Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Spiegelau IPA Glass


These days I spend a lot of time at home working my way through an ever increasing collection of stouts, pale ales and sour beers potent enough to clean an engine with. Despite having a sizeable stash of great bottles I don't really have the glassware to back it up. It's a hotchpotch collection of freebies, festival glasses and the occasional pint glass which somehow found its way into my home after a particularly heavy evening. 

I decided it was time to bring my collection of glassware to the same level as my beer so set about doing a little research to find out what are the best quality beer glasses out there. I was already well aware of Spiegelau and their parent company Riedel, not only for their distinctive and easily identifiable glasses but because in the wine trade they're pretty much the de facto brand for professionals. After deciding that these probably were the best glasses I could find I got in touch with the folks at Spiegelau and they kindly sent me their IPA, lager, wheat beer and brand new stout glass to try out. I've spent the last few weeks sampling various beers in each of the glasses and comparing them to a plethora of other options and over the next couple of weeks I'll be putting each of the four glasses I was sent up for review.

I've decided to start with Spiegelau's most recognisable glass as it's designed to enhance the drinking experience of my favourite kind of beer, India Pale Ale. Designed in collaboration with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada Brewing the IPA glass was the winner out of several designs that were chosen via secret vote after trials held by both breweries. It combines an unusual ridged stem which helps promote carbonation with a more conventional 'tulip' shaped bowl which should help enhance aroma, a crucial part of the modern IPA experience. I was sent an unbranded glass but in the USA you can buy them with the branding of either Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head emblazoned on the side. It's interesting to note that the branded versions also have laser etchings on the base of the glass in order to promote carbonation but the unbranded versions don't.

Let's be perfectly honest here, it's not the most attractive of receptacles. In my opinion it looks like a deviant sex toy from outer space. Still if you can get past that then there are definitely some benefits to using this glass over a conventional one. Like all Spiegelau glassware it's super thin, despite it being reinforced it feels like an over-zealous squeeze would result in it being crushed in your bloody fist. It's much stronger than you think although I'd be a bit cautious offering one to heavy handed houseguests. They are thin for a reason though, this should help maintain a consistent temperature although a negative is that your hand is always in contact with a part of the glass that contains beer and this warms it up faster. This is one advantage of using a stemmed glass for beer that tastes better when it's a bit colder.

I tried several beers in the glass but for this review I chose a beer I know inside out, a relatively fresh bottle of Thornbridge's exquisite Halcyon imperial IPA. When I first reviewed Halcyon almost two years ago I described it as a 'fruity, zingy, bitter beer' and the aroma as 'gigantic with notes of grapefruit, pine and lemon zest.' This was once again most certainly true but the IPA glass literally throws the aroma at you like a Jimmy Anderson in-ducker, you simply can't avoid it and you have to play. 

In comparison with other glasses I found the aroma to be more pronounced in the IPA glass every time. Ultimately the taste of the beer should be the same in every glass but when drinking a world class IPA such as Halcyon taking in a big whiff of that booming aroma really enhances the drinking experience and it's for this reason I'm convinced. They're not cheap though, the best price seemingly about £17.50 for a pair on Amazon although that might be a small price to pay if you're as mad about your IPA as I am. If you can get over the appearance and the thin build then I recommend giving this a go.

Disclaimer: Although this glass was sent to me for free I don't think that affected my opinion of it. Original photography by Dianne Tanner.        

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Competition Time - Win a copy of Boak and Bailey's Brew Britannia!



Good news everyone! If you enjoyed my review of Boak and Bailey's Brew Britannia - The Strange Rebirth of British Beer and fancy picking one up then you're in luck. I have a single copy of the book to give away courtesy of publisher Aurum Press.

In order to enter simply answer the following question by either leaving a comment below (Please make sure to leave your name and email address!) Or drop your answer in an email to matthewgcurtis(at)gmail(dot)com. 

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Which of these hop varieties generally has the highest alpha acid content?

a) Admiral
b) Amarillo
c) Centennial
d) Magnum
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In order to enter I must receive your entry by no later than the end of Sunday the 27th of July 2014 and I'll announce the winner the following Monday. Good Luck!

The following terms and conditions apply:
  • Entries must be received by no later than midnight on July 27th 2014 any entries received after this date will be invalid.
  • Entries must include a name and a valid email address in order to qualify. The winner will be picked at random and the judges decision is final.
  • Entries submitted via Facebook, Twitter, Vine etc or by anonymous commenters will be invalid.
  • Limited to one entry per person, I reserve the right to disqualify entries if I feel they are against the T's & C's.
  • The winner will be notified by email. If the winner fails to claim their prize within 48 hours then they will forfeit the prize and a new winner will be chosen. 
  • The prize will ship direct from Aurum Press.
  • The competition is open to the UK & Ireland only.  

Original photography by Dianne Tanner.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer


























It's tough for younger beer enthusiasts like myself to imagine what Britain's beer landscape was like in the 1960's and 70's. I've often asked my Dad, a fellow beer fan, what it was like back then. When he was studying Botany at The University of Sheffield in the early 70's he was a John Smith's drinker and used to avoid beers such as Watney's Red Barrel and Double Diamond like the plague. Nowadays we are chin-deep in a sea of what is for the most part excellent beer but it wasn't always this way and we have far more to thank CAMRA for than we realise.

I know this because I just finished reading Brew Britannia, the first book from one of the UK's finest and most hard-working blogging pairs, Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey. From their base in Penzance, Cornwall they have scoured the archives and correlated five decades worth of information into a rich and engrossing tome. It kicks off with a prologue that almost feels like a call to arms much like the book which they cite as an example, Christopher Hutt's The Death of the English Pub, before jumping forward in time and comparing Hutt's then bleak outlook to Bristol's now buoyant modern beer scene.

What follows is a carefully told story which works it's way through Britain's complex beer history decade by decade. Brew Britannia recounts tales such as the founding of the Society for Preservation of Beer from the Wood and as it was then known, the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale. Boak and Bailey fuse meticulously researched facts with carefully thought out interviews, many of them with apparently quite elusive characters which they had put in considerable effort to track down.

The style of Brew Britannia runs true to that of their blog meaning that for the most part emotions are kept in check whilst we're fed interesting and informative facts. The downside of this is that much of the early parts of the book feel a little stodgy, almost like being sat in a university lecture in the late morning when you'd actually much rather still be in bed or even better in the pub with your mates. Despite this Brew Britannia gradually gathers pace and you can tell when the authors get excited about a subject that they're really enthusiastic about. One such example is when they talk about David Bruce and his Firkin chain of pubs, this was clearly a character they were keen to track down and they tell his story with real relish.

Brew Britannia kicks up another notch when it reaches the 1990's, in which Boak and Bailey started drinking in pubs themselves, again that enthusiasm suddenly becoming apparent. The book then ploughs headlong into the modern era with an incredibly in depth analysis of how Brewdog and Thornbridge changed the UK beer scene as we know it. Plenty of truths are revealed despite Brewdog's seemingly impenetrable marketing fortress standing in the way. In the final third their research is combined with experience, it's also the era when I started drinking in pubs so suddenly my attention was held solid until the wonderful final sentence, which comes out of almost nowhere and wraps up one of the most important books on beer to be released in the last ten years.

If you're even remotely into beer I would advise picking up a copy immediately and getting stuck in straight away. Some of the more historical chapters maybe be heavy going at first but eventually it becomes impossible to put down. I've given my Dad a copy and as he lived and drank through the parts where I wasn't yet born or old enough to buy a pint I'm interested to see if it rings true with his experience of beer back in the day.

With thanks to Aurum Press for sending a review copy. Brew Britannia is available in all good book stores and online now. Original photography by Dianne Tanner.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Beavertown Twitter Tasting with Ales by Mail























From 8-9pm on Wednesday the 16th of July I will be co-hosting a twitter beer tasting along with Ales by Mail and Beavertown Brewery. The beer we're tasting will be Beavertown's Smog Rocket smoked porter. Joining myself, Logan Plant from Beavertown and the team from Ales by Mail will be several fellow bloggers including Justin Mason, Craig Heap, Andy Mogg and Keith Kendrick who we will be on hand to answer any questions you may have.

In addition to this Ales by Mail are offering a both a free can and a free bottle of Smog Rocket so you can easily join in the tasting. Simply add both to your basket on the Ales by Mail site and be sure to enter to enter the code "smog" at the checkout to get the discount. Once you get your beers be sure to get them in the fridge and try to show restraint until the 16th!

To follow the action simply use the hashtag #beerybits and in using this hashtag you'll have the chance to win a case of beer from Ales by Mail worth £40.00 on the night.

Established in 2011, Beavertown recently completed a move from their former home in the East London borough of Hackney to Tottenham in North London. The move has seen them greatly expand capacity as well as install a canning line and a tap room that opened to the public last week. Smog Rocket is part of their core range of beers and packs in flavours of hickory smoke and dark chocolate while still remaining incredibly drinkable. It also pairs nicely with smokey barbecued beef ribs so if you were wondering what to have for your dinner on the 16th that might help you make up your mind!

I look forward to hosting you all on the 16th, you can find out further details on the Ales by Mail website here: http://www.alesbymail.co.uk/abm-news/ask-and-you-shall-receive

Monday, 7 July 2014

#EBBC14



Earlier in the year, back when the dates for the 2014 European Beer Bloggers Conference had been announced I had pretty much decided that I wasn't going to go. It was the age old problem of both time and money, I needed both to get to Dublin and I wasn't sure I had enough of either to spare. I talked myself into it though, after reminding myself not only how much of a blast I had at last years conference but how important it was to me as a beer communicator.

As I sat with my head between my legs, desperately trying not to vomit on the plane back from Dublin to Heathrow I smiled. It had been an excellent weekend, arguably better than the previous year for many reasons but the main reason being friendship. Last year at my first conference in Edinburgh I felt like an outsider, a newbie but this year I felt like part of the fold, part of a movement of people who want to improve the way they communicate their favourite subject.

The best parts of the conference were arguably those that occurred outside of official conference hours. The opening night when Reuben Gray deftly guided us from excellent pub to excellent pub was incredible. The delight of the Irish contingent, Reuben especially was palpable as the Irish craft beer scene unveiled itself before our tired eyes. We had consistently great beers from the likes of Carlow, in J. W. Sweetman's epic three floor brewpub and even through a hop randall in Temple Bar's The Norseman. The real highlight, for me at least, were the beers and pubs of the Galway Bay Brewery. I will continue to wax lyrical about the Black Sheep and Of Foam and Fury double IPA for years to come. A special thanks must go out to Reuben because without his efforts coupled with those of the organisers, Zephyr Adventures this conference simply wouldn't have gone ahead.




So what made EBBC14 so great?

I've talked a lot about friendship and I think the most important aspect of a conference such as this is the lasting relationships that it creates. I hate to use the term networking as we're not business people, we're here to learn how to do a thing we love even better! I think a lot of people walked away from the conference with new friends to support them and push their blogging further, I know I did.

A word has to go to our sponsors. On the surface Molson Coors had a very limited appearance with not one of their 'macro' brands on offer. What they did bring us were three of their 'craft' brands although I did feel sorry for the guy manning the Blue Moon stand. He gave me a sample of their summer seasonal honey wheat, it was not great. What was surprising was that the Sharps stand was being manned by none other than Head Brewer Stuart Howe himself and I'm surprised the organisers didn't make more of a deal out of this. There wasn't a drop of Doom Bar to be found, Stuart was pouring the zesty Single Brew which was oozing aromas of lemon rind and the complex 6 vintage blend which packed in notes of molasses and fruit cake. I almost feel bad to say this but out of all the beers on show at what was like a pre-conference mini beer festival, these were the best. 

Coors also presented us with the brews of their Irish investment, Franciscan Well. I found these to be very much gateway beers, they surely do a lot to convert people to modern beer styles but people who look for more in their beers might find them a little lacking. I will say that I enjoyed their Chieftain IPA, it had that classic American hop aroma of citrus fruit but it didn't quite back up that booming aroma with the same level of flavour. 

I thought that the hospitality provided by Guinness on the first evening of the conference would be unmatched. They previewed their huge new brewhouse, which looked like the room that led to Mike TV's downfall in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, all glistening chrome on a backdrop of pure white. They plied us with oysters, meat, cheese and chocolate pudding plus an endless supply of every beer they brew on tap, including their foreign export stout. The brewers mingled with us bloggers and talked with genuine passion and enthusiasm, if this was a marketing coup then it was perfectly executed.

Then along came the ebullient Vaclav Berka and an ocean of unfiltered Pilsner Urquell. The hospitality of Guinness was impressive but this paled in comparison to the generosity of Vaclav and Urquell. I'm sure there is a magical property in Pilsner when it comes straight from the barrel, poured by the brewmaster himself, that lets you drink it in near infinite amounts. Unfiltered Pilsner Urquell cemented itself as possibly my favourite example of the style over the course of the weekend.

So all this sounds very good yes? That's because it was but this wasn't teaching me anything about improving my blogging, this was just getting me drunk and making me happy which is fine and all but not the main reason I was here. (Or was it? thinking back it might have been...)




So what was great about the conference itself?

Well it all started with the aforementioned mini beer festival inside The Church, a beautiful venue right in Dublin's city centre. In previous years breweries have brought bottles to pour from and any left over were tactically removed by bloggers for later approval. Not this time, the Irish craft beer scene were out in force pouring beer straight from the keg, being served exactly as they intended. Highlights included Black Donkey Sheep Stealer Saison, the majority of beers from Black's of Kinsale and N17's fantastic cask oatmeal stout. There were a few bottles too of course but there were very few left over after a small army of bloggers had made short work of them.

In the afternoon on the first day there was a session with three Irish craft brewers, hosted by Rueben. It was here I realised that the Irish craft brewing scene actually has very little in common with what's happening in the UK. Instead the scene is much like the American craft beer scene in the early 90's, still gently simmering on the fringes but surely about to boil over into the mainstream. N17 Brewery's own beer sommelier Sarah Roarty gave an impassioned speech that moved everyone in the room. It was inspiring stuff and one of the highlights of the conference for me.

There was lots of content that I was looking forward to on day two, I enjoyed the session with Dean McGuinness which took an inside look at the Irish beer scene. There was plenty of knowledge on offer to be gleaned too. Zephyr's own Cindy Molchany gave us some seriously hardcore social media tips and sponsors Wordpress also gave some useful advice, even to those that don't use their platform. We learned how integrating video into our blog could push what we do further but I had the same problem with each of these seminars which could have made them so much better.

So what could have been improved to make the conference better?

Something that was hammered in to me by teachers at school and at university is that when you make an argument for why something is really good or useful you back it up with examples and case studies. We were told how best to integrate video into our blogs, but we weren't shown examples of the brilliant video beer blogs already being created. We were told how best to improve and better present our blogs well why not put our own blogs on the spot, up there on the big screen and show us how to do it there and then. I think at future conferences a section where bloggers volunteer their blog to be put to a panel of judges, x-factor style, would be something that's interesting, informative and entertaining.

Last years conference in Edinburgh kicked of with a keynote speech from Brooklyn Brewery's Garrett Oliver. It was rousing, it put fire in our bellies and from the outset everyone in the room was 100% engaged. This year we began with an interesting lecture on the history of not just beer in Ireland but beer as a whole from archaeologist Declan Moore. It was an interesting talk but perhaps not the best way to start the day. In future conferences I think an opening keynote speaker is essential, Stuart Howe was just in the other room, he would've been ideal.

We were subjected to a talk on the benefits of can versus bottle and keg versus cask. I can't speak for everyone in the room but I feel that this is a subject that's been blogged to death. After talking to almost every attendee it seemed obvious to me that everyone there was highly knowledgeable and advanced in the subject of beer so a talk on real basics such as this is of little benefit to anyone. Just like with our blogs when it comes to conferences like this content is king and I think this needs to be improved at next years event.




Live Beer Blogging. This was my highlight by some distance at Edinburgh's conference. When I found out there wouldn't be a live blogging event in Dublin I contacted Zephyr to find out why. At the time of me raising my concern there were not enough breweries involved to make this happen but by the time the conference came around it seemed to me that there were more than enough present. I was incredibly disappointed that this didn't take place, it's a real test of your skills as a blogger and I hope to see its return next year. 

My final qualm was with the food. Not the quality, it was incredible throughout especially the barbecue provided by The Church on day two but by the time of my third burger in 12 hours with ribs on the side my body was begging for a solitary piece of steamed broccoli. I get it, beer, bread and meat, it's great but I would've loved to see a little more diversity on the menu. 

Despite these small niggles I had a wonderful weekend in a city that I'm already desperate to get back to. I think Dublin itself was the real winner that weekend. It shows how important the choice of host city is to the success of the conference because despite the content not being quite as strong as it was in Edinburgh I feel like I got more out of this one. You get out what you put in to these things though, and I definitely gave part of my soul to the town somewhere in Temple Bar in the early hours of a Sunday Morning.

I sincerely hope that the conference continues into 2015 and I feel strongly that it is time for the show to hit the continent. In four short days I learned an incredible amount about the exploding Irish beer scene so now I want to do the same in Brussels, Barcelona, Rome and Copenhagen to name a small few. Here's to #EBBC15.



Saturday, 5 July 2014

#EBBC14: The Vine Diaries (Directors Cut)

I've still got a lot to say about the European Beer Bloggers Conference and that will be along shortly. My lasting memory though, will be spending the majority of my time in Dublin pointing my phone at people and shooting over 100 six second clips using Vine. As promised here I have stitched together the clips to create a directors cut, Ladies and Gentlemen I present to you The Vine Diaries...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Dublin























I'm not quite sure of the exact moment when Dublin's famous craic took hold of me. It might have been at 2am in a crowded bar at the heart of the infamous Temple Bar district. It might have been right after my first taste of Galway Bay's Of Foam and Fury double IPA, easily the best new beer I have tasted this year. It might have been any of the moments when bonds with acquaintances old and new were established and strengthened or it might have just been the very moment I stepped off my plane and headed into the Irish capital for my very first time.

I'd been to Ireland several times before but never Dublin. Now after discovering a vibrant city that has an infectious energy unlike any other I've visited that's at the heart of a rapidly exploding and tightly knit beer scene I can't wait to go back. Sláinte.