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Archive for December, 2009

Wot? No category for best beer glass?

 

A challenge from Mark at Pencil and Spoon, which really ended up as a personal year end review of sorts. 

I’ve decided to focus on interesting new beers and breweries. Sure, there was amazing stuff from BrewDog, Mikkeller and Nøgne ø this year as well, but the beer scene is far more complex: 

Best UK Draught Beer 

Acorn Lubeski IPA. Never heard of? They have a series of single hop IPAs or, rather premium bitters, and this one showcases Lubeski hops. Smooth base, fine malty body, lovely citrus hoppiness. Lemon and lime. Long dry finish. Obscure enough that it’s not even on their web site, but the Beer Nut can confirm I haven’t just made it up. 

Best UK Bottled Beer 

It must be the Thornbridge St. Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout Highland Whisky Reserve. So massive you’re unable to even tweet the name of the beer. Be sure to grab some bottles of their next release. In the meantime, their Jaipur and Halycon beers are awesome, too. They should have better international distribution, with new brewing facilities I assume they are ready to take over the world. 

Best Overseas Draught Beer: 

Chotěboř 12° Kvasnicová. 

A new Czech brewery with export ambitions. Their bottled beers are great, but their yeast beer is divine.  

Best Overseas Bottled Beer 

Both Christmas beers from Sigtuna Brygghus, Sweden took me by surprise. They are the Scandinavian brewery to watch in 2010. They are a stone’s throw from Arlanda Airport, so it should be possible to fit in a visit… 

Best Overall Beer 

Birrificio del Ducato Nuova Mattina (New Morning) 

Hazy peach color, rocky head. Very Belgian aroma. An explosion of flavour from the first sip. Full malt, sweet and sour, stable and barnyard, Summer flowers, pepper, spearmint, some ashes. Bittersweet finish with some peppery and warming ginger. Their beers are to be found across Europe now, try them all! 

Best Bottle Label or Pump Clip 

Nøgne ø Sunturnbrew 

Best UK Brewery 

BrewDog. 

Best Overseas Brewery  

Just one? I could just say Nøgne ø, but that’s cheating. De Molen? Yes, it must be de Molen. 

Pub/Bar of the Year 

The Football Pub, Rome 

Beer Festival of the Year 

Copenhagen Beer Festival. But I enjoy Pig’s Ear immensely. 

Supermarket of the Year 

I wouldn’t know. The expanded Marks & Spencer range with full information about the beer and their breweries is impressive. 

Independent Retailer of the Year 

beermerchants.com 

Online Retailer of the Year 

A tie: beermerchants.com, birraland.it 

Best Beer Book 

Pete Brown: Hops and Glory 

Best Beer Blog 

That’s tough,eh? If I could pick ten. And some have been praised so much lately its best for their egos if I ignore them.. 

I must say Ron Pattison. Not for the historical records, which are beyond me, but for his descriptions of his days out. As Alan recently observed, he is, at his best, Dickensian. But I must also point to two other expats who have their special angle on the beer scene and the general culture they have settled in – Barry and Max

Best Beer Twitterer 

@thebeernut 

Best Online Interactive Brewery 

BrewDog 

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year 

The Gunmakers. Good, no nonsense food, properly kept pints. 

Next Year I’d Most Like To… 

go to the US and drink beer. East Coast, West Coast, North or South. Not that I’m likely to. On quite another level, I hope to meet as many friendly and generous beer people on both sides of the bar and the mash tun as in 2009. 

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A penguin for Christmas?

If BrewDog have sold out, at the time of writing this, you can still get it at a very decent price from beermerchants. No Utopias style inflation driving prices here. Tell them I sent you.

Update: It seems like they are sold out as well.

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I’m lagging behind a bit on the cronicles of my days in London, so I won’t go into details about my return to the Pig’s Ear festival and the liquids consumed there. English licencing laws (and probably also the practicalities of organising festivals with volunteers) made sure we all had a fairly early evening, which meant I was quite early for my appointment in the Market Porter with John and Ally.

Tom at the Rake

For elevenses I was munching a wild boar pie from one of the mouth-watering stalls in the Borough Market, looking at the beers on display at Utobeer while contemplating if I could squeeze another bottle into my suitcase. John came by, still having some space in his backpack, and bought some nice stuff to take home. I had already had my pick from both the Fuller’s brewery shop and the bottled beer stand at the Pig’s Ear.

The Market Porter is only a few steps away and we almost had the place to ourselves. This place gets packed every evening, and on market days you’ll be lucky to find some space at lunchtime as well.

As far as I can decipher my notes, I had an Acorn Lubeski IPA, a single hop beer with lots of lemon and lime.

A few minutes, Ally appeared and joined us at our table. there were other beer writers coming in as well, including Mark Dredge, still on a cloud from winning the New Media award at the British Guild of Beer Writers the evening before, and Mark Fletcher.

We had some pubs to cover during the day, so we walked on to the Rake, where there were even more beer celebrities, including Melissa Cole. I had a Bear Republic Race 5 IPA, an American beer they available on keg. A seriously grapefruity beer with a crisp finish. My friend Tom, who is the assistant manager of the Rake, had a special treat for me, the BrewDog Nanny State. This barely fermented hop juice drink is way beyond what you expect of a beer, but far out there is an uneasy balance between the mostly unfermented malt and the herbal hops.

Luckily our next stop was a bit further away, giving my palate some time to rest before the next assault.

A short walk to London Bridge station and twenty minutes on the train, then another ten minutes or so by foot. Destination: Greenwich Union. This is the brewery tap of the Meantime brewery,whose reputation is spread far away from the meridian. Time for lunch – I had a very nice rabbit dish. Their London Pale Ale on cask did not get anyone very excited. A large bottle of London Porter to share was much more like it.

By now we were joined by Mark and Mark, who downed their drinks quite a bit faster than us. The next leg of our journey took us via London Bridge to Old Street station, through busy streets and housing estates to a London beer destination I’ve known about for ages but never gotten around to visiting on my own.

This is an old fashioned pub. When I started coming to London there were many of those spread around. Threadbare carpets, cobwebbed bric-a-brac on high shelves, locals who seem to have spent all their waking hours in there for decades. But there is a dwindling number of these pubs. The Magpie and Crown in West London was probably the last one I saw.

But this one is still thriving. In addition to the locals, who made the place quite crowded at about four in the afternoon, this is a beer destination because of its ever rotating range of beers, no ties to any particular brewery here. My notes are getting blurry at this point, but among the beers consumed were Shake, ramble and roll, Looney Tunes and Spearfish.

Westwards again, now by cab, to the Gunmakers, which was by now quite packed with the after work crowd, Jeff being very busy at the bar. One more beer blogger to meet, Woolpack Dave. Beers included Sharp’s Nudelik and Harvieston Haggis. Ron Pattison was propping up the bar, pint in one hand, single malt in the other.

At this time the Fellowship disintegrated, without anyone getting caught by orcs. John had a plane to catch, Ally had left us at the Wenlock for another appointment. There were proposals to go to the Pig’s Ear. I decided to call it a night. I had a morning flight the next day, and there was still the logistics of getting all the beers into the suitcase..

So, to everyone involved, a big thank you. It was so nice to be able to meet up add chat over a few beers – which is what this hobby is really all about. Hope to see you all next eyar!

I am nicking Mark Fletcher’s photo from his post here, as it’s got all of us in it.

Beer Bloogers United

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.. and Norway might liberalize its alcohol legislation. But, bit by bit, things are changing.

Yes, there are actually some changes ahead for local brewers. There is draft legislation now out on an open hearing, proposing that those who have the permission to brew and sell beer to their customers also can be sold for consumption off the premises, without applying for costly extra licences.

This only applies to beer (and fruit wine) under 4.7%, anything stronger will still have to be sold through Vinmonopolet. But it’s certainly a start.

If you read Norwegian (or translate via Google), the documents are online.

Soon offering takeaway?

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I had no plans to go out drinking last night. There are domestic things to do before Christmas, and there are events coming up over the next days as well. But when I saw the invite posted on one of the beer forums, I knew I had to go.  Lars Marius and Geir Ove had announced their presence as well.

The event was a BrewDog tasting, arranged by their importers and led by none less than James, co-founder of the brewery. I’d go along to have a chat, even if he just presented their lagers. 

But there was more, this was the beer line up:
77Lager

Zeitgeist 

Punk IPA 

Rip Tide 

Tactical nuclear Penguin 

Nanny State 

I’d had most of them, but the last two are among those who really get the coverage in the beer blogsphere right now. Nanny State has just 1,1% alcohol (but a million bitterness units), while the Tactical Nuclear Penguin has 32%.  Yes. Thirtytwo per cent. Alcohol by volume.

I’ll skip the notes on their more regular beers for now and jump to the last two and most interesting beers: 

The Tactical Nuclear Penguin started out as a 10% imperial stout, similar to their Paradox series. It was the aged 8 months in an Isle of Arran whisky cask and another 8 months in an Islay cask. The beer was then transported to an ice cream factory and stored at minus 20 degrees. Thereafter, in several stages, some of the frozen water content was removed, leaving a liquid with concentrated flavour and alcohol. 

The nose is of smoke, tar and chocolate. The first sip reveals treacle, tar and rope. Strong warming alcohol. Yet there is an intense hoppiness, too, which justifies its claim that it is a beer. There is liquorice, salt and brandy, with a finish of smoke and fire. 

What do I make of this? It is taking the intensity of their whisky aged beers even further, and I applaud the way these guys are playful and inventive. And it is a real pleasure to sip, at least if you appreciate their other whisky barrel beers.

Will this be a major trend in the industry? Hardly. I won’t go into the technical details about what makes a beer and when it is no longer considered a beer. That’s for others to quarrel over, and that discussion is, of course, a part of BrewDogs strategic marketing. This is never going to be a mass market drink, but both the quality and the hype will ensure that there will be a long line of both tickers, collectors and drinkers making sure it will sell out fast. And while, as James pointed out, it is expensive compared to vodka of the same strength, it is priced nowhere like the Samuel Adams Utopias.

So, I’d be happy to have a few bottles of this at the back of my beer shelf aside the Dark Horizon beers. But it’s for rare occasions, not for weekly consumption. Because with all this concentrated flavour, aroma – and alcohol – it lacks the refreshing drinkability, which, ultimately, is what you want from an everyday beer. But it’s a wonderful addition to the range of beers to have for special occasions. And it makes a great gift! 

The power of the hops is shown by the beer that rounded off the tasting, Nanny State at just above one percent alcohol. I tried this in London the other week, so I knew what was coming. 

This is a barely fermented hop concentrate, with IBUs way beyond what human senses can detect. It’s intense bitterness stays in the mouth for a long time. It’s a novelty beer, and I doubt it will be up to much if its aged. 

I think Nanny State’s main importance is that it also moves boundaries, and a logical next step is to create some balanced, yet flavourful low alcohol beers. 

After the tasting, there was time for a chat with James and his Norwegian importer. The Punk IPA and Rip Tide will be launched in the Vinmonopolet stores in Norway in January, and there will be new BrewDog beers available in March and May as well. Hopefully there will be some beers available on keg during the year, the disposable kegs used by the Norwegian craft breweries seem to function well. 

The main markets for BrewDog are the UK, the US and Sweden, but Norway has a good potential. Look out for a BrewDog/Nøgne ø/Mikkeller collaboration next year – I’d like to reserve a few bottles right away! 

Meet the brewer

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Alcohol free

If your German is up to it, BASF has a podcast on brewing alcohol free beer.

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Feeding the troll

I’ve told you about the beer drinking troll in the Post Office. The one that has a box of Williams Brothers’ ales and also a bottle from Cornwall. The beers never appeared, but I am kindly invited to fill in a number of forms.

Let’s hope he is too busy making other types of mischief so that the can of Buckbean Brewing Company Very Noddy Lager slips through. But I’m hardly optimistic.

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