Sunday 20 October 2013

Blue Fucking Moon

Earlier this week James Watt of Brewdog posted a blog on his brewery's website outlining his opinion on how Europe needs a solid, legal definition on what constitutes a 'Craft Brewery' and I agree with many of his points (word of warning, don't watch the video unless you want to vomit your adult beverage over your computer.) The article is worth a read and if you put aside the FREEDOM and REVOLUTION bullshit which to be honest is there in refreshingly small amounts then it actually make a lot of sense. In the United States the Brewers Association have clear guidelines on what constitutes a craft brewery and this brings a much needed asset to their industry, unity

Imagine, if you will, no more pointless arguments about what defines craft beer, SIBA, CAMRA and my own beloved CAMRGB in complete agreement about what actually constitutes that damned prefix. Independent Breweries, regardless of the styles they brew and the methods they use to dispense their beers will be in the same ballpark. Black Sheep next to Buxton, Thwaites next to Thornbridge, Fullers next to The Kernel... If we adopted the same principles as our American cousins it could bring the independent arm of British brewing together and in turn make it stronger. At the moment some people treat the brewing industry like they are separate, splintered industries but this isn't the case, there isn't a brewing and a craft brewing industry, this is the drinks industry. Feel free to badmouth the huge corporations who are seemingly only in it for the money but ultimately even the smallest outfits who do it for the love of beer have to make ends meet at the end of the day.

Sadly, I feel that the UK brewing industry is so old and segregated that it will never happen, at least not during this generation. It's a rapidly changing part of our economy that's incredibly difficult to keep up with, I can't imagine what it will be like in 5, 10 or even 20 years but craft beer is here to stay, that's for certain.

I do however have one major argument with James' post, why the brazen attack on Blue Moon? Sure, it's not a great beer and it's a Coors product that's manufactured to turn as great a profit as possible but it isn't the reason we need a solid definition of craft beer in Europe. Blue Moon was invented in a Micro Brewery (that's what we used to call Craft Breweries back in the day), a Micro Brewery just like the ones that produce so many of the beers we love. The day Keith Villa, a real human man, went into work at the Sandlot Brewery inside Denver's Coors Field one day in 1995 and conceived Belly Slide Belgian Wit he probably had no idea that it would become a global, mass-marketed product. Sure enough, Belly Slide Belgian Wit massively outsold every other beer the Sandlot were brewing at the time and it went on to become the iconoclastic wheat beer we seemingly either loathe or feel completely indifferent about today.

The Sandlot is still there selling it's range of European style pilsners and whatnot, and with the form of the Colorado Rockies it's not surprising that their fans are in need of a few cold beers during a game. In fact The Sandlot just won the 'Best Large Brewery' award at this years Great American Beer Festival, it's not a large brewery, it's actually quite small but it's a part of the same company as a very, very big brewery so that means that it doesn't brew craft beer. I wonder what Sandlot brewmaster Tom Hall, another real human man, would have to say about that? 

The other reason it's pointless to attack brands such as Blue Moon is that eight out of ten people that drink it couldn't give a flying fuck what craft beer is. Those are the folks with the slice of orange floating in their beer, getting on with their lives, potentially even enjoying their short time on this mortal coil. One of the other two is staring at that piece of orange, wondering why it's there. He/She usually orders a pint of say, Estrella or maybe a Doom Bar if they're feeling adventurous but that advert at the bus stop has stuck in their head and here they are drinking a witbier, not a very good witbier but still an actual witbier. Maybe they'll really like it, maybe they'll start a grand voyage of beery discovery. Who knows what they'll try next, Camden Gentleman's Wit? Pressure Drop Wallbanger? If this beer inspires one in ten people to expand their horizons then surely that's a good thing? Hell, if it inspires one in a hundred it's a good thing.

And what of the other person in the ten? Well that's someone like me, maybe it even is me, a craft wanker. 'All of the ales on offer in this pub are twiggy and boring, I know, I'll drink Blue Moon, maybe I'll drink seven pints of it and wash it down with a bellyful of Laphroaig afterwards. Maybe I'll spend some time getting acquainted with a toilet bowl later because I got absolutely hammered.' Maybe this DID happen to me. Was it because I was drinking Blue Fucking Moon? Was it bollocks.

Corporate brewing is not the enemy of craft brewing, it's all part of the same massive industry. If Brewdog put an iota of the energy they focus on hatemongering against brands such as Blue Moon into making fucking amazing beer then I'd wager they'd make a lot more fucking amazing beer. How many people have discovered craft beer via Blue Moon? How many people will now discover it via Goose Island IPA? That's now an AB-InBev mass marketed product brewed at the Budweiser Plant in Fort Collins, Colorado after all. That means it's definitely not craft beer despite them calling it so, but it's still damn tasty, right?

Let's define craft brewing in the UK, lets make it a thing, a real, actual thing. Whether a brewery chooses to associate themselves with it, use it in their marketing or not, that's totally up to them but for the good of the growth of this crazy industry, lets do it. Let's not victimise beer that lest we forget is still brewed by real, actual people who might love their jobs and be proud of what they do. Sure they might go home and drink craft beer after a day of brewing Bud or Miller or whatever but they're still crafting beer whatever you want to call it.

Tuesday 1 October 2013


A short while ago I wrote about fledgling Yorkshire brewery Northern Monk's inaugural brew New World IPA which I enjoyed but it lacked the bold, juicy citrus blast I look for in my IPA. Despite my slight misgivings the kind folks at Northern Monk saw fit to send me a bottle of their sophomore beer, Strannik which is an Imperial Stout that weighs in at a decent 9% ABV.

In my first post about this brewery I enthused about how I had enjoyed watching avid home brewer David Bishop's transition to the world of the professional zymurgist. However I recently learned that due to family and work commitments (David was working a full time job and brewing on the side) he's decided to call it a day for now. I know all too well that life, more often than not, gets in the way of ambition and although I'm sorry to see that this has happened I'm sure that David will make that step again when he is good and ready. Before he called it a day though, David managed to give Northern Monk one last gift in the shape of this quite remarkable stout.

The label is the first thing that excites me, it's a beautiful piece of design in elegant black and silver, it's classy and enticing. The dark brown liquid slides into my glass with some viscosity and produces a tight, tan hued head of foam. The edges of the glass produce a slight ruby tinge as I hold it up to the light, there's not much on the nose, perhaps a bit of molasses and a touch of freshly ground coffee. That's where the subtleties of this beer end because this is a flavour bomb that's waiting to explode. It starts with a spoonful of demerara sugar and this is joined by some molasses. It then rapidly develops a freshly ground coffee bitterness and some meaty umami as if there's a dash of soy sauce in there. This tri-force of flavour is beautifully balanced, nothing is out of place, it's not too sweet, not too bitter and certainly not heavy handed with the soy. This is no mean feat as these flavours are HUGE, this is a really big beer but it's never overbearing, it's a perfect late evening/early morning sipper. 

As it slides down it leaves a trace of warming alcohol in the back of my throat and an aftertaste that's slightly reminiscent of tobacco which a hint of leather. This brings with it that vital note of dryness that leaves you wanting for more and I do want more so despite it's high strength I find myself emptying my glass much faster than I had anticipated. New World IPA felt like a work in progress, like this was a brewery that was yet to find its feat. Strannik has its head screwed on and its feet planted firmly on the ground, seek it out if you can.

Thanks to the guys at Northern Monk Brew Co for this bottle.