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
Reviews and events

The Session 120: Brown Beer


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Standard
Fridge Favourites, Reviews and events

A Pirate Life for me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard
Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 6 – Surt Til


I’m not really that bothered about getting boozed up on Christmas Day – far too much to do, games to be assembled, and massive amounts of food to be eaten. Things have died down a bit now though, so I’ve popped my second beer of the day.

Completing a hat-trick of To Øl selections is Surt Til, a sour table beer, designed to be a liquid equivalent of the pickled vegetables served alongside a Danish christmas dinner. As the blurb says, why eat your vegetables when you can take a drink? I’m inclined to agree.

The pour is lively, less ice man, more ice cream man, but the carbonation is just right. There are some salty notes and a bit of funk, but also a bit of a soapy, thin finish, which is not entirely unexpected for a table beer. The sourness is fleeting but crisp, with some typically savoury hints from the Mosaic.

Overall, this is a satisfying beer but not as moreish as Sur Yule. This was another of Becky’s choices for the lineup, and as she’s done most of the hard work today I’ve given her the majority of the bottle.

‘The only downside to doing the cooking is I sip all the booze I can get my hands on whilst chopping and stirring so I’m feeling a bit pickled! That being said I am once again regretting sharing my lovely To Øl beer with Gareth. Of the two I thought I would like the Sur Yule the best but this is divine. I love an easy drinker and this is incredibly quaffable. No flavours standing out it’s just clean and crisp and even (trying to make my contribution festive!). I could drink this all day long – I’m looking forward to getting my hands on more To Øl goodies in 2017!’

Hope you’ve all had a good day, and that you’ve got a fun evening planned.

Standard
Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 2 – Yadokai


Final day of work before Christmas for us both today, so we’ve found a big beer to celebrate. I first had Wild Beer Yadokai last year when Becky bought it for my birthday and I was very impressed, so much that I went out and bought another bottle and stashed it away.
There were a few issues with subsequent releases, and I wasn’t quite sure if my bottle was affected or not, so thought best to save it for a while. The openness about the issues was admirable, and although there was inevitable disappointment I think Wild Beer addressed it well at the time.

With their reputation for pushing boundaries its a shame that there was a slip, but I haven’t been put off from opening this, or any of their other beers I have overwhelmingly enjoyed since. Here’s hoping that it pours well and without the jellification some reported at the time of purchase.

The beer itself is described as influenced by ‘things that are Japanese’ and was created in collaboration with the Hanging Bat Brew Co, chef Tim Anderson of Nanban, and the now sadly closed Blackfriars Bar/Restaurant of Edinburgh. They must have been on full alert at the collaboration station that day.

The result is designed to be Sake-like, and given the importance that both Blackfriars and Nanban placed on beer and food matching, it should pair well with the Hirata beef buns we have for dinner. Unfortunately due to pre-Christmas rushing about we ate those about two hours ago, but still…

So, to the pour. I can see quite a lot of sediment in the bottle, so once I got the (pissing) wax and cap off, I poured slowly. A few bubbles but no head or foam, I’m glad to say that it poured clear. The initial aroma and colour reminds me of a delicious Spanish cider I had over the summer, but there is a far more restrained sweetness here.

I think I may have had Sake once, and sea buckthorn never, so I’m mainly recognising Yuzu from the initial sips – which to me is kind of a midpoint between lemon and bitter orange, almost Marmalade-like. With an abv of 13%, Yadokai harnesses that strength gracefully, with no burn but a constant warmth with every swig. There’s also a savoury, salty presence from the addition of seaweed to the boil, and for me this adds a further layer of intrigue, keeping the citrus on its toes, and further hinting at the provenance of its ingredients.

Overall, I think this is a really difficult beer to pin down, I would gladly drink it again and again, and it’s a beer I would like to recommend, albeit with caveats – I love it, but it’s not for everyone – and one I’d like to see people’s reactions too. Over to Becky for her take on tonight’s choice.

‘When Gareth first handed me this and I had a sniff I though he’d abandoned having a beer and just poured me 2/3 of fortified wine! There’s also a hint of cider on the nose taking me back to my teenage days talking to huey on the big white telephone. (Feel free to tweet me if you don’t get that and I’ll find you an appropriate gif). On looking at the glass I didn’t think I’d be keen. I like a good fizz on my beer and this is fairly flat but the more I drink the more it’s growing on me. I couldn’t tell you what flavours I’m getting because this is quite a strong beer and I’m struggling to feel my own face at this point. If you like winey, cidery beer then this is for you!!’

There you go! We’ve got some seasonal belters coming up in the next few days too, so this week should be getting more and more festive.

Standard
Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries

Leeds Beer Week


It’s been in the pipeline for some time, and now we can start getting our diaries out and stockpiling bacon/berocca/naproxen as the events for Leeds Beer Week have been announced. I’m beyond excited, and if you’re not, here’s why you should be.

Firstly, it’s a week, but longer than a week, running Sunday 28th August to Tuesday the 6th September – which gives us all a day’s rest before Leeds International Beer Festival. So, plenty of time to get involved, and as there’s events spread across the 10 days you won’t be short of options.

Northern Monk, Ilkley and North Brew Co are taking the lead locally, organising events that give us an insight into their history and inspiration, as well as beer dinners and food matching events. Friends of Ham, Bundobust, Ox Club and the Greedy Pig are all also hosting events that showcase the best of Leeds’ dining with expertly selected beers. 

The week’s events celebrate not just the local beer scene and what it has to offer, but they also bring the pick of UK and European breweries to town. Northern Monk are inviting De Molen over, North Brew Co are hosting Manchester’s finest, and Tapped and Headrow House have a packed programme of individual Brewery tap takeovers. Bundobust and Wapentake also have US and Yorkshire themed draught lists respectively
There’s far too much for me to go into detail about here, but I urge you to dive in and attend as much as you can. I’m grateful that the organisers have taken such time and effort to assemble this programme of events, and hopefully it’ll be the first of many in years to come. 

Standard