Opinion and rants

The Session #132 – Home Brewing Conversations

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For this month’s collective beer blogging session, Jon at The Brewsite has proposed the topic of Home brewing as a jumping off point for us to explore.

My only experience of home brewing so far was definitely a lesson, possibly even a disaster. My generous other half purchased an all-grain kit from Brooklyn Brewshop for me as a christmas present, following on from a crash course I had taken the year before at Learn to Brew. Whilst I enjoyed learning about the process, my initial excitement was slightly tempered by the investment of time and money it takes to create a decent beer at home, so at least with the kit everything I needed had been provided for me, and with clear instructions. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, nothing, at first at least. I mashed in on the gas burners in a large stockpot. Keeping the mash temperature constant was difficult, but with with a decent food thermometer I managed to keep it within a reasonable range. Transfer proved a much bigger challenge, especially as I didn’t have a spare second pot, but again I muddled through. With the wort hopped, cooled (in ice water in the kitchen sink), and transferred to the carboy, so far so good.

My downfall was in the bottling stage. Whilst my mash had been far less efficient than I wanted it to be (according to the gravity readings) the fermented product looked and smelt good. According to the instructions, I was now to dissolve one cup of honey with one cup of water, and pour the beer in, then siphon from here into the bottles. Judging by the auto-drainpour of my self-emptying bottles two weeks later, with hindsight I wished I had taken more care at this stage….The gush was forceful, not quite ceiling height, but definitely akin to 12 mini-geysers.

So, would I have another crack at it? Yes, mainly because my partner has bought me another kit (she is much more persistent and determined than I), but also because for any beer enthusiast, home brewing seems like something you *have* to try, and by try I mean have a sustained attempt at creating something half decent. It has a certain cache that shows you can grasp beer on a deeper sense, and also, I imagine, gives you a certain sense of satisfaction at having handiwork worth sharing.

Luckily for me, this next kit has a packet of proper priming sugar…

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinion and rants

Golden Pints 2017

 

Whilst generally this year has been a good year for beer, looking through my untappd check-ins it doesn’t appear to have been a vintage one personally. Casting aside bottleshare sips of aged, one off and extremely rare or unusual beers, it took me quite a while of scrolling through the list to find a nominee for every category that I rated highly, and that I returned to. Maybe I’m a bit jaded, or maybe my standards have risen. Certainly, for me, while I haven’t found anything to overly dislike this year a lot of beers have seemed indistinct, with the same flavours and textures – particularly at the hoppier end of the spectrum. A lot of my choices are old favourites, existing Breweries that have raised their game, or venues that I cherish.

Picking winners for each category is always difficult, but more so this year when I’ve been drinking pretty much exclusively UK beer and also not making many ventures to pastures new – its been a year of, well, not exactly sticking to what I know, but perhaps reining back on the extremes of looking for the ‘new’.

Best UK Cask Beer – Tough choices here, but in what is fast becoming a yearly tradition  I am voting for Magic Rock High Wire again…why vote for anything else other than repeated perfection?

Best UK Keg Beer – Marble Beers’ Gale’s Prize Old Ale (Bourbon Barrel Aged) was an utter delight at Dark City – so good I almost immediately went back for more. To be fair, this would probably also win best bottled beer, if I wasn’t saving the bottles I have in the cupboard. Verdant’s Maybe one more PSI was also a memorable glass amongst the tide of Murk, as was Magic Rock Brewing’s Psychokinesis – Sorachi goes well with the new breed of IPA – why aren’t we seeing more of this?

Best UK Bottled Beer – Kernel never let me down, and their Biere De Saison Perle Simcoe was one of the most memorable beers of the year. Lost and Grounded’s Keller Pils was also a fridge staple.

Best UK Canned Beer – Summer Wine take the nod for this category. It was great to see them back on the shelves, and Pico Diego was a low-abv revelation. Also,  Cloudwater Brewing get all the headlines for their DIPAs, and I’m sure they won’t be short of nominations in this category for those, but I enjoyed their range of IPLs even more – especially the Autumn + Winter IPL El Dorado Mosaic which filled my fridge in February

Best Overseas Draught – I haven’t been dipping my toe in these waters much, but all the Other Half Brewing beers I’ve tried at Hop City/elsewhere on occasion have been great. Double Mosaic Dream in particular. I also usually enjoy Dugges Bryggeri when I see it – Big Idjit did it for me.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer – Not a new beer, but Brouwerij De Ranke’s XX Bitter always keeps me going with its unrelenting bitterness. In a similar vein – De Dolle Arabier was also something I drank quite a few of.

Best Overseas Canned Beer – I rarely buy these, so I’d have to go with a nostalgic hooray for the return to these shores of Odell St. Lupulin – I still love it.

Best Collaboration Brew – Fuller’s combining with Marble Beers for Gale’s Prize Old Ale, but also a gracious nomination for the Fuller’s and Friends collabs with Marble and Moor. Cloudwater and The Veil also made a can of peach juice called Chubbles that was pretty delicious as well.

Best Overall Beer – Third mention for Marble Beers for Gale’s Prize Old Ale. I’ve praised it twice already, so enough said. Champion.

Best Branding – Leeds’ own Eyes Brewing have lots of designs that catch the eye. Abstract and unique.

Best Pump Clip – Erm…the new Harvey’s clips are a nice shade of Turquoise….

Best Bottle/Can Label – Northern Monk’s Patrons Project cans deserve to take this award for the sheer amount of effort that goes into every one, the Ingleborough Session Porter is just one outstanding example amongst many. Also, I very much admire the shiny cans from Burnt Mill – contents were pretty decent too.

Best UK Brewery – Always tough, and I usually stay within the Yorkshire boundaries, but this year I’m going for Marble – Gale’s Prize old Ale series, White Wine Pugin, Your Betrayal,

Best Overseas Brewery – Dugges for the beers I’ve tried this year, but overall I still drink more beers from Belgium than any other country outside the UK, so De Ranke.

Best Pub/Bar of the Year – I don’t like picking a best for this category, as mine changes visit by visit, but I’ve really enjoyed my end of the night visits to The Turk’s Head. Cosy and calm, with great beer and service.

Best New Pub/Bar of the Year – It is great to see The Cardigan Arms reopened and revived by Kirkstall Brewery – as lovely as it should be, and with enough of the touches that beer geeks like, but also keeping accessible and friendly to all.

Beer Festival of the Year – Leeds International Beer Festival obviously, but Hop/Dark City were also great this year, and will go from strength to strength.

Supermarket of the Year – Morrisons for keeping their range fresh for a few fridge fillers.

Independent Retailer of the Year – I’m not going to pick a winner, as we are so utterly spolit in Leeds that I rotate my visits between 4/5 shops, but Little Leeds Beer House is somewhere I always visit when I’m in town, and Raynville Superstore is expanding ever more. Both excellent places to stand, chat and choose.

Online Retailer of the Year – I only ordered beer online once this year, and was left a little disappointed. So meh.

Best Beer Book or Magazine – Boak and Bailey’s 20th Century Pub – it’s about so much more than beer, and an essential read for anyone trying to understand the history of UK drinking culture.

Best Beer Blog or Website – Again, Boak and Bailey – I don’t think there is anywhere that is producing such a variety of great articles that isn’t a full time, paid operation. Good Beer Hunting always come up with interesting perspectives, and there’s plenty of full time and amateur bloggers out there whose sites I regularly read – they know who they are. Shout out to Hopinions as well for filling my bus journeys with an hour (or more) of beery content every week.

Simon Johnson award for Best Beer Twitterer – I’m not going to pick a favourite here, but shouts go to @6TownsMart – travels through Europe and the UK, with plenty of excellent beer tips, @thebeernut – fully formed Beer reviews, with a side of pithy humour and @RowettBrew – pisstaking, homebrewing and general LOLage.

 

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Reviews and events

Tryanuary Leeds/West Yorkshire 2018

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As we are fast approaching Christmas, we thought that we should update you with the events that are currently planned for Tryanuary. There should be more as we progress towards the end of the year, so keep checking back! If you are a bar/brewery/bottleshop and would like to organise something, please get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.

All month – Head of Steam Tryanuary Sale

20% off Selected Bottles at all Head of Steam bars

3rd Jan – Books and Beer at the Triangle, Shipley

Drink fine beer and talk Literature with likeminded folks.

https://m.facebook.com/shipleytriangle/?locale2=en_GB

6th January – Tryanuary Bradford – Leeds Crawl.

Join us as we venture from Bradford to Leeds, hitting beer hotspots as we go. Most of the Leeds section will be determined by a series of twitter polls, so don’t forget to cast your votes. More information at https://whoseroundisitanyway.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/tryanuary-pub-crawl/

10th January – Roosters/Magic Rock Collab launch/Tap Takeover, North Bar, Leeds

As part of their 25th anniversary celebrations Roosters have collaborated with Magic Rock and the result will be launched at North Bar, with a joint tap takeover to boot.

12th January – Basqueland Brewing Project Tap Takeover, North Bar, Leeds

Basqueland Brewing Project are in town for a collaboration with North Brewing Co, and the hosts are putting a bar full of their guests’ beers on at North Bar. Come along for beer chat and slurps.

12-14th January – Brewdenell Beer Festival, Brudenell Social Club, Hyde Park, Leeds

Brewdenell once again returns for another year of great beer from the UK and beyond in the now-expanded Brudenell Social Club – a must visit!

https://twitter.com/brewdenell?lang=en

14th January – CAMRA pub of the month presentation, Oscars Bar, Morley

Join Leeds CAMRA in Morley for the first presentation of an award to a Morley pub in some time. Oscar’s is a welcoming brew pub with a range of their own excellent beer and guests.

http://www.leeds-camra.com/whats-on/4589011400

17th January – Gluten and be Free, Bundobust, Leeds

To celebrate the release of Fantasma as part of their core range, Magic Rock Brewing are teaming up with Bundobust for a launch party. Expect freebies, gluten free dishes and good beer.

18th January – Wapentake Multiple Tap Takeover, Wapentake, Kirkgate, Leeds

On Thursday the 18th Wapentake will be serving up treats from Nomadic Beers, Crooked Brewing and Eyes Brewing – three of Leeds’ newer breweries, all of whom are already making waves across Yorkshire. Come on down and chat with the brewers, and sample some treats from Cask and Keg.

http://www.wapentakeleeds.co.uk/

18th January – Verdant/Deya Tap Takeover, Northern Monk Refectory, Leeds

To celebrate the brewing of the Hop City 2018 beer, Northern Monk will be sharing their bar space with the other collaborating breweries.

18th January – Magic Rock Brewing Meet the Brewer/Tap Takeover – Idle Beerhouse

The mighty Magic Rock Brew Co bring 6 Casks and 4 Kegs of their finest for a sup and chat at Idle Beerhouse (formerly Symposium).

http://www.beerhouses.co.uk/pub/idle-beerhouse/

19th January – Black and Brew Tap Takeover at North Bar Social, Otley

The taps will be pouring beers from Nottingham’s Black Iris Brewery and BrewYork all night – check the event page for updates

https://m.facebook.com/NorthBarSocial/?locale2=en_GB

19-20th January – Staff Tap Takeover, Cap and Collar, Saltaire

Come try a list of Keg and Cask beers handpicked by the staff from their personal favourite beers in this friendly micropub – no doubt there will be some excellent offerings!

20th January – Bottleshare at the Triangle, Shipley

Bring along a sharing bottle or two smaller bottles of your favourite/rarest/most interesting beer to share with others, simple as that really! Expect the weird, wonderful and downright excellent

https://t.co/fLFu0oxsMD

21st January – Crafty Babies, Head of Steam Headingley – 12-2pm

If you’ve struggled to get a babysitter or out in the evenings for the other #tryanuary events, here is an opportunity for craft beer loving parents (and their children) to get together and have a beer or two. There will be a play mat and toys to keep the kids occupied as well.

https://www.facebook.com/events/534023376971587/

25th January – Leeds Night Market, Kirkgate Market, Leeds

Come along for an evening of independent food and drink from some of the regions finest producers. There’ll be good beer, entertainment and a great atmosphere.

25th January – Pilot Beer Tap Takeover + Guided Beer Tasting at Head of Steam Leeds, 7.30pm.

As a Burns’ Night treat, the Head of Steam are hosting the irrepressible Pilot Brewery from Edinburgh. Expect wit, Scottish-themed nibbles and excellent beer.

https://www.facebook.com/events/534023376971587/

26th January – Denmark to England by Bicycle, The Triangle, Shipley

Join Ed from Hebtroco as he arrives in Shipley from a European Bike Tour – there will be an auction of Hebtroco Apparel and a rare Mikkeller Beer in aid of the Hjerne Barnet/Candlelighters Charities

https://hebtro.co/2017/12/18/ride-bikes-wear-clothes-drink-beer/

27th January – Wishbone Brewery Tap, Keighley

Wishbone will be opening their Brewery Tap between 12-7 with the theme ‘New Year, New Beer’. Cask or Keg, there will be delights for sipping, as well as on site food. http://www.wishbonebrewery.co.uk

27th January – CAMRA Leeds joint Social with Calderdale and Scarborough Branch, Meet at 1pm Brewery Tap, Station Approach, LS1 5DL

A chance to show off some of the best pubs in Leeds, new and old, big and small to visiting pilgrims from other branches. Pub crawl to comprise approximately (F – food served):

1pm: Brewery Tap (F). The Grove, Adelphi (F), Lamb and Flag (plus Calls Landing) (F), Duck and Drake (also Wapentake (F)), Whitelocks (F), Foleys Tap House, Tapped (F) (plus Head of Steam and Waiting Room)

Want to get in touch? Contact @barrelagedleeds, @leedsbeerwolf or @viewsfromthebar on Twitter

https://en-gb.facebook.com/tryanuary/

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Opinion and rants

Heineken stir the pot in Brixton

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When we talk about takeovers of UK breweries, the term selling out is used liberally. However, when the likes of Brixton Brewery accept investment by Heineken, I question what impact will it really have within the needs of the existing craft beer market. I, and no doubt, you, almost exclusively purchase beers I enjoy from independent brewers because I enjoy how they taste, because I take pleasure from supporting small, often local businesses, and also, sometimes guiltily just because I enjoy the shimmer of the shiny ‘new’.

To state the obvious, for situations like Brixton/Heineken to arise, both sides need to be assured that the partnership brings value. Brixton are still a relatively obscure brewery nationally, with a decent and sometimes very good range of beer. The news of the Heineken investment is not a hammer blow to craft beer in the UK, but neither is it insignificant as it signifies that the biggest breweries are recognising that in order to catch the eye in a changing market they must play by at least some of the rules. Fake brands, rebadging, overpowering takeovers are easy to spot and dismiss, but having a genuine interest in a collaborative product is a compromise that is less likely to generate contempt that can spread outwards from the mindset of the hardcore beer enthusiast to the more casual drinker.

If the injections of corporate funds into the likes of Brixton Brewery are anathema to what hardcore craft beer drinkers value, this is not a wider concern of the majority of people ordering pints in bars across the UK. In their own way Heineken are effectively validating the importance of provenance, quality and innovation in UK beer by carrying out these investments (or buyouts if you prefer) and for them, acknowledging competition is ultimately a form of respect. Diversifying their offering is the only logical reaction to what has been happening on a minor, yet increasing scale – and ultimately, if it gets better beer in the view of the majority of drinkers, why can it be begrudged?

Ultimately, whatever happens to Brixton in terms of Heineken’s investment. The behaviour of the majority of those of us who spend time investing a piece of ourselves in the beer and breweries we enjoy will not change. If the tastes of the wider drinker catches up with us, that’s fine too, but I don’t feel that good beer is endangered by deals such as these, partially as there will always be people like me who value quality and independence. Currently, the flow of UK craft beer scene is trickling out into its surroundings, and whether or not Heineken will help the taps run faster is debatable, but there’s plenty of people willing to give the handle a turn and see what happens, be they craft, or corporate.

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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.

 

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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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