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

#12DaysofXmas – Day 10 – Pannepot Reserva 2012

The end is in sight, and we’ve got two barrel-aged old ales to drink before the finale on New Year’s Eve. First up is the second beer of this year’s selection from De Stuise Brewing – Pannepot Reserva.

Named after a type of fishing vessel, Struise say this pitches somewhere between a strong dark ale and a stout, and the 2012 reserva is aged on French oak barrels for 14 months.

Poured, the colour is almost as black as a Priest’s socks, and with a strong initial fizz which forms a caramel tinged head. The aroma immediately brings to mind both strong dark chocolate and tobacco. I don’t think I’ve had a beer for a while that has such a formidable sense of taste before I’ve even had a sip.
The flavour stands up to expectations, full of sweet dark fruits, coffee and bitter chocolate. There is also a delicate carbonation that gives a winey dryness, and this helps add to the sense of luxuriance that emanates from the glass. Even more so given that this was a relatively inexpensive beer.

Becky is eyeing this beer eagerly, and I’ve passed the second half of the glass over to her. ‘I’m going to try and be sensible but I’ve already had a large glass of red wine, and I’m laughing at ‘caramel tinged head’. Anyway here goes…. I am guilty of judging a beer by its label and when I go to buy my beer I very much base my initial beer buying decision on the look of the can/bottle. This bottle is the beer equivalent of those 99p classics they sell in The Works and I wouldn’t have been drawn to it had I been choosing tonight’s beer.

I know what Gareth means about the initial fizz. It’s almost like eating one of those shit cola bottles that is fizzy for one suck then you’re just into the ‘flat’ jelly. The overall flavour is delicious, almost like a combination of coffee and red wine. This beer just goes to show you should not judge a beer by its cover and I will endeavour to change my beer buying habits.’

There you go, I’m a source of constant fun in this house as you can tell. At least the beer wasn’t laughable. Another excellent bottle, looking forward to hopefully more of the same tomorrow.

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Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 3 – Bearded Lady Grand Marnier


Day three and the Pettmans have shifted to Kent, back in town for the bulk of Christmas. I’ve bought a box o’booze and today’s selection has been momentarily chilling on the rear window sill.

Recently re-brewed, this can of Magic Rock Brewing’s Bearded Lady Grand Marnier edition has been in the can for about ten months (I think) and I’m looking forward to seeing if the chocolate orange character remains, or if this has altered.

Becky is definitely not a fan of Stout, although she has found the occasional palatable example, and still happily persists at trying anything I open. Not sure if tonight’s beer will make a breakthrough or not – on opening I get aromas of orange as expected, although the initial taste is more liquorice. The texture is thick and luxuriant, velvety smooth but interrupted on the finish with some warm boozy vapours. There’s touches of vanilla to smooth the flow from glass to gullet, and while it drinks like a 10.5%er, I’m finding it hard to sip rather than slurp. Eminently drinkable. Has it made a positive impression on she who shall not be stouted?

‘Another attempt for me to find a stout I want to take on a second date….It started with a sniff (there’s a song in there somewhere) and I thought I was going to love this one. The chocolatey orange aromas made me think this was going to  be right up my street. But alas when I had a taste it made me pull my ‘stout face’ (again I can try to find an appropriate gif). It’s probably the least offensive of the stouts I’ve tried but still not for me. I shall persist on my stout mission (impossible)’.

Is stout one of those things people either ‘get’ or not? I suppose that could be said about the majority of beer I drink. Even as a fan, I think most stout, especially the stronger end of the register, is something that has very limited appeal to casual beer drinkers. I don’t really fetishise the Impys but this is an excellent beer and something that was the potential to win over the indifferent, but not tonight.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Well lit

October was a busy month across West Yorkshire (and beyond) for beery events. Tap takeovers, beer launches, and tap room social events all activated the FOMO (fear of missing out) sensors, but with a visit to this year’s IndyManBeerCon on the cards too, i had to ration my outings.

One event that I really didn’t want to miss was a rare opportunity to taste a selection of beers from Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, Florida. Whilst I’d tried the odd third here and there over the years, the lure of Jai Alai IPA and the much vaunted Hunahpu Imperial Stout on tap is a rare enough occurrence to bring out the squeaky voiced nerd on my shoulder telling me to go along.

The reason for the timing of the event was seemingly that Magic Rock had invited brewmaster Wayne Wambles over for a collaborative brew, and he had very kindly arranged for a fresh pallet of kegs and cans to be flown in. Fresh beer is always a good way to seal a cross-atlantic friendship. Mr Wambles was there to offer a few words on the beers on offer, and also to sing the praises of traditional British brewing – their Brown Ale is a homage to those of the UK, Cask beer can’t be beaten, Fish and Chips is the ideal accompaniment to good ale.

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Wayne Wambles addressing his audience

Aside from gracious comments about your hosts, the best way for a guest to leave a good impression is to provide a thoughtful gift. The first of these that i tried was the much-vaunted Jai-Alai IPA. Described by Wayne as pitching up somewhere between the West-Coast and New England/Vermont/East Coast IPA, it does indeed provide identifiable elements of both – a huge aroma, stereo pineyness, hazy but not definitely not turbid, but also dank and pillowy to taste, juicy on the finish and without a cutting bitterness.

The Maduro brown ale was my next choice, and whilst Wayne discussed about how british brown ales influenced the recipe for this beer, its clear that there’s plenty of local flavour. Initially, i thought that it was crisp but traditional, and perhaps even a bit pedestrian, but the further down the glass i went, extra depths were revealed – chocolate roastiness, hints of espresso and, obviously, cigar smoke. As a standalone beer, its good, if not jaw-dropping, but pair this with a roast beef, ribs, or rich dark ganache and you’ve got a pairing of pure joy.

The only Cigar City Beer i didn’t get excited about was Ligero – a black lager whose name is a reference to a part of the tobacco leaf that gives cigars a spicy flavour. As you may have  guessed, the smoky, spiciness was reflected in the flavour of the beer – Wayne explained that he was inspired by German Schwartzbiers, and while the smoke was certainly not overpowering, it was enough for me – perhaps the contrasting sweetness of the Maduro and Jai-Alai meant my palate suffered slightly. One I’d like to give another go in a different place and time.

Having heard about the feverish demand amongst US devotees, the promise of a taste of the 2016 Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout intrigued me to say the least. Brewed once a year, the ingredients include cacao nibs, cinnamon and ancho and pasilla peppers. Personally, the inclusion of chillies in a beer is usually an instant turn-off, having drunk my way through a series of underwhelming or plain disgusting chilli beers i wasn’t expecting to enjoy Hunahpu stout as much as i did. Brewmaster Wayne discussed the beer in terms of its relation to a chocolatey Molé sauce, and the sensation of drinking this thick stout, full of dark chocolate and sweet, piquant chilli was revelatory. Ultimately, the strength of the beer was its fine balance – sweet yet warming, rich but not chewy. It was a shame that the keg kicked shortly after I finished my third, as I would have drink more of this. A lot more.


As well as the keg delights, I also picked up weeks-old cans of Jai Alai, Maduro and also Invasion pale ale to take home, which was, like Maduro, seemingly inspired by UK equivalents – dry, tantalisingly bitter, and gently aromatic . Currently, I understand that it is unlikely that there will be a wider distribution of Cigar City’s offerings in the UK, but if you see them, have a chomp.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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