Archive

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Kinnegar Brewing, Rathmullan, County Donegal

The island of Ireland was such a dystopia of beer choice in the early 1970s that a visit inspired four English visitors to band together and form a consumer group to save the remnants of English cask ale when they got back home.

20140503-225036.jpg

CAMRA lacked significant extraterritorial influence, so cask ale has not had a major resurgence since the 1970s on the island that inspired the campaign. However, as various seasoned Irish bloggers have documented, Ireland has a much more exciting and varied beer culture in the 21st century than it had in the last, but at the same time I didn’t expect a visit to rural Donegal to offer more in the way of beer than Guinness, Guinness or Guinness.

Accordingly, when I last visited Rathmullan for a fishing trip two years ago, there was no evidence of craft beer. But, since then, the small seaside town has acquired its own farmhouse brewery, Kinnegar Brewing, whose beers are available in bottles or on keg in a number of local pubs, including The Beachcomber Bar and The White Harte.

20140503-225121.jpg

Moreover, Kinnegar seems to be distinguished by a level of quality that most new English breweries fail to achieve. Scraggy Bay IPA in particular is an assertively bitter and citrussy but well-rounded New World-hopped IPA that would hold its own against Jaipur, Punk or Diablo.

After a long day’s fishing off Killybegs, marked by a shortage of actual fish, but the compensation of a pod of dolphins swimming with the boat, I was very happy to sit outside The White Harte, nursing an increasingly red forehead and watching the sun go down over Lough Swilly with a cold glass of a genuinely very good Irish IPA. In the same setting I would have suffered a Guinness too, but still.

20140503-225139.jpg

Kinnegar’s stockists are listed on its website and include bars and off licences throughout the island, including The Vineyard in Belfast and L Mulligans Grocers in Dublin.

Categories: Beer, Uncategorized

Marks & Spencer Mosaic Pale Ale and Amarillo Golden Ale

It did seem that the craft beer revolution had stopped being able to squeeze into its tight girl jeans and instead had pulled a nice comfy Blue Harbour rugby shirt over its growing paunch when Marks and Spencer started selling single-hopped beers, but Oakham Citra under M&S branding being so widely available to the poor huddled middle classes should not be shrugged at. The other beers (Elgood’s Sovereign, Crouch Vale’s Hallertau Brewers Gold and Castle Rock’s Cascade) were each interesting enough, but none were as well-rounded or exciting as Citra, which qualifies as a modern classic.

It seems that the initial experiment was successful enough for M&S to ask for more single-hopped beers from their favoured English breweries, and two new bottles, Mosaic Pale Ale from Adnams and Amarillo Golden Ale from Meantime, caught my eye this week.

photo-2

Both breweries have had good-to-excellent form in their previous offerings for M&S. Adnam’s Summer IPA and Winter IPA (rebadging their American Style IPA and Innovation respectively) are two of the most enjoyable beers that Marks and Spencer have stocked, and it seemed doubly bold of M&S to stock hoppy beers that exceeded 6%. I was less convinced by the rebadged Sole Star, but it was acceptable for a tax-efficient 2.7%. Meantime’s more expensive barrel-aged offerings have been less successful, but their Black IPA was solid, even if black IPA in M&S feels like Motörhead t-shirts in New Look.

Moving on to the new beers, Adnam’s Mosaic Pale Ale is copper blonde in colour with a slightly metallic aroma. The overall impression from the first taste is a thin mouthfeel and restrained dry bitterness without much depth. The metallic taste builds into a more rounded bitterness, but one characterised by that oniony quality that you get from Simcoe (from which Mosaic is derived). It’s a more pleasant drink than that sounds, perhaps one that will appeal to Brewdog fans given their signature use of Simcoe and which might go well with barbecued red meat.

The Meantime-brewed Amarillo Golden Ale is another story altogether: it’s straw coloured with a whiter, frothier head. A fuller, oilier mouthfeel sustains the flavours of apricots and flowers, with a little grapefruit. A more elegant beer than the Mosaic and an easier one to love, it would go well with light, spicy foods and mango salsa.

Both are pretty good for the barbecue season then, but I would recommend the Amarillo and the still-available Citra if your tastes are similar to mine.

Categories: Beer, Uncategorized Tags:

Good Vibrations and Bad Vibes: Amateur criticism and social media

April 19, 2014 1 comment

I recently read a Facebook post that appeared to be by Belfast record shop owner and label starter Terri Hooley.  The post drew attention to a mini-review of the film of his life, Good Vibrations.  The review was on a site called “Letterboxd” (a social networking/microblogging site for film fans) and only said:

The ultimate proof (if any more was needed after he put Saving Mr. Banks on his year-end top 10 list) that Mark Kermode has become an old, whiny, out-of-touch, middlebrow and sentimental fart.

Mark Kermode had named Good Vibrations, which is a lovely low budget film based on Terri’s own anecdotes about the liberating effect of punk on himself and the teenagers living through the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, as one of the best of last year. In the Facebook post, Terri was angry about Mark suffering the “backlash” that he had expected from the film but hadn’t yet experienced.

Good Vibrations is not flawless as films go, not least because of its limited budget, but most people will find themselves swept along in its humour and amiability and appreciate Terri’s fundamental rightness in supporting music’s redemptive effect in a situation sorely lacking in redemption; a Northern Irish Twenty Four Hour Party People with less knowing playfulness but higher stakes.

But there will be exceptions and, in 2014, some of those people will decide to tell the internet when they didn’t like it.  When they decide to do so, they will tend not to consider the possibility that someone who invested more in the end product than the cost of an online rental might read it.  Like Terri, for example, for whom it is essentially the end product of his entire life, along with introducing John Peel to the Undertones (and selling me a Frank Zappa bootleg 14 years ago).

The reason that I’m writing this on a near-defunct beer blog is that it reminds me of the situation regarding beer.  The craft beer industry is full of people who have a really close connection to their product, take pride in their work, will be genuinely hurt by online criticism and consequently annoyed by it, especially when that criticism comes from people who appear not to know what they’re talking about.  Except it is also the case that the people who are criticising them aren’t usually claiming to express an expert opinion, but are merely venting the feeling that they didn’t get value for money from the beer they bought, which might have been an actual problem of quality, a misunderstanding about what the brewer was trying to achieve or possibly even an utter failure of palate.

I am in no position to criticise a brewer for what they are trying to do when occasionally they fail to achieve it, and consequently don’t have a lot to say these days.  I would be more willing to criticise a larger brewery for trying to piggy-back on the shoulders of many smaller brewers and launching “craft beers” that merely devalue that already-amorphous term, if the whole situation didn’t fill me with inertia.

But, I suppose, if there is a moral to be taken for brewers it is to listen to individual criticisms, be open to their validity, but also be prepared to dismiss them graciously and/or silently if they obviously have no merit.  The product will, over time, probably speak for itself.  The risk of the alternative is to be Ricky Gervais, railing against “critics” and turning everyone else against you in the process.

Finally, I would recommend that you watch Good Vibrations.  It’s a craft film if ever there was one.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Blessed Bank Holiday Morning

June 5, 2012 1 comment

The treat of an unusual morning off. The blessed, wonderful knowledge that tonight – the feast, the indulgence, the excess – will be followed by a morning in bed. The alarm snoozed. The hangover quietly slept through.

The time to fry some bacon and quietly convince your stomach to keep that much-needed salt and fat down, rather than a rushed morning; a precarious bus journey; putting on a brave face for 9am. You would forgive a war criminal in exchange for that morning off. A monster.

For a queen? An unelected monarch? A benign but ideologically objectionable symbol of a system wrought with class, privilege, prejudice, wealth and status? For this morning… fine. That’s just fine.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Food Programme: The New Beer Frontier

I mentioned in my post regarding the Garrett Oliver lunch at Mr Foleys that there was a journalist from BBC Radio 4 present.  The episode of The Food Programme that he recorded was broadcast today and will shortly be available on iPlayer here and also as a podcast from this page.

Image

Whilst there are a couple of slight slip-ups and the odd oversimplification for those who are paying attention, it’s a wide-ranging and interesting programme, including contributions from Pete Brown, James Clay, Neil from Eating Isn’t Cheating, Rob from Hopzine and breweries such as Bristol Beer Factory and Camden Town in the UK and Harpoon and CBC in the US.  It’s certainly one of the most up-to-date and least clichéd mainstream programmes I’ve heard about beer and a good recognition of the US craft influence on UK breweries.

I Know Where The Summer Goes: IPA Day at Mr Foleys

September 19, 2011 1 comment

It’s been a month and a half since #IPA Day at Mr Foleys and the leaves have started to turn.  I don’t have a lot more to say other than that it was a great success, I had a fantastic day, enjoyed the esteemed company and tried some superb, occasionally very strong beers.

So this is mainly an excuse to post some photos of the day, which in itself is only really worth it for that one shot of Hardknott Dave in full, thunderous flow, doing his utmost to be heard above the crowd, whether they liked it or not.  He could easily be a Free Presbyterian minister if only he wasn’t so keen on the Devil’s buttermilk.

For Leigh’s contemporaneous comments on the remarkable selection of beers Dean had brought together for #IPAday, see this post

Categories: Uncategorized

Dales Way Pubs: The Red Lion, Sedbergh, Cumbria

Our first day on The Dales Way (foreshortened and in reverse) was from Kendal to Millthorp on Easter Sunday.  This was a really beautiful walk on a sunny day, passing over some lovely pasture before crossing over the West Coast Mainline and the M6 to join the Lune river at Crook of Lune bridge and following it south to join the Rawthay river.

The end of our walk that day was Millthorp Bridge, but 1km up the road from the finish point is Sedbergh, the place where Kate and I are getting married in October (*knock wood*).  Opposite the church in the centre of the village is The Red Lion pub, the first of three “lions” on our journey.

Much as we’d accidentally stumbled upon a beer festival in Kendal before starting the walk, we were lucky enough to find a beer festival going on in the pub, or rather in a satisfyingly cool stone shed out the back.  A very helpful barman who was there specially for the beer festival took us out to the back and told us about the selection.

As usual, I had been daydreaming for the last few hours about the beer I would have at the end of the stage.  My thoughts were in the region of pale, hoppy, thirst-quenching beers, such as Hawkshead Windermere Pale or Ilkley Mary Jane.  Although they didn’t have either of those, they did have BrewDog Trashy Blonde.

It might have been the sunburn, the thirst or the tiredness and reflief at the end of the first day, but that Trashy Blonde was one of the most enjoyable pints I’ve ever had.  Just cool enough, bitter and fruity and seemingly a real improvement on the bottle of the same beer I’d had in Leeds previously.  I obviously inhaled the first pint before having a second.

We also tried a couple of the the other beers.  Marston’s Royal Wedding beer Perfect Union was a nice light hoppy beer and Rooster’s Leghorn was also fine, but on this occassion, both gentleman and lady preferred the Blonde.  This was a very promising end to the first day, and seemed to bode well for the rest of the walk.  However the next day we would be less fortunate.

Dales Way Pubs: Burgundy’s Wine Bar, Kendal, Cumbria

Last week Kate and I did The Dales Way, in reverse and slightly foreshortened, when we walked from Kendal to Ilkley.  We were extremely lucky with the weather and it was a truly beautiful walk over 5 days of 12-16 miles a day.  I was looking forward to enjoying a few beers along along the way, and at the end of a long day we certainly felt that we’d earned a drink.  In my next few posts, I intend to cover the pubs along the way, for those who are doing the walk or are just in the area.

Before starting out on our walk we stayed in Kendal for a couple of days.  The Dales Way doesn’t actually run through the centre of Kendal, but does pass through the nearby villages of Staveley and Burneside and a lot of trekkers will stay in the area on their final night before tackling the last section of the full Dales Way, in the usual direction to Bowness.

Kendal town centre is pretty good for beer generally, and you can usually find some Cumbrian beers from Coniston, Jennings and Hawkshead breweries.  Burgundy’s in Kendal (sometimes referred to as “The Wine Bar”) is a fairly regular visit for me when we visit Kate’s parents.  It has a few (four?) handpumps with a range of local beers.  It’s a decent size, spread over three levels, and a rooftop smoking area/beer garden and is usually fairly busy.

However when we visited last week the pub had expanded even further into a new area on the lower ground floor.  The new bit includes a brewkit behind glass, as in The Brewery Tap in Leeds, and it will be interesting to see what their own beers are like.  We were lucky enough to visit in a week where they had set up a temporary bar downstairs for a Cumbrian Beer Festival, expanding the range to around 20 beers.

We tried quite a few of the beers, including Stringer’s Yellow Lorry, Dent Brewery Baas & Stripes (an American-style pale ale with a typically painful name) and Ulverston Laughing Gravy.  On a warm spring day, we were in the mood for golden hoppy beers and there were two very good beers in that category in Hardknott Continuum and Hawskhead Citrillo.  The last two beers were from the two most interesting breweries in Cumbria that I’ve had a lot of exposure to; although I should mention that I’ve only tried a couple of Stringer’s beers, although I did have a Stringer’s IPA from MyBreweryTap recently and it was excellent.

The Hawkshead Citrillo did stand out as the best beer of the day.  Presumably made with Citra and Amarillo, it’s a big, bitter, fruity pale ale in all the right ways, on a par with Thornbridge Jaipur and Marble Dobber, and coming across like the tough big brother of Hawkshead Windermere Pale, which also uses Citra and is almost certainly the best 3.5% beer in the country at the moment.

Burgundy’s won’t always have such a wide range, but it usually has a good one and if there’s nothing on the pumps to interest you, there is a well-stocked beer fridge with probably the best selection of imported bottles in the town centre, including a selection of Belgian beers and even Goose Island IPA.

Other good beer bars in Kendal include The Vats Bar in The Brewery Arts Centre (near the youth hostel) and The Rifleman’s Arms on Greenside, near a lot of the B&Bs.  It would be foolish to pass through Staveley without visiting the superb Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall (but check opening times in advance) or as an alternative The Eagle & Child.

Going Solo: Leeds Brewery’s Single Hop Range

April 20, 2011 10 comments

Whilst some of us are able to swan off to Copenhagen to enjoy 19 single-hopped beers at the Mikkeller bar, I find myself more firmly rooted to the ground in Leeds crying into my parkin as my shivering whippet empathically pines alongside me.  Still, there are some compensations for the wan, potbellied Yorkshire-based salaryman, as we’re currently enjoying our own homegrown single hop event.

As Jerry notes, single hops are so hot right now.  Mikkeller did their first range of single-hopped IPAs a while ago and a lot of other breweries have done similar things.  Most notable in recent months is BrewDog’s IPA Is Dead release.  As I mentioned at the time, I’m very much in favour of this type of thing as it serves to interest and educate the budding beer geek who doesn’t know quite enough about brewing (i.e. me and presumably a few others, but mainly me).

Leeds Brewery’s single-hopped range is called “So1o” and each of the four beers is brewed on the small brewkit on the premises in The Brewery Tap, near the entrance to Leeds station.  They’ve brewed four identical beers but for the hops used. However, as the base beer, rather than using a 7.5% strong IPA like IPA Is Dead, instead they’ve gone for a light 4% session pale which would fit into their range more coherently.

I started with the Sorachi Ace, the Japanese hop which had produced an intriguing and divisive IPA in the BrewDog release, with pepper, herbs and lemon cheescake amongst the multitude of tastes it was compared to. By contrast this beer had a delicate aroma. It was a light lime cordial smell, subtle but fresh rather than bready. This carried through to quite a light taste and bitterness in with the relatively full creamy mouthfeel which characterises most Leeds beers.

Northdown is an English hop apparently often used in stouts, although I’m not familiar with it specifically. The beer had very little nose and initially little in the taste. The beer was quite cold however and as it warmed I noticed a subtle traditional English bitterness and also a very slight plastic/bubblegum undercurrent. The aftertaste was satisfyingly bitter and rounded in the style of an English pale ale.

I thought I knew what to expect from Cascade and I usually really enjoy the astringent grapefruity bitterness. This beer had a little grapefruit in the smell although it did seem more like watered down grapefruit juice than the fresh stuff. This mildness carried through to the taste and aftertaste which, whilst refreshing, didn’t really make the best use of what can be a spiky, interesting hop that makes you sit up and pay attention.

Hallertau Mittelfrüh is a traditional German lager hop. The beer had a fresh herbal to grassy nose and a nice lagery bitterness on the swallow. Being a relatively low ABV beer which was less strongly hopped than an IPA, I thought this worked really quite well, showcasing the hop bitterness to a much better extent than lagers usually allow for.

We’re being asked to vote for the hop that makes it into the regular range, and I duly filled in my card, deciding to opt for the Hallertau. The Cascade and Sorachi Ace are both nice hops and made for pleasant beers, but I wanted them to be more forthright than they were. Northdown was fine if lacking in aroma, but didn’t produce a beer that was different enough to Leeds Brewery’s usual range. The Hallertau beer simply made the best use of the hop.

I tend to think of Leeds Brewery as being cautious and playing to a mainstream audience. Their core range (Pale, Best, Midnight Bell) is fine but of those I’ve personally found only the last to be both consistent and interesting. Their ambitions to step into Tetley’s shoes are quite clear in the upcoming events around the time of Carlsberg’s sad closure of the site as reported by Leigh.

However things like the So1o range (including the willingness to enter into a dialogue with their customers on what they think of them) and their recent Gyle 479 suggest that Leeds Brewery are branching out and doing more experimental things. This might start to get people genuinely interested in and talking about their beers, even if they’re not going to be at the front end of innovation, capturing headlines with offal beers or 55% eisbocks. It’s fine winning the loyalty of the mild and bitter drinkers of West Yorkshire who want a default beer to have time and time again, but let’s keep some spice in the relationship, eh?

The State I Am In: BrewDog Nanny State

April 19, 2011 4 comments

I’ve been a bit wary about opening this bottle of BrewDog Nanny State, which I’d bought in a slight rush from Utobeer as they were closing up one evening a few weeks ago.

Nanny State is described as an “Insanely Hopped Imperial Mild” and is a very low ABV “beer” that was first produced a couple of years ago in response to a controversy over the the 18.2% Tokyo.  I’m not sure how good a beer brewed as satire is supposed to be, but I thought I’d give it a go.

This bottle was actually of a newer, even lower ABV batch: the original Nanny State was 1.1% and this one was half that, at 0.5%.  This version is supposed to be an improvement on the original, after a rare admission of remorse from BrewDog for their prioritising of publicity over taste in the original.

 

Having not tasted the 1.1% version, this lower ABV Nanny State first surprised me with its smell.  I didn’t expect the rich, very hoppy, unusually malty aroma that reminded me of one of those big malty American IPAs.  I remember speaking to a barman in The Ginger Man in New York last year and he said that the thing he disliked about Punk IPA was a lack of maltiness which he expected in most hoppy US beers.  He would have no complaints here, based on just the smell.

It poured a caramel colour and there was initially a light bitter hoppy sweetness in the taste.  However the thing that probably can’t really be got around in a beer of such nominal ABV is the thinness.  The lack of body made it seem very fizzy.  A slight raspberry taste in the bitterness was quickly overcome with the unrelenting fizziness.  After knocking the bubbles out a bit however I was left with a slightly alkaline aftertaste.

I see that Martin describes it as a “quinine bitter finish“.  Maybe that’s fair, but it definitely started to bore after a while: smelling that pleasant rich hoppy malty fruitiness before each taste, whilst always being disappointed when it reached the tongue.

I had started out thinking that I wouldn’t mind having this beer when I was driving.  I had Becks Blue recently, the 0.05% lager which seems to be this decade’s Kaliber or Tennents LA, available in Loch Fyne, The Living Room and similar decent midmarket working lunch restaurants.  Nanny State is an improvement on Becks Blue, but it’s a real shame that the fantastic smell doesn’t carry through to a correspondingly nice mouthfeel or a lasting pleasant taste.

All in all, if I’m not able to drink properly for whatever reason, I’d rather have a smaller amount of a good session beer (like the fantastic Hawkshead Windermere Pale) than a lot of this.   But all credit to BrewDog for trying and trying again, like another famous Scot.

%d bloggers like this: