Opinion and rants

330 on…Leeds International Beer Festival

Can sized thoughts and musings

After a long, muggy, windy season (I’m not calling it Summer) we’re finally here again. Usually, I’d come up with a preview or review, but with lots of LIFE things going on at the moment, I’ve scaled it down a bit. Plus, I’m a bit rusty at this writing lark. Unless there’s an early avalanche on baby mountain I’ll be attending two sessions of the festival this year, and although it’s my fifth in a row I’m looking forward to it more than ever.

 
Optimism wasn’t initially high earlier this year when Beavertown launched their own beer weekender on the same dates. Fears of breweries and punters being drawn away were voiced, but unfounded, and this year’s LIBF lineup is one of the most intriguing yet. As well as the launch of this year’s Rainbow Project, first time attendees such as Track, Verdant and Odyssey are fresh fish amongst the hardened beer festival veterans.

LIBF is never just about the beer though, and the evening party feel of previous years looks to continue with well chosen bands and entertainment. Ramones cover band? Live film scores? I’m happy to chat and compare notes during the day sessions, but this is a fest that has a welcome evening gear shift into outright entertainment.

The site is roomy enough to move around easily during the day session, with lots of intimate spaces for a bit of respite and a chat, and that adds to the personality of the event. As ever, one of the best aspects of a beer festival should be other drinkers – and while there will be plenty of them, the feel of the day is relaxed rather than hectic. It’s always good to see friends from far and wide, but I also enjoy just seeing a diverse range of people at a beer event enjoying themselves, just as I plan to.

 

Advertisements
Standard
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.

Standard
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.

beer_49038

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.

 

Standard
Opinion and rants, Reviews and events

Session 119 – Discomfort Beer

img_3254

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

Standard
Opinion and rants

Golden Pints 2016

Golden Pints Logo
As I raised glasses of beer to my lips in 2016, there was a chance the taste would be adulterated by the steady stream of bitterness spewing forth from my reaction to the year’s events. As we step tentatively towards another year, here’s hoping the following beers don’t cark it/get watered down following a takeover/withdrawn from the market following a referendum.

Best UK Cask Beer – for the second year running my consumption of Cask beer has been low, in part due to the proflieration of keg across Leeds, in part due to a lack of places consistently serving it well. Magic Rock’s Common Grounds stands out as a memorable pint, even if it wasn’t that widely available on cask.

your-betrayal
Best UK Keg Beer – Marble have cranked and revamped their output this year, and their Heavy Metal series was full of delights. The few pints of Your Betrayal I had at their Thomas Street bar in Manchester were near-revelatory. More and more great Lager followed later in the year, but I kept coming back to this one as a quality marker.

Best UK Bottled Beer – Tzatziki Sour by Mad Hatter never ceases to amaze and confuse. A modern classic for me, and one of those beers where I love watching people’s initial reaction. Runners up go to Thornbridge’s barrel aged releases, Love Amongst the Ruins being another favourite.

 
Best UK Canned Beer – Northern Monk’s collaborative Trilogy of Hops, Malt and Yeast produced three great beers, but Hops was pretty much as perfect an IPA as I could wish for. Occasionally, it seems like a beer has been brewed to match your exact taste, and Hops ticked all the boxes for me.

 
Best Overseas Draught – Narrowly missing out on best overseas bottle, 8-Wired’s Hopwired IPA was a showcase of NZ brewing and a dank, deep dip into a whirlpool of hops.

logsdon-peche-n-brett
Best Overseas Bottled Beer – Thanks to generous fellow bottleshare attendees, I was lucky enough to try two Bottles from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, both of which were outstanding. Their Peche n’ Brett was one of my favourite beers of the year, and i NEED more.

 

Best Overseas Canned Beer – Almost by default I’m choosing Cigar City’s Jai Alai, as I didnt have an awful lot of overseas cans, but what a beer it is. Truly a great example of what US breweries can produce, and still one example of the sort of standard our brewers should be looking to emulate. To Øl’s cans were also wondrous, especially Sur Amarillo.

 
Best Collaboration Brew – Probably one on many people’s list – Magic Rock/Cloudwater/Lees’ Three’s Company – again, another example of everything I look for in a DIPA. The rebrewed Big Dipper (sans Lees) is also tasting brilliant.

 
Best Overall Beer – Your Betrayal wins outright for me, it was, and is, a true beer crush. Although, Lost and Grounded’s Running with Sceptres would have been another corner in the love triangle of UK lager had it made an earlier appearance in the year.

 
Best Branding – Its hard to look past Cloudwater and their ever changing, yet consistently wonderful labels.

 
Best Pump Clip – Elusive’s Plan-B tickled me, a moment of lightness in the Brexit madness.

attack-on-the-bounty
Best Bottle/Can Label – Northern Monk’s patrons series has produced excellent artwork and an insight into the process behind their creation, with my favourite being the 3.01 Attack on the Bounty – release the kraken!

 
Best UK Brewery – Too many to really narrow it down to one – I drink more beer from Yorkshire breweries than anywhere else, and i’d have to pick a side between Northern Monk and Magic Rock.

 
Best Overseas Brewery – Both Becky and I have been investing heavily this year in the delights of To Øl, and in particular their large cans – Sur Amarillo being my absolute favourite. Cant wait to get stuck into their Christmas beers shortly.

 
Best New Brewery Opening 2016 – The owners of North Bar took a brave step by opening their own Brewery this year, and created a range of beers that certainly weren’t out of place amongst more established greats on the taps of their outlets. Transmission IPA was an immediate hit, and even outshone Cannonball in the eyes of some. Add an excellent Pale, Kolsch and Kettle Sour to the mix, combine it with a relaxed environment and you’ve got a great afternoon in store at their tap room.

 
Best Pub/Bar of the Year – I’m staying close to home and picking the Kirkstall Bridge, not only because they’ve got a decent selection of beers on, but also because they’ve bounced back so well from the dramatic flood of last Christmas. Rammed during the summer months, inside and out, this is a truly pleasant place to drink especially after a long walk along the canal.

tap-room
Best New Pub/Bar of the Year – I’m going back to my home town for this one and nominating The Tap Room in Cliftonville, Margate. A friendly welcome goes a long way, and Phil and co at the Tap Room are certainly miles ahead of much more established places on that front. Great selection of beer, and well served – miles better than the usual flat micropub gravity pour that I’m used to on visits back home. With the opening of the Bottleshop’s first all out bar, other new Micros, and the change in direction for the Lifeboat, Margate has a varied beer scene to accompany its rebirth. Go for a visit!

 
Beer Festival of the Year – Leeds International wins again, maybe i’m being locally loyal, but they’ve got the lead on organisation and atmosphere over the other large craft festivals.

 
Supermarket of the Year – A few months ago, i’d have said Morrisons, but Tesco have pipped them to it, decent compact range of Beer at a good price. Still nowhere near as good as an indy shop, but its great for when i’m pushed for time.

 
Independent Retailer of the Year – I find this category the most difficult to choose a winner, being spolit with tons of great shops run by lovely people in Leeds. I’m going to go for Raynville Superstore this year, just for the sheer enthusiasm and gusto with which Jonny has vested into building up his range and knowledge of his products.

 
Online Retailer of the Year – My best online experience this year has been with Brewdog’s online shop. It may or not be relevant that this was my only online beer purchase this year.

 
Best Beer Book or Magazine – I dont often pick up many examples for this category, but Hop and Barley’s periodicals are always well presented and interesting when I do.

 

Best Beer Blog or Website – Even though they deserve it, I’m not going to nominate Boak and Bailey this year, but instead I’ll go for Pete McKerry’s Brew Geekery – tells me stuff about the local scene (London) and he writes in a down to earth, consistent style that I like.

 
Simon Johnson award for Best Beer Twitterer – My favourite tweeters range from the ranty, to the educational and to the all rounders, but i’d go for Tom of #craftbeerhour fame for his efforts at bringing producer and drinker together on a Tuesday night, which keeps going from strength to strength.

 
Best Brewery Website/Social Media – Magic Rock have got this category sown up, although to be fair i’m mainly awarding it for the tweets for Magic Rock Tap – regular tap lists, information well in advance about upcoming events, quick responses and a bit of wit.

Standard
Opinion and rants

Session #113 – Mass Observation 

I’m in a pub in the centre of Leeds, it’s full with a post-work/pre-party crowd and we’ve been lucky to get a seat in a side room.

Pretty much everyone is drinking, except for a few children, who are mostly hitting each other with balloon animals. The kids are cackling with laughter and their, admittedly hilarious, parents.

There’s a range of macro lagers, a few handpumps with decent if traditional micro choices, and Lagunitas, Freedom and Adnams keg beers on. There is a lot of people drinking from branded Peroni glasses, but a lot of freshly sparkled pints and a lot of people sharing bottles of wine.

Good choices of food on the menu, but in my side room there is only the family eating, egg and chips, cheesy chips and chippy chip chips. There is also a couple of people with crisps, which I think they brought themselves. My wife is almost apoplectic that there are no pork scratchings.

Most people are Chatting, playing with the kids, hardly anyone on their phones, except for us. Weirdos.

Conversation is mainly about a local event, which we’re going to shortly, Brexit, Work, their drinks, training dogs, and the pros and cons of online grocery shopping.

I wouldn’t hesitate to describe this pub as traditional, in the best way – lots of glass partitions, cornicing, tiled flooring, thick, fancy wooden tables, but also with more modern twists. Our room is also decorated with a number of prints of film posters, but the arty alternatives, not the ones actually used for promotion.

In the room I’m in there is one TV but it is turned off, suspect it’s just used for Rugby/Football matches.

There are real flowers in small vases on the table, nothing too unusual, nice light fittings, press button bells on the walls for service – I’ve tried it, no one came

Just one smoker outside, no vapers that I can see. No darts or pool table, but I know there is a wide range of board games in the other room, which are no doubt in use.

People here are dressed well, one is a dead ringer for Blossom (remember that?), conversation is loud but not raucous, there is background music at a present but not listenable volume. I think tomorrow never knows by the Beatles has just finished.

Our first glasses have just been collected, although mine had a small amount of a beer that I was saving, as it’s far better than what I’m currently drinking.

All I can smell now is delicious chips. Hungry beyond belief.

This is a pub with a mixed crowd, a wide range of beer, people actually talking to each other and a lot to look at and admire. An old Tetley’s house, there’s a faint whiff of former glories – as there should be given it’s proximity to the now-obliterated brewery. As we leave we walk through the site en route to our next destination. Just the two buildings remain, a office for what’s left of Carlsberg’s Leeds operations, and the iconic Art Deco brewery headquarters, now an art gallery funded by Carlsberg, possibly from guilt.

Standard
Opinion and rants

Top of the heap 

This blog is prompted by a post on Twitter from Daniel Vane, where he questions whether some breweries have been elevated to a position of immunity from criticism.

I would agree in broad terms with Daniel’s post and I think this stems from the level of personal investment ‘craft’ beer drinkers, myself included, have with a movement that they feel represents a part of who they are. ‘craft’ (in parentheses because it still makes me cringe a bit) is adopted by many as a badge of honour and the term is in many ways more emotive than practical as a point of reference in relation to UK beer – just like indie. And just like indie, or punk, or grime, craft is a significant minority movement that bemuses and inspires in equal measure.

Reflexivity is probably the most valid term I can think of when analysing lack of critical discussion in beer. We get excited about a beer, which attracts new drinkers, new drinkers share that enthusiasm and espouse similar thoughts, brewers naturally welcome positive feedback and this may then inform their future plans, what beers to produce, flavours to incorporate etc. The downside is that a loop of positive feedback can result in homogenous output and a hive mind mentality.

Perhaps it might sound like a load of waffle to apply this thinking to beer, but given the explosion in UK brewing over the last 5-10-15 years, self analysis amongst drinkers is still developing, and outside of the blogging world, there’s nothing especially wrong with that.

I think most drinkers have learnt to take the rough with the smooth without blind acceptance that everything is great, and while justified criticism should be welcomed by all, it’s ok to take a more pragmatic stance sometimes. For the majority of drinkers, public criticism of something beloved by many, no matter how even handed or justified is still a big step. I’ve got no qualms taking up issues with people face to face, but not everyone does, and putting your opinions out there on social media can be just as daunting. Especially when some breweries ignore, deny or dismissively justify issues anyway.

I think that there isn’t quite an untouchable cabal of breweries as such, but certainly there are those who are given a bit more leeway. Ultimately, how many craft breweries are there who have produced a small range of core beer, with no consistency issues over the last 5 years? Not many. How many breweries are there who have consistently produced brilliant, exciting, yet batch by batch, patchy, beers over that same period? Lots.

As the industry comes of age, there is more of a distance between some of its larger players and online commentators, and it will take effort from consumer and producer to bridge that gap, what needs to continue to happen is for both sides to find a way to keep maturing.

Standard