The night before the Great British Beer Festival, The Hope in Carshalton held their London Showcase, as part of the London Beer City celebrations. Featuring a wide range of breweries from the London Brewers’ Alliance, the idea was to throw the spotlight on some of the excellent beers that one wouldn’t be able to find at GBBF; beers such as Clarence and Fredericks Cascadian Blackberry, Redemption Little Chief, London Fields Grapefruit Dead, Kernel Simcoe Citra 366, Beavertown Gamma Ray, and Five Points IPA.
Having spent five hours that day travelling on the coach down to London from Manchester, I was desperate for something pale, citrussy, and refreshing, so plumped for Redemption Tropical Trinity: a fruity version of their 3% pale, dry hopped and brewed with mango and pineapple especially for the festival, followed by Brodie’s Kiwi, full of NZ hops. Moving on to something slightly stronger, I decided to give Pressure Drop’s Pale Fire another go. Between six months and a year ago (I believe), I tried a bottle of it in The Font, Fallowfield, and to be honest it tasted like not-terribly-accomplished homebrew. However, Pressure Drop have developed marvellously, and now make some rather good beer. Pale Fire is a full bodied, well balanced, and eminently quaffable pale ale, which I’ll be looking forward to drinking more of in future. My beer of the showcase, however, has to go to Brodie’s London Sour (Redcurrant). Mouthpuckeringly sour, clean, refreshing, and full of tart fruit flavour, I couldn’t get enough of it, and would have happily sipped my way through pints and pints of it over the evening if I hadn’t had a huge list of other beers to explore. I certainly came back to it when I returned to The Hope a couple of days later. Sitting in a suburban pub conservatory, sipping London Sour, watching the weather change and catching my breath in amongst the hustle and bustle of London Beer City; the perfect accompaniment to the eye of the storm.
Ah, the Great British (Cask Conditioned) Beer Festival. Trade Day is always an excellent chance to catch up with far-flung friends, meet new folk, and do a bit of beer-celebrity spotting. This year was no exception; many names and faces were matched to profile photos and Twitter handles, and firm friendships forged in the seas of ale.
Arriving bright and early, I bumped into Suzy the Pub Geek (@lincolnpubgeek) and, our Press Passes securely pinned dickheadishly to our tops, we did a circuit of the festival. Glancing at the beers listed above each of the bars, I made a few mental notes as to what I might try later, but nothing was grabbing me. Suzy nabbed a Fownes Frosthammer, brewed by a pal of hers, but I was still feeling uninspired. “Fuck it,” I sighed, “let’s gravitate to the American bar”.
A cheerful volunteer took one look at us and asked if we’d like to try something sour. Big smiles now: “YES PLEASE!” It transpired that he’d been half-joking, hating the style himself, but we were happy, and my stemmed third glass soon contained the first beer of the day: Single Hop Sour, from Fate Brewing Company in Arizona, a kettle-soured wheat beer with El Dorado hops. Light, tart, and lemony, it was a pleasant way to begin the session. I hear that Fate also brew a Cucumber Single Hop Sour, which I am rather desperate to get my hands on…
Sipping our beers, we soon spotted some of the regular crew, and joined them. This seating area by the American bar swiftly became known as ‘The Craft Wanker Table’/’Craft Wanker Corner’, a veritable who’s who of brewers, bloggers, pub/bar people, and various other beer nerds. When traversing the festival, acquaintances would spot each other, “Hello! How are you? See you at the craft wanker table? Yes? Good”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people I like and respect all together in one space, and the atmosphere of cheer and camaraderie was genuinely uplifting. The next beer I chose was R&D Dry-hopped Pale, by Ninkasi Brewing Company in Oregon. Clean, clear as a bell, with masses of grapefruit, the primary word I’d use to describe this beer is ‘fresh’.
Wandering away from the craft wanker table in a bid to find the delegation from The Hope, Carshalton, and Cobbett’s Real Ales in Dorking, I grabbed a glass of Hogsback and Andy Parker (@tabamatu)’s Collaboration: Cascade, Centennial, and robust malts. Eventually I found my crew ensconced on the practically deserted upper level – at this point, few people had braved the climb up the stairs. After a few disparaging remarks about the festival programme’s Tesco adverts in counterpoint to the prominent ‘Pubs Matter’ displays placed in the hall decrying the conversion of pubs to other uses such as, er, supermarkets, for example, the 110 (at least) new Tescos converted from pubs since January 2012, we felt the need for another drink, and made our way to the German and Belgian bars.
Unfortunately the keg set-up on the Belgian bar wasn’t working, and nobody we asked throughout the session seemed to know when they would be on. The German bar it was, then, and a Schneider-Weisse Tap 4 went down nicely. Passing the T-shirt stall which seems to do the round of CAMRA festivals, I noticed that nobody had bothered to ask the stall owner to remove the vest tops with “Designated area of outstanding natural beauty” and “Weapons of mass distraction” emblazoned over the tit area. Now, I know there’s no malicious intent here, but those items being on sale at a beer festival just doesn’t sit well with me. At a small branch festival, that sort of oversight is forgivable, but at the flagship national festival, you can’t be seen to be condoning the objectification of women. By allowing those t-shirt designs to be displayed, you’re sending a message to the women present that you don’t care if they are made uncomfortable, and you’re helping to reinforce the stereotype that CAMRA consists of sexist old men. It’s unfair to your members, and alienating to your potential members.
But this was a minor unpleasantness in an otherwise delightful day, and who knows, maybe nobody who can do anything about it has actually ever looked in detail at the t-shirt designs on offer. At any rate, it was almost time for the announcement of the Champion Beer of Britain, so I decided to do what I do best, and live tweet the whole thing. The announcement was considerably delayed, and at one point the assembled crowd started booing, to mine and Suzy’s bafflement. Was this a jokey ritual? Perhaps the booing was ironic?
Eventually the announcements were made. Gold in the Mild category went to Bank Top Dark Mild – not one I’ve tried, but it’s from Bolton, so I’m sure I’ll see it around up here soon. Gold in the Bitter category went to Timothy Taylors Boltmaker. I’ve found Timothy Taylors beers in general to be pretty dull, with Landlord being the best of the bunch, and I tried Boltmaker back when it was called Best Bitter: fine, but bit bland. Gold in the Best Bitter category went to Salopian Darwin’s Origin. I like Salopian, and think they make solid beers. I’ll be trying this if I see it. Gold in the Golden Ales category went to Oakham Citra, a good go-to beer, and well deserved. Gold in the Strong Bitter category went to Church End Fallen Angel; another brewery I’m not familiar with. Gold in the Speciality category went to Saltaire Triple Chocaholic, which I haven’t had for a couple of years but remember as being tasty enough. Another Chocolate beer won Gold in the Real Ale in a Bottle category, with Marble Chocolate – a big seller at The Epicurean up here in Didsbury.
The overall Champion Beer of Britain Bronze went to Salopian Darwin’s Origin, Silver to Oakham Citra, and Gold to Timothy Taylors Boltmaker. Once again, the general consensus amongst the assembled crowd seemed to be that Boltmaker was, in fact, rather dull. It reminded me of attending in 2011, when Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde was declared the Champion Beer of Britain. Considering that some of the best breweries in Britain didn’t even have a presence at GBBF, I shouldn’t be surprised by these outcomes. This isn’t to cast aspersions on the beer, the brewers, or the judges. Boltmaker isn’t bad, it just isn’t the best bitter in Britain, let alone the best beer. Getting Bruce Dickinson on stage to make the announcement was a nice touch, though; I haven’t tried Trooper yet, but you can’t beat a bit of Iron Maiden.
We legged it back to Craft Wanker Corner to break the news about Boltmaker, and to further explore the offerings from the American bar. After this point in the afternoon, my Untappd check-ins become less consistent; there were too many people to talk to, too much beer to enjoy. Franklin’s Brewery Psychedelic Smokehouse, from Maryland, was something rather special, being a smoked sour brewed with Copper Fox Mesquite-smoked malt. Smoked cheese wafts up from the glass, an insistent presence, while still being light and tart on the palate. Of all the beers I drank at GBBF, this is the one I’ve been craving in the days after… If anyone knows how I might get my grubby mitts on some more, please do drop me a line!
Other honourable mentions go to Dark Star NHA, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Lagunitas Maximus, and De Molen Hemel & Aarde Octomore. As ever, though, the real joy of the day came from the people. It’s always wonderful to catch up with friends old and new, and I look forward to seeing everyone at IndyMan. It’s going to be a blast.
Many of us who love beer record what we drink, in one way or another. Some review beers via video, some take photos, some make lists (Untappd: the acceptable face of beer ticking), and some write.
I find that writing about beer crystallises the experience, making you consciously analyse and put into words the feelings that are as yet a blur of unidentified aromas, flavours waiting to be named, and memories lurking just beyond your grasp. Memories which, when they are recorded, make up my favourite type of beer writing: concerning moments personal and precious to the writer.
Just as a beer can conjure up memories of people and places past, these pieces take me back to long, slow afternoons drinking and de-constructing good beer in dear company; to the serene moments spent in quiet contemplation, when your pint isn’t an object of scrutiny but is instead your companion in solitude; to the frantic bustle and noise and heat of a festival as you work your way through a whirlwind of different tastes and end up wildly off piste, veering away from your meticulously marked programme and towards a viscous, inappropriate barley wine while clutching in your other hand a smartingly hot but sorely needed pasty; until I can no longer quite recall if the memories are mine or theirs, and I’m filled with wanderlust, nostalgia, and inevitably, thirst.
That’s what captivates me, and and what keeps me writing. New places, experiences, whether unusual or utterly humdrum, and the tales we turn them in to. “What I did on my holidays” can be transportive. To live, and record, something ephemeral, and to have somebody else understand what you mean, how you felt, and recall moments and beers dear to them… It’s almost as good as drinking the stuff.
At the moment, Booths are holding their annual beer and cider festival, which runs from 18th June – 15th July. As part of this event, they’ve had four beers brewed especially for them by relatively local breweries, one from each of the counties they have shops in (Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, and Yorkshire), and are holding weekly Twitter tastings of these beers using the hashtag #BoothsCheers. Despite not getting my act together in time to join in with the hashtag, I thought I’d better give them a go, and so Sunday afternoon saw me nipping into Booths Knutsford on the way over to visit the chap’s folks in Cheshire. Knutsford’s beer selection seemed even more extensive than Media City’s, but I’d arrived at the shop with roughly eight minutes before they closed for the day, so I grabbed my four Booths beers and made my way to the check out. High praise goes to their staff, who are always exceptionally polite and pleasant, even with the shop about to close and queues of people crowding the checkouts.
As for the beers… Well, I enjoyed the Hawkshead BIPA (5.6%), and Tatton Golden Ale (4.5%) had a decent depth to it, but Ilkley Summer Ale (4%) and Lancaster Lemongrass Ale (also 4%) didn’t quite do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, well made, did what they said on the label, but I just wasn’t that into them. Personal preferences aside, I do think that it’s important to praise a supermarket for caring about the range of good beer they offer. Booths have been using Twitter to get people involved in what they are drinking, sparking discussions about flavour, asking for food pairing suggestions, and even posting Tweets about the brewing process. Often, good beer is merely paid lip service by supermarkets as it’s not as widely popular as mass produced, stack-’em-high knock-’em-back mainstream lagers, so it’s great to see a retailer working with local breweries and getting their customers to really engage with the outcome. Beer is a wonderful thing, and to see a supermarket not only curating a thoughtful selection, but actively celebrating it, makes me very happy. I’m looking forward to my next visit to Booths, and the prospect of coming home with bags full of bottles – and of course, some cheeses to pair them with.
There have been a couple of other recent blog posts about Booths from local beer bloggers: Connor of Beer Battered visited as part of his supermarket ale trail, and Jim from Beers Manchester also took a trip over to Media City.
Gonzo, oh, Gonzo. I can’t quite remember when I discovered you – it was probably in my first year at university. I remember finding you on tap at North Bar once and being PSYCHED, despite you being rather pricey. To my (faulty) memory, you may have been about a fiver a half… In the days before the craft boom really, um, boomed, this was quite expensive, and caused me to inadvertently jokingly tell a university bursaries officer that I primarily spend my student bursary on beer. In my defence, they were sitting at the bar, and chimed in when I told the conscientious bartender that the price per half was ‘fine’. “Fine?” they remarked, “Fine?”, and I smiled sweetly, told them that it was a marvellous beer, imported, and I was more than happy to pay the price: after all, that was what my Leeds bursary was for. Their mate cracked up, before the chap told me, slightly awkwardly, that he was a bursaries officer. Luckily, not at my uni..!
Student hijinks aside, this beer is a beautiful creature. Dark chocolate, freshly cut grass hops, soft spice, deep coffee, just gorgeously intense; everything I want from a dark beer, turned up to 11. I’ve tried so many imperial dark bastards over the years, and I keep coming back to Gonzo. There’s something a bit magical in that aroma, intriguing in that sip; it’s just so quaffable, which is seriously bloody dangerous at 9.2%. Most of Flying Dog, I can take or leave – although, late last year there was a very tasty batch of Raging Bitch knocking around – but this beer has been consistently marvellous. I love it. You should drink it.
Ah, Northern Monk Brew Co: yet another reason to love the wonderful city that is Leeds. Finally based in a proper home after months of being nomads, they’ve settled down to brew in an old flax mill near the train station. Soon, they’ll be opening up their tap room and bottle shop on site; when their doors open in the autumn, I will make the pilgrimage across the hills to drink their beer at the source. At the moment, the offering is still small but perfectly formed: New World IPA, at 6.2%, and Strannik, their 9% Imperial Stout.
I’d heard great things about Strannik, though I hadn’t yet managed to get my hands on a bottle, and when I heard that NMBCo had collaborated with Lauden Chocolate to create Strannik truffles, my mouth started watering. These were being sold, alongside the beer, at the Leeds Food Festival: always a fantastic event, which I was gutted to be missing. Imagine my delight when the babes at NMBCo and Lauden offered to send me over a little present so I could try out the pairing for myself!
Dark as Charlie Brooker’s humour, as the aroma from this thick, viscous beastie wafts up from the glass, you’re hit with big, boozy raisins and strong coffee; rum and raisin affogato. This alcohol-drenched dried fruit character continues as you sip, pursued by an insistent charred savouriness, and the rich bitter coffee is brightened by sour grape skins and hedgerow hops. Long, dry espresso lingers on the palate.
Paired with the suitably beery dark chocolate, the focus on Strannik’s hop profile sharpens, and as the rich creaminess of the truffles lingers on your tongue, the stout provides a deep, earthy counterpart, with hints of dark fruits. The intense dark chocolate truffle bitterness compliments the roasted coffee of the beer, with the fresh nettle hops cutting a swathe through the luxurious, silky mouthfeel to prevent this pairing from becoming cloying. It’s a decadent experience, and the two elements elevate each other. Apart, you have a magnificent Imperial Stout and some yummy chocolates, but together, they sing, hitting notes they couldn’t reach alone. A glorious collaboration, and one I hope to see repeated; it’d make a great gift set, and I know a number of people who deserve a bit of beery luxury! Thank you to Northern Monk Brew Co and Lauden Chocolate for sending these over for me to sample. Cheers.
On the first day of June, glorious sunshine beamed down on us, causing thoughts of beer gardens and country walks to embed themselves firmly in the front of our minds. As luck would have it, I was ideally placed to take advantage of such seasonal weather: I was staying near RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk coast, some 250 miles from Manchester.
As a reserve, Minsmere covers an extensive area, encompassing woodland, reedy marshes full of booming bitterns, fields containing the ruins of an ancient chapel and roaming Konik ponies, a coast dotted with WWII anti-tank defences… It was a fascinating and beautiful place to spend a summers’ day, spotting newts, woolly bear caterpillars, and listening to birdsong, but once three o’clock hit, I started getting thirsty. The one drawback? You’ve guessed it – no beer. I know, I really should have packed a can or two of Founders All Day IPA in a cool box; an amateur mistake! Luckily my lack of foresight was not calamitous, as just down the road from the reserve, less than half an hour’s womble away along wooded lanes, lay a little Adnams pub: The Eels Foot Inn.
The Eels Foot is a proper traditional country pub, with Southwold Bitter, Ghost Ship, Broadside, Gunhill, and Fat Sprat gracing the hand pumps – the latter two, seasonal specials. The cider drinkers, or should I say, cyder drinkers, can go for locally produced Aspall. The floor is bare, and the walls are white, with a few old paintings and quirky touches – the Springwatch team, who adopted this as their local during their time at Minsmere, were invited to sign the ceiling. There is a telly in the pub, but, while we were there at least, it was showing the Springwatch camera feeds on the Red Button. Outside, the massive grassy garden area is dotted with benches, and patrolled by large fluffy chickens. On an afternoon when I had stopped off at the pub on the way to the reserve, alone, one of these large fluffy chickens decided that I looked lonely (or that I might have food), and took it upon itself to sit on the other side of the bench while I finished my pint.
Ah yes, my pint. I feel that at this point, I must put up my hands and admit that I didn’t have particularly high hopes. I had vague memories of trying an Adnams beer somewhere, years ago, and being unmoved. Despite the high praise in the Twittersphere for Ghost Ship, the prospect of a relatively traditional beer didn’t get me excited – after all, it won’t have 200,000 IBUs, be barrel-aged on Mars, or cause my face to pucker in on itself until I look like Homer Simpson eating the sourest sweet in the world.
But I’m always up for exploring local beer, and I love a good country pub, so The Eels Foot and Adnams it was. I plumped for a pint of the Fat Sprat, a 3.8% ‘amber’ summer special. Well, there was some wonderful citrus going on alongside a gorgeous, crisp, spicy vibe, and I fell in love a little, but I suspected that after an hour’s walk in the blazing sun along Suffolk B-roads, I might not be particularly objective. Who was it who said that the best beer in the world is the one in your hand? At any rate, recuperating in the shade of a bright blue Adnams umbrella, I finished that pint in roughly seven minutes, and followed it with a half of Ghost Ship – which, while nice enough, didn’t do it for me in the same way.
Returning to the pub at ten o’clock that night with my partner after filming (if you watched last Monday’s Springwatch Unsprung, you may have spotted a chubby pale figure in the audience, haunting the studio like the ghost of a hipster: my 15 seconds of fame!), some of the crew were already there, enjoying pints of Ghost Ship after a long day. I went back to the Fat Sprat, to see if it still tasted good to me. It did. That slight spice mingling with the light citrus made it relentlessly quaffable, and I’m rather tempted to order a ‘mini-cask’ of it for the summer evenings. Speaking of temptation, behind the bar there were Adnams spirits. I didn’t know that they had a distillery, but will take the next chance I get to sample some of their gins, although I’m not so sure that I’ll be trying ‘The Spirit of Broadside’, distilled from – well, what do you think? – Broadside! Beer-spirits have yet to convince me, though they might be better actually distilled than freeze-distilled; if the brewer isn’t concerned with it remaining a ‘beer’, they may have more scope.
The Eels Foot was lovely, but a bit far from our cottage to really be convenient for more than one pint. Fortunately, there was another Adnams pub which was a little easier for us to get to. To be more precise, it was a three minute stroll down the road… The Bell Inn stands near a church which tolls the hours out across the surrounding countryside. Another traditional building, this pub still has two doors, labelled ‘Public Bar’ and ‘Lounge Bar’. Although the ‘Lounge Bar’ door now leads to the pub’s little restaurant, the ‘Public Bar’ was everything I hoped it would be. Bare wooden floorboards, awards and local notices on the walls, and, charmingly, beer served via gravity dispense, something I haven’t seen outside of beer festivals for quite a while. There are also a few little metal plaques set into the floor, inscribed with names and dates. When I asked the landlord about them, he told us that they mark where regulars have fallen over. Ace.
I had chosen a half of Southwold Bitter to start on, but after sipping the half of Ghost Ship my partner had gone for, we both decided to move on to pints of the latter for the next round. Full of flavour and depth, I finally understood what the hype was about. I don’t know what was different about Ghost Ship at The Bell compared to at The Eels – perhaps it was the fact that it was on gravity, it could have been because I’d tried it after a beer made with Fuggles, rather than one made with Cascade, or maybe we were just lucky and caught it at the peak of its condition – but it was a really enjoyable pint. Not to cast any aspersions on The Eels at all, their beer was, of course, very well-kept. My partner agreed that the Ghost Ship at The Bell seemed more full-bodied, but taste is so susceptible to the power of suggestion, I can’t really take that as any strong indicator that my feelings were correct. Oh, the joy of cask!
“Like wine, beer is beginning to interest a far wider audience. Unusual imports… “boutique beers”… specialities… traditional ales… the renaissance extends from Europe to North America, to Japan and Australia. Hundreds of new, speciality beers are being produced by scores of new breweries.”
- Inside the front cover of Michael Jackson’s The New World Guide to Beer, 1988.
I often have dreams about beer, in which I encounter rare, exciting new creations and collaborations, or weird methods of dispense (such as beer-gel sachets which you mix into water). More often than not, though, my beery dreams are about missing out: A while ago, I dreamt that I was in a Wetherspoons but there were no Sixpoint cans left, and so I had to drink Punk IPA instead. Despite the fact that I don’t mind Punk, in my dream this was a harrowing moment.
Last night, I had what I believe was the most in-depth and ridiculous dream yet. I was at some sort of huge role-playing festival in the grounds of a country house, where there was a typically ‘craft’, starkly decorated, stripped-back beer bar. There were many hand pumps on the concrete bar, and the pump clips adorning them bore pictures of Pokémon. Now, as any nineties kid knows, the Pokémon motto is ‘Gotta catch ‘em all’, in order to become a Pokémon master. The Pokémon featured on the pump clips were the legendary bird-types, which are hard to find, relatively difficult to catch, and those who obtain them are respected. Parallels with the activities of tickers are immediately obvious.
I wanted to try all of the beers on the bar, but was nervous about carrying a flight without spilling it, so I decided to work my way across, two thirds at a time. The member of bar staff wouldn’t give me third glasses, and instead dispensed my beers into champagne flutes. I was also handed a mandatory plate of weird and wonderful street food, which HAD to be paired with the beers, whether you liked it or not (my subconscious clearly thinks I’m a Comment Is Free writer and decided to go all-in with ripping the piss out of the craft scene).
One of the beers was Magic Rock’s Circus of Sour White Wine Lychee, (in my waking life, I had wanted to try this at BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush last weekend, but wasn’t able to be in London) and the other – well, I knew it was some sort of pink special edition fruit infused barrel aged something or other, but couldn’t remember what, and this fact distressed me greatly. Just asking the bar staff didn’t cross my mind. At this point in my dream, I wandered off somewhere else, and when I eventually came back to the beers, they had of course gone, with no chance of obtaining any more.
I woke up feeling rather off-kilter! I think that, having read Brew Britannia, and written it up yesterday, I felt uncomfortably young (hence the Pokémon) and relatively new to everything; five and a half years of committed geekery is nothing compared to most people I know. It was also a reflection on the huge variety we are constantly presented with during this excellent time for craft breweries, and how easy it is to miss out on the one-off special editions.
I am aware that hearing about other people’s dreams can be deathly boring, and am surprised if you got this far! Has anyone else had any strange beer-related dreams?