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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Opinion and rants

Golden Pints 2016

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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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Reviews and events

Siba BeerX 2016

Luck is like buses. You wait ages for one that never turns up, and you walk five miles home in the drizzle pondering the futility of existence. I found myself with a unusually virulent strain of luck recently though, and won two tickets to the Society of Independent Brewers’ BeerX festival in Sheffield via a competition from Sheffield beer week. Sweet enough really, i’d wanted to go for a few years but usually had other plans due to the proximity of the festival to my birthday, but to seal the deal I also won a Facebook competition run by SIBA and ended up with £50 worth of beer tokens too. I’m not normally this much of a fortunate git, honest.

BeerX is more than just a festival, it also comprises the SIBA AGM, with talks and panel discussions on relevant topics for its members, as well as an exhibitors section for brewing related business to pitch their goods and services. Of course, any trade focused event should include a gigantic piss up too, and with over 300 beers rotating over the four days, there’s plenty to choose from.

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The main section of the festival is held in the defrosted main rink of IceSheffield, with a huge bar running almost the full length of the arena, forested with hand-pump and keg fonts. Abundant seating too, with plenty of large tables set up, or if you fancied you could take your drink and sit behind the glass in the ice hockey arena stands. There was also a couple of smaller island-bars, one staffed and stocked by breweries from Barcelona and Valencia, and others offering snacks and coffee.

Also, outside there was a ‘Brewers Yard’ setup, which was a new addition this year. Actually a large, temperature controlled marquee, there were individual stalls from breweries across the UK, staffed by the brewers themselves in most cases, with a couple of keg fonts each as well as their bottles or cans. Street food trucks were also lined up outside, with seemingly every type of beer-induced craving catered for, i was especially taken with the Banh Mi truck offering Vietnamese-style baguettes, and went back for seconds.

So far, so good – great setup with easy access around the venue, tons of staff and plenty of room for the growing crowd across the day. Particularly pleasing was that rather than the usual beer fest, take a glass and reuse it throughout the day custom, you were given a fresh glass with every drink, saving ending up with a stouty-hoppy dreggy mess and having to give it a swill under the tap in the loos. Mind you, when your event and glasses are all sponsored by a large insurance company, you can probably afford to have such a luxury on offer. BeerX is, for a beer event, uncharacteristically swish, and for some possibly a bit corporate, but not in a brash way – it’s just that everything is done well, and without having to set priorities in order to break even. The exception is the toilets, which while clean, were of the portable kind and with sanitiser rather than soap and hot water, but given that the main toilet facilities were in use by skaters and families in the smaller rink next door, this was understandable.

Getting down to it, we started in the main hall, and took our time choosing what to drink, which proved difficult. I started with a ‘safe’ choice – Salopian’s Automaton IPA, which didn’t let me down, but given the sheer number of beers on offer, there were inevitably some duds. I tried to put my pumpclip/branding prejudices to one side, and had to, as even for a relatively seasoned drinker, there were lots of breweries represented that i hadn’t heard of. Quite often, differentiating between beers at festivals by memory can be difficult, so i did a quick tweet review of each Beer i tried – 19 in total (thirds of course). Most of the beer i enjoyed tended to come from the Brewers Yard area, and the standouts were Hardknott’s Brownian Motion Porter, The Little Beer Corporation‘s 1917 Imperial Pils and One Mile End‘s Blood Orange Wheat double IPA. I’d say that overall I had about a 60% success rate, and while disappointed by some i thought i would like, was equally surprised by other breweries i’d snappily written off.

Having the breweries representing themselves added to a friendly atmosphere, and everyone was more than happy to chat and offer a taster or three. SIBA are obviously keeping an eye on smaller festivals around the UK and its good to see them recognising the connection between drinker and brewer as something that is valued and worth encouraging. A big craft love in isn’t to everyone’s interest though, but if you fancied sitting, getting steadily mashed in front of the rugby on the big screens there was plenty of space to do so.

As I’ve discussed before, there could be seen to be a fork in the road between craft and non-craft events, bars and breweries, and while unintentional in the main, a them and us mentality from drinkers who have a strong preference in either camp. All the better then, that events such as BeerX have a foot in each firkin, as outside of the hardcore beer drinker, most people are oblivious to the debates that we find so enthralling – and to have something that features the full spectrum should ensure that casual beer drinkers get a full view of the panorama, not just one side of the peak.

 

 

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