Saturday, 22 June 2013

A Peek Into Ontario Craft Beer

Ontario's craft beer industry is booming, a quick observation shows over 30 professional craft brewers plying their trade in the province that accounts for nearly 40% of all Canadians. Ontario is also home to Canada's largest city, Toronto, and the champion of all pub-quiz capital city questions, the nation's capital, Ottawa, admit it, you thought it was Montreal, or Vancouver, or Toronto...

I've actually been to Ontario twice, I happened to be skiing rather than hunting good beer (sacrilege), but I was 14 years old (redemption) so I can be excused for only trying to blag a few bottles of Labatts (sacrilege again). A friend of mine, Andy Hewitt, Birmingham's resident Canadaphile and hot wings extraordinaire, recently returned from a trip to Ontario and luckily for me, brought back a selection of beers native to the state.

First up were three beers from Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery who brew their beers right on the waterfront in downtown Barrie.

Flying Monkeys Stereo Vision
(Amber Ale, 5.5%)
This beer pours a hazy marigold and has a light grassy hop and cereal aroma. Flavour is quite fruity, hints of strawberry and orange peel but nothing overpowering. There are light grassy hop accents in the finish, the added wheat gives it a medium bodied creamy texture.

Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale
(American Pale Ale, 5%)
Pours an amber colour with an aroma of peaches and caramel malts. Flavour is of marmalade and woody hops, though bitterness is restrained by its minimalist 18 IBUs. Its “almost” name rings true as this is like a hopped Amber Ale rather than a traditional more heavily hopped APA.

Flying Monkeys Smash Bomb Atomic IPA
(India Pale Ale, 6%)
Smash Bomb Atomic pours a deep amber and has a juicy tangerine and pine aroma. Tastes are pine, sweet grapefruit and mango and this is followed by the 70 IBU resinous bitter finish. A well balanced and drinkable IPA.

Next up were beers from Double Trouble Brewing Co. who use the Wellington County Brewery in Guelph and Great Lakes Brewing, Etobicoke, which was a township that was amalgamated into the city of Toronto in 1998.

Double Trouble Hops and Robbers IPA
(India Pale Ale, 5.7%)
This beer pours a clear amber gold and the aroma is floral and biscuity. Flavours are lemon, faint grassy hops and toasted malt. Not the most assertive IPA by any stretch of the imagination but works as a pleasant English-style bitter.

Great Lakes Brewing Devil’s Pale Ale 666
(American Pale Ale, 6.6%)
Brewed for 66.6 minutes with 666kg of a selection of 6 malts, 6.6kg of hops and weighing in at 6.6% alcohol. Clearly a theme going on here... Devil's Pale Ale poured a copper colour and has an aroma of nuts, fudge and citrus. Flavour is of earthy hops, roasted barley, pear and a little vanilla. Smooth and refreshing.

The 6th beer of the day came from Railway City Brewing Company which is situated in the city of St. Thomas. This place is famous for crashing a steam locomotive into a rather large elephant called Jumbo... and thus leads us to the name of the next brew.

Railway City Dead Elephant Ale
(India Pale Ale, 6.8%)
With an orange amber colour this expired elephant has a lemon, leafy hop and caramel malt aroma. Flavours are earthy and of herbal hops with a caramel sweetness. Dry on the finish. Not quite a true IPA but a good English-style strong bitter.

Our two final beers come from Muskoka Brewery, which is based in Bracebridge. This town was built around a waterfall on the Muskoka River which provided the early townsfolk with power for the settlement's first factory.

Muskoka Mad Tom IPA
(India Pale Ale, 6.4%)
This beer pours golden and has a nose of pine, citrus and pepper. Taste comprises of lemon and pine resins balanced with toffee, dry hops and a touch of spice. Decent bitter finish but not overpowering. A refreshing and “sessionable” IPA.

Muskoka Twice As Mad Tom IPA
(Double IPA, 8.4%)
This souped-up version of Mad Tom pours deep golden and has aromas of mango, grapefruit and pine needles. Taste is an up front burst of pine resin and ripe grapefruit followed by honey and biscuit notes, its warming alcohol strength pulls it smoothly over the finish line.

That's it! A little look at eight Ontarian beers. A big thank you to Andy who did an excellent job of picking them out at the Liquor Control Board, and using up his luggage space! What of Ontario's offerings? Some well-made, tasty beers all round. My favourite will have to be the Twice As Mad Tom which is, for me, the boldest venture of the lot. A big juicy IPA with enough hops to keep the Humulus lupulus addict in me interested.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Roberto’s 40 Epic Rules of Drinking

1) Drinking when you're not thirsty is one of the few things that separates man from beasts.

2) Just think, if you drink enough now to get a hangover, you'll have plenty of drinking time tomorrow on your day off!

3) It is morally reprehensible to be on a train for longer than an hour without drinking.

4) People with hobbies aren’t drinking enough.

5) If you don’t drink, then all of your stories are frightfully dull and end with: "and then I got home."

6) If you offer to buy a woman a drink and she refuses, she does not like you.

7) If you offer to buy a woman a drink and she accepts, she still might not like you.

8) If she buys you a drink, she likes you.

9) In return however, you don’t have to remember her name, just remember what she likes to drink…

10) Some people will worry about their drinking, but look what it does for their social skills!

11) For every drink you have, you're fighting terrorism.

12) Always finish your drinks! Think of all the sober people in the world.

13) Apologising is fine, even to people you don’t remember meeting, for things you don’t remember doing, in places you don’t remember going.

14) A problem drinker is someone who doesn’t buy rounds.

15) That nagging feeling of missing something when leaving the house is owed to forgetting to put your bottle opener in your pocket.

16) Drinking never affects anyone's job. Some people just need a drink to get motivated for work in the first place.

17) Never turn down a free drink.

18) There’s nothing wrong with drinking alone.

19) If your bed looks very much like a park bench and your bedroom looks very much like a park then “staying out last night” literally meant it.

20) The glass isn’t half empty or half full. It just needs topping up.

21) Most people will sadly never experience just how pleasurable work can be when you take your best friend Mr Drink along with you.

22) “Taking the edge off” usually means waking up in the garden.

23) If you think you might be slurring a little, then you are slurring a lot. If you think you are slurring a lot, then you are not speaking English.

24) One of the saddest sounds you'll ever hear is ice rattling round an empty glass.

25) At least turning up to court will allow you to find out what happened.

26) Gin Rummy isn’t as fun as it sounds.

27) Always stick around for one more drink. That's when it all happens.

28) Always get up at the crack of ice.

29) Don’t take hot showers, the ice in your glass melts too quickly.

30) Being drunk is feeling sophisticated without being able to say it.

31) Anyone with three or more drinks in their hands has the right of way.

32) There's a jar in the best pubs, a huge jar containing funny oval shapes in a murky fluid. Be brave, pickled eggs are a rite of manhood.

33) You'll never waste a single penny on champagne, because champagne is never a waste of money.

34) Never EVER trust anyone who doesn’t drink, and never trust anyone who drinks but never gets drunk, they’re the ones with something to hide.

35) When on a night out be careful who you talk to, I once woke up with a new job.

36) Invent a kids’ TV program drinking game – the extra time you spend with them will go down a treat.

37) Learning other languages is important, concentrate on useful phrases such as: “Excuse me sir/madam which way to the nearest pub?” and “Good morning… err… lovely, who are you again?”

38) Get shag carpets fitted in your abode, it’s so much easier to hang on to.

39) Drinks made at home should only come in two sizes: formidable and catastrophic.

40) Sometimes too much just isn't enough.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Roberto’s Beers of the Year 2012

I was planning on writing this blog post a month ago, I’ve had so many glorious beers this year that I believed, wrongly, that nothing in the final months would force its way into my top ten for 2012. How delightful it is to be wrong sometimes as a further two made a late dash into my favourites. My 2012 top ten consists of 8 beers that were new to me this year and 2 I’d tried previously but still felt they made the grade. So without further ado…

1) Mikkeller Festival Special Edition 2012 – Stella 3 (20.1%)
This Über-Imperial Stout by the Danish nomads is incredibly drinkable for something that’s punching at just over 20%. Its aroma is of rich chocolate and coconut, and the taste is an intense combination of raisins, molasses and hazelnuts with a woody and vanilla finish. Goes down like velvet.

2) 3 Fonteinen Armand’4 Oude Geuze Lente (6%)
Having had all four of Armand’s seasons-inspired guezes I chose “Spring” as my favourite. Lente’s aroma is citrusy and tart but also of dusty hops and that famous barnyard redolence. Flavour is of wonderfully sour, crisp and sophisticated Brettanomyces and tart fruit. Best Geuze I’ve ever had.

3) The Bruery Fruet (15.5%)
Created for the fourth anniversary of The Bruery, California, this is their yearly anniversary ale recipe bourbon barrel aged. This beer has a rich bourbon oak-like aroma with a hint of grapes. Flavour is heavily barrel influenced, lots of bourbon, maple syrup and overripe dark fruits. Creamy and thick bodied.

4) Struise Black Damnation V - Double Black (26%)
Bourbon barrel aged Black Albert (Cuvée Delphine) Imperial Stout, processed the Eisbock way. This beer pours like engine oil, and is blacker than the depths of the cosmos, looks dangerous. Aroma is of liquorice and dark fruits. Tastes are a mosaic of espresso, chocolate, prunes, liquorice and with a light hop dry finish. Sets fire to your taste buds.

5) The Kernel / Brodies SCANNERS IPA (6.9%)
Any collaboration between Kernel and Brodies, two breweries I rate very, very highly, is always going to get my attention. SCANNERS is a cloudy, golden coloured beer, its aroma is floral with juniper and light resinous pine. Flavours are… wonderful (dreams for a bit) …um… everything is here: melon, pineapple, mango, tangerine, it’s also herbal and extremely thirst quenching, a tropical paradise of an IPA.

6) Hoppin Frog DORIS The Destroyer Double Imperial Stout (10.5%)
More hops and more malt than the Ohio brewery’s much vaunted BORIS The Crusher. Big roasted malt and coca aroma, huge flavours of dark chocolate, molasses, tobacco and the hops provide a lovely ashy, smoky, earthy bite. An elegant imperial.

7) Birra del Borgo My Antonia (7.5%)
My Antonia is a continually-hopped imperial pils in collaboration with Dogfish Head. A hazy sunshine coloured beer with a tropical fruit aroma, slightly floral and peppery. Flavours are of lime, grapefruit and green pine, the Simcoe hop shines through. The malt provides the right amount of balance and the experience is extremely clean and refreshing. A great example of new wave Italian brewers.

8) Brodies Dalston Black IPA (7%)
For a long time I wasn’t impressed with Black IPAs, either I’d find them an oddly hopped porter or simply a beer where malts strangled brilliant hops. Then came Brodies and their Dalston, a game changer. Its grassy and fruity aroma is followed by faint maltiness, flavours are rich pine, grapefruit and plenty of resinous bitterness, then come the soft smooth coffee and chocolate flavours. The roasted malts, rather than smudge the greatness of the Galaxy hop flowers used, provide a creamy luscious body to hold it all together, exquisitely balanced.

9) Schneider Weisse Tap X Mein Nelson Sauvin (7.3%)
A German Weizen Bock brewed in 2011 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ABT cafés in Holland. The Nelson Sauvin hop, which is an interesting choice for a wheat beer (but also happens to be my favourite hop of all), brings distinctive light vinous, flowery notes to the wheaty aroma. The gentle smoky wheat flavour is there and so is lots of banana, finishing with flowery notes, lemon and grapes. Hefeweizen turned up to 11.

10) Oakham Green Devil IPA (6%)
All that Oakham citrusy goodness taken to another level by Lucifer himself, this single hopped Citra beer is a classic. Lots of juicy grapefruit and pine in the aroma, taste is of passion fruit, grapefruit, gooseberries and pineapple, ends with lingering dry finish. The greatest Citra showcase.

So there we have it, my top ten beers from 2012, for a self-confessed hop addict I’ve surprised myself by the number of Imperial Stouts I’ve included, 3 in fact, followed by 2 IPAs, a Geuze, an Old Ale, an Imperial Pils, a Black IPA and lastly a Weizen Bock, beers from the UK, the US, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Italy. Here’s to 2013 and another 12 months of brilliant beer!

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Successful launch for the Fownes Dwarfen Brewery

Thursday the 18th of October saw the launch of the Fownes Dwarfen Brewery. Based at The Jolly Crispin, a pub on the famous Gornal run, I looked forward to sampling what enthusiastic brewers, and brothers, James and Tom Fownes, had to offer. The genesis for their brewery began back in 2010 in the very same pub and two years down the line their half barrel plant is pumping out elixir for the masses. Their plan is to increase to a 2 barrel plant by the end of 2013.

The evening got off to a great start and was attended by members of local CAMRA branches, pub regulars, other local brewers and the local press. Before long the Crispin was heaving with drinkers enjoying the liquid offerings supplemented by beer biscuits, a four tier cake in the shape of a leather Tudor tankard and professional storyteller John Edgar who performed tales created for the beers by the brewers themselves. It's the latter part that makes the Dwarfen Brewery particularly interesting. The brothers both have a passion for fantasy gaming and immersive stories and have combined this with their love of fine ales to develop a brand that pulls together traditional fantasy stories with the great industrial heritage of their Black Country setting to bring back the ancient tradition of story telling in taverns.


So far I've managed to sample the following from their stable:
Crispin's Ommer 4.1%, a house beer brewed specially for the Jolly Crispin. This pale coloured beer uses malted wheat and Cascade hops to provide its citrus, bitter flavour.

Gunhild 4%, a honey ale made with pale and speciality malts with 20% of the grist coming from Blossom Honey and hopped with Cluster and Saaz. Flavours are of natural unsweetened honey with a creamy biscuit background and a caramel finish.

Goat Rider 4.8% is an amber coloured ale with pumpkin pie spices and smoked malt.

Frost Hammer 4.6% is a very bitter pale ale using Summit hops to provide a citrus aroma.

King Korvak's Saga 5.4%. This beer has been my favourite Fownes so far. A whole range of malts complimented with a light hopping of Fuggles provides a smoky, dry flavoured porter. I'm a big fan of dry porters and the richly roasted, smoked flavour really works well in this moderately strong brew.

Dudley Winter Ales Fayre 2012 and into 2013

The brewery plan to have their “Leviathan” 7% spiced winter warmer ready for the popular Dudley Winter Ales Fayre which runs from the 22nd to 24th of November and then have it on sale at the Jolly Crispin throughout the month of December so make a note in your diary!

2013 should also prove to be an exciting one with the brewery planning to produce a “Best of British” range showcasing British hops in conjunction with Charles Faram hop merchants and Ali Capper from the British Hop Association.

Microbreweries have proven to be a 21st century British success story and I hope to see James and Tom go from strength to strength. Cheers!

Friday, 24 August 2012

May 2012 Recap: Edinburgh

Having still not caught up on my Spring and early Summer goings-on here's another belated blog post for consumption.

Two of Edinburgh's finest

Up until May I'd never been to Scotland, a travesty when accounting for 50% of my heritage. My father you see, hails from the land that brought you: Scotch, the Highland charge, man-skirts and of course prehistoric monsters hanging about in lakes. And whilst most write-ups about Scotland would include the first item listed, it isn't going to make much of an appearance here. Neither are any of the others. Sorry to disappoint. What I'd rather tell you about are two fantastic pubs in Edinburgh, both very different entities. Even though both are relatively new to the Edinburgh pub scene, their differences compliment an already great city for drinking. One old-school and traditional, the other modern and industrial chic. Both first-rate beer establishments.

The Bow Bar

Edinburgh has some great pubs and any self-respecting boozer in the Scottish capital will have countless single-malts shimmering from the shelves. Bow Bar isn't any different, there's enough whisky to keep the connoisseur happy, over 200 in fact. From eight air dispense pumps flow real ales that were obviously picked by someone going out of their way to provide the interesting for the discerning. A pub so close to the touristy areas of the city doesn't really need to do this and it's what makes Bow Bar stand out. Their craft beer bottled range numbers around forty and is again picked carefully to provide quality options. Their home-made pies complete their offer of sustenance.

This Grassmarket based tavern is also an atmospheric place, the décor captures that old world feel, the memorabilia and ephemera on the walls remind us of an elegance that's fading in our modern world. A good pub should aim to rescue us from the banal, like all good pubs Bow Bar is the antidote of most of life's problems.

Bow Bar can be found on West Bow, Edinburgh, EH1 2HH

BrewDog Edinburgh

Ah BrewDog... those Scottish, headline grabbing, controversially marketing, ever conquering brewers have been planting flags all over the UK recently. And when BrewDog Birmingham opens shortly it will bring their bar chain to eight, Martin and James have engineered a meteoric rise from their humble 2007 beginnings. BrewDog Edinburgh was their second venture following on from the brewery's hometown opening of BrewDog Aberdeen.

BrewDog doesn't appeal to “everyman” and its Edinburgh outpost follows this no nonsense approach. “No Tennents. No Carling. No Smirnoff. No Televisions.” is BrewDog canon. On draught are the staples you'd expect (Punk, Hardcore etc.) and other rarer BrewDog creations. These sit alongside highly regarded beers from around the world, beers at the forefront of the BrewDog entitled “Craft Beer Revolution”. The fridges are also awash with bottled offerings from far and wide.

BrewDog Edinburgh is not an antiquated watering hole. There's exposed bricks and steel girders, lots of steel and bricks in fact, and 1930s-style filament light bulbs, there are also comfy leather sofas and board games if such takes your fancy. And there's nothing wrong with thrashing your drinking partners at Connect Four over a Tactical Nuclear Penguin. This unconventional, avant-garde approach attracts a much younger clientèle to the quality beer market and for that alone BrewDog should be applauded.

BrewDog Edinburgh can be found at 143 Cowgate, EH1 1JS

So if you're visiting Edinburgh and get tired of single malts (heaven forbid) and the regular tourist traps then those two venues are for you. Delightfully different from each other, both equally magnificent.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

April 2012 Recap: Birmingham Twissup & Stourbridge Beer Festival

Where have I been since my last blog post on the 18th of April? Those promising warming months of Spring followed by the traditional monsoon washout called British Summertime have really flown by. Here is a recap of April and two very different beer-based events:

Birmingham's First Twissup

The 21st of April saw the get together of a pleasant collective of beer bloggers and enthusiasts for Birmingham's first ever Twissup (That's a jovial gathering of Twitter based ladies and gentlemen for the purpose of fermentable nourishment, for the civilized amongst us of course). Twitter can be cited as being responsible for many things in today's world, from organising Arabian revolutions to mocking celebrities trying to hide behind anonymised injunctions, however, having a bunch of random ePeople get together for a few drinks is, as far as I can tell, its most important function to date.

@19irishdragon, @CarlDurose, @ckdsaddlers, @dannybrown76, @hindleyillos, @MarbleTim, @mrdavidj, @OthertonAleman, @therealstewbert and myself. Ten imbibers already illuminated by the benefits of quality beer gathered for drinks at the Lamp Tavern, The Anchor and Post Office Vaults, Birmingham. It was great to finally put faces to Twitter handles and warming to see so many like-minded and friendly beer fans passionate about the exciting, and growing, good beer movement in the region get together and have a jolly good time. Anyone interested is more than welcome to join us for the next one, there'll certainly be a lot more to come from our regional beer pioneers I'm sure!

Stourbridge Beer Festival 2012

Next came the annual Stourbridge Beer Festival. A festival close to my heart having been the Chairman for Stourbridge & Halesowen CAMRA during the last two events. I can't begin to explain how much work goes into organising a beer festival, it really is a colossal undertaking. Months of planning, a week and a half of hard labour and around 90 volunteers were needed at Stourbridge this year. Although when you're a customer walking into the hall on opening day it all looks so easy...

I took the opportunity this year to try and bring in some new and interesting beers that generally don't reach the West Midlands. The hope being that it would expose both local drinkers to a few more quality breweries and the breweries themselves to virgin consumers and publicans alike. I think it's important, when given the chance, to always push the boundaries at events like these.

So for Stourbridge this year in came: Beavertown, Brodie's, Buxton, London Fields, Magic Rock, Redemption, Sambrook's, Steel City, Twickenham Fine Ales and Windsor & Eaton, all breweries rarely seen, if ever, around Birmingham and the Black Country. These coupled with the best of our local breeds: Angel Ales, Beer Geek, Kinver, Sadler's and SarahHughes, amongst others, provided suitable compliment to the occasion. Over 2000 customers later and selling out at just the right time I'd like to pay tribute to all the CAMRA volunteers involved and everyone who attended, I hope to see you all again next year!

I'd started to feel that some local CAMRA beer festivals had stagnated with their beer choices, let's not play it safe, the brewing scene is as vibrant as it's ever been, despite the Government's best attempts to counter it. Lets use these fantastically popular events to showcase excellence, both near and afar.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A look at the Beer Duty Escalator and why it needs to be scrapped

Successive British governments have, over the past decades, had a terrible addiction, an addiction to completely and utterly exterminating all forms of British industry. They have, in the main, been very successful. A snapshot of today's nation will showcase formerly prosperous, world-renowned, proud towns and cities savaged by the Government-lead massacre of manufacturing. Whole communities stabbed in the back when their jobs were pulled from under them and exported around the world. The people who defend these actions will call it an evolution from dirty industry and a lack of working standards to the slightly less class-focused society of tertiary progress. However, other civilised nations have shown you can have progress and workers rights while still having a meaningful engineering and manufacturing base. I'm looking at you Germany.

Britain on the whole still classes itself as a developed and rich nation, but under the financial services haven, propped up by blank cheques from the central bank, lies a country shedding jobs, masses of youth unemployment, fractured places without a sense of community or identity and declining living standards. Pretty picture it ain’t!

So what's all this got to do with a beer tax you might now be asking? Well there aren’t any more British car makers to break, no more industrial towns to force into wholesale unemployment without prospects and no more significant manufactures of machinery to extinguish, we have the second largest trade deficit in the world after all. The last viable, traditional but innovative, and successful industry left in Britain is the brewing industry and the Government has placed it firmly in their crosshairs. Like the famous fabled scorpion of frog stinging shame, they just can't help themselves.

The BBPA say that there are currently 20,000 people employed in the UK brewing industry, and that each person in the brewing industry generates 18 jobs in pubs, 1 job in agriculture, 1 job in the supply chain and 1 job in retail. This means that the UK brewing sector provides employment for 420,000 people. Such a large employer of British workers, and a high percentile of them young people, surely can't be a bad thing in such times of economic hardship? The government believe the opposite. The last two ruling Government's of the UK have raised tax on beer nearly 50% in five years! Yes you read that correctly, nearly a 50% rise. Is there any industry that wouldn't be pushed to braking point after such outright thievery?

Every sound minded person should be shocked to read that we pay more than TEN TIMES as much tax on beer as Germany and that Britons pay 40% of all the beer tax in the EU yet drink only 13% of the stuff. That's not the icing on the cake though, oh no, even the Treasury Department admit that each time beer tax has gone up, the revenue generated has gone down. It's actually costing money to be this extortionate!

We must not let any more people get thrown on the unemployment scrapheap. We must not let more community pubs become unviable for their owners or unaffordable for their patrons thus forcing the wise imbiber into lonely seclusion at home, and the unwise onto the streets with cheap supermarket swill, unchecked, instead of in the cosy safety of a local, charming inn where their peers can set a moral and healthy example. It's not just jobs and the economy at stake here you see, it's the very fabric of British society at risk. Successful prosperous communities exist because of the traditional British pub, not the local supermarket or a heaving Jobcentre Plus. The line must be drawn here. No further.

Sign this petition for starters, it's important, tell your friends, get them to sign it too.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Post Office Vaults

When I first heard that the dive formerly known as Bash Bar on New Street, Birmingham, was to reopen as a craft beer establishment I wondered if the people involved would be brave enough to make it a venue the city centre has been crying out for. A place that not only had great British real ales but also has the bottle, quite literally, to scour the world for foreign excellence too. Hindered by its semi-underground, windowless, petite interior, I can understand why the venue won't have enticed all but the most daring entrepreneurs. Step forward Nigel Barker and Mike Perkins...

Post Office Vaults, as it's now rechristened, opened just before Christmas, its 8 real ale hand pumps are complimented by its large draught cider range and... wait for it... 250 different beers from around the globe. A number that has been increasing each and every week its been open to meet demand. A delightful selection of American, Belgian, German and others are ready to seduce you from the pages of the satisfyingly weighty beer menus available at the bar.

There isn't much you can do with such a small space but what has been done has been done well. Post Office Vaults feels cosy, it feels welcoming, it's a smart place, unlike its garish predecessor. There's beer paraphernalia from around the world on the walls, a few towering jeroboams and other impressively sized bottles of great beers in a corner here and there and even a bar billiard table, though I have absolutely no idea how to play the thing. It's the beer selection doing all the talking here though, along with the, importantly, knowledgeable and friendly staff.

So when you're next in the second city remember you can now sample everything from a Abbaye de Rocs to a Westmalle via a De Molen and a Nøgne. Sounds great doesn't it? The full list is here in all its glory:

Post Office Vaults can be accessed either by its smaller entrance on New Street near the historic Victoria Square or its other more visible entrance round the corner on Pinfold Street.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A flying visit to London, the Big Smoke, my hometown

I popped down to the capital last weekend, I try to get back to the place of my origin as often as possible. I spent the first 18 years of my life growing up there and even now whilst residing in the Principality of Halesowen the past 9 years I still feel like a Londoner. A proper Londoner, mind, not a plastic cockney geezer, nor one of those delightfully brain-dead folks who may possibly use the phrase 'totes amaze'. Actually, take note, if I ever use that phrase in open conversation I’m allowed to be shot.

Last weekend's trip wasn't actually planned as a beer adventure, more a poker night with friends in Raynes Park but with as much beery-goodness as possible crammed in-between. It's the latter though that brings a wry smile to my face. You see, when I lived in London it was pretty much a beer desert, the truly great pubs were few and far between, big breweries existed but the microbrewery revolution seemed to have passed it by. You could get plenty of big cocktails with half a tree inside or a whole banana plonked in, and of course there were hundreds of poncey places too, but real beer? Rare as rocking horse ****.

This has, remarkably, now all changed, London has an interesting situation, almost paradoxical, where the Big Smoke is both a real ale and craft beer novice and rip roaring pioneer at the same time. In recent years top class breweries and venues have exploded on to the scene. There are now more than 20 microbreweries in London and most produce eye-wateringly good stuff.

The pubs and bars too are now first rate, beer enthusiasts need to visit these three at least once in their lives:

The Craft Beer Co – With just short of 40 beers on tap, Craft has a formidable arsenal awaiting the discerning customer. A venue for the truly enlightened drinker, pretty much every beer style is catered for and if it isn't on draught they'll surely have a bottle of it behind the bar. The definitive has this as the 4th best bar in the whole world... who could argue against that.
CASK Pub & Kitchen – CASK, which opened in 2009, has 24 beers on tap and a colossal 500 bottled beers to choose from. Again choice is the all encompassing philosophy here. Imbibers have never been so spoilt!

Lastly, The Southampton Arms – 'Ale, Cider, Meat' reads the sign on the wall outside. A respectable 12 beers, 6 ciders and the best collection of pork pies I've ever tasted reside on the inside. This is a real rustic, traditional pub complete with piano player, roaring fireplace and cosy garden, charm and character abounds. A proper pub. The whole experience here was so good that after leaving to visit another venue I came back for my second visit of the day. How I wish I still lived up the road...

So there we have it, London, a new London, not the old, mostly beerless London but a new action-packed, buzzing, youthful and revolutionary London. What took you so long?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Professor Cornelius Ampleforth's Bathtub Gin

I do love a good gin, the historically maligned social terror of the 18th century features in an early blog post of mine, (here). However, when I'm in a particularly sophisticated mood, the ice cube clinking, radiant refreshment of a gin and tonic becomes my drink of choice. Sorry Hogarth...

I discovered a new concoction over Christmas, bought from my friends over at Stirchley Wines, the intriguingly named Professor Cornelius Ampleforth's Bathtub Gin. Alas, I have no idea who Professor Cornelius Ampleforth is, but as he is bringing forth such efficacious substances then he is a top bloke in my mind.

So, Bathtub Gin, the bottle design by the way is brilliant. It's covered in slightly crinkled brown paper, flax twine tightly bound round the neck, and a cork stopper covered in dipped wax which you have to peal off first to get to. This along with the hand-drawn printed artwork and very tiny, nearly impossible to read, text about its delights inside makes it a real standout.

With only a relativity small number of botanicals present: Juniper, Coriander, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Orange Peel and Clove, this gin delivers a balanced and extremely drinkable delight. The drink itself bursts with juniper and citrus and has a viscous oily quality that I can only assume comes from it being created using its traditional cold-compounding method. It's bold, aromatic and extremely smooth, so much so that you'd get away with drinking it neat. I also rather expect it to be pretty useful in a dry martini too, though I've yet to mix it with any vermouth.

So there you have it, the only cold compound gin on the market and definitely a welcome addition to the premium gin scene.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Christmas Drinking 2011

With the festive season all too quickly over and the weather in England being its usual bleak mid January self I thought it a good time to reminisce over the magnificent beers I'd stocked for Christmas day. Here they are in all their glory...

Silly Saison, 5.2%

The brewery of Silly is situated south of Brussels on the way to Mons. 16 different beers are produced but it's their Saison that they're really known for. A nutty, caramel beer, spicy and fruity with a balancing citrus finish. Slightly darker than your average Saison. Silly name, serious beer.

Marble Brewery Lagonda IPA 5%

This beer from Manchester based Marble is; quadruple hoped, spicy, peppery, citrusy and includes a very dry finish. Uncomplicated, refreshing and thirst-quenching.

Hardknott Queboid 8%

Hardknott was started in December 2005, it's based in Millom, Cumbria. Their Queboid is an orange amber colour, with lots of American fruity hoppyness in the aroma. Flavour is of citrus, lots of grass and pine and some sugary caramel malt. The addition of Belgian yeast gives an added interesting element to this strong and warming beer.

Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux 9.5%

The Dupont Brewery is located in Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium. The current brewery, founded in 1950, is located on a working farm which itself has a rich brewing history dating back to 1759. Their 'Bons Voeux' meaning 'Best Wishes' is their holiday season saison. It's a wonderfully complex beer, spicy and herby with rosemary, sage and coriander notes that are completely captivating. Creamy hops along with Belgian yeast compliment this delicate golden coloured masterpiece with the potency of the alcohol blasting through at the finish.

Gouden Carolus Noël 10.5%

The holiday period wouldn't be complete without the Christmas Carolus. This Belgian strong ale from Brouwerij Het Anker is a lovely deep brown. The nose mixes figs and plums with spices, cloves and nutmeg, the balance is perfect, the aroma intoxicating. The flavours burst out: plum, cinnamon, raisins, anise, dark berries and even a hint of lemon. Each one both intense and delicate. The yeast rounding it all out and keeping the alcohol in check. An excellently rich fireside sipper.

Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock 12%

To compliment their already popular Schneider Aventinus (8.2%), Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn reintroduced their Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock. Prior to the 1940s the original Aventinus was transported all over Bavaria in containers that didn't have temperature control. This lead poor Aventinus to freeze along the way. Drinkers, unaware that freezing caused the concentration of the liquid by separating it from the water, were delightfully baffled by the unique (and stronger) beer that arrived. The brewmaster at Schneider decided to recreate this marvellous “mistake” and so the Aventinus Eisbock was reborn. The beer itself is sweet, malty, lots of raisin, dried fruit and port. Mistakes should always be like this.

Odell St. Lupulin Extra Pale Ale 6.5%

I suppose this Summer ale was being drunk at the wrong time of the year, however, being a style of beer I adore it was a welcome contrast to some of the strong, dark monsters of early afternoon Christmas Day drinking. Odell Brewing Company, a converted 1915 grain elevator in Colorado opened in 1989, their Lupulin is everything you want in a pale ale. A pleasant new world hoppy beer with pine notes, very floral and fresh.

Schneider Weisse Tap X Mein Nelson Sauvin 7.3%

A German weisse brewed in 2011 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ABT cafés in Holland. The Nelson Sauvin hop, which is an interesting choice for a wheat beer, brings distinctive light vinous, flowery notes to a pleasantly bananary, lightly smoky brew.

Brewdog Hardcore IPA 9.2%

Brewdog need no introduction, their media exploits will have reached all but the most hardened monastic hermit communities. Their Hardcore IPA is true to its name, it's a big bold beer, bitter and sweet, packed full of hops which are only tempered by the extreme alcohol content.

Left Hand Brewing Co Fade to Black Vol.2 7.8%

This American brewery from Longmont, Colorado was founded in 1993 and has since grown to now produce approximately 35,000 barrels of beery goodness a year. Their Fade to Black Vol.2 is a smoked Baltic porter, a black and tan beer inspired by their collaboration with Nørrebro in Denmark. Flavour is of cocoa, smoke, roasted coffee and molasses.

The Kernel Export Stout London 1890 7.1%

The Kernel brewery is tucked away under a railway arch shared with a cheese maker and a salami producer in Bermondsey, just south of the River Thames, London. This beer is based on a recipe from a London Brewery in 1890, it's almost an opaque black with a beige head. Roasted and gloriously rich, flavours are espresso, dark chocolate, leather and coal balanced with a dry, woody finish. A top English stout.

So there you have it, a mighty list from my favourite day of the year, but if like Roy Wood and Wizzard you “Wish it could be Christmas everyday” a visit to the stockist Stirchley Wines, where these were procured, should let you create your own brilliant beer day for yourself.

For readers too far from Stirchley you can also check out Beers of Europe and myBrewerytap.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Meet the... Publican: Alex Marchant

 (Produced for Ales & Tales)

  • Name, age, occupation?
Alex Marchant, 26, General Manager – The Beacon Hotel.

  • What was your first drink?
I remember my Dad letting me drink the foam of his beer when I was a kid, I couldn't understand how anyone could stand such a foul taste. He said I'd acquire it eventually. He was right. My first pint was Enville Gothic, I was quite underage.

  • What are your hobbies and interests?
Other than real ale? Craft beer. I often joke that beer and pubs are my only hobby but it's fairly accurate. I used to be rather pretentious when I was younger and say that I liked fine art, film, new wave fashion and avant-garde hip hop. Now I just like beer and pubs.

  • What is your favourite beer?
Hops. I really like bold flavours in beer, über strong hops or really deep malts. I admire brewers who are willing to take a chance and push boundaries with styles, strengths and flavours, even with aspects of the brewing process (Brew Dogs' Sunk Punk for example), I've been drinking a load of craft beers recently, Mikeller's 1000 IBU and Soba Ale; a collaborative beer between Rogue Brewery and Masaharu Morimoto have really stood out. British cask wise I believe that Kinver, Hardknott, Marble and Pictish can do no wrong. I've still got a place in my heart for Black Country bitters even though my tastes may have moved on, I still love Pardoe's Bumblehole. And there's no way I can answer a question about favourite beer without mentioning the Ruby. It's a staple in my diet.

  • What is your favourite
The restaurant in the Bulls Head, a Holden's pub down the road from the Beacon is my current favourite, really excellent traditional Thai food. I'd eat there every day if possible but it's not open on Sundays.
-Drink that's not Real Ale?
Tea. I drink bucket loads of it.
All kinds of crazy stuff.

  • How did you get started in the trade?
I started as bar staff at the pub when I was 18, it was a couple of weekends before our first and only beer festival. It was an amazing place to work. I stayed on at the pub while I was studying illustration at Wolverhampton University. About 4 or so years ago, when I was in my second year, I became an assistant manager and became really involved in the pub and the trade in general, then last June I took over as general manager.

  • What's the history of your pub?
It was taken over by Sarah Hughes where she began brewing the Dark Ruby in the 20s, after many years of closure the pub still remained in the family. John Hughes, Sarah's grandson, restored the pub back to it's previous Victorian style and décor and in the 80s, after finding the recipe in a cigar tin, started brewing the Ruby again.
  • What are your aspirations for the business?
To be the best in the country at least once.

  • What's the best and worst thing to happen in the industry in the last 5 years?
The influx of micro breweries; it's a sign that the demand for real ale is growing, it's an exciting time for our trade and the variety of different beer is as vast as it's ever been. This pleases me greatly.
Massive duty increases, ever rising fuel and energy prices, and the stranglehold of pubco's and national breweries.

  • How do you feel CAMRA could help you in your business?
CAMRA have done an awful lot for us already, our customers are converted. We're now in a lucky position where with the help of CAMRA, customers and previous management and staff we have a good reputation built up. We now face the hard work of trying to maintain it.

  • Which is your favourite pub? (Can be anywhere in the country as long as you don't own it)
I love loads. The Three Kings at Hanley Castle, the Euston Tap, the Craft Brewing Co. and the Greenwich Union in London, the Wagon and Horses in Halesowen, Three Fishes in Shrewsbury, The Baltic Fleet in Liverpool. Basically, all the pubs I can remember ever going in.