Sunday 29 June 2014
I'm not quite sure of the exact moment when Dublin's famous craic took hold of me. It might have been at 2am in a crowded bar at the heart of the infamous Temple Bar district. It might have been right after my first taste of Galway Bay's Of Foam and Fury double IPA, easily the best new beer I have tasted this year. It might have been any of the moments when bonds with acquaintances old and new were established and strengthened or it might have just been the very moment I stepped off my plane and headed into the Irish capital for my very first time.
I'd been to Ireland several times before but never Dublin. Now after discovering a vibrant city that has an infectious energy unlike any other I've visited that's at the heart of a rapidly exploding and tightly knit beer scene I can't wait to go back. Sláinte.
Wednesday 25 June 2014
Tomorrow I'm heading to Dublin for the 2014 European Beer Bloggers Conference. I had a blast at last years conference in a very hot and sticky Edinburgh which I blogged about here. The true highlight for me at last years event was the live blogging segment in which I almost incurred the fearsome wrath of Innis & Gunn after I described the beer they offered to us as tasting akin to 'a mouthful of wet dirt.'
Sadly there isn't going to be a live blogging section at this years conference but you will of course be able to follow a deluge of completely sensible tweets using the hashtag #EBBC14. As the live blogging was my favourite element of last years conference by some distance (bar all the wonderful beer and camaraderie, of course) I've been wracking my brain for other ways to best express myself over the course of the next 72 hours.
I'm quite fond of Vine. Something about the immediacy of it and only having a maximum of six seconds to get your point across appeals to my nature. I've decided to use it to document my exploits at this years conference and then once it's all over I'll stitch all the vines I make during the conference together to produce a short video which I'll then upload for everyone to see.
If you don't already follow me on Vine then you can here or if you're on that Twitter (follow me @totalcurtis) you can tune in to the action by following the hashtag #TheVineDiaries. The action will kick off tomorrow morning and I can promise you it's going to be a big pile o' fun.
Thursday 19 June 2014
"And as I walked along the supposed Golden Path, I was trembling with fear, for all the lions and wizards yet to come." Chemical Brothers - The Golden Path
I was stood in a queue at The Kernel Brewery waiting for two thirds of Gentlemen's Agreement, a blend of Kernel's London Sour Berliner Weisse and Camden Town Brewery's Gentlemen's Wit. Behind the bar stands the wizardlike owner and head brewer Evin O'Riordain, chatting, laughing and looking every bit the stereotypical craft brewer resplendent with beard and pony tail. I'd been to the Kernel before the 'Beer Mile' was even a thing, the taproom used to be crowded with oak barrels and pallets loaded with keykegs, now it's empty but for tables and chairs and an ever increasing throng of thirsty punters. By the time I reach for my second beer, a pale ale brewed with Amarillo and Chinook hops that tastes like biting into an orange still covered in pith there's barely room to move.
An hour or so previously I met with a large group of friends at nearby Brew by Numbers, some that I'd met before and some that I hadn't. It was 11am and I already had in my hand a Saison that had been infused with lime juice and Motueka hops from New Zealand which tasted as good as it sounds. We were here to walk the Bermondsey Beer Mile, consisting of five breweries with the Kernel at it's beating heart. Once we'd all gathered under our first repurposed railway arch we made our way onward but not before we all had a Mosaic hopped session IPA that was all mango and pine, a masterclass in extracting bags of hop aroma in a beer at a strength you could happily drink all day.
After we had finished our business at the Kernel we headed onward to our next destination, Partizan who cram the Kernel's original brewing kit into a minuscule space. It takes us longer than I thought it would to get there. I'm not yet three breweries in but feel that with all the ducking in and out of arches and down backstreets that I've walked at least one mile already. When we do arrive a makeshift bar lies before us in the entrance-way and a small crowd are sprawled onto the pavement outside. It's by far the most rustic of Bermondsey's quintet of brewhouses with not an inch of available space being wasted. The glass of Ahtanum and Pacific Jade IPA I plump for is bursting with new world hop flavours of citrus and passion fruit. My colleagues opt for beers at a more sensible ABV but I couldn't resist the lure of a bigger, bolder beer and halfway through a glass of beer that's so fresh it still has shreds of hop flowers floating in it I'm glad I gave into temptation.
We embark on another almighty trek to our fourth destination, leaving railway arches behind and eventually arriving at the industrial estate that houses Fourpure Brewing Co. The stark surroundings immediately remind me of another brewery but not one that's within walking distance. I'm transported to Boulder, Colorado and a similar estate that's home to Avery Brewing and the comparisons to the tap rooms of the breweries in my favourite State don't end there.
Huge gleaming chrome tanks line the back walls and a brand spanking new canning line sits in the centre of the room. Immense stacks of empty cans waiting to be filled dominate my right flank. I head to the neat brewery bar that's behind me and I'm soon enjoying a prickly, bitter session IPA which oozes the classic grapefruit and pine resin character of the beers Fourpure are trying so hard to emulate. In the middle of the brewery lies a ping pong table and the staff seem perfectly happy to let customers scramble behind the brew kit to dig out lost balls. The atmosphere is jovial and relaxed and it's in the middle of a game of table tennis that I decide that this is the best that Bermondsey has to offer me. Every beer I try is excellent and I appreciate that instead of the experimentation and alteration that their nearby competition indulge in they are concentrating on a rock solid, core range of beers. I freely admit that when I first tried Fourpure IPA several months ago I didn't enjoy it and I almost wrote them off entirely but by the time I'd left the brewery, my bag stuffed with cans of their beer I had done a complete u-turn.
Taxis are then summoned which take us back to the start of the mile and to our final brewery, Anspach and Hobday. Here I found a tap room not just aimed at the ardent beer fan like the four before but at almost everyone else who enjoys recreational drinking. Instead of the minimal surroundings of their neighbours this arch has been decorated with bunting and soft furnishings. I'm perfectly happy with my glass of table porter which packs a great deal of flavour at just 2.8% but one of our number is served a beer that should not have been on draught. A glass of beige soup that was supposed to be a pale ale tastes like it's halfway through primary fermentation, he gets it replaced but the beer remains on tap. It's a mildly disappointing end to a great brewery trail but I will say that their gin and tonics looked fantastic. I'm not sure if the best thing about a brewery should be their gin and tonics though.
As we leave the beer mile behind and head for the nearby Draft House by Tower Bridge I can't help but feel that I've just experienced something that's protozoic, something that's not quite ready yet. Bermondsey is a mish mash of old and new, the locals look bemused as increasingly drunk beer lovers stagger down the streets they've lived on their entire lives. The Kernel was overwhelmingly busy and as it reaches its peak around 2pm for some reason they close their doors to the public. Partizan was shrouded in noisy roadworks and Fourpure is just that little bit too far away that it will undoubtedly put people off as they get lost on mazy streets. That's a shame as they'll miss out on what for me was the jewel in the crown. All the beer I drank was excellent though, there's definitely something in the Bermondsey water and the company, well that was the best thing about the afternoon by a Bermondsey mile.
|Beer team assemble L-R: Michael, Steve, David, Ruth, 'The Rogue' Chris Hall, Me and my long arms, Connor, Peter, Audrey.
Sunday 15 June 2014
It's been a while since I've had a really good pint of cask beer. In fact I've been almost consciously avoiding ordering cask with such a plethora of outstanding keg beer available in London Town. The majority of my recent pub excursions have been to Brewdog's trio of London bars where the draught selection has been as exceptional as their service. Cask just hasn't done it for me in 2014 but I can't say my enjoyment of beer has been less rich because of this.
I was contemplating a twitter discussion led by Peter 'Tandleman' Alexander about how the majority of London's boozers just don't know how best to store and serve cask. The main problem being that the beer is served too warm for carbon dioxide to remain soluble and as such is as flat as a pancake. This set the mind cogs in motion. Surely this problem isn't confined to London but is perhaps more prevalent due to its size. We do have more pubs than anywhere else in the UK and probably a worse infrastructure than most other towns. I imagine many cellars are cramped, Victorian affairs with no form of temperature control and the ambient temperature being affected buy London's vicious closeness, accentuated by it's millions of citizens and ridiculous traffic. I also imagine many pubs stock cask beer not because they choose to but because they have to. Cask beer is bloody fashionable and it's all CAMRA's fault. A pub might not have the knowledge on how best to keep it but who cares when it's selling hand over fist. The minority, that's who.
London is being used as a scapegoat, a poster boy for the badly kept cask. There is plenty of great cask beer to be found if you know where to find it. In fact it was from a most unexpected drinking jaunt that I had the best pint of cask beer I've had this year, probably in over a year in fact and it was in the pub nearest to my flat. Family had just arrived after a long, long flight from New Zealand and my partner Dianne and I took them to The Three Compasses on Hornsey High Street in North London. I've always enjoyed having a beer here, it's a decent boozer with a nice ambiance, good food and six rotating handpulls. Redemption Pale Ale from nearby Tottenham is more often than not available and on this occasion it was on blinding form.
Then I moved on to the Italian Job, a pale ale from Yorkshire's Roosters Brewery. What followed was one of those beer moments that people tell you about. In fact the moment started before I'd supped or even smelled it. It looked delicious, it was golden and bright as a button. It smelled floral and zesty, like freshly picked bushels of elderflower and lavender. That elderflower note continued right through to the taste and it was joined by a little grapefruit zest which was balanced by a some malt sweetness but only enough to make sure that the hop aroma compounds were doing most of the talking. It was cold enough to be refreshing and the finish was bitter, dry and moreish. I then paid this beer the ultimate compliment, upon finishing I went straight back to the bar and ordered another.
Despite the failures of some pubs, London is a great place to get a really good pint of cask beer and here are, in my opinion, some of the best places to get one:
The Southampton Arms - 139 Highgate Road, Gospel Oak, NW5 1LE
Cask Pub and Kitchen - 6 Charlwood Street, Pimlico, SW1V 6EE
The Euston Tap - 190 Euston Road, NW1 2EF
The Harp - 47 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, WC2N 4HS
The Lyric - 37 Great Windmill Street, Soho, W1D 7LU
The Craft Beer Company - 82 Leather Lane, Clerkenwell, EC1N 7TR
The Holborn Whippet - 25-29 Sicilian Avenue, Holborn, WC1A 2QH
The Three Compasses - 62 High Street, Hornsey, N8 7NX
Tap East - 7 International Square, Westfield Stratford, E20 1EE
The Pelt Trader - Arch 3, Dowgate Hill, EC4N 6AP
The Bull - 13 North Hill, Highgate, N6 4NB
The Old Coffee House - 49 Beak Street, Soho, W1F 9SF
Draft House - 43 Goodge Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 1TA
The Dukes Head - 16 Highgate High Street, N6 5JG
The King William IV - 816 High Road, Leyton, E10 6AE
The Rake - 14 Winchester Walk, Borough, SE1 9AG
The Fox - 372 Kingsland Road, Haggerston, E8 4DA
Of course there are many more great pubs serving top notch cask ale in London, if you feel I've left out someone important why not let me know in the comments below.
Saturday 7 June 2014
Beer is people. That's probably one of the most important things that was ever said to me in my short career as a beer writer. I used to work in a really cool guitar shop in the basement of the Virgin Megastore on the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. It was there that I met my friend Greg who used to work there too. It was 2007, an important year in the history of British beer but not to me and Greg. Back then the only conversation we'd have about beer was where we were going to go and get smashed after work which almost always inevitably the Black Horse, a Nicholson's pub on nearby Rathbone Place. You could always tell it was nearly payday when we started venturing just a few doors further to the Bricklayers Arms, a Sam Smith's pub for two pound pints of Alpine Lager.
Sadly the company that owned that shop went into administration a year later and Greg and I were eventually made redundant before either of us had really begun our respective beer journeys. Fast forward another six years and we've both experienced our beer epiphanies but in entirely different ways. For me it was visiting Colorado and tasting beers so good they gave me that extra push into obsession. Greg instead turned to all grain homebrewing, something he finds quite addictive having gone as far as setting up his own kegerator for pouring draught beer at home.
Whilst holidaying in the Alpine resort of Chamonix Greg grew quite fond of La Rousse a red ale from Brasserie Du Mont Blanc who are based in the town of Chambéry on the edge of the French Alps. It became a preferred après-ski tipple of his to the point that he messaged me from Chamonix asking if I had heard of the brewery. I hadn't, by my own admission my knowledge of French beer is limited to say the least and so I asked if he could smuggle me a bottle back as I was keen to taste it.
I stashed the bottle away and forgot about it for a few weeks eventually digging it out in a routine check of my beer cupboard. It was mid-Sunday afternoon and the Sun was shining, I hadn't just finished an intensive session on the slopes but I had just done some pretty intensive vacuum cleaning so the time felt right and I cracked the top.
The first thing that struck me about this beer was how very red it was. I mean it was really, really red and as bright and candescent as a ruby. The rocky brown head was a surprisingly dark shade of beige and produced faint aromas of caramel and toffee. A brewer once told me that the only malting company that produces a malt that will give you that brilliant red flourish is Germany's Weyermann. I honestly couldn't tell you if that was true but this crimson brew made me recall that conversation and a drunken evening amongst good people.
This wasn't a beer for me but I still enjoyed it. Perhaps I needed to be another 5000 feet above sea level to really appreciate it's nuances. There were barely any hops to speak of as rolling waves of chewy golden syrup rolled across my tongue but there was enough to lend a dryness that made this beer very drinkable. What most impressed me was there wasn't a shred of burnt sugar or roasted malt such as I detect in so many modern style red ales. It was a perfectly crafted platform of malt begging for huge handfuls of Columbus and Simcoe, that's what my jaded palate was crying out for. I mostly enjoyed it because if it wasn't for Greg and I both becoming beer pirates, sailing the high seas of craft, I would have probably never drank it.
I can see why Greg as an avid homebrewer enjoyed this beer. It's meticulously well made despite not being designed for modern tastes. I learned more about the importance of well balanced malt profile in a single glass of beer than I had done with several hundred beers beforehand. Thanks for the beer Greg.
Sunday 1 June 2014
Off licence chain Oddbins has teamed up with Oxfordshire based brewery Compass to produce a brand new pale ale that will be exclusive to their shelves. This isn't the first time the well known bottle shop have collaborated on a beer. Last Christmas
Thankfully those winter months are well behind us and hopefully we've a long hot summer to look forward to, so Oddbins and Compass have brought us a Kölsch style ale to enjoy in the Sun. Based on a style of beer that originates from Cologne, Germany, Oddbins No. 2 fuses a carefully selected blend of pale malts with noble Tettnang hops in their homage to these sessionable German ales. The twist is that about a fifth of the malt was smoked by the Upton Smokery, also of Oxfordshire. This malt was gently smoked for twenty four hours over Beech and I was curious to see what dimension this would add to the beer.
There is definitely a hint of sweet smoke emanating from this pale, golden hued ale along with aromas of honey and red berries. In the glass this beer appears quite light and gentle but true to the Kölsch style its mouth feel is rounded and full bodied. Those red berry aromas are more distinctive on the palate, subtle notes of raspberry and cranberry intermingle with a dash of honey. There's quite a lot going on for such a subtly flavoured beer so it's very satisfying when that sweet smoke kicks in. It lifts and lightens everything up before drying the palate as the hops leave a grassy, bitter finish. It really works.
This is a really well made beer and it would be an ideal pairing with barbecued meat, it's made for the summer. My only problem is the way it's presented to the customer as a 'pale ale'. Oddbins are doing wonders for craft beer in the mainstream, they're making it more accessible and easily available. So much so that they now stock almost 300 different bottled beers across their branches and craft beer accounts for 50% of their beer sales. My problem is that the friendly and educated staff at Oddbins are the perfect people to sell a style of beer that people might not have heard of.
Say this beer was labelled as a 'Kölsch style beer' and the customer queries what that means. 'Oh this is great!' enthuses the staff member 'It's a style of beer from Cologne that's brewed like an ale but conditioned like a lager so it's like a hybrid of both, plus there's a sweet smoky twist in this that actually makes it more refreshing.' To me the words 'pale ale' speak of a beer that's brewed for the taste of its hops and in this beer they really take a back seat to the light malts, fruity yeast esters and that drying sweet smoke. People (and by this I mean normal people not beer geeks) are ready to be challenged by new beer styles and this was a perfect opportunity to do just that.
However knowing how great the knowledge and service is at my local branch it's probably an opportunity the staff will take anyway. There's more to come from Oddbins too with more brewing collaborations in the pipeline and an ever increasing range of great beer. It's nice to see a company so heavily involved in the wine trade really getting good beer.
Oddbins No. 2 is available now and costs £2.65 for a 500ml bottle. This beer was sent to me for free but I don't think that's influenced my opinion of it, thanks to Oddbins for the sample. Original photography by Dianne Tanner. Glass used is a Spiegelau lager glass.