Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Zombier staggers onward

Jake, departing head brewer of Fyne Ale Wil Wood, and Chris
It wasn’t intentional, but Zombier stole the show at Beer Week with a secret cask going on sale on Friday night at the Three Judges. This firkin sold out in three and a half hours, a record-breaking achievement for such a strong beer (6.9%).

There was more to celebrate for its creators, homebrewers Jake Griffin and Chris Lewis, the following weekend when between them they took the top two places in the Porter category at the National Homebrew Competition in Bristol. Jake additionally came third in the Specialty Beer section with a rye pale ale. Like the undead, these two seem unstoppable at the moment.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Hello, Goodbye

Wil Wood and Chris Lewis share a joke
As I left work on Friday a week of beer drinking was beginning to catch up with me, but the thought of the beers ahead was enough to keep me going. Fyne Ales were launching their latest pair of IPA Project beers at the Three Judges. All the beers have been good, some sensational, so I would have made an effort for this event anyway. This was head brewer Wil Wood’s swansong, so it was pleasant to catch up with him; he’s leaving Fyne to set up a new brewery in Great Yarmouth using the name of the defunct Lacon brewery, closed by Whitbread in 1968.

But Wil says he will not be reviving the historic beers, but giving the same pale’n’hoppy stamp to the brewery that’s been his trademark at Oakham and Fyne. There is a parting gift for Fyne: some of the very limited supply of the latest new high-alpha hop from Germany, Polaris, is at the brewery waiting to be made into beer.

 It will be a challenging period for Fyne dealing with a new head brewer and new brewery at the same time, and beer lovers will be wishing them every success.

As with every pair of IPAs in the series, I preferred the blonde Sanda to the darker version. The black beer is very nice, but the dark flavours just get in the way of the crisp, bitter finish common to all the blonde beers.

 I could happily have drunk Sanda all night, but then it was round to Kelvinbridge to Inn Deep, the scene of the closing party. The two IBD-winning beers were head to head in Glasgow for the first time. Inn Deep had been busy all week and tonight it was rammed. It was nice to relax by the side of the Kelvin as people shared news, projects, ideas … just what happens in a proper pub.
Lacons plaque
Old Lacons sign in Cambridge, photo nicked from
the Brewery History Society website
Impale IPA and Zombier font badges
Impale, Jarl, Zombier from cask

Chris Williams pours samples of beer
Chris Williams of Inn Deep pours samples of the family brewery’s
22nd Anniversary Fraoch aged in Auchentoshan casks

Friday, 14 September 2012

Quiet night?

Thursday was the first night all week I didn't have any Beer Week events I was committed to going to. This was quite refreshing really and I was planning to go home, have a nice dinner and head out again to the Hippo Beers showcase at Brel.

Both outfits are kind of interesting. Brel was a style bar riding on the first Jackson-inspired wave of interest in Belgian beer back in the 1990s. More recently it's been taken over by the people behind one of Glasgow's top beer places, Blackfriars, and steered in a less explicitly Belgian direction with the introduction of cask ale and new beers coming from London and Sheffield rather than the Low Countries. They've also dropped the high price niveau which had made the old Brel notorious.
Hippo Beers is a new beer shop. More precisely, it's going to be a new beer shop. Their premises licence has got held up somewhere in the bureaucratic machine, hence the expediency of them having their event in a hospitable pub.

But I’m rushing ahead. The previous night Blackfriars had planned a meet-the-brewer and tap takeover with six Tempest beers. Unfortunately a sudden power cut put the pub out of action for the evening and the night had to be cancelled. We later saw the Tempest guys up at Inn Deep, so at least their journey from Kelso wasn't entirely wasted.

Suspecting the Tempest beers might be on the following night, I dropped in for a quick pint. Emanation is a lovely beer, essentially best bitter with New World hops. One of the brewery's most lusted after beers, Long White Cloud, a pungently Nelson Sauvin scented affair that's darker than its name suggests, was being enthusiastically tanned by a table of local CAMRAnauts, some with three pints of the precious liquid arrayed in front of them in case it ran out at the bar (this is not as obsessive as it seems as a Tempest beer can sell out very fast in this pub). I stayed in the pub longer than expected.

I did eventually make it up to Brel, but didn't stay long. Happily for Hippo, their guests didn't just sup the free samples and leave; they stayed to buy up the available stock. A promising start by anyone's standards.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Beer & cheese night

One of my favourite cheese books is “The complete book of cheese” by Bob Brown, who coincidentally also wrote one of my favourite beer books, “Let there be beer!” He spends a great portion of the book describing in methodical detail various kinds of Welsh rabbits, some of which are classically made with beer. So the recent growth of interest in combining the two isn’t any wacky new innovation.

Another bookish inspiration was a passage in E P Thompson’s “The making of the English working class” pointed out to me by a friend, in which Thompson goes on about London artisans dining on bread and cheese and porter. Bread and cheese has, sadly, become a byword for poverty; it shouldn’t be, as if you can get really good bread and cheese it becomes a feast. I quite often have bread and cheese and porter for dinner.

A beer and cheese tasting is something I’d wanted to do for quite a while, and Beer Week seemed the perfect opportunity. I was lucky to get a proper cheese expert, Phoebe Weller, as co-host, who was fortunately able to take a short time away from intensive preparation for the British Cheese Awards in Cardiff. We took over the same format and venue as Phoebe’s cheese and wine pairing nights – six combos.

Andechser Bergbock hell: We paired this with a Kilree goat’s cheese. This is a great lager if in good condition, really fresh and malty and grassy, like chewing the stalk of the barley the malt is made from. The cheese is musty and earthy, like the soil the barley grows in. Really nice. It was only after deciding this match that I remembered that bock means goat. Honest.

Orval with Comte.
Orval’s bitterness really gets dug in to the sweet, fudgy cheese. This was an easy one as Comte goes with everything.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with Ossau Iraty.
I kind of jumped over the classic ploughman’s lunch combination of cheddar and best bitter, partly due to the difficulty of getting a decent bitter in bottle. Instead we had two of its long-lost cousins, Orval on the one hand and then, fast-forwarding a few decades, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. We put them one after another chiefly to let people compare the two beers. The Pale Ale’s citrussy pithiness unleashes the cool, creamy butteriness of the cheese.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (Märzen) with Taleggio. This is my favourite beer but the most difficult to find a match for. We tried a lot of combinations that didn’t work. This one did. This particularly smelly cheese is seduced by the sweet, smoky beer, filling the mouth with meaty flavours.

Meantime Porter with Epoisses. The beer relatively light-bodied with a big brown malt character; the cheese a salty, gooey puddle of horse-pee-scented vanilla pudding, resembling a Salvador Dali rendition of a Victoria sponge.

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil and Stilton.
One of the clichés of the cheese and wine world is port and Stilton. The reason it’s common enough to be a cliché is that it’s so damn good. I was originally looking for a nice strong barley wine that would be rich, heavy and sweet like port to counter the rich, salty cheese. Again, there are not enough of these about. I chose Old Engine Oil instead and it was serendipitous. As well as the sweetness and richness of the stout, its roast-coffee bitterness really brought out the cocoa notes in the cheese, a dry, bitter, properly grown-up chocolate milkshake.

The one thing I regret is that I was planning to use the word “empyreumatic” to describe the stout, but forgot.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Another visit to Tennent’s

This mural is new since the last time I was here
One of the things I was quite pleased about for Beer Week this year was that Tennent’s agreed to participate. Given that their usual marketing efforts go into huge events like T in the Park, I thought it was very nice of them to spend time working with a bunch of nobodies on a very small festival.

For a long time there were no public tours of Wellpark. Now with the separation from the AB InBev empire there seems to be a bit more glasnost. A group of homebrewers, brewers from WEST down the road and sundry beer nerds got to take a special tour led by plant manager Martin, director of product development Keith and innovation specialist Hannah – so the most qualified tour guides we could have.

We start off in the mash house. On a normal tour you get the layman’s explanation of how beer is made. Here we get a bit more detail about the mashing regime and wort separation. The wort copper, like the fermenters, is actually outside the building. Seeing the screens with all manner of measurements from all parts of the system makes it clear that brewing on this scale is mostly engineering and process. The last time I was here we didn’t get to see the kegging hall, but this time we did. It’s probably the most impressive part, with a vast 14-lane filling machine.

Kegging line

These are made for the Italian market and not sold here

In the lab. The kegs on the floor are never, ever used to
take beer to parties.
Then into the lab, housed one of the oldest buildings on the site which has had many functions over the years. In the lab for testing were some bottles and kegs of export beer for the Italian market (Tennent’s is quite big in Italy for some reason I have never really understood). At the back is some gear, fermenting bottles and Cornelius kegs, which looks remarkably similar in scale to our homebrew stuff. Have we stumbled on a secret pilot brewery? No, this is for yeast propagation, says Keith. They grow up six times as much yeast as we homebrewers make beer …

Seek out the lager of Lamot
On a quick tour through the brand new bottling line I spy a crate marked Lamot. It’s amusing that any brewery from the tiniest to the newest, probably has crates from defunct beer brands hanging around somewhere like ghosts. The old bottling line was removed in the 1990s, a very poor decision at the time in my view as it meant the end of them brewing Fowler’s Wee Heavy.

We end up in the private Molendinar Bar for a pint. Colin, one of the brewery guys, knows that I like that sort of thing and opened a bottle of the Italian Scotch Ale. It’s very nice, rich and smooth and woody. Sadly C&C won’t sell it in this country; it’s too strong at 9% and they are keen to be seen promoting responsible drinking. The taint of the Tennent’s Super brand would affect any strong ale in the UK market, so much so that C&C didn’t take on the Tennent’s Super brand with the rest of the business – AB InBev still owns and markets that, although it will always be an uphill battle trying to explain that Tennent’s Super isn’t made or sold by Tennent’s.

The new Tennent’s Original Export lager is on draught. I’d tried the bottled version when it came out and it was OK – lightstruck and under-hopped; it’s not really aimed at me, but competes with Stella and Peroni. The draught version is more pleasant, slightly malty with floral aromas. It’s still a bit sweet, I’d buy it if it had more hops. It’s all malt, says Colin. It also works really well as a chaser to the Scotch Ale.

It’s getting late so we depart. I was impressed with the wind of change evident here, not least evident in them letting a bunch of homebrewers and beer nerds round their brewery. We geeks are not going to be their target market any time soon, but it is very pleasant to see a brewery semi-independent once more, and reaching out to the local community.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Shut Up About Barclay Perkins – Live

German beer doesn’t give you a hangover, some people say. It bloody does if you drink enough of it, I can tell you that. Nonetheless last night at WEST beerhall was excellent. We heard Ron Pattinson give a densely informative talk about the history of British Lager, from its origins as a speciality made in tiny (but lucrative) quantities to domination from the 1980s onward.

We were also joined by Harvey Milne, President of the Scottish Brewing Archive Association and a former brewer of Skol, and Ken Duncan from Inveralmond Brewery. Inveralmond are much better know for cask ale and bottled beer, but they also brew lager, as Ken said, mainly as a kind of tribute to Czech brewing traditions.

It is impossible to stop brewers chatting about beer. After Ron’s talk there was supposed to be a semi-formal panel discussion with Harvey and Ken. Once everyone had taken advantage of the break to grab a beer, discussion started spontaneously standing around the table. Rather than break this up, we just let it carry on. As these things do, the subject drifted a bit at times with topics ranging from the colour of pale malt to the extent of Broyhan brewing and (I seem to remember) the heat death of the universe.

There is a low-quality sound recording of most of this on my phone which I will get around to transcribing eventually.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Making beer all over the city

Happy foragers with a post-walk pint
There wasn’t much going on on Saturday that I could take part in. I’m doing a cheese and beer matching on Wednesday and had to meet up with my partner in that to finalise the choices (Which was fun). With that out of the way, I went for a few pints with Ron who’s in town to do tonight’s talk on British lager.

Feeling a bit fragile on Sunday morning, I had to put in an appearance at the homebrewing demonstration a couple of chums were doing in the back room of the Good Spirits Co in the city centre. This demo has been a feature ever since the Glasgow Beer & Pubs Project and it’s always fun. Fortunately for me, though, there’s quite a bit of waiting around involved – brewing is not really a spectator sport – so I was able to sneak off and deliver beermats to a couple of pubs before heading over to the South Side to see how they were getting on at “From Park to Pint”. 
This is a thing I had really wanted to take part in, but couldn’t be in two places at once. Wholefood shop Locavore and foraging expert Catriona Gibson had led a walk through the park collecting plant life as ingredients for a special beer to be made at Clockwork. When I got there the walk was over and people were enjoying a pint afterwards. I was delighted to find how many people had turned out for it.

I had been really keen to go to, because it was inspired by Eric Steen’s “Beers Made By Walking” projects in the United States. Eric says he got the idea from Williams Bros in the first place, so it was kind of coming full circle. I think the flora in Queens Park is probably rather less exotic than that in Colorado where Eric works, but the foragers collected various bits of vegetation – sorrel, rose hips, crab apples, blackberries. Now poor Declan the brewer at the Clockwork will have to come up with a recipe using the big sacks of Nelson Sauvin he has lying around for help.

Back in the city centre again, the homebrewers were busy cooling their wort and already running it off into fermenters. Despite being a long day, this event had been well attended too.

Sunday night is for relaxing. Now that Beer Week is here I don’t really need to do much more other than turn up at things on time and stay sober enough to blog about them when I get home. I headed for Inn Deep at Kelvinbridge, as I hadn’t had a chance to visit since it opened on Friday.

Cromarty Hit the Lip was the perfect refresher after a long day. Nice and cold and tasty. I was only in for one, but was tempted by the much raved-about Moor Hoppiness on keg. When it arrived, it resembled a peach smoothie.
Unfined beer is one thing; beer with so much crap in it that it forms a layer of sediment while you sit drinking it is something else again. Still tasted nice though. But I was looking forward to an early night anyway.
Mmm, soupy

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Beer Week day one

See this sickly sweet tablet fudge? Full of sugar. That’s you, that is.
That’s what you put in your beer.
That’s your main source of fermentables.

Where to start? In town early yesterday for the Scottish Brewing Archive Association conference, the theme of which was the commonality between whisky and beer making. This is not a theme I was terribly enthusiastic about initially, but the speakers – Douglas Murray from Diageo and Gordon Motion from Edrington – found plenty to stir my interest. One of the more interesting facts was that distillers actually encourage a lactic and acetic fermentation of their wash, as it gives more flavour to the whisky. Stuart Cail of Harviestoun followed up talking about aging Ola Dubh in Highland Park casks. The buffet was a cut above the usual standard too.

Afterwards there was a pub crawl of architecturally interesting pubs planned, to which I dragged a couple of folk from the conference. I say planned because we got to the second pub, the Laurieston Bar, and just got stuck there because it’s such a fantastic pub. Fortunately no members of the public we didn’t know had actually turned up for the crawl, so we were able to abandon the mission without problem.

Before I knew it it was time to head over to WEST for the ceremonial tapping of the specially brewed Beer Week beer:

I was delighted to see the beer being served by air pressure. Made it lovely and frothy. The Un-Kölsch has bready, Horlicksy malt and a crisp, citric aroma, with subdued bitterness finishing it off. Hopefully Ron will like it when he’s doing his lager talk on Monday.

I knew in advance that there would be too much going on for me to make it to everything, so I sadly missed a Meet the Brewer with Tryst, one of my favourite breweries, and the opening night of Inn Deep, which by all accounts was heaving. But we did get up to the Three Judges who had taken us all by surprise by putting on the first cask of Zombier in Glasgow. They sold a nine of a 6.9% in three and a half hours. Wow.

Beer Week carries on today.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Better watch out for the Inn Deep

That bar underneath the Kelvin Bridge with the tables outside, last known as the Big Blue … I always thought it was a great location, but never went there. In its new incarnation, I’ll probably go there a fair bit.

Yesterday this was what the premises by the river Kelvin looked like. By tonight, promise the new management, it will be open for business as Glasgow’s newest speciality beer bar, “Inn Deep”.

The younger generation of the Williams Bros family are running the show and they’ll be stocking the bar with indie beers in cask and keg from the likes of Fyne, Tempest and Cromarty, with the house beers of course coming from Williams Bros.

It would seem an inauspicious time to launch a new beer bar just weeks after the sudden closure of Bruadar, but Chris Williams is not worried. The Partick location had its own disadvantages which don’t apply here, he says.

It adds another specialist establishment to the cluster of excellent independent booze outlets at Kelvinbridge: the old-school “brewer’s Tudor” pub The Doublet and the off-licences The Cave and Quel Vin.

You can judge for yourself from 5pm today.

Priorities: get the logo on the speakers

Thursday, 6 September 2012

It’s braaaiiiiiiins you want

There is so much going on in Glasgow in terms of beer at the moment that I hardly find time to go to everything, never mind write about it. The likes of Kelburn, Fyne and Tempest have been properly bombarding us with new beers. Tempest beers in particular are so popular that they sell out in a matter of hours and when you hear one of theirs has gone on sale, you really have to get your skates on if you want any.

Nonetheless I had to make time last night to go to yet another beer launch – in Edinburgh.
The Institute of Brewing and Distilling recently ran a homebrewing competition, and the winner and runner-up were chosen to have their beer re-brewed commercially and sold. Ed Young’s winning recipe was brewed at Williams Bros and Jake Griffin & Chris Lewis got to have theirs brewed at Fyne Ales.

Fame at last. I’m one of the zombies on the t-shirt (first left).
Left to right: me, Ali who created the @glasgowbeer Twitter account,
Geof of Hop Topic, Jake, Chris, Owen whose secret
identity is untainted by public beer blogging,
Douglas who recently landed a job brewing at WEST.
There is a decided horror theme to the winning entries with the top beer called Impale Ale and the runner-up Zombier. Happily, the beers taste frighteningly good rather than horrific.

I know Jake and Chris, so felt obliged to go along for moral support, even though we’ll be seeing their beer this weekend in Glasgow and both together next weekend. As it happened, there was plenty of support – the Holyrood 9A was completely packed. I mean really packed, 20 minutes to get served packed, turn around and you’ll knock someone’s drink over packed.

Bloody hipsters. For a moment I think of heading back to Mather’s to get a quiet pint and a sit down.

I was really looking forward to the Zombier, having tried the homebrew version. Impale on the other hand was a bit of an unknown quantity, not having previously encountered either the homebrewer or the beer. The host brewery, Williams Bros, tend to make cautiously hopped beers even when brewing IPA, so I was interested to see what they did with the winning recipe.

Impale was available on both keg and cask; naturally I had to order both. The cask version is more aromatic, fuller-bodied, slightly flabby and rich in tablety fudge. From the keg it’s leaner, tighter, but also less flavoursome. Both versions have a heavy resiny hop presence and a satisfyingly long-lasting bitter finish.
Zombier is more complex, starting off with acrid, sub-acid burnt grain which teeters on the brink of being unpleasant. The burnt grain gives way to malt and chewy sweetness. As it warms up you get more and more of the signature dry cocoa-powder character and smooth chocolatey finish.

Jake is handing round a glass of the original so we get to compare them. They are very similar but I don’t think the homebrew has aged well, developing winey and oaky notes that weren’t in the fresh beer. When I tasted the original back in April I made notes reading “delicious chocolatey London stout, can’t wait to taste the commercial version.” It was worth the wait.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A moment of calm

Glasgow Beer Week starts on Friday and I’m quite looking forward to it.

This year there’s a special beer. I can’t believe it’s not Kölsch. WEST have made it (I suspect there wasn’t time to brew a bottom-fermenting beer) and last week
I had the good fortune to get to taste it from the tank, before filtration. It’s pretty nice. The use of Chinook alongside the German noble hops sounds like a radical departure, but it works well, giving the beer a slight citrus note, but it still has a proper Kölschy taste to it.

I’m going to attempt to drag the Scottish Brewing Archive Association chaps over to Glasgow Green after their conference on Friday to drink it. On the way we’ll drop in to a few jakey old pubs.

Other highlights (for me) include a foraging walk on Sunday to pick herbs (or whatever we find), which will be used to flavour a beer brewed at the Clockwork brewery round the corner. Then on Monday Ron Pattinson will be giving a talk on the history of British lager. A former Skol brewer and a current lager microbrewer will join him for a chat.

I’m helping the Roving Fromage match beer to cheese on Wednesday, and on Friday we have a packed schedule with Marverine Cole introducing a beer dinner at WEST, and our closing party will be a double whammy: it will feature both IBD winners Impale and Zombier side by side (ok, we got gazumped on this by the Holyrood 9A), and the venue is a brand new beer bar, Inn Deep at Kelvinbridge.

There’s much more than that going on, but (in this sense, regretfully) Beer Week has now got big enough that I can’t go to everything. You can check out the full programme here: glasgowbeerweek.com/calendar