Saturday, 30 June 2012

Preseli Brewery

This is the first lot of locally-brewed bottled beers I've picked up since I got down to Pembrokeshire. Preseli are based in Tenby. The Narberth Spar had five of their bottle conditioned range, and I got three (picked pretty much at random) for £6.50 - from £2.49 each.

The Baggywrinkle is billed as 'A traditional hoppy bitter' and it pours an orangey-brown colour. It's a decent enough bitter but I'm not sure I'd describe it as particularly hoppy; plenty of ginger-snap biscuits and the odd smoky note. Most of the aromas I got reminded me of a mash tun rather than bags of hops. There's a bit of pithiness on the palate and it's got a really earthy finish. Overall I thought it really could do with more bite. 4.5% abv.

The Powder Monkey is another bitter, but I thought this one had more character; with lighter, citrus fruits in there and the malt integrating a little more into the flavours making an altogether more rounded, balanced beer; although once again I'm not sure I'd describe it as 'full-bodied,' which is how it's described on the label. It seemed something of an exaggeration, although the bit about the crisp finish was far closer to the mark. 4.2% abv.

Last up was the 'Rocky Bottom' Golden Ale. I thought this was the best of the three, it had the most character, with some more spices and some of the promised wild berry fruit coming through. It still had that faint earthiness, as if some of the malt hadn't really integrated fully into the beer though. 4.5% abv.

If I were being critical, taking myself away from the holiday if you like, the Preseli beers I tried weren't all that inspiring, but I would try them again (or more of the range) for a few reasons. Firstly because they weren't out and out bad; I don't feel people will drink these beers and think they're being taken for mugs, although at the moment they're probably not offering anything more than the Brains that is ubiquitous in this part of the world - unless you subscribe to the idea that bottle conditioned beer is automatically better. I also think it's good to at least try and support local businesses when you're staying somewhere. Finally I'd give them another try because I think they're a small enough operation to make progress not only realistic, but likely. Yes, they are commercial enough to appear in local supermarkets, putting them right in the firing line, but that doesn't mean that they can't progress. Good luck to them.

Iechyd da!

Sunday, 24 June 2012


We're off on our holidays next week, heading for South West Wales. It's somewhere I'm quite familiar with since I've been irregularly visiting family friends down there for almost my whole life.

Welsh pub, Welsh beer
Here's a few that I'm already a fan of. I've written about Cresswell Quay before. I always used to try and make a trip to The Station Inn in Pembroke Dock, which I think I'm right in saying is now no longer a brew pub, although since we're staying a bit further from Pembroke Dock this time (over in Narberth) I might not make it this time. The Stackpole Inn is quite a recent favourite. I seem to remember having excellent food there. Other favourites (off the top of my head, I'm sure there are more if I asked others) are the Sloop Inn, Porthgain; the Freshwater Inn and the Tafarn Sinc, up in the Preseli Hills.

Arn from the Blood Stout and Tears blog recommends the Hope and Anchor in Tenby, which is one I don't remember having visited. I'm on the look out for more recommendations. Although there are some great pubs in some stunning locations I do remember the beer selections being somewhat predictable, so it would be great if anyone knows of any pubs down there that might stock something with a bit of variation from the Brains, Felinfoel and Worthingtons norm.

Does anybody know anywhere, particularly new places that might have sprung up since my last trip down there a few years ago, that are worth a visit?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A Big Beer Question

It was a big week last week. I got a phone call last Monday asking if I could be the new head of Heineken. I said yes, but only on the proviso that I started on Thursday as I was busy Tuesday getting a guarantee of world peace and Wednesday curing all known diseases.

Straight into production.
All right, none of this really happened; but just as a bit of fun I wondered what I would do if I could exert some influence over a massive company like Heineken. It's two-fold really. My first question is 'What do big beer companies do for us?' and by us, I mean the tiny minority; the beer geeks. The other question is 'What could they do?' which is potentially a far more interesting one.

Large beer companies come in for some pretty heavy criticism on beer blogs; I'm as guilty of it as anybody and don't really make any apologies for it. However, that's for other posts. Credit where credit is due. It was great to read about Martyn Cornell's brewing trip to Cardiff, not least because of it marking the setting up of a brewery that hopefully will be producing some interesting beers. Recently many bloggers enjoyed the hospitality of some pretty big corporate sponsors at the European Beer Bloggers Conference, and similarly the recently announced British Guild of Beer Writers' annual beer writing competition has picked up sponsorship from similar firms. On a more personal level, Worthington's White Shield provided an ideal accompaniment to England's opening match at Euro 2012 - this I can definitely say is a big brewery doing a good thing.

So I'm sitting in my entirely hypothetical office, wondering what I can do with all this power to improve the beer industry. I've got some ideas which I'll share in a follow-up post, but if anyone fancies coming up with any, than that would be great. It doesn't have to be realistic, I'm sure there are enough marketing types round here to make absolutely anything profitable. Well, almost anything...

All right, all right. What would you do?

Images are taken from and I'm assuming are therefore the property of Trendhunter. Original 'R2D2' article and other images can be seen here. Original 'Heels' article here

Monday, 18 June 2012

Spoilt for Choice?

Note: This is an article I wrote for the Nottingham Drinker, hence why I refer to Nottingham. However, I'm also interested in hearing if this situation sounds like a familiar one in other places!

Here in Nottingham we can be rightly proud of some great local breweries keeping us all happily contemplating life through the bottom of a beer glass. However it's interesting to compare the range of choice that we have in Nottingham compared to other great beer cities like Sheffield and Leeds. Although the East Midlands now has more breweries than our neighbours up in Yorkshire, many pubs don't take advantage of that range.

Why is this? I think that in some ways there is a vicious circle that has arisen that restricts our choices. We have our city's award winning ales, and it's only natural that publicans want to stock them and drinkers want to enjoy them. This all sounds rosy, so what's the problem? Well it can mean that one pub ends up stocking a very similar range to other pubs nearby.

A pub manager can hardly be blamed for wanting to stock and advertise 'award winning ales,' and indeed if everyone around you is doing so you are almost obliged to just to keep up – it's a competitive business after all. Similarly you can hardly blame the breweries for selling the pubs the award winning beers they sell so much of, they too are fighting to make a living. Unfortunately it can provide a disincentive for diversification.

We, as drinkers, when faced with an array of different beers, are often attracted to the familiar, or understandably enticed by the 'Champion Beer of...' sticker on a pump clip, if only to see what the fuss is all about. To digress briefly; try popping into your local wine shop the day after one of their wines has been recommended on Saturday Kitchen – I'm pretty sure it'll all have gone.

The final part of this circle is the award system itself. Again it's entirely natural for people to want to rank and order things – getting together with like-minded individuals and thrashing out opinion on what's better than what and why is a lot of fun. The problem is that once the award is decided upon, the loop closes, and it can lead to a homogenisation of the range on offer.

Is there a solution? I'd certainly not advocate increasing a pub's range of beers for its own sake, too often it can come at the expense of quality. Should we ban the CAMRA, SIBA and the like from holding their beer of the year awards? Well, no. It's impractical, unreasonable, and quite frankly why spoil the fun? It's what beer is about after all. More awards? Well, the more awards you have the less the fact that a beer wins an award becomes relevant. I do think that there is scope for a re-think in terms of how awards are given, particularly in the light of the explosion in numbers of breweries, and especially in regognising the new and innovative. Although ale is a traditional product there is nothing to suggest that introducing it to people has to be done in an old-fashioned way.

On a more personal scale I do think that there is also a point here about customer and pub relationships. If pubs are to survive and prosper they need to be dynamic and forward thinking, and coming up with new ideas can be difficult. If customers build a good relationship with a pub's management then they can become a great source of those ideas. So if there are interesting beers or breweries out there that you'd like to see more of, why not see if it's possible for the management to get them in?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

La Trappe Tripel

This was supposed to be my good luck beer for watching Holland play Germany the other night. I've got family over in the  Netherlands and despite being armed with inside information that the Dutch defence might not be up to much (a text from my brother; he was right) I settled down with a fair degree of optimism.

It pours a lovely dutch royal orange colour. Although that may be more bronze if you're not affected by the all-pervading glow that is the current Dutch home kit - which I'm guessing is designed to lessen the carbon footprint of the Netherlands by reducing the need for landing lights at Schiphol. The coriander is noticeable on the nose, and initial flavours are of apple and spice. As it warmed a little (It lasted me until the second half) the sweetness on the mid-palate came through; I got Satsuma and Brazil-nut notes. It's dry and malty with a pithy-orange finish. All rather Christmassy really! I love Trappist beers, it is probably these more than any that got me really exploring the world of beer, taking me away from my comfort zone of British beer when I was working in pubs. While this isn't my favourite, I still enjoyed it and I'm going to make an effort to try the others in the range if I can.

So as a talisman for a Dutch victory it didn't work; the Germans were too good. As a beer for the match? Well, it was orange, and it left something of a bitter taste in the mouth. Which is kind of appropriate I suppose.

Here's to a victory over Portugal on Sunday. Hup Holland!

8% abv. £2.81 (33cl) from Beer Ritz.

The De Koningshoeven brewery that brews the 'La Trappe' range is well known as being the only Trappist brewery outside of Belgium; this official status allows them to describe their beer as 'Trappist' on their labels and use International Trappist Association logos - although this has been a point of dispute in the past). However, this may all change with the Stift-Engelszell monastery in Austria now brewing, As far as I understand it they might have to wait a while before being able to take advantage of full Trappist status and it isn't necessarily a given. It seems that the Abbaye du Monts des Cats that brew 'bière trappiste' and are listed on the ITA website under 'Trappist Breweries' will not be granted that full status because of the beer not being brewed within the abbey walls. If you'd like to know more have a look at Chuck Cook's Belgian Beer and Travel Blog. Finally, rumours also abound about the set-up of a Trappist brewery in Massachusetts, although it seems this might well be the world's ninth once things get moving.

I apologise if any of this information is incorrect, it's just what I've been able to see on a brief look around on the web - and I'm sure everyone knows how reliable that can be - any further links/posts/information will be accepted with the grace it is offered.

Friday, 15 June 2012

New Project.

Partly due to reading some interesting blogs by the home brewers of Twitter (I'm looking at you David) and partly just due to wanting to understand a bit more about how brewing works, I'm thinking about having a go at brewing some beer at home.

I'd rather not take up space in the house if I can avoid it, and having a baby crawling around the place means it wouldn't be a great idea to give her something else she can get into which she isn't supposed to! I do have a cellar though, and if it's feasible to get a small set-up in there it would be ideal.  I first mentioned it to a few people the other week, and Graeme of Chromosphere blog fame kindly suggested brewing lager would be a better idea because of the cooler temperature. From what I've been told/found out so far a starter kit would probably do the job, but it sounds like I'm going to have to make sure there's a lot of yeast available.

At the risk of sounding like I want to get everyone else to do my research for me, I want to get everyone else to do my research for me (Well, not entirely). So where do I start? Any pointers/helpful websites I can be directed to etc. would be appreciated.

Here's where I am so far:

  1. I have a space, although I obviously need to do some sorting out! You can't see it in the picture but there's a tap in the garage next to the cellar.
  2. The Flagon & Cask home brew shop is near me so I should hopefully be able to get whatever equipment I need quite easily.
  3. My mate Darryll's used some sort of brew kit before, I'm hoping he'll be able to help.
That's it. Go!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

'These views are mine, and not those of the BBC.'

Now in my case this is demonstrably true. I don't work for the BBC, and I never have, so no issues for me there. If you follow some of the people who do work for the BBC on Twitter though, you'll know how large an audience they get, and I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that while their views are personal, the fact that they're on the TV or radio just might get them a larger audience.

My point? Well, Twitter's a strange beast at times. I've been involved in a conversation today about this piece, which caused something of a furore when I asked Melissa Cole (amongst others, my wife being one of them) whether they thought it made a fair comment about women as customers. It was originally re-tweeted by a very well-respected figure in the wine industry. I follow him because he led a superb class on Italian wine I took as part of my wine diploma. I was interested in reading the article because it was written by my ex-boss. Now, however much a claim to fame being my ex-boss is, I think it's pretty safe to say it isn't the reason why Julian Grocock is writing on the 'Inapub' website. No, it's because he's both a licensee, and chief executive of the Small Independent Brewers Association. So there is the problem. If you say something that is, shall we say, controversial, and your reason for being considered worth listening to is because you are the head of something, then anything you are documented as having said will always reflect on your organisation. Is that fair? Probably not, but it is human nature.

Gnomes: small.
I know some bloggers can get quite caught up in their reader statistics, but being a 'person worth listening to' seems to me to be both blessing and curse. Sometimes people will listen to you; then you have to be careful what you say. It might be worth bearing that in mind next time you're wondering whether your next blog post is worth writing because nobody will read it. Here's to the little guy!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Worthington's 'White Shield' IPA

When I popped the top on this one I wasn't sure whether it was worth taking a few notes or not. It's not like I was going to be able to tell anyone anything different about it. Once I'd got going though I thought another voice in its favour was no bad thing. So much is written criticising huge industrial brewers that it's quite therapeutic to have a beer like this that's not only faultlessly made, as big brewery products generally are, but interesting to boot.

Football on, seventies M&B dimple mug full of Burton IPA - not a bad place to find myself of an early evening. It pours brown, with reddish hints, and retains its head well. I'm still not sure how much yeast has to be put in to get the bottle fermentation going in order for it to qualify for being 'bottle-conditioned' and get the little sticker, but when poured quite vigorously it was clear, and I couldn't see any yeast hanging about in the bottle. What initially got me was how much malt aroma there was; lots of shortbread biscuit backing up the grapefruit of the hops - there's no way you'd mistake this for an 'American' IPA. On the palate there's layer after layer of complexity; dried and citrus fruit, toffee, spices and orange peel. There's a faint reductive 'spent-match' quality to it too, which, like petrol aromas in Riesling, I can imagine is not everyone's cup of tea, but I thought it added a little to the beer. Similarly the finish has some of the soapiness that I know puts some people off cask beer, but in this case it actually works - it not being too dominant. This beer's all about the balance of flavours, not too much, not too little.

Much as I may disagree with many things they do, and stand for, I know the people at Molson Coors aren't daft, so here's hoping they carry on letting the brewers keep this one as it is. I'd be happy to re-visit it every now and again, and I hope others are too; you'd miss it if it were gone.

5.6% abv. £2.15 (50cl) from Ocado (I think, seems to be a pretty standard price though.)

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Fyne Ales 'Avalanche'

Well my first beer of the weekend, during my third game of rugby of the day, ended up being one to toast the only home nations victors of the week. On the weekend of the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival, I would have loved it to have been the Purple Moose beer I've had sitting around for a while in anticipation of an historic Wales win. It wasn't to be, and once again it was Scottish beer, and Scotland were the only winners of the week. Fair play to them. Although I'm sure it'll be dismissed because of the conditions, both teams had to play in them, and Scotland coped better. Roll on the Melbourne test, and in the mean time apparently there's some football on.

Back to the beer, since this isn't a sport blog. It pours a lovely pale straw-yellow with a slight haze. Initial aromas are all hops; fresh lemon and gentle pine. This continues through on to the palate, backed up with a some rich-tea biscuit flavour which helps give it a bit of body. Overall this beer's all about that freshness though; the finish has even more citrus, grapefruit, bitterness, and it rounds off a perfect summer session beer. Fine Ale indeed.

4.5% abv. £2.76 (50cl) from Beer Ritz.

A bit of a diversion from the beer 'in hand' as it were. Wednesday's Thornbridge trip was pretty inspirational. Mark commented on the post that he'd like to go on more brewery trips, and I think I'd share that sentiment. Even if you are not necessarily that excited about or inspired by the beer itself, talking to people involved in making something that they have pride in and a passion for is motivating in itself.

The fact of the matter is that there is a lot of beer out there that, on its own, isn't really going to motivate you to get the keyboard out and write - as Nick points out over on his blog there is an awful lot of uninspiring beer about. I tend to default to hand-pulled beer if I do get out (which isn't that often) if only because it's something I can't get at home, but sometimes I find myself wondering why I bothered. This can of course all change if you bump into the right person, or you are out and about and find a new pub that just lifts your spirits; an escape from the mundane, or maybe just a timely roof to protect you from the equally wearisome British summer. In the right moment, a beer you might otherwise overlook can provide something that the most flavour-packed 8% hop-monster you've been looking forward to for ages might not.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Thornbridge Brewery Tour

A few of us went for a tour of the Thornbridge brewery yesterday, along with  a stop at the Monsal Head Hotel, or at least the Stable Bar bit, somewhere I first visited for a bit of refuelling on my way to my stag/beer and walking weekend in the Hope Valley. If you've never been up there then you're missing out. You might be be prepared to accept indifferent beer because of the view, but you don't have to, the Buxton Moor Top was amazing; session beer for hop-heads, with a great supporting cast courtesy of the Wincle brewery. Frankly, even if the pub was horrible it'd probably still get a good review from me by virtue of a couple of Michael Jackson books being scattered around as reading matter.

I won't go into details of how the beer is brewed - there are people far better qualified than me talking about brewing on many a blog, so I'll just put a few photos below so those of you who want to have a bit of a look at the shiny stuff can do so. It's certainly an impressive site, wearing its modernity and its craft beer credentials with all the pride, if not all of the volume, of one of its ex-employees.

As for the beer, well we got to try the Lord Marple there and then, and all of their regular lines are available bottled form the brewery shop. I also bagged myself a few Thornbridge Hall beers, which is the brand they are labelling their experimental brews under - reviews of those to follow anon. They're brewed at the older, original brewery site. After finishing the tour we headed over to the Sheffield Tap to make sure we got the whole Thornbridge experience - we're nothing if not dedicated - Jaipur and the superlative Kipling on hand-pull rounding off the afternoon's tasting experience nicely.

Thanks very much to Thornbridge for a fun and informative tour and some excellent beer - I'm looking forward to the Thornbridge Hall beers and a return trip to the Tap. Cheers!

More Michael. Style!
Tasty bits.

Shiny stuff! (Mash tun)
Mmmmm, hops...

Brew lab.
Sam. Getting thirsty.

More shiny things.
Bottling line, for about 30% of the beer.

More tasty bits!
More shiny stuff. They've got something like 300 awards!

Some fizzy keg rubbish...
...we found hiding in the cold store.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Long Bank Holiday

This weekend I don't intend to drink anything that's from ANY commonwealth country. Cheers!

Brouwerij Van Steenberge 'Gulden Draak'

Brouwerij Van Steenberge's signature Golden Dragon, a beer that seems to have something of a crossover nature. Is it a Belgian brown ale, a dubbel, a tripel or none of those?

It pours a deep mahogany brown with a slight haze. On the nose there's lots of sweet, boozy fruit; dried fruit and cherries. At first I found the sweetness a bit hard to get past, it's almost confected, like cola bottle sweets have been soaking in your beer. Once your palate gets used to the sweetness, the vinous character and the vanilla spices come through a bit more, and right through to the finish more flavours just keep on coming. This really is a tremendously complex beer. While it's a bit sweet for my liking, I can see why it's held in such high regard.

£2.59 (33cl) from Roberts & Speight