pub and support it like this, it surely must be mutually beneficial as a good pub gets a good reputation, which gets more custom.

If you care about beer and your local pub the what have you got to lose? If this fails then perhaps it's time to support a local that will listen.

Post scipt: I hadn't intended this to be my first blog proper, I was going to wait until after my brewery day at Brentwood Brewery on Wednesday, which I am quite excited about, but a couple of things got me thinking today so I decided to take the plunge. Feedback is really helpful so please leave some.