27/08/2015

80 Brussels Boozers (and what to drink)

My title doesn't have quite the same ring to it as that chosen for the book that this post is about. The 80 beer series has returned to where it began with the release of the second eidition of around Brussels in 80 beers. I caught up with author Joe Stange to find out what he's been getting up to:

BIK: How did you get involved with 80 beers?

JS: I was living in Brussels and writing a book on the best places to drink the best beer in Brussels. Then I heard that Tim Webb wanted to publish one akin to Podge and Siobhan's Around Bruges in 80 Beers. And I thought, "Oh, shit. I'd rather not compete with that." So I called Tim. I explained that I was a journalist who was already working on such a book, and might he need someone to write it? So he put me together with Yvan De Baets, and we co-researched and wrote the first edition. My background was news reporting, plus two years of living in Brussels and filling a notebook with beer and pub notes.

BIK: How did you find the time to check out so many pubs & bars? I assume there must have been plenty that didn't make the cut too!

JS: At this point many years of research have gone into it. I have a working list of nearly 200 cafés, but there are many hundreds more in Brussels. I can't get to them all. I lived in Brussels for four years until 2010, and I've managed to get back two or three times per year since then. Most of that time I spend just walking and tramming around the city, following leads and occasionally finding something new. I follow local Brussels media too, because they occasionally write about new cafés or restaurants. Still, I'm sure there are a few good ones out there that I haven't found. If so, let me know!

BIK: Are you impressed with how much the bar scene in Brussels has moved on in the last 6 years?

JS: Yes and no. There are more bars, cafés and shops run by people who are selective about Belgian beer and know what they're doing. So that's great. It was harder to narrow my list down than it was in 2009 for the first edition.

On the other hand there are also an absurd number of ridiculous trendy "concept" bars that either don't care about beer or are content to relay mainly on the products of one large beer company. Meanwhile Brussels hotel bars are stuck in the 1980s.

Also, Belgian bars are starting to play with international craft beer, which is fine, but unfortunately they come at international craft prices. As in other well established beer countries, the Belgians generally refuse to pay much for beer. I'm cheap and old-fashioned so I like it that way.

The Corbeau (Raven)

BIK: What are your thoughts on how Belgian beer as a whole, moving to more modern interpretations of styles whilst some breweries still preserving traditional styles

JS: Our cultural borders were always liminal, never hard and fast. What we once learned were "Belgian" beers were also heavily influenced by British ale, German lager and French wine -- and influence has many vectors. But Belgian beer does have a certain identity and common characteristics -- light body, sturdy foam, lively carbonation, expressive yeast, bottle conditioned -- and I get annoyed when lazy brewers chuck all that away in a doomed attempt to imitate a California IPA, for example. 

BIK: A topic i think will come up in conference: brewers without breweries (commissioners, gypsy or otherwise). What are your views on these type of breweries and are they overall a good, bad or indifferent thing for Belgium?

JS: The chief problem is not hiring a brewery -- it can be a sensible arrangement -- but lack of honesty. People want to know where their food and drink is made. The label should tell them the place of manufacture. Also I have little patience for misuse of the words "brewer" and "brewery." I want to protect the language there. A brewer is someone who physically brews beer. A brewery is a building that houses functioning brewing equipment. If you are not those things, do not use those words. There is no shame in being an excellent marketeer or successful entrepreneur who is sensible enough to hire skilled technicians to make a product. Own it, instead of pretending to be something you're not. It's disrespectful to the people who do the production work.

BIK If you had time for just a single place in Brussels, which would it be?

JS: The Brocante, on Place du Jeu de Balle. Great list of lambics, lots of odd local snacks, interesting bric-a-brac, and a cat or two.

BIK: If there was one bar you'd suggest people visit to get an authentic taste of Brussels history and beer, which would it be?

JS: Lots of choices here but I'd single out the Bon Vieux Temps. Dark, ancient and unchanging, a wonderful place to sip a Trappist and talk quietly or admire furnishings.

BIK: If pressed for your favourite Belgian beer, what would you name?


JS: Saison Dupont.


A man of good taste obviously, recommending one of my favourite Belgian beers! Joe kindly arranged to get the book posted to me in time for our trip to Brussels to give it a proper road test. Its certainly had that and now appears a few years old, replete with beer stains and foxed cover! We've been to around ten of the eighty outlets so far and found something great to drink at all of them. Joe's writing style is both conversational and observational with plenty of details on the history of the place, some great photos and each page is rounded out with a beer suggestion and some pithy tasting notes.

I started out trying to drink the suggested beer in each venue, but as with all transient things a number of the venues no longer stock the suggested beer. No worries though as there are plenty of other belgian beers to choose from!

I'll probably do a full round up of all the places that we get to over the weekend, but in the meantime I'd recommend Neutnigenuf for great beer cuisine, moder lambic fontinas for beer choice and le Fleur en Papier doree for atmosphere. Don't forget cantillon and de la senne of course!

Barrel store at Cantillon


The book is very reasonably priced at £10.99 and can be brought on line from www.booksaboutbeer.com, on Amazon or in many branches of Waterstones/ other reputable bookstores. For those attending the conference there's a Waterstones opposite the Hotel Marivaux and Bier Tempel also holds copies. If you're around next weekend (4th-6th September) then Joe and publisher Tim are around for Brussels beer weekend and launching their book at Delices & Caprices on Saturday at 1pm.

Happy bar hunting!

Cheers to Joe for taking the time to answer my questions, if anyone wants to catch up with him, share suggestions, jokes or pictures drop him a line at BXL80beers AT gmail DOT com or on Facebook here.

*I always thought the name was "Strange" to the extent I was about to report a typo on the front cover...

13/08/2015

Tyrone's Turn


For too long the focus on good beer in Northern Ireland has been centred around Belfast. Well not any more: enter the Wine Rack in Stewartstown. Now, as you would guess from the name, wine plays a big role in this shop and you won't find a better advocate of all things vinous than proprietor Michael Mulgrew. But Micky's also a fan of the fruit of the hop and has recently massively expanded his beer selection to become the best in Tyrone (if not all of NI, Belfast excluded.)

Just a small selection
of what's available!
The new beers are lovingly presented in a fancy dancey new fridge; to ensure all beers are delivered to you in tip-top condition and comprise a range of the best from the island of Ireland, UK and even further afield. Prices are keen and plenty to choose from; so get yourself along there post-haste!

Alongside increasing the range in his shop, he has formed the Mid-Ulster beer club which has already hold a sold-out tasting of Farmageddon and McGargles Beers with more in the offing. I can exclusively reveal the next event will be on Saturday 3rd October 7-10pm and feature not one but two of the best breweries Northern Ireland have to offer; Belfast's flying-run start-up Boundary and local favourites Pokertree. Brewers Matt and Darren both know each other fairly well (having been co-organisers of ABV); so expect a good bit of craic and tall tales as they guide us through their respective beer ranges. If we're lucky we may even get to sample some brand new releases. (If you want to get ahead of the game Micky keeps a good stock from both brewers in the shop). To book for the event (tickets cost £12) please call in to the shop or give Micky a ring on the number below.

Following that tasting we hope to welcome 8 Degrees into our midsts as part of their grand tour of the North later this year. Stay tuned for further details. Tastings should be a fairly regular occurrence, probably alternating with wine events, with even more plans for next year. Did someone mention antipodean brewers? ...certainly wasn't me.

36-38 The Square, Stewartstown BT71 5HZ
0288773 8092


Full Disclosure: Micky reached out to Beer Ireland for help with improving his range and I responded. After all the shop is mere minutes from my door; so benefits me too! Every county should have a flagship destination like the Wine Rack, which will challenge other local outlets to up their games. Micky has even more things planned but I'll leave those for another day. I have not and will not be receiving payment for my advice, but have of course been given some free beer samples.


30/07/2015

Carlowboration

Its been a while since I've featured Irish beers on this blog; so hopefully this post goes some way to redressing that omission. As I mentioned in my post earlier this year, Carlow were the first brewery in Ireland to collaborate with an international brewer (to my knowledge!) with Lublin to Dublin, an oatmeal stout brewed with Pinta last year ( which was very well received, coming in as 4th best Irish beer on RateBeer). I've just received a bottle of this year's release sticking to similar themes but as a milk stout this time around. Last year Polish hops were used, I'm not sure what they brought to the party this time as it was again brewed at Carlow.
So how does this years stack up? In my mind it betters even last years excellent release, with a full bodied chocolatey slightly milky mocha taste. This is no sickly sweet dessert beer however, being a proper robust porter first and foremost with the lactose accentuating rather than dominating the flavour profile. Seems the Beer Nut agrees with me.


Carlow also teamed up with American brewer Starr Hill to brew foreign affair, a red IPA. Of course IPA these days is a catch all term and often the beer is very different from even the modern reinterpretation of India Pale Ales. Colour aside, this one makes a good fist at the style being both hoppy and bitter thanks to the Falconners flight hop blend employed; though perhaps a little excessively due to an ABV on the low side at 4.8%. I'm a big fan of hoppy amber ales and there's much to like however with a decent level of carbonation, Big body for its strength and fresh hoppiness with red berry notes. but there's something in this one that doesn't sit right for me with a savoury almost meaty quality that jars somewhat with a tannic nettley bitterness.

Carlow also sent me a cider and hop adventure sorachi ace which I'd previously tried with my own coin. The former I found to be an entry level dryish uncomplex affair but rather enjoyed the latter, the malt bill allowing sorachi ace hops to work their magic - but very much an acquired taste. I'm looking forward to seeing more collaborations with from Carlow, particularly the promised Beoir beer. I also hope to hear whether they decided to use blogger input they gleaned from the conference in Dublin last year to inspire any of their beers.

Thank you to Carlow for sending me the samples, all the beers featured in this post are available bottled from all the usual suspects.


28/07/2015

Dear Old Donegal


By local artist Barry Britton
This coming weekend sees the sophomore edition of the Wild Atlantic Craft beer festival hosted at Dicey O'Reilly's in Ballyshannon, Donegal (home of Donegal Brewing). Last year's event was a roaring success by all accounts with a number of new beers launched and hoards of punters' thirsts satiated. This year should be no different with an expanded programme of meet the brewer events, fresh cooked curries and beers pouring from at least thirteen breweries* including seven beers from the hosts (a new mild amongst them!);  with plenty of other beers available in bottled format from the well-stocked Dicey's off-licence.

Alongside the beer is a packed schedule of live music with styles to suit all tastes and with the Folk Festival happening in town at the same time plenty to maintain your interest if beer isn't enough to drag you out of your living rooms (why not?!)



Crowds enjoying the sun last August
Local beer festivals like this are an area where there's massive potential for growth in Ireland, but particularly in these parts, where the beer event calendar is fairly thin on the ground (of course bolstered this year by the ABV fest in Belfast). If you have a licensed premises why not consider running an event of your own? By my reckoning there are at least 48 weekends to choose from!



If you fancy popping along to the festival doors open 7PM on Friday 31st July and from 2PM Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd August. Kick out time is 2AM each day; so plenty of time to sample everything. You can also call in for a tour of the brewery to find out where the beer is made and drink it at source. Brewer Brendan looks forward to seeing you all!

Find out more:
www.wildatlanticcraftbeerfestical.com
www.facebook.com/thewildatlanticcraftbeerfestival 
www.twitter.com/craftyfest
(00353) 086 2836914

WHATS ON
Friday 7pm: Beerhall Opens
7pm: The Beer Garden Folk/Trad. Session
10pm:  Night Time Trad/Folk Session

Saturday: 2pm: Beer Hall Opens
4pm: The Early Session
5pm: Chandpur Indian Food – Beerhall
5pm Meet The Brewer Session with
Richard from Black Donkey
7pm: The Tea Time Session
8pm: Meet the Brewer Session
with David from Northbound
11pm: The BIG Saturday Night
“Busy Fools”

Sunday: 2pm: Beerhall opens
5pm: Chandpur Indian Food – Beerhall
5pm: Lazy Afternoon Bluegrass Session
5pm: Meet the Brewer Session with
Gordy from Inismacsaint Brewery
 8pm: The Last Trad Hooley
10pm: Festival Farewell Gig


*Current beer list
Eight Degrees Nelson Saison
Eight Degrees Full Irish
Trouble Brewing Simcoe Smash
Saltaire Kola Black IPA
To oL Friends with benefits
Chimay White
Wicklow Wolf IPA
Black Donkey Sheep Stealer
Brooklyn Lager
Thornbridge Jaipur
Donegal Porter
Beavertown Neck Oil IPA
 Laguntias Pale Ale
Metalman Windjammer
Donegal Session IPA
Donegal Pale Ale
Donegal Atlantic Amber
Donegal Mild Ale
Donegal Blonde

10/07/2015

What's Lego-ing on?

Far too often beer reviews can be staid an boring (perhaps I've been guilty of that too?); so its always nice to come across and interesting and refreshing take that's a bit more fun too. Pottering around Facebook t'other day I came across a page called Beer Farts. Being a bit puerile I clicked on and found the page to be full of well-taken pictures of beer - but with a twist; every beer is paired with a Lego character. I also like that there's usually a short topical comment linking beer with current affairs in beer and wider world. Being a fan of both Lego and beer I got in touch with the creator to find out a bit more.

Who is behind beer farts and where did the name come from?
Hi, I'm Tom, based in London and I take the photos (and drink the beers !). When brewers etc meet me they always say ‘oh, you’re not what I was expecting’. They may be expecting some strange guy that plays with Lego but I am normal. I promise! 
I toyed with a few names but once I landed on Beer Farts it stuck. It seemed to catch people’s eye and make them laugh.  

Punk IPA
How did you come up with the idea to use Lego?
I was given a Lego set as a gift after seeing the Lego movie last year. I was already posting photos of my favourite beers and decided to include the Lego in one. It turned out to be quite popular and at all started from there. 

What comes first , the beer or the Lego?
The beer is always first. I just then try to work the appropriate Lego in with the beer. That can be difficult if I cannot get the Lego man I want. I've had to hold out for weeks to try a beer because I wanted the right figure for the photo. A little sad I know.


 Where did you get such an array of figures; do you have to carry them all around with you?
I am always buying new ones from local toy shops, online and even charity shops. Sadly, yes I do carry some with me almost everywhere. I don’t want to miss a shot! Planning ahead can be tricky though.

Beavertown Honest Pale
What is your favourite Lego set/ character; are there any that don't exist which you'd like to see?
My favourite set is the Back to the Future set. I love the movies so I love this set too. The hotdog mini figure still makes me laugh though, he is a great one.
After the success of The Simpsons two series I’d love Lego to make a Family Guy series. I think that would work great. I’m also excited for the release of the Big Bang Theory set that is coming out soon.

What has been your favourite review?
One of my recent favourites is the post for Beavertown’s Skull King. Not only is the beer great but their can designs are always so crazy. I’m always happy when I can make a character to match those on the can design. The can designs alone make for great photos.

What do you enjoy most about using Lego alongside words to convey your thoughts on beers?
It makes people laugh and beer is meant to be fun after all. Lots of people post photos of beers; I find the Lego men are a great way of making my posts stand out. I hope people see the photos and then are interested to read what I’ve said about the beer.
Do you have a favourite beer style and is there a beer you'd really like to review using Lego?
My favourite style has to be IPA, whether it’s traditional British style or West Coast. I’d really like to try and review Heady Topper as I hear so many good things about it. I’m sure I could find a good Lego to go with that!






Which beer so far has been most enjoyable?
This is almost impossible to answer. I’ve had so many good ones. Some of my favourites include; Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA, Camden Town’s IHL, The Kernel’s IPA, Russian River’s Pliny The Elder, Meantime IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin' and Stone’s Japanese Green Tea IPA. 

What character would you choose for the following "whale" beers:
·        Pliny the Elder – I have a Roman Emperor that could play Pliny
·        Three Floyds Dark Lord -  A medieval knight would work great here I think.
·        Old Chimneys King Henry – The King from the latest series looks like a young King Henry VIII. He works very well for any ‘King’ named beer.  
·        Cantillon Blaeber – The cowboy would be perfect for this.


Thank you to Tom for taking the time to answer my questions, hopefully you check out his work, its good fun!
Beer Farts is on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and also has a few blog posts here.

14/05/2015

Whisky cocktails

Its been a while since I've had a chance to participate in one of Steve @TheWhiskyWire's organised TweetTastings (and even longer since I've written one up!); so I jumped at the chance when the opportunity arose. Even better was that this time the tasting would include three cocktails by White Lyan (2014 best newcomer cocktail bar in world) which means Daisy would also be able to join in.


 We kicked off with with Cutty Sark 33y/o blend (a limited whisky available for the princely sum of £650 a bottle). On the nose its a lot of caramel and butterscotch which would be off-putting in a beer (a sign of diacetyl, usually indicating the beer wasn't given long enough in the fermenter) but in a whisky indicates time spent in bourbon barrels. I described it last night as "woody Werthers Originals". Alongside that is obviously lashings of vanilla (another bourbon wood - American Oak - characteristic), the furniture polish that often crops up in a venerable dram like this and an underlying stewed pears sweetness likely from esters in one (or more) of the component parts, of which there are almost 50 from 9 distilleries!
As it opens up on the nose I got a touch of cola and fruity rosso vermouth, which carries on into the taste quite sweet too, vanilla first and foremost, then caramel and then some whisky warmth. Its truly a lovely blend toasted marshmallow jelly belly bean and butterscotch all appear as it develops in the mouth finishing really smoothly. Even Daisy didn't struggle to drink it, though still to boozy as a neat spirit for her.

After clearing our palates we moved on to the first of three cocktails produced by White Lyan. White Lyan batch up all of their cocktails themselves, which ensures consistency and speed of service on busy evenings in the bar, they also sell some of their most popular tipples through Selfridge's. We were instructed to chill our glasses but refrain from using ice. They don't use ice in any of their drinks, instead using technical wizardry to get all of their drinks to the correct dilution ratio. Their brief was Art Deco inspired cocktails; so they've dug deep into the recipe books and came out with three drinks, all with White Lyan twist of course!

Our first drink is an Artist's Special made with Olorosso sherry, an interpretation of lemon juice and of course Cutty Sark whisky. It offers up sweet red apple e & caramel on the nose but to drink its all about the sherry, rich fruitcake and raisins a plenty.  I'd perhaps have liked the balance more towards the sour side and the sherry dominates over the whisky but its certainly easy drinking finishing with a rich sherried note.



Cocktail #2 is called Seelbach, named for the hotel where it was created in 1917. We had to add our own soda water to a blend of whisky, bitters, distilled champagne and triple sec. I was pretty chuffed to pick up that both Angostura and Peychaud's had been used, though scaled back from the original 7 dashes of each! On the nose there's the rich orangey triple sec plus whisky vanilla notes giving something reminiscent of Campari. Its bubbley, warming and a fruity orange, clove and nutmeg to taste reminiscent of some Caribbean rum punches  or even mulled Gluhwein. A refreshing cocktail that I'll certainly look to replicate in the future.



An Old Fashioned is a classic drink that everyone should have in their repertoire, but this being a White Lyan tasting its obviously been mixed around a bit. Instead of simple syrup the whisky is washed through beeswax, picking up some honey sweetness and also removing some of the larger aroma/ flavour compounds smoothing out the edges to give a rich and luxurious finish. They also added gold flakes - just because they can I guess! What we're left with is the obviously named Beeswax Old Fashioned which really does smell of beeswax candles but also hints at cheese rinds. Taste wise its a little on the sweet side but it really does allow the complexity of the whisky to shine through.


We enjoyed all three cocktails; though the Seelbach was our joint favourite. Would certainly urge you to try recreating these at home! And if you're feeling flush; the whisky is certainly very nice but a little steep for our budget. Its been great to get the opportunity to try these and we're now determined to visit White Lyan on our next trip to London. Massive thanks as  usual to Steve for organising the whole thing and Cutty Sark and White Lyan for providing the drinks and tasting company, Slainté!

13/05/2015

On Unusual Ingredients in Beer

I've been sitting on this post for far too long, having previously intended to publish it as a #beerylongread but then Boak and Bailey published a very similar analysis as I was planning. I have promised the lovely Natalia a write-up; so its about time I moved this from draft to published...

The use of "non-beer" ingredients is often frowned upon in some beer circles, particularly those who cite beers conforming to the Reinheitsgebot as the pinnacle of barley beverage perfection. Others deride brewers for bunging in any old ingredient for the sake of it, often ending up with something far removed from beer. Whilst I agree that it does go on (and I've tasted my fair share of poorly-conceived or barely masked poor brews) I think that when done well additional ingredients can enhance a beer and bring something different - and lets face it we all like to experience different flavours. At its best novel ingredients can give lift a beer to new heights or even spawn a whole new style. It can also work well to differentiate a beer from similar competing products and give beer a sense of place by tying it to its region regardless of whether or not the bulk of the ingredients are locally sourced.
 
One brewery making good use of indigenous ingredients are Amazon Beer, based in Campia Belem in Brazil (that's in the North of Brazil, just inland from the coast and on the edge of the Amazon rainforest.)They use ingredients from Brazil to enhance the beers they brew and introduce people to Brazilian flavours. A lot of the ingredients are popular within Brazil but largely unknown outside the country; so now they're beginning to export they're raising the profile of Brazilian ingredients around the world. The process for designing the beers varies; sometimes the brewer decides on a certain style then selects an ingredient to complement the style. On other occasions the inverse is true Caio (brewery sommelier) brings a potential ingredient to his father (Armindo)and a beer is designed to bring out the best in it - both methods are valid as far as I'm concerned. They're also happy to work with others to exchange ideas and even produce collaboration brews.

I (and a few others it seems) was sent some bottles to try (all the way from Brazil). Whilst I'd heard of a few of the ingredients, the majority were new to me; so to keep things interesting I refrained Wkipedia-ing until after I'd tried them!

First up was Forest Bacuri a 3.8% pale golden ale. It had a Koelsch like nose, fruity strawberry with a touch of diacetyl, steady stream of bubbles, pillowy white head collapsing to lacing.In the mouth its more like a helles, fairly clean with Zippy carbonation, fairly sweet with peach and glucose, ends slightly thin with a touch of damp cardboard but pleasant enough, akin to a cheaper helles. Not really sure I could detect anything out of the ordinary here but quite enjoyed the beer. Bacuri allegedly is both sweet and sour and I certainly picked up on the sweetness but can't say it really enhanced my drinking experience.

 I did however find Cumaru IPA (5.7%) quite intriguing, with preserved lemon and ginger sponge becoming reminiscent of fresh apple strudel on warming. Full bodied with a gentle carbonation, cinnamon, herbal hops & sultana bagel. It reminded me somewhat of Windsor and Eton's Kohinoor IPA with cardamom and jaggery. Turns out Cumaru is another name for the tonka bean, a trendy (and cheaper) alternative to vanilla. Its certainly produced an interesting beer on this occasion and I'd certainly enjoy it again.

The red ale, Priprioca  is a heady 6% and slightly hazy chestnut with caramel and red apple on nose and tasting like toffee apple stuck in a sponge cake with a lasting fruitiness. Again, I couldn't really draw distinction between the flavours expected from malt in the style and the added ingredient (apparently a kind of root) but it probably does contribute to the complexity. Its not really the kind of beer I'd buy anyway but quite liked it.

Both the witbier and a bottle of pilsner (I bought the latter myself, pleased to find it in my local offy) were disappointing. Whilst the pilsner was a generic lager with no stand out features or ingredients to recommended it, the former seemed infected



My favourite of the bunch was the Acai stout, 7.2% - this really showcases what an added ingredient can bring to a beer. Pouring dark brown with pale tan head and slightly lactic fruity sultanas and prunes on the nose like an over-aged Christmas cake. To taste its fairly complex with mixed fruits, dry berries and a mint note which helps to tie everything together. Being an ingredient I was familiar with (through its addition in various foodstuffs as a "super ingredient") I'm pretty sure I was able to pick out the Acai berry but it was well integrated and complemented the style well. I'd certainly recommend buying a few bottles of this one if you see it.

Tapreba
Priprioca
Bacuri
Acai

So what did we learn here about added ingredients? Nothing profound really, sometimes it can enhance a beer's flavour and others its not really detectable. It can be a fun way to get a beer noticed however and done well produce tasty results. Speaking to Natalia Amazon are currently working on a porter made with cupulate - a chocolate made from Cupuaçu seed which is certainly one I'd be looking out for, being a big fan of porters. A big thank-you for the opportunity to try the beers and being so patient with waiting for my thoughts!  I'll certainly continue to try beers with added ingredients as they often do throw up some gems -I'd urge you not to write them off either.

Amazon Beer
@amazonbeer
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