Thornbridge Peakender – August 2019

In August I braved the summer rain and mud (oh, that mud!) at Thornbridge Brewery‘s Peakender Festival. In between falling face first into a puddle and trying to keep the tent dry, I interviewed the wonderful Dominic Driscoll about his work as head brewer at Thornbridge. We took the audience through a tasting of Thornbridge beers and I was very happy to get my hands on one of my all-time favourite beers – the legendary Serpent (a Thornbridge x Brooklyn Brewery x Oliver’s Cider collaboration).

Peakender is a magical festival and I will definitely go again. I’ll just be praying for a bit more sunshine next time!

Taste the World – Part 5: Bock

With a swift kick from the billy-goat himself, my next dip into the menagerie of world beer styles is bock. Originally hailing from the town of Einbeck near Hanover, and apparently feted by Martin Luther as the ‘best beer known to man’, this clutch of beers, ranging from an comparatively paltry 6.5% to a boozy 12% abv were never going to disappoint in terms of character.

When a beer has been brewed with the sole intention of keeping people alive, you know it’s going to have a bit of body. In the seventeenth century the brothers of St Francis of Paula in Munich were granted papal dispensation to brew strong beer to sustain them during the fasting period of Lent. The result is the ‘liquid bread’ of doppelbock – a rich, caramel, malt-sweet beer made to satisfy the keenest of monkish appetites. And if you’re interested if it really is possible to survive on doppelbock alone, check out J. Wilson’s blog (now a book) ‘Diary of a Part-Time Monk‘.

Eisbock owes its existence to the fact that water freezes at 0ºC whereas alcohol does not solidify until -114ºC. As a result, removing the ice crystals from partially frozen beer (a process called freeze distillation or fractional freezing) leaves behind a concentrated and potentially very strong brew. Brewdog have used this technique a number of times in recent years to create beers such as Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% abv),  Sink the Bismark (41% abv) and The End of History (55% abv). Compared to these beers, my 12% abv Schneider Weiss Aventinus Eisbock sounds positively mild but, despite some mince pie richness, the alcohol warmth dominates in a way you can feel to right down to your toes. Definitely the kind of beer to have curled up in front of fire as a storm rages outside. And who knew lager could be that?

The full list of beers tasted is:

Helles Bock – Hirschbrau Hellerbock

Dunkles Bock – Monschoff Bockbier & Mittenwalder Weihnachts Bock Dunkel

Doppelbock – Paulaner Salvator & Weihenstephaner Korbinian

Eisbock – Schneider Weiss Aventis Eisbock

 

 

 

 

World Beer Awards – July/August 2017

In July and August 2017 I was very pleased to be selected as a Taste Judge for the prestigious World Beer Awards. I spent three days in Norwich, living alongside my fellow judges – a mix of national and international brewers and beer experts including Adrian Tierney-Jones, Jess Mason, Josh Rubin, Katrien BruylandTim Hampson, and Will Hawkes.

The World Beer Awards began 5 years ago with around 300 entries. This year there were more than 2000 entries from all across the globe. As World Chair of Judges, Adrian Tierney-Jones, says, “it holds a mirror up to the growth of beer culture today.” And, at the final judging session – held at the Hilton Olympia in central London – it was apparent that global beer scene is a thriving, challenging and exciting environment.

There were some very worthy winners from breweries of all sizes, some very familiar to me, others somewhat less familiar. The full list of winners can be found on the results page of the World Beer Awards website, but here are some of the highlights:

World’s Best Dark Beer: Novo Brazil Brewing (USA) – Cookie Monster (12%)

World’s Best Flavoured Beer: Olgerdin Egill Skallagrimsson (Iceland) – Surtur 8.2 (14.5%)

World’s Best Lager: Familienbrauerei Bauhöfer (Germany) – Bauhöfer Ulmer Pilsener (5%)

World’s Best Pale Beer:  Cameron’s Brewing Company (Canada) – Cameron’s Where the Buffalo Roam Barleywine (11.2%)

World’s Best Sour Beer: Rügener Insel-Brauerei GmbH (Germany) – Rügener Insel-Brauerei Seepferd (5.6%)

World’s Best Speciality Beer: Hook Norton Brewery (UK) – Hook Norton Red Rye (4.7%)

World’s Best Stout & Porter: Hideji-Beer Brewery (Japan) – Kurikuro (9%)

World’s Best Wheat Beer: Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu Glauner GmbH & Co. KG (Germany) – Alpirsbacher Weizen Hefe Hell (5.5%)

IMG_2542Although my body might quietly complain when being presented with yet another flight of strong beers half-way through the third day of judging, being able to taste this quality of beer is a real privilege, one overshadowed only by the honour of meeting some of the wonderful people who created it. And you can hear me talking to some of those people (Johnny Clayton from the UK’s Big Drop Brewery; Crystalla Huang from Singapore’s Red Dot Brewery; Salo Maldonado from Brazil’s O Motim Brewery; and Monty & Tyler from Canada’s White Sails Brewery) on the August 2017 edition of Fermentation Beer & Brewing Radio. Catch up here on Podomatic or via iTunes.

Final Logo (WEB RES)

Taste the World – Part 4: Dark Lager

My journey through the beer styles of the world takes a small detour through the dark side this session as I sample a range of dark lagers. I have to confess, dark lager always starts off on something of a back foot in its efforts to impress me. We taste beer not only with our tongues, but with all our sensory organs, including our eyes. Hailing from a beer culture in which the colour black is more likely to indicate the presence of rich roasted barley or a sweet chocolate hum, I’m often unprepared for the delicacy that a black lager can bring, and am left feeling it owes me something. Put simply, I’m stood there expecting a punch in the face and all I get is a tickle under the chin.

That said, this line-up definitely had something to say for itself in terms of some bready malt, light caramel and spicy herbal hop character. My favourite was the schwarzbier, a regional speciality from Thuringia in Saxony, Germany – this version from Kostritzer Brewery has been brewed since 1543.

And just a short time after this tasting, I stumbled across another great example of a schwarzbier – Crown Black by Privatbrauerei D. Oechsner – this time being served on draught at Brighton Bierhaus . And that’s quite wonderful because, in these difficult times, we could all do with just a bit more tickling.

The full list of beers tasted is:

International Dark Lager: Baltika 4

Czech Dark Lager: Primator Premium Dark

Munich Dunkel: Paulaner Munchner Dunkel & Hacker-Pschorr Munchner Dunkel

Schwarzbier: Kostritzer Schwarzbier

 

Lucky Beer

I often feel lucky when I’ve sampled great beer. But tonight I feel particularly fortunate because I’ve tasted beer that I may never taste in the UK again. And this wasn’t just a bottle of grog brought back wrapped in dirty laundry  at bottom of a fellow-beer geek’s suitcase: this was international award-winning beer brewed by two of Japan’s very best craft breweries.

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Following changes to Japanese law in 1994 which paved the way for microbreweries, a large number opened up around the country and began introducing novel flavours to a nation of beer drinkers more accustomed to the blandness of Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo. Not all these enterprises survived, but Minoh and Ise Kadoya did, and both breweries celebrate their twentieth anniversaries this year. And what better way to celebrate than flying 6000 miles across the world to pick up a haul of prizes at the International Brewing Awards?

Minoh brewery was founded by Ohshita Masaji and is now managed by his three daughters. Minoh, based in Osaka, is a pretty happening brewery in its home country and has won numerous awards for its innovative beer. Amongst its previous offerings are Minoh Cabernet – made with a large helping of cabernet grapes – and, of course, Mino Bier – last year’s collaboration brew with Brighton Bier brewed with Mugicha (Japanese roasted barley tea). Tomorrow, they collect a gold award for their W-IPA (one of Japan’s very first double IPAs) and a bronze for their stout (which has been declared the world’s best stout on more than one occasion in the past). Samples of each of these were on offer tonight at Brighton Bierhaus as part of this special event. The W-IPA was satisfyingly viscous and bitter, whilst the rich, slight smokiness of the stout showcased the malt in a way that briefly caramel-coated the tongue in a coffee sweetness.

The other brewery showcased at tonight’s event, Ise Kadoya, represents the latest incarnation of a 450 year old family business, and CEO, Narihiro Suzuki, is the charismatic 21st generation, the man who boldly steered the company away from the production of soy sauce and miso paste, into the world of modern brewing. A renowned beer judge in his own right, Suzuki is thrilled to be collecting awards – a gold for their pale ale and a bronze for the brown ale. Again, both beers were available for sampling tonight. Both had a surprising sweetness. The brown ale was, perhaps, a little truer to type, but the pale was my favourite: an ice cream float with a dancing sparkle of tight carbonation of a kind it’s always exciting to find in bottle-conditioned beer.

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I was very honoured to get an interview with Narihiro Suzuki, and you’ll be able to hear it very soon on the Fermentation Beer & Brewing Show.

Japanese beer.zip

And if you missed out on this Tuesday night treat from the Brighton Bierhaus, never fear: I have a feeling that this new addition to Brighton’s burgeoning beer scene has many more surprises in store for us.

Not tasting but drinking…

I drink a lot of beer. Or rather I ‘taste’ a lot of beer – or that’s what I like to say when I’m trying to portray a professional image. But really it amounts to the same thing. Unlike wine sampling, beer tasting does not involve swilling the liquid around the mouth and then spitting it out before you get a chance to fully benefit from it. No – with beer tasting you get the full experience, from the sweetness on the lips, right through to the bitter backwash on your tongue, and the warming alcohol glow as it slips down your throat. Or just a fruity hop-fuelled punch in the face, of course, depending on what you’re quaffing.

However, like many contemporary beer drinkers, I spend a lot of my time drinking new beers. The quest for the novel, the experimental, the undiscovered, is ever present, and the fear of missing out on that new collaboration, that new small-batch, barrel-aged, wild yeast fermented concoction is as overwhelming for me as for all the other beer-chasers, marking our cards, rating our beers, and Instagramming our discoveries.

But beer is about so much more than that. The world’s most popular alcoholic drink, brewed in almost every part of the world for thousands of years, comes in many more guises than an artist-inspired can. There are many more beers than there are wines in the world. Some are ubiquitous, like the cold, pale, golden fizz that appears in some form in almost every continent of the globe. Some are less well-known, at this point in geography and time like Zoigl (a beer brewed in just one small area of north eastern Bavaria), or even almost extinct, like the Kentucky Common (a dark beer that used to be very popular around the town of Louisville). But in a world of craft beer, in which the new brewers stand squarely on the shoulders of those giants who brewed before them, these kinds of brews inform the present, and write the recipe we’ll all be drinking tomorrow.

Which is why I’m going back. Over the next few weeks I intend to sample around 150 distinct types of beer in a series of tasting sessions that will showcase some of the finest examples of each style. I’m not naïve enough to think that it’s all going to be plain sailing. Some sessions will be simply wonderful, of course – I can’t wait to taste a full-house of stouts – but others I know will challenge my palate in a variety of ways . Stepping briefly outside of the ‘craft’ bubble could expose me to the kinds of terrors I thought I’d put behind me – but I know I’ll come out the other end with a renewed understanding of what makes this drink so versatile, so vital, and so loved.

Organising such a vast tasting project is quite overwhelming. Obtaining some sort of an inventory of all the available beer styles is essential, as is grouping them together with beers alongside which they make sense. After all, there’s only so much beer a person can drink and sensibly taste in one sitting, and tasting a light lager alongside a Baltic porter may not provide me with the subtlety of education my palate demands. But, as in so many other regards nowadays, there is a mine of information and resources out there if you just know where to look.

Firstly, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) – the body that certifies and ranks judges for homebrew competitions – produces its own style guidelinesthe most recent version of which was published in 2015. Although this is primarily intended as a guide to aid the judging of homebrew, it can provide a useful framework on which to begin planning which beers to taste, and identifying good examples of these. Although beer styles change over time, and not every beer fits into these guidelines, the suggested categories, and list of commercial examples under each heading are invaluable when planning a project such as this. And it’s even available as free app for iTunes or Android for constant handy reference.

Secondly, there are some excellent books around that fully dissect the process of beer tasting, and provide thoroughly readable and accessible guides to the beers of the world. The classic text often mentioned in this regard is Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer – An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink, published in 2009, which explains how to deconstruct a beer in terms of the flavour wheel, and how to record tasting notes in a useful manner.

tasting-beer

Another book that covers some of the same ground in an equally appealing way is Joshua Bernstein’s The Complete Beer Course – Boot Camp for Beer Geeks, which consists of twelve ‘lessons’ that promise to turn the reader ‘from novice to expert’. I particularly like the ‘two to try’ feature included throughout this book which suggests two beers of the same style – often one classic and one contemporary – to sample side-by-side.

beer-course

Unfortunately, the BJCP guidelines and both of these books are written from a North American perspective, at times to the neglect of the British beer scene. It is rare to find a suggested example from a UK brewery, although Harvey’s, Thornbridge and Kernel are all mentioned in the BJCP guidelines.

Of course, a lot of the beer styles originate from mainland Europe or the USA so some dedicated sourcing of brews is in order. A number of beers can be found in local supermarkets – after all, at some point I’ll need to revisit the likes of Miller Lite and Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire. The range of international beers on offer in Marks & Spencer seems to be growing all the time so there are rich pickings to be had there. There are also some excellent websites that can assist in this regard including Beers of Europe and Beer Hawk (as long as you’re happy to put aside any qualms you may have with the latter’s association with AB InBev in the name of research).

And, of course, if like me you’re lucky enough to live in Brighton, we are rather spoiled in terms of access to good, unusual and challenging beer, particularly with shops like Bison Beer on East Street, and the Aladdin’s cave of Trafalgar Wines half-way up Trafalgar Street. 

So, if you want to join me on my mission to rediscover the multitude of beers this planet has to offer, you have no excuse. The rough order I will be tasting in is this:

  1. Pale Lagers
  2. Pilsners
  3. Amber Lagers
  4. Dark Lagers
  5. Bocks
  6. Pale Ales
  7. IPAs
  8. Amber Ales
  9. Brown Ales
  10. Porters
  11. Stouts
  12. Strong Ales
  13. Wheat Beers
  14. Sour Ales
  15. Speciality Beers & Everything Else 

I’ll be certain to see you on the other side with more of an understanding of the range of magic that a handful of rather special ingredients can conjure up. I’ll provide regular updates on my progress – and I’ll be not tasting, but drinking.