Saturday, April 26, 2008

Who let the dogs out?

Last Thursday with the help of some friends I tasted my way through the 4 Brewdog beers that came in on the most recent import. I approached the task with mixed feelings, on the plus side the beers have had a mainly positive reaction from bloggers in the UK, and they are in styles that are perhaps more commonly found in the new world than in Britain offering a bit of a novelty factor. On the negative they have to take the prize for the worst labelling I have seen in a long time, the trendy urban dog themed labels left me wondering if I was going to get a pair of new jeans and a hoody rather than a tasty beverage. Unfortunately with at least two of the four beers I would have been better off with a new piece of street ware. While there was certainly evidence that the boys in Fraserburgh can brew some top beer there was also evidence that quality control has a way to go yet.

First off I started with Hoprocker, a lager brewed with NZ hops and one that in this part of the world is sure to draw comparisons with the Macs beer that shares its name. Unfortunately the Scottish contender has a long way to go with this example being riddled with diacetyl.

Hoprocker 5.5%abv

Pours a light gold with a quickly disappearing white head. Aroma is totally dominated by a huge dirty butterscotch character with a hint of grassy hops. On the palate the butterscotch is joined by a smoky note, a hint of sourness and a late bitterness. Diacetyl bomb.

So not a great start but things can only get better right? Next up was the Punk IPA I had heard good things about this one and was relieved when clean hoppy aromas wafted up from the glass. While the Hoprocker is marketed as including NZ hops, Punk IPA isn’t but I would be surprised if it didn’t have a healthy dose of NZ hops added late in the boil. Tasting broadly like a cross between Emerson’s Pilsner and Three Boys IPA Punk IPA was a solid NZ style pale ale, from Scotland of course.

Punk IPA 6%abv

Pours a light gold with a thick white head. Aroma features resiny hops, citrus particularly grapefruit, and passionfruit. On the palate there is good deal of perceived bitterness right from the start. Grapefruit and passionfruit are continued with just enough sweet pale malt character to cushion the bitterness.

Next up was Hardcore IPA, punks bigger brother. So Bad Brains went on the stereo, I did my best Henry Rollins impersonation and I got ready for what should have been a fantastic beer. It wasn’t . I have tasted a limited number of Imperial IPA’s a couple from NZ and a couple from the States and let me tell you this had very little in common with any of them. Alcoholic heat obliterated almost anything else this beer might have been able to offer. At the time I muttered something along the lines of it being similar to washing you mouth with vodka prior to performing self dentistry.

Hardcore IPA 9%

Pours a light gold with a fluffy white head. Aroma features butterscotch and big solventy hot alcohol with hints of bubblegum and the slightest trace of resiny hop. On the palate there is a mouth coating alcoholic sensation, sweet cloying malt and a huge warming alcoholic finish that reminds me of shoting vodka. Dire beer.

Time for some redemption. Last up was the stout Riptide and a cracker it was to. Full of all the right flavours it was a well constructed beer that drank well below its strength (is that a good thing?) and much improved my plummeting opinion of the brewery.

Riptide 8%abv

Pours a very dark ruby with a tan fluffy head. Aroma features confected malt character with hints of green banana, astringent grain and chocolate. On the palate there is a creamy mouth feel, chunky chocolate and toffee a resiny hop note and a long balancing roasty finish. Great strong stout but not an Imperial in my opinion.

And so to my title, who let the dogs out? Two of these beers should never have left the brewery gates let alone travelled the length of the earth to be sold for a small fortune. Even rising stars need to worry about quality control. Next up will be the kings of keg Meantime.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fullers ESB on draught

After being let loose in the candy, I mean beer, store I retired to the Courtney Arms while I waited for SWMBO to finish work. To my surprise Fullers ESB had appeared on the bar, and then to my astonishment after ordering I was charged a measly $5 (2 pounds) as some launch special. It was tasting fantastic, and despite being the keg version it was a good temperature with a gentle carbonation. Despite getting some flak for the state of their lines from some quarters the beer at the Courtney Arms has been tasting very good recently.

Beer Import

One of the things that makes it hard running a blog on British beer is that I am so far from the action. Often the beers that are discussed and debated are not available to me. So when Rumbles brought an import of 40 plus beers in recently including both Meantime and Brewdog beers I was excited to say the least.

Here’s what I bought:

- Meantime IPA

- Meantime Porter

- Meantime Pilsner

- Meantime Chocolate

- Meantime Coffee

- Meantime Wheat Grand Cru

- Brewdog Punk IPA

- Brewdog Hardcore IPA

- Brewdog Hoprocker

- Brewdpg Riptide

- Brain SA

- Bradfield Farmer Brown Cow

- Cropton Balmy Mild

- Coniston Old Man Ale

The bank balance groans, but I am happy, tastings to come.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bali Bitter

It’s not often that I veer from the topic of English beer and the English inspired beers that I brew. However recently at the supermarket I found three Indonesian real ales in a bottle, I knew I would have to not only check them out but also write something on them.

Located in Denpasar, the capital of the Indonesian state of Bali, Storm Brewing Co seems to be a fully active top fermenting craft brewer. I assumed on seeing the label that the Storm was a reference to the Boxing Day Tsunami, however upon checking out the website I see a far more fairy tale England explanation is given, check it out here.

The bottles encouragingly all display (the same) ingredients and I quote “Air, Gandum, Otter, Cristal, Jagung, Ragi, Karbondioksida, Hops/Rasa: Starian Golding (pahit)”. Now while I flatted for a year with a chap from Bali I never picked up a word of the lingo, but I think it can be deduced that Maris Otter pale (or I suspect extract), crystal malt and Styrian Golding hops went into these beers making a refreshing difference to usual Asian/Tropic lagers to come from that part of the world.

Now what were the beers like ? well of course I didn’t actually expect them to be very good, in fact I half expected them to fob and foam the minute I opened them. While they weren’t quite that bad they were like a decent early extract homebrew attempt. Regardless I’m glade I tried them.

Storm Beer Bronze Ale 5%abv

Pours a light brown with a big white head. Aroma features a hint of resiny hop, a dirty butterscotch character, and a grassy note. On the palate there is aggressive carbonation with a creamy mouth feel, dry caramel, more butterscotch, and a dry finish. My bottle was property of Mauritius Breweries. Interestingly Mauritius features in the totally absurd ’history’ of the brewery on the website.

Storm Beer Golden Ale 5%abv

Pours a dirty hazy gold with a fluffy white head. Aroma features a massive cherry character with a hint of iron. On the palate the big confected cherry character continues with a creamy mouth feel and a bone dry finish.

Storm Beer Pale Ale 5%abv

Pours a hazy gold with a fluffy white head. Aroma features huge tropical fruit character, lychees and pineapples which turns into a sherbety lemon lime as the beer warms. On the palate there is more sherbety citrus, a watery mouth feel, a super dry finish.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bastard Mice!

With the on set of autumn and the first cold weather the Mice have decided my house is a damn site more civilised abode than the hills behind me. Unfortunately the house brewery offer many an opportunity for a rodent lunch. I discovered today that the little buggers were getting into the sacks of malt that were stacked in my room. Oh for a cat what the hell is a brewery dog good for?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Oysters and Ireland

Last week as I was typing my Beer People Session piece a txt message came thru from Adam that the Malthouse had just put Three Boys Oyster Stout on handpump*. I jumped into a cab and was down at the bar within the hour.

Three Boys is a small micro in Christchurch. It’s the creation of Ralph Bungard and the two other boys in question are his two sons. Ralph brews a Pils, Wheat beer, Porter and IPA which when in form are very good kiwiafied examples of the styles. It is however the seasonals that really get me going and for autumn and early winter its Oyster Stout.

Every year for the Bluff Oyster season Ralph brews a strong (6.2%abv) dry stout which he hints he adds oysters to in some way or form. He has never been cornered on exactly how he adds the bivalves however through perception or suggestion there is certainly a salty sea like character that comes through in the beer when ever I drink it. This is the first year the beer has been offered on draught and I believe the Malthouse are the only place to have it.

Three Boys Oyster Stout 6.2%abv

Aroma features Milk chocolate, and a touch of bitter spicy coffee. On the palate there is more chocolate, a touch of sour milk, and an oily saline character, sweet nutty malt and a hint of frying vegetable oil ends on a mild roast note. Fantastic beer, the serving method suggests how fantastic this would be cask conditioned.

One of the interesting things I noticed while at the bar ordering the Oyster Stout was a beer I had seen discussed on The Beer Nuts blog recently from a brewery who’s beer I usually like. Carlow Brewing is one of the few Irish Micros (only?) to have its beers make it to NZ. When in good form the O’Harra’s Celtic Stout is a decent example of the Irish tradition. Recently they have brewed a stronger (6%abv) Celebration Stout to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the brewery. I parted with some significant amounts of cash for the 750ml swing top bottle. While its broadly in the style of F.E.S. or Special Export the Celebration was significantly less complex. Still its an interesting find from an unusual source.

O’Harra’s Celebration Stout 6%abv

Pours a pitch black with a frothy enthusiastic light tan head. Aroma features resiny hops, smooth chocolate milk notes and a hint of roast barley. On the palate there is sweet malt, smooth mouth filling chocolate and a lightly roasty finish with a lingering hop resin character. Over all impression is of a smooth velvety beer but one that should be more complex than it is.

* This does not mean that the beer in question was a real ale, rather filtered bright beer is run into kegs with little or no condition , or is de gassed by the pub and then served by beer engine with co2 slowly replacing beer in the keg.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Session: Beer People

What a fantastic topic. It’s no surprise that this month’s session is hosted by Stonch. Of all beer bloggers I think Stonch best gives an insight into the people who drink with him and some sense of the social group that they form.

The guidelines for this session say pick someone you know and paint a portrait. I have certainly met and got to know a lot of people through the world of beer, however I have decided to focus not on the well known brewers, publicans or journalists I have met but on those I drink beer with the most, the boys.

The Boys- the history

When I say The Boys I refer to a reasonably finite group of friends. Most of them I met at school, many of them I have known for over ½ my life. As far as beer drinking goes the core is made up of Dr Mulchin and G with a relatively recent arrival in the form of Pete, Pete hasn’t been around for even a decade yet you see a new comer.
Mulchin, G and my own early, although not first, drinking was done together. It usually involved cans of cheap suspect lager downed in the car parks of under age music venues. Once we left school the beer got marginally better as did the venues for drinking it. By the end of my university days I was home brewing and enthusiastically exploring what different beers the world had to offer, the Dr as he is now but wasn’t then was starting to identify the relationships between the science he was studying and the booze he was downing, while G was drinking everything and rating how socialist it was.

Thursday Night Drinks – an institution

It was during the first dubious days of my homebrewing that the institution of Thursday night drinks began. With a late start on a Friday and a full wallet on a Thursday, we would congregate usually at my flat but sometimes at a bar and catch up with what had been going on with each other thru the week. There would be what we would call sh#t talking which involved good natured ribbing and nonsensical concepts. Sometimes Thursday night drinks would be a low key affair with a few beers and an early end, other times bottles Stroff and Absinth would make an appearance , or pints of imperial stout and the repercussions would be felt for a day to come
It was once I bought my first beer engine and put in the first little bar at my old flat that Thursday Night Drinks finally became tied to drinking beer and not other liquors. Thursday Night Drinks continue to this day, sometimes it’s just the 4 of us, sometimes it’s a full house, it’s always worth doing.

The Tastings

On one Thursday every month we attend the beer tastings that are run by Geoff Griggs at Regional Wines. The tastings attract a varied crowd of regulars, notably the ‘Indian Embassy’ crowd lead by local drinking personality Tosh, White Rino member David and of course our own motley crew. The tastings provide not only the chance to drink some beers we wouldn’t normally be able to but also a chance to catch up people we don’t see through the rest of the month.

The Trips

Several years ago Dr Mulchin, G and myself set off around the South Island for 14 days of debauched beer hunting. The trip had a very specific set of rules laid out. Every pint was counted and the second someone said fancy a pint the rounds system was instigated and would not be ended until we had gone around the world. While I put a hold on all shaving for the duration (nothing new there, hairy and proud, Stonch bring back the beard!!) Dr Mulchin refused to wash and most unbelievably of all G ceased eating, 14 days (15 actually by the time we got home) without anything to sustain him but beer and milk, we always suspected that under the socialist fa├žade he was really a catholic; he got the dates for lent all wrong.
More recently we did a similar but shorter trip with Pete included around the North Island.

I apologise for the rather rambling portrait of a group of people most of you will never know, these are my best friends and sitting down to a pint with them is one of my favourite things, which I think is what life is about.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Beer from the West: Butcombe Gold

Recently SWMBO’s best friend visited with her partner from Oxfordshire. As when anyone offers to bring something over from the Motherland I make up a beer wish list. Unfortunately after making a truly geeked out list, I rewrote it deciding I was being overly detailed. Predictably the beers that arrived were unfortunately all ones I have tasted and many were ones you could regularly pick up at the supermarket. However all was not in vain as tasting a beer that has been air freighted in is often a very different experience to drinking one that has sweltered through the tropics in a shipping container.

Butcombe Gold was the beer I was most interested in as I had only tasted it once before and the sample I had was rather tired. Thankfully this fresh flown in bottle was in great nick.
Butcombe is one of the ‘old guard’ of English micros having been set up in the late 70’s. Located in Somerset it’s a home county favourite of Bailey of Boak and Bailey fame. Butcombe Gold is Golden Bitter hopped with Fuggels and was the first beer to be added to the range after 18 years of only brewing Butcombe Bitter.

Butcombe Gold 4.7%abv

Butcombe Gold pours a mid gold with a big enthusiastic white head. The aroma features sweet candied fruit, with definite hints of citrus. On the palate there is citrus fruit, sweet malt and an earthy finish all carried by a light mouth feel, very clean drinkable golden ale.

SOBA Pub Meet April: The Shepherds Arms

On the first Tuesday of every month the Wellington chapter of the Society of Beer Advocates meets at a different local pub or bar to socialise, and drink good beer, and/or campaign for good beer. Last year I posted about visiting my old local Bar Edward. This month it was decided that we would visit the Shepherds Arms, Wellington’s Speight’s Ale House. The chain recently found some publicity and notoriety when they shipped a kit set pub to London in order to sell coals to Newcastle as it were.

The Shepherds Arms is an old pub, located in Thorndon, one of the oldest parts of the city. It was formerly called the Western Park Tavern (although apparently was called The Shepherds Arms originally) and in the 1970’s was a popular haunt of my Parents who flatted up the road. Since my parents frequented the bar the Victorian/Edwardian multi room layout has been knocked out making for one open dining room/ public bar with one small function room off to the side.

While the majority of the beers on offer are mediocre, the Pilsner and the Porter from the Speight’s ‘Craft Range’ have always had their defenders. Personally I don’t care for the Pils but I have always thought that the Porter was the best beer to ever come out of a Mainstream New Zealand Brewery. I was most disappointed when last year the decision was made to stop bottling the Speight’s ‘Craft Range’ and the beer was only to be brewed for draft consumption.

When we arrived the pub was packed for the weekly pub quiz and the SOBA contingent ended up perched on the dining area side of the bar. The Porter was tasting drier than I remembered it but still had a gloriously roasty chocolaty character. The Pils seemed subdued but certainly had a resiny hop character that stood out when compared to the eternally neutral pale ale. Several ‘pints’ of Porter were downed before the last stragglers made our way to the Malthouse where we were joined by a certain notorious ex-landlord who was finishing up a kitchen shift to pay off his tab! A half of Nigerian F.E.S., a nip of Montieth’s New Zealand Lager and a 'pint' of London Pride later and all that was left of my night was a pie and taxi ride.