Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Hitachino Nest

After my first real-world paycheck (excluding agencies), I indulged and bought a shit load of beer. I bought two beers from Kiuchi Brewery because I thought, hey, why not buy some Japanese beers?

The first was Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Ale. Firstly, I love ginger. Any type of ginger - fresh ginger, gingerbread men, gingernut biscuits, ginger in stir fries, Jamaican ginger cake, whatever. I'll go mad for it. Most ginger beers I've tried (Crabbies etc and the like) are often way off the mark - incredibly sweet, no alcoholic flavour and definitely none of the intoxicating gingerness I'm after. For me, the perfectly balanced Old Jamaica Ginger Beer is what I judge every alcoholic ginger beer against, in an incredibly prejudicial way. Old Jamaica has the right balance - carbonation, refreshing and fiery at the same time.

So this is what the 7% Real Ginger Ale is up against. The aroma is definitely ground ginger - akin to gingernuts/ gingerbread rather than fresh ginger. There is a slight fieriness that awakens the nose (like snorting some pepper!). In the glass, the colour is a dark brown with an orange tinge. The beer has a strong malt flavour, and the ginger is quite subtle - you may not even notice it! It's more like a twinge of gingerness. There is a sweet aftertaste, it's a light beer with not much alcohol (deceptively drinkable). Overall, it's unfortunately a bit bland. I still have a long way to go to finding the perfect alcoholic ginger beer!

Next up its the 7% Red Rice Ale - what do you expect from red rice?! I've never had red rice - my palette of rice has extended all the way from white to brown (alright, I've had basmati). Really unusual smell, really unusual. I suppose it smells of rice?! The colour is much clearer - more orange with a light brown - it has an 'IPA' colour. The more I smell it, the more it smells of Budweiser. Brewing beer with rice goes back centuries in Japan, and I don't really want to compare this craft beer to Budweiser (which is alright, but really, no) , but that's what it smells and reminds me of. It has a very clean taste, though slightly sour. Nothing really stands out - its not malty or hoppy, its ricey.

Overall, would i buy them again?No - it was nice to try something new but wish i had bought some of their more standard beers, as these beers seem more like experiments (which are always worth having!). Nevermind, onto the next beer!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Hoppy heart

I live in somewhat of a craft beer desert. Yes, some cheeky BrewDog Punk IPA cans from Sainsburys or a shitload of U.K. microbrew online are a lucky lifeline but sometimes it's nice to physically get my hands on some of the UK most exciting brews and buy them there and then.

Sourced Market in St. Pancras Station always has a great selection of beers by The Kernel (and other beers from the U.K, USA and Europe). For those not in the know, they are one of the UK's most exciting microbreweries. Whatever there is in stock, I eagerly buy and get in the fridge as quickly as possible.

This time I got my hands on some single-hopped India Pale Ales. In order of alcoholic strength, Up first was Galaxy at 6.8%. Murky orange colour with an earthy but fruity (tropical) aroma. On the tongue, a tickling bitterness of tropical fruit from these Australian hops that go superbly with the malt. A moreish and well balanced beer. It's not "LOOK I HAVE HOPS IN ME", its "I have hops in to make me a tasty well-balanced beer". If only beer could talk... (and could have lasted longer)

Next up was Citra at 7.2%, seemimgly 2011's hop de jeur. This made me think of the wretched pints of Oakham citra I end up thinking "it'll be better this time" at my local 'Spoons (their fault! Not Oakham's, which I should strive to try in a bottle). This beer is definitely less malty and more hop driven, it obviously has an incredibly citrusy taste and aroma. A very bitter aftertaste and, in my opinion, a less well-balanced beer. This beer is a bit more 'harsh' than the Galaxy and a bit less enjoyable.

Last up was the big and boozy Stellar at 7.4%. On the nose, a sugary even flowery aroma. A bright and clean taste, with the alcohol coming through in spades as in stays on your tongue and in your throat. Definitely a hop forward character with a grapefruity bitterness and an alcoholic burn. Moreish like the Galaxy beer/hops but this beer is more heady, more 'fizzy' in a good way and has an alcoholic punch compared to the other two beers.

Which would I buy again? Galaxy first - I loved how the hops and malts were well balanced. The bitterness came through but wasn't too astringent or harsh, which I felt was to Citra's detriment. I liked the alcoholic punch of Stellar, but that was more percentage than the hops which I did enjoy. If I could only have one, it would be the Galaxy. Cheers to the The Kernel for making great beers and Sourced Market to stocking them, I know I'll see you both again soon!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Straight outta Iceland

Oh Beautiful Beer made me buy these beers. A couple months back they were on there and had to get my hands on them when they came to the U.K. I went to Iceland/Reykjavik in 2006 - I don't really remember much beer. I mean, I was 16 but my only beer/alcohol-realted memories include government-owned alcohol shops and drunken Icelanders cruising Laugevaegur around midnight off their faces.

So yeah, Einstok is a craft brewery (the only one?!) from Iceland - a country which had prohibition "in some effect" till May 1989! (Wikipedia told me so it must be true). Of all places, they're being distributed by Harvey Nichols (Maybe Craft Beer really is hitting the mainstream) and so I ordered a couple of each, which arrived in the most disgustingly un-eco friendly packaging I've ever seen. (Each bottle does not need a 1/2m of bubble wrap and 6 inches in a box to itself).

Anyway, Icelandic white ale with cor(r)iander and orange peel. Subtle orange peel on the nose with a incredibly thin and quickly dissipating head. Definitely get the slight spiciness of the corriander ,but also the fizzy 'Haribo' taste that I think defines a lot of Belgian-style beers. Maybe not the right time of year to enjoy a beer like this, but it was ok.

Icelandic Pale ale - definitely get maltiness and caramel on the nose and first taste. Quite sweet! However, I think i had a bad batch and there was definitely a strong diacetyl flavour which really wasn't to my taste. Slightly disappointing and I unfortunately drank as quick as possible.

Toasted Porter time! Oh yeah - rated highest on RateBeer for Einstok beers and I can see why. 6% with a quickly dissipating head, with a strong Marmite/Soy sauce aroma. Black as sin, with a strong mouth feel. Strong malt flavour from the toasted malts but also a strong bitter Marmite-y tang. Would definitely have another, plus I love Marmite!
Lastly it was the Doppelbock "xmas beer" with highly-suitable Red nose & antlers on the Viking symbol. At 6.7%, it's the highest in the range and you definitely get a boozy mouth-feel. Slightly sweet (raisin-esque) with a strong malt character and highly drinkable. A very "clean" and smooth taste and quite moreish.
Firstly, I would love to try all of these beers on tap via draught/keg as bottles don't always tell the true beer story. I don't know if they're planning on doing that any time soon (I don't get that impression) but would be lovely to try. Toasted Porter and Dopplebock were the clear winners of the range and worth a buy!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Forza Italia

Probably my most interesting beer experiences this summer were in Italy. Italy has a blooming craft beer scene, as noted and written about by Mark Dredge, and being able to meet a local who was kind enough to show and tell us where to go, meant we could properly experince it.

After meeting Alessio at BBC11, we arranged to experience craft beer Milanese style on my whitstle-stop tour through Europe. Birrificio Lambrate was simply amazing - happy hour not only allowed us to try a dazzling array of fantastic lagers and ales, they also had a fantastic (mostly) vegetarian buffet, reputed to be one of the best in the city. A very popular bar, get there early to get a seat otherwise you'll be standing outside with hundreds of others (no exaggeration), which is kind of cool in a novelty - "this would never happen in England" way. I enjoyed the Drago Verde lager, a summer seasonal which definitely suited the hot and humid Milanese weather! Alessio told me that most of the beer doesn't leave the city - it's so popular that they can't meet demand outside of Milan!

Next we visisted Birreria BQ - a cool little beer bar situated on a canal, with great ambience and 23 beers on taps. I enjoyed the Brewfist Spaceman IPA or "one of the best IPAs in Italy, and my grandmother's favourite" (Alessio). Hop-tastic butwell balanced, definitely a winner. We also had a great peach beer that Alessio conjured up from somewhere, which tasted fantastic but I was far too drunk to remember its name.

We were also lucky enough to try a crafty trial keg from Birra OM, which was a thirst-quenching lager that everyone at the BBQ thoroughly enjoyed. After this, we went to Birifficio Italiano - Italy's first microbrewery and whose Tipopils is reputed as (and actually is) one of Italy's best beers, a great golden pilsner. Coupled with a fantastic crostini romana, it worked fantastically well together. Situated in Lurago Marinone (just outside Milan), it was interesting to see this brewpub and restaurant at the heart of the towns nightlife. People were queuing up, waiting 45 minutes just to get a table. It was the towns' go to place and a real local favourite, showing what a microbrewery and brewpub can potentially achieve.

Mostodolce in Florence was a place we also visited. A microbrewery that had a very similar vibe to BI - local, through and through. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to have too many styles on tap when we went. Their American Pale Ale (APA) was not exactly too my taste (not as hoppy as I was hoping, more like a bitter), but their chesnut honey beer Martellina was a very individual beer. Sticky, malty and sour, the misses loved it.

Thanks again to Alessio (Hoppy Hour / Cask Crusade ) and Anna for helping us out, showing us round, buying us beer, letting us stay and just for being absolutely awesome.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Someone's got a Bad Attitutde

Live Beer Blogging at the European Beer Bloggers Conference was one of the highlights of the weekend, allowing us bloggers etc. to try seven different beers in 35 minutes! 5 minutes with each beer and brewer/rep, it was basically speed drinking for the excited beer blogger! One of my favourites (and many others) was Bad Attitude and their TwoPenny Porter.

Coming from Switzerland via Italy, Bad Attitude's packaging and branding are fantastic - alternative and very artistic, they would stand out on a supermarket shelf with their unique
and striking designs. The use of 'Stubby' bottles also give it an unusual edge, and most definitely tastier than the usual French 'stubbies' from the supermarket or Calais! Full of fantastic quotes from confident and uncompromising people (Kurt Cobain, Jack Kerouac and many others) ,they fit in line completely with the ethos that Lorenzo from Bad Attitude (BA) explained to us.

Bad Attitude's 'Two Penny Porter' was simply a magnificent, faithful and tasty Porter. Chocolate and coffee notes, even a slightly salty/soy sauce aroma and taste were mixed with a dangerous drinkability. Topped with a Union Jack bottle cap, it really tipped its hat to the British Porter.

Bottle from the Live Beer Blogging

This beer simply did not taste like an 8.1% beer! On the table, we all guzzled it down with abandon and really enjoyed it. Everyone noticed how easy to drink it was. For many, it was the stand out of Live Beer Blogging. Testament to its fantastic taste, all of the beers that Lorenzo from BA had brought with him were quickly snapped up by eager bloggers!

The funny thing about BA is that, if the rest of the team and brewers are anything like Lorenzo, then they really don't have a bad attitude to how and why they make the beer they do! Lorenzo was funny, charming and genuine about his companies tasty and unassuming beers. Lorenzo and the other fantastic Italian I met at the weekend, Alessio from Hoppy Hour, really see beer as a simple, unassuming product that is social to the very core. I couldn't agree more, and I think BA really could grow with its unique branding and tasty beers! Like all good products and brands (and salesmen), Lorenzo let the beer do the talking and it really impressed us.

What I got my greedy mitts on.

Sneaking away with a bottle of the aforementioned TwoPenny Porter, I also got my hands on a Bootlegger California Common and a Winter Warmer. The Winter Warmer was a well balanced English bitter, tawny coloured and slightly hazy. Again, surprisingly drinkable at 8.3%. Perhaps it's the summer sun and heat, but the beer seemed a bit average in comparison to the Porter. Maybe I should have saved it to the dark winter months, but the bottle was too alluring!

The Bootlegger California Common was a really enjoyable beer, blurring the lines between a Pilsner and a pale ale. Bitter and zesty, when it's cold it really gives you a citrus kick. I think this would be a perfect beer to bring your regular lager drinker into the obsessive world of Craft Beer. It also went excellently with my Cypriot-style olives, with lemon juice, coriander and extra virgin olive oil. A great combo for summer weather and summer beers!

Hopefully, their dazzling success at the Conference will encourage them to get involved in the British Craft beer scene (though expansion is understandably always difficult!). Cheers Lorenzo and BA for some fantastic beer and I can't wait to try some more! Hopefully, they'll get to the U.K. soon! I could really imagine a company like BrewDog importing the beers and selling them at their bars/online/shops, perhaps inspiring a younger generation to try some crafty brews!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

European Beer Bloggers Conference - Day 1

As written previously, I won a ticket to the first ever . It's all I could talk and think about it for the previous days before, and after a little bit of a mission around Moorgate I finally got to The Brewery!

A very fancy place, you could tell that the City boys/girls there for the 'Investment Funds Conference' etc were very jealous! Got my badge, and began to meet some beer bloggers and try some beers! Easily the standout beer for me and many others was Sharp's Single Brew Reserve 2010, with the use of the unique
Czech hops Bobek giving an unique fruity aroma and taste. Many bloggers cheekily had glass after glass, and so did I!

Peter Haydon's talk about London brewing history was interesting, with an insight into the development of beer and brewing in the city. David Sheen's talk about the British and Worldwide beer markets (past, present and future) did have some interesting topics of discussion, but was definitely far too statistic heavy. Statistics can be interesting, but only if presented well and not with 50 others!

The 'Do's and Dont's' of Beer Blogging brought up a lot of interesting and relevant discussion points - Should you accept free beer? How should you criticize bad beer, if at all? How do you treat other bloggers, criticize them and their thoughts? How should you design, layout and use technology on your blog?

For me, the most interesting point was raised by Pete Brown - Why do you blog? Asking yourself that question can really help you not only understand why you write your blog, but also whoyou write it for. These two questions really help frame someone's blog, their style and their delivery. Great stuff.

FlavorActiv notes!

The FlavorActiv tasting was really interesting. No doubt it will be useful next time I visit the pub, though I'm not sure how many bartenders would agree with any criticisms!

Dinner reception we had some Monsieur Rock and something else, and then finally onto Dinner, courtesy of MolsonCoors. Though a bit fish heavy (lots of pescatarians, such as Pedalling for Pints) the food was fantastic. My god-awful phone and camera didn't take a very good picture of the menu (or anything else over the weekend for that matter), but the Worthington Red Shield was really nice with the fish! After some fantastic dessert and a speech from Steve Worthinton, his experiences and his retirement, we headed downstairs for the new campaign launch for Pislner Urquell.

After watching their stunning new advert, we got to try some unfiltered Pislner Urquell straight from the brewery in Pilsen. FANTASTIC. Tasted so great, even some renowned lager-haters (I'm looking at you FemAle :-P ) even liked it!

Coupled with their fantastic and beautifully shaped glasses, Pislner Urquell have a fantastic product that not only should they be proud of but also has a real chance of making some headway in the UK. Fantastic beer!

Next update will be about Day 2, and my personal highlight - the Night of Many beers!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Brew in the Face?

Brewdog have recently created the website Beerleaks . It is, in their own words, to expose the "insipid, fizzy liquid...masquerading as beer" and "the slaughterhouse of conformity" that is the modern beer industry.

These are testaments that in many way real ale/craft beer drinkers and advocates would agree with, though perhaps with less pseudo-revolutionary speak and a more nuanced insight into the beer industry's strangehold on Britain's beer.

As Britain's beer industry ploughs more money into marketing campaigns, such as Fullers and Charles Wells, will Brewdogs assertive (dare we say aggressive) campaign help them to stand out, heighten brand awareness and get more of their beer (and other craft beer) sold?

Previous ad campaings by Brewdog have readily included criticisms of the beer industry, from smashing mega brand bottles such as Stella, Becks and Carlsberg to the critiques of using isinglass, malt extracts and other dodgy adjuncts. This latest campagin, with its 1984-eqque 'Ministry of Mayhem' encouraging us to drink bland and flavourless beers, is a much more damning and aggressive of the beer industry as a whole. Most definitely following the trend of previous campaigns, its gung ho and bold. The question, though, is whether Brewdog's focus on overt and hostile PR campaigns will leave them Brew in the Face? (Really couldn't avoid the pun :-] )

It's a difficult question. Out of Britain's burgeoning craft beer scene, Brewdog are unquestionalby its most well known brand and 'advocate'. Known for their daring, deriding and damning ad campaigns and videos, they have a degree of promience and buzz that few other breweries can match. If you agree with their tactics or not, they are giving the beer industry a youthful kick up the arse that few others can contend with. Their media-savvy tactics and insights access people and drinkers that maybe other brewries can't reach.

Most importantly, though, Brewdog does make fantastic beer. I love Brewdog's beer. Recently launched Avery Brown Dredge was a fantastic; incredibly hoppy with a fantastic grape fruit flavour, lingering bitterness a devilishly deceiving drinkability. So good I got normal 'lager' drinkers to even have a couple of sips and enjoy it!

And with that observation, leads to a pressing question; Will this campaign get the average (young) drinker off the street to try some craft ale, or will they continue with their Carling/Carlsberg/Fosters/Stella etc? Will they even see this campaign? Is criticising your opponents (who are rather titanic compared to Brewdog) the best way to get your product noticed, bought and adored over others?

In many ways, Brewdog's video is preaching to the converted, so to speak. Assuming that this online campaign is targeting a demographic that DOESN'T drink real ale/craft beer, will any of them even see it? Firstly, it's not on Youtube. For all the jibes about lesser quality and adverts we may have to contend with on Youtube, Viemo simply can't access the market the way companies on Youtube can. As well as this, criticisng others instead of voicing your positives can sometimes be a risky move (think John Kerry v. George W. Bush), though Brewdogs video is obviously well made and gets it point across.

More and more craft breweries are opening, and the ones that are doing well seem to be doing so without the need to criticise the 'Big Four', at least in public. For all the criticism we may give Brewdog, however, they are criticisng an industry and its practices that at least on a basic level many of us in the blogosphere would probably be in agreement with. Perhaps it's only their methods we don't agree with, but how else are companies going to distract (younger) drinkers away from the 'Big Four' and spend their hard-earned cash on more expensive and daring brews?

What are your opinions? I'm still undecided.