Thursday, 27 October 2011

One Reason To Buy The Oxford Companion To Beer?

It's been an exciting week for the OCtB, with Garrett Oliver taking exception to comments on Martyn Cornell's blog about the accuracy of several of the entries. Personally, as somebody who can't smell a rat about some of this stuff, I wouldn't be buying it until I feel more confident that the inaccuracies are being addressed in a 2nd edition. My Xmas list has Amber, Gold & Black on it, instead.

Then I saw this...

Incentive? I doubt it. I guess for good or ill, Garrett is forever bound to this project. And I hear there's no truth in the rumour that Horst Dornbusch chipped in for the snazzy cardboard box...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

In The Past...

Do you believe in serendipity?

A month back I decided to start drinking my stash of Fuller's Vintage Ale and compare the original tasting notes to the beer now. I didn't know it, but Fuller's themselves were planning an event where a full vertical tasting of all 15 vintages would take place, and a week after my post, lo, I got an invite.

Thus it was that I joined an assembly at The Griffin Brewery in the Hock Cellars to receive a presentation from Yer Man John Keeling and taste the beers guided by both he and Emma Watts, the trade quality manager at Fuller's. The evening was a big deal, as it's likely the last time that the first 15 vintages will be tasted in one event, due to shortages of some years. The 1998 is especially scarce, I understand.

Being more interested in the atmos and vibe generated, I wasn't aiming on making any rigorous notes of each beer, but luckily Adrian Tierney-Jones has done that job, while Steve Williams offers his thoughts here. However, we kicked off with the just-available 2011 beer and went backwards.

The carnage on our table after trying all 15 beers

The 2011 is big and bold, with in-your-face carbonation forcing huge zesty oranges and almonds (bakewell tart, says ATJ, rightly) into your mouth. Slightly boozy while so young, it wasn't 'hot' or overwhelming. A beer you could drink and enjoy right now. But that wouldn't be the point.

We went through each vintage in clusters of three at a fairly impressive clip. The 2010 had softened and sweetened, showing that 2011 the path it will probably tread over the next 12 months. As the beer went down and the alcohol loosened tongues, there was an astonishing breadth of flavours and characteristics suggested. Blue cheese, fudge, apricot, vanilla, muscat, tobacco, cherries, brandy, figs, chocolate, raisins, Calvados, Cointreau, Marmite... and all the way through, like a sinuous strand of DNA, is that yeast, imparting its own unique character.

My favourite was the 2007. A sweet nose suggested a saison, and in the mouth a curious herbal astringency was present which seemed at odds with the other beers that had bracketed it. It made me think of those Ricola cough sweets, or a saison like Stillwater Stateside. A remarkable beer considering the whole thing had come together with only the house Fuller's yeast and time working away at it. Worth looking a bottle out for re-visiting next year, methinks.

I've observed before that Fuller's don't get the love from the geeks, but consider - in the mid-90's a British family brewer wanted to brew a beer that explored the effects of time way before almost any other brewer in the world was interested. Was there ever any other UK-brewed beer like this? Maybe Thomas Hardy Ale, back in the day. To have retained that commitment speaks volumes about the dedication to exploring the possibilities of beer and brewing science.

If you haven't already tried this beer, do yourself a favour and get hold of a few bottles of the 2011. Drink one now, then have the others in 6 and 12 months. Waitrose usually have it this time of year, and I've seen it in Sainsbury's in some years (last time was 2009, I think). Or you can get it direct from Fuller's. They can also sell you most of the previous year's beers, as well.

Finally, it was a good night to put faces to names. Ron Pattinson, Steve Williams, Mark Dorber, ATJ, Tom Stainer, Rupert Ponsonby - all people I know either online or by reputation, but never met. Young Dredgie was there, as well, so time for the obligatory pap shot of him... Somebody on that table appears to have OCD judging by the tidy parade of bottles. I bet they're all in date order, too...

Thanks to Fuller's for a cracking evening of beer.

Friday, 7 October 2011

In The Future...

I popped along to The Crosse Keys, a vast Wetherspoons pub in Gracechurch Street on the edge of the City of London, to have a go at a few of this autumn's Real Ale & Cider Fest beers. This hasn't really been on my radar in the past 18 months or so, but they usually get some interesting beers brewed, and I've enjoyed the practice of bringing overseas brewers in and turning them loose in some of our traditional breweries. Some of the output has been very good.

The Crosse Keys has built a good reputation for high quality and good service, and they usually run a 'Superfest' after the main fest has finished. Punters can have 'flights' of 3 third-pint measures so the keen toper can try several beers without leaving the pub on their knees. So...

There were 24 beers available, and I tried 7, all but one in thirds. They were a mixed bag in terms of quality and condition. The Odell 90 Shilling and the Mordue Red Rye Riwaka were too warm, the Fat Head Yakima Sun was a bit flat, the best of the seven were the Adnams American Style IPA and the Hook Norton Flagship. Temperature has never been a problem here before, but then I'm only in The Crosse Keys once a year. Overall, an average experience.

As I bellied up to the bar and sipped my beers, I noticed that right in front of me there was a Blue Moon tap font. It had condensation running off it, and a big illuminated badge.

Blue Moon is an ostensible 'craft' wheat beer brand owned by MolsonCoors which is very popular in the US and has been pushed here. Barm had an enjoyable piece on it recently. Still, it got me thinking. You know, the beer has a lot of promotional muscle behind it, so I assume they can offer good incentives (within the perceived 'craft/premium' niche, if there is such a thing here yet) to pubcos/licensees, and they support the brand at point of sale and elsewhere. It's a generally unthreatening 'craft beer', but the actual beer wasn't the point. It's 'craft keg' on the bar.

I recalled an email I received a few days previously from a pub in Preston called The Continental, who are plugging their upcoming beer fest. They seem to be popular with their local CAMRA branch, but there was a little sentence at the bottom of their email which came back to me as I looked at that Blue Moon font. It read, "In an exciting new feature, the pub will continue to host a number of UK and world keg beers after the festival." I don't know which beers these will be, or whether they already do well with The New Keg, but it moved my thinking further along...

Coming in the week that the spat between some small brewers and CAMRA over access to beer festivals made Channel 4 News, it made me wonder if there might not be a time in the future when we'll see some UK keg beers turning up on the list for a JDW fest. Right now it's a Real Ale & Cider fest, but could you foresee a time when they are intrigued enough by the New Keg, and the brewers brewing it, to make room for it in their festival? Of course, they have a relationship with CAMRA and all their pubs sell cask, often with variable results from one pub to the next. But perhaps in the future, the quality and consistency of The New Keg will see it elbowing its way on to a JDW bar as part of their showpiece event.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Keep 'Em Peeled...

Where's Shaw Taylor when you need him?

Brodie's had their brewery van stolen a few days back. It was loaded with some draught beer and almost 100 cases of their new Black IPA. Over 1,000 unlabelled 500ml bottles went west. I tried one of the bottles still in captivity, and it'll be a lost classic, assuming the van and beer don't turn up. I don't suppose the thieves knew or cared what was in the van, but if you're offered any bottles or cases of unlabelled dark beer, bear in mind it might be Brodie's. I assume the thieving bastards will try and sell the casks/kegs for scrap.

On the other side of the world (sort of), Russian River are gearing up for their annual Breast Cancer Month campaign, Hopped Up For The Cure, with raffles and schwag and events and beer. They've brewed 'Framboise For A Cure' again this year, but it won't be released on a single day. To combat the tickers, traders and hoarders, they'll release a number of cases a day to their brewpub, with sales limited to 2 per person per day. They've raised the price to $20 a bottle, with all proceeds going to a local Breast Cancer project.

So far one or two people on Beer Advocate are seeking to trade the beer before it's even launched tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if the brewpub in Santa Rosa gets mobbed over the next 2 weeks. Natalie says
As our family and friends of the brewery, I just need to ask you 2 favors: 1. Please enjoy this beer with friends and family or give it as a gift to someone you love! 2. Please help us monitor illegal sales of it and if/when you see someone doing it (i.e. Ebay), turn them in and/or contact the seller directly. Thank you for your help and supporting a great cause!
Evenin' All!