Thursday 25 July 2013

Enter, Lagunitas

British fans of decent American beer have got it pretty good these days, as well as a steady supply of more popular and 'accessible' beers from the likes of Sierra Nevada and Goose Island we're also spoilt with the likes of Odell, Flying Dog, Left Hand and much, much more. With the explosion of new British breweries that are now brewing full-flavoured, modern, American style beers you'd expect that many American breweries over here would be loosing market share to us plucky Brits and they might well be but still the Americans keep coming with Oskar Blues recently arriving on the scene and Great Divide returning to our shores after a brief hiatus.

Lagunitas IPA, cool for cats
I'm lucky enough to have been to the States several times and have drank most of these beers in their native environment. My favourite style of beer, the humble American IPA is best drank fresh and as close to the source as possible but if done well, exports can reach here in near-perfect condition (Odell do a wonderful job here) and if not the beers can often arrive here a shadow of their former selves. Anglophiles Doug Odell from Odell Brewing and Garrett Oliver from the Brooklyn Brewery visit the UK regularly, they want their beer to be available over here and they want it to taste right and what better way to ensure that the beer is in tip-top shape than to come over here and drink it themselves. In fact, Odell feels so indebted to our British brewing history that once an employee completes five years of service they are sent over here, to taste where the inspiration for their own beers came from.

That link between our two countries is crucial if these breweries want to make sure that their beer is successful over here so enter California's Lagunitas who have taken things one step further by sending over a full time Sales Manager to ensure that things are done right. Sales Manager might not be the right word as Scottish born Fraser Murray's official job title is North-Central Euro-merican Regional Captain for Tactical Zymurgicological Retail Beverage Deployment and Demand-Vectored Development which might not make an iota of sense but encapsulates the frivolous spirit of Lagunitas Brewing Company. I met up with Fraser for a few beers before Lagunitas launched over here in the UK, like myself he believes that the UK beer scene is still a long way behind the US where even terrible bars still usually have a decent IPA on tap. In the UK, Lagunitas want that beer to be their own IPA and Fraser was very kind and gave me a few bottles to try.

I'll confess I've drank Lagunitas IPA over in the States before and their Lagunitas Sucks double IPA is quite simply one of the best beers I've had this year. I feel that this gives me an advantage though because in knowing how good this beer tastes when it's fresh I know what I expect from these bottles. I was impressed, I've had some imported beers recently that have been so poorly kept that the essential hop oils that make them taste SO DAMN GOOD had ebbed away like grains of sand on the North-Lincolnshire coastline. Lagunitas IPA is a beer I think of not as a hop bomb but instead a balanced IPA for drinking every day and damn I wish I had this in my fridge every day. There's grapefruit and mango juice in spades and the fruit is backed up by a rich, robust malt platform, this is how West Coast IPA should taste.

Thanks to a partnership with Adnams Southwold, Lagunitas aim to have a constant supply of kegged IPA flowing into the UK from now on. I've already tried some at the Euston Tap and Earl of Essex in London and at the Hanging Bat in Edinburgh and can confirm that it is in tip top shape. One very interesting factor that will galvanise this beers success in the UK is it's price, you might guffaw at a fiver for a pint but compared to a rival US IPA that travels poorly and usually sells for upwards of eight pounds a pint this beer is offering incredible value for the quality and flavour you're getting. Although it's only available on keg for now Fraser assures me that bottles aren't far behind and more of their core range of beers should soon follow suit. Rumour has it that we may even see some of the heavenly Lagunitas Sucks double IPA and you can be assured that I'll be first in line when that keg is tapped.

Thanks again to Fraser and the guys at Lagunitas for the beers, if you want to try Lagunitas IPA it's still available at The Euston Tap and is popping up at good beer bars all over the country.

Sunday 21 July 2013

That was EBBC13

I've now had more than a few days to digest the events that occurred in Edinburgh last weekend when I was there for the 2013 European Beer Bloggers Conference. I wasn't sure that I'd get anything out of the event that what with the £100.00 attendance fee, train tickets, a hotel room plus food and drink cost me a fair bit to attend but I've come away feeling excited about writing about beer again which is a feeling that I've been missing since I finished writing about my latest trip to the United States a few months ago.

Czech yourself before you wzech yourself
Maybe it was the plethora of great beer that I tried, the useful and well thought out seminars, the well laid out dinners, making new friends and strengthening bonds with old ones or perhaps it was the rousing keynote speech from Brooklyn Brewmaster Garrett Oliver. In fact not only did Garrett deliver an inspiring speech that was laden with common sense but he also joined us on the pre-conference pub crawl/lash but me being me I lacked the confidence to go up and shake the big mans hand instead choosing to tweet incessantly about his wonderful and now seemingly sentient hat. So inspiring was that speech that it was almost worth the attendance fee alone and the fact that we toasted his address with delicious Brooklyn Sorachi Ace made it all the more special. That and the fact I'd started the day with a complimentary dram of Samuel Adams Utopias, a beer that costs around $250.00 a bottle and to my suprise more than lived up to its huge billing.

We learned about the history of Scottish beer, not something I'm particularly interested in, in fact John Martin, President of the Scottish Brewing Archive Association said that Scottish beers were and in many cases still are very malt forward because they were "further away from the hops" which might explain why Scotch ales never really suit my palate. Some of them do though and the the session on whisky barrel aged beers hosted by Stuart Cail from Harviestoun was very interesting, particularly the part on the shortage of available whisky barrels due to the sudden boom in barrel aged beers. I suspect though that following the craft brewing revolution will come the craft winemaking and the craft distilling revolution so if you like working with wood, now's the time to book in for the European Coopers Conference, I'm sure there is one. Stuart was also kind enough to gift all of us bloggers with a bottle of Harviestoun's 30th anniversary Ola Dubh which is aged in 40 year old sherry barrels that have previously been used to distill 30 year old Highland Park whisky. Unlike the regular bottles of Ola Dubh this hasn't been liquored back (watered down) and is bottled at the almighty cask strength of 11.3% ABV, one I look forward to sharing with friends in a distant future.

That evening we had a wonderful dinner at the Edinburgh City Halls hosted by Vaclav Berka, the Brewmaster at Pilsner Urquell who made the point of sitting down and speaking to each and every table as well as pouring the beer himself. Unfiltered and straight from the barrel is exactly how I like my Pilsner and after it's tapped and sprays over some rather expensive looking paintings we bloggers sup away to our hearts content. I leave the bloggers after the dinner to catch up with some old friends in a great little bar called The Cloisters. It's absolutely sweltering in the pub and I plump for a half of Tempest Brave New World IPA which I'm sure on most occasions i'd find wonderful but I'm all beered out and the next drink, a humble gin and tonic, is exactly the refreshment I was after. That evening I ended up in One Square, the cocktail bar at The Sheraton, drinking away 'til almost 2am which ensured I was in tip top shape when the conference resumed at 10am the next morning.

I rocked up only five minutes late clutching a coffee and croissant like my life depended on it, cursing myself for sleeping through my complimentary hotel breakfast. Day two kicked off with an interesting session about international beer blogging, mostly I was amazed by the scale of blogging in the United States and a little worried that I may have broken their bizarre laws by writing about American beers without properly stating that they were gifts from breweries. Luckily, at this point, I have still evaded capture by any federal agents or craft beer police.

I'll glaze over the seminar that followed, I'm not a professional writer, I don't have an audience, I just love writing and if people like reading what I write then that's fine but I think I made my point on this clear enough at the start of the live beer blogging session. Sarah from Brewdog then went on to surprise me with her in depth knowledge of social media, I was cynical when I heard that this segment was taken over by Brewdog mere days before the conference was due to begin but it was useful and as a result I will be subjecting my twitter followers to some more manic Vines, sorry twitter (I'm not really sorry.)

Garrett Oliver complete with hat in Brewdog Edinburgh
One of the sessions I was most looking forward to was about becoming a Beer Academy certified beer sommelier, something I've been interested in for a little while. This session was hosted by Sophie Atherton, the UK's first female certified beer sommelier and recent recipient of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group beer sommelier of the year. I was lucky enough to have a few beers with Sophie in the Holyrood 9A and Brewdog Edinburgh the night before and was happy to discover that she's as friendly as she is knowledgeable and gave this potential fledgling beer sommelier a lot of encouragement. I've always held stock in my palate and I like to think that I'm good at drinking beer and this session, despite the many food matches available dividing the room really hit home that this is something I wanted to do. Whether I'm actually any good at beer and food matching or not remains to be seen.

We finished with what was my favourite session, live beer blogging. You can read my live blog here which will remain unedited in the spirit of the occasion, I hope I don't have to wait until the next conference to have a go at this again! That evening we had a lovely dinner at the Ghillie Dhu where the conference was held which was jointly hosted by Williams Brothers and Fyne Ales. We were served a range of traditional Scotch fayre each with an accompanying beer from both breweries. The real revelation here was Williams Brothers Fraoch Heather Ale with Haggis, a food and beer match made in heaven.

With dinner done we beer blogging craft wankers (a name that a few of us had drunkenly dubbed ourselves) headed to a very warm Hanging Bat, the beer cafe pub I'd supped my first beer in when I arrived in Edinburgh a few days ago. I couldn't face another drop of beer after the onslaught of the conference so ended up trying a variety of Gins until I was neither a craft wanker nor a gin wanker, I was simply wankered. I think Garrett Oliver summed the weekend up perfectly when he said that beer was not about malt or hops or whether it was craft or not but that beer was about people and I couldn't have put it better myself. My lasting memory of this weekend will not be the beers I drank but the people I spent it with, people I hope to see again, people that get it and write fantastic blogs each in their own unique way. It's for this reason that I won't be missing next years conference if the fate of the world itself depended on it, sorry world.

It seems fitting then that the Sunday after the conference was spent with friends, we visited The Vintage in Leith, which served an excellent brunch and had a fantastic beer list. I woke up with beer being the last thing on my mind but couldn't resist a cheeky half of the delicious Bristol Beer Factory Southville hop. I had one last stop to make before I made the four and a half hour journey back to London and that was to indulge my other filthy beverage habit at Brew Lab coffee who produced one of the finest flat whites I've ever had. Cue four an a half hours of caffinated vibration on the train home.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Live Blogging from the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2013

HELLO, I'm here LIVE in the city of EDINBURGH which is in SCOTLAND where I'm attending the 2013 European Beer Bloggers Conference and I'm having an absolute whale of a time. In about 45 minutes time I'm going to be taking part in a live beer blogging event but I'm going to start with some words I scrawled into my journal in an earlier session. 

"Write for yourself, if all you worry about is how many hits you get and who your audience is then you're doing it wrong."

I'll admit when I first started blogging I was a little obsessed with the amount of hits I was getting, watching the numbers grow each month with the excited face of a ten-year-old on Christmas day. Now, after taking a few weeks out to ask myself why I blog I don't worry about how many hits I'm getting I find the most important part of blogging, the writing itself, far more enjoyable and I hope to bring you lots more sud soaked stories as I yomp around the UK and the US that I hope you enjoy reading. For now, enjoy this blog post as I update it live over the next hour and a half!


Shepherd Neame - Brilliant Ale

So they are going to bring us beer, tell us about it and then we are going to drink it and WRITE ABOUT IT PANIC STATIONS I'M RUNNING OUT OF TIME. Wait, I'm calm, I can do this... nice to see Shepherd Neame using brown glass, nice classic label design, really eye catching. Brilliant Ale pours golden straw, the Cascade and East Kent Goldings hops give lemon peel and gentle grapefruit aromas. Nice light ale, great for a summers day, little light on the hops for my taste but very easy drinking. BOOM. 

West - St. Mungo Lager

It's Glasgow based West with their St. Mungo lager up next. These guys have been around since 2006 AND WAIT MY LAPTOP IS FALLING TO BITS SEND HELP, keep calm I can pull through, anyway yes, these guys brew German style lagers and wheat beers. St. Mungo is a pleasant, drinkable lager with a robust malt profile, it certainly tastes very German. There is a nice spiciness coming from the Hallertauer hops, it's a very authentic lager and it's going down a treat. 

Ilkley - The Mayan

Ah, Ilkley, I've wanted to try the Mayan, a Chili Chocolate Stout for a while and I'm getting massive notes of Cocoa on the nose and I can't wait to dive in. This is a beer of two halves, first there is beautiful, rich and bitter dark chocolate and this is followed by a mellow heat from the chipotle chili's used in the brew which don't blow your head off but really balance out the sweetness of the chocolate. The finish is dry and moreish, I'm going to be seeking this one out again. 

Badger Ales - The Roaming Roy Dog

Badger released a beer last year called the Wondering Woodwose which Mark Landells (I'M LOOKING AT YOU LANDELLS) thought was fucking amazing. This is the next limited edition in the series only available for 2013. It's 7.5% ABV and I'M SMASHING IT WITH RECKLESS ABANDON BECAUSE I'M RUNNING OUT OF TIME. It's wonderful, rich forest fruits with a hint of booze, this is a late night beer that you'd want with a slab of rich blue cheese. It's only available from Badger direct.

Traquair - Jacobite Ale

Lovely traditional Scottish label on this bottle of traditional Scottish Ale, it's another high ABV belter at 8% but I'm throwing it down my throat with reckless abandon AS I'M RUNNING OUT OF TIME. This 'Wee Heavy' has delicious fruitcake flavours reminiscent of a Belgian Dubbel such as the one from Westmalle but without the funk of Belgian yeast. This is a lovely beer that has a surprisingly light body that pairs itself with a rich, vinous, berry fruit quality. I want more. 

Innis & Gunn - Oloroso Cask

Nose, total butterscotch, oh dear. I'm currently being told about all of the wonderful things I should be tasting in this beer but I'm just not getting them. It might be rare but I'm not going to be in a rush to seek it out. I'm getting an almost dirty, woody taste like I'm riding through the woods on a wet day but I've fallen off my bike and got a mouthful of wet dirt. This just isn't for me. The man from I&G watched me write that from over my shoulder, I think he might try and do a murder on me later.

Birra Toccalmatto - Surfing IPA

I need a pick me up after that last beer, and hopefully these Italian stallions will deliver with this massive 8.5% ABV IPA. The aroma is so potent I almost fall of my chair, i'm getting huge globs of grapefruit and mango but the flavour is mellow and full of the rich Belgian malt that's used in the mash. ARRRRRRGH I'M RUNNING OUT OF TIME AND WHY HAS BOLD SUDDENLY COME ON! It's ok, Ctrl-B and I'm back in the game. This is a great beer and I'm starting to feel GREAT after smashing all of these high ABV beers. 

Iveralmond - Blackfriar

The man from the brewery just used the word triptych, I love that word. This is another Scotch Ale and at 7% ABV it falls into the Wee Heavy Category. LET'S GET INTO THIS BEER. Smells like heather honey, sweet and toffee like, these flavours transfer nicely on to the palate, it's maybe a little sweet for my tastes but it's balanced by a nice spicy bitterness in the finish. Finish line in sight. 

Harviestoun - Ola Dubh 30th Anniversary

This has been delivered to the table with some slabs of 72% Cocoa Madacascan chocolate. It's been aged in 40 year old casks that housed Highland Park 30 year old, a whiskey that sells for around £900.00 a bottle, I'm stupidly excited to get into this beer. In the excitement it goes down the wrong hole, I'm coughing and spluttering all over my broken laptop. It's delicious, rich, mellow, boozy wonderment and the chocolate brings it to life. This is a real rare treat that I feel incredibly privledged to try. There's only one barrel of it and we're here tasting it, magic but at the end of the day, it's just beer.