Saturday, September 29, 2007

The family jewels and a reminder of them

As you might have read in the side bar I descend from some rather beer related English men and women. On my Moore side my ancestors ran a tavern in the 1840's called the Kings Arms in Salcombe Devon, its still there and I hope to visit it some day. On my Haslett side my grandfather Alfred was borne in the draymans quarters above a horse knackering yard in the east of London somewhere. My great grandfather was a drayman first for a brewery then a milk company. When Alfred passed away we found two unopened bottles of beer in his liquor cabinet, a Dogshead Bottling Nip Guinness and a bottle of Pilsner Urquel. After some research I found that its highly likely that both bottles date from 1950 or before. Alfred and my grandma Joan both migrated south in the late 40's in a bid to start a new after the war. It seems likely that these bottles were carried with them. Alternatively the beers could have been on sale here in the late 40's early 50's. Why my Grandfather kept these unopened bottles I'm not sure, but I am very glade that he did, they have prized place among my bottle collection.
The Nip Guinness interests me in particular. It was bottled by a company called Read Bro's who specialised in bottling beer from large brewers casks. Bass and Guinness didn’t bottle their own beers but shipped hogsheads out to specialist bottling companies like the Read Bro's, from there the bottles were exported. I often wonder exactly what sort of beer this Nip Guinness was; by now the contents of the bottle would surely be oxidised vinegar. The word Nip suggests it was a strong product and since Read Bro's specialised in export it’s likely that the products they bottled were robust. I imagine it might be similar to today’s Foreign Extra Stout, the Dublin brewed version I have been lucky enough to sample several times in the past, the Nigerian version I have just finished sipping.

Guinness F.E.S. is one of, if not the largest selling Guinness product worldwide. According to Wikipedia (I know not the most solid of references but it was all I could find) Guinness has around 40% of the African market with F.E.S. being the main product. F.E.S. is also big in Asia and the Caribbean where barmaids will often say "put some lead in ya pencil" when its ordered, a variant on the African "a baby in every bottle". We hardly see F.E.S. in NZ, its very exciting when we do as it offers a chance to show people why Guinness became so big, it wasn’t always about sharp creamy water.

Nigerian Guinness Foreign Extra Stout 7.5% abv
Pours a pitch black with a lovely natural tan head. Aroma features a massive creamy caramel milkshake character, confected and unique. On the palate there is a woody note, warm alcohol then bitter sweet caramel that’s rich but is cut by a sharp dry finish that prevents it from being cloying, like spicy xmas pudding with brandy sauce. World class

If anyone has information on Read Bros or Nip Guinness I would love to hear it

Golden Bitters

The first two beers from the shipment I have tried could be classified as either English Golden Ales or Bitters and both take a very different approach. English Golden Ales are all the rage right now with there light colour and zesty hop character appealing to drinkers more attuned to macro lager.

The original cask version of Coniston Bluebird Bitter comes from a brewery behind the Black Bull pub in Coniston Cumbria, however after the success at the 1998 GBBF a bottled version was contract brewed. The current brewer is in fact Hepworth of Horsham Sussex, a brewer who's beer I have been lucky enougth to taste as a freind of mine originally hails from Horsham and brought me back some beer on her last trip home. Bluebird has a mixed reputation with some people I know identifing it as being highly overated. I was very excited to finally get the chance to make my own mind up.

Coniston Bluebird 4.2% abv
Pours a light gold with a tight disappearing white head, Aroma features loads of sulphur with a moderate tangy citric goldings character. On the palate there is plenty of resinous hop which gives way to sweet nutty malt with a hint of stewed barley which builds on the palate as you drink finally becoming unpleasant. Good clean finish that could do with a little more grunt to cut the malt.

While this wasn’t a totally bad beer I think in regards to the contract brewed bottled version I’m in the overrated camp.

I wrote about the Saltaire brewery here back in August. The more I try there beers the more I like the brewery, every beer so far has been a cracker!. Saltaire Goldings Ale is described as a golden ale and named after the classic English hop. It was a surprise then to find an awesome malty pale

Saltaire Goldings Ale 4.2%abv
Pours a crystal clear light gold with a tight fluffy white head. Exceptional sweet toffee aroma with a hint of mineraly character, interestingly earthy citric hops only seem to appear as the beer warms.
On the palate there is heaps of sweet malty toffee, hints of nuts and earthy hop ending in a satisfyingly bitter finish. Awesome beer not nearly as hop driven as the name would suggest but a top pint.

Oh the glory!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Its that time again ....

The beer imports have landed but this one is something special. For the first time a refrigerated container has been used to protect this precious cargo from the extremes of the equator. The rigours of having ones beer travel through the tropics wont be something most readers in the northern hemisphere will have to worry about, however for the southern English Ale nut (or German, Belgian or American beer fan) the beers we love are often a mutated facsimile of how the beer tasted as rolled out the Brewery gate, this is particularly true of un stabilised bottle conditioned beers. Many thanks to the fantastic efforts of the Beer Emporium in Christchurch and Regional Wines And Spirits in Wellington.

Here’s what came home in my shopping bag

  • Saltaire Goldings Bitter
  • Saltaire Challanger Special
  • Durham Temptation Imperial Stout
  • Nigerian Foreign Extra Guinness
  • Coniston Bluebird
  • Nethergate Old Growler
  • Adnams Broadside

All but Adnams Broadside are new to me, Broadside is one of my all time favourite beers and if I had to pick a desert island bottled beer it would be it, tasting note to come ....

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A New Beer From The Pink Elephant

Right, after several days of recovering from what was a vigorously enjoyable weekend I’m back with a new beer from Roger Pink. Like all of Rogers beer his new one is utterly original and doesn’t smoothly fit into a style. Trumpet Barley Wine is a 10.5% abv hoppy pale ale that uses manuka honey as an adjunct.

Pink Elephant Trumpet 10.5%abv
Vintage 2007. Pours a light amber gold with a white tight head. Aroma displays masses of NZ hop character, fruit mainly grape and orange, spicy notes, a touch of woody character and as it warms a hint of caramel malt character. On the palate there is heaps of hop flavour with oranges being dominant; malt makes an appearance with a hint of sweetness leading to a short tart finish. Another original classic from Pink Elephant, perhaps more a historical IPA than a Barley Wine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Its all about tradition....

At least that’s what we keep telling ourselves and for those of us who have partners its definitely what we are telling them. What am I talking about?, the time honoured ritual of the stag night or in our case the stag weekend.

This weekend the first of my friends to tie the knot has his stag weekend, or for any of you who are of an American or Australian persuasion a Bachelor or Bucks Weekend. According to Wikipedia "The history of bachelor party is thought to have originated with a bachelor dinner that was traditional in ancient Sparta (5th century) where soldiers would toast each other on the eve of a friend’s wedding" Well I can safely say that Stag nights in the 5th century sounded a lot more civilised than today. While Friday is sure to be more to do with naked women and bad lager than good beer the rest of the weekend should be fantastic. On Saturday we pile into a mini van and drive to the outer suburbs of Wellington to pretend like we are English aristocracy and go clay skeet shooting, then we are driving across to the seaside, resort would be overstating it more like, settlement of Castlepoint where a ranch house awaits with nothing but views of the horizon, a palm tree, and a bbq. I will also be bringing some ale racked into a plastic jerry can and a beer engine. A leg of lamb on the bbq and a pint in my hand, I cant wait!.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Traditional Hops of the UK, a dieing breed?

While judging at BrewNZ I had the opportunity to mix and talk with a wide range of interesting and diverse people from various areas of the beer world. From brewers at lager factories, and owners of yeast companies, to beer writers who chemically analyse beer to deem whether it fits within a style or not. One person who I found very interesting was Richard Watkins, brewer at the Wig and Pen brewpub in Canberra Australia. Richard brews a wide range of beers at the Wig and Pen including several real ales which are cask conditioned and served by handpump. Richard had just returned from 3 weeks in the UK including a visit to the GBBF . One thing that Richard noticed which concerned him was that many of the beers that had made it to the GBBF by winning at regional CAMRA Festivals were made with American hops. He was concerned that the big trend towards using American hops rather than traditonal English ones would be endangering the viability of traditional English hop varieties.

As someone who loves traditional English hop character, particularly Goldings and Fuggels this concerned me and got me thinking. The pages of CAMRA's Beer paper and What’s Brewing are increasingly filled with golden ales that are apparently packed with new world hop character
, this is part of the push to market real ale to young people, lager drinkers and women. None of
these are bad things but if the result is the loss of the best hop varieties in world, I’m not happy.
I decided to do a little websearch on the subject and came across an article on National Hop Association of England site, according to the article hop acreage in the UK has dropped 40% in the last 4 years, suddenly Richards opinion seemed awfully real.
The article goes on to point out reasons for the decline as being:

  • low alpha acid content of traditional English varieties
  • an over supply of American and German hops
  • the low price of hops making such farming uneconomic
  • the increasing use of pellets, oils and extracts reducing the required quantity of hops
  • the trend of mass consumption beers becoming sweeter and less hoppy.
The article also highlighted positives such as the UK micro and regional brewers enduring love for fuggels and goldings, the increasing use of hops in beer designed to match food and the new developments in dwarf hop varieties. I hope that enduring love endures.


I just noticed that the article on the National Hop Association site was from 2004, so the figures were not particulary up to date.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stone Ruination

On Thursday myself and a group of like minded individuals retired to Bodega, a local pub known for its beer range, after a busy beer festival. The new American brewer at Christchurch micro Wigram Brewing Co was there and had recently returned from the states with some treats in his suitcase. Frasier, the landlord, kindly included us in tasting one of the prized bottles.

Stone Brewing are known in the states for bullish over the top marketing, "it is quite doubtful you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this depth" is the slogan that adorns their Arrogant Bastard Ale. The beer we were lucky enough to try was their double IPA ,Ruination. Surprisingly my over all impression of the supposedly 100 ibu+ beer was that it was very balanced and not nearly as over the top as some American IPA's I have tried in the past. Last year Full Sail Sunspot was entered for competition and that is a seriously bitter beer.

Stone Ruination 7.7%abv
Pours a light gold with a wispy white head (one might have expected it to have a green tint) a mineraly aroma with a big citris character, hints of American biscuity malt character resulting in a sweet interplay between resiny hop and the malt. On the palate the biscuity malt character is continued with loads of resiny US hop flavour, ends in a smooth bitterness. My Overall impression is of a very balanced beer, not nearly as hop monstrous as is boasted.

100 ibu's ? is it possible? many would argue not.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Very Rare Beer

Yesterday was the last day of judging at BrewNZ and while the results are in nothing can be announced until the awards ceremony tonight. It was a fantastic few days, a great experience. At the end of judging yesterday David Cryer, major malt importer into Australasia, brought out a jeroboam bottle of Australis 1998 Romanov Baltic Stout. This is a beer that was brewed at the Galbraiths Alehouse in Auckland by Keith Galbraith and Ben Middlemass under the brand Australis. I first sought out Galbraiths searching for the Australis beers as they were featured in Jackson 500, by that time the partnership behind the Australis brand had broken up. Several vintages of the Romanov Baltic Stout had been brewed however and last on in cellars around the world. Getting to taste this beer was one of the best thing that has happened to me in months!

Australis Romanov Baltic Stout 7.8%
Pours a pitch black with a vibrant tan / beige head. Warm aromas of creamy fruit, raisins and a hint of alcohol, there is a oxidisation note but not one that detracts from the profile, on the contrary it gives it character. Chocolate, malt sweetness and good substantial mouthfeel characterise the palate. The beer leads out on a smooth balanced finish that features both malt, alcohol and bitterness in perfect sync.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Session - Brew Zoo

I thought I would get in on this Session lark even though I’m a bit late. What better brewery to feature for this month’s Animal themed session than the Pink Elephant Brewery in Blenheim. Roger Pink is probably NZ's most idiosyncratic brewer. He brews a range of beers which both display an English heritage and yet taste utterly original at the same time. Pink Elephant beers featured in Jackson 500 and the late Mr Jackson wrote of Pink Elephant in his column in All About Beer in 1997.

My beer of last summer was Pink Elephant Golden Tusk, and Roger has introduced the first Russian Imperial Stout to be commercially available in NZ since the Australis Range disappeared.

Golden Tusk 5% abv
Pours a deep gold with a white head. Aroma has tropical fruit , pineapple and perhaps peach, also hops with a the slightest touch of cattiness, but not enough to be unpleasant. On the palate there is a bold minerally note , fading to some very dry malt flavours without to much in the way of sweetness. Pineapple again makes an impression and perhaps coconut and then a satisfying
drying bitterness. Fantastic summer beer, quenching, balanced and yet still providing enough interest to drink all session.

Imperious Rushin Stowt 10.5% abv
Pours a viscous pitch black with an oily slick of dark brown head. Big slightly sour caramel aromas, with a hint of chocolate. On the palate big forthright dark chocolate leading to a big bitter finish. Very dry for the style, seeming to lack sustenance for the years to come. This is ready to drink now and Im not sure how it will be in 5 let alone 10 years time. Still its a great beer.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Pint of Bitter

I’m going to attempt to refrain from being to self indulgent on this blog. In some ways self indulgence is what blogs are about however on the whole I am going to resist the temptation to rant about the beers that I brew, beers that few others can taste. Occasionally I will make an exception and when I do hopefully I will be able to string in some detail that will be of interest.

This morning I put a new keg of my best bitter "Berhampore Best Bitter" or 3 B's on and its tasting fantastic. It clocks in at 4.4% abv, sitting in the middle of the range of session beers that I brew. Its brewed from Maris Otter pale ale malt from Bairds, light crystal and a touch of chocolate malt. The hops are fuggels to bitter, with goldings for flavour and aroma. All the ingredients are imported from the UK creating a beer that tastes very English. The yeast I use is Saf 04, a yeast whose ancestry leads back to the Whitbread Brewery in London once one of the largest Porter Brewers and whose founder Samuel Whitbread was an important member of the 'beerage' or powerful brewers who sat in the house of lords. Saf-04 ferments fast, leaving a fruity malty beer that retains a significant level of malt sweetness. Beers which balance assertive hop characters with malt body appeal to my taste.
Berhampore Best Bitter's name stems from the suburb of Berhampore where I was raised. Berhampore was founded in the days of colonial vigour, taking its name from a place in Bengal India where the 1857 Indian Mutiny began.

Berhampore Best Bitter 4.4%abv

Pours a mid copper, with a white fluffy head. Aromas of earthy hop with a hint of citrus fruit give way to a slight minerally note and with some vine fruit. On the palate there is an initial burst of malt sweetness, tangy hop then nutty malt finally finishing with a firm lasting bitterness.

This is the sort of beer that makes me tick, complex, flavourful yet sessionable, I wish all my brews came out this well.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

BrewNZ looms

Next week there may be little time for writing about beer as BrewNZ, our annual festive beer week takes place..In April this year I had my first crack at beer judging at the International New Zealand Beer Awards which are held in Nelson and are in many ways a rival competition to BrewNZ. It was an amazing experience and very much a stepping up to the mark moment, after years of talking, writing, brewing and not least drinking beer suddenly I was in the hot seat where my opinions counted.
In the past I have worked as a steward at BrewNZ but next week I will be acting as an Associate Judge which is a new junior judge position, designed to foster some of the new blood that’s coming through. One of the awesome things about being involved in these competitions is that brewers from around the world often enter them even though their beers aren’t exported to New Zealand commercially. Perhaps the classic example of this is the massive American 'craft' brewer Sam Adams who enter every professional beer competition that’s open to them on earth. However other US brewers such as Rogue, Full Sail, and Deschutes also regularly enter the two New Zealand competitions. It should be a fantastic week, a lot of hard work (no really! it actually is) but also a chance to try some new beers and hone my skills.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Last Bottle of the Best Beer

Well the best beer, in my opinion, that has come out of a mainstream kiwi brewery. Speights Porter is part of the distinction craft beer range that is brewed in kauri gyles (i.e. open wooden fermentors) at the Speights Brewery which is owned by Lion Nathan. Unfortunately the decision has been made to stop bottling this range and only brew it for draught dispense at the Speights theme pubs. I grabbed one of the last 6 packs and have just drunk my last bottle. Lion I suspect are going to concentrate on marketing the Macs range as their premium product. Sadly to my taste none of the Macs beers come close to the porter. The kauri gyles that are in use at Speights are now the only ones left working in the world. Gales of Horndean in Hampshire (who's Old Prize Ale is in my all time top 10) used kauri gyles for at least some of thier production up untill the breweries acquisition and closure by Fullers a year and a 1/2 ago.

Speights Porter 5%

It pours a deep black with a beige creamy head. Aroma has distinct sweetness to it, hints of esspresso and chocolate, with a touch of resiny hop. As the beer warms toasty toffee aromas come out. On the palate there is sweet malt, powder cocoa, a hint of toffee before fading to cocoa, maltloaf and a faint spicy hop note. Fantastic porter !


Everyone knows Guinness tastes best from Ireland

Well err...

One of the beers we tasted before the Phoenix’s first game was a can of Irish brewed Guinness. To my relief it didn’t have a widget and hadn’t been canned under nitrogen, that unfortunately was where the nice things that could be said about the beer stopped.
Guinness is one of those major brands that manage to surround themselves in romance, myth and misunderstanding on the part of the consumer. This is in part due to its Irish roots (having watched The Wind that Shakes the Barley last night I’m not sure how romantic those Irish roots really are) and in part to the fact that it is black in a range of multinational beer brands that are all golden.
Draft Guinness in this country comes from a Lion lager factory in Christchurch, it shares most of its ingredients and production methods with those lagers, and as a result comes out a rather uninspiring yet perfectly palatable beer. Not a great dry stout but alright when the options are limited. The example from Dublin was something else...

Guinness Original 4.2%

Pours a deep black with a beige head, reassuringly there’s no Nitro cream flow here. Aromas of banana, a metallic astringent note and some roast grain. On the palate the banana dominates along with some oxidative character, perhaps even a touch of vegetal character, very little malt shows through, a little astringency. Thankfully there is no nitro in this; however the flavours that are left are not very pleasant. I would take Chch brewed version over this.