Showing posts with label british beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label british beer. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

British Brewer Doing American Hops

One of my habits when off on trips is to find a bottle shop in the hopes that I can pick up something unavailable in this part of Virginia. As such, whenever Mrs V and I head south to Greenville, to see her best friend and husband, I love to pop into Greenville Beer Exchange. This year's Labor Day long weekend was no exception and hidden amongst the beers from around the world were a few from a brewery I had heard much of but never seen on the shelves.

Oakham Ales, from Peterborough in England, do a range of mostly sub 5% ales which have started to find their way over the States - their importer is a company in North Carolina - and so when I saw Inferno and Citra on the shelf, well it didn't really take much thought now did it.

First up was Inferno, which according to the label uses 5 types of hop from the Yakima Valley and pours a wonderfully, almost proper pilsneresque, rich gold topped off with a white head that lingers for the duration. There was definitely the whole citrus thing you would expect from American hops, but I thought it more bitter orange that grapefruit, balanced with a very light toastiness, it almost made me think of breakfast. Tastewise lots of juicy malt sweetness, a touch of toffee and some pear flavours, all balanced out with a good citric tang of a hop bite. Certainly a very nicely balanced beer, which almost reminded me of Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale.

It must be practically impossible to have a Twitter account, an interest in beer, and not to have heard of Oakham Citra. I will admit I was expecting an entirely different beast. It terms of the looks, it is pretty much the same as the Inferno, but the nose is a riot of funky weediness, with very definite tropical fruit aromas, in particular mango. Tastewise, straight off the bat I got lots of mango and passionfruit, followed by the comforting sweetness of malt, all leading to a lingering lemon finish. As I tweeted about while drinking this beer, where has it been all my life? So balanced, so moreish, so magnficent.

Thank goodness Oakham Ales are available in parts of the US now, and thank goodness Mrs V's friend is coming to see us before Christmas, I see some stocking up in my future...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Brewer of the Week

A return today of the Brewer of the Week series, and it sees us heading off to a part of the world I think is one of the more beautiful in the UK, Norfolk. When my younger brother and I were kids, my elder brothers already having flown the nest, our dad decided that it would be fun to have a week boating on the Norfolk Broads. For about 3 years we would head over to Norfolk and cruise the Broads for a week, occasionally mooring up near a pub with a beer garden, it really was idyllic, and other than one particularly fierce thunderstorm, I can only remember warmth and sunshine.

The Grain Brewery in Harleston near Diss is an award winning brewery and hosts an annual Summer Festival tomorrow at the brewery, which from the press release that was sent to me seems to be the kind of event I would very much enjoy. The festival has a "Darling Buds of May" theme, steeped in 1950s rural nostalgia, complete with hand made ice cream, a barbecue and live folk music, it sounds like a lovely way to spend a day. So if you are in Norfolk tomorrow between 2pm and 10pm, pop on over to the brewery and join in.

In the meantime, here is the interview with their brewer, Phil.

Name: Phil Halls
Brewery: Grain Brewery

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I have been a river inspector, a cartographer and a publishing project manager none of which involved beer within my job description, so I felt a job in brewing was long overdue. Becoming a brewer was not a particular dream of mine, but I was keen to get away from the desk, do something that was more hands on, and work for myself. I easily had my arm twisted by a long-time friend who though starting a small brewery would be a ‘good idea’. As it turned out, it was.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Firstly you have to love beer or else you will never get beyond the heights of ‘just above mediocre’. Lots of energy, lots of patience, and a small dose of OCD probably helps too when it comes to cleanliness and pH.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Yes, a bit, and I was rubbish at it. I don’t think I ever brewed a decent homebrew beer, and I certainly wouldn’t want to scale any of them up to try and sell them.

If you did homebrew, do you still?


What is your favourite beer that you brew?

Without a doubt Redwood. I love watching the blend of Dark Munich, Rye, Wheat, Crystal and good old Maris Otter as it is drawn down into the grist hopper. And the intense smell of Citra is always a pleasure.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

Grain is the one and only brewery for me.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

My favourite varies depending on the time of year, time of day, and mood I’m in. That said, a pint of Oak at 3.8% abv, gulped down on a hot day is when I enjoy a beer the most.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

I’m not a purist by nature and use the end product as my yard stick. I don’t like seeing anything unnecessary added to a beer, but it’s good to experiment and try out new ingredients. That’s how all the authentic beers started out originally.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

Against the Grain Brewery in Louisville to find out what it is about us they don’t like and to see what the collaboratve results would be like. But also Darkstar Brewery in Sussex – great, finely tuned beers and I’d like to see what we could come up with between us.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

A true Irish Guinness brewed in Dublin.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Random Thoughts

I followed Twitter yesterday with an unaccustomed intensity, waiting for the first person to tweet about the Barclay's London Dark Lager - the last I heard, it was unlikely to be on during the first day, and would likely make an appearance today.

When it was announced that the Champion Beer of Britain was Mighty Oak's Oscar Wilde, I thought for a moment that the hashtag for the festival was about to go into meltdown. In amongst the congratulations to the brewers was a swathe of criticism, howling that a 3.7% mild ale could in no way be the best beer made in Britain. Very few of the comments about the chosen winner actually commented on the flavour profile of the beer, preferring to stand aghast that a beer of such a low abv could possibly be the best British cask ale at the Great British Beer Festival - it was almost as though Ratebeer had a collective hissy fit.

The problem with any form of competition is that it is, in reality, the subjective judgment of a panel of judges, who we can only hope have a depth of beer knowledge and a good palate. I am not entirely innocent when it comes to be shocked at some of the beers that win awards, but I try to remind myself that competitions can only judge what is in front of them.

Pondering all this over a dinner of bangers and mash, I was reminded of a passage in Bill Bryson's magnificent valedictory to Blighty, "Notes from a Small Island" about how Brits approach food:

"the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why, I suppose, so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsburys - are so cautiously flavourful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly".

Having never had anything from Mighty Oak, I am not in a position to say whether or not it was the best beer at the Great British Beer Festival. Given though that some of my favourite British brewers are at the festival, Fuller's, Everard's and the Durham Brewery for starters, I can only assume that Oscar Wilde is a damned fine beer, regardless of style.

I can understand people's frustration that the Great British Beer Festival doesn't have the likes of Lovibond's  and Meantime showcasing their superb beers to the public, but as I mentioned in a post a while back, the Great British Beer Festival is CAMRA's game and they can make the rules however they see fit.

However, it is clear that there is a market for a new national beer festival, one which embraces all of the beer made in Britain and Ireland, perhaps one that isn't tied to a given location every year? You could even call it the Festival of British and Irish Beer, one year in Birmingham, the next, Dublin, the third Glasgow and then on to Cardiff, travelling around the major cities of Britain and Ireland celebrating the national drink in all it's glory. Perhaps it could even take a leaf out of the Great American Beer Festival's book and not have any foreign beer whatsoever?

The point is, there is so much great beer being made in Britain and the near constant slanging match between the stalwarts of CAMRA and the acolytes of the new breed of brewers is not doing the industry any favours. Dividing the drinking community into "staid and boring" real ale drinkers and edgy young hipsters supping on craft beer in a bright shiny "bar" just leads to people drinking what they know and not furthering their knowledge of beer in general. Perhaps we all need to wise up and see each other not as enemies, but all on the same side in wanting better beer to be made available to the public.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Simply British

I was planning to write a piece today about being proud of British beer. Indeed, I have twice deleted entire posts because I thought the tone didn't do justice to how I feel about my home, and the beer that comes from those islands on the western edge of Europe. I don't do nationalism, I don't do jingoism, and for me, the SIBA video posted on Pete Brown's blog yesterday is neither of those things. As I said in the comments to that post, it was "a bloody magnficent video".

There are many good things about Britain and being British, not just our beer and breweries. Our sense of fair play, our sense of humour, our love of the simple pleasures in life - and really, what could be simpler, or better, than a pint of best, porter or mild in a comfortable pub?

I am convinced that one of the most insightful books on the British character is Bill Bryson's Notes From A Small Island. Though the context is slightly different, I think this section could well describe British beer as much as anything else:

"And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why so many of their treats - tea cakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsbury- are so cautiously flavorful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly.

"Oh, I shouldn't really," they say.

"Oh, go on," you prod encouragingly

"Well, just a small one then," they say and dartingly take a small one, and then get a look as if they have just done something terribly devilish. All this is completely alien to the American mind. To an American the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one's mouth more or less continuously. Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright. You may well say "Oh, I shouldn't really" if someone tells you to take a deep breath.

I used to be puzzled by the curious attitude of the British to pleasure, and that tireless, dogged optimism of theirs that allowed them to attach an upbeat turn of phrase to the direst inadequacies - "Mustn't grumble," "It makes a change," "You could do worse," "It's not much, but it's cheap and cheerful," "Well, it was quite nice" - but gradually I came around to their way of thinking and my life has never been happier."

Thinking about Monday's post, perhaps I will soak some fruit in stout and make rock cakes at the weekend.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Wish List

When I go to a bottle shop I am instinctively drawn to the British beer section, swiftly followed by the "European" section - I say "European" because you sometimes get the feeling that there are only 5 types of beer: American, British (usually with Irish beers included, though not mentioned specifically as "Irish"), Belgian, German and "European" or "Other". It is in the "European" sections that you find Czech lagers more often than not, although I have seen them in the German section, oh such delicious irony.

This habit got me wondering over the weekend about the breweries whose products I would love to see available in Virginia, assuming of course that they aren't already elsewhere in the US. So here, is my wish list:

Kout na ?umavě, as I have mentioned many times, make the best lager on the planet. End of story. Full stop. To achieve this magnificent feat of zythophilic engineering there is no imperialising, no india-ising (made up word I know, but you know what I mean), but making great beer using excellent local ingredients (sounds like a story I know from history...). I have heard rumour that someone is trying to bring it in to the States, so hopefully rapture is near indeed.

Leicestershire based Everards make honest to goodness superb ales. Again you won't be finding any imperial best india bitter shite going on here, but traditional British bitters and ales, superbly made. They bottle, to my knowledge, 3 of their line, Original, Beacon and Tiger. Don't just take my word for how good their beers are, see here, and here.

I have raved many times about Lovibonds on here, Jeff was the first Brewer of the Week and yes my Lovibonds glasses are my favourites. The best thing to put in a Lovibonds glass though would be a Lovibonds beer, in particular the Wheat Wine you see in the picture, or the Henley Dark. I can't comment on the 69 IPA, because you can't get it here - but if past experience is any guide, then I look forward to it when I am home in Blighty come this summer.

A Kentish brewery making a range of lovely drops of ale that in my opinion deserve a wider audience. You see that bottle of Timothy Taylor Landlord in the back of the picture there? I would love to find that in a Virginia bottle shop as well.

These are just some of the beers I would love to see available over here, and maybe some of the distributors are listening. I can think of a few other breweries that I would love to see over here, purely on reputation as I haven't actually had any of the beers, Hardknott springs to mind, as does Dungarvan. What beers would you like to see available where you live?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Brewing Some Thoughts

Having perhaps been a mite critical of All About Beer magazine this week, even though I do generally enjoy reading it, I feel I should balance that out by giving some praise to Brew Your Own magazine, which I also thoroughly enjoy - probably because it gives me loads of ideas about beers to brew and some technical brewing info to boot.

Take for example, this edition's featured beer style, dunkelweizen. I have enjoyed several dunkelweizens, usually at PK in Prague, but I am yet to brew one for myself, so a few recipes and a well written article describing the flavours and how it differs from a regular hefeweizen was well appreciated. Now all I need to do is work out my own recipe, which I have already decided to hop with the extra bag of Saaz I have in the fridge, and find a slot in my brewing schedule.

Also in the current BYO is an interview with James and Martin from BrewDog, which was interesting, but best of all some clone recipes for Punk IPA, Hardcore IPA and Rip Tide! So that's another couple of projects for slipping into the schedule, though I was kind of chuffed that my Machair Mor is somewhat similar already to Rip Tide, I use far more chocolate malt though and has a higher ABV. The recipe for Hardcore IPA looks like something I will try in the spring and leave to age for autumn.

The BrewDog article got me thinking about the difference between the US and UK brewing scenes, and how the experience of Prohibition is such a driving force here. Thankfully we never had Prohibition in the UK, our brewing industry has never been destroyed by fanatical religious folks on a crusade to make society better, though by "better" they usually mean, just like them. Post-Prohibition beer until the Craft Brew Revolution was simply awful from what I have heard from those older than me.

I am sure many of us have mixed feelings about CAMRA, but right now I am glad that they took a stand against the watering down of Britain's brewing traditions and laid the foundations for a growing independent brewing scene in the UK (I admit that is perhaps overstating their role). I wonder how many of the regional and independent brewers like and would have ended up as brands for InBev and the like without CAMRA re-igniting interest in cask ale?

I guess what I am trying to say is that Britain has centuries of brewing history and tradition that needs to be valued by beer lovers and praised by beer bloggers and writers, the likes of Everards and Fullers make beer that people, whether nerds or not, want to drink. It is great that BrewDog are opening people's horizons to American style IPAs, but we should never forget the great British beers that can be found up and down Great Britain, without CAMRA how many of them would still be around?

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...