Sunday, 30 December 2012

Magic Rock Cannonball IPA

Some beers are so good that they deserve to be written about, fellow bloggers will know what I'm talking about. A beer so good that the aroma alone captivates your senses and you don't even need to take a sip to tell you how brilliant this beer is. You SHOULD take a sip though, I mean that's the whole point of beer but hopefully you understand what I mean, right?

So the beer I'm reviewing today is one of the top three beers I've drank this year, I've already reviewed the other two, Thornbridge Halcyon back at the beginning of August and my champion beer of 2012 Brodies Dalston Black was one of my first ever beer reviews back in February. When I wrote my Golden Pints last week along with these two beers one other beer kept rearing it's hoppy head over and over again, that beer was Magic Rock Cannonball. I've wanted to write about this beer all year but I've avoided it previously as I've mentioned Magic Rock in the blog a lot this year and wanted to avoid brewery favouritism but fuck it, it's my blog so I'll write about what I damn well want to.

I've drank Cannonball on many occasions and it seems to get a even better with each batch, it's comforting to know that the brewery are constantly striving to produce the best beer they possibly can each and every time they brew, it's one of the many reasons Magic Rock have built such a devout following. The marketing they use is simple but highly effective, their labels and pump clips are so well designed and eye catching that Magic Rock beer instantly stands out on the bar. A Magic Rock fan will clock this within seconds of walking into a boozing establishment and will have ordered half a Cannonball before he's even bothered to look at what else is on, well that's certainly what happens to me when I see it anyway. Other simple things the brewery does such as engaging their audience on twitter, arranging various meet the brewer events in great bars around the country (and on the continent) and bizarrely, having a live camera feed of their brewery floor which you can watch on their website. It's all pretty simple, well thought out stuff and it doesn't need to be complicated because the beer does most of the talking, in fact it talks so well that they simply can't make enough beer to satisfy their customers demands but us beer geeks are a pretty needy bunch aren't we.

Cannonball pours a hazy amber tinged shade of straw and produces a sticky off white head that satisfyingly clings to the glass as you slurp. The aroma is bursting with tropical and citrus fruits, think pineapple, grapefruit and passion fruit but there is also a sweet hint of honeyed oats which demonstrates how well balanced this beer is even before you take a sip. Cannonball starts off sweet with the bread and honey from the malts combining with mango and passion fruit and as it washes over your taste buds that sweetness turns to bitterness, those grapefruit notes becoming much more pronounced and then being joined by a hit of pine resin. The hop resins lace your mouth as you drink but the beer is balanced in a way so that the beer is in no way cloying, as you swallow the lingering bitterness sucks your mouth dry and you're left feeling satisfied and refreshed all at once. Cannonball is a beer to savour and at 7.4% ABV it should be savoured not slurped but the trouble is that not even the merest hint of alcohol is detectable and so it is near impossible (for me it is actually impossible) not to quaff it down in minutes.

We're lucky to have a beer like Cannonball in the UK, the fact that we can get a beer that goes toe to toe with some of the best IPA coming out of the United States is a Godsend. As brilliant as much of American craft beer is the truth is that much of it doesn't reach us in very good shape, for example I have had a torrid time with Stone IPA this year whilst everyone else sings its praises I always seem to end up with a malt bomb that tastes like it's been brewed with stewed nettles. Inevitably beer geeks from the States will try to seek out beers like Cannonball, maybe they'll revere it in the same way we praise Ballast Point Sculpin and Russian River Pliny the Elder and maybe they'll end up with a six month old bottle that doesn't do this beer justice before slating it on their blog in the same way I did to Stone IPA, who knows.

All I know is that when Cannonball IPA is fresh it's one of the best damn beers in the world and when I finish the last bottle in my stash I will be sad but probably not for long because I will soon be able to buy some more, happy days.

Happy New Year everyone, thanks for reading :)

Monday, 24 December 2012

CAMRGB 2012 Xmas Twissup: The Aftermath

We began our crawl at the Southampton Arms

So a few months ago I thought to myself how wonderful it would be to arrange a chance for all of the beer enthusiasts I've met through this blog and through twitter to meet up. This thought soon became a tweet, a tweet which rapidly gathered a hearty response that led to an exchange of emails with Simon, the head of the Campaign for Really Good Beer. This exchange transformed a whimsical, near spur of the moment idea into one that soon became a fully fleshed out reality. We had a trio of bars eager to host our event and unbeknownst to the both of us we had managed to summon a small army of beer geeks, home brewers and bloggers and we were about to descend on some of North London's finest beer flogging establishments.

But first, why the Campaign for Really Good Beer? Well, CAMRGB is simply a really good idea. It is a collective of like minded, open minded beer lovers that don't care for dispense method, how a beer is brewed and how much yeast per fluid ounce is required to be present in a beer for it to be classed as 'real ale', we just love beer, just as long as it is really good. The reason I write about beer is that I think that despite so many other people writing about it is that I still feel like there is enough left over worth talking about and I love talking about beer. CAMRGB for me has been a way of meeting people who share these ideas and love talking about it too and it is through this love of this delicious beverage, in it's many forms, that this pub crawl, this twissup came into being. It was through Simon's tenacity that this event was as good as it was and for that I thank him, without his efforts this would not have happened, so thank you Simon, all of your CAMRGB acolytes owe you one! If you want to join CAMRGB then click here and follow the simple instructions and who knows, maybe we'll see you on the next twissup.

So a couple of months after sending a simple tweet I had disembarked from the train at Gospel Oak station and was feverishly marching on the Southampton Arms. There I finally met with Simon along with the guys from Brewers & Union who performed an impromptu tasting with some of their excellent beers. The spirit of the evening was clear from the off when even the bar staff were passing around the sample laden glasses, exchanging tasting notes and gathering around to try each new beer as the bottles were opened. For me my first beer of the evening couldn't have been more apt, a delicious pint of Magic Rock Curious, one of the best cask beers in the country and the accompanying samples of the various Brewers & Union beers were most welcome. I was just draining the last few drops of Touro, an amazingly delicious Belgian Tripel with a beautiful label that closely resembled one of my all time favourite paintings, Picasso's Guernica. Touro was an incredible beer, one of the best I had all evening, it had all the hallmarks of a classic Tripel but with stacks of added prunes, figs and dates on the palate which for me really lifted the beer above others in this style. 

Nik from The Kernel accepts the award for CAMRGB Beer of the Year
Soon the Southampton Arms was full to the brim with CAMRGB members, I'd name check but there was so many of us present I'm afraid I'd miss someone out so I won't, but you all know who you are! I worked my way through a Howling Hops US Pale Ale and an Otley O Garden before we gradually made our way to Brewdog Camden. I was a little taken back with how well we were treated by the guys at Brewdog and I doff my cap to Joe and the team who were incredibly hospitable. They had reserved their basement (aptly named the hop bunker) for us and it was soon full up with merry CAMRGB folk. The Brewdog guys were happy to furnish us with glasses as people passed around their homebrew (Andy Parker's pomegranate saison was a real highlight for me) and it was great to see them getting involved as well. Nuns with Guns, the new Brewdog prototype lager tasted slightly mute after the beers I had tried previously but Hoppy Christmas was supremely delicious, an ode to the Simcoe hop if ever there was one and I proudly demolished several halves.

Simon then broke out the big guns, a 78 year old beer he had been gifted on a visit to the Greene King brewery earlier in the year. For me it had ceased to become a beer and was firmly placed in spirit territory, it made me recall sherry and Madeira but with added oak and a enough musk to floor a mighty ox. I enjoyed it and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to try it. We then awarded Nik from The Kernel the CAMRGB award for beer of the year which was voted for by CAMRGB members. The winning beer was the incredible S.C.C.A.N.S IPA which I fondly remember having both on tap and in bottle earlier this year, it was a fantastic drop and so the award was well deserved.

I worked my way through some more fine beers whilst at Brewdog Camden and being joined by my family later on in the evening made the occasion even more special. It was then that Justin purchased a bottle of Lost Abbey Devotion and very kindly agreed to share it with me. It was a really good saison-esque Belgian style pale ale that worked as an excellent palate cleanser before the group gradually broke up and made it's way towards our final venue, the Euston Tap. I must admit that by the time I left Brewdog I was a little worse for ware so sensibly the first beer I had in the Tap was the massive Double Crooked Tree IPA from Dark Horse Brewing which weighs in at an epic 12% ABV, it was so good that later on in the evening I went back for seconds. What bowled me over though was the next beer I had at the Tap, Brodie's Peach London Sour. It tasted absolutely massive and despite being lip puckeringly sour it was moreishly drinkable and was my liquid highlight of the entire evening. I could've drank a boatload of the stuff but the trouble with the Euston Tap is that they have a lot of beers on offer and they are all very, very good so naturally I wanted to try as many as possible before I collapsed in a drunken heap.

I really feel like the Euston Tap has settled into a great groove, it attracts drinkers from all walks of life from old-school tickers to new-school beer geeks like myself as well as passers by having a pre train pint. Despite it's small size and cold interior it carries with it a really great vibe and just like the previous two venues on tonight's pub crawl it has some really great staff behind the bar who really know and love their beer. 

Duvels 2012 Tripel Hop was close to perfection
It was then the festive spirit possessed me and I dug deep into my wallet and bought a 75cl bottle of this years Duvel Tripel Hop which is a version of the classic Belgian Strong Ale that has been dry hopped with Citra. I won't lie to you, Duvel is one of my all time favourite beers and Citra is probably my favourite hop so for me this was a match made in heaven. It still had that typical Belgian yeast character but with that added citrus note from the dry hopping that elevated it to levels of near perfection. I took great pleasure in sharing this bottle amongst my family and friends, it was this reason that it was worth every penny of the fifteen pounds I spent on it.

Justin then bought another bottle from the fridges for us to share, Hoppin' Frog's Christmas Seasonal 'Frosted Frog.' Now I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of spiced Christmas beers, I often find them too heavily spiced and overly sweet. I love cinnamon and cloves, just not generally in beer, however Frosted Frog tasted divine, it was like Christmas pudding in a glass, it's not the kind of beer I'd want to drink a lot of but it was a great way to round off the evening... Except it didn't round off the evening, I went back for more Crooked Tree IPA which might not have been the most sensible idea I'd had all evening. I vaguely remember my Dad mentioning something about going for a curry but found it increasingly difficult to remain standing up and so just before midnight I decided to knock it on the head and go home, but what a fantastic night it had been.

I'd like to send out a huge thank you to the Southampton Arms, Brewdog Camden and The Euston Tap for hosting us, I'd like to thank all of the many CAMRGB members who turned up for all or part of the evening. I'd also like to thank the brewers and homebrewers who brought along their beers for us all to sample and were happy to chat away to everyone about their beers and finally, once again, I'd like to thank Simon because without his tremendous effort this fantastic evening would not have taken place.

While I've got your attention I'd like to thank all of you who've enjoyed reading my blog in it's freshman year, I can't believe the massive response and audience I've built up over the last 12 months and I aim to continue with aplomb next year, Merry Christmas to you all!

Same again next year, then?

Friday, 14 December 2012

The 2012 Golden Pint Awards

The Golden Pint awards are the brainchild of Mark Dredge from Pencil and Spoon and Andy Mogg from Beer Reviews. It's all a bit of fun and for me personally it's a nice way of rounding off my freshman year as a beer blogger. So without further ado here are my nominations as well as a few well deserving runners up.

Best UK Draught Beer - Cannonball IPA by Magic Rock Brewing (Served on Keg, North Bar, Leeds)
I remember visiting North Bar in Leeds and ordering a half of this beer from young Jim. He told me that the keg had been delivered a mere forty minutes ago and was already feverishly working his way through his pint. That afternoon I bumped into Rob from Hopzine and we both unanimously agreed that Cannoball was on furious form and was easily the best draught beer made in the UK at the moment. Worthy runners up in this category are the impressive Thornbridge Halcyon which I had at the Euston Tap and Brodie's Hackney Red IPA which I guzzled down in The Old Coffee House.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer - IPA Citra by The Kernel (Read my review here)
The Kernel don't do much wrong but so far I don't think they've brewed a pale ale to match the heights of the batch of IPA Citra they produced earlier in the year, simply wonderful stuff. I love the way Kernel work by using only the ingredients they have available at the time to make their beers but I wish I could get hold of this beer year round. Runners up in this category are Brodie's Dalston Black IPA and once again... Thornbridge Halcyon. You can read my review of Halcyon here.

Best Overseas Draught Beer - Brooklyn Blast! Double IPA (Served on Keg, Brooklyn Brewery, New York City)
This was an incredibly tough category in which to pick a winner as I spent almost a month in the United States (over two separate trips) plus I also visited Bruges and so I had to narrow down a plethora of incredible beers. Blast was so good that when I visited the Brooklyn Brewery back in April that my Dad went back for seconds and thirds, it was so fresh and drinkable for a 9% ABV that we simply couldn't take our lips away from our glasses. The runners up in this category are Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti which I drank in the Mayor of Old Town, Fort Collins and Odell IPA which I drank in many different places but mostly in the tap room at the Odell Brewery.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer - Firestone Walker Double Jack IPA
Firestone Walker are another one of those great breweries that can seemingly do no wrong, it's something I drink a lot of when I visit my Dad in the States and so I was over the moon to see Firestone Walker bottles available at the Great British Beer Festival this year and it was also great to get this beer on draught in Brewdog Camden. This particular bottle holds a special place in my heart because I bashed it back in a limo on the way to Red Rocks Ampitheatre. Runners up this time are Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale and Brasserie D'Achouffe Houblon Chouffe.

Best Overall Beer - Brodie's Dalston Black IPA (Read my review here)
Although this excellent beer from Brodie's didn't win any of the individual categories it wins best overall beer because it was the only beer this year that has been bang on form when I've had it on cask, from keg or in a bottle, quite simply it's a stunning all rounder and a deserved winner of my beer of the year. The runners up are predictably Magic Rock Cannonball and Thornbridge Halcyon because I absolutely love them, it's funny that for a man that loves American craft beer that my top three beers are all British, a sign that the best beer in the world is currently being brewed on our own fair shores.
Best Pumpclip or Label - Odell Mountain Standard Double Black IPA
I love all of the Odell artwork but this double black IPA features my favourite Odell imagery. I'm surprised that we've not seen this beer on UK soil yet, perhaps it's so popular in the States that there simply isn't enough of it to go around, more's the pity. The worthy runners up are Redchurch Great Eastern IPA and Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball Black IPA. The boys from Redchurch prove how effect a neat, simple piece of design can be and I love the Magic Rock artwork but was particularly fond of the purple and silver label on Magic 8 Ball that satisfied my inner Cure fan immensely.

Best UK Brewery - Brodie's Fabulous Beers
Considering they've brewed my beer of the year it would be difficult not to proclaim Brodie's at the best UK brewery. I've not had a single bad beer from these guys and these guys make a lot of beer, from the sublime and sessionable Citra through to the immense collaboration with Mikkeller, Mofo Stout, every single beer has been bang on the money. I just wish that one of my local bottle shops stocked their bottles as I want to drink their beers more often! Runners up this time are predictably Magic Rock and Thornbridge.
Best Overseas Brewery - Firestone Walker
Again this brewery wins the category hands down because every beer in their range is exceptional, from the thoroughly slurpable Pale 31 right through to the massive, barrel-aged Sucaba barley wine I have never been less than amazed by a Firestone Walker beer. It's tough to pick my runners up in this category but I'm going to plump for Great Divide because again, these guys don't seem to be able to brew a bad beer and Odell Brewing  because they have a very special place in my heart.

Pub/Bar of the Year - The Mayor of Old Town, Fort Collins, Colorado
The Mayor has an incredible array of taps, 100 in fact but this is never off putting as the super friendly and knowledgable bar staff are always ready to help you make your next purchase. When in Colorado visiting the Mayor is as essential as visiting the many microbreweries in the town of Fort Collins. My runners up are the fantastic Southampton Arms in Gospel Oak, North London because they serve the best cask beer in this fine city and the Euston Tap because they serve the best keg beer in town and both of these pubs offer excellent value for money. They also get a nomination because they are hosting tomorrows inaugural CAMRGB Xmas Twissup!
Beer Festival of the Year - My Own Personal 2012 Beer Festival
I'm rubbish at going to beer festivals, in fact the only one I went to was the Great British Beer Festival which was good but not good enough to give it an award. So I have decided to give the award to the beer festival that is my life, I've drank hundreds of different beers this year many of which have absolutey blown me away, here's to a well stocked fridge! I really wish I'd gone to IndyManBeerCon because it looks like it was fantastic but I didn't so I can't even make it a runner up.
Brodie's Dalston Black - My 2012 Beer of the Year

Supermarket of the Year - Oddbins (Particularly my local Crouch End Branch)
Wine shops, at one point they were everywhere until the collapse of Threshers a few years ago, the classic British 'offy' has a reputation for being a bit boring. So Oddbins, who themselves lots several store when they went into administration last year, have emerged like a Phoenix from the ashes. My local Oddbins in Crouch End, North London now stocks an impressive range of locally brewed craft beers alongside there impressive, modern selection of wines and spirits. The likes of Kernel, Redchurch and London Fields are available to pick up from a shop less than a mile away from my house and they even keep them in the fridge so I can drink them as soon as I get home, this is what the craft beer revolution is all about. Waitrose come in an admirable second place with their ever increasing selection of great beers and my local Thornton's Budgens comes in third.
Independent Retailer of the Year - Jack's Off Licence, Finsbury Park
Jacks is North London's best kept secret, it is here I can easily acquire items such as Orval, Rochefort, Racer 5 and other amazing beers on my way home. It's a tiny, unassuming place, it's brilliant because the owners don't seem to have any idea what they stock but know that the local populace appreciate their incredible selection of beers. It's minutes walk from Crouch Hill Overground station and a little futher walk from Finsbury park, it's definitely worth checking out if you're in the area. I only have one runner up here and it's another local offy, Bottle Apostle who also stock a stunning selection of local craft beer, I got my bottles of Kernel Double S.C.A.N.N.S. here and had to stop myself from buying the lot.

Online Retailer of the Year - Beer Ritz by Mail
There are a lot of great online beer retailers out there and I've used most of them but none of them have engaged me as well as Beer Ritz and my deliveries have always arrived intact and when promised. As I manage a retail/online retail outlet myself I feel like I'm in a good position to judge this category so I certainly recommend you try ordering from these guys if you haven't already. Runners up are Ales by Mail and Summer Wine Brewery who have the best online offering from any brewery I've bought from direct.

Best Beer Book or Magazine - Melissa Cole, Let Me Tell You About Beer
As I started writing about beer this year I started reading a lot more about it too and I found Melissa's book the most accessible and most useful book out of the lot. You could quite happilly pick this book up having never drank a beer before and put it down a seasoned beer geek. This book really helped me fill the gaps on topics I had very little knowledge about such as Gueuze and it enhanced my knowledge on my specialist subjects such as IPA, brilliant stuff. I also really enjoyed reading Ed Sealover's Mountain Brew which is a great guide to Colorado's many breweries, essential reading before you visit this State.
Best Beer Blog or Website - Oh Beery Me by Sheriff Mitchell
Few blogs have entertained me and inspired me as much as Oh Beery Me, setting yourself a challenge to review a beer every day of the year is no mean feat but to do so with such style and panache makes it all the more impressive. To write that volume of reviews is impressive but to keep each one uniquely interesting, funny and educational shows real skill, nice work sir. I also really enjoy the writing of Zak Avery on 'Are You Tasting The Pith?' It must be difficult to remain impartial when working in the industry but I think Zak manages this well and I find his excellent writing very inspiring indeed. My other runner up is Justin from Get Beer Drink Beer as Justin has been a great supporter of my own blog and I've really enjoyed his features such as Mikkeller in May and his excellent write up of his recent trip to Rome.

Best Beer Twitterer - Zak Avery (@ZakAvery)
I enjoy Zak's tweets immensely and look forward to our paths crossing one day, also he sold me a lot of beer this year through Beer Ritz by Mail and he also controls this twitter account and responds to customer requests quickly and very professionally. Of course I have to mention @NateDawg27 as twitter would not be twitter without him and @CAMRGB again for all of the support for not only my blog but for fledgling blogs all over the UK.

Best Online Brewery Presence - BrewDog
Who else could you give this to, really? The sound of #andthewinnerisnot is still ringing in my ears, arguably both the most effective and the most annoying marketing campaign of the year. I've also been very impressive with both Magic Rock and Summer Wine Brewery who have developed a wonderful one on one rapport with their customers and come in a worth joint second place.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year - Odell Oyster Stout with Fresh Oysters
I'd never really drank beer with Oysters before this year but when I tasted Odell Oyster Stout alongside fresh Oysters in Jax Fish House, Fort Collins my eyes opened to this wonderful combination. I also still think you can't beat a good, well hopped American style IPA with a freshly made pizza, bliss.
In 2013 I’d most like to...
I'd like to meet more bloggers and brewers in person as opposed to just chatting to them on twitter. I've already made plans to attend the 2013 European Bloggers Conference and I hope to arrange more meetups with fellow bloggers as the year progresses. I also hope to visit Copenhagen next year and the big one is that I aim to be at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, after all, it's only down the road from my Dad's place...
Open category – you decide the topic
Blogging, blogging is wonderful, writing is a wonderful creative outlet and I can't believe I toyed with the idea of starting a beer blog for six months before I actually bit the bullet and did it. Nearly 70,000 words later and I'm not bored, I'm hungrier than ever and I can't wait to see what next year holds for me. If you're toying with the idea of writing a blog then do it, don't worry about the fact that there are lots of blogs on your chosen subject already, just write for yourself, have a good time and don't be afraid of sharing your work, I guarantee that you'll thank me 12 months down the line.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Magic Rock Brewing take over the King William IV

The King William IV has an identity crisis. Despite being located on busy Leyton High Road mere minutes walk from Leyton Midland Road station it feels like it's a hundred miles away from my flat when in fact it's less than five. This is the Londoners mentality, something that creeps up on you, the chip shop two bus stops away is too far to travel, and as the traffic is really bad it'll probably take you an hour to get there anyway so you might as well not bother. Besides when you live in suburban London it's rare you have the desire or reason to visit another suburb when the glitz and glamour of a more central location takes the same amount of time to reach. For this reason I've never ventured to Leyton and enjoyed the delights of the King William IV, more fool me.

Craft beer is really overpriced in London... Oh.
On Sunday I finally had a damn good reason to visit Leyton, Magic Rock, one of my favourite breweries were taking over the taps at the King William IV which are usually occupied by Brodie's beers whose brewery is located in the back of the pub. In addition to that a huge amount of the excellent beery friends I've made on twitter were heading down too, so it was an excellent opportunity to put some faces to screen names as well as drinking some excellent beers. I made the arduous journey from where I work in Wembley all the way to Leyton and eventually found myself standing in front of the pub, a fantastic Victorian building that added much needed grandeur to the rather dilapidated Leyton High Road. There was a sign outside the pub proudly heralding that Brodie's beers were brewed on the premises and that they were only £2.35 a pint.

I made my way inside and had to check I was in the right place, a huge screen was displaying the West Ham vs Liverpool game and the pub was half full with rowdy football fans, was I lost? Eventually I made my way towards the bar and saw the vast array of taps, twenty Magic Rock beers on both cask and keg alongside the likes of Fosters and Stella for the locals. It's a strange mix but as soon as I saw the tall frame (slightly rocking back and forth due to imbibing a large amount of craft) of the one and only Nathaniel 'Nate Dawg' Southwood, author of Booze, Beats and Bites I felt right at home.  Nate introduced me to lots more beery folk, too many to mention, you know who you all are and it was wonderful to meet you. Nate kindly ordered my first beer, a half of The Great Alphonso, a collaborative brew between Magic Rock and Brodie's, brewed at the Magic Rock Brewery in Huddersfield. The Great Alphonso is an American Style Pale ale infused with mango, it was available on both keg and cask but I was in a keg mood so stuck with this format for the duration of the evening. Mango is often a flavour descriptor used to describe beers that use lots of new world hops and The Great Alphonso certainly had mango notes but I didn't get any more than I would expect from a well hopped IPA. It was delicious and refreshing and a great way to kick start my palate but it didn't quite reach the heady heights of Magic Rock's flagship pale ale, High Wire.

I then had a beer I'd already tried a few weeks ago at the Euston Tap, Clown Juice India wit ale which had been infused with Brettanomyces and aged in a Tequila Barrel. I was lucky enough to corner Magic Rock head brewer Stu and ask him what gave him the idea to tweak this already great beer using this method. 'I just thought I'd stick some in a Tequila barrel with some Brett and see what happens' was the response, so clearly Magic Rock beers involve a long drawn out thought process to make sure this cutting edge brewery stays at the top of it's game. Tequila Barrel clown juice is a revelation, it doesn't sound like it should work but it does, I've tried plain, ordinary, boring (actually it's brilliant) Clown Juice and it's a juicy, hoppy hit, the Brett certainly adds a lovely level of sour funk but it's not completely overpowering and I definitely got a little hint of oak and agave sweetness in the mid palate. I'm a fan of good Tequila, especially in a decent Margarita so I'm thrilled that this beer really works and I hope I get to try it again before it disappears forever.

I then moved on to a beer I've wanted to try for some time, Big Top which is described as an India Red Ale, so it's essentially a bigger, badder version of Rapture which is Magic Rocks core red ale. It tasted as I expected, it was like concentrated Rapture, a huge cascade of pine and grapefruit with marmalade and granary bread, simply wonderful stuff. It didn't quite excite me as much as Brodie's Hackney Red IPA which I tried earlier in the year at the King Williams sister pub, The Old Coffee House but it wasn't far off the mark. I then moved on to another one of Magic Rocks barrel aged experiments, Dark Arts stout aged on brambles in a sherry barrel. I didn't get much of the brambles or sherry at first, I got classic Dark Arts, choc full of roasted coffee and red berries but as this beer both warmed and worked it's way into the furrows of my tongue those warming, fruity sherry notes crept in and not only added another dimension of flavour but also a nice warming, alcoholic finish, another success then.

I used the 'Drunk' filter on Instagram for this photo
The next beer was another collaboration, Rock Star, an American brown ale brewed with Brighton's Dark Star. Two versions of this beer have been produced, a 6% cask version brewed at the Dark Star Brewery which I had already tried a couple of weeks earlier at the newly opened Craft Beer Co Islington. I found the cask version a bit lacking, mostly because it was a bit thin in the mouth and I wanted a bigger, fruitier hop kick so I had high hopes for the 7% Magic Rock keg version. Despite being a thoroughly decent beer I felt that it had the same flaws as the cask version, there was a nice amount of roasty, biscuity malt and a lovely piney hop wallop but they weren't married together and this left the beer feeling far to thin for me. It was by no means a bad beer but it finished bottom of the pile on the night for me, perhaps it's a style that's not quite to my tastes as I remember being very disappointed when I've tried other American brown ales such as the one from Brooklyn.

The next beer I had was one I'd not tried for a while but had quaffed on many occasions, the 2011 CAMRGB beer of the year, Human Cannonball. There's not much that needs to be said about this beer that hasn't been said already but what I will say is that the guys at Magic Rock have clearly been making little tweaks here and there to this beer as I had never tasted it on this kind of form. Huge bitter tropical fruit flavours melded beautifully with rich, sweet malts which seemed to linger on and on even after I had swallowed the last delicious mouthful, this truly is a modern classic as is the next and final beer of the evening Bearded Lady. The lady is another beer that's already been gushed about repeatedly, it's huge but not unwieldy despite it's size, in fact it's perfectly balanced and a wonderful drink to end the evening on. When these bottles appear again I fully intend to lose some in the back of my cupboard only to uncover them in a few years time and she how well the lady has aged, exciting times ahead.

Before I staggered back to catch a train home I witnessed something at the bar. A regular who had been on the Guinness all night pointed at the Dark Arts cask handle in the now considerably more vacant bar area and said 'this Stout, any good?' Before the barmaid had replied he'd ordered a pint and was quaffing it down occasionally emitting words such as 'cor' and 'blimey' he was absolutely loving it. In fact I reckon he loved it so much that he'll probably start a beer blog next month, if he was sober enough to remember the experience which I highly doubt. The other delight of the evening was how much money I had left in my wallet. When I bought a half of Human Cannonball and Bearded Lady I handed over a tenner not expecting much in return but when I was given back more than half of what I gave out I stared at the fiver in my hand with disbelief. The prices in the King William IV are beyond excellent and you know what, it's only down the road from my house, not far at all, in fact the next time the football's on I'll probably head there. 

Once again it was fantastic to meet so many people I already know and some that I didn't, I can't wait to see you all again this Saturday at the CAMRGB Xmas Twissup!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale and Deviant Dale's IPA

Something very exciting, for me at least, occurred recently, North Bar in Leeds tapped a keg of Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale. Those that know me will already know that Dale's is one of my all time favourite beverages and keen readers will also know that I got absolutely arseholed drinking my body weight in it when I went to a gig at Red Rocks Amphitheatre earlier this year. Sadly North Bar is a few hundred miles away from my London dwelling but I wasn’t too perplexed by this because I had some cans of both Dale's Pale Ale and Deviant Dale's IPA which I brought back from my last trip to the USA stashed away.

Can I drink it? Yes I can.
I was lucky enough to visit the Tasty Weasel last time I was in Colorado which is the affectionate moniker given to the brewery tap room. I was amazed at the scale of the Oskar Blues operation and as I watched those cans fly off the production line I hoped that one day some of those cans would cross the Atlantic and find their way into the UK. Oskar Blues have an in your face marketing attitude not unlike Brewdog but it’s safe to say that OB were on the scene long before Punk IPA was even a pipe dream. Oskar Blues were the first American craft brewery (in America, ‘craft’ usually refers to a brewery's production size) to start canning their beer way back in 2002, in fact they beat fellow Colorado brewery Ska to the punch by just a few months. Oskar Blues beer is only available in can or via keg but as both these methods are excellent for preserving freshness I think they’d be a welcome addition to the US exports already available on these shores. For now though, they seem to be happy to continue expanding their US enterprise and with venues such as Red Rocks and even Frontier Airlines now stocking their brews, I don’t blame them one bit.

So let’s start with the beer that put this brewery on the map, Dale's Pale Ale. I first drank Dale's over two years ago on my first trip to the States, back then it was far too bitter for my tastes but these days I just can’t get enough of it. There is so much flavour crammed into this little 12 ounce recepticle that you actually get a little rush of the hop aromas when you crack open the can. Dale's pours light amber in colour and manages to produce a nice off white one finger head which hangs around thanks to the lively carbonation. Aromas of melon and mandarin rush up your nostrils but even these two scents are dominated by the huge grapefruit blast that Dale's produces, pink grapefruit is one of my favourite fruits and this brew packs it in spades.

When you take your first sip, Dale's Pale Ale is subtly fruity, zingy and downright refreshing but it’s as you swallow that you get an enormous rush of bitter grapefruit that tries to suck your mouth dry but just leaves a little lingering bitterness. Each sip of Dale's makes you want to take another, you don’t notice the 6.5% ABV at all as you relentlessly quaff away. Quite simply, for me Dale's Pale Ale is one of the best.

I’ve had Deviant Dale's IPA before, the imperial or double version of DPA, in fact when I first had it on tap in the Mayor of Old Town, Fort Collins such was it’s resinous quality that I described it as ‘an IPA you could paint your house with.’ Painting your house with beer would be a foolish idea, firstly it’s a waste of good beer and secondly your house will soon smell like the tables in a Sam Smiths pub, stale digestive biscuits and rotting cabbage, no painting your house with beer would not be a good idea at all. Deviant Dale's pours a darker shade of amber than your regular Dale's and is altogether more viscous, it still produces a rocky one centimetre head but this too is a darker shade of beige indicating the higher proportion of malts required to balance this juggernaut of a beer.

On the nose the grapefruit and melon notes are still there but these are joined by an almost floral pine resin scent and huge mango aromas, in fact it’s almost like smelling raw, fresh hops. In the mouth this huge American IPA is thick and a little bit cloying but once your brain starts to interpret the flavours it’s like drinking the sticky juice from the bottom of a bowl of tropical fruit salad. Despite it being resinous and little bit overbearing, this is a beer you should stick with. This is the third or fourth time I am trying this beer and it gets better with every mouthful, at first it was a challenge and now it is an absolute delight. The 8% alcohol content is hidden beautifully and despite it’s high level of bitterness there is enough sweet, biscuity malt to support the massive wave of citrus and tropical fruits that are packed into each sip of this beer.

Overall I think I still prefer Dale's Pale Ale to it's bigger brother, partly because I think it’s a better beer but only just, the other part is that it was one of the first really bitter beers that I ever tried. It now, to me, tastes totally different to the first time I took a sip of this sumptuous brew but as I've tried hundreds of beers over the last couple of years and started writing about them it's always remained head and shoulders above most of the competition. The other wonderful thing about beer in cans, bar it’s freshness, is the ease in which it packs into a suitcase (pro tip, cans fit in shoes), it’s also much easier to ship overseas so come on Oskar Blues, lets see Dale's Pale Ale on British shores sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Beavertown Black Betty Black IPA

Beer, it’s a funny old thing. Two years ago, a few months after my craft beer revelation I was spending all of my beer tokens on American imports, convinced that this was the only way I would satisfy my lust for big brews dry hopped by heavy handed brewers. Fast forward to today and the majority of the beer I’m buying is brewed in the UK and it’s as good, if not EVEN BETTER than a lot of highly regarded US output. It’s wonderful to know, especially as a Londoner, that there are now (at the time of writing this) thirty plus breweries in London producing wares as varied as single hopped 3% ABV cask conditioned ales to huge 10% imperial stouts aged in bourbon barrels on cacao nibs harvested by small Ecuadorian children. Make no mistake London is fast becoming one of the worlds craft beer capitals and the beer I’m about to review is from one of it’s fastest rising stars, Beavertown.

Nestled in deepest, darkest East London lies Dukes Brew & Que, an American style diner that apparently serves the best ribs in town, I’m yet to venture there myself but I’ve never seen anyone less than rave about the place. Behind the restaurant lies the Beavertown Brewery which takes it’s name from the old cockney name for the De Beauvoir area the brewery lies within. Beavertown was founded by Logan Plant, son of legendary Led Zeppelin rocker Robert and his good pal Byron. Like myself Logan discovered his passion for craft beer while out in the States except Logan had his beer epiphany in the hipster joints of Brooklyn as apposed to the wild frontiers of Northern Colorado.

The beer I’m sizing up today is Black Betty Black IPA which is one of my favourite styles. The first thing that strikes me about Black Betty and all of Beavertown's brews is how strong the branding is, it’s modern, stylish and well thought out, it’s definitely something that would catch my eye on a bottle shop shelf. Branding is one thing, taste is paramount, have the Brewers at Beavertown managed to capture the flair of the New York City brewing scene and bring it to London?

Betty (as I’ve come to know her) pours a deep espresso brown with russet tinged edges and manages to produce a nice mocha hued single finger foam head. I stick my nose in and immediately get a wave of pine from the hops, followed by waves of dark chocolate, coffee beans, licorice and even a little lemon and lime. It’s certainly a complex medley of aromas but the sweet strong scents have me wondering whether or not this Black IPA will fall into the ‘hoppy stout’ category. For me a Black IPA should completely befuddle the senses, luring you in with it’s deep, dark colour and then smacking you round the chops with a bushel of hops. If it fails to do this then it's not a Black IPA, it's a hoppy stout, simple.

Young Betty certainly has a roast laden edge but this is followed by big piney resins and a grapefruit bitterness, there’s even a bittersweet edge that almost reminds me of key lime pie. The medium body suits this beer well and there’s just enough carbonation from this bottle conditioned brew to help all those bitter flavours cut through the roasted coffee and chocolate malts, this is definitely a kick ass Black IPA. Just when you think Betty is going to leave a lingering rich malty finish in your mouth those bitter grapefruit flavours suddenly suck the palate dry leaving you gasping for more. After working my way through this beer I’m strongly reminded of Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball, another Black IPA that falls into the slightly more roasted side of this style but still manages to retain it’s identity as Black IPA. Like Magic 8 Ball, Black Betty is a superb beer but with such an array of London brewing talent from the likes of Brodies, Kernel and Redchurch Beavertown certainly have their work cut out but if this beer is anything to go by then they’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder with these great brewers.

Thanks again to Justin for gifting me this bottle, a top beer from a top bloke.