Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ultimate Drinking Experience?

On my way home from work yesterday, admittedly via a slightly circuitous route, I popped into the local Barnes and Noble to see if they had the latest editions of the various beer and brewing magazines that I like to read. There was a new edition of Brew Your Own, which is fast becoming my favourite beer related magazine, and as I already had the current edition of All About Beer, I picked up their special edition Beer Traveler. Having driven the rest of the way home with Rammstein in the CD player, I was looking forward to reading about the places where "serious beer lovers" should go in order to get oneupmanship points on the rest of the world.

Naturally I wanted to see what they had to say about the Czech Republic and there was some stuff about Plzeň, for some inexplicable reason it was spelt "Pilzn" on the map Stan Hieronymous' was using (name and address of the cartographers please, so I can send vicious email claiming ignorance!), and about the Eggenberg brewery in Český Krumlov, a place where I saw this most interesting of signs:


Of the rest of the special, I was most interested in the 150 Perfect Places to Have A Beer, a list of which purports to tell the dedicated beer traveler where to find the finest beer drinking experiences. Now, I am not sure how they compiled this list, though I somewhat doubt it was as thorough as the Good Beer Guide, but a couple of things intrigued me, other than why their software couldn't handle some of the diacritics in the Czech pub names.

Speaking of the Czech venues on the list, they were ranked as follows:
  1. U Fleků (Prague) - 14th in the overall list
  2. Krčma (Český Krumlov) - 44th
  3. Czech Beer Festival (Prague) - 54th
  4. Pivovarský klub (Prague) - 75th
  5. Zlý Časy (Prague) - 83rd
Really? Are you kidding me? The Czech Beer Festival is a better place to get a pint than Zlý Časy or Pivovarský klub? Let me get this completely straight, in the mind of All About Beer, an over-priced beer fest swimming in mass produced swill is better than two reasonably priced pubs with an ever changing selection of quality beers? Apparently the Flying Saucer, of which there is one that I enjoy going to in Columbia, South Carolina, is ranked higher than all the Czech pubs, bar U Fleků. On what basis? Now don't get me wrong here, I like the Flying Saucer in Columbia, and have raved about it many times on here, but better than Pivovarský klub? You're having a laugh surely?

What about other pubs and places I know and have enjoyed pints in? Well, Dublin's venerable Bull and Castle ranks 18th, while the Porterhouse in Temple Bar is 42nd (only 2 places above Krčma? WTF!) and that's it for Ireland, other than the Gravity Bar at St James's Gate.

As for the UK, I don't think I have been to any of the places on the list, but I am not expecting a case of existential angst over the matter any time soon, but if the list is to be believed, the best place to get a beer in the UK is.....the Great British Beer Festival. It would appear that great places to get a pint in the UK are limited to London, Sheffield and Stonehaven. Sorry Burton upon Trent, you have nothing to offer. Sorry Oxford, the Inklings clearly knew nothing about a good place or two to have a pint. Sorry Manchester and area, Tandleman is clearly ignorant of the lack of good watering holes in your neck of the woods. Sorry Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen (home to the BrewDog pub), Newcastle, Carlisle, Birmingham, Cambridge, Norwich, and so and so on.

Of course one man's pivní perfection is another man's hoppy hell, so list's like this must be taken with a large pinch of salt, and I allowed myself a wry smile at the many pubs I love and miss in Prague which didn't make the list. However, forgive me if I am overly cyncial, but surely the best place to get a beer in the world would be the only place you can buy Westvleteren with the blessing of the monks? Where does In De Vrede come on the list?

It doesn't.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Lazy Look at the Cellar

For some reason, my brain has all the activity of an arthritic slug today. I am sure the cause is not having worked in the Starr Hill tasting room on both Saturday and Sunday, and being asked what specialty beer I would brew to follow the Double IPA which is currently gracing the taps - my answer was a Baltic Porter, something hefty and akin to either the Pardubický Porter or Primátor's lovely Double from back in the Czech Republic. Part of the reason could be the lack of beery joy since June 1st as I decided to take a month off the beer, so rather than witter on today, I thought I'd just put some pictures up of my cellar and some of the delights that await for Thursday and beyond.


The Cellar, large amounts of homebrew in there, and a case of Budvar to boot.


Stout - my favourite beer "style"


A sample of my Unibroue collection.


Some more dark beers, perhaps to save for the rainy days of autumn and chill of winter.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Brewer of the Week

The Brewer of the Week today is one of America's newest craft brewers, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Name: Jonathan Baker
Brewery: Monday Night Brewing


How did you get into brewing as a career?

Frankly, we stumbled upon it. We were in a bible study and started brewing beer four years ago as a way to get to know each other better. Three of us (Joel Iverson, Jeff Heck and myself) really took to it and we set upon the path of making this our career. It’s been a fun ride.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

We’re still in startup mode, hoping to launch this fall, so the most important characteristic is still TBD. But being very precise about processes and flavors has served us well thus far. Flexibility has also helped, as a brewer (particularly a startup brewer) has to wear many different hats.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

We still homebrew as a way to test batches to get to full-scale production. All of our recipes start out as homebrew before they make it to the big system.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Yep.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

I’m going to say our imperial pumpkin beer. Brewing with pumpkin is just fun, even if it takes a little longer. I love all the colors and spices we get to work with.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

It totally depends on who you ask. I love our Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale. Jeff is more of a hophead, he loves the Eye Patch Ale.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

Is this a trick question? I’m going to say NOT IMPORTANT AT ALL. Just joking. “Authenticity” can be a pretty broad term. But we think it’s imperative that we are authentic to ourselves and our vibe with all of our beers. We want to brew flavorful, balanced beers that can stand on their own or blend seamlessly into a meal. And we have this in mind whenever we approach a new recipe.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

I’d actually like to work with an up-and-coming Southern distillery here in America, like Corsair Artisan or Firefly Distillery. We love our home and would relish the challenge of working with other new Southern companies to see what we could do to combine flavors and methods to create something uniquely Southern and uniquely us.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

There are a million and one different beers out there, and it’s so great to try new beers and get a little bit of each brewer’s personality in each sip. That’s the beauty of this industry. Everyone tries everything and learns from everything. I don’t think there’s one particular beer that we wish we’d invented. We want each beer we brew to define who we are and what we’re about, so we wouldn’t ever consider taking that away from another brewer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Hate Pigeonholing!

I find myself in somewhat of a quandry, though thankfully not of the kind that leads to existential angst. You see, I have decided that this year I will go ahead and enter the Dominion Cup, Virginia's leading home brew competition. I also plan to enter the home brew section in the local county fair, though this isn't a BJCP or AHA sanctioned competition, but hey, any chance for some glory and being able to call myself an "award winning home brewer". Sit, ego, sit.

I have four beers to enter for each competition:
  • Samoset 2009 - my barleywine into which I chucked some dried sweet orange peel
  • Black Rose - a very dark Dunkelweizen, almost a wheat stout
  • Old Baldy - a 65 IBU American IPA, dry hopped with Challenger
  • Experimental Dark Matter - the peat smoked mild
It is the last of those four that is the root of my bafflement, or rather which category to enter it into. Given the style guidelines set out by the BJCP for Mild (11A), a starting OG of 1.052 is too much, though at 4.3% abv the alcohol content is within the given limits, as are the 16 IBUs.

However, given that I used a portion of Peat Smoked Malt in the grist should I enter it in the Smoked Beer Section (22B)? If so, then the question becomes, what is the base style? I have played with the idea that the base style closest to the beer I produced is a Robust Porter (12B), but the hopping is wrong for the BJCP's interpretation of Porter, though ideal for Mild.

There is of course the final option, to enter the beer in category 23, the anything goes world of "specialty beer". The problem there is that I am not convinced that my beer is that much of a specialty. Historically speaking we all know that "mild" doesn't refer to the alcoholic strength of a beer, but rather it was a young beer that hadn't yet become "stale" or "old", so from my understanding of Mild, that's exactly what I have made, just with a dash of lovely peat smokiness in there as well.

What to do, what to do?

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Strong Core

Last week I posted about the importance of getting simpler styles of beer right in order to be regarded as a great as opposed to a good brewer. Of course the phrase "simple styles" specifically referred to the types of beer that have very simple grain bills, perhaps even with just the one malt used, such as a pilsner made exclusively from the Pilsner base malt. As is my wont, I have being mulling over that idea and thinking that while I stand by my original assertion, there is more to being a great brewer than just being able to make a magnificent pale ale, bitter or pilsner.

I got to thinking about the importance of having a strong core range of beer, and how excellence across the core range is also a sign of a great brewer. Having used Sierra Nevada as my example in the previous post, I shall do so again. Their core range consists of the following five beers:

  • Pale Ale
  • Kellerweis
  • Porter
  • Stout
  • Torpedo Extra IPA
Now, I will be perfectly up front and honest and say that I am yet to try the Porter and the Stout, a major oversight on my part to be sure, especially given my love of darker beers, but one which will be rectified at my earliest convenience. If, however, you look at the rankings these beers get on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, they are consistently at the higher end of their respective scales. Their core range is thus solid and well regarded by the wider beer drinking community. Of course, Sierra Nevada brew their seasonal and one off beers, and they rate very highly in the ranking sites, imperfect as such sites are.

One off specials add a little sparkle to a brewer's offerings, that it is certain, but when there is a massive disparity in the opinions of the beer drinking community between specials and the core range, you have to ask questions as to whether or not a brewery is really all that great. There are always questions of who a brewery's target market is, whether it is the cognoscenti of the beer world, or the average Joe just looking for something cold and wet to drink when out grilling, or having just cut the grass. But this brings me back to my original point in last week's post, is there anything I would rather drink when grilling than a well made pale ale or pilsner anyway? Probably not.

I guess in some ways I just apt to disappointment when I try a brewery's seasonal and one-off beers and they are light years ahead of the core range as it begs the question, if you can do this style very well, why doesn't the core range reach those heights as well?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Brewer of the Week

Our destination for Brewer of the Week today is Ireland, Dungarvan in County Waterford to be more more precise. It is here you will find one of Ireland's youngest breweries, in what seems to be an ever increasing number of craft brewers.



Name: Cormac O’Dwyer
Brewery: Dungarvan Brewing Company

How did you get into brewing as a career?

After several years as a home brewer my brother in law and I decided to take the plunge and set up our own micro brewery.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

It has been said to me by several people that you have to be slightly mad… I would say that you have to be adaptable, flexible, meticulous and always ready to deal with the unexpected (i.e. slightly mad!).

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Yes, I homebrewed for many years before going commercial. All the beers I brew have their basis in a beer I homebrewed, with tweaks along the way.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Not at the moment. We’re only up and running a couple of months, so things are a bit hectic at the moment. When things settle down a little I’ll fire up the 100L pilot brewery, and start working on new beers. That’s probably as close to homebrewing as I’ll get for now.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

Probably our Black Rock stout. All that roasted barley gives a wonderful aroma on brew day.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

Never worked in any other brewery. Straight in at the deep-end here.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

At the moment I’m loving Helvick Gold. It’s a blonde ale with a nice dose of hop, so is perfect for this weather we’re having (or had!).

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

A certain amount of authenticity for beer types is important but having the freedom to push the boundaries can lead to some great innovations in brewing.


If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

It would be great fun to collaborate with another Irish brewery – perhaps Galway Hooker, as they were a great inspiration for us starting our own brewery.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Landlord by Timothy Taylor – an outstanding brew. Simple yet complex, I always look forward to having one when I’m going to the UK. Had it from cask in a sailing club in Wales once, found it difficult to leave it behind and sail back across the Irish Sea!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Missing Something?

I am fairly sure that were you to do a straw poll of beer lovers regarding their favourite beer style, you would see beers such as Double or Imperial IPA, Imperial Stout or Barleywine dominating. Naturally I am partial to a drop or two of the heavy hitters, particularly Imperial Stout and Barleywine, but I wonder sometimes if an obsession with beers that are exceedingly hoppy, strongly alcoholic or a combination of both is indicative of being unable to enjoy the simple pleasures of life?

Recently I have had the pleasure, through the good graces of the cyber world, of introducing a few people to Žatec Bright Lager, also known as Blue Label. So far everyone who has tried it has loved it, and in one case it is now available at a local pub here in Charlottesville, Court Square Tavern. One of my friends on trying his first ever Žatec as "amazing" and said that he was "floored" by how good a properly made, Czech style lager is.

This got me thinking about how to tell a great brewery from a good one, and for me it comes done to one simple thing, how good are your basic beers? Whether we are talking about a Bitter, a Pilsner (whether German or Czech), a hefeweizen or a Pale Ale, I think it is these beers that tell you more about a brewery than their special edition Imperial IPA with countless IBUs and several other things that can mask off flavours. In the classic styles there is no room for hiding, so get it right and you're on to a winner, get it wrong and you're on a hiding to nothing.

As a case in point from the American context, take Sierra Nevada. Their big hitters, such as Torpedo, are really fantastic beers, and many of them line the shelves of my cellar, but even though I love Torpedo, I can drink their Pale Ale all night quite happily. The same goes for Kellerweis, their hefeweizen which bares more than a passing resemblance to Primátor Weizen it is that good.

Getting simple styles right is, in my world, the sign of a truly great brewer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Respect the Brothers

Orval, Rochefort, Achel, Westmalle, Chimay, Westveleteren and La Trappe are world renowned for being the Trappist beers. Of the seven, I have had the ranges of 4, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel, of the remaining three, I have no idea why I have yet to try Chimay or La Trappe, it certainly isn't because they are difficult to get hold of. Westveleteren is different, I have never visited the monastery, or know anyone who has, so I wouldn't be too surprised if I never try any of the 3 beers available.

To be blunt, the likelihood of never trying Westveleteren isn't something that keeps me awake at night worrying about what I am missing. I fear I will never make a great beer tourist, perhaps that is because I work in a brewery almost every other weekend, and thus have no need to do brewery tours ad infinitum.

One thing which I am fairly sure of is that I have too much respect for the work of the monks of Sint Sixtus to buy their beer in a shop in Brussels or anywhere else for that matter. It is a fair bet to say that most beer lovers are aware of the conditions placed on the sale of beer by the Sint Sixtus community, but just in case (no pun intended) here are the restrictions:

  • Every customer promises not to sell the beer to any third-party
Oh dear, there is only one condition of sale, all the other hoops to jump through are just process. Now, I don't know about you, but I find the kind of people who make promises that they have no intention of keeping, despicable. A tad strong of a word perhaps, but I guess I am overly moral in having problems with people who lie in order to make a commercial profit. Please don't consider me naive though, I am sure many a corporation bends the truth about their products in order to increase revenue, but the lack of respect for a community which is supported financially through the products it sells I find galling.

As I say though, I am not losing any sleep over the probability that I will never try the supposedly best beer in the world. I have blogged several times about keeping one's integrity, and this is another area where I feel that any integrity I may have would be flushed right down the toilet were I to buy Westveleteren from any other source than the monastery, or at In De Vrede, which I believe is the only cafe allowed to sell the beer by the monks.

So people, at the end of this rambling, I can say just one thing. Respect the monks of Sint Sixtus, and don't buy Westveleteren form any other source than the monks themselves.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Brewer of the Week

For today's Brewer of the Week we head off to Sheffield in England, home of stainless steel, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and a growing number of craft brewers, including Stuart from the Crown Brewery.


Name: Stuart Ross
Brewery: Crown Brewery

How did you get into brewing as a career?

A friend of mine was head brewer at Kelham Island brewery and asked me I fancied a career change. I didn't know much about beers other than British cask beer was better than keg. I took the job and 10 months later he left and I was in charge, I was very inexperienced and learned a lot very quickly.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

That's a hard one, the brewers I admire most are the ones with the technical qualifications and knowledge, but qualifications aren’t everything. The ability to make it up as you go along is a good one for micro brewers who often brew different beers. To brew the same beer perfectly every time requires focus, a perfectionst with excellent taste buds.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

I never home brewed before working at Kelham. I have done a few home brews since working at Crown but only as test brews. The only one to make it full scale brew was the double mashed HPA28° which I did the test brew for early in 2009, the idea is to mash with strong wort instead of water. I did the test brew and I got 1115 ish but it only fermented to mid 1030's so was very sweet, I ended up leaving the brew it the fermenting bin in the brew house right though the middle of summer until I tried it one day and thought it tasted ok, I had just acquired a soda keg and decided to test it with this beer. The result was that the sample I gave Pete Brown persuaded him to make it his 2nd favorite beer of 2009, so I had to do a full scale brew.

What is your favorite beer that you brew?

My favorite regular brew is Samuel Berry's pale ale 5.1% I think its a bit like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.


If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

I really enjoyed brewing Brooklyn Smoked Porter at Kelham, I loved the beer, it was a very unusual recipe and Garrett (name drop) came for the first brew day (to make sure we did it right).

Of the beers you brew, which is your favorite to drink?

Well as most have said before me its the beer I have in my hand, I'm just finishing of the last of a 1 litre bottle of Brooklyn Heights 5.8% my American style pale Ale brewed with Apollo & Summit hops. In a week or two my favorite beer will probably be Middlewood Mild 3.8%, a nice simple traditional beer that I brewed a couple of weeks ago. My favorite ever beer (that I brewed) is my India Pale Ale mega hoppy with Target and Chinook.


How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavor, ingredients and method?

If your trying to brew to an exact style then its very important. Modern craft brewing requires a mixture of different styles of brewing. Flavour must be genuine.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

Stef from Thornbridge is the main one, we've been talking about it for a couple of years now, one day it will happen. But I'm open to anything I'll brew with anyone for the experience I'm still learning collaboration or just a brewday at a different brewery. I’ve been lucky to have brew days at a few different places, Jennings, Cameron’s, Thornbridge (recently and in 2004 before Stef and Martin joined), I even went to Southern Tier in James Town NY State for a couple of days.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Mmmmmmmm loads of beers I've yet to come up with.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What's Been Brewing?

It has been a while since I wrote about my homebrewing exploits, so I thought a little update was in order.

About a month ago I did a brewing double header, the joys of having two carboys, where I made a revamped Experimental Dark Matter, seriously considering a name change on that one once the recipe is settled, and my first American style IPA, which bares the moniker Old Baldy IPA.

Experimental Dark Matter was an attempt to recreate a beer kit recipe which was my first ever stab at brewing, and happened to turn out well. Taking on board the advice of BUL 180 up in Oregon, I cut the amount of peated malt from 0.5lb to just over 0.1lb so as not to overpower the beer with the aroma and flavour of peat smoke, and possibly to lessen the chances of homesick melancholy overcoming me whilst drinking. The original gravity on the beer was 1.052 and it finished off at 1.020, a touch on the high side perhaps, but it should give the beer some nice residual sweetness and an ABV of 4.3%. As I am on a month long beer fast, I will be waiting until July to actually try some.

Old Baldy IPA was originally going to be called Hopbombination, but as this beer is intended for Independence Day, ironically it is also my wedding anniversary that day and then Mrs Velkyal's birthday on the 5th, I decided on a more topical name. I used 5 different types of hop in this beer, Citra, Centennial, Amarillo and Cascade in the boil and then dry hopped with Challenger for a couple of weeks in secondary. If my calculations are correct, it should have an IBU rating of 125 if this website here is to be believed. On the booze side of things, it started off at 1.060 and once primary fermentation was done it came down to 1.016, giving me a nicely respectable 5.9% ABV beer, which I hope will be a hit come July 4th.

Currently in one of the carboys is another batch of LimeLight 2.0, again being made for a friend's special occasion, in this case a house warming party when they move out of Charlottesville to the wilds of Troy. Whilst on the subject of LimeLight, I mentioned previously that there was a bum batch, I think the extract was not as fresh as I would have liked, and it was much darker than usual, plus the fact that I used a different yeast strain. However, the feedback I am getting about that batch is extremely positive, so I am planning to do a batch of Limelight which I will then split into 2 carboys and see the effects of the different yeasts.

That's kind of everything at the moment, other than deciding which beers to put forward for the homebrew competition at the local county fair, and later this month bottling Mrs Velkyal's dandelion wine. You'd think we liked our booze in the Velky Al household, you'd not be far wrong!

Monday, June 7, 2010

How Did We Do?

Back on May 4th, Pete Brown of multiple beer books fame stirred the beer blogging pot by claiming things had started going stale and challenging bloggers to up their game for the rest of the month.

Just a quick look over my posts for May shows that the number of tasting note posts was at a minimum and during the month I also wrote a post which got the highest number of comments in 2010, it was the We Are Not Geeks! post, which accrued 18 comments, as well as the second most commented Fuggled post of the year in Revolutionary Tosh.

I enjoyed writing more thoughtful pieces than just doing a cyber brain dump of tasting notes, my home brew recipes and the occasional multi-media post when I just can't think of anything else to write. Another highlight for me was having John Keeling from Fuller's, and Dave Bailey of Hardknott taking part in my Brewer of the Week series

But having laid down the challenge, the question for Pete Brown now is quite simple - how did we rise to your challenge?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Brewer of the Week

For this week's Brewer of the Week we head up to the North of England, to Cumbria in fact and to one of the youngest breweries in the UK, Hardknott, which is making the transition from a brewery in a pub to a stand alone microbrewery.

Name: Dave Bailey
Brewery: Hardknott

How did you get into brewing as a career?

We bought a pub and wondered how we could improve it. We had a spare bit of the building that we wanted to find an alternative use for. Several other pubs in the county had already started their own breweries and seemed to be doing better for it.

I researched what was required, sourced a second hand brewery, tried a brew on another brew pub's kit and then went for it.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

I think running a microbrewery requires a whole host of characteristics from the brewer; if you like, he needs to be a Jack-of-all-Trades. An analytical mind is important for assessing how to improve the beer, but the ability to be able to think on his feet when a pump fails half way through a brew. A practical outlook, problem solving abilities, a high level of self critique and a good palate all help.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

I think I made a couple of Boots kits many years ago, but I would never consider myself a home brewer.

With my current brew length of 2 barrels, brewing one-off experimental brews is not really a problem. Although at Hardknott we have some established products which we have confidence in, we will never be afraid of taking a risk and trying something new, possibly even ground breaking.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

I'm not sure I have a favourite; the best beer depends on the moment. I prefer beers that are full flavoured and stronger, however, there is a time for a good thirst quenching session beer too.

If I could only brew one beer then I think I would choose Infra Red, my ruby red "IPA". It is 6.5% and with a good balance between hops and malt makes a very tasty beer that can still be drunk in pints, providing a level of caution is applied.


If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

I have never worked in any other brewery. I've visited some and helped out, which is great fun. The most fascinating brewery I have helped at was the White Shield brewery, owned by Molson Coors. The brewer, Steve Wellington, is a great guy and he brews some classic beers which I would like to see made more available. I'd really like to help him brew P2 stout, that's what a stout should be.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

In a pub that would have to be Infra Red. At home probably Granite.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

I'm more interested in exploring new techniques and flavours rather than replicating any authenticity. Quality ingredients and understanding the process are key to a finished beer. In developing and improving Hardknott beers we like to analyse the beer, take note of any changes we have made to the processes or ingredients and how that has impacted on flavours, aromas and mouthfeel and hone to what we hope will be perfection.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

Since I have started brewing I have got to know so many different brewers that it is hard to answer such a question. The thing I love about all the craft brewers I have as good friends is the wealth of knowledge they freely share. The enthusiasm and friendliness of a good brewer is a treasure.

John Keeling should get a mention, partly because he said nice things about me on a previous Fuggled Brewer of the Week, also because I know Fuggled has high regard for Fullers Brewery, but most importantly because John knows that good beer comes from good people.

I have already agreed to go back and help out at the White Shield Brewery sometime in the future, hopefully I'll get a chance to see the old brewery working one last time before she is retired but also I hope to see the replacement working once it is commissioned.

Stuart Ross at Crown Brewery in the Hillsborough Hotel, Sheffield, is a progressive brewer and never afraid to try something new. He is a brewer who has no secrets and is very happy to share his knowledge with other people and so further the cause of good beer.

Phil Lowry from Saints and Sinners and Kelly Ryan from Thornbridge I'm sure could teach me something new and I don't ever think I'll finish learning about brewing beer. Indeed, any brewer who believes they know it all or thinks they can work in isolation will probably stagnate and the beer will be poor quality.

This final point is a criticism I would lay at the door of many regional "family" brewers but scarily, it also applies to one of the most progressive brewers around. As I say, good beer is brewed by good people and I would collaborate with any friendly brewer who likes to share knowledge.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

There are so many. I love the estery flavours in Belgian beers and the recent trend of fusing Belgian style with American Hop Bombs is great, but I had a Raging Bitch last night, so it's fresh in my mind.

I love stronger beers; imperial stouts, barley wines and ridiculously hoppy strong IPAs. I wonder how far that can be pushed, without making the end result a silly one-up-manship race, as has unfortunately happened in some areas of brewing. It's great to see cutting edge brewing, but brewers need to be careful not to let style impinge on substance, just to grab headlines.

So really, the beer I wish I had invented, has not been invented yet, I hope that one day I'll have a hand in helping to invent it, perhaps with of some of the people named above.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Watered Down Awards?

There are very few things that I hate with a passion. Nationalism is one, jazz is another. But the one thing that irks me beyond measure is ignorance, especially the willful kind of ignorance that refuses to listen to reason and will deny anything that flies in the face of a world view regardless of facts. Oh and I also think it is stupid to declare something the "world" whatever when the entrants are overwhelmingly from a single country.

I picked up the latest edition of All About Beer magazine at the weekend, along with the latest edition of Culture (a magazine about cheese), Bernard Cornwell's "The Archer's Tale" (it was called Harlequin in the UK), and the Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle, as I needed some poolside reading for Monday as it was a public holiday here. I have ranted before about the errors that crop up in the magazine, usually in the guide to various styles of beer (in this edition I felt like raging about them getting the British flag wrong on one of the pages, but I am not sure how many people would actually notice that the Cross of St Patrick isn't correct). As usual with All About Beer, the articles were interesting and well written, so what got my goat this time? Nothing about the magazine per se, apart from the complete list of winners from the World Beer Cup.

Before I get into it though, yes I understand that the awards can only be given to those brewers who take the time to actually enter the competition, but I think a concerted effort needs to be made to get more breweries to enter the competition, and while we are at it, I would love to see the complete lists of entrants for each style. Let's take the Bohemian Pilsner category. The winner? Golden Pilsner by the Morgan Street Brewery, a beer I haven't yet tried, but will have to make a effort to do so. The silver award went to Gambrinus Excelent, with bronze to Velkopopovický Kozel Premium, both of SABMiller, though listed under the Czech subsidiary name Plzeňský Prazdroj. Really? The second best Bohemian Pilsner in the world is Gambrinus Excelent, and the third is Kozel Premium?

Ok, sure, Gambrinus Excelent isn't entirely awful, as I posted about before, but the second best Pilsner from 43 entrants? I can only assume then that the 40 beers that didn't win anything in this category were rank beyond words, hence I would love to see the list of entrants so that I can avoid wasting my money on anything that can be beaten by a SABMiller product. Given that the standard Gambrinus came second in the International Style Lager category, I can only assume that an "international" lager is one that is watered down after fermentation and pretty much devoid of taste.

Perhaps what is required is for regional competitions to produce local winners, who are then forwarded to the global competition? Thus you would have the best Pilsner, as an example, from Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania going head to head against each other for the award at the World Beer Cup - think of it like the World Cup about to take place in South Africa, a genuinely global award.