Monday 20 June 2011

Noisome Brew?

The postie brought me a nice surprise this morning, a cheque for a tenner from The Kevins. I'd resigned my membership, and they were nice enough to agree to refund me part of my subscription. Thus ends 12 years.

To celebrate, I popped open a bottle of Brodie's Grand Cru, an 8.8% Belgian style ale which, coincidentally, is another beer wot I helped to brew. As a guest brewery monkey, Jamie Brodie gifted me a couple of bottles during the Bunny Basher fest at the end of April.

At the time it was brewed, What's Brewing was published bearing Roger Protz's op-ed labelling beer writers and bloggers as 'noisome'. So, for a while, this beer was Noisome Cru. Note the pump clip pic has been modified to protect the innocent.

So, the beer. I detected some peppery notes on the nose, and a little bit of bubblegum. It's about 35% wheat malt, so mouthfeel is very smooth. It's quite complex, with cedar joining the pepper and some candy sweetness in the mouth, giving way to a long dry hoppy finish with some warming alcohol at the back of the throat. The beer was beautifully carbonated, which helped to clarify the flavours in it. Considering the strength, I found it quite easy-drinking.

I've had a few Brodie's beers in bottles now, and they've all been top drawer. And I had a nice afternoon at the William The IV last week, where it struck me that I could get wankered on decent beer for less than a tenner, if I wanted. And it's made me reflect on a recent blog entry by US beer writer Andy Crouch, where he proposes that the 'good old days' of the US scene are happening now, before widespread distribution of popular beers ends as brewers hit capacity walls and re-trench closer to home; how this will open up markets for good quality local beers to fill the gap. He calls it The Great Beer Retreat. Local beer rules.

Of course, we don't necessarily have the same logistical issues in the UK though Hardknott Dave has provided invaluable evidence about the costs to small brewers of getting beers to receptive markets when there's trouble getting local listings, but generally, the days when London was satisfying the palates of more discerning beer drinkers by having to suck in the best of what the UK could offer seems like a distant memory these days. Lately, we're having the best of both...

Saturday 18 June 2011

Biggus Brickus

So, as usual, I missed the Jolly Butchers launch of the latest London collab beer, 'Big Brick', this past Tuesday. One day one of our so-called 'progressive' beer bars will figure out the benefits of a breakfast launch and I'll be able to attend.

The beer is a souped-up version of the 'London Brick' rye beer brewed at Redemption by a cabal of London's (and Sussex's) finest including Mark Tranter from Dark Star, Evin O'Riordan from Kernel, Phil Lowry, Matt & Karen Wickham from the Evening Star in Brighton (honorary cockneys these days), and of course the Andys.

If you're a regular reader (I must have one), you'll recall I was present at part of the birth - actually, given how long it took, more like the contractions. This version was brewed at Kernel, the craft beer progenitors being augmented by Emma Cole from the Jolly Butchers, Julia Stig of the LAB and yours truly. I weighed some hops and adjusted the sparging flow. If you enjoy the subtle bittering, that's partly down to me. Probably.

The sense of emptiness I experienced at missing the launch was diminished by the knowledge that the bottles would be on sale at the brewery today, so I made my way along nice and early to get some.

I had a bottle of the original London Brick in the 'cellar' so I decided to try the beers side-by-side. The new version is 8.9% and, like most of Kernel's stronger beers, isn't boozy or 'hot' despite the high alcohol.

I think the Biggus Brickus hadn't had time to settle properly, so it poured with a haze that made it appear much darker. After a while though, it cleared a bit and appeared to be the same colour, literally brick-red thanks to the copious amounts of rye in the mash. (Edit: I think there's some carafa in there, as well)

London Brick feels superbly clean in the mouth. There's the spiciness from the rye and bright, hoppy bitterness in the finish. But it feels thin in the mouth compared to the newer beer, which is viscous, providing a heady and luxurious mouthfeel. The newer beer is also, to me, much better balanced. The assertive hoppiness in London Brick is tempered by the high alcohol in Big Brick.

Having tried them side-by-side, I did get a nice mellow buzz on. It's easy to forget that the newer beer is almost 9%, and that its smaller sibling is over 6%. I preferred the Big Brick, but there isn't a loser when both beers in a tasting are from Kernel.

I heard that somebody on BeerAdvocate considered Kernel to be a bit of a 'one-trick pony'. Nonsense. With a saison in the pipeline, and a 10% 100th gyle brew single-hopped with Centennial (what else?) also imminent, they continue to explore the possibilities of different hops in different styles of beer. And I'll keep drinking those beers.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Boggle Goes West: Russian River etc.

Take a look at the pic above. One of these is from a Sonoma County winery, the other is from Russian River. Which is which?

As mentioned in an earlier post, local provenance is big here. Sonoma is one of the largest agriculturally-active counties in the US, but the most obvious activity is wine-making, with around 300 wineries producing in a dozen American Viticultural Areas. But beer is here, too, with Moonlight, Bear Republic and Lagunitas well-known alongside Russian River, who take wine barrels for ageing of their highly-regarded sour beers from local wineries. Evidence of this part of California's past links to be beer can be found from the tasting rooms of the Russian Hill winery, where three hop kilns sit amidst the rows of vines.

My mate Rap, as well as being an oenophile, loves his beer, and he's friends with Natalie & Vinnie at RRBC, so it's off to sunday brunch then a quick look around the production brewery.

Vinnie Cilurzo, King Of Beers; wine at Bottle Barn - they spelt my name wrong; is THIS Sid Boggle?

I visited the production brewery in late 2008, and it's changed a lot since then. There's extra fermenters in the main part of the brewhouse, while the separate area for the sour beers has an extra tank too. Huge pallet racks line the walls near the loading area, and cages define the interior much more than a few years back. They've taken extra space to set up climate-controlled barrel and bottle storage, as well.

We get to look inside the Aladdin's cave of the vintage bottle store, and there's some planning for the future. A beautifully-appointed tasting room is being created, with all the timber for shelves and the bar coming from a salvaged wine tun. That future requires some change to Californian law, so nothing will happen anytime soon, according to Vinnie, but they want to be prepared.Aladdin's Cave; funky kegs - look away Kevin...; hullo, hullo...

Soon we're heading back to the Bay Area, dodging heavy rain showers which freshen the air and leave it full of eucalyptus as we drive past small groves of the trees. A quick stop at Marin Brewing for a so-so pint of Mt. Tam Pale Ale (too sweet), then back to Oakland where Mr & Mrs Snake join us for a vertical tasting of RRBC Supplication. Batch 1 is past it now, says Vinnie, so we have 2,3, 4 and 6 to sample. The latter two are fermented slightly differently to earlier vintages, and are a bit too young to be developing any funky notes, but the 2 and 3 are full-on. Fantastic in the mouth, still retaining their sour cherry fruit notes. Supremely drinkable. I wonder whether the beers would experience the sort of 'sine wave' John Keeling at Fuller's sometimes describes to demonstrate how his Vintage Ale changes from year to year...

That's the final part of this series. Not enough days, too much beer for somebody who only drinks for a few hours a week, and the joy of enjoying good beer with good company. Let's do this again, soon.