Northern Ireland's biggest brewery.

Northern Ireland has four brewers. I've already reviewed one of them; so decided its time for another. County Tyrone is very beereft* but thankfully Whitewater beers are stocked by both Asda and Tesco. I bought the entire selection of their beers in order to review them. The beers are available fairly widely and most real ale pubs in Northern Ireland have on of their beers on draught.

As you can see from the picture above they have a distinctive and simple brand which helps the beers to stand out on the shelf. They brew a range of different styles, though the beers tend to fall at the lower end of the ABV spectrum. Copperhead is the new session beer. The nose has apricot fruitiness and grassy meadows. Fruity body with a dry bitter finish and some malt sweetness.It is a golden session ale and very quaffable at 3.7%. Its the only whitewater beer available on draught at GBBF this year.

Belfast Ale on the other hand is a much darker, reddish colour. Lively carbonation in this one as you can see from the picture. It has a spicy, peppery hops aroma with fruit shortbread.  Fruity at first taste then the goldings hops become apparent. Fairly long finish with some dryness 

 Belfast lager is as good a British lager as any. The clean hop aroma comingles with esters that come from the use of an ale yeast. The beer is a lovely pale yellow with gentle carbonation and a small head. The body is light with pineapple notes and a bitter finish. Could easily have polished off another few bottles of this if I'd had them.

Clotworthy dobbin is a classic porter. At 5% its the strongest beer that Whitewater brews. The aroma is of a washed rind cheese with vinous fruits and underlying alcohol. The taste is chewy caramel malt, fermented apples and a dry sweetness. Seems more like a best bitter than a porter, which isn’t how I remember it from draught; so I may need to try it again. I was lucky enough to try a whisky barrel aged version of this at Belfast Beer Festival last year which rounded off this complex beer nicely. Look out for it!

No Irish brewery worth their salt would be without a stout in their portfolio and this one is no exception. The dark brown beer poured very lively with a thick tan head. Lovely aroma of roast barley, chocolate, coffee and raisins. Thick bodied, dry stout with burnt after-taste and a bitter chicory finis. This is my favourite of the five beers sampled here, though if I were to pick a beer to drink multiple of in one session it would be the lager.

*My new word, invented 28/07/11!


August is beer month!

August is shaping up to be an awesome month beer wise. Here’s why:

1.       GBBF
Everyone knows this is coming up. I travel across on Saturday morning to help with the setup and work all week until the following Saturday. I’ll be working on USA cask with BSF (I hope!).  Expect tweets along the way as beers arrive and I get to taste my hit list!

2.       Three meet the brewer events
Turns out the Cask pub and Kitchen have a meet the brewer event with Doug Odell on the Saturday night (okay 30th July isn’t quite August, ssshhh) and  if that isn’t enough, one with the Kernel Brewery on Monday 1st August. We have evenings free until Tuesday; so time to go sample beers that I’ve never tried before. I really enjoyed the Odell beers I tried recently so looking forward to that. I’ve heard loads about Kernel too and until now not got hold of any. Expect blogs on both of these.

Then on the Thursday (yes international #IPAday) there’s a meet the brewer at the White Horse, Parsons Green. The brewery in question - Only Flying Dog! Not only beer tastings, there will also be cheese. It’s a given then that I plan to attend!

3.       Week in Manchester
Outside of London, Edinburgh and perhaps Leeds, Manchester seems to have the highest density of pubs in the UK serving new and interesting beers, and plenty of good cask pubs too. I plan to visit Port Street Beer House, the Marble Arch and the Microbar among others. Also when I’m staying in Manchester I’m making a train trip to a certain Headingley beer shop, which I’m very much looking forward to.

4.       Beer Tasting
One of Craig’s legendary beer tastings is hopefully happening in Edinburgh on the Friday of my Manchester trip. I must have known as my return journey leaves for Edinburgh at 2pm Friday afternoon ;). May also get to visit what is fast becoming my regular Edinburgh haunt too.

5.       Hilden Beer Festival
To round off the month nicely Hilden Brewery has their annual beer festival. Running from the Friday evening through to Sunday early evening the event is set to have over 30 beers, including beers from both Northern Ireland and the Republic, along with select favourites from on “the mainland”. There’s a BBQ all day and bands playing on two different stages. Once the beer list has been released I shall make a separate post, but in the meantime see the website and the flyer below.

Who said you have to go abroad to some exotic location to have an exciting beer summer! If anyone has any suggestions of other places to go/ things to see whilst in any of the fine cities mentioned above then let me know.  Hope to see some of you at any or all of these events!

NB Don’t write a blog post whilst cooking dinner or you’ll end up destroying a saucepan when it runs out of water!


Brewdog Vs CAMRA (again)

Many of you will have seen the recent post by James on the Brewdog blog about CAMRA cancelling the Brewdog brewery stand at GBBF this year.
In an effort to pre-empt the usual suspects reblogging without having all of the information I thought I'd offer a more balanced opinion. I am no apologist for either Brewdog or CAMRA. (Full disclosure: I am a proud member of CAMRA and new shareholder of brewdog but I don't agree with everything that gets said/done).

First off it needs to be remembered that we have only heard Brewdog's side of the story so far; so before we can go jumping to conclusions we should wait to see what Marc Holmes/ the other GBBF organisers have to say. I have tweeted as much to the editor of What's brewing and the official Camra twitter and will try through other contacts if this has no success. Until that time we should hold off from forming an opinion (regardless of our natural prejudices).

I, like many of you, am disappointed that Brewdog beers will no longer be available at GBBF this year. It would have been a fantastic platform to showcase the beers and a good start to an at least cordial relationship between CAMRA and Brewdog. Not least it would show the (few) unconvinced CAMRA members that Brewdog has nothing to hide.

Will update as more info becomes available. In the meantime read Brewdog's side of the story here. Marc's orginal comments re. Brewdog appearance at GBBF (as taken from here):
"Some facts to answer questions floating about here and elsewhere:
- CAMRA buys the beer from the brewery, CAMRA sells the beer to the public, Brewdog are paying for the privilege of having a dedicated bar.
- The beer will be in 50l Keykegs. Unfortunately this will limit the amount we can order so it may run out.
- The beer will conform to CAMRA's definition of real ale - unpasteurised, unfiltered and with enough viable yeast to allow secondary fermentation (don't worry, we'll be checking...).
- It will be served using compressed air, as James says as per the foreign beers. At no point will the beer come into contact with extraneous CO2.
- If James wants to work behind the bar he can, as soon as he joins CAMRA, as per the terms of the contract."

EDIT: MArc has now replied to Brewdog's post as follows:

The reason Brewdog are not coming is that you didn’t pay the outstanding balance, as per the terms of the contract.

- The contract stated payment for the bar was due by May 27th. Giving you until July was very generous, nearly 7 weeks.

- The ultimatum was Thursday 12pm, you kept arguing and didn't agree until Friday 11am. Too late, we had programme deadlines to meet.

But to answer some of your other points:

- Right from the very start we said your beer must be supplied in large containers. We were happy with 50L kegs (as long as the beer contained live yeast) but you persisted in wanting to use 30L keykegs. Thornbridge did use 9G casks last year but it didn't work - they will be using 18G casks this year. We were looking at ordering in excess of 60 kils (equivalent) of beer, which is just not practical in 30L keykegs.

- You were the one that offered to supply cask beer in 18G casks.

Happy to start talking about GBBF 2012, and feel free to pop in this year to see how it works. I’ll even send you some tickets.

Marc Holmes
GBBF Organiser.

marc_holmes     19.07.2011"

It seems therefore that Brewdog broke the terms of the contract and it was therefore nulled.

James mentioned receiving an email extending these deadlines, but the question is why did they wait so long to pay the balance?


CABPOM July: Snowdonia Amber Mist and Odell Cut throat porter

I started a regular monthly feature last month with Cheese and Beer pairing of the Month (okay it was this month but it was the June post...). This weekend I found another match.

My girlfriend went to the Taste of Edinburgh recently and brought me back an interesting looking cheese. Wrapped in orange wax this mature cheddar has whisky added. As may be apparent I love cheese and this is a marvellous specimen. Mature enough to feel the "burn" over the whole mouth. The rich fruity character needs a good contrast in a beer so decided to try it with a roasted beer.

Snowdonia Amber Mist (from manufacturer website)

I recently picked up a bottle of Odell Cut Throat Porter from The Vineyard in Belfast. This is a traditional English style porter with plenty of roast barley and chocolate on the nose. Roasted and thick body with gentle carbonation and a chocolaty finish.

When this is paired with the cheese the mature flavour really brings out the roast barley character. The sweet oatcakes I ate it with contrasted the sharp whisky in the beer. The carbonation lifted the cheese from the tongue and the coffee refreshed the palate for a fresh onslaught by the beer.

I think this transatlantic pairing worked particularly well. I think the cheese would also be a good match for a rauchbier or peated Islay whisky.


Northern Irish Beer?

A personal philosophy of mine has been never to turn down anything free; so when someone from Strangford Lough Brewing Company offered to send me some of their beers for sampling I immediately accepted. I know there are different schools of thought on the ethics of freebies and the reviewing thereof, but my decision is to review everything that is drinkable. Besides this is a Northern Ireland Based blog so should cover the (very few) Northern Ireland brewers! I don’t promise it will be a favourable review but it will be my honest opinion. Please bear that in mind when reading this and future reviews. As with all reviews this is my subjective opinion, regardless of attempts to be objective there will always be an element of opinion. Right, that disclaimer out of the way time to move on to the beers.

Strangford Lough is an interesting enterprise. To the best of my knowledge they have no Northern Ireland brewing premises, it is instead contracted out to other brewers (perhaps from wort concentrate)1. The only info to be gleaned from the bottles is that it is brewed somewhere in the European Union, which doesn’t really narrow it down. Whilst this lack of information may be irksome to some (and my inner beer geek would love to know) the most important thing is that the beer tastes good. It could be brewed on the moon and served through a plant pot for all I care. The beers are recreations of historic Irish recipes, with the ethos of the company being to reconnect Irish Americans with their beery roots and act as a keepsake of their visit to the Emerald Isle. The bottles have eye-catching labels and memorable names, with a bit of history about the brew and its connotations. I will not reproduce it verbatim here as the information is on the brewery website and linked below. There are also interesting posts from Roger Protz and Beer Reviews with info on recipes and the owner.

I received two different beers from the core range. St Patrick’s Best a session bitter and Barelegs a best bitter. I opened both at the same time for photographic purposes and immediately noticed a difference in carbonation. St Patrick’s was positively champing at the bit to escape the bottle and poured with a thick off-white head and maintained a steady stream of bubbles until the end of the glass. Barelegs was a bit lacklustre in comparison but managed to retain a lacing of foam on the side of the glass. As you can see from the photo below there was very little difference in colour.

The beers side by side.

St Patrick's had a prickly carbonation which helped to give a strong nose of vanilla and pepper. It was smooth to drink with crystal malt character and a hint of bitterness but nothing stand-out. Subtle blackberry flavours became apparent as the beer warmed. It is apparently brewed with shamrock, though not knowing what the flavour is could not identify it in the beer. All in all a quaffable session ale, but nothing to write home about.

St Patrick's Best

Barelegs, however, was a different beast altogether. Immediately on opening the bottle an antiseptic chlorophenol (think TCP) aroma made itself known. My initial assumption was this was due to the inclusion of some peated malt in the brew. Peat being still commonly used as a fuel in Ireland this wasn’t surprising. However digging deeper in previous reviews and on the company website I found no mention of this; so unless the recipe has changed recently I think this is an off flavour. As Mark Dredge pointed out in his recent blog post, some people are insensitive to phenol, so it may have always been in the flavour profile and remained unnoticed thus far. More likely however is this particular batch had a little accident. Most likely I think is that the brewery forgot to treat its water or their purifier had ceased functioning as chlorinated water can react with hop tannins to produce the phenol characteristic. I do have another bottle of this which I will try at a later date to see if the taste is the same. On to the tasting then:  Burnt toffee and TCP on the nose with a complex smoked malt, sweet cured bacon and beech wood flavour. No bitterness noticeable but a slight tinny flavour present due to phenol interaction with malt. Soft fruit character becomes more prevalent down the glass with plenty of malt character as the phenol presence takes a back seat. The smoked wood flavour stays the duration though. If it is accidental then I think it would be worth releasing a beer with the inclusion of some peated malt because the complexity makes for a much more interesting drink than I assume the regular recipe would be.

Overall the beers were enjoyable and would try them on cask if I ever saw them. They fill a niche in the market and would like to try some of the others in the range. Thank you to Emma (@emma_mccarey) for sending me the beers and @Irishbeerman for the offer.


BSF Beer List

CAMRA Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) 2011 is almost upon us, with the first staff being on site at Earl’s Court in less than a fortnight.  I will be there from Saturday 30th July until Saturday 6th August to work on Bières Sans Frontières (BSF). Yesterday the beer list was released (handily pasted here by Craig) and my, what a beer list it is too. Bigger and better than ever this year with four separate bars (one bar per stillage) there will certainly be plenty to try. In total there will be beers from fifteen different countries for sampling (in addition to the four that make up the UK of course!)
American cask beer at GBBF 2004 (from BSF photo gallery)

I’m hoping to work on USA cask beers and decided to take a look at how many beers to potentially expect.  There are 189 beers (cask and bottle) from 89 USA breweries. This is by all means a small proportion of the total but certainly more than in previous years of GBBF. Of these 80 have a cask offering and 9 are only available in bottles. They range in size from big players like Sierra Nevada right down to micros such as Franklin's Restaurant, Brewery & General Store.

Some stats for tickers: 21 states are represented with the top five origin states being Oregon (11), Maryland (10,) California (9), Colorado (8) and Massachusetts (7). 5 breweries from Portland, OR; 4 from Baltimore, MD and 3 from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s possible to drink beers from breweries whose names begin with 19 different letters of the alphabet.

I’m not sure the exact number of new breweries represented this year, though I’m sure this information will be available in the BSF programme during the festival. There’s a handy list builder on the CAMRA website which can aid you in designing your own drinking plan. There is also a rating and comments system which may give you some indication of what beers will be the most popular. Bear in mind that there may be last minute substitutions or that a beer may sell out before you get a chance to try it; so don’t go getting disappointed if the one beer you visited the festival to try just isn’t available. Deal with it, there’s plenty more to choose from!

I’m not going to go with any plan in mind for which American beers I want to try, I’m hoping to taste as many as possible. There’s plenty of my favourite styles (IPA and porter) and some intriguing other beers (barrel aged, added chillies, rye) to keep me satisfied during the festival. And for post festival I have a shopping list of bottles which I’ll have to narrow down into what can fit in my suitcase. Notice I’m naming no names for a better chance of the beers I want to try being available!

See you all there soon!


Beer and Music

One of the most annoying things about music festivals (aside from the ticket price) is the lack of any decent beer. At Glastonbury this year I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of cask ale outlets across the festival site, certainly an increase on the previous Glastonburys I had been to.

In addition to Otter Avalon Ale and Otter Avalon Bitter being available on most bars there were some bars focussing on real ales. The Cockmill bar in the Acoustic field hosted a mini beer festival over the weekend with offerings from Otter, Glastonbury Ales, Cheddar Ales, Butcombe Mendip Spring and Wychwood Hobgoblin ranging from £3.50 to £4.00 a pint. All were kept in good condition for the duration of the festival. There were also to be “meet the brewer” sessions arranged though I didn’t make it along to any of these.

I was also pleased to stumble across the St Austell Bar in the Left Field. Here Tribute and Proper Job were available on tap, alongside their brand new Trelawny Ale which is a copper coloured session ale with plenty of Galaxy hop peach character. Would definitely drink it again if I see it on tap.

Obviously the Burrow Hill Cider Bus remained in its usual spot by the pyramid stage and some Thatcher’s ciders were also on draught in the Bimble Inn in the Park Field. Being an Oxfam Steward I was lucky enough to have access to Butcombe Bitter (a favourite of mine) and Weston’s Scrumpy on draught at £3 and £2.70 a pint respectively.

Overall I was pleased with the increased availability of cask ale at the festival which reflects the increasing interest in cask ale and local provenance currently sweeping the country. If other festivals follow suit it can only be a good thing.


Cheddar Ales Brewery Beer Festival

I headed across to England the weekend before Glastonbury Festival so that I could spend father’s day at home, but this gave me a free day on the Saturday. What to do with my time? The answer arose in an email from the Cheddar Ales complementary club via CAMRA, go to the Cheddar Ales Brewery Beer Festival! Free entry for CAMRA members too (or £3 for others) including programme and souvenir glass, bargainous.
So after convincing a friend from Bristol to pick me up at the airport we both headed to a field somewhere near Cheddar for an enjoyable afternoon of ale supping. Fearing the site may be tricky to find as I had neglected to make note of the post code we decided to drive on instinct and luckily found the place with no trouble at all. We opted to camp overnight for the modest rate of £5 a tent to take full advantage of the beer list on offer. This was essentially just a field with the use of the car boot sale toilet facilities but mustn’t grumble.

We ambled up to the brewery shortly after opening and availed ourselves of our first halves. I adopted the tried and tested drink lower ABV first method whereas my counterpart went for the riskier “jab a finger onto the programme” technique. I began with a half of Castle Rock Harvest Pale, current CAMRA “Champion Beer of Britain”. It was nice enough but I’ve had plenty of better similarly coloured “session” beers. My friend jumped in at the stronger end (6% ABV) with Coach House Brewing Co’s Blueberry Classic. Blueberry was there yes, but not much else, Waen’s Porter House Blue was much more enjoyable when I tried it last month. I opted for Downton Quadhop, another session beer at 3.9% and one I have had before. I was not disappointed by this one, good bitter kick and a pithy aroma. Then I had to have a pint of Thornbidge Jaipur because I was worried it might sell out!

There was entertainment aplenty throughout the day with four bands of differing genres (I particularly enjoyed the Tonemasters) and activities for any younger attendees such as face painting which a number of older children also indulged in. Playing the beer ticker spotting game also proved fruitful with a number of bearded individuals making studious notes. I maintain that my notes were mere aide memoirs and I have less of a beard and more of a slight stubble...

After my first few beers I decided to investigate the BBQ. A good range of food for meat eaters including breakfast rolls alongside the more usual sausages and burgers. However there was only one vegetarian option, marinated flat mushroom with onions and Stilton, which shockingly cost as much as the meaty version though obviously only a fraction of the price. I grudgingly paid the price not having had the foresight to bring anything else and to add insult to injury was given a tiny slither of Stilton which was barely discernible against the bread roll. Definitely bringing a packed lunch next time!

The nearby handmade chocolate company also did a good trade, choosing to open for hungry beer suppers to peruse. I bought a chocolate hedgehog and a bag of miss-shapes which I left at home when I went to Glastonbury Festival only to return home and find them all demolished by my sister!

After a few more beers (Moor Illusion particularly tasty, tropical fruit schwartzbier!) we headed into the village, only a 25 minute stroll away. Here we sampled the delights of the Cheddar cheese factory shop and filled the hole left by lunch with an excellent portion of chips. Also spotted West Country Ales shop and made a mental note to visit the following day. This interlude left us feeling refreshed for the afternoon session and returned in time for the start of the second band, accompanied by the two strong milds on offer Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby and Arbor Ales Festival Mild. The former sweet, alcoholic and malty, the latter rich roasty and with a creamy texture and my preference.  Despite there being plenty of beers to choose from, some people still thought it necessary to smuggle in their own wine (see above).

After some ska and a break-dancing battle between young and old we headed back to the tent for a spot to eat cooked on the camping stove. We returned for another few halves of stronger beers to find the majority of the festival beers had sold out. I’m not sure what the people planning to attend on Sunday would have been left with! After waiting for the final band to take the stage, we decided to call it a night when they were still sound checking half an hour after they were due to begin and adjourned to the tent.

Next morning was damp and dreary but we were soon perked up by a full English (or Veggie English) in my case in the very fairly priced car boot cafe. We then whiled away an hour or so wandering around the stalls in what seemed an amalgamation of car boot sale, weekly market and antiques fair, a great way to spend the morning.  After a brief detour to the aforementioned West Country Ales* we left Cheddar behind to return home for a day before a long week at Glastonbury Festival.
On balance it was a well organised festival with a great beer list (although I’d have liked to see a few a few more session bitters/milds) and ideal location. In looking at their recent blog post they also raised £2,650 for charity, an impressive sum, well done guys! Food prices aside I enjoyed myself and as it’s on the weekend before Glastonbury every year may look to make it a permanent fixture on my calendar. See you there in 2013!+

*Where I perhaps spent more than I had intended to!
+ No Glastonbury next year!


Bonus Picture: An alternative career for me perhaps?