Thursday, 28 April 2016

Duvel Doubles With Tripel

I guess it's a sign of how far the landscape has been altered, that an acknowledged 'World Classic' beer can be found sitting on the shelves of most of the major supermarket chains, and yet be simultaneously overlooked by those beer drinkers who are in a state of beery perpetual motion, looking for the new shiny. How we can take such beer for granted...

I'm talking about Punk IPA. Just kidding. Of course, I refer to Duvel, the delicious Belgian golden ale brewed by Brouwerij Moortgat, acknowledged as a World Classic by Michael Jackson in his Beer Companion, and yet, apart from Don 'The Demon Brewer' Burgess, not a beer many of my acquaintances go to regularly. A drinkable 8.5% abv, the beer is hopped with Saaz and Styrian Golding, and undergoes a complex fermentation and cold maturation process before being bottled.

Steve O'Clock being thorough
For the past six or so years, Moortgat has produced an annual variant of Duvel. Called Tripel Hop, the beer has a third hop added at two stages, and the abv is pushed slightly higher, to 9.5%. Thus it was that I was invited to pop along to the Burlington Arms where the upstairs bar had been taken over by Man About Beer Rupert Ponsonby and his R&R Drinkers colleagues, to host a vertical tasting of the different versions of Tripel Hop. Being the nation is currently in election frenzy, the assembly was asked to sample each version, and vote at the Duvel Polling Station. A not unpleasant task, no need to hold your nose before making your mark here.

The idea is that, through a series of tastings worldwide, drinkers, writers, influencers and hangers-on like me will vote and the winning version will be brought into production in 2017. So, in the pleasant company of Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show, Half Pint Gent Matt Chinnery, Jezza P, 1970s Boy Justin Mason, Martin Oates and Mark Dredge, I set to.

This is what I call rigour...
I won't reproduce my tasting notes. I didn't go through the beers in order, even though each bottle had helpful numbering on the label. In release order, the versions contained Amarillo, Citra, Sorachi Ace, Mosaic, Equinox and, for this year, an experimental hop from the Yakima Valley simply known as HBC 291.

I hadn't had a bottle of Duvel in years - I think the last time was around 2004, in the Duke of York pub in Borough, so I went to my local supermarket to pick one up and refresh my gustatory memory. I still got peardrops and a little pepperiness, but I hadn't remembered the dryness of the finish. Useful.

Boggle At The Ballot Box
(pic by Justin Mason)
My order of tasting was 4, 1, 3, 2, 5, 6, but I thought I knew what I was looking for. The hop would need to be able to stand up to all that alcohol, and complement the characteristics of the original. My top three, after revisiting a couple of the beers to confirm - I'm nothing if not rigorous when asked to participate in something so important - were Mosaic, Sorachi Ace and Equinox. The Mosaic and Sorachi were immediately recognisable, but didn't overpower the beer. I thought the Citra was a bit overwhelmed, and the Amarillo made the finish too bitter. The results of this event were declared yesterday, and the consolidated order was: Mosaic, Citra, HBC 291 (somebody name it soon!), Equinox, Sorachi Ace and finally, Amarillo.

It'd be interesting to track preferences in different Duvel markets, and I look forward to the final result. Beer Merchants have packs of the different beers available right now. Thanks to R&R for the invite, and also for putting a World Classic beer I'd taken for granted back in front of me.

Friday, 25 March 2016

My Friend Matthew... (Or, On The Tasting Of Wicked Weed Beers)

Herbert Hoover During His Cat Period
Matthew is a college professor based these days in North Carolina. I know him, like I know most of my US friends, through the World of Beer. Matthew has a few eccentricities. His cat has his own Facebook page (we're friends), and once in a while, I'll receive an enigmatic postcard from the US. It will usually feature some historical person, their face carefully obscured by a sticker of a cat's head. Lovingly and carefully cropped and mounted on the postcard. I offer exhibit one...

I think I've worked out why. Matthew is based not far from Wicked Weed Brewing, in Asheville, NC. Founded in 2009, they're one of the growing number of US producers of sour beers. And they come highly-regarded by beery friends Stateside. So, I headed to The Bottle Shop in Bermondsey to sample some of them.

There's a range of nine, including farmhouse ales, a gose-style, sours and, intriguingly, a pumpkin ale. Most of the beers were bottled during the autumn of 2015, so are still quite young. A couple - the Serenity and Horti-Glory - I thought could stand a while longer in the bottle to let the brett character develop a little more. The Tropic Most Gose has passion fruit added, but, behind a tannic nose, it was barely noticeable. The coriander was similarly understated, and the beer finished long and refreshing with gentle saltiness.

I don't like pumpkin beers - I don't get the point of them, and if it wasn't for cinnamon and nutmeg, they'd be tasteless. So the Xibalba Imperial, which weighed in at 8.2%, and has cocoa nibs and ancho, serrano and habanero chillis added, was interesting. It was complex, with a little chilli slap on the roof of my mouth, and some heat at the back of the throat in the finish. There was chocolate and a little coffee roastiness on the palate, all in all quite complex and easily the best pumpkin ale I've tried.

Favourite beer was the Amorous dry-hopped sour. Aged for up to 10 months in red wine barrels, and dry-hopped (don't know what hops, though), this had picked up some character during the ageing, but it was dry, a little tart and I thought an excellent representation of a lambic sour. The Oblivion, a sour red, was also lovely.

Pete Brissenden was driving, but this was not a tutored tasting, more a chance to get together and share thoughts on some excellent beers. The Bottle Shop are looking to run more events like this, and they could become very popular. I'm still working out my thinking on events (see last exciting episode) but I'm wondering whether this is a natural part of the maturing of London's beer scene. Drinkers might not have been ready for something like this in 2010, but now there's a large and still-growing pool of open-minded and enthusiastic beer lovers, for whom this type of event is tailor-made.

Now to get tuned up for Brodie's Bunny Basher...

(Boggle paid for his own ticket. I trust my beery acquaintances across the pond, and they were right. If you start to receive postcards with cats superimposed, then you'll know why...)

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Growth Of Events

While diligently working through The Rake's beer list at last weekend's Thank Goodness, No Guinness! Irish Craft Beer Fest, I started thinking about events. I'm not sure if it's me, or if it's A Thing, but I seem to be seeing more and more Meet the Brewer, tap takeover and tasting events in a growing number of venues.

Of course, venues like The Rake and The Bottle Shop in Bermondsey have always run reasonably regular programmes, and craft-focused venues like the Craft Beer Co. and Brewdog have always been somewhere to find events. It could be that I wasn't really taking notice of what was going on, but it feels like right now, there are two or three events a week popping up and as well as local brewers, some of the best of the young brewers from around the country are bringing their beers to London. For some of the bigger brewers like Beavertown, I can see it's a useful way to get their new or seasonal beers in front of their fans when they can't get to the taproom, but I wonder whether it means a younger or smaller brewer doesn't get a chance.

There does seem to be a gap which nobody is filling (not least the LBA), and that's an event which showcases new and younger brewers. I spoke to a couple of bar owners who said they took a lot of calls each day from local brewers wanting to get their beers on the bar, and they don't have time to devote to properly checking the beer out. Seems to me they need a regular-ish trade event with half-a-dozen brewers who can meet the trade for a couple of hours. Maybe food for thought. The lads I spoke to thought it was a good idea.

There's a network growing up and young people on the periphery of the industry with lots of ideas, and it doesn't take Nostradamus to see that eventually there will be an end-to-end events network catering to a wide range of demand, from launches and tap takeovers of local and other beers, to packages for pubs and bars who are keen on adding craft to their offer and want to engage their patrons. I've had more than one conversation with a beer enthusiast who wants to get into bars to host talks and tastings. 

I've even been helping one of them. Step forward Alexis 'Big Al' Morgan, beer Everyman and brewery tour guide at Meantime. A chance meeting in December has led to my acting as wingman for an offshoot which sees the Big Man aiming to take his memorable presence into venues, where he'll take them though matching beer and curry, or the History of London Brewing, or some other ideas under development.

He'll be doing his History of London Brewing tasting and talk at The Arbitrager in Throgmorton Street, on April 5th from 6.30pm. If The Arbitrager is bigger than The Rake, then it isn't by much, and they've been developing a very nice London-centric beer offer across their eight taps. 

The talk covers the history of porter, IPA, imperial stout, pale ale and bitter, and for £20, attendees will get third-pint samples of each style of beer and an insight into why London was the worlds' greatest brewing city for 100 years, all related in Al's inimitable style.

If you're interested, call in at The Arbitrager, call on 020 7374 6887 or email at Places are limited, so don't delay.

It occurred to me that it might be worthwhile doing a fortnightly summary of London beer events, with a feature on one or two which look interesting of offbeat. If you've got something planned you want to publicise, drop me an email or leave a comment, and I'll follow it up.