Brewers Association – An American brewer in London.

brewersassociationThe Brewers Association represents the interests of their members, who number more than 2600 of the USA’s craft brewers. There are also over 44,000 non commercial home-brewers who are members too, and they are in the UK promoting American craft breweries and showing the British just how exciting the scene is on the other side of the pond.

I swung by the Brewers Association stand at Imbibe Live recently and managed to get on the guest list at a fantastic tasting at the White Horse pub in Parsons Green. The White Horse has long been a mecca for lovers of great and interesting beer, and has been a host of many a Beer Academy course.

AA463896_942longThe pub was already buzzing by the time I arrived with my other half, a cider and wine loving gal who is being gradually weened onto the pleasures of beer. As she seems to be coming round to the fruity notes of many of the North American hops, what better event to try a few drops of hoppy deliciousness than this?

American craft beers are often characterised as hop bombs with little in the way of balance, but although the liberal use of the Pacific Northwest’s finest greenery is a regular feature of many beers, there is a lot more to the US craft beer scene that mere IBUs! There were beery representatives from 12 breweries from Uncle Sam alongside some canapés that represented some classic American fare. BBQ chicken, pulled pork, smoked salmon blinis and burger sliders were a welcome addition. Full-flavoured food with well-flavoured beer, the pairings were up to us!

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There were a range of beers, many influenced by British styles that don’t get brewed as often over here – including a delicious Double Brown Stout from Deep Ellum Brewing from Texas. There were well-balanced Czech style pilsners, flavoursome porters, Belgian-inspired strong ales, fruity wheat beers,  and a delicately nuanced earl grey tea pale ale as well as a refreshing German style Gose beer (beer made with salt).  Of course there were some hoppy pale ales and intensely aromatic and bitter IPAs too, it wouldn’t be an American craft beer tasting without them!!

More and more beers are making their way across the Atlantic and of course the BA has a vested interest in inviting beer writers and buyers to a tasting. In reality lovers of everything from Meantime and Brewdog beer to Beavertown and Kernel brewing have the craft beer movement in the US to thank. They were originally inspired by traditional beers from the UK, including historical styles that were barely ever brewed in the late 70s and 80s when it all kicked off. Now their re-interpretation and innovation has influenced small and radical brewers all over the world including British breweries who now make beer with American hops, innovation and style! It is well worth picking up a few cans or bottles when you get the chance as you can get to grips with a vast range of flavours from some talented brewers that have helped change the landscape of the beer industry forever.

 

 

 

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A night out at Stroud Brewery

 

 

51A fun evening visit to a Cotswold micro brewery near Stroud last Friday enabled us to enjoy pizzas, freshly baked in their wood-fired pizza oven, and the opportunity to taste two of their draught beers,

Stroud Brewery are an old name in Gloucestershire brewing but the current incarnation started in 2006, and focusses on a great selection of organic beer. After winning numerous awards for their beer they have become a regular feature in pubs all over Gloucestershire, with the bottles going well beyond the county borders.

Stroud Brewery Organic Ale 4%

This is a golden colour, fresh tasting and a hoppy pale ale. It went extremely well with our delicious pizzas made from soft light dough. The hoppiness and light carbonation refreshing my palate.IMG_20150406_142917

Stroud Brewery Teasel Organic Best Bitter 4.2%. Most drunk after the meal! This was a full bodied malty bitter with a more powerful taste. It also had a slightly peppery finish.

Stroud Brewery have a great reputation locally and produce outstanding beer that is a staple on the cask line-up of many pubs. The link up with Vélo Bakery to make their sourdough pizzas have really given visiting the brewery bar a whole new meaning and another reason to go and taste their beer!

Thanks to ‘Imbiber’ for this review of the evening!

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Elysian and AB-InBev. Brewers not Nazis

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The betrayed are out in force on twitter. “Goodbye Elysian” “Last time I EVER drink Elysian Beer”

“Traitors!”  “Sell outs!”

It was as if the founder of Greenpeace had just joined ACME petrol-chemicals Inc. and personally dumped toxic, radioactive waste directly on a whale’s head while laughing maniacally!

I realise that the craft beer is more than just great beer, carefully brewed by bearded artisans in railway arches and barns behind a pub. It has become a political movement that reflects the campaigns against the 1%, a liquid counterpart to ‘farm to fork’ and locavore groups.

The best breweries not only make the best beer, but often become successful. They need to expand and become …… Big! Big is not a word that fits well with an industry that started as home-brewers selling their liquid gold as a nano or micro brewery. The reality is that as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are available around the world and Boston Beer Company required the Brewers Association to change their definition of ‘Craft Beer’  to maintain their good-for-marketing label. The other side of this success coin is that those that are a manageable mid-size, and enjoy cult status as well as high desirability have and will become targets for takeover. This is not new or exclusive to the brewing industry. T’was ever thus.

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The accusation that owners Dick Cantwell and David Buhler have ‘sold out’ is tough. If you had built a business from scratch, worked evenings and weekends, cleaned out lauter tuns and fermentation tanks in the dead of night, drove from store to bar to sell your beer when no one was particularly interested, you might be tempted too. They can now keep on brewing, inventing great beers in their own brewery and know that their retirement and family are covered financially until the day they ‘call time’ on this mortal plane. Isn’t that the point of working hard all our lives?

You may be disgusted by their actions, and I am very disappointed, having visited Seattle many times and visited their bar and looked forward to every release that made it to the bar I managed in Vancouver. I do however, understand them.

Craft beer has evolved into quasi political movement, but not everyone is on-board with that!

So, boycott the beer if you must. (You’ll be missing out on some great brews!). Tell people of your disappointment. There is no point spouting hatred to the level that social media seems to propagate.

They are brewers not Nazis.

 

 

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Beer for English Devolution

 A beer for every region!

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Talk of English devolution got me thinking. At first beer was, unusually nothing to do with any of thoughts, but memories of history lessons about Anglo-Saxon England and the original divisions of England emerged, before those pesky conquering Normans came along with their Dukes and Doomsday Books. I checked a few blogs and websites on devolution and came up with a modern version that might work today, dividing England up into modern day provinces that represented some historical roots but allowed for modern populations etc. etc…..’but what the hell does this tangent have to do with beer?’ I hear those of you still reading ask.

Well, in states and provinces in other countries, there are state flowers, provincial birds and trees, so if England were to divide up into provinces why not have a representative beer style? Ok so there are probably lots of reasons but this is just a bit of fun!

Capital Idea: London.

There are a couple of nominations for the beer choice of the capital, including IPA, as London was where the forerunner to the modern style was initially developed and exported to India. I felt that the home of IPA in its heyday was not in London but further north, and the real beer of London has to be the one that took its name from those that carried the goods around the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. The ticket porters (tickets were the metal badges that they wore as a licence to work) were the lifeblood of the worlds most important trading centre 200 years ago, and the beer that slaked their thirst was named after them. This classic was also known as ‘entire butt’ due to the brewing process used by the breweries that were, in effect, mass-producing this beer for the new industrial working classes in London, but it is better known as Porter. This beer lubricated a city and has become synonymous with it. The new wave of craft breweries in London are embracing the style and it has now been given new life and a prominence it deserves.

Beer of London: Porter

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Three London porters. A river porter, ticket porter and fellowship porter

 

The Mysterious East: East Anglia & Home Counties.

This may be a bit of fusion of two areas but my main thought here is that it contains the two counties most associated with traditional hop growing: Kent and Sussex. The hop is the ingredient that seems to be most revered by modern brewers, and we are now understanding them in the same way sommeliers understand grape varietals, with soil, terroir and climate all adding to their various flavours and aromas. The style that has showcased the English hop so well over the past 250 years has been Bitter and pale ale. Hoppy pale ale emerged with the development of IPA in the 18th century, and was in contrast to the relatively low-hopped ales that were also sold at the time. These hoppy pale ales were colloquially know as ‘bitter’ by those that drank them and the name stuck. Today bitter can be found around the world in its various guises and New World interpretations, but the home of the hop in Britain lies within this region and I think Bitter should be their official beer!

Beer of East Anglia & Home Counties: Bitter

Kent Oast Houses with hop-poles

Kent Oast Houses with hop-poles

 

The Borderlands: Mercia

Mercia translates as border country in Anglo-Saxon, and referred to the kingdom that sat uncomfortably for many years next to Wales, until King Offa defined a more permanent boundary with his dyke. Nowadays this area roughly translates as the much more prosaically named ‘Midlands’, but as a history enthusiast, I like Mercia a lot more! This was a tough one to decide as the industrial heartland in the ‘Black Country’ consumed many millions of barrels of Mild over the years, so that was my first candidate.

The second beer on the list is Burton Ale. Burton-upon-Trent was and the major centre of brewing for the British Empire for many years and this eponymous ale was drunk around the world before falling into obscurity. The town lies in the heart of Mercia, and any beer that represents this region must have an association with this old brewing powerhouse. Today its shadow falls upon many a Winter Warmer and Barley Wine, as Burton ale found itself being re-labelled and developed into these more familiar beers. Although Burton brewed and exported this beer, it was a major producer of porter and stout for export too, but the beer that really put it on the map was IPA. At the height of the British expansion into India through the East India Company as well as through Empire, Burton was the largest producer of what went on to be called IPA, running London into second place and Edinburgh third. This style has now captured the imagination of many a craft brewer around the world and been re-invented and interpreted many times over. The famous Burton water and brewing prowess made this style its own.

Beer of Mercia: IPA

Burton Union Brewing System at Bass in 19th C

Burton Union Brewing System at Bass in the 19th Century

 

The Summerlands: Wessex

Wessex expanded its borders regularly of the second half of the first millennium, but its heart lies where the West Country meets the South. I tried to think what encapsulates this beautiful part of England, and I kept coming back to summer holidays, beaches, sailing, camping, hiking and sunnier weather that the rest of the UK! The only traditional beer I could place here is the now extinct west country white ale. This was an historic English beer made with wheat flour, little or no hops and wild fermentation. Maybe it was a more wheaty lambic, although some recipes include egg whites, so I’m not going to guess what it tasted like! I did think wheat beer, as a descendant of this curiosity, had a shout but really it’s a bit of a stretch.

In the early 1990s Wessex based Hopback brewery brewed a type of pale ale that appealed to a new generation of drinker. It was paler than the bitters and pale ales at the time, had a light , easy drinking body and just enough hops to give it a crisp, refreshing finish. Lifelong lager drinkers were starting to convert and a new style (or sub-style) was born. The Summer ale or Golden ale is now a mainstay of many breweries and usually finds itself as a summer seasonal, although recently it has become a year-round offering due to its popularity. It chimes perfectly with the sunny disposition of this region, and a pint of golden summer ale is never far from a beer lover’s lips when holidaying or living in this provincial paradise.

Beer of Wessex: Golden Ale

Coastal Beer Garden in the West Country

Coastal Beer Garden in the West Country

 

The Northern Powerhouse: Northumbria

The North of England is a blend of industrial towns and cities, that helped build a nation, and stunning wild mountains, lakes and hills. It’s as diverse as this country gets, but whether sat in a country pub or Manchester restaurant, the atmosphere of an independent spirit with a warm welcome is never far away. The candidates for this region were easy to assemble. Bitter is a mainstay of many a Yorkshire brewery and I’m sure many dissenting voices would be happy to fight the South East for this one, but I had to make the call and Northumbria came off second. Theakston’s Old Peculiar is a classic North Country beer and this modern-ish version of an Old Ale is a must after a long hike in the hills, accompanying a beefy pie and mash in the pub. I felt that Old Ale is a bit obscure for a flagship brew so the winner had to be Brown Ale. The internationally famous Newcastle Brown Ale is drunk in many parts of the world and spawned many, some far superior, brown ales. One is from the other side of the region and Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is a delicious version of the amber brown style of beer. Sometimes known as ‘Northern English Brown Ale’ by American pigeon-holing types, it is not to be confused with the sweeter dark brown ale, typified by Mann’s. This northern ale is a thirst-quenching pint that can have a nutty malt flavour, and just a hint of hops for balance only and I feel this is a beer the North can be proud of.

Beer of Northumbria: Brown Ale

Thirsty Coal Miners enjoy a well-deserved brew

Thirsty Coal Miners enjoy a well-deserved brew

 

I hope you have enjoyed this regional ramble and provincial pontification. Feel free to disagree and stake a claim for an official ale for your area. You never know, we may be going federal in a few years and as beer is the national drink, it can unite us as well divide us, but each Anglo-state may be searching for an identity all of its own, and what better than a local beer to do just that?

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Gipsy Hill Brewing – A chat with the brewers

GHBC LogoHidden away in a corner of southeast London, within stumbling distance of the famous Crystal Palace mast lies one of the newer additions to the burgeoning craft beer scene. Gipsy Hill Brewing Co. managed to find a street unencumbered by a micro-brewery, so moved in to realise their dream of hosing down coppers and fermenters, wrangling temperamental bottling lines and figuring out a cask storage conundrum.

Predictably another brewery moved in on the other side of the industrial estate moments later, such is the growth of the industry. In fact by the time I publish this there will probably be another one signing their lease and taking delivery of shiny new fermenters!

Starting your own brewery might be the dream of many, but the few that make it a reality know the level of commitment and hard work it takes, and Charlie, Sam and Simon are no exceptions. The whole time I was there  Simon did not stop hosing, cleaning and prepping the brewery equipment; Sam was at his desk, jabbing at a laptop while Charlie volunteered to chat for a while ….a good a reason as any to take a break from the daily toil of the brewery

 

 

 

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Charlie from Gipsy Hill Brewing Co.

I asked Charlie how the brewery got started and how they all met. Charlie had been working as a journalist, and when that path didn’t lead to total fulfilment he got his interest in brewing. After a part time job working at Five Points Brewing in Hackney he met Sam and they set about looking for a place to brew. This led them to my neighbourhood in Gypsy Hill. Simon then joined the crew with a wealth of brewing experience from Dorset’s Piddle Brewery

Charlie showed me the copper and fermenters, explaining that the equipment did not come cheap! Probably a blessing as I recently heard of a brewpub that bought a cheap copper boiler from China, it has now been condemned and the owner is left with a bill for buying a new one!

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The Gipsy Kings – Simon, Charlie and Sam

 

 

The two core beers so far is the Southpaw amber ale – an American style , with a healthy addition of stateside happiness but good malt body and the 3.8% Beatnick pale ale, a very light amber, refreshing hoppy beer, again taking some influence from the North American version, but at a very sessionable strength.

Sessionable is a popular term at this brewery as the original idea for an element of individuality amongst a growing field of new-wave breweries is to make beers of great flavour at the not so great strength of under 4.5% ABV. Charlie hits a note with me with his reasons. Having young children, like myself, drinking high alcohol beers that seem to be popping up everywhere from craft breweries all day, and getting falling down drunk is not an option! Those hangovers of our child-free past could be tended all day with peaceful tv marathons and delivery pizza.

Not any more.

Timmy’s got football at 8.30, It’s Jenny’s best friend’s birthday party, and we have no present yet! The baby is screaming and it’s not even 6 am. It’s a Sunday and, it’s right about now I’m grateful that I could drink a few pints that taste great and not turn me into an unwilling extra for an episode of “The Walking Dead”. There’s another reason too, beers at over 5% ABV enter into a different tax bracket and making session strength beers keeps the cost down.

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Firkin Tetris anyone?

 

There is soon to be an addition to the two brews so far, perhaps a darker style, Charlie hints, but he’s not sure yet. Seasonal beers are mentioned too, but it seems that it is too early commit to a style just now, but keep your eyes open, I’m sure something will be appearing at a pub near you.

That is where the majority of the beer goes; pubs that is. Whether it is near you is another question. I asked where their beer can be found and they are doing well at many local southeast London pubs, especially around Crystal Palace, Dulwich and Norwood. Their bottles are available at a few independent shops too, and they seem to be a favourite of some London beery pop-ups so look out, it’s early days but they’re certainly one local South London brewery to look out for.

All three are now full time and had a desire to turn their enthusiasm for great beer into a full time career and the ups and downs of self employment. The 15 barrel  (25 Hectolitre) brewery often operates at full capacity, and they have the enviable problem of finding enough cooler space for the popular casks,  and the growth of the craft beer market bodes well for those that can survive the first wobbling steps and evermore competitive arena.

Charlie cites influences as diverse as Stone Brewing from San Diego in California to his alma mater Five Points from Hackney in London, but their beers so far are not trying to be copies, but exhibiting the style and flavour that they want to make.

Despite competition from all the freebies that larger traditional real ale breweries hand pubs and the marketing of more established craft breweries, Charlie sees the expansion of quality beer over the mass produced fizzy yellow liquid as a positive for all craft breweries. The success of Camden and Meantime open doors for the smaller breweries in pubs that a couple of years ago would never had given breweries like Gipsy Hill a chance. He feels that there is room for all the new wave of breweries, and I hope so too; the rapid growth of breweries needs to be matched by growth of consumers for all the plethora of  great little breweries like this to succeed.

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Judge a beer by the colour of its glass?

beer bottles

On returning to live back in the UK, one of the treats in store for me was to have a few bottles of some of the beers that I had loved in the era before the ‘Craft Beer Revolution’. These are beers that some young hipsters in East London might turn their nose up at these days, but in my view are as tasty and drinkable as any put out at £3.60 a bottle in a stall in Borough Market! They might be seen as old-fashioned, traditional or just plain boring, but these are the ones that I grew up with, and offered flavour and a certain ‘made with love and care’ feel at a time when there was not the plethora of crafty options that the modern drinker has at their disposal.

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As I found myself in a large supermarket, looking at shelves of bottles, lined up like soldiers waiting for inspection, I noticed that a regular tipple of mine (one I had in cask at my local in Twickenham more often than in bottle) was now in a clear bottle. 20 years ago, you would be hard pushed to find many beers in anything other than the traditional and trusty brown bottle.

Even Heineken and Carlsberg knew their beer tasted better from brown glass.

Then the marketing people took over.

‘The public want to see the colour of the beer’ they say.

‘Green is the colour of a premium European lager’ they chorus.

‘Great packaging will help you sell more’ they promise.

So what do I have against clear and green glass?

I hate the odour of a skunk.

Those readers outside of my former home of Canada or the USA may be unfamiliar with the incredibly musky, ammonia punch of squashed skunk on a road, but the smell is not nice. British readers might imagine a tomcats spray of musk and urine, and then let it fester a while with some sulphur to get some idea.

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This is a similar smelling chemical that is released (in thankfully smaller doses than an attack from an angry skunk) when ultra-violet light is allowed to react with  iso-alpha-acids present in hops creating a compound called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol (MBT for short!)

The result for the less scientific among us is known variously as ‘lightstruck’, ‘sunstruck’ or just simply ‘skunked’. I have seen the term ‘catty’ used as well, but it all means one thing: The beer in your hand may well be off as was my bottle from Badger beers (Hall and Woodhouse). A good pint of bitter in the pub is transformed in clear bottle to a stinky smelling and tasting beer that has sat in clear glass under the glare of sunlight or the UV strip lights in a store. Green and clear glass let UV light in and brown glass (the darker the better)  largely keeps it out. It’s that simple.

So here is an appeal to brewers, marketing managers and drinkers alike:

Say NO to clear and green glass, show us some respect and do your best to ensure the beer that passes my lips is as close as humanly possible to the one that the brewer intends me to drink.

 

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‘The Craft Beer Revolution’ by Steve Hindy – Book Review

 

WHITE BOOK

‘The Craft Beer Revolution’ by Steve Hindy

ISBN: 978-1-137-27876-0

Steve Hindy is the founder of Brooklyn Brewery, and is one of the great success stories of the American craft brewing industry. He takes us on a journey from the earliest days of enthusiastic home-brewers, MBA graduates and wealthy businessmen dipping their collective toes into the unknown waters of alternative beers. They were alternative because in the mid 60s there were no real options for the American beer drinker other than a bunch of similar tasting lagers of very little note. Steve Hindy knows all the protagonists, and has some interesting tales to tell!

If your vision of the craft beer revolution is a brotherhood of bearded home-brewers bravely taking the plunge together, helping each other, drinking one another’s beers and stepping forward, challenging the great ‘domestic’ mega breweries as one, then Steve Hindy’s history will be quite the eye-opener. Tales of  jealousy, marketing hi-jinx and raging arguments at beer festivals and various beery organisations are just some of the things that the ‘craft beer revolutionaries’  had to overcome.Together with bully-boy tactics from the large breweries with distribution, legal barriers and financial woes it’s a wonder that craft beer in the USA ever got going.

With stories from defunct pioneers like New Albion Brewing, and craft brewing success stories like Anchor, both who broke trail for many others, to the next batch of brewers like Matt Brewing, Pete’s, Sierra Nevada, Allagash and of course Brooklyn, the reader will enjoy the ups and downs of their favourite breweries. Influences from Britain, Germany and Belgium, as well as trailblazing creativity from the likes of Dogfish Head are all part of the story that will entertain any craft beer geek worth his hops!

Squarely aimed at the enthusiast, you don’t have to live in New York or Portland to ‘get’ this book. This is the story of how a few brave amateurs took inspiration from British, German and Belgian beers, added some American magic and ended up with a billion dollar business that has transformed the brewing industry the world over. The journey was not smooth by any measure and this book documents the bumps and grooves with entertaining style that makes it a great addition to your boozy library!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Becoming a Beer Sommelier

 

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IBD Beer Academy Beer Sommelier Pin

I recently became a beer sommelier, well rather I achieved my accreditation as one, I considered my previous jobs as being an uncertified beer sommelier, as I had much the same role as a (wine) sommelier in a more wine oriented establishment. So what does it mean and is it necessary? Well, the number of beer styles and sub-styles seem to be ever growing and, to the uninitiated, it may seem like a malty quagmire  of names that mean nothing. There are the know-it-all beer geeks who pedal internet based knowledge at the bar all too frequently, probably putting off the inquiring neophyte. Enter stage left a qualified pro, who can guide without snobbery, judgement or ubergeekery, suggest food pairings, describe flavours and chat about breweries, making the experience a pleasurable one for the bar, pub or restaurant patron.

There is more than one path to the brother and sisterhood of beer professionals, and I trained and passed with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling’s arm The Beer Academy in the UK (soon to be offered in Australia) . You could choose the Doemens Beer Sommelier course in Germany or the US at the Siebel Institute, or pursue Cicerone certification, again in the US (now offered occasionally in Canada and the UK), or the Prud’homme Beer certification in Canada. The fact that there are a growing number of people and organisations offering courses is encouraging, as it sanctions professionals and offers education in an area of the drinks industry that is growing massively.

What does it take?beeracademy1

Depending on the certification you go for, they are fairly different, but have a common focus. The main thing that you need to be good at is blind tasting. Describing the flavours determining a style as well as identifying faults is an important part of all the programs. This takes practice, lots of it, and mimicking faults in beers to taste is definitely needed to be confident in his area. A strong concept of food and beer pairing is also needed, and you will be tested on your skill at finding sublime matches to enjoy both together. Getting a grip on brewing techniques and the different possibilities created by varieties of  malts, hops, yeast and water, as well as a host of adjuncts is a must as well. I found a healthy home-brewing habit is an enjoyable way to do this!

Knowledge of beer service and storage, as well as a good comprehension of beer styles and their flavour profiles are essential too. Not only having this knowledge but being able to impart it in a positive, friendly and accessible manner to a variety of customers, MUST be central to the role of a beer sommelier.

So to all you that aspire, go to tastings, read books, learn about the history of styles, take notes, attend courses and visit breweries, but remember that being a sommelier of any sort means contact with customers in some capacity. Whether it be as a retailer, restaurant server, barman, representing a brewery, or if you host beer events and tastings, you’ve got to relate to a client or customer. The term ‘beer sommelier’ is more than being a certified beer geek, it is about understanding every aspect of the product and getting other people interested and happy with their beer experience, so they come back for more!

 

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Beer Store Focus: Market Row Wines, Brixton

Dave-Front-ShotWrangler Rating:

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Having moved from what I consider the centre of Canadian craft brewing, Vancouver, back to my old home in London, I quickly missed the range of cutting edge brews that were available in a number of stores around town. The British supermarket choice is fair at best but can’t compare with the specialist retailer I have been spoilt with for the last 6 years or so.

On a slow day searching for new employment opportunities I took a break and had a stroll around the fantastic Brixton Village and Market Row, the indoor arcade sections of Brixton Market. I came across a tiny wine merchant in the Market Row arcade and saw a number of interesting looking beers in the window.

Market Row Wines is run and owned by Dave Simpson who, like me and what seems like half the British wine trade, used to work for high street chain Oddbins. After having a browse and choosing one of each from the local Brixton Brewery range (reviews later in the week) Dave found time to have a chat. His wine and beer selection are squeezed into an area smaller than many living rooms, and as a former manager of wine and beer stores, I can only imagine how tough it is to shelve and store all that stock!

What Market Row Wines lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality. The fairly modest selection of 40 to 50  beer focuses on London craft breweries with a few other interesting choices from further afield.  Apart from the local Brixton Brewery beers, there are selections from the Bermondsy based Partizan Brewing, Camden Town, Wild Beer, Pressure Drop and the darlings of British craft brewing The Kernel Brewery amongst others.  Dave certainly knows his beer and gives honest and friendly advice and recommendations. I asked him how the craft beer selection is selling, and he enthusiastically explained that it just keeps growing and the only problem is keeping on top of new breweries and new beers that the ever demanding current generation of customer desires. The world of new wave brewing moves quickly and the retailer has to be one step ahead of the game to keep the eager “latest thing” obsessed consumer satiated.

If you live in the area or find yourself visiting the fabulous Brixton Market, then make your way to Market Row Wines for nice break from the norm, as they offer not only a nice selection of interesting beer but some hard to find wines too. If you find you don’t know what to get, don’t be shy and ask for some advice – it’ll be well worth it.

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Is there such a thing as “Craft Beer”

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What do these beers have in common?

 

Sharp’s Doombar

Goose Island IPA

Worthington White Shield IPA

Granville Island ‘Thirsty Farmer’ Saison

Leffe Brune

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The answer is that they are all delicious, well made beers by individual brewers who seem to care about the product that they make. Oh they also happen to be owned by two of the largest international mega brewery companies in the world; companies that most ‘craft beer’ fans treat with contempt, and are unlikely to be ordering any of their more visibly ‘industrial’ brands anytime soon. Those two companies are Molson Coors and AB Inbev. AB InBev are known for probably the most famous brand of beer in the world – Budweiser. Molson Coors own the  ‘silver bullet’ (coors light to you and me) as well as the top selling domestic range of lagers in Canada from North Americas oldest continually operating brewery – Molson.

These companies do not make craft beer, surely.. according to the (American) Brewers Association and now the guys at Brewdog, craft beer can only be made by a craft brewery, and AB InBev and Molson Coors are definitely NOT craft breweries.

James Watt and Martin Dickie have tried to define craft beer in the UK because,no definition exists as such. They are looking for SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) , CAMRA and the community as a whole to come together and define what ‘craft beer’ means in the UK. They point to the US and the Brewers Association’s (BA) definition as an example of how the US ‘defines’ it.  The roots of the BA lie in representing small brewers, but now the maximum output per year for members is 6 million US barrels (7.04  million hectolitres). This would be one huge brewery, hardly ‘small’. The Brewdog boys think 500,000 hectolitres annually is a suitable size limit for a ‘craft brewery’. SIBA (formerly Small Independent Brewers Association) reserve full membership for breweries who produce 200,000 hectolitres or less (above this then only associate membership is permitted) alongside provisions ensuring full independence from the big boys.

This brings me to my main point – does size matter?eoc_growler

There is no guarantee that small breweries, by anyone’s definition, whether that be 7 million hectoiltres or a nano-brewery producing less that 10 hectolitres annually will produce beer that is any good, let alone be defined as ‘craft’

For me it is about the beer, and its ingredients. Adjuncts seem to be important to many people when working out a definition. Are they used to enhance or reduce flavour? asks Brewdog and the BA. A brewer that uses rice (such as Budweiser) would argue that it does enhance the flavour by giving the beer a clean crisp taste that an all malted barley beer cannot give.  Craft beer fans would say it reduces flavour to the point where the drinker can barely taste anything.

It tastes great, but is it a craft beer?

It tastes great, but is it a craft beer?

So where does it leave us on defining what is and isn’t a craft beer? Well, one man’s craft beer could be another’s mainstream swill, so who am I or you to define it for everyone else?  I think that giant megabrew companies can own brands or companies that can make craft beer; the five at the top of the article are examples where they have bought up great breweries that produced great beer and still do.

Can the same beer made with exactly the same recipe in the same brewery by a great brewer one day be considered “craft brewed” and then as the shares are bought up by Coors Molson or AB InBev suddenly be industrialised swill? The beer has remained the same, just the ownership has changed!

The answer is that there is always going to be a large grey area that may well be impossible to define, and to try and put hard and fast rules may well be a fools errand. I thing it is worth defining “Independent breweries” and perhaps size as well. ‘Regional, Small, Micro and Nano’ might be worth defining if only to inform for the consumer, as well as qualifying for particular beer festivals that feature for example, just nano-breweries or just independent breweries.

Pigeon-holing a broad term like “Craft Beer” is trying to define different peoples perception of an ethos, quality, flavour, ‘honesty’ and artisanal-ness among other terms. It is not possible in my opinion and we should only try to define what is quantifiably definable, and I think size and independence as well as declaring a list of ingredients is what we should be aiming towards as they are far more useful and interesting things for the drinker to know as he or she sups on a tasty brew.

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Beer! The Show

It was with great pleasure that I took part in an episode of Beer! The Show a while back, and I’m glad to say it has been released! Fortunately for me I star with the lovely Chanté Swanson, and follow the great interview with Powell Street Brewing’s owner and brewer David Bowkett (recently the winner of Best Beer in Canada with the Old Jalopy Pale Ale at the Canadian Brewing Awards)

My bit is about seven and a half minutes in and takes place at Bitter Tasting Room in Vancouver, but please watch the whole lot as its an entertaining and informative show and “Fezz” Nazarec , your beery host, makes craft beer uncomplicated and fun!

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A perfect beer cocktail for Summer – the Vancouver Vice

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A vice is something that we might enjoy despite it being bad for us, a bit naughty or immoral in some way!

Weiss Beer is a German wheat beer
(and pronounced almost like the English “vice”) that is delicious and refreshing.

I put the two together and developed this great summer cocktail. It sells now in Bitter Tasting Room in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, and if you want to impress some summer guests who need to be shown how versatile beer can be, then grab a cocktail shaker and make a few of these with your favourite German Hefe!

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The Vancouver Vice

1 oz (30 ml) Hendricks Gin (or your gin of choice, but Hendricks is best for the “Vice”)

1/2 oz (15ml) Pimms N0.1

1 1/4 oz (37ml) 2:1 Strawberry honey syrup

1/2 oz (15ml) Lemon juice

1/4 oz (7ml) Lime juice

1 bar spoon (5 ml) Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters

3-4 oz (90-120ml) Maisel’s Weisse wheat beer (or your favourite German Hefeweisse beer)

Garnish: Wheel of Lime or Lemon

(Metric conversions are approximate)

Method:

Combine all the ingredients (except beer) in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a stemmed 12oz (360 ml) glass half filled with ice. Top up with gently with beer. (If you pour it straight in too fast, it will foam over) . Now gently mix with a barspoon (or ‘pull through’ from the bottom to top) to combine the beer and garnish.

I know some of you are looking at strawberry honey syrup and wondering where to buy it, but it is home made and very quick and easy to make. It’s totally worth it as the fresh fruit flavour gives it a real kick.

Strawberry Honey Syrup (2:1)

1 cup (250 ml) of clear runny honey

1/2 cup (125 ml) of water

1 lb / 500 g Strawberries

Gently warm the water and honey until they combine into a syrup (this is a 2:1 honey syrup) – don’t let it boil though! If you have a juicer, cut the green stems from strawberries and juice all the strawberries and add to the honey syrup. Stir on a low heat until it has combined. (Any raw fruit in a syrup has to be heated just enough to pasteurise it, just don’t let it boil otherwise you lose that fresh flavour and get a jammy one) . You can optionally strain the syrup through a large sieve or strainer to remove any remaining strawberry bits, but it is not necessary. Allow to cool and chill

No juicer, no problem!

De-stalk the strawberries and slice and chop them. Add to the honey syrup over a very low heat (don’t allow to boil) and stir and allow the juices to seep into the syrup. Strain, allow to cool and chill.

Always keep the syrup in the fridge.

 

 

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Judging Beer – BJCP – Pros or Homebrew specialists?

A judge, but not necessarily a beer judge!

A judge, but not necessarily a beer judge!

Judging beer is a complex matter and one which I have thought long and hard about. What makes one beer better than another, how can a simple pilsner be “better” than a complex imperial stout? How can you compare apples to oranges?

One solution has grown out of the home-brew movement in America. The BJCP was founded in 1985 by the American Homebrewers Association (along with the Home Wine and Beer Trade Association) in an effort to have some continuity and standards set for homebrew competitions. They have a dizzying seven levels of beer judge with freemason-like  progression of ranks from ‘apprentice’ to ‘honorary grand master’. The parameters set are based in a series of style guidelines that homebrewers have to brew to.  The closest representation to the declared style, without faults achieves the highest score.

I have chatted with a couple of certified BJCP judges and asked about judging the quality of beer, and tried to compare it to the professional assessing of wine and spirits. The two methods are very different and I wondered how that may have come about. One judge described it to me as “dog show” judging. The style guidelines are like the Kennel Club breed standards description, and the best examples that match or get closest to those guidelines, while maintaining quality, and exhibiting no brewing faults will get the highest scores.

Progressing to a ‘best in show’ and finding the beer that is better than others, regardless of style, is a simple task of lining up the scores given in the style round, re-tasting  to ensure accuracy and confirming the original assessment and declaring the winner. The winner therefore is the beer that is closest to the style guidelines of its particular style (with the afore mentioned quality and fault-free provisos).

Now this makes perfect sense for homebrew competitions as the amateur is attempting to brew something that could pass (and on many occasions surpass) a professionally made beer. I personally feel that this system is not as useful for commercially available beers. The first stumbling block are the style guidelines, these are strict descriptions of the flavours that should (or not) appear in any given beer, in short the “breed standards” that the beer is attempting to emulate. These can be a bit arbitrary as styles develop and change, especially historic styles.

Take porter for example, using meaningless terms like “Brown Porter and Robust Porter”  which have no basis in the names used in the UK where the style was developed and evolved. There was brown stout and stout porter; grain bills, alcohol and flavours changed  over the years from the early 18th century when a well hopped (for the time) brown beer grew into what became known as porter. There were porters in the early 20th century that were renamed “stout” for marketing reasons without a change in recipe. So who are the BJCP to decide what professional brewers should brew and what to call it?

I think they are trying to preserve in aspic what is a natural evolution of beer styles. A pint of pale ale is different now than it was in 1730, so which is the “real deal”? How close in taste is an American IPA to those shipped to India in the heyday of the British Empire; is it close enough to actually use the term IPA in any meaningful way?

These are just examples of the issues at stake. I have no problem with attempting to define beers, as it helps sell it and inform the consumer, but the BJCP has become a self appointed arbiter on what is and is not a style and what it should taste like. They may well offer good representation of what home-brewers want to make and how they are  judged, and perhaps have been accepted by American breweries to determine styles and quality,  but they regarded with a certain amount of apathy if not total disregard in Belgium and the UK. German breweries probably haven’t even heard of them!

The beer historian and award winning author Martyn Cornell wrote an article on the differences between Old Ale and Barley Wine (and Burton Ale) here and it serves as a good example how styles can merge and crossover over time.

In reality Beer can be made in a myriad of ways, and just getting to be the nearest to the BJCP style standard is not enough.

Magic?

The other factor published by the BJCP is quoted as “indefinable magic”. Really? Magic? come on you professional beer judges, you can do better than that! What about texture, balance, complexity, the harmony of flavours, integration and finish for example? No one in the business of professional evaluation of anything, including beverages, should be able to fob off something  “indefinable” as magic. You are a professional so are being paid to define it!

I think that those who study for the BJCP and pass are undertaking a comprehensive and challenging task and although I have the utmost respect for their tasting ability, it is the fact that it is fast becoming the only method where by beer is judged that i have deep reservations. Why not take a leaf out the other 2 sectors (spirits and wine) and assemble panels of professionals from the industry, of which BJCP judges would be a welcome addition? Writers, retail and licensee buyers, beverage directors,  (beer) sommeliers, brewers and educators can all contribute a wealth of expertise and not get confined to a dogmatic and narrow view of beer judging that will only reward brews that conform to the BJCP othordoxy.

 

 

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Beer Cocktails: Artistry or Desecration

beer cocktailBeer cocktails can be an anathema to both the mixology purist as well as the craft beer aficionado, so what are they all about, and why should we ruin the flavour of a well crafted beer?

There are arguments abound on the web about this and in many ways I might agree about ruining a fine brew with a shot of liquor in it. A quick scan on the Wikipedia entry on the subject lists a range of so called “beer cocktails” that seem to be a bunch of pints with a shot of something in it, often still in the shot glass! That is not a cocktail – that is a bunch a frat boys getting drunk by spiking their beers and calling something offensive like “an Irish car bomb” or vaguely militaristic like a “depth charge” or “U-Boat”.

Classic cocktail ingredients have relied on good quality ingredients for many years (not always, though – some early cocktails or punches mixed in things that would soften the harsh taste of badly made spirits). Whiskies, rums and gin make the basis for many cocktails, and their flavour is paramount; the better the spirit, the better the cocktail can be. It is the same with beer, in my opinion, and those great flavours that can be enjoyed on their own, can form part of the picture to make a great tasting beer cocktail.

The secret to any cocktail is getting the balance of flavours right. Sweetness, sourness, acidity, bitterness, body and alcohol need to have a certain synergy that culminates in the flavour that the creator is trying to achieve and beer can add a new dimension to the list of more common ingredients. The problem with merely adding a shot to a pint is that the beer drowns out the flavour and rarely offers anything other that making the beer stronger and often sweeter. The beer needs to be in smaller amounts to allow the other ingredients a chance to offer some complexity and nuances, as well as making a drink that resembles a more traditional cocktail (long or short) and more interesting to drink!

I am starting to compile some beer cocktail recipes here that have merit and have been sold at a bar or restaurant so please help and submit some recipes with their creator, year of invention and where it was first sold (if possible). Cheers!

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Save The Growler! – Stop The Tax

eoc_growlerI had wanted to write a reflective piece today about stepping down as CAMRA Fraser Valley president after 2 years on the exec, but Warren Bowyer from the BC exec  came along to our AGM at Mission Springs brew-pub and made us aware of the new “Growler Tax”. In short this will raise the price of a growler fill at a small brewery (under 15,000 hectolitre production) or brew-pub by about $1 (and change) in the province of British Columbia.

Now I hear you cry that that this is a small increase, why bother complaining about it when gas prices are sky-rocketing and the cost of this or that are at an all time high? Well, we in British Columbia have some of the highest taxes on alcohol in the developed world, we are treated like naughty, irresponsible children who have to have their candy consumption limited by raising the prices to keep overeating out of financial reach! Having managed a few liquor stores both here and in London UK, I can say that those who choose to over drink to the point of alcoholism will not be buying craft beer, and they are unlikely to be visiting nano-breweries to fill up their growlers with the latest Imperial stout or cardamom infused saison.

This tax is yet another burden having to be carried by small, independent breweries, who already have the deck stacked against them with the spurious tactics of the large domestic brands, as well as the government taxing them at every turn from the licence application up to the point the beer touches the consumers tongue. Randy Shore in The Vancouver Sun recently told a tale of a small industry on the up (here) and BC is now punching its weight alongside the craft beer meccas of Oregon and Washington.

So why is the provincial government so keen to put a tax shaped bump in the road, just when we seem to be really getting the beer ball rolling at speed? Well, the answer lies in the question. They see an industry growing and flourishing and want to get their extra tax in before it grows too large and can more easily gather their forces to oppose such a tax.

It is time to say enough is enough. We draw the line in the sand here, and we will oppose this tax hike!

Please sign the online petition here to Save The Growler!

Following are links to your local CAMRA branch who are spearheading the fight, and were instrumental in getting this information out to the craft beer loving public.

CAMRA BC (the umbrella organisation for the province)

CAMRA Fraser Valley

CAMRA Vancouver

CAMRA Victoria

 

savethegrowler

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Cascadian Dark Ale – A name is dead? – time to re-brand!

500px-Flag_of_Cascadia.svgThanks to the litigiously minded Eli Gershkovitch at Steamworks Brewery in Vancouver, BC The name for that dark, top fermented beer, with full hoppy aromatics, created by the Cascadian varietals of  hops, has now effectively ceased to exist. Proud Cascadian brewers across the Canada-US border in the beautiful Pacific Northwest have been denied the chance to brand the style that was created and championed with the cross national region that takes its name after the Cascade mountains (a term first used  in 1825). In 1970 the term ‘Cascadia’ was first used to describe the surrounding region, and since then has been a popular name used by its inhabitants. Sadly the use of the word “Cascadia” and “Cascadian” has been trademarked for beer names and styles by a brewery that no longer produces the beer that once bore its name.  Sadly, as far as I know, this has not been tested in court, no doubt because these things cost money, and money is often in short supply within the world of  small craft brewers.

So it might be safe to assume that the battle to use the name for our region is lost for now, but that begs a new question: What should we call this style now? Black IPA seems popular but is a truly horrible contradiction (black and pale – oh please!!) So what are the options?Cascadia_map_and_bioregion

The American Brewers Association has plumped for ‘American style India Black Ale’ – with its US-centric attitude towards beer styles they have ignored the Canadian contribution to this beer as well as the uncomfortable use of ‘India’ within this name.

The American  BJCP, founded on principles of homebrew competitions, have yet to decide on a name for this style other than a speciality style, but debated the issue last year. (I can’t find any resolution on their site).

The British based World Beer Awards have gone for ‘Black IPA’ and the US based World Beer Cup with its record breaking number of sub-styles call it ‘American style Black Ale’.

One thing is certain, no one agrees!

The use of ‘American’ for me is problematic as it ignores Canada and its contribution to the development and popularisation of the style. The great thing about ‘Cascadian’ is that it crosses the border effortlessly without the ‘North American’ moniker.

iep

There is a genuine ancestor of this style that was brewed as a porter, but prepared for export to India with extra hops and dry hopping. This was called a number of things such as ‘India Porter’ or ‘India Export Porter’, or ‘Export India Porter’. This was predominantly hopped with English hops (but not necessarily exclusively) but resembles the CDA in the same way a British style IPA would resemble a North American style IPA – related, similar but not the same. The Kernel  Brewery in London have re-created the style (interestingly they also make a Black IPA). This gives us a start but ignores those that developed the Cascadian version and the use of Pacific Northwest  hops

 

Here are some options which I would be grateful for you, the reader, to consider.

 

North American Style India Porter

West Coast India Porter

West Coast Porter

West Coast Dark Ale

PNW (Pacific Northwest) Dark Ale

PNW Porter

Can-Am Black Ale

Obviously there are many variations (Black versus Dark etc) but you get the idea. Perhaps a shortlist can be assembled and some names voted on!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Great Pumpkin beer tasting

 

 

So I decided to try some Pumpkin beers on Hallowe’en while watching some bad horror movies (starting with “The Children”- murderous kids and toddlers go on the rampage!) I had five different beers from four breweries. I started with Parallel  49’s Shadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest. A clever idea marrying the easy, malty marzen style lager of the Oktoberfest with some pumpkin and spices of Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving.

 

 

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Parallel 49 Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest

This is the only lager from the group and it certainly is easy drinking. There is some nice sweet pumpkin flavour, a hint of vanilla and some  nutmeg and cinnamon perhaps. The spices are light and match the medium bodied maltiness of the beer. Quite a dry spicy finish that, although stops this from being a sweet beer, can be too dry for some.

All in all a good first effort from this brewery and I would recommend this and buy it again next year for sure!

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

 

 

 

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 Lighthouse Pumpkin Ale

This one is a mid amber colour and starts off surprisingly light. There is a mild sweetness from the demerara sugar and a little spice. It finishes very quickly and I felt there was not anything to it. I guess they went for the restrained approach, seeing as some pumpkin ales are cloyingly sweet and spiced out of all proportion, but I feel they were too cautious and missed out on some seasonal flavours.  A rare miss from this reliable brewery!

 

 Wrangler Rating:

 tankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Fair)

 

 

Tree Brewing Jumpin Jack Pumpkin Ale

Tree brewing have a number of seasonals that are usually well received, so how will  their pumpkin ale stack up against some stiff competition? It pours a dark amber and, weighing in at 7%, promises a fuller tasting beer than the other two. With a malty spicy aroma, it doesn’t taste like it’s as strong as it is. It has an even maltiness, a medium body and well integrated spicy flavours. This was a really well balanced beer with all the flavours combining well! This beer is not overly sweet, and the pie spices match the pleasant malt nicely. An easy 3 almost 4 Tankards!

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

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Cannery Knucklehead Pumpkin Ale

The Cannery pumpkin ale comes with a well-dresssed knobbly headed pumpkin gentleman on the label, and pours a bit darker that the others so far. It seems to be based on an amber-brown ale, which leads me to let it warm up a bit, rather than having it straight from the fridge.  It has a slightly smoky note to the spice aroma but the malt seems a bit thin for me.  The spice is definitely dominant, with a touch of black liquorice  but there is almost no sweetness or maltiness, which I like a bit of  in my pumpkin ales. Having said that it went well with my pumpkin BBQ ribs, and the dryness contrasted with the sweetness of the sauce. This one just squeaks a 3 tankards!

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

 

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Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter

This is a bit of a departure from the others in that it is a much fuller bodied beer than the others, with dark malts, mocha notes and made with real chocolate. There is some spice and ginger, but they are laid back and the rich chocolate is definitely king! Pumpkin flavour? well I struggle to taste it, let’s face it, the large orange squash is not known for its strong flavour and it gets a bit lost in this beer. On the other hand this is a delicious beer and my favourite of the ones here, but…. I might struggle to put this in the pumpkin ale group if I was tasting blind. Soooo… what does this mean? Well this is the best beer here but as a pumpkin ale?

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg tankard.jpg(Excellent)

 

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So to conclude the Great Pumpkin Beer Tasting I feel that there is a split decision! Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter was the best beer out of the five, but … I think Tree Brewing`s Jumpin Jack was the best ‘classic’ pumpkin ale here. On Hallowe’en I want to taste pumpkin pie in a glass but not be overwhelmed by any one element and Tree managed it well.

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Hoyne Wolf Vine Wet Hopped Pale Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Hoyne Wolf Vine is the first beer I have reviewed from this fairly new brewery. Their IPA is popular as is their version of a dark mild, Dark Matter. This is a limited release due to the availability of the fresh hops and sees Sean Hoyne, formerly of Swans brewpub and Canoe brewpub, and brother of Lighthouse founder and brewer Paul Hoyne, enter the fresh/wet hopped beer fad that is gripping British Columbia at this time of year.

Instead of going for an IPA, Hoyne has gone for the less bitter pale ale, and given it the fresh treatment. It pours a mid amber colour with a bubbley head and leaves heavy lacing around the glass. The aroma is terrific with a big hit of fresh, green leafy notes, lime zest and lime flower. The palate is a bit more restrained but develops more as the beer warms up to cellar temperature. There are less of those aromatics than I expected and it tastes less hoppy than it smells. There is a good balance of bitterness on the finish, leaving a leafy, herbal note in my mouth. Overall a good beer that I enjoyed but it didn’t totally wow me. This would be nice with a (real) mature cheddar ploughman’s lunch.

Serving: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 5.5%

Best Served: 7-10°C

 

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Cascadian Wheat Ale – a beer is born

I’m calling it! I’ve had enough with ‘IPA’ being used as a byword for ‘lots of hops’. IPA has a great history that has genuinely developed over time to mean a range of beers that have a common theme. Pale malts, well bittered and dry hopped aromatics. Which malt? what hops? how much? – its kind of up to the brewer, but whether you are enjoying a Lighthouse Switchback IPA from BC, Canada, the East India Pale Ale from the Brooklyn Brewery in New York or the IPA from Meantime Brewing in London, we know what family we are in, and rightly so. Black IPA, White IPA, Belgian IPA, India Session Ale?….. oh come on! Get your own bloody names people – leave India out of it!

There have been a number of “White IPAs” on the market in the US and Canada, but when Vancouver Island Brewery released their rather delicious Flying Tanker White IPA, it struck me as a missed opportunity. We Cascadians are at the centre of craft brewing in North America, whether you are in Oregon, Washington or British Columbia, we have much in common, not least our hops and innovation. So why not take this opportunity to create our own names for a new generation of beer, rather than pilfering the 19th century. North American IPA, West Coast IPA, Cascadian IPA, Pacific North West IPA… fine,  they all mean something. They are our versions of the classic British IPA. They maintain an historic philosophy while interpreting the style with their own local inspiration. But White IPA?

Please brewers and beer marketers, stop mis-using IPA and forge a new identity. Cascadia is the home of hoppy brews and great hop varieties, so why not make some new beer styles our own! We have tried with Cascadian Dark Ale, lets seize Cascadian Wheat Ale before it is too late!

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Beer Vs Wine… (Yawn..)

Google Beer v Wine and you will get many blogs, magazine articles and special events geared towards this eternal battle of the beverages. This usually comes from the beer sector of the publishing/blogging world as the wine folk don’t feel they have to prove anything. Beer people feel they need to prove how good modern craft beer is and how versatile it can be. This is a fair point, there is much ignorance amongst the general public about what beer actually is! Many still see beer as an inferior product, mass produced for the masses and hoi polloi to lubricate themselves at the end of the working week. Most, in the English speaking world, view wine as a luxury product with elitist overtones; visions of snooty French sommeliers and posh types using overly flowery descriptors abound.

So how do we reconcile these two beverages? Is it just a case of blue collar vs white collar, that tired old stereotypical struggle of the classes? Far from it in my opinion. I have been told/asked after I have introduced myself as a beer blogger that “oh, so you’re a beer person, not a wine person then?” I never thought I had to choose! I enjoy writing about beer because I think I have more to say, and wine blogs outnumber beer blogs about 10-1.

Wine in Southern Europe has always been a drink for all, from the labouring peasant to the aristocrat in the palace. Likewise in Britain and Germany beer was a drink enjoyed by the Lord of the Manor as well as the serf in the fields.

So why are there a thousand beer v wine articles out there? I think beer has an inferiority complex, a kind of small man syndrome, always trying to start a fight. Sometimes beer is just the thing and other times wine is the one that fits the bill. Beer has some great food pairings, but wine can do as well. There is no fight, let peace break out! I like both! I just choose to write about beer.

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Benton Brothers Fine Cheese – Cheesemongers Extraordinaire!

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Outstanding)

I have not yet reviewed a place that does not sell beer, but I have been so impressed with every visit to the Cambie Street location in Vancouver that I felt I had to! The Benton Brothers consist of Jonah and Andrew and their three stores on Granville island, Cambie Village and Kerrisdale. They had been recommended to me by friends who know and understand my love of cheese (there’s more to me than just beer by the way…so much more…).and was impressed by the stellar reports that they had given me; I finally decided to head up one lunchtime a few weeks ago.

I was given a friendly greeting by Jonah and started gazing at an international plethora of delicious cheese. There are examples from small artisanal  producers from all over the world. The great European cheeses are all there, along with Quebec’s finest, as well offerings from local speciality BC cheese makers. They source their British cheeses through the multi-award winning Neal’s Yard Dairy, which (as I’m originally from London) is wonderful to see!  If you feel overwhelmed by the sheer choice, or frightened off from buying something so pungent that it would scare off a starving mouse, do not fear – The Cheesy duo are not only experts, but generous too. They will cut a sliver and let you taste, which is the only way to transform a Cracker Barrel guzzler into a lover and explorer of the world of flavour that artisanal cheese producers have been making for centuries.

These two fromagers are also well versed in pairing  cheese with wine and beer, so can add a touch of expertise to your next soirée (I won’t tell your guests – you can take all the credit!).  Don’t leave without buying some excellent charcuterie, a nice alternative to all those mass produced cold cuts at the grocery chains, as well as top notch sandwiches made with the same yummy cheese and meats.

Broaden your horizons and leave those blocks of plastic Kraft slices safely on the supermarket shelf, and take a step into a wider world. Don’t be nervous, you will have two expert guides to lead you there.

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The Beer Moment

 

This months Session (no. 63) as posed  by uber-beer blogger and writer Pete Brown is called The Beer Moment. Here is mine.

I grew up in a semi rural/suburban town in Buckinghamshire, just outside London (that’s UK not Ontario!) and my parents, especially my father, often went to the local pub and enjoyed cask bitters from the likes of Fuller’s and Bass. One such pub was a haven for families in the summer. Warm Sunday afternoons were spent in the expansive beer garden where kids could run, roam and play in relative safety, while the mums and dads could chat and no doubt exchange tales about their offspring, schools, housing prices and lousy bosses. It was here that my Dad gave me a bitter shandy, so that I may start on the journey to develop a taste for a drink like no pop or orange squash that I had ever had.

My best friend was (and still is) 3 years older than me, and his dad had been giving him not only shandys but actual half pints of an ordinary bitter for a while, and I was always playing catch up. (He hit forty last year and for once, I was not jealous of his three years of seniority!) This was, I guess, my first beer moment, but not The Beer Moment.

After difficult teenage years in a military boarding school, and hating my parents for it, I left for university. It was some time in my second year and after much drinking of  beers good, bad and downright awful, I no longer hated my parents, and no longer felt I had a childish point to prove. I had wanted to be a grown-up and not an angry teenager any more. On a visit home, my mum was toiling in the kitchen, cooking food I would now walk across hot coals for, while I suggested that my Dad and I should head to the pub for a quick pint before supper. My mum gave a look, that said she knew she would be putting our food in the oven to keep warm, while we sat and drank with no regard for punctuality or good home-cooked food. She had obviously been there before!

We walked less than stumbling distance to a small but atmospheric and traditional village pub. My dad seemed to know various people when he walked in, including the landlord, giving an air of comfortable familiarity; and then my Beer Moment happened.

It was the first time I bought my dad a drink.

A cask conditioned Fuller`s London Pride arrived in each hand. We both enjoyed this classic bitter, but most of all we enjoyed each others company as adults and friends – for the first time.

Beer has always been a leveller, whether between social classes, nationalities, and even between generations – especially between fathers and their sons.

Cheers Dad – here`s to many more!

 

 

 

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Lighthouse Switchback IPA

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

I keep drinking this beer, so it stands to reason that I

a) like it and b) should write about it.

The problem is that every time I crack one open I just want to relax and enjoy it, rather than actually  open my rather neglected blog and get to it!

Lighthouse Brewing have really upped their game in the last year and a half with some cracking and interesting “big flavour” bombers. They waited a bit to follow up with an addition to their popular if conservative 6-pack range, but it was well worth it. The Switchback IPA is described as  “Pacific Northwest” that promises some big hop notes, and challenging the likes of Central City’s Red Racer IPA and the former Lighthouse brewers at Driftwood with their Fat Tug IPA.

On with the beer! It has a lovely dark golden amber colour with a white fluffy head. Aromas of grapefruit and tangerine zest mix with a sweetish grainy malt note. The flavours follow on with the same citrus zest, a fruity tang and a sweet piney note backed by a solid but definitely subservient malt platform.The trick that is not performed well by many North American or West Coast style IPAs are that a bunch of hops are chucked in, with both eyes firmly on the IBU count, rather than how good it is to actually drink! Lots of hops but highly drinkable is a tough ask, but Lighthouse Switchback IPA manages it extremely well. My palate is given the buzz of a very hoppy brew, but unlike some I could mention, I still want to drink more, which is why this works as a 6-pack rather than a 650ml bomber. Enjoy on your deck, or pub patio this summer, and be grateful there is now another great, hoppy,  BC West Coast IPA to cool yourself down with!

Serving: 355ml bottle

ABV: 6.5%

Best Served: 6-8°C

 

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The Case for Beer by Frugaldad.com

Thanks to frugal dad for this fun infographic!

Beer Infographic

Source: FrugalDad.com

 

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Driftwood Singularity – 1 year on

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Outstanding)

I went to some good friends’ house for dinner the other night and had been saving a bottle of Singularity stout from last years release to compare with a bottle of this years, that he had brought to the party. We opened them together and had them side by side to ‘test’  the effects of ageing.

The head on the 1 year-old was a little more restrained, but the aromas and flavours were full on! Dark mocha coffee bean, baked dried fruit, high cocoa content chocolate, rich sweet black molasses, a roasted warmness and a whisky like note on the finish. This beer was long; by that I mean the amazing, complex flavours lingered for an age in my mouth.

By comparison the new Singularity, with the great looking wax seal, was a babe in arms! All the components were there, but they were not yet of age. The flavours had not yet married, they were still separate, youthful singletons waiting for the right time to meld. The patient drinker will reap the benefits of this new classic. Get as many as you can lay your hands on, but crack them  open on their anniversary; keep a few more to see if it improves and develops further.

Serving Type: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 11.8%

Best Served: 10-12°C

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Phillips Garrison Mash-Up Baltic Porter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

East and West united; Canada going forward as one, whether you are in the Maritimes or the West coast beer is a universal pleasure and one that has united two great Canadian craft breweries on opposite sides of the country.

What is Baltic Porter? It is a relatively modern name used to describe strong Porters brewed in Russia and the Baltic nations that copied strong porters and stouts brewed in Britain for export to those regions. One difference is that many of those breweries now use lager yeasts rather than the warm/top fermenting ale yeasts that brewers in Britain used. Modern craft brewers are now making their version, and bringing this beer to a new audience. Garrison Brewing already produce a good Baltic Porter, and now they’re joining up with Phillips to make a new version; so how does it stack up?

It has a dense black colour with a loose tan head and an aroma of black coffee, baked dried fruit and black molasses. Once sipped it has a full body, but not the intensity I expected. The flavours are full of sweet molasses and burnt mocha. There is a lengthy,  fairly sweet finish and that I find detracts from the balance of the beer, but it is still a good and boozy drop!

Serving type: 650ml bottle

ABV: 8%

Best Served: 8-10 °C

 

 

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Ommegang Three Philosophers

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Ommegang Three Philosophers is a Belgian style quadrupel dark ale, blended with an authentic kriek (cherry lambic). It has a dark reddish brown colour and a loose head that disappears fairly quickly. This beer has a powerful flavour that saturates my mouth as soon as it enters. The thick caramel notes and cooked, dried fruit are the main players, and it overwhelms the subtle (or is it buried?) cherry from the kriek. There are sherry-like armoas and a winey finsh that give this a bitter-sweet note that is good for strong cheeses.

I was a bit disappointed with it as I was expecting a bit more complexity from such a grand beer, and the cherry was just a hint, nothing more. On the whole though it is a very pleasant ale that is best enjoyed on a cold winter`s evening .

Serving: 750ml bottle

ABV: 9.8%

Best served: 10-12°C

 

 

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Lost Coast Winterbraun

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

The Lost Coast Winterbraun is a strong dark brown ale brewed especially for the winter months. The label sports a Picasso-esque snowboarder with skin the colour of this rich and deeply hued brew;  the sweet, dark caramel and rye bread aromas that greet you are a comforting reminder of why we drink different beers when the nights draw in and there is a chill in the air.

The flavours are warming too, a hint of black treacle, roasted malt, baked dried fruit, and sweet caramel are all there and give this beer a cake-like appeal. This can be drunk with a rich beef and ale pie and gravy or on its own, some might enjoy this with desert, such as a steamed sponge pudding made with lots of dried fruit and a caramel flavoured custard.

ABV: 6.5%

Serving type: 650ml bottle

Best Served: 9 – 11 °C

 

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Beers of British Columbia

 Wrangler Rating: 

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Whether you’re a fan of BC craft beer, live in BC or just visiting, then this is a book for your collection. It is a dossier of brewpubs and microbreweries and covers fundamental information of a brewery’s offerings and sometimes with a bit of history is thrown in.  If you can see past the clunky and inconsistent formatting, (this is a self published book) and get to the ‘meat and potatoes’, then you will really find a lot of great information from this guide.  If you’re planning any beer related trip in British Columbia, this guide will likely motivate you to check out what’s in the area of your visit.

   From beer neophyte to established aficionado, there is information that everyone can use in this publication, and call upon it as a consistent reference.  Keep in mind that this book was published in 2010 and already many changes have occurred in the craft beer industry in “Beautiful BC”, but for the most part, it is still very relevant;  that being said, I wholeheartedly look forward to the 2nd edition in the future.

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Driftwood Twenty Pounder Double IPA

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Driftwood Brewery Twenty Pounder Double IPA comes with trademark fabulous graphic artwork on the label. At the very least they have raised the game when it comes to bottle labels! Happily this is not where the game raising ends. They have produced many of British Columbia’s (and canada’s for that matter) best craft brews. A double IPA (thanks for not using ‘Imperial’) has been keenly awaited by the craft beer fans of the West coast. Since the two IPAs that have been on the shelves – regular IPA Fat Tug and super seasonal Sartori Harvest have proved so popular, a double IPA seemed to be an obvious choice for a seasonal specialty.

On with the review! It pours a rich mid-amber colour and has a small foamy head. The aromas are full of dried fruit and candied orange peel. There is some pink grapefruit there too and it promises to be a big mouthful of a beer, full of richness and power. There are obvious notes of sweetness, from the malt, but not a giant amount of depth. The hop notes are still king and a real pithiness is present on the tip of my tongue.  There is, however a slight cloying note and a bit of a metallic taste on the lengthy finish which tempers my total enjoyment.

I can’t help thinking that Driftwood’s real skill has been some of the farmhouse ales like Spring Rite and the great ESB Naughty Hildegard and that’s where their passion lies. The plethora of Double IPAs from many North American breweries have made the style a “standard” and perhaps this hasn’t showed off their indisputable talents at their best.

Having said all that I still like this beer, but I can’t help thinking that it will improve with a bit of age. I will put one down for six months and I’m sure it will show better. I did this with the Lighthouse Shipwrecked Triple IPA and it’s disjointed flavours greatly harmonised after a few months in the Beer Wrangler’s cellar.

I also feel that this would would work better with some food – perhaps a blue cheese to temper the sweetness or on the other hand a funky but creamy Limberger might just be perfect!

Serving Type: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 9%

Best Served: 9 – 11°C

 

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Brewdog Trashy Blonde

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

What makes a great Summer ale? Whether you call it a Blonde, a Golden or a Summer ale, the style has to refresh, not be too heavily flavoured, but definitely not bland. There also has to be a good level of (here I go – a word I hate!) drinkability. (I feel soooo dirty!)  However a drinkable balanced golden coloured ale would only get a 3 tankard rating. A great beer has a certain something that inspires and delights, and as all beer connoisseurs know, when you come across it, you mark it down in your mind and make sure you revisit that beer at a future date. Brewdog comes with a lot of hype, and are well known for their super strong and heavily hopped ales, but can they pull off a great session style summer seasonal without overdoing it or being too cautious?

It has a nice pale golden colour, and crisp slightly hoppy, almost lagery nose. There is a hint of grainy malt but no real sweetness, and a good dose of dry herbal hops on the finish. The hop notes linger for a bit, almost drying my mouth, which in turn makes it start to water!

This is a nicely made Summer blonde ale and I could sink quite a few on a hot day on the deck!

Seving type: 330ml bottle

ABV: 4.1%

Best Served: 5-7°C

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Kona Brewing Oceanic Belgian Style Saison

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Kona Brewing’s Oceanic Organic Belgian Style Saison is brewed on the Big Island using Belgian yeast and organic ingredients. It has a medium gold colour and if you tip the whole bottle out, the small amount of yeast inside will give it a slightly cloudy appearance, with an aroma of spice and citrus. The flavour is a touch one dimensional, but has a nice crisp refreshing flavour with a citrus note. There is a hint of the coriander and dry spice on the finish and is pleasantly drinkable. This seemed to get better as it warmed up, so if you don’t want to miss the subtle spiciness, don’t drink it too cold!

ABV: 6%

Serving type: 650ml Bottle

Best Served: 6-8°C

 

 

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Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat is sold by the brewery as a ‘Belgian Wit’  but this is no ordinary Hoegaarden imitation that some breweries, large and small churn out in the summer. This could be the fruitiest wheat beer on the market with the vibrant orange colour of the liquid echoed by the flavour. Sweet tangerine dominates the palate with juicy blueberry notes there as well. With a touch of sweet spice and a balancing note of bitterness, this beer is a great summer refresher.

Although simple, I really enjoyed this beer and would definitely have this again on a hot afternoon.

Best Served: 5-7°C

ABV: 4.9%

Serving Type: 355ml Bottle

 

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Abbatiale Triple (Brasserie des Sources)

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Abbatiale Triple is brewed by Brasserie des Sources in St-Amand les Eaux in northern France, and scored gold medals at the Paris beer competition in 2006 and 2008; now let’s see how it scores with me!

The cool packaging is the first thing you notice when you approach the beer shelf at your favourite local specialty ‘beertique’.  With a white ceramic bottle, cork and a cage it makes me want to investigate further. As I draw nearer the bright golden label reads ‘Abbatiale Triple Blonde, 7% ABV 50cl 6-12°c, refermented in bottle, delicately flavoured with juniper berries, a genuine recipe from the middle ages. A true Abbaye style blonde.’ – My drinking cloak and chalice await!

As I pour it into my chalice (the recommended glass) this brew exhibits vigorous carbonation, a light golden blonde colour, and bright white foamy head that lasts and leaves lacing down the inside of the glass. The aroma has a fresh mild yeastiness, a fragrance of juniper berries, roasted corn and gentle earth. The first sip hits the back of my throat and I feel like I’m standing in ankle deep water with the sun on my smiling face and an ocean breeze that takes me away. Refreshing is not an expressive enough word to describe this excellent french beer! Zingy herbal notes on the front palate give way to a subtle creamy nuance, with a buttery and  tart finish that lingers.

As for food pairing – I want fish and chips; I want southern fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread. Plank my salmon and serve it with a side of coleslaw or potato salad, and while you’re at it, I’ll have another beer please. Abbatiale is easy drinking, good refreshment, smooth and quaffable, it’s easy to taste why this little jug of deliciousness has been around for a few centuries.

Serving: 500ml Bottle

ABV: 7%

Best Served 6-10°C
-By Brewlord

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Estrella Damm Inedit

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Outstanding)

The Spanish term ‘Inedit’ which means ‘Never Been Done Before’ is the given name that graces the label of this delicious brew from Estrella Damm Brewery of Barcelona, Spain. A collaboration between the team at the critically acclaimed elBulli Restaurant and the Brewmasters at Estrella Damm, this beer claims to be the first crafted specifically to be served with food. A skillful blend of lager and wheat ale styles, it uses 100% natural ingredients with a combination of water, hops, wheat, and spices that has yielded a fantastically refreshing and drinkable beer.

The complex aroma with hints of coriander, clove, fennel, ginger, and sweet citrus reminds me of Mom’s fresh baked gingersnap cookies. It has a slightly misty appearance with a great mouthfeel, mild carbonation and a slight creaminess. The well balanced array of flavours flow over the palate, leaving a lingering finish that begs for more. This beer is excellent with oysters, grilled scallops, mixed greens, and balsamic dressings and glazes. It also has the right acidity to enjoy, as a foil, butter and cream sauces or mild cheeses. In fact this well designed beer is very approachable with many foods!

To enjoy at its best, serve in a 300ml (10 oz) white wine glass, fill to just over half way, and leave the bottle on ice after serving. An inexpensive, expert creation that would do Bacchus proud – Magnificent!

Serving:  750ml black glass bottle

ABV: 4.8%

Best Served: 4-8° C

-By Brewlord

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Welcoming a new contributor – Brewlord

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The Beer Wrangler and Wranglerette would like to introduce a new contributor to the site who is just known as “Brewlord”. He has a professional background in restaurant management, running the floor in successful and busy hotspots in Whistler, Vancouver and on The Island. He is a craft beer enthusiast as well as a wine buff, with stints as a sommelier and mixologist in Whistler. He has also worked behind the scenes in the restaurant world as an entremetier and garde manger… so loves to pair food with the best brews. He can now be found advising customers on craft beers in a specialist store in the Lower Mainland.  Look out for his first review on his beloved Estrella Damm Inedit!

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It’s Hammer Time -Phillips Style

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Phillips Brewing make a highly regarded Imperial Stout every year in limited amounts which usually sells out fairly quickly. This year they released a bourbon whiskey barrel aged version in even smaller numbers. But is all that extra effort and cost worth it? I decided to gather the Wranglerette and have a taste off. Is the barrel aged pure gold bullion, or is it full of bull? I always like to start with the original so here goes:

In the Blue corner….

Phillips Hammer Imperial Stout

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

It pours as dark as beer gets, with a dark, creamy tan head. There are aromas of black molasses and burnt caramel with sweet roasted coffee beans. The palate follows on and adds hints of sweet dark cocoa and a hint of cooked dried fruit. It has a creamy and silky texture, so doesn’t lie too heavily, and remains very drinkable. The finish is fairly long with the creaminess of this beer lingering.

In the Red corner….

Phillips Hammer Bourbon Aged Imperial Stout

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Despite the previous description of colour – I swear this is actually darker and even denser, but with the same creamy, dark tan head. The aroma is much more different than I had imagined with a lot of the burnt characteristics smoothed out with a touch of vanilla-like sweetness.  The notes of whiskey are there too, but not overpowering, lending some richness to this big stout. The flavours echo the aromas and feel more integrated than the non-aged version. I don’t know how long this block-buster gets in barrel, but it certainly gives it a smooth rich evenness. But…. the bourbon aged stout seems to have lost something along the way, the bite of those heavily roasted malts have been reigned in and replaced by a simpler sweetness. Don’t get me wrong it’s a good beer but it’s not as drinkable as the original, and a small glass is enough before my palate needs refreshing. It gets a lower score than the original, which is totally against my preconceptions, as I generally like barrel aged beer, but this time it only added a sweetness which smoothed out those peaks of flavour I rather enjoyed!

Phillips should be applauded for trying this out as it keeps BC’s breweries right up there with all the current trending on craft brewing, and I’d like to see them try it again next year with different barrels. If they could buy some of the Samuel Smith Stingo barrels – now that would be interesting!

Both Stouts:

ABV: 8.3%

Best Served: 14 – 16°C

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The Noble Pig Brewhouse – Kamloops

The Noble Pig Brewhouse was mentioned to me by my father-in-law a while back, and I made a point to get there next time we were up at their house for a visit. Kamloops might not seem like an obvious place for a brewpub, so the Wranglerette and I entered with an open mind! We were joined by the youngest member of my beer-loving brood, my 17 month old daughter, and I wondered if they might let her in. We were pleasantly surprised to be shown to a booth that had a great view of the rest of the pub, given a booster seat and some crayons for my daughter! As a parent as well as beer lover/writer, I am always grateful when independent establishments can cater for a (well-behaved) family.

The atmosphere was welcoming and had a traditional ‘pubby’ feel about it. Although there were the usual screens showing a range of sports, there were not invasive or ‘in your face’  if you were there to chat and not watch the game. There is a restaurant side as well as the the bar,  which had attractive dark wooden floorboards throughout. A large bar with numerous taps stretched out in front of us and the excellent waitress gave us our beer and food menu. She happily answered my questions about the brewmaster (David Beardsell) and a few of the beers,  so I decided to go for the ESB and the Wranglerette had the Porter. We were both really impressed with our beers and agreed that they were well made, had the right level of carbonation and most importantly were delicious! There were a number of options including a peppered Belgian ale as well as the marvellously named ‘Fascist Pig Pilsner’. Our food came next and my ‘Cubano Sandwich’ of pulled pork,  slow roasted beef, honey ham, beer caramelised onions and ale cheddar really hit the spot! My daughter Maisy had a kids menu mac and cheese with pancetta – she was lucky daddy didn’t steal it all as I had a taste and it was superb! There are usually seven pub-brewed beers on tap and if you can’t decide what to have, then just go for the paddle of tasters.

I will definitely be going here again and highly recommend you all to do the same!

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Pretty Things Hedgerow Bitter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Pretty Things make beer with some interest, as opposed to just brewing standard styles to fill their portfolio. This time out they have used three Dwarf Hop varietals from England, Sovereign, Pioneer and First Gold, and made a well hopped British Best Bitter.  The hoppy flavours may not be familiar to those used to drinking North American IPAs, but these fairly new varieties give it a distinctly wild herbaceous twang.

This is certainly reminiscent of Bitters I’ve drunk in the UK but with an extra helping of hops. The Dwarf hops taste fresh and vibrant and leave a lingering dry aftertaste on the palate. This is an interesting, refreshing and drinkable beer if a bit one dimensional. This is great on its own or perhaps with a traditional fish and chips; the hops will cut through the grease and revitalise the palate.

ABV: 5.4%

Best Served: 8-10°C

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Worthington’s Brewery opens to the public in Burton

William Worthington’s Brewery has just opened for visitors in Burton-upon-Trent, the Pale Ale capital of Great Britain.

“Constructed in listed buildings at the National Brewery Centre, the William Worthington’s Brewery will be open to the public, allowing [visitors] the opportunity to see the simple and beautiful process of brewing beer in action as you walk through the working brewery.”

press release from Worthington’s.

This is a historic brewery that started life when William Worthington opened his brewery in Burton-upon-Trent in 1761. In 1927 it was merged with Bass which was subsequently bought up by Interbrew (which became Anheuser-Busch InBev). They were then forced to sell some of their brands by the UK monopolies commission, and it ended up in the hands of North American giant  Molson Coors.

Many lovers of this venerable old brand may have feared the worse, as in 1967 the original brewery was demolished, and now the name of a former giant of British brewing was being passed around the big international brewing conglomerates. The reintroduction of Worthington’s White Shield IPA in 2000, bottled live with yeast, must have allayed those fears. This is one of the most highly awarded beers by CAMRA UK and deservedly so. The brewery also brews Worthington Red Shield Pale Ale as well as promising seasonals and limited release beers.

This proves that if there is the desire in the head offices of multi-national brewing giants, a genuine craft brewer, on a small scale can be nutured and allowed to grow. The ‘White Shield Brewery” is located within the recently re-opened National Brewing Centre visitor attraction and makes for a great day out for the craft beer enthusiast, with tastings and a tour of the brewery.

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Nogne O God Jul (Winter Ale)

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Outstanding)

Nogne O is a craft brewery from Norway, and judging from my first experience of their beer, is going to take the craft brewing world by storm!  Their Strong Winter Warmer is an absolute must for any fan of dark rich warming ales.

It pours a deep, dark mahogany amber, that needs to be held up to the light to appreciate its colour. The aromas that hit you are ones of spice, dates, madeira and caramel. As you drink this luxurious ale the tan head slowly dissipates, but the flavour does not. Notes of Christmas pudding and fruitcake persist and are joined by more sweet fortified wine flavours with hints of coffee bean, molasses and  spice.  Sweet liquorice can be found on the lengthy finish with some almost oaky tones.

The amazing thing is that this is not a spiced Christmas ale according to the brewery, but the flavours are complex, integrated and definitely festive!  This is truly an outstanding beer, and I can’t wait to taste this after one or two years aging – the complexity and integration can only improve – if that’s possible!

ABV: 8.5%

Best Served 12°C

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Winter Beer Showdown

Seasonal beers are filling the shelves right about now, and go well beyond any single type. The basic style is the classic Winter Warmer. This is not usually spiced but brewed to a slightly stronger alcohol volume (6% – 7% is typical for this warming malty style). Specialty Christmas beers take their cues from the old Wassail Ales – spiced, sometimes fortified, mulled beer given to carol singers in Medieval England. Although no longer fortified or served warm, it is usually strong and spiced, rich and filling. There are other winter seasonal ales brewed in the Belgium style.  They tend to be strong and dark with a super-rich malt profile.

Lagers get a make over too with the German, and now Canadian specialty, Ice-Bock, giving fans of strong and malty dark amber lagers something to enjoy. Of course breweries the world over make all sorts of beers for the festive season and often they don’t fit easily into any specific style, but that’s what makes it fun – beer can be full of surprises!

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IPA – A History

The History of IPA

Pale Ale and Industrialisation

The history of IPA starts not in India but in London and then found its home in Burton-upon-Trent, an ordinary town in Staffordshire, Britain, where beer has probably been brewed since 1004, when an abbey was founded there. Monks were (and still are in Belgium) prodigious brewers, and would have used the water from the local River Trent to brew their early ale. What made Burton so special, therefore made it the most important centre of brewing in Britain (and even the world for a while) was the water from the river. Its natural minerals happened to be perfect for brewing beer, particularly (as it turned out) Pale Ales. In fact today many brewers add mineral content (Gypsum or Sulphate) to their beer before brewing – a process still called ‘Burtonisation’.

Brewing in Britain was largely done by the owners of pubs, inns and ale-houses for their immediate customers, and so the beer would not have had to travel far before it was consumed. With the onset of early industrialisation there was suddenly a need for larger brewers who could supply the fast growing urban populations, and thankfully the growth of the canal system gave them the means to transport it. Burton, already noted for its fine ales quickly became an important centre of Brewing.

At the end of the 17th century the process of kilning malts was becoming more efficient, due to the use of coke, derived from coal. This meant that you could kiln a malt (stop it from germinating by heating it) without the use of so much direct heat. This had two consequences; the finished malt was paler than before and it produced more fermentable sugars per grain. Initially this was a fairly expensive process, so the early pale ales (more likely to be a dark amber) were mainly drunk by the wealthy, who were also the ones who could see the colour, due to the fact that glassware was so expensive. (The ordinary drinker would still have used a pewter or leather tankard for some time!)

The beer that became IPA descended from a beer known as “October Ales” – named because they were brewed in that month, and were highly thought of because of their strength, and extreme aging potential (as well as high hopping levels). Documents telling of 25 year old October beers being consumed and enjoyed exist from 1773.

The East India Company

The Company was founded in 1600 as a speculative venture that would trade spices from the east back to Britain. This company would come to be, in its heyday, one of the largest, wealthiest, most successful and most unethical companies the world has ever known. The British government did not formally take India from the Indians but nationalised the Company in 1857 after the Indians “mutinied” against them. They had their own army (made up of British and Indian soldiers) a vast merchant fleet and many local maharajahs in their pocket.

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Duchy Old Ruby Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Duchy Originals Organic Old Ruby Ale is made with a historic malt called Plumage Archer which gives this beer a deeply pleasant roasty malt flavour. The bright amber-ruby colour sparkles, and the gentle nose of biscuity and fruity malt make this a great session ale. The slightly tea-leafy and floral hops break through enough to make this a nicely well balanced beer.

This is not a flavour bomb by any stretch of the imagination, and it falls into a cross between a Best Bitter and an Amber Ale in style, but don’t be put off. This is a well-crafted traditional style ale that makes it a breeze to drink three or four in an evening – perhaps accompanied by a steak and ale pie!

ABV: 5%

Best Served 10-12°C

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Driftwood Fat Tug IPA

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA is the long awaited addition to the brewery’s regular line up that filled in the gaping hole of a classic Pacific Northwest IPA. A hefty 7% ABV and 80 IBUs sees this beer punching in the heavyweight category for a ‘standard’ IPA. The hit of hops is fresh, fruity and sharp, and will please the hop-heads out there. On the palate the hops retain their power and vibrancy, and cover the alcohol admirably. The malt is there too, but it is in a supporting role, and props up the hop flavours nicely. This is a great example of a well hopped IPA,  as it is more than just a load of hops in glass though, as ever, Driftwood make a rounded, drinkable and flavoursome beer that is sure to become a staple in the fridge of many a craft beer fan.

ABV: 7%

Best Served: 7 – 9°C

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