Wednesday 23 April 2014

Maximus Humulus Lupulus

I think it was when I was sat soaking in the sunshine on Dianne's folks deck drinking a Liberty Yakima Monster I realised that I much prefer the citrus burst of North American hops to the prickly, tropical fruit flavours produced by in those grown in New Zealand. I'd been on the North Island for almost two weeks now and I'd tried a heap of different NZ pale ales, a few were average some were good but a few such as those from Tuatara and Hot Water Brewing were exceptional. This effort from Liberty though was a sensational US hopped beer and it was a superb refresher after I'd bombarded my palate with so many similar Kiwi pales.

Being 17000 kilometres from home starts to have an effect on you after a couple of weeks, I missed my cat and my stuff and my friends. It had been a brilliant holiday visiting Dianne's family and it was almost time to come home but thanks to a little pleading from myself there was still time to squeeze in one more brewery visit before I caught my flight. During this trip I had managed quite well to 'accidentally' experience the burgeoning New Zealand beer scene but for a change this visit was quite intentional.

Hallertau Brewery lies just outside the town of Riverhead which is about half an hours drive from Auckland. It's surrounded by interesting looking, boutique vineyards. Had I the time or the inclination I would've loved to visit some of these too. Pulling up to the tap room and restaurant that also houses the brewery I'm once again reminded of the enticing, friendly spaces created by the breweries of Colorado. There's plenty of room here, lots of tables and a decent amount of taps situated right in front of the brew kit, yep, this was definitely my kind of bar. 

It was the early afternoon before the post work rush so the brewery was pretty quiet when we got there. I was also delighted to learn that this is where Liberty Brewing contract brew their beers and they have a dedicated tap on the bar, this time pouring the grassy and herbal Halo Pilsner which Dianne immediately got stuck in to. I went for a tasting flight while Dianne's Dad, Darryl who had very kindly driven us down here opted for a Statesman Pale Ale. I worked my way through a Kolsch, the Statesman pale, a red ale and a schwarzbier which were named 1, 2, 3 and 4 as they were the first four brews ever produced by Hallertau. There was no doubting that they were all very well made, well balanced beers but none of them quite managed to pique my interest. I'd tasted some big and brilliant beers over the last two weeks so I was personally left a little disappointed by this quartet.

Then I moved on to Hallertau's Heroic range and I ordered a beer called Maximus Humulus Lupulus a 6.8% American Style IPA. My jaw hit the floor before I'd even taken a sip, what an aroma, that mango, those pine trees, such grapefruit. Wow. I could tell I was going to love it in an instant and I wasn't disappointed. I don't know if it was because I was particularly in the mood for this style of beer but it felt like I hadn't had a beer this good in a long time. The hops simply sang while the malts waltzed across my tongue, this beer was heavenly make no mistake. The Stuntman double IPA, with its depiction of a Roman chariot rider flicking the devil horns on its label didn't disappoint either. It wasn't quite as balanced as the Maximus but it was still an absolute delight. 

There was a sign outside the taproom that didn't escape my attention as we entered. It said; "FOUR HORSEMEN: EPIC, LIBERTY, HALLERTAU COLLAB - HOPOCALYPSE - 12%, 180 IBU." They must've known I was coming.

So before it was time to leave I ordered a Hopocalypse which as it turned out was a triple IPA in the vein of Pliny the Younger. It was amongst the best of this style I've tried and I've tried a few. I wonder if the beer geeks of New Zealand lost their shit over this in the same way we did over Magic Rock Un-Human Cannonball. They should've done, this was a mountain of hops perched delicately on a perfectly crafted pillar of malt. It was less 'Hopocalypse' and more 'Hop Heaven' but when beer's this well made I'm not one to quibble over a name. 

I left Hallertau Brewery with a smile on my face, or at least I think I did as I slept the beer off in the car ride home. They had a beer for all types of palate on draught and for this I applaud them. It can be difficult to strike a balance between making beer for locals who just want a cold one after work and out and out hop heads like myself but Hallertau had pulled this off and I was seriously impressed.

That afternoon pretty much drew my short time in New Zealand to a close, all that remained was the ritual of carefully packing bottles into my suitcase before catching the long flight home. I knew I'd be going back in the future though and I knew there would be a wealth of great beer waiting for me when that time came around. 

Saturday 19 April 2014

Brodie's Bunny Basher

Brodie's trio of pubs, The Cross Keys, The Old Coffee House and their brewery tap The King William IV straddle a bizarre line in the beer-verse where the worlds of craft beer and the traditional, salt-of-the-earth London boozer collide. This strange meeting of two very different types of drinker is never more apparent than over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend at the brewery's annual 'Bunny Basher' beer festival.

Yesterday I traveled to the William, which lies on Leyton High Road in North East London, for my second Bunny Basher experience. Last year I managed to do three days at the festival and tried an astonishing array of 32 different beers, all brewed on the premises by Brodie's. Not all of them were good beers, Brodie's penchant for experimentation (Sake IPA or Peppermint Pale Ale anyone?) sometimes pushes my expectation of what a beer should taste like a little too far but those that were good were often exceptional. This year I only had one day with enough free time available to attend, my aim was not to try and sink as many different beers as possible, I've learned the hard way that's not the way to approach a beer festival. No, my aim was a simple one, to have a really fucking good time, and by crikey I managed just that.

The team at Brodie's had created no less than 54 different beers for this years festival which range from a 2.7% Mild up to a 22% something of a beer with just about every style of brew you can think of in between. There really was something here for everyone, cask pale ales, big American style IPA on keg, sours so sharp they were reminiscent of licking a nine-volt battery and that something beer, Elizabethan a super strong and sweet brew that's closer to port than beer which is based on, you've guessed it, an old Elizabethan recipe. One man perched precariously at the bar drank seven thirds of Elizabethan on top of several pints, I'm really glad I'm not him this morning.

Kentish Town Oud Bruin, a blend of a Brodie's Sour that had turned out too acetic and Kentish Town Brown IPA started off my afternoon. I had to pick my tongue up off the floor after that one. Dry Hoppin' Mad (a series of cask pale ales each with a different dry hop) Sorachi Ace wasn't quite Sorachi enough for me but Hoxton Special IPA was the best I had ever tasted it. Huge waves of grapefruit, lemon rind and a hint of bubblegum shone through, it was clearly evident that this recipe had been tweaked and perfected and was a great sign of what's to come in the future from this brewery. Blackcurrant Sour was as juicy and delicous a Brodie's sour as I've ever had, and from these guys that's saying something, it's no surprise that this was the first keg to kick that afternoon.

Then things got silly, as they inevitably do at Bunny Basher with huge stouts being handed around the table, the whisky barrel Romanov was a boozy, vinous treat but the real highlight and the beer of the day for me was the Big Mofo Stout. This version of Big Mofo, a recipe that was originally born from a collaboration with Mikkeller was infused with liquorice and rasperries. It was truly cyclopean but despite its immense size remained balanced and drinkable, it was as good as the best imperial stouts I've ever had and ranks up there with Great Divide Yeti and Oskar Blues Ten Fidy. 

It's clear Brodie's have been working hard to get their beer tasting as good as possible over the last twelve months. An exhausted looking Jonny Bright, who joined Brodie's as a brewer last year after a spell working for Brewdog was tirelessly mingling with the crowd getting everyone's feedback and relishing the reception to his hard work. I always thought Brodie's would be in an eternal stasis, just happily plodding along, doing their thing while the craft beer scene grew around them. I was wrong though, not content to rest on their laurels Brodie's are aiming to have moved into a bigger facility by the end of this year. As a result this could be the last Bunny Basher in its current incarnation which is in some ways sad, there's no party quite like a King William party after all. The expansion is needed though, demand for their beers is ever increasing and a modern, stylish tap room will open up the twisted genius of Brodie's beers to a whole new world of drinkers.

I spent my hours at Bunny Basher deep in merriment and conversation, ties with old friends were strengthened and bonds with new ones made. On the table to my left was a bunch of young guys passing around thirds and enthusiastically singing the praises of each beer, on my right were four locals enjoying pint after pint of Fosters. It's a strange old world, the world of Brodie's but it's one you can't help but enjoy yourself in. The beers I drank yesterday were all good, some great, a few exceptional but the camaraderie was consistently five star.

Brodie's Bunny Basher is at the King William IV on Leyton High Road until Monday the 21st of April. Prices start at an incredibly reasonable £1.35 a half/£2.50 a pint for cask beers and £1.85 a half/£3.50 a pint for keg beers. Entry to the pub during the festival is free of charge. 

Monday 14 April 2014

Craft Beer: The 100 Best Breweries in the World

I really enjoyed reading Craig Heap and Chris Hall's first bookazine (a hybrid term I'm not entirely comfortable with) 'Craft Beer: The 365 Best Beers in the World' so when they emailed me to tell me they'd been commissioned for a second issue and they wanted me to be involved it took me a nanosecond to respond with a resounding HELL YES. 

Total Ales was coming up to its second birthday, the thought of writing professionally was a pipe dream and yet here was an offer in my inbox to do just that. It was only after the adrenaline had left my system that I realised I had to write around 20000 words in just over a month on top of my full time job. I thought at the time that it didn't seem like too much work, after all my blog posts regularly exceed 1500 words. Luckily I had two weeks off over the Christmas break to really knuckle down and try and produce some of the best beer writing I was able to. At this point I really had no idea of the enormity of the task in hand.

Chris and Craig had also recruited fellow beer writers Ruari O'Toole and Leigh Linley. A year ago I had already met Chris a couple of times before as he also lives in London but we cemented our friendship at the 2013 European Beer Bloggers Conference where I had also met Craig and Leigh for the first time. I shall never forget that sweltering night in the Hanging Bat when the four of us and fellow attendee Gavin Frost could take no more beer and so were skulling ice cold gin and tonics in an effort to subdue the heat. Little did I know the future importance of that drunken evening in Edinburgh.

Planning started with a series of Skype meetings, first we hashed out the 100 breweries that would earn the 'best' title and make it into the mag. We could quite easily do another edition called 'The 100 Best Breweries' with a totally different set of 100 brewers but after much debate the final one hundred were chosen and locked in. We wanted the mag to provide a broad view of brewing around the world and not focus too heavily on one country, we also wanted it to be accessible and appeal to newcomers and hardened beer geeks alike and so we tailored the list in an attempt to create a universal appeal. The bulk of the mag would be split between what we saw as the five major brewing nations, Chris took Belgium, Craig the Czech Republic, Ruari got Germany and I got the USA. We had split the UK between the five of us with Leigh presiding over his area of expertise, Yorkshire. We then divided the rest of the world between us and I notably took on the task of tackling Mikkeller amongst others.

Each major section would showcase 16 breweries and choosing just 16 was almost impossible. I feel that the breweries we chose for each country are those that best represent their nation at this very point in time but there are many others I would of liked to have included. Breweries such as Crooked Stave, Hair of the Dog, Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, Three Floyds and New Belgium are some notable absentees in the US section but I wanted to choose breweries that for the most part are accessible and with an exception being Russian River, have beers that are at least occasionally obtainable in the UK. I worried that we'd gone for too many Californian brewers and not enough from the North West or East Coast. I thought that Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn and Anchor had been done to death and didn't need another article telling their story but after my research I realised that no list of the 100 greatest breweries in the world would be complete without them and their incredible stories.

I started close to home with my article on Beavertown, a brewery I felt I already knew inside out and could recall the taste of their beers instantly. Then it dawned on me that I couldn't afford to make a single mistake and so every fact was painstakingly researched and checked. I was restricted to 300 words per brewery bar a couple chosen for longer features and this was another challenge entirely. I'm used to writing lengthy, stream-of-consciousness style blog posts but now I had to be sharper and more succinct than I'd ever been. 300 words felt like 3000 with two thirds of the time spent on each piece allocated to research and editing.

This would be fine, I thought, I had those two weeks off over Christmas but what I didn't realise at the time was that Christmas would get in the way of having any spare time to write. I was back at work on the second of January with much of the writing still to be done so essentially I was working two full time jobs at this point. It was challenging, exhausting but also exhilarating, I relished the challenge and spending so much time on a subject I loved. Eventually the January 11th deadline approached with a handful of articles still to have the finishing touches administered but thankfully we were not put under any pressure from the publisher and so had a couple more days to finish getting everything done.

Then was the waiting game. I had poured my heart and soul into around 30 articles that I felt were very different to my blog. I was constantly worried they would be rejected and that my writing was not good enough as we hardly heard from the publisher. We had no control over the layout or look of the finished product, we just sent words into the ether, hoping they'd come out on the other side looking half decent.

Then we reached the 27th of March, the date the magazine was due to hit the shops and... nothing. By this point I had convinced myself that it would never see the light of day but then I flicked on to Instagram only to see someone had the mag and had tagged me in the photo they'd taken of their copy. The magazine was out! I couldn't believe it, I was desperate to pick up a copy and see how it looked but it was days before I was able to find one. Eventually, I wandered into W.H. Smith in Kings Cross station and saw it on the shelf, I bought it, wandered out into the Station and felt a little like Charlie Bucket as he was about to open a Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow delight, praying that a golden ticket was inside the wrapper.

My hands were physically shaking with anticipation, I opened the cover and saw our five grinning faces on the first page. Then I delved deeper and discovered a beautifully laid out, easy to read beer magazine that I become increasingly proud of each time I flick through it. I genuinely think, despite similar style beer publications being available, that this is something both new and old fans of our favourite drink will enjoy. I particularly enjoyed reading the German and Czech sections as this is a real beery blind spot for me and I found it easy to navigate and very informative. I also like that because it's the work of five different authors each section has its own unique flavour so it doesn't become stagnant or boring. A tenner might seem steep for a magazine but it's pretty much ad free bar a couple of pages pushing other bookazines from Future, our publisher so it's a full on 168 page romp through some of the best breweries in the world.

If you've managed to pick up a copy, I'd love to hear what you think! Do you agree with the breweries we've chosen? If not who would you have like to have seen included instead? Either way I hope you enjoy reading it, it was a real pleasure having a hand in its creation and I hope it's something I can do again soon.

You can find the magazine in good newsagents and large supermarkets, or order it online with free shipping here:

Original photography by Dianne Tanner. For those curious, the beer in the glass is Camden Town Brewery Hells Lager.

Wednesday 9 April 2014


We had totally underestimated the distance of the walk back from Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium to the centre of town. Auckland's distinctive skyline looks beautiful from a distance and we had plenty of time to appreciate it as we made our way back from the famous attraction to Queens Street. 

I enjoyed Kelly Tarlton's, the highlight being when a huge Stingray stuck an almighty fin out of an open topped tank and gave us all a good soaking as it slapped the surface of the water. For Dianne though, it had lost the magic that captivated her when she was young (despite enjoying the bit with the penguins) so hopefully lunch at her favourite restaurant Rakino's would brighten her mood a little. We would have no such luck. When we arrived at the restaurant entrance it was padlocked shut with a notice of eviction stuck to the door. We wandered onwards, worn out and hungry for what seemed like minutes before we stumbled upon the aptly named Vultures Lane pub on nearby Vulcan Lane.

Dianne sat outside and I strolled in, I then strolled out with a huge smile on my face and a pint of 8 Wired Saison Sauvin clutched in my clammy little hands. Fate, it seemed, had steered us in the direction of a neat new bar that had a superb range of beer on tap and in bottle with a great menu to boot. We sat there and I supped my beer as I devoured some spicy shrimp tacos. This was one of those eureka moments you've read about, the prickly, grassy, gooseberry character of the Nelson Sauvin hops intermingled with the hay bale, ester rich melange created by the saison yeast together producing something quite magnificent. This is a hop that's MADE for saison, even if this is not your favourite style of beer I still urge to to try this one from 8 Wired. Tart, dry and deliciously drinkable, this may have been the best use of this particular Kiwi hop I have ever experienced, the exception perhaps being the excellent Mikkeller Nelson Sauvignon. 

We wiled away an hour or so at this great bar, I had another 8 Wired beer, a red IPA called Tall Poppy which was another delight full of grassy, citrus rich hops and chewy caramel malts. I inquired at the bar where was the best place to find a good selection of bottles to take home with me and they simply pointed to their fridges, I left Vultures Lane with a lighter wallet, a much heavier rucksack and a big smile on my face.

We then headed to the nearby Brothers Beer Tap Room to meet Dianne's old friends Bernie and Brad. They'd picked this venue with me in mind and they had done very well indeed. One wall was lined with fermentation vessels, another with a fridge full of bottles I peered at excitedly and another with around twenty different taps serving their own beer and plenty of guests. This was the first of a number of new businesses that had moved into this re-purposed industrial estate which was now overflowing with street food vans, quirky restaurants and this great little tap room which had people spilling out into the street as they arrived for a post work pint.

I got into a couple of Brothers Beers right away, a fruity Kolsch which was packed with zesty lemon and tart red berry flavours and yet another decent NZ pale ale loaded with flavours of tropical fruit. Then I had a couple of back-to-back belters, Mini Matta from Yeastie Boys was a lower ABV version of their Gunnamatta Tea Leaf IPA (a cask version of this, brewed by Yeastie Boys at Adnams is currently being served at the Wetherspoon International Beer Festival) and it was a beer I could have drank all day long, the bitter citrus being washed away by the drying effect of the tea which made it almost impossible to put down. BitterBitch from Parrot Dog was another blinder, I know this because I said so on my Untappd check in, without which I wouldn't have really remembered what anything tasted like at this point. Another total fact about Parrot Dog is that the three owners are all called Matt which earns them bonus points from me.

I left Brothers tap room with an even bigger smile on my face, further burdened by the weight of some more exciting looking bottles and we made our way to the bus stop sound tracked by a gentle clinking. I first visited Auckland three years ago and in that short time it has evolved quickly to meet the needs of the people seeking better, more exciting food and drink. The vibe and atmosphere of the city reminds me strongly of Portland, Oregon which is no bad thing as that's one of my favourite cities in the world. Auckland is a simply a must visit destination for a beer geek, if only it wasn't so bloody far away.