Opinion and rants

The Session #123 – Do you even blog, Bro?


For this month’s The Session, Josh from Beer Simple is asking us to ponder whether the Internet has been a help or a hindrance to craft beer. 

For the most part attitudes to online interaction have changed significantly from when I was a teen and online activities were only just becoming part of everyday life. Telling someone you’d met a friend/partner online back then would have attracted suspicion and concern for your wellbeing, and online discussion of even the least niche of topics would have you marked as an anti-social nerd. Now, blogging and vlogging is actively seen as a desirable thing to participate in, especially by marketeers.

Their emphasis on individual expression of opinion as ‘authentic’ has created a new way of obtaining cultural capital – maybe your opinion *does* matter – and consequently to participate in these activities and have your ideas acknowledged has become aspirational in itself.  The beer community isn’t separate from this – I’ve met people who feel the need to blog in order to have their opinions validated, or to be acknowledged that they are ‘into’ beer. Conversely, I’ve talked to people who devote their time to discussing beer online who have a ‘do you even blog, bro?’ attitude. 

Whilst I don’t think that craft beer blogging is subject to the level of falsity of paid-for content that other, less niche interest sites are, the desire to be recognised as knowledgeable coupled with the thrill of being ‘liked’ online can also be seen as compromising to the quality and diversity of beer – e.g ‘Blogger X says this beer is great, and that more Brewers should be doing something similar, and they have loads of followers – should I say the same?’ ‘As a beer lover, all these people are saying this is great, I should probably try it.’ ‘I brewed this IPA and these reviews are creating a buzz for this beer, I’ll make something similar soon, with a twist!’ 

Sometimes, of course, good beer is good beer, and there are loads of great bloggers, podcasters and vloggers out there who are objective and distinctive.  I don’t mean to be critical of anyone on a personal level, especially considering I don’t blog that often – spare time being the main factor but also because I don’t want to be retreading other people’s praise, and neither do I have the guts or desire to criticise other people’s hard work. Being overtly scathing  isn’t always necessary, but healthy self-awareness and constructive critical thinking of trends and fads within beer is, even if you don’t write about it overtly. Whenever there is a chorus of praise for something, I also try and think about those who aren’t singing at all. 

The internet has given me a plethora of information – on styles, on breweries, on individual beers – as well as the ability to chat and make friends with people I’d never have ended up meeting without it, so I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. But, like most things, sometimes there’s a tendency to get swept along by the positives, to a point where the downsides get overlooked – and sometimes the internet acts solely as a cheerleader for beery causes or ideals, when a degree of detachment would be more appropriate.

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Opinion and rants

The Session #121 – Bock

This month’s Session is hosted by Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site who has nominated Bock as the topic of discussion;

‘The month of March heralds the start of spring, and March 20 is even National Bock Beer Day. So Bockbiers seemed like a natural fit for the month!

Don’t feel constrained to simply write a review of a Bock beer, though I’m certainly interested to read any reviews that come it. Some other ideas to consider:

  • Dig into into the history of the style—their ties to Einbeck, the differences in the development of Bocks and Doppelbocks, and so on.
  • Do any of your local breweries brew a Bock-styled beer? Seek it out and write about it.
  • Alternatively, interview your local brewer who brewed that beer; get their take on the style and why/how they brewed it the way they did.
  • Have you ever attended Bockfest in Cincinnati, Ohio? It just so happens to take place the first weekend of March—write a review for The Session!
  • There are already the styles of traditional Bock, Doppelbock, Maibock, Eisbock, Weizenbock (and Helles Bock and Dunkles Bock in the BJCP) guidelines. Just for fun, invent a new style of Bock and describe it.
  • Have you homebrewed a Bock or similar style? Tell us about it, and anything you learned brewing this lager style at home.
  • Bock puns!’

To be honest, i’m finding it hard to resist the final suggestion, but my pun gun has long been retired and i’ve tried to commit myself to writing something other than a straightforward review for this month’s post. Here goes, can’t bock out of it now….dammit.

My first thought when I saw the topic for this month was about as far removed from ‘craft’ beer as it is possible to get. My mind wandered back to 2005, when I was definitely not ‘into’ beer – pretty much every purchase I made would have been at the supermarket, and one such trudge through the aisles turned up something new, and to me at the time, exciting – Artois Bock.

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In 2005, Stella Artois was ubiquitous in the UK, far from being ‘reassuringly expensive’ it was seemingly in every pub, bar and chain swill house in the country. The attempts at marketing itself as a luxury, heritage brand had given way to the image of smashed Brits consuming it by the bucket load. As Pete Brown, who had played a large part in ensuring the success of original campaign to position Stella Artois as a quality, premium product in a sea of 4%-ish pale lager, wrote in 2008, Artois Bock had a far more authentic claim to the storied history that was being written for Stella, but the powers that be failed to recognise this and rested on their laurels, delaying the launch by 6 years.

By the time of its eventual release in 2005, the Stella brand had been tainted and recycled into a byword for Saturday night thuggery. It seemed like whenever an incident of drunken disorder was reported, the suggestion was made that it was fuelled by this particular ‘strong’ lager, even though there were plenty of other similar products on the market. Concern from alcohol bodies and the press about binge drinking was a familiar theme, and even at launch InBev were fighting off accusations that the introduction of a 6.2% ABV beer into the UK market was irresponsible.

Looking back at the concern and debate around Stella as a whole, and the launch of Artois Bock in particular, it seems odd, if not laughable when compared to what is readily available in many beer bars up and down the country in 2017. However, there is a peculiarly British obsession with ABV, and Stella’s original strength of 5.2% would have seen it fall firmly into the category of ‘loopy juice’. To launch a new style at this time, at a higher strength, from such a mainstream brand, with a reputation like Stella’s was going to overshadow any marketing, no matter how good the product. Even if it was a bold move by InBev, and actually one that tried to introduce new ideas to their existing market, it seemed a last roll of the dice in trying to position the overall brand as worthy. 

Unfortunately for InBev, it seems from the available apocryphal evidence that the product was also a bit crappy. My own memories of the beer are almost useless – i didn’t really know what it was, I preferred the Peeterman Artois (a wheat-based lager with coriander that was quickly dumbed down even further), and of course, it was 6.2%! I couldn’t have drunk more than a few bottles of that! Loopy juice isnt it?

12 years on, and while I still look in on the Bock family from time to time (Paulaner Salvator currently being sipped), it’s never really taken a place on the podium of styles I really savour. I certainly cannot argue that the stalled curate’s egg of a large macro trying to introduce a minority style into the mass market put me off persisting with Bocks – i just think I prefer my bread in solid rather than liquid form.

 

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Reviews and events

The Session 120: Brown Beer


For this month’s Session topic, Joe Tindall who writes at The Fatal Glass of Beer has nominated a tricky subject to blog about. I say tricky, because in the discourse of modern beer ‘Brown’ has become a inexplicably maligned descriptor, and brown ale as a style is often overlooked or derided.

Brown is what your parents drank. Brown is dull and lifeless. Brown is  unfashionable, and comes in clear bottles, from brands that no longer exist as independent entities, so passé that they’ve become a joke even amongst the communities that they sprouted from. However, Brown ales are also flavourful, rich, moreish, and despite the negatives, are still one of the most satisfying styles around, even more so when brewed with care and creativity.

My original intention for this post was to find a couple of the classics, and drink them side by side with some newer examples. I quickly realised that it would be a pointless task, mainly because the likes of Newcastle Brown and Mann’s have been reduced to pointlessness by a indifferent beer market and the financial pressures of supermarket discounting.

Also, as most contemporary brown ales available are jazzed up and trend-driven, a comparison would be uneven. So instead of digging up the time capsule and finding nothing but a mouldy newspaper and a badly spelled letter, I picked up two bottles that I thought would be at distant ends of the modern Brown ale scale.


Blackjack Brewery are one of Manchester’s new wave of railway arch Brewers, nestled up in the Green Quarter on the edge of the city centre. The River is a Farmhouse Brown that is billed as ‘far from ‘brown’ as it gets’. There is certainly a extreme funk in the air as I pop the cap, and a small gush of foam – the yeast in the bottle has certainly been working away – but the liveliness still sprays out a nutty aroma that screams brown ale.

To taste, I’m getting a lot of banana esters and also a sweet toasty cocoa. The yeasty, brett-like funk gives it an edge that seems a little strange, almost distracting at first, but as a counterpoint it works. I would have liked a bit more spice, perhaps, but it’s a good concept and pretty well executed too.


Odyssey Brew Co are a new, but increasingly lauded brewery hidden away in deep countryside between Hereford and Worcester. They’ve attracted a lot of attention for their range of aggressively flavoursome beer, and this imperial oatmeal stout fits in with that ethos.

My bottle is full of vanilla, coffee and chocolate, and is thick, with a sharp boozy finish – almost akin to a bourbon aged stout. However there is also that characteristic brownness underneath, with lots of sticky caramel and a gentle bitterness. My only criticism would be that on the finish the vanilla slightly overpowers the other flavours.

To be honest, my previous Odyssey experiences didn’t leave me reeling with excitement, but this beer shows why they’ve got a lot of praise. A real hefty pudding of a beer.

With these two beers, and others I’ve tried recently – North Brewing Co’s Bulkhead and Magic Rock’s The Stooge, both excellent from cask – there is clearly life in the style amongst UK brewers, even if the parameters of the style are being ever more stretched. 

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Fridge Favourites, Reviews and events

A Pirate Life for me

David at Bier Huis in Ossett, near Wakefield stocks a wide range of great beer, mostly from the UK but with decent picks from Europe and the USA, and when I pop in I often find something I havent seen or heard of before. 

Upon my last visit I was intrigued to see a selection of beers from Pirate Life Brewing. Australian beer is a rare thing to see in the U.K outside of the usual macro suspects, and so I picked up one each of the cans on offer for an evening’s entertainment. 

The Throwback Session IPA was the first to be popped, and it poured as expected – light, golden and clear. There was a crisp, underwhelming aroma but with a sweet lemony hint. Befitting it’s name the finish was quite like a light session bitter rather than a pale, but the flavours were easy going and fruity, and the Simcoe shone through in a lightly savoury aftertaste. A thoroughly smashable easy drinker, and not quite what I expected from an Aussie brewery (I know, prejudiced stereotyping here) – I could imagine this being drunk by the pint from a  cellar cool cask.

The Pale also took my tastebuds by surprise. The aluminium cracked, the contents unleashed a big foamy whoosh into my glass, and there was a musky, piney, peppery aromatic flood. There wasnt much fruit on the nose, but lots of syrupy pineapple, and sticky malt on the tongue. Bitter and fresh, it certainly didn’t taste like it had been affected by the beer miles from Adelaide to West Yorkshite. Strongly resinous and sweet, I’d describe the Pale as Torpedo-esque, oily and thick. One to try and try again.

Following the Pale I had great expectations for the IPA. A slightly hazy amber in the glass, this is more of a typically west coast IPA, with Centennial to the fore on the aroma. On the tongue I got sherbet orange and lime, a lot less bitter than the pale, but still sweetly citric. More so than the pale, there was a now commonplace savoury aftertaste where I’d like to find a more pronounced bitterness. Not quite what I want, but I appreciate it for being more than a box ticker, and I’ll be trying this again.

I left the IIPA until the next day, as at 8.8% and 500ml, I didn’t think I would be giving it a fair trial after the other three. Similar to the Pale in colour, perhaps a shade or two darker, it was dialled up to eleven on the dank and juicy scale. There’s lots of passion fruit and mango, but with the pungent bitterness to cut through. An Double IPA that pays as much attention to the use of malt as the hops, this is thick and full but a different kind of prospect to the current run juice-like IPAs. Although I didn’t notice it at the time of purchase, due to chatting about beer, this certainly wasn’t cheap but it definitely was memorable, and given the distance travelled, volume of the can and level of quality provided it was justified. 

Many times, I’ve gone off plan and bought something exotic or unusual and been disappointed, but Pirate Life have created two good and two great beers that I’m pleased I stuck my cash on the line for. 

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Opinion and rants, Reviews and events

Session 119 – Discomfort Beer

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This post is a contribution to Beer Blogging Friday where a host volunteers to choose a topic for bloggers to write about and then collates the responses.  This time,  Alec Latham has chosen the topic of “Discomfort Beer”, and contributions are focused on beers that challenged, disgusted, or changed the opinion of the writer.

Back in about 2011, I thought I ‘knew’ about beer, mainly because I’d successfully booked a trip to Brussels in 2006 and it coincided with the annual Brussels beer weekend – not that I knew it was on. My partner and I enjoyed it so much that we roped in a few others for a return trip the year after, and the year after that.
With these repeat visits, I had chucked back what I thought at the time were exceptionally strong beers, in a rather typically cavalier youngish Brit abroad fashion. We shared and tried a list of beers that I cannot recall in much detail, and I certainly didn’t really make any attempt to learn much about them at the time. Beer was beer, even Belgian beer. We laughed at the silly outfits of the brewers at the parade, and even made some jokes about the name of some bloke called Michael Jackson sitting in a tent with a load of books he was signing.

As the quote goes ‘the past is a foreign country’, and although in this instance that was literally true, it was my last visit to the Beer weekend in 2011 that demonstrates the figurative truth behind it, and which relates to the topic for this session.

‘One Boon Gooze please’, I said as I approached Boon’s stall. ‘Ok…coming up’ said the hesitant server who had obviously dealt with plenty of oblivious tourists ordering his produce that weekend, and pulling the same mystified/disgusted expression that was to wash over my face in approximately three minutes. My last few tokens of the weekend were handed over, and I looked forward to my last beer of the festival on a Sunday afternoon that had been mercifully dry, compared to the heavy showers of the other sessions.

One swift gulp later, I was wondering what exactly it was that I’d ordered. Was this beer? It smelt like sweaty cider and cheese, and it certainly didn’t taste like what I’d come to expect from Belgian beer – sweet and strong, with or without fruit. Even the Coconut beer we made our friends order as a kind of initiation tasted more palatable than this. Still, not being a person not to finish his beer, I persisted and finished my glass. I thought ‘I’ll take a photo of this, so I don’t order it again next year’, which is the photo above.

My perceptions and reaction planted the seed of doubt in my head – what was this? Did I just not ‘get it’? And so I started looking into the brewery, and then the style of beer, and who Michael Jackson was. Five years on and I know that what I was tasting was almost certainly Boon’s Oude Gueuze, which for a novice to the style was probably the worst introduction. However, it had the effect of prompting me to expand my horizons in a way that the Blondes and Bruins and syrupy sweet Framboises didn’t.

I’m grateful that the person serving me at Boon’s stall didn’t pause to ask ‘have you had this before?’ and recommend something less challenging from another brewer. It’s been much more fun learning about beer following that uncomfortable experience

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 12 – New Rose Saison

Bleurgh. Last night’s plan was to pick a beer from the excellent fridges of Friends of Ham in Leeds, tap a few thoughts into my notes and do a full blog this morning. While I certainly had more than a few good beers, I can’t remember much about them, certainly not enough for a post. 

Anyway, no post would have been written as I was far too tired and hungover to lift my phone this morning, let alone do some thinking. 

Now, I’ve settled down on the sofa, and almost feel normal again post-Chinese takeaway and many pints of Squash, so we have both cracked open a restorative Saison from Time and Tide Brewing. 

Both cans are well filled and open with a slight gush, but they pour smoothly enough and settle well. As the name suggests, there are Rose petals used in the brew and there is a lingering floral sweetness that isn’t overcharged. There’s not much of the usual dry, musty characteristics I’d expect from a classic Saison, and I’ve cackhandely poured this so there’s a fair bit of suspended yeast too, but neither of those minor quibbles detract from my enjoyment of a supremely refreshing beer. 
Becky’s not long woken up from a power doze, so let see if this has revived her. ‘I am seriously suffering today so I’ll keep my offering short. Saison is one of my favourite styles of beer and this is a really good one. One of my favourite bits about going down to Kent is how readily available Time and Tide beers are because I’m yet to have a bad one. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw the name of this beer but the floral element is really subtle. It’s a lovely easy drink and I can recommend it as hair of the dog!’

Following last night, I needed something like this to bring me round, and a more complex beer would have been wasted on me today. Time and Tide had a great 2016 too, and are one to watch this year as well. 

I hope you’re all having a great 2017 so far, and if not, I hope you’ve got something good in the fridge to help ease you in.

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 11 – Sister Agnes


It’s been a big year for Marble Brewery, four great beers launched under their ‘Metal Series’, the old favourites largely revitalised, and a series of limited, aged beers released to the sound of beer geek oohs and aahs.

Your Betrayal, a Pilsner, was one of my beers of the year, and therefore I wanted to include Marble in my #12Beers as a small hat tip to their work in 2016. I have chosen Sister Agnes, an old ale, for us to try and other than what’s on the label, I can’t really find too much information about it.

The old ale base has had Morello cherries added to it, as well as Brettanomyces yeast. The name is a nod to The Mysteries of Udolpho, a gothic romance in which Sister Agnes is a murderous mistress of a nobleman condemned to a life in the convent. Valancourt, one of Marble’s other aged releases is also named after another character. Obviously the Brewers are into the dark, mysterious and supernatural. 

Sister Agnes is defintely dark, with ruby tints. The Brett adds a layer of mystery to the aroma, but there isn’t a tangy funk to the beer as a result. The cherries are to the fore, with loads of earthy fruit flavours, and I also get almonds and a very dry, oaky finish. In a lot of ways, Sister Agnes is similar to last night’s Pannepot Reserva, but younger maybe, with fresher fruit flavours, but also with a few notches less volume to it. 

Becky enjoyed last night’s beer, how does she feel about tonight’s choice? ‘This time last year I would have taken a swig of this beer and said it was foul and wouldn’t have touched anymore. If I’m honest my first sip didn’t make me particularly want more but in the interests of the blog I persevered! It smells smoky which for me is one of the first signs that I won’t like a beer. My first taste reminded me of peanut brittle and the more I drank the more it felt like liquid Ferrero Rocher. The nutty taste was outstanding to me but looking at Gareth’s comments I can also get the cherries too. It’s grown on me and like last night’s beer it’s reminded me that I need to be more adventurous and not just stick to what I know I’ll like!’

Tomorrow is the final night of this year’s #12Beers, and we’ll be celebrating the new year at Friends of Ham, so we may or may not blog tomorrow but we’ll definitely find some good beer to see in 2017. Have a good night!

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