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.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Why do I blog about beer?

This was the question asked by the organizers of the first Beer Bloggers' Conference to win a free ticket to the event. A 140-character answer on twitter about why I blog about beer, my answer was

"I blog about beer because beers excites my imagination and stimulates discussion and good times".

Apart from my woeful spelling and grammatical errors, guess what?! I won!!

I was considering going to the BBC anyway, but it's right before my last university exam and did not think it would be wise! Doesn't matter now, I'm going! Such an interesting combination of lectures about beer history, brewing, blogging and, best of all, meals, beer tasting sessions and some evening parties. It is worth missing out on some revision.

The last conference I attended was about British colonial Cyprus. For eight hours. In a very small room on a very hot day. This conference looks like a much more exciting prospect, and since it's free I'm going to 'drink it up' like no tomorrow. Such a great opportunity to meet fellow beer enthusiasts, industry players and some genuinely nice beer-loving down to earth people.

Can't wait!

Monday, 11 April 2011

What did that guy just say?

Being a student isn't easy. (I first published this by saying is instead of isn't. I really thought I could delude myself!).I know what you're thinking - "all you lazy students, too much time on your hands, doing nothing and getting drunk/high/intoxicated non-stop" - but there is still some difficulties in being a student in this day and age. There is no routine, so much work on so many different topics and then you have to live with dodgy landlords, dodgy student houses and most definitely dodgy beer. I'm writing my dissertation, 12,000 words of what I think Britain and the 1931 Revolt in Cyprus and I'm so nearly finished. Nearly being the operative word there.
I am itching to enjoy my last summer of freedom, drinking as many different IPAs as possible and trying as many continental beers as my stomach can allow me to on my summer jaunt interrailing around Europe.

With all the work work work, it hasn't stopped me from spending way too much on beer/ale/alcohol. It has, though, stopped me from updating this blog as regularly as I'd like. So here we go;

1. Bought my first Mixed Case of Beers from MyBreweryTap. I went for the USA selection, simply because I'm not going to the U.S. anytime soon and I had never tried any good American beers. When I seriously started becoming more interested in beer a couple of months ago, it was such a surprise to find that the U.S. is the centre of the world's Craft Beer revolution. I tried some truly fantastic beers. One particularly that stood out was Victory's 'Golden Monkey', a Belgian-style ale. Spicy notes of cloves and herbal flavours, cloudy and a really enjoyable drink. Belgian beers always seen to make me turn into a postulating professor, with the unusual tastes and flavours buzzing round the mouth. I also tried many Odell and Sierra Nevada beers. Odell is a veteran of the craft beer scene in the States (also the name of a village near Bedford, my home town!), and I throughly enjoyed the 'Amber' and the '5 Barrel Pale Ale'. Both clear IPA's with citrus and hoppy flavours. Sierra Nevada is the biggest craft brewery in the States, and out of the several I tried the best was the Porter. It was one of the best I've tried. Morish, chocolate and coffee notes but also not too heavy on the palate and drinkable so as to have more than one, a rare feat from a porter/stout!

America truly is the centre of where beer is going, though Britain isn't far behind with more and more microbrewries starting up every couple months! It's inspired me to make my own beer and finally go to the U.S., trying as many American beers as possible!

2. Went to the Wetherspoons Real Ale Festival around Reading. I went to all three pubs on my own (I know, sad act right) since most of my friends have gone for the holidays and I was in town anyway. After purchasing some Pork Belly, I went to The Back of Beyond and had two 'festival pints'. A great way of trying all the beers on offer, you get 3 1/3 for the price of a pint and you can use your CAMRA vouchers to get 50p off. Also went to The Hope Tap and The Monks' Retreat Had a few fantastic selections, but have lost my piece of paper which I used to note for!

3. Been using a lot more beer in cooking. At the moment ,the beer world is championing the accompaniment of beer with food in a new way. Newspapers, magazines and bloggers are pairing beer with food at home, in fancy (and normal) restaurants and even encouraging beer-aging, just like wine! I suppose in a world where fewer of us are going to the pub, it makes sense for more and more breweries to offer us not only beers to accompany our home-cooked meals but also for breweries to raise their profile in restaurants and rare drinks for dinner parties, collectors or just for the beer-obsessed like myself! Been using IPA for a fish pie, even used the new Avery Brown Dredge to make a traditonal Scottish recipe, Cullen Skink! Stout and Beef soup. So many options, so little time/money!

4. Wandered in M&S one day and found a '6 for the price of 5' offer on ale,cider and beer. Tried many different ales, stouts and ciders. The two that stound are the 'Belgian Wheet Beer', brewed for M &S by Huyghe, Hazy, spicy with orange peel, corriander and sour fruit flavours. Fantastic find. Also, the Cornish IPA was fantastic too. Brewed by St. Austell brewery, it had a clear, citrus flavour with a lovely hoppy aroma. It was so good even my non-ale loving g/f had to exlcaim "I love IPA!".

5. Contemplating on my own homebrewing. Definitely after I have finished uni, I'm going to make my own. Recently saw an opportunity to buy a rather sophisticated collection of home brewing equipment, might have to dive in at the deep end and get stuck in!

6. Have now read all of Pete Brown's beer-related books. They're a fantastic blur of historical insight (pleasuring to the history buff inside me) but also of the author's personal journey into such topics as beer drinking in different cultures, Britain's beer culture and the history of IPA and even travelling all the way to India, on boats and on a similar journey to those made by the British empire for hundreds of years! Fantastic and funny reads, I recommend them to anyone who is interested in beer, travel and culture writing.

After May, this blog will become much more regular!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Proud of Beer

This beer meme was released a bit early today, but it's doing the rounds on the internet and is a great video emphasizing the importance and pride that we should have in British beer.

Some parts of the video were cringing at first, but after I got past my British embarrassment and understatement, I realized that this video says all the things that I try and say to people all the time about British beer, it's importance and why we should be proud to drink it and encourage others to do it also!


Sunday, 27 February 2011


Reading University Real Ale and Cider Society decided to make some of their own beer; I personally wasn't involved, but I managed to clear my schedule to make sure I tried some!

After getting permission to brew in, of all places, the University Chaplain's House, January was the time to taste these homebrews. RURACS made two brews. The first was a bitter using a starter pack and mix from Woodforde's, but interestingly it was decided to put in a whole bunch of fresh corriander leaves and stalks in the mix ( Picture 2).

The corriander gave it a zesty punch, with lots of citrus notes and an unusual flavour. For my taste, it was a bit uninspiring but a lot of people at the Session enjoyed it immensely. It was delightfully different from your normal bitter, and thus some of us unofficially christened it 'Zing Ding Bitter' (Zing from the Corriander, Ding being a colloquial term for Reading)!

The other home-brew we enjoyed was a London Porter (Picture 1). We didn't come up with any good names for it, but we should have because it tasted excellent. It was a beautifully dark black, and incredibly moreish. It had the usual coffee and chocolate notes to it that most porters/stouts had, but had quite a clean finish with a weak aftertaste. It was good enough to serve a pub! Unlike the Mix used for the Zing Ding Bitter, this was all made from scratch and I think you could taste the difference. Apart from my own porter/dark beer preferences, it had a warmth of character and overall a much more satisfying beer.

The next step is for myself to make my own beer. Watch this space!

Monday, 21 February 2011

I am a beer drinker.

Yes, I am that guy who buys two halves in Wetherspoons and unfortunately has to down the half that tastes like a horrifying mixture of an emptied ash tray and something called 'beer'. The one who chooses the disconcerting German wheat beer or the boring old British Bitter, an overpriced Belgian Lambic or a premium bottle of 'real ale' from the specialized off-license down the road.

Drinking 'real ale' or anything more interesting than your bog-standard Carling/Carlsberg/Stella down the pub can sometimes be a costly experience, but personally it's something that I love to do. For me, it isn't about a crusade against lager (give me a nice bottle of Cobra with a curry, or even better the rarer-to-find Nepalese beer Gurkha. It's worth the trouble), it's about championing brewers and beers that have more flavour and something more exciting to offer us.

Personally, I like a bitter or a mild. I like stout and porters and German wheat beers and pretty much any beer I'll try once. Compared to most of the (lager) beer we drink in this country, I think 'real ale' and the like have something uniquely special and something worth celebrating, and more importantly, drinking. What I don't like is people having a certain image of 'real ale' as an old man drinks, as something and watery and tasteless and something not worth spending their money on. If anything, I want my blog to encourage at least ONE person to try some ales, try going into a pub and drinking something a bit different. Real Ale is having a renaissance, it's one of the only alcoholic beverages where they are seeing a surge in demand and all of this during a recession! There's got to be something in it.

Whether it's down the pub or in my student bed desperately trying to get around Megavideo's 'you have watched 72 minutes' bullshit, I love tasting and trying to understand a beer that I've never had before or ferociously enjoying one that I love already.

This blog is about beer and anything possibly related to it. I'll be reviewing beers that I like, discussing beer topics that are in the news or in the blogosphere and chronicling my own beer adventures in the last couple months I have in Reading, where I study, and hopefully wherever I may journey next!

Coming up - a review of Reading University's Real Ale and Cider Society's own home-brews and a day-by-day review of 15 American Craft beers from www.mybrewerytap.co.uk. Looking forward to April, also, is the Annual Reading Beer Festival, one of the biggest in the country and something I have, embarrassingly, not been to before!