Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Third Judgement

In May I will be having my third crack at Beer Judging. I have been confirmed as a judge at the New Zealand International Beer Awards in Nelson. I’m rather excited as not only does it give me another chance to develop my judging skills, meet and learn from brewers and judges from around the world and taste some exciting beers that are not usually available in NZ but it also takes me to Nelson where the Prince Albert is, one of 3 pubs in the country to serve real ale. It’s a hard job but someone’s got to do it.

Cheese of the Month March #2 : Cour De Thierache

I thought I would show case something new for the second March cheese. When I was in Auckland I decided to stop in on one of my importers La Fromagerie. Situated in the shadow of giant Lion Brewery in New Market, the entire suburb was filled with the smells of mash and boil, La Fromagerie is the cheese importing arm of Maison Vauron a wine importer who more interestingly to me imports some French cider as well. Although the nature of my visit was mainly a courtesy call inevitably a wee cheese board was sourced and a few interesting cheeses tasted. One of the cheeses I subsequently decided to stock was Cour De Thierache, a beer washed rind cheese from the north of France.

Washed rind cheeses come from the monastic tradition where the fermented products of the monastery often featured in each others production. Accordingly the beer or wine was often used to help ripen the cheese, the grain from the mash was used to make the bread and feed the pigs and so on.
Washing the rind of the cheese not only flavours it with what ever you are washing it with but also helps in the development of b-linens, the rusty coloured moulds that create pungent, yeasty and fruity aromas and flavours. I love washed rind cheeses.

Cour De Thierache comes shaped as a heart, bloody French eh?, and sits towards the milder end of the washed rind spectrum. That said it is still gloriously yeasty with an edge of funk. The rind has a slightly gritty crystallised character with the texture of the cheese inside being semi-firm.
I pulled out a bottle of 2003 Chimay Blue from the cellar to match the cheese and enjoyed the combination with SWMBO. The beer, cheese and company matched gloriously (I know cheesy but we are talking a heart shaped cheese for Christ’s sake!). The yeasty punch of the cheese was softened by the mellow dried fruit character of the Chimay. At 5 years the Chimay Blue is definitely starting to develop some port character. In fact it put us in such a port mood that a bottle of Sandeman followed in quick succession.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You always suspected I was a train spotter didn’t you...

When I travelled to Auckland at the end of last month I flew up and took the train home, the trip before that I took the train both ways. I’m a train kind of chap.

Upon telling people that I was taking the train I more often than not was greeted with looks of horrified anguish as if I was electing to take a place on the crucifixion. The horror of slowly travelling the country and taking in the sights it seems is just too much for most folk I talked to. Once on the train I always seem to be surrounded with people as pleased with the experience as I am, sometimes even some who are positively enthralled by the experience. As I returned from Auckland I mulled all this over in my head and came to the conclusion that there are train people and non train people, those who want to explore the country and take it all in and those who want to get from a to b as quickly as possible. Similarly there are those who want to search out fantastic beers and enjoy the experience and there are those who want to ingest alcohol in the quickest and most convenient manor possibly.

I often describe myself as a train spotter although when I say this I mean I have an eccentric passion for beer, breweries and real ale rather than for locomotive serial numbers. I do however have a lot of time for real train spotters’, in fact I have a lot of time for anyone who has passion for an ‘eccentric’ subject. In fact I would rather surround myself with eccentric fanatics than

those who are content to dwell in the beige-ness of the middle road. I have a friend who is obsessed with the American Mid West, another who can talk film for days, their eyes light up when they talk about what they love, it’s great.
As for the train trip as always it was fantastic, the only downside being that a bottle of wife beater was the best beer I could get.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cheese of the Month March #1: Te Mata Mt Erin Goats Brie Pyramid

As I totally missed out last month’s cheese of the month I will try to fit in two this month. For the first one this month I have chosen Te Mata Mt Erin, the pyramid format of their goats brie which has just taken out best in class for white mould cheeses and a gold medal at the New Zealand Cheese Awards. It is I think particularly impressive that a goats milk cheese has achieved best in class in a category that one might assume a cows milk brie or camembert to win.

In common with most soft New Zealand goats cheeses, Mt Erin lacks the acidity that you would find in a French Chevre, however it more than makes up for it with spicy marzipan notes and a hint of gamey-ness. When young the cheese will be chalky with a hint of spice, as it matures it will start to run and the full marzipan character will develop, eventually these flavours will become barnyard like.

When its at its peak I think Mt Erin matches extremely well spicy phenolic continental styles. I have successfully matched this cheese Weizen Biers, Wits and lambic beers. For the photo shoot I decided to take a different tack and match it with a frambois, unfortunately the rather sweet jammy Timmermans interpretation didn’t really work. Go with a Wheat beer or a Gueze I say.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Years First Mild

It’s slowly starting to feel like autumn. Last night I tapped the first corny of Mild for the year. Primed with dark sugar this batch of Masons Mild is exceptionally rummy and fruity with good body and mouth feel for a 3.5% beer. I knew that a mild would be a real test for the US-05 yeast. With a low gravity demanding some fruit esters to give it interest common opinion was the US-05 would be to clean and simple.

On the contrary, I have found the yeast to give my ales a distinctive honey ester and while the dark sugar is no doubt contributing the rummy character to the Mason’s I suspect the berry and dried fruit notes are from the yeast. So far so good.

Battle of the Bests- Southern Round

At the start of Feb I reviewed a couple of Yorkshire best bitters, I thought it would only be fair then that I review some from the south this month. I chose one very widely distributed best that is bordering on national (and to a lesser degree international) brand status ,Fullers London Pride, one obscure best from a brewery whose products I will become all to familiar with when I visit my partners hometown of Horsham ,Hall and Woodhouse Fursty Ferret, and a best which is reasonably common around the south of England and has recently been showing up regularly around here, Wadworth 6X.

Fullers London Pride 4.7%

Coming from the only regional brewery left in London, London Pride is a pretty common sight on the pumps around England and can be picked up pretty widely from supermarkets and off licenses in my neck of the woods.

London Pride pours a burnished gold with a tight white head. Aroma features the classic Fullers yeast nose of orange fruit, crisp warm malt and a faint hint of tangy hop. On the palate there is sweet malt reminiscent of baking, orange fruit and a balanced finish of malt, citrus fruit and gentle bitterness.

Wall and Woodhouse Fursty Ferret 4.4%

Wall and Woodhouse seem to quietly brew away wooing the supermarket competitions every now and then with another awful fruit syrup spiked golden ale. However in 2000 they were in the right place at the right time to merge with Sussex brewer King and Barnes as the company reeled from a hostile takeover bid from Shepard Neame. I’m not a huge fan of the Badger beers however I better get used to it as I will be spending some time in Horsham next year when I visit the UK.

Fursty Ferret pours a light copper with a fluffy white head. Aroma features an estery blend of apples and pears with a hint of caramel malt. On the palate the fruit salad effect continues cushioned by a rich sweet crystal malt base which leads to a solid bitter finish

Wadworth 6X

Wadworth are a family brewer who have pushed 6X to become a relatively major brand in the south, partially through a 6Xy advertising campaign, sorry I couldn’t resist. I have relatives near Devizes so I hopefully will be have a poke around there Victorian tower brewery next year.

6X pours a mid copper with a creamy white head. Aroma features fruity hops, a hint of plum and a metallic note. On the plate the fruity notes are continued with plums and berry fruit, earthy hops and a touch of sweet malt leading to light fruity bitter finish. Rather complex even if all the flavours are rather subdued.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Auckland Trip Part 2: Hallertau Hop Harvest Festival

And the saying goes ‘if it didn’t rain it wasn’t Auckland’ and damn did it rain! On the morning ofthe hop harvest festival Auckland managed to unleash its own awful brand of … some would say weather others would call it a an expression of Gods dislike. High temperatures, high humidity and heavy subtropical rain made for a damp mission to get breakfast before meeting Alex and Greig at Galbraith’s for lunch. The weather started to improve somewhat as we set out for Hallertau Brewbar.

The Pub

A modern outfit loosely modelled on the American brewpub model, Hallertau is situated well out of Auckland in the rural hinterland. An eclectic range of beers are served straight from conditioning tanks. It was clear from the outset that Hallertau wasn’t going to push all my buttons. The range of beers has something of a German emphasis (no surprise considering the name!) with the regular brews including a Kolsh, a Schwartz beer, a Celtic Red and an APA. The ambience of the place is marked by modern cafĂ© style sparseness.

For the festival there was what was called a marzen on offer, although it didn’t bear much resemblance to the malt accented beers of the October Fest it was a fantastic lager brewed with experimental New Zealand Hops. There also was meant to be an Ompah band however thankfully that had been cancelled due to the rain.

We arrived before the festival had started to find a scattering of patrons throughout the bar, slowly a crowd gathered as more people realised the weather was easing.

The Beer

Apart from the APA which was having clarity issues and the Marzen which was good but not a Marzen, the beers were all pretty solid examples of the styles. The problem was that these are styles I struggle to get inspired about, and certainly ones I wouldn’t want to drink much of. I soon decided it was time to try the Bath Ales beers from the cabinet, the Barnstormer was an English dark ale full of chunky toffee and chocolate malt character. It was clean with only a hint of oxidation to mark the long trail it had traversed. The Wild Hare on the other hand unfortunately sang its battle wounds out loud and was harsh and oxidised, so much so that I plucked some live hops from the bine above my table and green hopped my glass to improve the situation.

So far so good but what to drink now? I confess I was starting to think a return to Galbraith’s would be the best move until someone brought a glass of Perry.

Hallertau brew there own Perry a drink rare in the UK and unheard of here. I had never tasted Perry before but have a huge soft spot for cider. It was awesome, fresh, complex and infinitely refreshing: I knew I had a reason to return to Hallertau.

As we left to return to Galbraith’s for dinner and a good night pint Stephan Plougthman the brewer approached us with something special. Sometime ago he acquired a bunch of wine barrels that had become infected with brettanomyces. Rather than see them trotted of to garden centres to become planters he filled them with porter and waited to see what would happen. The beer was absolutely fantastic, the aroma was like Orval but with some dark malt character. Full of roses lime essence and slightly decayed citrus. Unlike Orval the porter was full in the mouth with malt weight and hints of chocolate and dark
grain vying with the dry brett character. Fantastic


While Hallertau is not really the sort of establishment that appeals to my tastes it certainly is worth checking out, I will return at some point, perhaps when the recreation of the winning Doppelbock from the SOBA nationals is first tapped.

Finally a huge thank you to Alex for driving us drunken boys around you are a legend and to Barry from Preston, there are no sparklers in heaven.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Valley Summer Ales Fest 08

What a fantastic night. Good beer, good food, good people. Thanks to all who brewed and to all came to drink and to Dave Batt who designed the Menus and then was to ill to attend. Cheers.


O-Street Festive Gold 4.6%abv (dry hopped Golden Ale)

O-street Somerset 5%abv (Golden Ale)

O-Street Chilka IPA 5.8%abv (Hoppy IPA)

Brendan’s Kitchen Sink Lager 5.3%abv (fruity lager)

Front Porch APA 6.7%abv (strong New World hopped pale ale)

Front Porch 60 4.2%abv (Scottish style session beer)

Emerson’s Bookbinder (NZ hopped New World Ordinary Bitter, pro brewer)

Plus various bottles from Ed.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Auckland Trip Part 1: Galbraith’s Ale House

When I stay in Auckland I stay in a backpacker called Bamber House in Mt Eden a large central city suburb which is known for housing one of Auckland’s major sporting venues, a large almost medieval looking prison, a mix of working class tenements and large expensive 1900’s villas and the best pub in the country. Yes the Twisted Hop in Christchurch comes close and the Inch Bar in Dunedin is certainly a fantastic local but for my money ‘The Braith’ still takes the top slot.

I walked into Galbraith’s on Thursday shortly after touching down in Auckland. I was counting on a pint or two and a meal, with perhaps a word to Ian the Brewer before retiring to my backpacker to return that evening to meet with Martin Bridges. Instead I walked straight in to see Luke Nicholas, brewer of Epic Pale Ale, and Keith Galbraith the landlord. I then proceeded to enjoy an afternoon session which stretched out to meet the evening, with me finally stumbling home an hour of two before closing to inflict my drunken snoring on a dorm room of young Irish girls. Inevitably I returned for dinner the next day and lunch and dinner the day after soaking up as much Galbraith’s as I possibly could in my short time in Auckland. By the last day the staff were commenting on my recurring presence.

The Beer

It was at Galbraith’s that I tasted my first ever pint of real ale. Back then the sudden rush of complex flavour presented in such an utterly drinkable format changed my ideas about beer and irreversibly changed the direction my life has taken. Back then the Galbraith’s beers were the best beer I had ever tasted, I had nothing to compare them to and I certainly had not started brewing and conditioning my own real ale.

So how did the beers fare with the benefit of a little knowledge?

Bob Hudson’s the pale ordinary bitter that I would nominate for my desert island beer was good on the first day although had a very grassy aroma when served through the sparkler, when served ‘au natural’ or ‘without bling’ as a certain Nelson bar woman puts it, the complex stone and citrus fruit shone through over a gentle morish pale malt background.

Bellringers is the staple best bitter which is Galbraith’s flagship product. Fittingly it is always the most consistent. It’s a beer which manages to sit in the balance between rich complex crystal malt flavour and assertive earthy hop character, the casks are dry hopped and accordingly you get varying levels of ‘raw’ hop character depending on how long the dry hop has been in contact. It’s a complex and satisfying pint but one which I seldom can session on as the dry hop certainly builds in the palate.

Bitter and Twisted is Galbraith’s take on an E.S.B. Bitter and Twisted is an exceptionally hoppy and bitter yet also richly malty interpretation of the style. A revelation when it’s fresh, I suspect the summer months mark a significant down turn in the sales of this warming beer and the pints I had while certainly of saleable quality were marked by a dulling of the hop profile and a bit of autolysis on the palate.

Finally the Grafton Porter fills the dark beer slot in the Galbraith’s range. Grafton Porter is full of intense roast malt flavour, almost like chewing roast grain before you have mashed it. The full on roast character mark this beer out as one which appeals to some such as Stu and not to others such as Greig, I’m probably in the middle somewhere but you definitely need to be in the mood for roast character.

All the beers varied in condition across the 3 days as you would expect with cask conditioned beer. However I would agree with those who feel that in general a touch higher level of carbonation would be good. On the third day my first pint of Bob Hudson’s Bitter was I suspect from a new cask. The barwoman was having trouble pouring it even with the sparkler removed and I ended up with a spectacular pint full of condition and with its hop profile intact.

The Pub

Despite the fact that Galbraith’s is obviously a destination pub, drawing beer fanatics from all across the country, it is also a local. The best bitter Bellringer is named after a bunch of Bellringers who used to frequent the bar. There is often a community feel with friendly after work drinks occurring over pint and the odd family having a meal. I always feel comfortable pulling up a chair and having a pint with a book on my own, just as I love being there with group tying one on. On the Saturday we arrived before the doors had opened and were left waiting on the door step where I saw a fantastic sight, one which others may think terrible. Slowly assembling were a group of middle aged gentlemen in anoraks and walk shorts, one even sported a pirates eye patch, all of them had glass flagons ready to be filled from the cask. Eccentricity in all its glory.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Merciful Merchant

Sometimes it is very easy to be exceptionally critical of the beers that one brews. I have an idealised beer in my head when I construct a recipe, I don’t set out to brew any old pint, I want my Ordinary bitter to be the most refreshing complex sessionable bitter I have ever tasted, I want my Best to give me sustenance after a long day at work, I want to drink my Mild all night and never get bored, I want my Winter Warmer to fortify me against the cold like a fine glass of port, I want my IPA to be stunningly hoppy and yet eternally drinkable, and I want my Imperial Stout to be the night cap that leaves all others for dust. Sometimes in the quest for these things you forget that the less than perfect beer you are brewing is in fact pretty bloody good, sometimes it takes someone else’s evaluation of ones beer to remind one of that.

When I visited Auckland recently I packed 2 flasks on my imperial stout, The Merchant of the Devil. One was for Martin and one was for Alex and Greig. The flasks were filled from kegs of last years vintage that are sitting conditioning and awaiting bottling.

Alex, Greig and Martin seemed to enjoy the beer with Martin posting an enthusiastically positive review of it on his Electric Landlord blog, you can check it out here. I’m glade you liked it folks cheers for the feedback.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Back from the North

Apart from Auckland’s hot and humid weather the trip was an absolute success. Galbraith’s was in fine form and the Hallertau Hop Harvest offered up a bret aged Porter and a Perry which both rocked my world. I will post on both in more detail however right now I’m busy priming cornys and generally running around in preparation for this Saturdays Late Summer Ales Fest. Oh and the first big southerly front of the year came through when I got home, summer ales by the fire I love it.