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

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. 

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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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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.

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Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 1 – N’ice Chouffe

Back again for another Christmas beer marathon, or should that be sprint? Definitely a marathon in terms of finding something interesting to say after a week or so, so this year my #12BeersofXmas will be a joint blog with the one and only @beckyboogaloo. She’s much more amusing than me and has really got into beer this year, so I’m glad to share her pearls of wisdom on here.

I have definitely had a Brasserie D’achouffe beer before, but it must have got lost in the foam of my memory as I don’t recall exactly when or where that was, or what I thought of it. For me, a lot of Belgian beer is on the peripheries of what I seek out, almost like it’s too familiar to spend money on when there is something more exciting and exotic on offer. Respected, yet overlooked. I’m well aware that this is a slighly dismissive, possibly juvenile attitude to some of the best beers in the world, and I’ll be rectifying this approach next year. Hopefully with my first trip to Brussels in almost 5 years.

N’ice Chouffe is a winter warmer, brown, but with plenty of orange peel and spices. It has the aroma of a Wit, but tons of liquorice. Christmassy would be the number one adjective that comes to mind, and in a relaxed, slightly pissed at lunchtime kind of way; ‘I’m feeling very Christmassy, Mum’ ‘Yes dear, it’s January now though, shouldn’t you be at work?’.

Becky is also feeling typically Christmassy – exhausted and full of cold, however, she is not one to be deterred from festivities and has a glass on the go.

‘This isn’t going to be my finest contribution to a blog due to the Christmas lurgy taking hold. I love the smell of this one and thought it was going to be a lovely rich flavour. Unfortunately all I got was a watered down sherry flavour with a metallic after taste. To be honest I’d rather have had a third of night nurse for more than one reason! I think it might be best to revisit this beer when everything doesn’t taste like illness.’

Well, we’re not off to the best of starts, I’ll pump vitamins and water into Becky and hope she begins to recover shortly!

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Reviews and events

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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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. 

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