Monday, 29 April 2013

Cantillon Gueuze

So potent are you
That both crown and cork keep you at bay
But I know from experience
That you are a beast that can be tamed.

You tumble like late autumn sunshine
Into a new vessel
I throw off Jackson's horse blanket
And I'm transported back to the farm, my youth.

I wander through cooking apple orchards
Past freshly bundled bails of hay
Insect wings hum in my ears
The air is heavy with the scent of freshly harvested grain.

Crisp, dry, tart
My tongue is twisted, Lemniscate
At first you are a challenge but you are soon overcome
Perfection, tradition, in moments all gone.

Dedicated to my grandma, Dorothy 'Peggy' Curtis 1918 - 2004 who still inspires me to write every day. Today would have been her 95th birthday.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Until we meet again, Colorado.

Previously, on Total Ales, I drank Pliny the Younger, yup.

I remember being sat in my Dad's kitchen as I was coming to the end of another trip to the wonderful town of Fort Collins, Colorado. I'd just written a little introductory post about this trip over the pond which I took back in February and was explaining to Dad how I planned to write short, brief yet informative posts about all the beery mischief I'd gotten myself into. Predictably I've been about as succinct as a Presidential re-election speech but thirteen posts and over 15000 words later and here were are at the end of this particular journey. To be honest I could probably write another two or three posts about my last 48 hours in FoCo but it feels like it's time to wrap things up and I feel that the best way to do this is by simply reminiscing over some of the best beers I had during the twilight of my stay.

No-Li Born & Raised is a stunning IPA
My favourite place to grab lunch in Fort Collins has always been the incredible Choice City Butcher & Deli and their beer menu is never short of stunning. There we bumped into Josh and Joe from Verboten Brewing who we had brewed with the day before, I enjoyed a buffalo burger paired with a Utah Sage Saison from Utah's Epic Brewing. The sage flavours were really in your face but complemented those funky Belgian yeast esters nicely, I also had another stonking hangover and this certainly abetted my recovery. 

Later that afternoon we popped in for a few tasters at Fort Collins' biggest brewery by some distance, New Belgium. It was a Friday afternoon and so the tap room was buzzing with people queueing for their growler fills. Highlights here were the exceptional Dig pale ale which I reviewed when I was in Colorado this time last year and the Heavenly Feijoa Tripel which is one of New Belgium's 'Lips of Faith' limited release beers. The bartender was impressed that I not only knew what a Feijoa was (it's a funny looking green fruit from New Zealand more commonly known as a Pineapple Guava with a sweet yet faintly medicinal taste) but had been to New Zealand and eaten one freshly picked from the tree. The tart and slightly herbal fruit quality from the Feijoa really complimented the dry, estery, slightly waxy body of the Tripel, it was beautifully balanced and it was a treat to see this interesting fruit being used in an American beer.

A trip to Fort Collins is never complete without another visit to the tap room at Odell Brewing and for some reason my Dad was determined to make me try all twenty beers they had on offer during the course of my stay. Highlights earlier in the week had been Amuste, an imperial porter aged in Tempranillo barrels with must (the wine equivalent to wort) from Colorado grown Tempranillo grapes and of course their indomitable IPA but tonight the highlight was an absolutely beautiful sour pineapple beer called Pina Agria. It was literally like drinking the freshly fermented juice from the bottom of a can of some tinned pineapples, it was mouth puckeringly sour and yet slightly sweet and incredibly drinkable for it's 7% ABV. My Dad just doesn't get sour beers and didn't get on with this beer at all but I can't get enough of them and this might just have been one of the best I've tried so far.

On my last night in town Dad and I went out for Mexican food and it's here where beer goes out the window and I attempt to drink a couple of Margaritas and still have the legs to walk to the taxi rank afterwards. When we do finally get home we open a bottle of Oil Man, an 11% ABV barrel aged Imperial Stout from Elevation Brewing who are based in the Colorado town of Poncha Springs. This is apparently a very sought after and highly regarded beer and as a result my Dad's local bottle emporium were only allowing one bottle per customer. Personally I found it a little bit lacking in the mid-palate, don't get me wrong I thought it was a nice enough beer with notes of bourbon and oak mingling with molasses and burnt sugar but it was like there was an empty void in the middle where more body and flavour should be, perhaps it was a beer that needed to lie down for a couple of years before it would be at it's best but as we only had the one bottle I guess we'll never know.

The trip finished with a visit to Funkwerks
We follow up Oil Man with an absolutely stunning IPA that we brought back with us from the Northwest (courtesy of Laurie, thanks Laurie!), Born and Raised from Washington's No-Li Brewhouse. Born and Raised manages to reach the same heady heights as some of my favourite IPAs with flavours of mango and grapefruit mingling with a digestive biscuit like malt backbone. I'd definitely say this sits alongside IPAs from the likes of Odell, Deschutes and Lagunitas as one of my favourites and I'd jump at the chance to drink it again.

On my last day in town we had an hour to kill before we headed to the airport and so after I'd carefully packed several bottles into my suitcase, including a highly coveted bottle of Firestone Walker Parabola Imperial Stout, we headed to Funkwerks for a few tasters. I first visted Funkwerks Brewery shortly after it had opened on one of my earlier visits to the Fort and so wanted to see how they had come on, especially seeing as they had only gone and won a load of gold medals at last years Great American Beer Festival. Funkwerks specialise in only one kind of beer, Saison and boy have they mastered the art of brewing this style. My Dad and I work our way through a platter of different takes on the style, each similar and yet slightly different but all clean, rounded and well balanced. I particularly enjoyed the summer fruit qualities in the Montagne and was both impressed and perplexed by the single hop Polaris Saison. Polaris is a new hop from Germany that has been developed from Cascade but it has a unique flavour that for a few moments I couldn't put my finger on but soon it hit me, it was like sucking on a Foxes glacier mint. There were hints of citrus in the background but it was the mint leaf quality in this hop that really shone through in this beer, one to watch out for.

We stopped for a burger en route to Denver International Airport and I enjoyed my last beer of the trip, a delicous New Belgium Ranger IPA (god damn these guys need to start exporting this beer to the UK as soon as they can) which had the usual bucketfuls of passionfruit and mango, I was glad I had another bottle packed away in my suitcase.

I sat in the car and marvelled at the sheer volume of beer drinking I had squeezed in over the last eight days, I had in fact tried 107 different beers over the course of my vacation and y'know what? I bloody well felt like I had too. I nearly drank myself to death in the Mayor of Old Town on more than one occasion, I went to Portland, Oregon and got the flu before driving all the way to Walla Walla, Washington. I drank both Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger for the very first time but hopefully not the last, I brewed a beer with the lovely chaps at Verboten Brewing, I visited the smallest commericial brewery I had ever seen and I hung out with some old friends as well as making some new ones. Most importantly though, I had a brilliant time with my biggest beer geek pal, my Dad and I'll be heading back to FoCo in October when he is having very big birthday party... which just happens to be on the same weekend as the Great American Beer Festival...

If you're feeling brave, why not read about this entire trip from the very beginning.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

In Search of Pliny, Part Two (The Younger)

Earlier in the day I brewed with the guys from Verboten Brewing, read about it here!

If someone had told me at the start of this holiday that I'd get the chance to drink not only fresh Pliny the Elder but also it's bigger brother Pliny the Younger I'd have laughed in their faces. Finally drinking Pliny the Elder was a wonderful experience and thinking back now to that moment I can say with confidence that it's probably my favourite beer being produced in the USA right now. So what about Pliny the Younger? It's a triple IPA that Russian River Brewing Company only produce once a year, it's released on the first Friday in February and generally is around for a mere two weeks. The lengths people go to in order to taste some of this hallowed brew resemble the lengths cultists go to worship their dark gods. Human beings willingly queue for hours just to get a taste of this revered elixir and it sells out in minutes when it becomes available. So if it's this popular why not brew it year round? Well it uses a metric fuck-ton of seasonally available ingredients for starters and then there is the fact that it costs a fortune to brew. Plus the brewing industry needs beers like Pliny the Younger to keep it exciting, interesting and so geeks like me have always got something even more exciting and interesting to seek out and tick.

Russian River Pliny the Younger, Olympian in stature.
So imagine my delight when Michelle from the Mayor of Old Town told me that she had a keg in her cellar that they were going to tap early so that I could try it before I jetted back off to the UK. I spent the whole time I was in Portland knowing that this keg was sitting there, waiting so finally getting to try Pliny the Elder beforehand was even more significant than I had previously let on as I'd actually be able to compare them! Oh the excitement, oh how jealous my friends would be, I spent the next few days FEVERED with hysteria... actually no, that was the flu, but never mind.

So after a long hard day brewing a beer with the guys from Verboten Brewing my Dad and I headed back to the Mayor of Old Town and sat at the bar, as had become our custom. The Mayor weren't officially tapping this keg until next week but as I would no longer be in town they temporarily put it on early for me and for this I am eternally thankful to this wonderful bar. I stare at the 100 taps behind the bar, each resplendent with it's branded tap handle, all except for one which sat there without a handle and a small sign next to it that said DO NOT POUR FROM HERE. I was expecting Michelle to bring out a few small tasters but she goes right ahead and fills a huge snifter for both me and my Dad. 

This years Pliny the Younger weighs in at a mere 10.25% ABV and I can smell it from several feet away. In fact it's the aroma and not the flavour, for me at least, that makes this beer so special. I've never smelt a beer quite like this, you don't so much as take in the aroma as IMMERSE yourself in a thick atmosphere with scents of mango, pine, grapefruit, lychee, passion fruit, lemon and lime whizzing around like dreams and you're the BFG, desperately rushing around trying to catch as much as you can. And what of the taste? Well imagine a fruit platter of grapefruit, mango, lychee and lime being served up with rich slab of malt loaf and a jar of Manuka honey poured over everything, sticking it all together. Then there's the pine, a rich, resinous burst of sap that smothers the palate causing the bitterness to linger almost infinitely.

It's not as good as Pliny the Elder though. This beer is massive, as a control my Dad and I had a glass of Odell Myrcenary which is a double IPA we are both very familiar with and a glass of the well respected Russian River Blind Pig IPA. Strangely, I've not a big fan of the Blind Pig, I find it a little boring, especially considering how good Pliny is and after a few sips of Pliny the Younger it might as well have been PBR in that glass because I couldn't taste anything, my palate had literally been smashed into total oblivion. The Myrcenary didn't fare much better, I still got a little lingering bitterness but this is a beer that in my own words in one of my first ever beer reviews I described as "epic and supremely bitter" and although that bitterness was still there all of the juicy mango and grapefruit flavours were not, the Pliny had obliterated them.

That's why I think the Elder is the boss of the Younger, sure this beer is as revelatory as it is awesome, the brewer behind it is surely a genius, a master of the hop and of the grain but as wonderful as this beer is I don't want to have the ashes of my palate scattered into the ether. Pliny the Elder sings with a supreme chorus of hops and the more you drink the more you want to drink but Pliny the Younger produces a guttural howl from the top of the bell tower, it's impressive, special but something you'd only want one glass of. The aroma though, is still its most impressive aspect and is surely a masterful example of dry hopping.

So how did I follow a beer as big as this you may ask? With New Belgium's superb 2013 batch of La Folie, their sour brown ale. I've had La Folie almost every time I've visited Fort Collins over the last three years and the 2013 batch is in my opinion the best yet by some distance. Perhaps its because I've really come to appreciate sour beers in the last few months but not only did it scour my palate but it lifted it back up, dusted it down and told it to man up and get on with some more drinking. That we did and once again my Dad and I drank the night away and had another brilliant evening at the Mayor but let's be honest, it's pretty impossible not to have a brilliant evening in this bar.

Join me next time as I FINALLY bring this fantastic trip to a close.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Cheap Sunday Tickets for London's Brewing!

Please note, this event has now been and gone and you can read my account here, please don't try using the discount code for future events as it probably won't work!

I'm really excited about London's Brewing, a new beer festival that's been organised by the London Brewers Alliance (LBA) that's taking place at London Fields Brewery on the 4th and 5th of May. It looks like exactly the kind of beer festival that London needs; 40 breweries all based within the M25 who are producing arguably some of the finest beers in the country, nay the world coming together at the hip yet relaxed tap room at London Fields. As well as some more familiar names such as The Kernel, Fuller's and Camden Town Brewery it will be a chance for some of London's fledgling craft breweries such as The Rocky Head and Weird Beard to showcase their wares to a larger audience.

As well as over 100 beers on tap some of London's best food stands will be present including the fantastic Big Apple Hot Dogs, Hoxton Beach and Tom's Coopery plus there will be live music from a host of local bands on both the Saturday and Sunday. Each day is divided into an afternoon and an evening session with tickets starting at a mere fiver, I'll be there on the Saturday evening so be sure to come and throw me a high five if you see me staggering about the place. Worried you can't come because you can't find a babysitter? Fear Not! Tickets for under 18's are free and there is a kids area so you can go about the important business of drinking great beer just like a responsible parent should!

Now here's the really good part: I've teamed up with the folks from London's Brewing and can offer a FIVE POUND DISCOUNT for Sunday session tickets. Simply head to the tickets page here and enter the code totales113 to receive your discount. Don't forget that it's a bank holiday weekend so you have full licence to go nuts on the Sunday, quietly suffer in peace on the Monday before coming up roses on Tuesday.

Hope to see some of you there on the Saturday!

Monday, 15 April 2013

I'm All Right Jack

This blog post is part of a set, to jump back a post please click here.

It was a cold Thursday morning in Fort Collins, Colorado and when I say cold I mean it was minus ten degrees Celsius and the ground was piled high with loose, powdery snow. My Dad and I were up at the crack of dawn and it seemed like I had finally shaken that nasty dose of flu I had succumbed to when I was in Portland. I poured myself a flask of Yorkshire tea (I had taken a box with me as I cannot survive for more than a couple of days without it) and jumped into the car. We were heading to Loveland which lies just a couple of miles down the highway from Fort Collins to brew a beer with the towns newest brewery, Verboten Brewing

My Dad and I had been invited to brew a beer at Verboten by Michelle and Kevin from The Mayor of Old Town who had arranged this collaborative brew day in the first place. We arrive at around 8.30am and are met by co-owners Josh Grenz and Joe Akers who have already begun milling the grain on a device that looks like it may have been fashioned by MacGyver himself. The brewery is housed in a modern, recently constructed building on a small industrial estate, as you enter you immediately find yourself in a smart, spacious tasting room. Thanks to the open plan layout of the brewery you can see the brew house and fermentation vessels at the back of the building as soon as you enter. Josh and Joe both comment on how small the brewery is but I'd wager British brewers would kill for a space such as this, especially considering Verboten have only been open for all of two months. Taking into consideration the amount of time they've been open Josh and Joe seem to have really got their act together, the tap room is a cool place to hang out that is regularly visited by food trucks on evenings and weekends and there are already several barrels full of ageing beer at the back of the brewery indicating Verboten's more experimental side. To complete the package their branding is strong, on trend and immediately recognisable down to the logo emblazoned t shirts and customised tap handles.

As we drink our coffee and finish the tour Michelle arrives and we prepare to begin the brew. We're brewing a type of beer that I'm completely unfamiliar with, an Imperial Kentucky Common which is an indigenous American style of beer that is similar to what we would call a cream ale. The guys are shooting for a seriously high gravity and several barrels are filled with the various kinds of freshly milled malt ready to be added to the mash tun. In addition to the huge amount of caramel and chocolate malt this brew also uses corn (or maize to us Brits) as would have been traditionally used when a beer such as this was brewed in the times before prohibition. The final variety of grain to be added was a soured malt which would add a classic Kentucky style 'sour mash' flavour to this beer. Michelle and I start pouring the malt into the mash tun as the hot liquor (for my non brewing readers this just means hot water) runs over the grains so as to extract as much sugar from them as possible, the more sugar we extract, the higher the alcohol content of this finished beer will be. As we add the grains and water we stir the mash to make sure all of the grains come into contact with the water and every so often Josh instructs me to add a bucket full of rice into the mash as this helps prevent it from getting stuck together which would be a most undesirable occurrence. 

Once the mash tun is full the mash needs time to complete its process as the hot liquor doesn't simply extract sugars from the grains, what is actually extracted is starch and the hot water allows enzymes in the grains to naturally go about their business and convert those starches into sugars ready for fermentation. Josh keeps an eye on this whilst Joe escorts us into the tap room for a few tasters, it's barely gone 10am but I'm under strict instructions to follow the brewers orders so it would be the height of rudeness to refuse. Verboten do not have any core beers, instead they have an ever rotating range that will depend purely on what Josh and Joe feel like brewing at the time. As they are only using a small brew kit this means that the batches of beer sell through quickly which soon frees up one of their three fermenting vessels and this also allows for plenty of experimentation such as with the beer we are brewing today.

Verboten name their beers after lines from movies (I'll let you guess which movies they come from) and the first beer of the morning is the 'Killer Boots' Caramel Porter. This porter is killer by name and killer by nature, it's a seriously impressive beer full of bitter coffee, rich berry fruits and just a hint of sweetness from the Caramel on the finish. The next beer, 'Angry Banjo' is the original Kentucky Common that today's imperial recipe is based on. It's incredibly drinkable for it's 5.5%, in fact it's what people in Colorado would refer to as a session ale, it's slightly sweet, slightly tangy and decidedly moreish. I wanted to name the beer we were brewing today 'Squeal like a Piggy' a line from the same film as 'Angry Banjo' but it was mutually agreed that it might be a little to non-PC for the people of Northern Colorado, this is a family business after all.

Midway through the tasters Kevin from the Mayor of Old Town arrives and is unsurprised to see me and my Dad drinking already, to be honest I doubt he'll ever see us without a glass in our hands. We move on to 'Five Second Frencher' a delicious Belgian style Witbier that is flavoured with lemongrass and it positively sings with lemongrass flavours along with rich, banana and clove tinged yeast esters. The 'Mantooth' Imperial IPA' is my kind of beer, a deep, rich, biscuity malt base provides the platform for a grapefruit tinged, almost herbal bitterness. It's not as in your face as some IPA's I've had but it's very well balanced for the ABV, another solid brew. Surprisingly it wasn't an IPA or pale ale that was my pick of the bunch but instead it was a beer called 'As You Wish' a 6% Porter brewed with raspberries. As with the caramel porter there was rich, dark chocolate and bitter coffee in spades but this was followed by a fruity, tart kick of raspberries which really lifted this beer onto another level, it was superb. 

Not a single one of these beers fell short of being great, clearly Josh and Joe, who had been home brewing together for three years before opening the brewery have a lot of skill. The mashing process had finished while my Dad and I were working our way through our tasters and we returned to the mash tun to discover Michelle had volunteered herself for the job of digging out the mash tun. Josh poured me a glass of the wort as it was being transferred into the kettle for boiling, it was slick and viscous and smelt almost like raw molasses. The rich, sweet wort proved to be an excellent pick me up after several glasses of beer and we were now ready for the all important process of boiling the beer while adding the bittering hops. The wort was given a 90 minute boil and during this time it was given three additions of pelletised Hallertauer hops which had a lovely aroma of lemon and freshly cut grass. I was given the honour of adding the first load of hops to the boil which made a nice change from taking photos and generally getting in the way as we bloggers tend to do.

We tucked into some pizza that Joe had kindly picked up while the beer finished boiling and Michelle was busily working away on some beer orders for the Mayor. I told her that I'd love to see some of the new wave of British brewing on tap in the Mayor and I was delighted to see Thornbridge's name come up on the list of available beers. Naturally I instructed Michelle to order kegs of Halcyon and Raven so hopefully the beer drinking citizens of Fort Collins will soon see just how good British craft beer has become. Over lunch we discussed what we should call the beer and Kevin suggested 'I'm All Right Jack' a lyric from Pink Floyd's Money which features in the cinematic version of The Wall. This isn't the first collaborative brew the Mayor has done with a local brewery and all their others have had their names taken from Pink Floyd lyrics and with 'Jack' being a good reference to a sour mash beverage made in the Kentucky style it seemed to be a good fit and thus 'I'm All Right Jack' was born.

After the boil had finished we began to prepare to run the beer into a fermentation vessel but sadly my Dad and I ran out of time before this was finished. Despite this I had loads of fun being involved in my first ever commercial brew day and I would like to thank Josh and Joe for hosting us and Michelle and Kevin for making this whole thing possible, thanks guys!

Now here's the embarrassing part, I had intended to publish this blog shortly before the beer became available but it's taken much longer than anticipated to get to this stage of my trip. Jack ended up being a 10.8% monster, it was tapped in the Verboten tasting room on Friday and as you might have already guessed... it already sold out. However fear not, if you live in or near Fort Collins rumour has it (ooh) that a second keg is being tapped at the Mayor of Old Town this coming Wednesday the 17th of April, if you want to try it THIS IS YOUR ONLY AND LAST CHANCE! I also understand that there is a growler full of this beer on its way to me so I will of course be letting you know how it tastes when it arrives. The other exciting news is that a quantity of Jack has found it's way into a rum barrel so in a few months Barrel Aged I'm All Right Jack will be rearing it's monstrous rum-soaked head.

If you ever find yourself in Northern Colorado the town of Loveland is not to be overlooked, Verboten are the fifth brewery to open up in this town and along with Big Beaver Brewing and Grimm Brothers these breweries are helping to turn Loveland into a must visit beer destination to rival even Fort Collins. The Verboten tap room is open Tuesday through Sunday and you can find the opening hours on their website here, if you're ever in the area be sure to pop in and say hi to Josh and Joe from me!

Coming up next, I try a beer with a name that rhymes with 'Whiney the Plunger...' Whatever could that be?

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Red Monkey and the Green Lantern

The blog is part of a continuing story, click here to go back a post!

It had been a long day, my Dad, our friends Mike and Laurie and myself had driven over two hundred and forty miles along the Colombia Gorge from Portland, Oregon to Walla Walla, Washington. On the way we stopped at a few breweries, Full Sail in Hood River, Pendleton's Prodigal Son and finally Dragon's Gate Brewery in Milton Freewater, right on the State border. Throughout this gruelling ordeal (it's a tough life taking in stunning scenery and tasting lots of beer) I had been suffering with the flu but had swallowed a proverbial spoonful of cement in an effort to toughen up. By the time we had reached Mike and Laurie's farm on the outskirts of Walla Walla I was feeling worse for wear but I attempted to suck it up one last time and we headed out to the Red Monkey Lounge for some beers and a bite to eat.

Open Daily, except when I'm in town...
No sooner had I sat at the bar and been served a super fresh pint of Stone IPA things took a turn for the worse. The room started spinning and I broke out in a cold sweat, I was bundled into Mike's car and sent straight to bed having not even taken a sip of that gleaming, golden pint. Don't fret for me though, the juries still out on whether or not I actually like Stone IPA and my Dad later informed me that he polished it off on my behalf so at the very least it did not go to waste.

I awoke after almost twelve hours sleep feeling considerably better than I had the day before, I wasn't yet one hundred percent but after I had consumed the delicious breakfast smoothie Laurie had whipped up I felt like I could (almost) take on the world. Laurie also kindly gifted me with several bombers of beer from Northwestern Breweries that aren't often found in the liquor stores of Colorado. Highlights included a bottle of Pike Brewing Monk's Uncle Triple, No-Li Brewing IPA and a bottle of Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA, I just hoped that they survived the journey back to Colorado with us. Thanks again to Laurie for all of these beers, I just wish I had been well enough to drink them when I stayed over!

My Dad and I had a few hours remaining in the Northwest before it was time to head back to Fort Collins so with Mike having to go to work, Laurie, my Dad and I set off to visit Laht Neppur brewery in the nearby town of Waitsburg. Before we headed to the brewery my Dad insisted that we visit his favourite record store, Hot Poop, which describes itself as a 'Bing Bang Music and Stereo Shop.' My Dad visits the Northwest on business quite regularly and this is clearly evident when Jim, the owner of Hot Poop, emerges from behind the counter with a handful of new records that he had put to one side for him. Hot Poop is just about the most idiosyncratic stores you will ever visit, Jim sells records, guitars, drum kits, hi-fi's, televisions and well, just about anything else he can cram in between his four walls. I can guarantee that this is probably the only store in the world where you have to climb over piles of stock in order to reach most parts of the store. If you're ever in the Walla Walla area, Hot Poop is a must visit.

Walla Walla is deep in Washington wine country, the town has a whole street lined with tasting rooms and once you are out of town the landscape is interspersed with many a vinyard but predictably it's only the beer that I'm interested in. Eventually we arrive in Waitsburg (on the way there we drove past the family home of Adam 'Batman' West!) and pull up to the entrance of Laht Neppur brewery only to find out that they are closed. Well I'm sorry Laht Neppur, but I'm writing this off as your loss on this occasion, you had the opportunity RIGHT THERE for me to visit your brewery but you dang went and missed it. So we drive all the way back to Walla Walla looking for a place to stop for a drink and a bite to eat and eventually arrive at a cosy looking bar called the Green Lantern. 

I was worried at this point that the dreaded flu was about to take hold yet again as I was starting to feel a little worse for the wear but I decided, probably against my better judgement, that now was the time to ditch the tasters and get back onto pints. The Lantern had Racer 5 on, I love Racer 5 and was about to order a pint when Laurie stopped me and demanded that I had to have something from the Northwest. I'm glad she did for if she hadn't I wouldn't have tried the delicious, juicy IPA from Diamond Knot Brewing which went down a treat and when I saw the bottom of that glass I felt like I'd turned a corner and was ready for more! I washed down my lunch with a pint of the Ninkasi winter seasonal Sleigh'r, a dark double altbier, not a style I'm usually keen on but this was delicious, full flavoured and yet still gloriously drinkable, in fact I've been thoroughly impressed by every Ninkasi beer I've had on this trip.

Until the next time, Walla Walla.
Soon it was time to head to the tiny Walla Walla airport and begin the long journey back to Colorado via Seattle, sadly we only had a couple of hours in between flights so we had no hope of exploring this city but it had been a fantastic few days in the Northwest, a plethora of amazing beers were drank in the company of some wonderful new friends. The short flight from Walla Walla to Seattle was operated by Alaska Airlines who have a different rotating craft beer available each month and the best part is that it's free. Sadly on this flight the beer was Kona Koko Brown, a brown ale brewed with coconut which sadly has the unfortunate honour of being the worst beer I tried on this trip. There was nothing technically wrong with it, it was well brewed and nicely carbonated but for me the coconut in this beer just does not work. Not only did the coconut seem to give the beer an almost soapy taste but it had a viscous, oily texture that I found offputting. Still, I held my nose and sank it anyway, it was free after all.

It was less than an hour before we landed in Seattle and once we had found our terminal my Dad and I settled into a nice little bar where I had my final beer in the Northwest, for this trip at least, an IPA from Alaskan brewing. It was another solid IPA but like every hoppy beer I had drank since drinking Pliny a couple of nights beforehand it seemed a little on the quiet side flavour wise. Still, it ticked all the boxes and helped bide the time in the terminal. Soon we were winging our way back towards Denver International and I had a few more days of beer based FUN awaiting me in Fort Collins. When we arrived in Denver my Dad collected his bag and to our abject horror it was dripping with a liquid that smelt decidedly beery. Thankfully there was no broken glass but the bottle of Ninkasi Tricerahops had at some point decided to blow it's top and unload it's contents into my Dad's luggage.

It was past midnight when we arrived in Fort Collins and it was snowing a blizzard outside. Sadly there was no rest for the wicked, we had to be up early next morning as we were heading to nearby Loveland to brew a beer with the towns newest brewery...

Continue onward to our brewday with Loveland's Verboten Brewing.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Good Times at Meantime

Recently I've been very privileged to be the guest of Greenwich's Meantime Brewing on not one but two occasions as they've launched a couple of brand new seasonal beers. With the host of brewing talent that London now has to offer such as Redchurch and Brodie's it's often easy to overlook Meantime who are one of London's original modern craft brewery's. I for one have been guilty of overlooking this particular brewery on a number of occasions as I am constantly searching for new flavour sensations and beers that bowl me over and I've always found Meantime's core range to be a little too 'safe' for my tastes. Now I'm on my way to their brewhouse which lies just over the water from the towering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf with a clear palate and an open mind ready to rediscover just what this brewery has to offer.

After Fuller's Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, Meantime own the second biggest brewing facility in London itself but to put this in perspective for my American readers, Fuller's is 3 times smaller than California's Sierra Nevada. The first time I headed south to Meantime it was a cold evening in late January and the brewery, which lies on an unassuming industrial estate, was shrouded in darkness which made it a little difficult to find. Eventually I walked up to a large security gate an was buzzed in before being escorted up to a tidy little tap room which overlooks the main hub of the brewery. I immediately spot a friendly face among the small throng of guests in the shape of Pete Favelle from Pete Drinks (@PeteDrinks) and join him at the bar. Brewer Rod Jones who I had met only a few weeks earlier at the Greenwich Union was hosting this evening of food and beer and within moments a glass was handed to me containing Bohemian Dark, a Czech style dark lager that is being released as a limited edition seasonal draught that will only be available throughout the late winter/early spring.

It only took a few sips to be impressed by this exceptionally well made beer, it was clean and moreishly bitter with the finish being reminiscent of chewing on a piece of burnt toast thinly spread with damson jam. Within moments those roasty, bitter flavours are all but history but they're so good that you can't help but dive back in for more. After we finished our first beer Rod then took us into the Bavarian built brewhouse, which is apparently the most expensive brewing kit in London. The brewery is a beautiful thing, all gleaming chrome and glass with a healthy amount of Meantime branding constantly reminding of you where you are. We stand on a platform above the brewery in front of the mash tun, lauter tun and kettle behind which lies a veritable forest of towering fermentation vessels, literally every inch of floor space is occupied by some sort of brewing device.

Behind the FV's lies a second forest, this one of maturation vessels where most Meantime beer rests for six to eight weeks before release in order to develop the natural, tight carbonation that gives Meantime beers their signature. We are regularly reminded by Rod how this is a costly process and that their accountants would rather them release these beers into the market much more quickly, we chuckle but I think to myself about how many other breweries condition their beers this way how much do other beers suffer that are not given this much time to condition. Ultimately it's the brewers choice how long beer is given to reach maturity before it leaves the brewery and as long as the end result tastes good then I'm happy to leave this decision in the hands of the brewer.

We are then ushered into another part of the brewery, on one side lies a tower laden with sacks of malt and opposite this is the breweries very own water treatment plant which they use to treat the water for all their beers bar the London Porter, which uses untreated London tap water so as to remain as authentic as possible. Opposite this facility are three very different packaging lines, one for kegs, one for their smaller bottles and one for their champagne style bottles. I wonder how many of the new wave of British brewers struggling to meet their customers demands would kill for a piece of kit like this.

After the tour we head back to the tasting room where the smell of a freshly cooked traditional Czech stew fills the room and we tuck into a delicious meal that has been prepared to compliment this beer. Rod, who is also a certified Beer Sommelier, gestures towards the many rows of bottles and glasses that adorn the tasting room walls and explains how they are a small part of the collection owned by the late, great Micheal Jackson (no not THAT Micheal Jackson) and on display is around a third of his bottles and an eighth of his glassware which was gifted to Meantime brewmaster Alastair Hook by the great mans widow. The hours pass, the stew soon disappears and more and more pints of Bavarian dark are poured, each pint is as delicious as the last and slips down just as easily showing off its legs as a true session beer.

Also present this evening was Meantime's colourful Cockney tour guide Alex who enthuses about Meantime beers with such gusto it's impossible not to be convinced. He tells us many a tale but my favourite is when he tells us about his first visit to the Greenwich Union, one of Meantime's brewery taps, when he was bored of his usual local. There he was first turned on to the craft brews of Meantime and it was there where his craft beer adventure began. Tourists must giggle with delight when they have a tour of the brewery led by Alex, he's a brilliant character and soon he's enthusing about his current favourite Meantime beer, Yakima Red, a red ale that started life as a seasonal but has proved so popular it's now part of their core range. It's not up in my grill as much as I like my hops but big flavours of pine, orange marmalade and mango are supported by a digestive biscuit-like malt profile making it very pleasing to my palate.

Eventually the night must come to it's end and before long I'm staggering out of the brewery gates towards North Greenwich station. Fast forward three months, it's early April and I'm at the brewery gates once again although this time they are illuminated by daylight so I find my way much more easily. This time I've brought a companion in the shape of my good friend Justin Mason (@1970sBoy) from Get Beer Drink Beer and we're also joined by Sid Boggle (@BoggleAbout) from Boggle About. We are once again ushered into the tasting room and are introduced to Bar Manager Jack who will be hosting this evenings launch of another seasonal brew, Californian Pale. This beer has been brewed with a combination of Crystal hops grown in Washington State's Yakima Valley and Celeila hops from Slovenia. Meantime's brewmaster Alastair Hook describes this beer as being 'complex' and 'full flavoured' and sadly I have to disagree with him. Don't get me wrong there is fruit in here, lemon and grapefruit combined with grassy overtones but I find it a great struggle to detect them. It's here where I realise my love for big beers has probably ruined my palate for life, I'm yearning for more flavour in this beer but I'm not disliking it's clean 'freshness'.

Jack once again gives us a tour of the brewery, a tad unnecessary for me as I'd been shown around so recently before but I'm a beer geek and I love being in breweries so I still stroll around the towering chrome brewing vessels with a smile on my face. After the tour we are once again served food to pair with the new beer and seeing as this is supposed to be a Californian Style beer we are given a trio of most excellent pizzas cooked fresh at the brewery. Ultimately, bar it's extremely well masked ABV of 5.5% I don't think I would count this beer as a Californian style pale ale as there is not enough bitter fruit flavour and most certainly not enough sweet, robust malts holding up the flavours. What this beer is however is an excellent example of a modern British pale ale, it's a little bit more challenging than a traditional British pale and as it's only available on keg it's the kind of beer that could open up a world of flavour to someone who doesn't normally drink bitter beers.

I'm definitely not the target market for this beer, if I saw it on the bar I'd probably not order it but then my taste in beer is quite different from majority of the UK's beer drinkers. Californian Pale is a very well made beer, the flavour is clean and it's incredibly drinkable, Justin and Sid say they even detect a pleasant hint of burnt rubber on the nose but sadly it's lost on me. Bohemian Dark and Yakima Red are both on the bar tonight and I enjoy a pint of each but it's the last beer we have, Meantime's usually unassuming Wheat beer that blows us away. Hefeweizen is perhaps the most underrated style in the UK, most of us Brits just don't get wheat beer but with their take on the style Meantime have hit the nail on the head and following the sad news that Camden Brewery have discontinued their excellent hefeweizen it looks like I've found a more than worthy replacement.

Ultimately, as a beer geek when it comes to London beer I'd rather have a full flavoured IPA from the likes of The Kernel or Redchurch but these two visits have really made me appreciate what the talented brewers of Meantime can do and that they're not a brewery to be overlooked. While we hop perverts continue to tick away increasingly extreme beers on Untappd, Meantime will continue to convert London's drinkers to well made, local beer be they a lager, ale or stout drinker. One word to Alistair Hook though, apparently we Brits aren't ready for those big beers that you brew exclusively for export to the United States, I think you're wrong, take a chance with your bigger beers in Britain and I guarantee we geeks will prove you wrong.

I'd like to thank the guys at Meantime for inviting me down to the brewery on both of these occasions. Californian Pale is out now and Bohemian Dark is still available, both are available on draught at The Greenwich Union and The Old Brewery so those of you wanting to taste these beers for yourself, I suggest you head to Greenwich, post haste. For those of you expecting the next scintillating part of my recent trip to the US, this is coming very soon. 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Dragon's Gate Brewery

Earlier in the day I visited Full Sail and the Prodigal Son brewery, check out what I thought here.

The sun is setting over the sprawling fields of Oregon as we near our destination of Walla Walla, Washington which lies only a few miles away over the State border. My Dad and I along with our friends Mike and Laurie are driving round the small town of Milton Freewater looking for our next destination and eventually we turn down a small dirt road and drive up to an inconspicuous looking farmhouse. About thirty cats suddenly run across the field in front of us in which stands a row of poles used for growing hop bines. A man walks out of the farmhouse to greet us, this man is Adam T. Gregory, head brewer and owner of the smallest commercial brewery I have ever seen, Dragon's Gate Brewery.

Adam escorts us into the 'brewhouse' a small building no larger than your average garden shed. At the far end of the room sits the brewing kit which Adam uses to brew his beers twenty gallons at a time, on one side of the wall shelves are stacked with sacks of malt and bottles waiting to be filled, on the other there is a bar that would seat no more than three or four people and at the edge of this is a fridge that has been converted into a 'kegerator' so that Adam can serve his beers on tap as well as in bottles. The brewery is adorned with pieces of Gothic and fantasy art, including a full size replica of a suit of armour which nicely ties in with the theme Adam has chosen for his branding.

We are soon handed our first beer, an absolutely delicious Belgian style witbier which produced delicate flavours of lemongrass, clove and bubblegum. Without question it was the most accomplished beer I had drank so far that day, such was its authenticity I was shocked to hear that Adam had not yet made the journey to Belgium. Adam then produced a bottle and as soon as we had drained our glasses of the last drops of our wit he was filling them with his Belgian Strong ale. I'm not sure if Adam was intentionally trying to produce a Westmalle Tripel clone but with this beer he'd come pretty close, all of the rustic, Belgian flavours were there complete with those signature yeast esters that typify the style. The only difference between this and the genuine article was a fresh, grassy note produced by the Dragons Gate hops which are all grown at the brewery, no outside hops are bought in. Adam grows Centennial, Cascade, Galena, Mt. Hood, Willamette, Magnum, Sterling, Saaz, and Hallertauer hops all on site which adds a truly unique twist to this brewery's story.

Next up is a Belgian IPA which was another solid brew, it was probably my least favourite out of all of the beers I tried at Dragon's Gate because I like my IPAs to be huge and packed with fruity, resinous flavours. Rather than being in your face this Belgian IPA was subtle and leaned more towards the Belgian style than being an outright IPA. We had time for a couple more beers before we had to leave, the English Porter was superb take on the style with roasted coffee and chocolate flavours being perfectly balanced by the bitterness of Adam's home grown hops. Finally Adam pours one last beer straight out of the conditioning tank a honey Saison that's not quite ready and despite being well under carbonated due it being so young it's absolutely delicious. 

It goes without saying that Dragon's Gate was the highlight of the drive down the Columbia Gorge and Adam proved that you don't need to be a large commercial brewer to produce world class beers. The town of Milton Freewater is well rooted in wine country but Dragon's Gate could well lead the way for a new wave of breweries in the area. Adam has big plans for his business and intends to build a larger facility and tasting room and gradually increase his output while still using hops grown on his own farm. I look forward to hopefully returning to Milton Freewater in a few years time and seeing how things have progressed. The brewery is open to the public and as well as having beers on tap you can buy bottles or growlers to take away just check the Dragon's Gate website here for the opening hours.

With the last sip of the honey Saison we bid our goodbyes to Adam and make our way towards the Washington border and onward towards more beverage related misadventure.