Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Drinkers Digest: Ferment and Beer52.com

Drinkers Digest:
Ferment and Beer52.com 

"We want to be the voice of a somewhat fragmented UK beer world and to do that we want to explore beer in an adventurous and fun way" Erin Bottomley, Editor, Ferment magazine. Taken from the editorial in Issue 1.

Just over a month ago I was delighted to discover that a beer orientated magazine had gone overground hit the newsstand, or more specifically WHSmith's. With the exception of CAMRA's "BEER" magazine which I have occasionally seen for sale, I think it was "Beers Of The World", relaunched in 2012, that was the last regular beer magazine available in the UK. Now not only could I buy it for myself, I could tell others about it and, what's more, some of the contributors are people that I'm proud to call my friends.

Of course, Ferment isn't a new magazine. Subscribers to the Beer52.com beer club have been receiving it every month with their beer order, and will continue to do so, but even though I wasn't a member I could now read it for myself.

I devoured every page of course, enjoying some parts more than others (I'll expand on that a little later on), and had seriously considered subscribing judging by the beer that they were sending out (more on that later too), so was surprised and delighted to be contacted by Ben Black from Beer52 asking me if I'd like some beer to review.

I accepted without hesitation, (you can see a disclaimer coming here, can't you?), and the beer arrived around a week later as promised. Unlike the magazine I didn't pay for this (told you so!), and was genuinely excited at the chance to write about the beer I received and relate it to some of the articles in Ferment magazine. This is something I'm assuming that existing subscribers have been doing for some time, but the chance for me to add a new dimension to my beer drinking was something that I simply couldn't pass up.

Trying to match the beer to some of the articles was relatively easy in some instances as you will see, but where I hadn't had the beer before it proved a little more challenging,. I also didn't want to re-write what was already written as the original authors have far more experience and clever wordsmithery than I could ever hope to have.

Realising that this was going to be a little harder than I had at first thought, I reasoned that the best place to start was at the beginning.

"Craft beer is many things to many different people ... Maybe it's time to take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy the beer."
Beery state of the nation by Pete Brown. Beer Pairing: Lerwick Brewery - Azure.

Pete Brown is one of this country's foremost beer writers. His books and articles have taken both himself and beer around the globe, but in this opening piece he looks at where we are at this moment in time in the UK with respect to what's happening in the rest of the world, specifically the US. Mergers, takeovers, hipsters and IPAs all fall under his gaze, and his conclusion along the lines of don't worry, be happy, and drink the beer, revisiting some old classics alongside the new breed, is sound advice. If you look at history then it's only (almost) business as usual.

The Lerwick Azure. Pale Ale brewed with American Cascade and New Zealand Rakau hops nicely encapsulates much of what has led this particular craft beer revolution. It starts worryingly, bitter, with some pithy citrus notes, but it is it's conclusion, a precise dry finish that lets you know that evrything's going to be alright. A zingy palate awakener leaving you wanting more, much as you'd expect from a magazine's opening gambit. Job done.

"The funny thing is that we love the person who comes into the bar and says 'I don't like beer'. We love being able to change their perception of beer and help them find something that they'll enjoy."
Lunch with Mikkeller by Heather Naismith & Fraser Doherty. Beer Pairing: Mikkeller - Vesterbro Pils

I have to admit to being a bit of a Mikkeller fanboy. If you ask me what my favourite beer of all time was then I'd certainly consider their 10.9% Beer Geek Brunch Weasel and 5.3% Spontanale, both would make it into my top ten, and back in May 2012, when my blog was very much in its early stages, I wrote reviews of twenty-four Mikkeller beers is thirty-one days. I still stand by those reviews, so as you'd expect an interview with the elusive brewer and founder of Mikkeller, Mikkel Borg Bjergso, a man renowned for not giving interviews, is an article that I'd turn straight to and devour, much as the food and atmosphere is devoured by the lucky interviewers who met with him in Copenhagen's famous brewpub, War Pigs. It's a rare insight into the life and ethos of a man with a passion to change peoples perceptions of beer and make the consumer more discerning, a tough task perhaps, but one he shows no signs of easing up on.

Managing to be both juicy and dry at the same time the aroma of peach and mango in the Vesterbro Pils is immediately enticing. Named for the district of Copenhagen that is home to the War Pigs Brewpub, this beer floods the mouth with mango, peach and passion fruit flavours whilst almost instantaneously drying the mouth with a crisp bitterness, preparing you for the next swallow. Perfect with creamy cheese, I had it with a selection which included Manchego and Goat's cheese that I had for my lunch today, it also stood up well to the robust strength of mature Cheddar, and I can imagine it engaging in some light interplay with a cheesecake for dessert, whether it be plain or, and this would be my preferred choice, one with an apricot puree, echoing the exchanges of conversation in the article. This is definitely a 'light lunch' beer, but one that rewards the drinker with some beautifully nuanced touches. A beer as rarely seen outside of Copenhagen as the brewer himself, an exclusive to this Beer52 box, it has that little bit of something extra, something different, that ignites my passion for all things Mikkeller.

"We followed hash-smoked air into the middle of the freetown melee, pausing in a bar with seaside sensibility, a wooden hut filled with crusty, pleasant-faced men with wild beards, big zoots and crinkly smiles."
The Danish Caper by Craig Ballinger. Beer Pairing: To-Ol - Baltic Frontier.

There are two very different ways to explore a brand new city. The first is to prepare an itinerary well in advance, marking the key places you must visit, researching opening times, distances and methods of transport between attractions or, as described here, to go with the flow of the city itself, letting it take you to wherever it wishes, accepting new encounters and embracing their spontaneity. Of course you may have in mind some idea of the places you like to go to, and maybe you have some appointments you need to keep, such as the meeting at To-Ol in this piece, but the freedom to roam with no agenda is both eye-opening and surprisingly both full and light simultaneously.

"...an IPA beaten with Juniper Berries and Sea Buckthorn and trashed with hops" says the label, and using natural ingredients shaped by the skill of the brewer's hand is what makes a really good beer, and this is a really, really good beer. A dry botanical aroma switches to a tart, sweet gin-edged flavour, building and drying suddenly with a fruity nectarine and grapefruit encased pop. Ebbing and flowing like the street-life parade, punchy and fresh, like the day starting easily, rising to a crescendo of activity in the evening before dissolving into nothingness in an instant, this beer is exciting, challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

"In many cases this just forces brewers to use their ingenuity and knowledge to work out ways to make their beers with hops that are more readily available, and, in the process, create some brand new beers for us to try."
In Hop Pursuit by Erin Bottomley. Beer Pairing: CAP Brewery - Don't Break the Oat.

Concerns over hop shortages have been rumbling away in the background for some time now, and it's an issue that affects brewers who want to bring plenty of good quality beer to the market place, and the consumer wanting a consistent well-rounded product packed full of flavour. Heavily hopped Pale Ales and IPAs, DIPAs, and more recently their younger brother Session IPAs, have fuelled the craft beer movement, bringing a glut of new drinkers demanding big bitter palate-bashing bruisers to quench their seemingly never-ending thirst. When the scales of supply and demand become more and more unbalanced then something obviously has to give. But it isn't all doom and gloom, in fact, with a little skill and 'outside-the-box' thinking the future could brighter than ever.

I'll confess that it was the fact that this beer uses solely Bramling Cross hops, a British hop in seemingly plentiful supply, that influenced my decision for this pairing, although on closer inspection of the label I realise that I've actually shared a few beers with one of the brewers, Danko. It's also pays tribute to the British style of brewing so I'm already warming to it before I've taken a sip. A smoky creamy chocolate aroma reminds me of many a bigger beer and I'm a little disappointed that it's thinner over the tongue then I had anticipated. A brief pause, then the flavour hits. More smokiness, more chocolate, this time tempered with a touch of cola nut, a nudge in the direction of coconut, then it washes itself cleanly away leaving behind a cheeky ghost of its former self. It's delicious, and I wish that I had another bottle.

"It can be easy to forget about a brewery like Chimay in a world of increasingly more adventurous and radical breweries."
A Little Respect. A Visit to the Chimay Brewery, Belgium by Matt Curtis. Beer Pairing: Chimay Gold.

One of the most enduring constants since I was legally allowed to drink beer, and probably a little before that, has been my love of Belgian beer. A local off licence stocked bottles of Chimay Blue (Grand Reserve) and Red (Premiere) alongside cans of William Younger's Tartan and Inde Coope's Double Diamond. Exotic, strong and flavoursome, taking four or so bottles to a party guaranteed a good nights drinking and usually a sore head in the morning. Matt Curtis is someone I've known almost since the minute I started writing about beer. We started our blogs around the same time, and have spent quite a few drunken evenings discussing beer and propping up bars, so to discover that he also had an early encounter with the delights produced at the Abbaye de Notre Dame de Scourmont brought a huge smile to my face. This is the tale of Matt's visit to both the abbey and the brewery, a totally absorbing read.

This beer pours a wonderfully golden colour with a head as pure and white as the robes of a Trappist Monk with a subtly understated aroma of lemon and white pepper. Clean tasting,refreshing and with a deliciously full body, its flavour of subdued lemon zest and crushed coriander seeds sublimely across the tongue punctuated with a spicy bitter bite that fades gently away. By far the easiest pairing to make of the five, this beer isn't a brash and boozy as it's bigger brothers but for my taste it is simply divine.

It doesn't end there for Ferment Magazine. I haven't told you about Melissa Cole's Views from the Bar, Mark Dredge's Guide to Pale Lagers or, and this was one of my favourite pieces, Archie McDiarmid's A Beer Drinkers Guide to the Wine List,to name but three, but I'll let you find out about those for yourself. Nor was it the end of the box I was sent; My Pils by To Ol, Nazca by Chilean brewery Rothhammer, Vesterbro Wit by Mikkeller, Red Doe by the fantastic White Hag Brewery in Sligo, Ireland, and Hefe from Edinburgh's Stewart Brewery rounded out the excellent selection. When a selection of beers this mouth wateringly good along with the brilliant writing in Ferment magazine as part of the package then why wouldn't you want to be a part of the Beer52.com experience?

Those wonderful people at Beer52.com have given me an exclusive code to share with you that will give you a whopping £10 off your first order. Simply follow this link to www.beer52.com and enter the coupon code GBDB10 after your payment details and some fantastic beer to drink on its own or as I did, while you read Ferment magazine, will be delivered to your door in a matter of days. The second issue of Ferment magazine came out on the 7th July and focuses on the burgeoning London beer scene, meaning a great new selection of beer from Beer52.com for you to enjoy. A regular subscription will mean you never miss an issue or fantastic beer, some of which are exclusive to Beer52.com. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Georges Day - Visiting Great Wakering

Beer In Essex:
George's Day
Visiting Great Wakering

It starts to rain just as my train pulls into Southend Victoria station, the end of the line, the grey sky fittingly echoing a melancholy you can almost taste in this rundown Victorian seaside town. I hurry through through the generic 'every-town' centre and catch the bus to Great Wakering.

The journey takes me just six miles inland but it seems a world away, and the sun breaks briefly through the crowd as I walk past the church and duck pond to Home Farm on whose land George's Brewery resides. I'd written a potted history of the brewery itself in June last year in the second part of my exploration of Essex bottled beer, you can read about it here if you want to, and despite having received an invitation to visit soon afterwards I finally had an opportunity to do so. Incidentally, should you wish to know the full history of the brewery, and the associated Hop Monster brand, then this link will take you to the official version written by owner Mark Mawson.

When I get there Sam (Martyn, George's very capable brewer) is part way through brewing a batch of Checkpoint Charlie, their 4.0% bitter with tangerine, peach and  notes, ably assisted by their pony-tailed delivery driver/jack-of-all-trades Steve. Even though they are clearly busy I'm warmly welcomed and handed a box of beer that Sam had organised for me from when I first said I was coming. I'd previously met Sam and his German girlfriend Pia at the Essex Winter Beer Festival in Chelmsford earlier in the year, and my wife, Sarah, and I had spent a good hour or so in their company chatting and drinking quite a lot of beer, not all of it good sadly.

After making a cup of tea and taking a few pictures, I'm commandeered into hop duty and I'm soon up a ladder piling hops into the kettle. This is something I've done before at several breweries but it's the first time I've done this in a kettle where the lid flips up completely, it's certainly easier than pouring them (and mostly missing) into the small opening that I've previously experienced.

George's is a five barrel brewery housed in a converted barn that's thick with cobwebs around the exposed wooden beams, the spiders help keep the flies at bay I'm told, it is after all on a working farm. The brewery equipment came from Eddie Gadd when he upgraded his Ramsgate Brewery in Kent, and he had previously obtained from a Firkin brew pub, and considering its age it's doing rather well, although this does have a decent pedigree. Having a scout around I get a little excited when I find a now unused conditioning tank. Painted white, although it has got a little dirty with age, I see that it still bears the trade marks of Scottish and Newcastle, William Younger's, McEwan's, and Newcastle Brewers. Considering that these companies merged Scottish and Newcastle in 1960 (Younger's and McEwan's had previously merged in 1931) I'd anticipate that this tank is around fifty years old. It would be great to see it in use again.

Brewing, as you probably already know, involves an awful lot of involved and often frantic work followed by extended periods of waiting, and I use one of these to spend some time with Sam, talking about him and beer in general. He's easy to talk to and generous with his his time, and I start by asking about his background, both beer and non-beer related and how he came to be brewing at George's.

"I was born in 1993, and grew up in Rochford (Essex, around six miles west of Great Wakering). My earliest memory of beer and pubs in general was going to The Chequers in Canewdon (once owned by TV chef Jamie Oliver's uncles and closed in 2010) with my grandparents as a teenager. It was a great pub but sadly no longer there."

"My original plan was to be an actor, I'd trained as one at college and was going to go to drama school to continue my studies to BA level. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful at the auditions and had to wait until the following years entries to try again. Having an unplanned gap year to fill I got a job as the Guest Services Manager at a local activity centre, and this proved to be a big turning point in my life. It was during this time that I met my partner, Pia, and started dabbling with home brew."

"I stayed at the activity centre for three years, but decided that I really needed a new challenge, so I quit my job and used the money that I'd originally set aside for a new car to move to Munich in Germany and stay with Pia. I took German lessons, ate great food, drank great beer, and spent lots of time researching the things that really interested me. I even applied for either MI5 or MI6 at one stage, I can't remember which, but it was during this period that I realised that brewing was the path that I really wanted to follow."

"My last month in Germany was filled with brewing related research. I crammed my brain with as much information about the brewing process as I could and applied for an apprenticeship at Partizan Brewery in Bermondsey, London. On my return to England I went for an interview with Andy (Smith, Partizan Brewery founder and brewer) but it didn't work out, so I decided to look a little closer to home to see what I could find. I contacted Mark at George's and we met for a chat. He clearly saw something in me that he liked as he invited me for a brew day trial, and the rest, as they say, is history."

"I've been here for about eighteen months now, starting as the assistant initially but I'm now the only brewer with an assistant of my own who I'm now training. My first recipe, Checkpoint Charlie, a batch of which we are brewing today, is now part of our core range, and my latest, Huell Melon is also going well. I'm still saving for that new car though!"

I'm sure he'll get that car soon if he continues along these lines, both beers are very good indeed.

Huell Melon is a German hop, and as he spent some time in Germany I ask him whether there's any German influence in the beer that he brews, or if there's anything due along those lines.

"Of course", he replies, "but I can draw inspiration from anywhere I go. I went to Berlin for my birthday last year, and it was touring the city that I got the inspiration and the name for Checkpoint Charlie. I like the beers I make to have a personal connection as I think it makes it a more enjoyable experience for the drinker when each beer tells them a little about the person who made it."

Leading on from this then, is there a beer that you'd love to brew but haven't yet had to chance to?

"I'd love to do a Weiss Bier, a proper traditional Bavarian one, and I love drinking Hopf when I'm in Munich. In fact I love that beer so much we have it on most of the time at Mawson's (George's micropub in Southend), it proves popular too. Wheat beers are a style that I feel are a little under-appreciated in England, and when a brewery brews one over here it tends to be an American-style hoppy version or a Belgian Wit.

So are there any beers from a UK brewery that you'd wish you'd brewed yourself?

"Easy one, it has to be Dark Star's Espresso Stout. I absolutely love that beer, and in my opinion it's exactly how a stout should be. I can't believe that it's not permanently available on cask."

Any other beers you look out for?

"Anything that is new or different to be honest. I'm really interested in finding new flavours and different takes on a style, whatever it may be."

That's a feeling I know well, and I'm sure many of you do too., so lastly I ask him about what's next for George's, which direction are they going in?

"Over the next year we plan on putting our Hopmonster Freakshow beers and maybe Wakering Gold into KeyKeg. We'll also have two strong ales being released later this year; Gaspar's Star which we've used an Abbey Ale yeast in, and Nebuchadnezzar which has a Saison yeast. We're hoping that our bottles may soon be available from an online retailer."

"The Huell Melon is selling incredibly well, the first cask was sent to Mawson's and sold out in under four hours, and I've been told it's gone down well in other pubs as well. I really want to see George's Brewery continue to grow and I'm sure that it will."

I'm sure that it will too.

Owner Mark arrives at this point, and I have a brief chat with him before I leave. I have a beer tasting for another Essex brewery to attend that evening, but I want to head to Mawson's before that as I've never been before.

Just missing the bus, I have to wait twenty minutes for the next one, but find that Mawson's was worth the wait. I settle down with a half of Brew By Numbers fantastic 05|15 (Citra & Azacca) on keg just as Sam arrives. Having finished for the day he has decided to join me, getting me a half of Gerorge's excellent Columbus before I have to go. His generosity doesn't stop there either and he drives me into Southend, close to where the tasting is being held. I feel thoroughly spoilt.

George's Brewery beers are available in a wide range of pubs all over Essex, usually as guest beers, and you can find the bottles in many places as well. I have to say that I prefer them on cask, and even though the bottles are very good they have recently switched where they are being bottled and I've had some issues with yeast in suspension in some of the early ones. I'm sure this problem will be ironed out by now however.

Should you want to know more about the brewery and their range, and to be honest why wouldn't you, then you can follow this link to their website: www.georgesbrewery.com where you'll also find a link to my reviews.

I had a fantastic day at George's Brewery, and I hope to catch up with them again soon. Should you want to try there beers then you'll get a chance to do so at the Chelmsford Summer Beer Festival that starts this Tuesday, 5th July 2016 at Admirals Park, Chelmsford and runs until Saturday 10th July. A link to the website, beer list and events can be found right here. See you there.