Monthly Archives: April 2014

Seven Sober Days

For a couple of weeks I had been plagued by toothache, which progressed into jaw ache/headache/neck ache so bad that I couldn’t go to work. After finally securing an emergency appointment with the dentist, he gave his grim prognosis: “Your wisdom tooth’s impacted and you have an infection. You need to take these antibiotics  and buy a medicated mouth wash. DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL.” Woe!

The course of antibiotics was five days, with 48 hours after that to allow them to leave my system. I think the last time I was sober for seven days straight was probably when I was about fifteen… This was going to be a challenge, but it was one that I would gladly face to stop the toothache.

Surprisingly, a few sulks aside, the first part of the week was relatively easy, even though I had a number of beers sitting in my fridge, calling to me in their siren voices… Friday night, however, was the biggest challenge. Behind the bar in the city centre, with Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s on tap. Bloody hell. We also had a number of beers on which I hadn’t tried before, so I lived vicariously through the tastebuds of my colleagues and got them to describe the beers to me. Absolutely torturous, as was Saturday night, when I had to sample a beer to check someone’s assertion that it was different than usual. Retreating to a dark corner, I used the wine tasting method – sipped, swilled, and spat. Heartbreaking. Staff drinks after those shifts were a bit of a trial too; I sat there nursing my energy drink and waiting for my lift while everyone around me was enjoying a well deserved beer. The Sunday evening was a long one; dinner with the in-laws. Lovely to see them and to be cooked for, of course, but it’s generally a pretty boozy occasion, and sipping flavoured water rather than the usual wine and pear cider which accompanies those dinners felt thoroughly unfair.

Finally the seven days of sobriety were over, and it was time to crack open a bottle. The beer chosen for this honour was De Molen Pale Ale Citra (4.8%), and my tasting notes were urgently scribbled in unusually florid language (review to follow soon). A week without hops is a long time! I thought I’d want to race through the beer, glugging it, but surprisingly I found myself treating it in a more restrained manner – it’s as though my palate had been re-set, with the hop bitterness being almost overwhelming at some points.

I might repeat this little exercise again in the future (hopefully without the pressing need for antibiotics to force me), as having that shock of bitterness actually make you sit up and take notice is a rare luxury for us hop-jaded craft wankers, and taking the hit of a few days without booze is well worth it.

ShinDigger Brewing Co: An Interview

If you’ve been out and about in Manchester recently, you might have already heard the name ShinDigger, or even got your hands on a pint or bottle of their Pacific Pale (4.5%). I picked up a bottle from The Epicurean on Simon‘s recommendation and, later that afternoon, I settled down and poured myself a glass; it was good! A lovely pale ale with beautiful aromas and lots of body, this is a beer I’d happily enjoy a few pints of. Last week, at The Dockyard in Media City, I grabbed a pint of Pacific and sat down with George and Paul, the guys behind ShinDigger, to find out what they’re all about.

shindigger pacific pale ale pump clip

So what’s the story – how did ShinDigger get started?
When we were living together as students at Manchester University in 2012, we decided to buy a home brew kit, basically with the intention of making very, very, cheap beer at a time when we were very, very, poor. The first few goes were a bit of a disaster, but after a while we got the hang of it, and started developing our own recipes. We got really into brewing and developed a passion for really hop forward, American styles, packing our brews full of flavour. Then our friends started to drink our beer and we started selling it at house parties. That’s when the first idea of an actual business was conceived – when we realised that our beer was actually good enough that people wanted to buy it, and would choose to drink it over a macro lager. The next step happened when Paul did an Enterprise masters at university, based around setting up your own business. We applied our craft beer dream to Paul’s degree and managed to get a loan from the Government start up loans scheme in Spring 2013, which gave us the capital to get things moving. 
 
Eventually we managed to find a micro brewery who were happy to let us brew there, as gypsy brewers. Outstanding Beers, based in Bury, had done contract brewing before, and they believed in us. We launched our first beer, Pacific Pale, in October 2013, initially on keg, then a cask batch, and as of last week it’s been bottled as well. We launched our second beer only about a month ago, but now we’re going to be able to release beers much more quickly. We’re launching our third beer at Stockport Beer Festival at the end of May, and after that, well, the first port of call is getting out the old home brew kit and testing some of our ideas; we’ve got plans for a black IPA and a rye beer. We want to end up with a spectrum of beers, so if you’re new to craft you can start off with something very light. We’re even planning on producing a good quality lager, infused with a subtle hint of lemon and lime.
 
polaroid style photo of shindigger brewers
 
What’s your favourite dispense method for your beer?
Definitely keg. It’s like a hybrid, you get the chilled and refreshing nature of lager combined with the flavour of ale; the best of both worlds, basically! Sometimes cask can be a little flat, a bit room temperature, and we’ve found that people tend to want a refreshing drink.

How many pubs, bars, and beer shops can we currently find ShinDigger in?
Beer shops are new to us, as we only started to bottle very recently; we’re in six or seven places. Our beer features as a guest in about fifty places at the moment, and that’s growing all the time. We’ve got about four permanent places where our beer is on all the time, otherwise bars tend to take a keg every week or so. We’re mainly based in the City Centre and Greater Manchester, although we have a few customers in Chester, one in Sheffield, and we’ve even had a keg in Liverpool quite recently, so we’re starting to spread our wings! Our biggest problem as gypsy brewers has always been meeting demand, so we’re currently focusing on supplying existing customers, rather than actively going out and selling. We’re brewing a lot of beer in a couple of weeks time, which will provide us with a platform to go out and talk to some new bars, rather than just keeping up supply to our existing customers.

How often are you in the brewery?
We’re there all the time, but not necessarily to brew. We’ll go along whenever we can to help out, muck in with their brews, drop off empties and chat about our new recipes. To actually brew our own beer, we’re in there about twice a month. It’s been really useful working with brewers who have more commercial experience than us; in a way, they’ve been mentors, giving us experienced advice about the beer industry. That’s been great for us. If anyone was considering starting a brewery, we’d advise them to start off as a gypsy brewer, as it lets you tap into the knowledge and experience of your established brewing partner. It’s a good process to go through.
 
brewer sits on pallet of bottles
 
What do you think about the term craft beer?
We think it makes sense. It basically describes any small brewer who’s independent and making good beer. We can see why people might not want to label it, but to us, it’s a quick and useful distinction. The problem with craft beer at the moment is that there’s a knowledge gap caused by its pretentious image. When they’re still new to good beer, people find it daunting to go to a bar and be faced with barrel-aged offerings when they want something light and easy. A very simple definition will give the average person on the street a base to work from, and hopefully that little bit of education will help break down the gap, filling in the grey area. We think that will only help push craft beer forward, helping casual drinkers to understand and embrace that side of things, which will allow the market to grow and flourish.

What are your favourite beers – and to descend even further into geekery, favourite hops?
Punk IPA has that really fruity, tropical flavour that we want in a beer, the same with Jaipur, Hawkshead IPA, and Beavertown Gamma Ray. They have this massive aromatic citrus punch on the nose, cramming in huge aromas; they must be dry hopping the shit out of them! In terms of hops, New Zealand has the edge over America; the tropical stuff like Nelson, with that huge passionfruit hit, although, Citra is a favourite of ours. Our West Coast IPA is straw coloured and packed with citrus-based hops, Citra, Cascade, Amarillo… It went down really well, so we’re about to spend loads of money on Citra to see us through to the next hop harvest!

Have any breweries particularly inspired you?
One brewery that’s been a massive influence for us is BrewDog. They’ve created a brand which reaches out to people who might not otherwise try craft beer. They aren’t just trying to be another craft beer brewery; they’re actively trying to get people who are drinking lager into craft beer, and that’s a big inspiration for us. That’s what we want to do. We feel there’s potential to get normal people who drink macro lager, put a craft beer in front of them, say “try this”, and they’ll enjoy it – so far, that’s been the case. 
 
One of the things that’s a big inspiration for us, more generally, is that we’re making beer, beer makes people happy, and we’d like to think that therefore, we’re making happiness. Our motto is “Enjoy the moment”. When you’re drinking a beer with your friends, you’re having a good time, and the fact that we’re part of that through creating a beer for that experience is enough to motivate us. We get up every day and do what we’re passionate about: making good beer. Our name, ShinDigger, embodies the ethos that beer is about having fun. Our goal is to get as many people as possible enjoying beer, and also enjoying the best possible beer for them. You could go to a pub and drink bland lager all night long, but why not have a good time with your friends, in the same environment, while drinking a really nice beer that’s been designed especially for you?
 
brewer at beer festival with casks
 
Are there any beer festivals you’re particularly excited about this year?
We unfortunately missed Craft Beer Rising this year, though we went in 2013. What we like about festivals like Craft Beer Rising and IndyMan is that they’re putting a new face on craft beer. For our generation, beer can sometimes be seen as an ‘old man’ drink, so this new type of beer festival with an urban vibe, DJs and street food is giving beer a more youthful image. Coming up, we’re looking forward to Stockport Beer Festival at the end of May, where we’ll be launching a new beer, and we’re doing the Allgates beer festival. We’re also really looking forward to Love Beer Festival at Dulcimer. Our first ever beer festival was the Love Beer festival in Chorlton last year, and the guys at Love Beer are getting a lot of really interesting beers in for this festival; our West Coast Pale Ale‘s going to be there. We only made ten casks of that, so it’s hard to get your hands on at the moment, though we’ll be brewing it again soon.
 
Moving away from beer festivals, we think it’s important for craft beer to have a presence at music and arts festivals. Our beer’s going to be at Fat Out Fest in Salford, which is a music, arts and culture festival, we’re going to be at Sounds From The Other City music festival, and we’re also going to have a presence in the VIP area at Parklife. With all of the light, refreshing, yet full-flavoured offerings available, we think there’s definitely space for craft beer to be a staple at festivals.  
I asked my Twitter followers what they would like to ask the guys, and below are a few of the questions I was sent.
 
How do you try to differentiate yourself when so many young craft breweries are hoppy pale, IPA, impy stout dependent? (From @SoHoptimistic)
We have a brand which is an extension of our own beliefs and values, and we put that in front of people. We aren’t trying to out-beer anyone, we aren’t trying to make the weirdest, coolest, most ‘craft’ product; all we do is make beer for people like ourselves. We’re making good, easy-drinking, fairly low ABV beer for people to enjoy with their friends in a beer garden.

Where is it important to stick with tradition, and where might it be important to break with tradition? (From @MagdaKnight)
We never try to brew in accordance with tradition, we just try and create the best possible quality product. That’s why we prefer to keg our beers, because we think that’s the way they taste best. We use New World hops, rather than English hops. When we started home brewing, we weren’t really paying attention to what others were doing, we were just doing it for ourselves. We aren’t too keen on paying attention to industry trends – we’re just trying to make the perfect beer for our generation.

Where do you see yourselves in 5, 10, 15 years time? (From @TotalCurtis)
We don’t want to give too much away right now, but a few things that spring to mind include: Owning our own brewery… Sticking with our ethos of getting people to enjoy the moment, and reaching out to more people… Oh, and more dry hopping!
 
shindigger logo

Cheers, chaps! You can get your mucky paws on a pint of ShinDigger at the Love Beer Fest at Dulcimer Bar in Chorlton over the Easter weekend (17th-21st April), or send the guys a tweet over at @ShinDiggerCraft. They also have a Facebook page, you know, if you still use that sort of thing, and a website where you can keep up with their blog.

Un-Human Cannonball Launch; Port Street Beer House

On the morning of Thursday 10th April 2014, one topic dominated my Twitter feed: The launch of Magic Rock‘s Un-Human Cannonball 2014, the second year of their annually brewed triple IPA. Magic Rock‘s online shop released their stash of bottles at 7AM. If reports are to be believed, it sold out in 18 minutes, with other online beer shops lucky enough to get the paws on some quickly following suit. Across the country, beer lovers sat at their computers, debit cards clutched tightly, some of them sipping coffee as they got ready to leave for work, some still pajama-clad, wiping sleep from their eyes. Twitter resounded with variations on “YES! Got a bottle!”, shortly turning to cries of lament and unprintable curses as latecomers missed out.
 
There was also a certain word bandied around a bit. All together now, kids: “Hype!” Absolutely, there definitely was a frisson of excitement running through the Twittersphere, and do you know what? I loved it. We’re all part of this community because we’re seriously into beer, and it’s wonderful to see people getting psyched up about something they care about. I enjoy looking forward to trying a beer for the first time, especially one which has been well-received or has a particularly good pedigree; when I found out I was finally going to get to try Siren Limoncello, a beer I hadn’t previously been able to get my hands on, I couldn’t wait! To see people caught up in happy anticipation was just lovely, especially when that anticipation included the prospect of an evening in the pub, or a Twitter tasting, with people who were excited about the same thing.
 
These 7 AM bottle purchasing shenanigans were a bit early in the day for me, but I didn’t have to worry about missing out, as I live in one of the two cities where an official launch was going down later that afternoon/evening. The lucky sods who congregated at the Craft Beer Co, Islington, were able to get stuck into their beer at 4pm, but those of us in Manchester anxiously waited in the Port Street Beer House until 7pm and the Northern launch. This was the first time I had ever regretted moving away from London! Not to worry, Port Street had some wonderful beers lined up – as always – which kept us more than happy until that long-awaited hour. Special mention must go to The Celt Experience Nano (4.3%), a delightfully quaffable Berliner Weisse which I necked a pint of upon arrival, and Kernel Amarillo Pale Ale (5.3%). The Amarillo proved a firm favourite with our merry band of beer geeks, which included Steph, aka Mean Miss Mustard: veggie food blogger extraordinaire and Duty Manager at BrewDog Mancs, who has kindly offered to share a few thoughts about, and photos of, the launch with you lucky buggers.
 
Chatting with friends, the minutes whizzed by, and before we knew it, a sizeable crowd had congregated in the bar while the Magic Rock boys gave us a little intro to the beer, and told us what they’d done differently this year. It’s a little lighter in colour and ABV (11% rather than 12%), they’ve used half Pilsner malts, and dry hopped it seven times over the course of two weeks. Despite the masses of dry hopping, this year’s batch is clear, rather than crazy hazy. Soon the bar staff were dispensing thirds and halves to eagerly waiting hands, and, at only £5.50 a half or somewhere in the region of £3.60 for a third, my faint misgivings about being away from London were firmly quashed!
 
glasses of unhuman cannonball on table at port street beer house
Photo courtesy of Mean Miss Mustard
 
And as for how the beer actually went down? For that, I’ll turn you over to Steph:
 
“For an 11% IIIPA this is incredibly drinkable, maybe too much so for my self. For 11% and the hype of a triple IPA I want to be hit in the face with hop bitterness then slowly burned with a sweet alcohol aftertaste. However, Magic Rock are describing it as having gravity defying drinkability, so clearly we were after two different trips on this one.
 
Flavour wise it had a lovely tropical almost citrusy flavour too it and subtle hint of pine. I detected very little sweetness in comparison to most other imperial IPAs, but I’m pretty sure this was what Magic Rock were intending. As tasty as it is I think the marketing of it may be a little adjective heavy, I didn’t detect massive aromas or deep tropical fruit flavour.
 
All in all I was pretty pleased with the offering, it has the tropical hop fruitiness that I love and has avoided being cloying sweet. I’d happily drink more regularly if it was a regular brew so didn’t have the price tag of an annual product. I’m happy to pay around £5.50 for a half pint but for that I want to be wooed, wowed and left slightly taste bud wounded.”

Damn right. I found it dangerously quaffable, though like Steph I prefer my big IPAs to be slightly more bitter. We’re jaded IBU fiends, though. My decidedly non-beer geek partner also liked it, describing the taste as ‘undiluted orange squash’..! I’d like to try this in a bottle, but I think most of them have been snapped up by now. Never mind – there’ll be some more next year! All in all, a very tasty beer, and a great sense of camaraderie surrounding it.

You can
check out more photos from the night over at Steph’s blog. Of course, while we were savouring our first sips of this year’s Un-Human Cannonball, those London types had already been drinking it for three hours. Steve from The Beer O’ Clock Show tells all here…

Thanks to Steph for her contribution to this post and her fancy camera work! Head on over to Mean Miss Mustard for recipes (Gin and Tonic cake, anyone? It’s bloody good!), reviews, and a fair bit of booze.
Massive thanks also go to Steve of The Beer O’ Clock Show, who came up with the idea for a blogger collaboration covering both the London and Manchester launches. It’s been a pleasure telling our slightly sozzled story alongside you. Cheers, and here’s to next year!

New Beer Shop: The Epicurean

writing on the wall 'The Epicurean - a place devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that derived from fine ales'

Once upon a time, I lived above a pub. Then I moved to Brixton, where the Craft Beer Co was five minutes from my front door. When I moved to Manchester last year, one of my main criteria for flat-hunting was the close proximity of good beer; luckily, I discovered Burton Road, and on it, Mary and Archie. The availability of craft beer on the Road soon became even better with the opening of Volta, from the people behind Chorlton’s Electrik, who always have a good little range of ales and lagers. Then, to my joy, The Epicurean landed.

I must say, I love a good beer shop. There’s just something about being surrounded by all of those varied bottles of delicious beer that makes me happy. Burton Roadites had previously been able to buy a few select bottles of decent ale from the wonderful Reserve Wines, but the Road had really been crying out for a craft beer shop. Enter Simon and Rob!

The Epicurean shop front on Burton Road, West Didsbury

These two beer lovers have gone with an elegant, minimalist aesthetic for their shop front, embracing the scene’s move away from old-school design and towards something far more stylish. But don’t worry, lovers of rustic chic – they’ve got comforting wooden shelves and crates of German beer stacked around the place, striking a nice balance between tradition and sleek modernity. This balance is reflected in the beers they stock – you can pick up all of your old favourites, from Timothy Taylor’s Landlord to Paulaner, while also choosing from a range which would get the hearts of hop-fiend beer nerds racing. Founders Centennial in cans, limited bottles of Burning Sky‘s Saison a la Provision, or a Pacific Pale from new kids on the block ShinDigger, anyone? Brilliant British beer, local ale, hop forward Americana, German lager, Belgian beer, Welsh cider, sweet fruit-flavoured beer, homemade pies, salted caramel, cordials… There’s something here for every palate.

stacks of german beersshelves of british beer bottles

I’ve picked up a fair few beers from here in the last week, my favourites so far being Siren, Omnipollo and Lindqvist Nacken (6.4%) – read the story behind this beer here - and ShinDigger Pacific Pale Ale (4.5%), who I interviewed recently.

sign saying 'over 220 beers in stock, if you can't find what you like, tell us, and we'll do our best to get it... find us on facebook and twitter'

The Epicurean has only been open for a couple of weeks, but already it feels like it’s been on the Road forever. We’ve already seen a couple of meet the brewer events go on at the shop, featuring brewers such as Geipel and Tickety Brew, and a little bird tells me that there are going to be many more, so if you want to meet the people behind the beer in a chilled atmosphere, keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook for upcoming events. Simon and Rob really do care about providing people with great beer, and, as the sign says, if you particularly want something that they don’t have, they’ll do their best to get their hands on it. You can’t say fairer than that. Cheers!

Traitor!

I feel like I should come clean. I care about you deeply, but can’t keep up the facade anymore. I’ll understand if you hate me… I’ve been… I’ve been writing about other beverages. 

You may have noticed on Twitter or Facebook, but recently I’ve done a few guest posts for Drinks Enthusiast, and I’m absolutely loving it! It’s been a challenge, but a fun one. I promised myself that this year I would start to branch out into understanding spirits and wine better – not at the expense of beer, gods no, I love beer and beer writing more and more every day – but it’s always nice to expand one’s horizons.

So that’s what I’ve been up to! Don’t worry, there’s more beer coming soon, I promise.

C’mon honey, don’t stay mad.