20 Mar 2014

This Image Sums Up The Modern Beer Industry.

Sorry I have not posted in a while, technical hitch and laziness. From now on I'll just post big blog posts when I think  of them.

Yes, it's about craft/keg again.

The attached image is a marketing shot for a recently refurbished pub in Sheffield who have gone down the proper beer route while having a mostly student client base.

When this was spotted by a friend and uploaded to Facebook it almost went viral, in the many comments it seemed all out war would break out between the Craft Hipsters and Real Ale Twats.

If you can't see what all the fuss is about, I'll explain, this board shows 5 craft/keg beer options, all of high quality from outstanding breweries. The three Cask options are disappointing, one regional mass market brewer, a pleasant local session pale and a cider.

I tried to work out who would place these flimsy Cask options against those keg giants and it made my head hurt.

The problem here that really needs to be solved before keg wipes out cask is the lack of innovation. The top 5 beers are modern, forward thinking, innovative beers. The bottom 3 are mass market, boring and cider.

I'm not having a go at Real Ale here, if the cider was replaced by Great Heck Shankar IPA I'd be straight on that before any keg option on that list. Great Heck, to my knowledge, have never done keg beer but I have placed them up in my top 5 brewers. However, just over a year ago I would have ignored them as much as the Abbydale Moonshine on this list because (and the brewer himself said it to a friend of mine just the other night "My beers were shit") I thought they were dull.

Great Heck had the balls to admit their beer wasn't outstanding and then had the balls to change that, as well as re branding to match the quality of the beer. Many people now get very excited when they see the words 'Great Heck'.

They are proof that Real Ale still has it's place in bars, it just needs a kick up the arse now and then.

This brings me on something I'd like to see CAMRA do in a perfect world;

Stop fighting for the return of Mild, Mild May is coming up and I know my local beer festival will end with many a wasted barrel of Mild from the campaign to bring it back to watch it get poured away.

Sometimes it's good to break away from tradition, embrace the new, support innovation yet still serve it fresh from the wood. Keep Real Ale exciting.

27 Jan 2014

Best of Last Week.

It's Monday again and my day off so time to tell you the best booze I've had over the last week.

Camden - USA Unfiltered Hells Lager, 4.6% (Keg).

I keep hearing only bad things about Camden recently but I am very glad I went for half of the USA hopped version of Hells. Served on keg, unfiltered, it was just what every lager should taste like. In a world of half arsed, crap, boring lagers this tasted like a dream. Straight to the Top 5 lagers I have ever tasted but it will never beat BrewDog/8 Wired Dog Wired as the best lager I have ever tasted. But good effort Camden.

Tapped Brewing Co. - Mojo, 3.6% (Keg)

Another unfiltered keg from Sheffield Tap given as a free sample during the 100th brew celebration night. Packed with fresh tropical fruit flavours, untouched by fish guts it shines as a great session pale ale that I could happily drink on a hot day that we might get this summer, with any luck.

Marble - Earl Grey IPA, 6.8% (Bottle)

An incredibly strong aroma of Earl Grey that almost tricks you into just being really floral hops. With a slight sweetness that is quickly pushed out by a long dry finish.

Northern Monk - New World IPA, 6.2% (Bottle)

Stunning IPA and my first beer from Northern Monk, more of this sort of thing please.

That's it till next week, hope the beers are good.

I'll be back in the week when the writers blog has gone.

20 Jan 2014

Best of Last Week.

It's Monday again so time to let you all know about the best booze I have tasted in the last week.

Siren Craft Brewery - Whiskey Sour IPA, 10.2%

My first time drinking a beer from Siren so I went all out and spent over £6 on this special edition. They take their Lemoncello IPA and age it in a Bourbon Barrel as a tribute to the Whiskey Sour cocktail. An amazing mix of sweet and sour lemon with a hint of oak, smoke and Bourbon.

BrewDog - Old World India Pale Ale, 7.5%

BrewDog seem to have gone in a new direction with this Old World IPA and the (yet to be tasted) Imperial Russian Stout but they have pulled it off so well. Thick, smooth and full of amazing hop flavours, I was suprised to find it is fully English hopped. With beautiful art on the label of a 1800's sea adventure. If IPA's started like this then the East India Trading Company had it good! Sign me up!

Pressure Drop - Bosko IPA, 6.5%

Wonderful zesty grapefruit aromas and flavours lead to a morish dry and bitter finish.
Pressure Drop are a must try for pale ales.

Marble Beers - Lagonda IPA, 5%

No idea why I left it this long to try Marble but I'm glad this was my first beer from them. Straight into the top 5 beers of the year and it's only the 20th of Jan. I feel it will be hard to beat.

The Kernel Brewery - Double 4C, 9.6%

Too good to put into words, Kernel's Double IPA's are outstanding. A must try for hopheads.

Brixton Brewery - Reliance Pale Ale, 4.2%

Brixton Brewery are very quickly becoming my favourite London brewery, Reliance is everything a Pale Ale should be. Tropical fruit and zesty citrus on a very light malt base make for the perfect session beer.

Come back next monday for more!

15 Jan 2014

Don't Let Image Ruin Substance.

After my all out, shock tactic filled attack on The Real Ale Twats I feel it is time to talk about the problems that the craft industry is causing itself.

Image is important in business and life as a whole, it can make the difference between your product being bought or not. Your chances of your product entering Tesco and the like is next to none if you have the wrong image. In life image can lead to not getting the girl or not having the right friends. As humans we are shallow.

The problem with image is that anyone can create on, it only takes around 30 minutes with photoshop to make an eye catching label and a matter of weeks for a full rebrand on your business.

Craft beer has been about image from the start, look at the people who usually drink it;
Hipsters, Students, London and other city based young cool people. Sit in a 'trendy' bar like Craft in London, Friends of Ham in Leeds or Tap on Sheffield station and you will see this people. Fucking hell, I'm one of them. The nice leather shoes, the floral shirt with the blazer on top, an ironic and bright coloured winter hat.

Right now though I feel craft is letting image take over with substance coming second, it's even ending in fights between brewers (Weird Beard and BrewDog Vs. Camden over the naming of a beer was ugly the other week).

So let us start with BrewDog, the first hipsters on the UK beer scene, who started with a great image of pure Punk! Punk IPA standing out, Hardcore IPA at 9.2% ABV and many other beers that shock and grab headlines. But dumbing down beer and changing the name for the likes of Tesco? Causing a bigger issue than I did with CAMRA that many think was planned well in advance?

It doesn't quite all add up. Yeah, I'm a BrewDog shareholder, I try to taste every beer they make, I have met James Watt and I even own a bottle of Sink The Bismark to drink now and then. The reason? They make amazing beer and helped to launch the craft beer scene and make it what it is today. I don't think they have sold out as many do, they have just made clever business interests and grown up a little. The image, however, has not grown with them.

Camden Brewery is another who seem to have image and substance on very thin ice, the beers have never made me go 'wow' but I really did enjoy them. The image is modern and young, London based and hipster again. But they now use product placement in Jamie Oliver cooking shows and pick on much smaller breweries with a totally different image for using the word 'Camden' that they claim to own the rights to.

A new beer caught my eye a few weeks back, a screen printed bottle in Sheffield Tap with nice writing and an American brewer feel about it, it was pale and hoppy so I tried it. I liked it.
It turned out to be a new UK brewery. Since then I have found out it is run by an 'Art Director', a man all about image and grabbing attention. I had fallen for it, I've tasted it since and didn't like it quite as much. It is clear this brewer is going for a cool image because the craft beer industry is 'leading in it's sector'.

I fell for it. I'm part of the problem.

These days big brewers are all gaining craft wings. Brains, Thwaites and York Brewery being just three.

Will these beers have the same passion and honest intentions of other craft brewers? I bet not, I met a rep from York just the other day with her folder, iPad and marketing posters.

I love a good image when it comes to beer, just look at Brixton, Pressure Drop, Kernel, Great Heck, Magic Rock, Siren Craft, Bad Seed, Five Points all brewing incredible beers with incredible image.

When it comes to picking up your next beer just put a little research into it, check Rate Beer online to find out if what is inside the bottle is as good as what is on the outside.

A real, set in stone meaning for 'Craft' in the UK might be a good start too.

14 Jan 2014

Falling out over great beer

For as long as beer has existed it has been social, a talking point.
Sit in any pub across the country and you can expect a friendly chat over a pint, so to most people things look great in the beer world. We are all friends.

Infact, things within our beer culture can be much darker and seedier. I'm not talking about binge drinking, 'dryanuary' or even the smoking ban. It is much worse and goes back into the history of the launch of good old friendly CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale).

You see at one point, cask beer (Real Ale) was the only beer we could buy in our pubs. We had no other way to serve it. We had no choice until the 50's when keg started to appear and even then the tech didn't make it to the UK until the 60's.

Keg changed the UK beer scene in a way no one could ever expect and for a very long time. Publicans realised a cask would only last three days and what didn't sell you poured away at a loss. Keg was working out cheaper and less hassle. Publicans had no option with business interests in mind. Because of this thousands of UK microbreweries were forced to close and never brew a drop again. I wasn't around but I've heard plenty about how bad the quality of the keg and 'smooth flow' beers that were pasteurized, filtered and served using added gases were. The beer scene lay smashed at the foot of the bar like the victim of a drunken bar brawl.

It wasn't until CAMRA launched in the UK and started demanding better quality beer over 40 years ago that things started to improve. Over time microbreweries made a comeback and the UK was back on the map for great beer. Just recently the media reported that the UK is a top tourist spot for it's beer alone. John Smiths smooth is still one of the best selling beers here though so things are still not perfect.

The thing is, keg is back. The good news? It is being filled with amazing beers from award winning, record breaking breweries such as Magic Rock, Thornbridge, The Kernel and BrewDog.

"I wouldn't touch a keg beer, no matter what"

"Ohh god, not BrewDog"

Are just some of the things I have heard from people who say they love and fight for the best in the UK beer scene, total bollocks. These people are select memebers of CAMRA who often even refuse to enter a bar that serves keg beer.

Not all CAMRA members are the same, many of them drink and talk keg beer with me quite often and accept that the beer scene goes through these changes.

When the USA beer scene exploded the term 'craft' came into use. Craft is a meaningless term in the UK due to the way the USA judge a brewery to be craft or not so for this post we will say that craft is beer of high quality, unusual or bold flavours, passion, good ethics, an artistic focus on image and a scientific focus on brewing.

Many, if not all, of my favourite beer is what I would call craft beer. I'm even a BrewDog shareholder. Craft beer is stunning.

Yet many CAMRA members view craft as being worse than a well known leader who ordered the death of millions of Jews. Don't take that out of context please, it's a metaphor.

I now call these people 'The Real Ale Twats' after the feature in the adult comic, Viz.

One of the reasons could be personal taste with many craft beer styles being much more extreme than the usual real ale, but many people dislike cider and CAMRA have a whole spin off wing to support Real Cider. Why not great craft beer? It's beer after all?! And it tastes fucking amazing nine times out of ten, they just add a little gas and filter it. Most don't even use chemical filtering and many bottled craft beers are not filtered at all, pretty much Real Ale in a bottle. Plenty of Real Ale breweries do filter using chemicals such as one found in the swim bladders of fish.

CAMRA view Greene King and Marstons who do use these chemicals in their terrible, bland beers brewed to just make money by people in suits as quality beer, Greene King are closing something like 400 pubs this year and selling them to Tesco and others while The Kernel doesn't filter at all and the brewers still grow beards.

The reason I get so pissed off is the double standards they have, I said in my CAMRA article recently aimed at these people that what goes into a keg is often of higher quality with more passion with much more flavour.

Their is much more to this story and I shall be coming back to it very often.

In the meantime, I call for a new front. The Campaign for Quality beer. Where beers that meet strict rules on passion, ethics and quality will be fully supported and published in our Great Beer Guide.

Until next time keep your Greene King IPA, CAMRA. Make mine a Punk IPA.

13 Jan 2014

What I Drank Last Week.

Every Monday, I aim to tell you a little about the beer I enjoyed the week before in the hope that you will track them down and enjoy them too.

Moor Beer Co. - Raw
Style: Bitter
ABV: 4.5%

This one wasn't actually last week but it was so good I thought I'd tell you about it anyway.

The label described Raw as an uncompromising, stripped down Bitter. This caught my eye because I don't usually drink bitter, infact I almost find them boring, but this sounded much more exciting and it didn't let me down. A rich, smooth, full malt body perfectly leads to a satisfying bittersweet finish from the masses of hops used for dry hopping.

BrewDog - Brixton Porter
Style: Porter
ABV: 5%

Part of the Prototype 2013 range from BrewDog, if Brixton Porter wins (please!) It shall be brewed over and over again in 2014.

It's very rare that I drink darker beers, the odd Black IPA and maybe a few Whisky Barrel Aged Stouts when I can find them, but mostly I drink pale and hoppy IPA's. That is until I tasted this, from now on I shall not ignore the Porter style. A light but assertive body of roasted/toasted/coffee is backed up by lashings of hops and just enough bitterness to keep me coming back for more.

Crafty Dan - 13 Guns
Style: American IPA
ABV: 5.5%

Crafty Dan is better known as Daniel Thwaites, the founder of Thwaites brewery who's beers have never really had the 'wow' factor for me, these days they seem to be more about making money than making great beer as they have just started Craft Dan's Craft Brewery. Many of the UK's large Real Ale breweries are branching out into Craft beer as it becomes the latest fashion in the alcohol scene. I'll be honest, I was worried, I had this sinking feeling it would be all about the money and less knowledgeable people than myself could easily miss out on great craft beer by buying these in supermarkets and thinking they are the best.
I was wrong, 13 Guns shocked me by tasting how an American IPA should. I've had much better AIPA's but my expectations were beaten by miles.

Brixton - Electric IPA
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.5%

Again, this was before last week (it's my second ever post, deal with it) and it is worth shouting about. Brixton Brewery may soon become one of my favourite breweries with amazing beers and a great image. London is the world capital of Craft Beer in my eyes and you need to try this brewery.

So go out there and find these beers! Come back here and tell me what you think, was I right or wrong?

Visit again next monday for my top beers of the coming week, I'm off to Sheffield for a drink.

What Is Beer and How Do I Drink It?

Welcome to my blog.

For my first post I thought I would try a short guide on beer and how to enjoy it. You may think you know already but it really is a very complex subject.

What is beer?

Beer, in the most simple terms, is an alcoholic drink made from Water, Malted Grains (usually barley), Hops and Yeast with an ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of around 4.5% (but the ABV can range from 0.5% to almost 30%).

"I don't drink beer, I drink lager"

If you have ever said this then frankly you are just telling lies. The number of beer styles in the world is in the thousands from refreshing, light, crisp lagers to thick, heavy, warming stouts. Every style goes through the same basic process with differences in the type of ingredient used, for example an IPA (India Pale Ale) would use light coloured malts, lashings of hops to create a beer with fresh citrus/tropical fruit/floral flavours while a Porter would use roasted malts and less hops for rich roasted/coffee/earthy flavours.

"I don't like beer"

Now you are just being silly, that is like saying you don't like food. The amount of different flavours in different beer styles outnumbers any other alcoholic drink in the world, I promise there is a beer you will enjoy out there.

Common styles:

The most common styles of beer you will find in the UK are;

(In order of Colour - Lightest to Darkest)

Lager - (Fosters/Carling/Becks) Crisp, refreshing, light, floral, grassy.

Pale Ale/Blonde/Golden - (Acorn Barnsley Gold/Imperial Blonde) Crisp, dry, floral, citrus.

IPA - (Thornbridge Jaipur/BrewDog Punk IPA) Crisp, dry, bitter, citrus, tropical fruit.

Bitter - (Black Sheep/John Smiths) Smooth, light, easy drinking, nutty, floral, sweet.

Porter - (Kernel London 1890/BrewDog Alice Porter) Smooth, roasted, bittersweet.

Stout - (Guinness/Acorn Gorlovka) Heavy, rich, thick, warming, sweet.

How is beer served?

Beer can be served in many ways and the way a beer is served will even make a difference to the flavour, each style even has it's own type of glass but we won't get into that right now.

Cask - The beer is still 'alive' with active yeast and can be served straight from the cask with a tap or by using a beer machine (known as a handpump/handpull) without the use of Carbon Dioxide. This is known as 'Real Ale'

Keg - The beer is usually filtered and served using Carbon Dioxide (and sometimes a mix of Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen) to force the beer from the keg to your glass.

Bottle - The beer can be filtered or unfiltered and drank from the bottle or poured into a glass.

Can - Filtered and drank from the can or poured into a glass.

Temperature is also important, you wouldn't put red wine in the fridge, would you? Lager/pilsner/wheat beer should be around 4-8°C, Pale ale/blonde/IPA/Bitter around 8-12°C and Porter/Stout/Belgian Tripel/Vintage Ale around 12-16°C

"Can I chug it now?"

No! It might seem daft but beer fans like myself look at a pint the same way a wine taster would.

How to taste beer:

Sniff it - Take a few small sniffs from the glass and say out loud what you can smell.

Look at it - From the golden clarity of lager to the copper hue of bitter through to the dark, brooding, ruby-red edged stouts beer is a beautiful thing to look at and can help you judge the quality of your drink, however cloudiness isn't always a bad thing, many unfiltered beers will pour hazy so don't throw it away! More on quality later..

Now you can taste it - Take a sip, let it roll around your tongue. What do you taste? What about the mouthfeel? What do you like about it?

The Aftertaste - Don't taste anything else straight away, let it linger. How did it make you feel? Would you drink it again?


Taste is amazing. Think of a food you love, putting it in your mouth is enough to change your mood or bring back your childhood but tasting a bad beer is enough to make you never want to touch it again.

A good beer may have the following qualities (depending on the style) for you to enjoy; Ovaltine, Foral, Caramel, Spice, Chocolate, Clean, Bread, Wood, Pine, Earthy, Smoked Meat, Grapefruit, Heather, Mango, Apple, Pear Drop Sweets, Burnt Sugar, Citrus.

A bad beer may have the following qualities and should be poured away or taken back to the bar and replaced (Note: if a barman refuses to replace your pint then ask for his manager. If you still don't get a replacement then the pub doesn't deserve your money, walk out and if owned by a Pub Co like Wetherspoons then contact head office) damp cardboard, burnt rubber, rotten egg, vingar, cheese, butterscotch, baby sick, sweetcorn, tomato, harsh alcohol, chlorine or TCP, cider, sweat, metal.

So now you should know a little more about beer and why I love it so much, go on and buy some, treat yourself after work! But don't forget to check back soon for more on my favourite subject and rants about the seedy side of the beer world.

So my first post turned out to be a fairly long one. I hope you made it all the way through without getting bored, if so then thanks for reading and feel free to leave feedback in the comment section.