Hilden Brewery Beer Festival

The Brewery grounds
As its now the last day of August I should write up my review of the Hilden Brewery Beer Festival. As you may be aware (if you read my previous posts) I volunteered to work at the festival this year and my offer was gratefully accepted. I had a great time and met a number of great people, including some CAMRA friends and some bloggers from down south.Reuben @taleofale was there with his t-shirt and also some others who said hello but beer and tiredness has caused me to forget.
The brewery inside

Rather than review the organisation and logistics of the festival (which is something I will feed back on to the organisers directly and not for the public arena) I'm just going to review the beers and the music.

There were a few stand-out beers for me this year.
White Gypsy Weiss was a creamy bodied banana smelling clove-fest. I loved it, really refreshing and had about a pint each day. I wasn't as keen on their Bruin which to me tasted like an Anglicized Leffe Brune clone but their brunette lager also rated highly. Roast coffee and chocolate and in good condition, its good to see this style on cask. I look forward to getting to try other beers by these guys.
Clanconnel Mcgrath's Irish Black
Clanconnel McGrath's Irish black was in good form as always. Nice bitter roasted barley and chocolate with good body and dry finish. Just what you'd expect from Champion Beer of Belfast 2010.
Kelham Island Riverfront Coliseum was a nice clean bear with saaz aroma and crisp malt finish. I think they used their regular yeast though because there were some subtle fruit esters hidden in there. Worth waiting until the Sunday for it to be on.

Four Hilden beers on handpump
All of the Hilden beers were in top condition as you'd expect. I particularly liked the Champion's brew, a new copper coloured 4.3 per-cent-er with juicy malt and spicy hedgerow fruits. Barney's brew was also great, I was a bit apprehensive about trying it because the last time I had this 5% Wit bier it was all over the place. Goes to show not to judge a beer by how its served in Wetherspoon! Pepper and cardamom on the nose with a spicy coriander orange-brown body.

One beer I was not keen on was the Dawkin's Sorachi Ace. I have enjoyed beers with this Japanese hop before and this one started off  with typical  aromas of lemon and sweet bubblegum with a hint of hay. Taste did not work for me on this occasion with an unpleasant dandelion leaf note, perhaps due to the interaction between wheat and hop?It was also a bit thin in body, which is a shame.

Yours truly busily serving
The music was also a mixed bag. Friday night's head-liners, a ska band called Doghouse were superb. Playing a mix of their own songs and covers of old favourites I was sad to leave early to catch my train. I'm not sure the two supporting bands fitted with the festival atmosphere though...metal at a beer fest? Saturday had a good mix of rock and acoustic acts during the day but at 6pm an emo band?! Possibly even less suited to a beer festival than metal! Sunday was families day and the stand out band for me was the Inishowen gospel choir, with voice and instruments they went down really well.

Two smiley cider sellers
I really enjoyed my time at the festival and if I'm still in the country I hope that they'll have me back to help out again next year. Those of you that missed it put the date in your diaries for next year, its the August Bank Holiday; so I'm guessing 24th, 25th and 26th of August 2011. As you're aware I've been reviewing Northern Ireland beers on my blog and asked the guys if they'd like me to do likewise for them. They agreed and I came home with a selection of Hilden bottles, which I'll review probably this weekend. I also got some cider from local producers Tempted and Mac's so look out for those in the next few weeks too!

Acoustic tepee and Twisted tap bar
For those of you who can't wait that long the Belfast beer festival is 17th-19th November, which I will be blogging about in due course. The Northern Ireland CAMRA branch are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year so expect there to be a good beer list and expanded cider range. Wetherspoon annual Autumn beer festival comes early this year with dates 5th-20th August. Why not come to Belfast on the 15th for a courtesy coach that tours the North's Wetherspoon pubs over the weekend. They even throw in a free breakfast! If you're interested let me know and I'll talk to the organizer.


Ratebeer and why I think it is great

There's room for all kinds of beer drinkers in this world: Those that pop out for an occasional pint of a weekend, those that regularly go drinking with friends, those who sup at home or with a meal and yes, even those that see beer as a hobby in and of itself. Sometimes these "beergeeks" are looked down upon as being only interested in trying new things.Not so, say I and even if it were true is that necessarily a bad thing? People motivated to look for new breweries and try new beers are those who first get the word out to other people about beers worth trying. 

Most people like to share their recommendations of good beers and with the advent of the Internet its become even easier. A number of websites have sprung into being over the last decade or so whose purpose is to catalogue available beers and allow users to provide feedback on their thoughts for the beer. Ratebeer is one such site.

I found ratebeer by accident a few months ago when searching for info on a beer I was about to order from a mail order firm (I forget which now!). It seemed interesting so decided to sign up to see how it worked. After rating one or two beers I've become a frequent user and decided to splash out for premium membership to get access to some of the additional rating stats and give the site a hand in its running costs. I've never been one for making extensive notes on beer, generally remembering if I enjoyed a beer or not and a few choice details about it, but like how ratebeer allows you to compare your opinions to other peoples. Reading through tasting notes also helps you to identify the flavours you are picking out in a beer that you can't perhaps identify. Certainly cheaper than a tasting course!

Ratebeer also gives the rankings of beers by style and overall. This can sometimes result in "extremeophiles" getting imperial stouts into the top 50, but in general the top beers are very good beers. There's a forum for socialising with other memebrs and a whole host of other features I'll let you discover for yourself.

Through ratebeer (and the fact that he posted the BSF beer list on his blog) I met Craig. I learnt of the bottle tasting evenings that he runs on a fairly frequent basis and managed to get myself an invite. I'd met Craig at the Great British Beer Festival this year, but it was not without some trepidation that I approached his house. I needn't have worried as Craig's friends and family are all great people and on arrival I was greeted by around 25 beers spread across the table. As there were so many of us it was a "big bottle" evening and I had brought along some of my own contributions.

We started the evening as we meant to go on with the 12.5% O'Hanlon's Special Reserve I had acquired at Beer Ritz a few days before. After that I was swiftly introduced to both Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck before other beer lovers began arriving.

Nineteen beers later and it was time to call it a night. (I had to leave shortly after 10pm, but allegedly some stragglers were still there at 2am!) Communal beer drinking experiences are very rewarding and by sharing beers we were able to try a greater range and some very rare ones than we would otherwise have been able to. I look forward to future tasting events. I recommend you give it a go even if you aren't planning to review the beers on ratebeer.  Big thanks to all who brought beers along and special thanks to @sevarity who brought along some homebrew and tasty cheeses.

Vote for Edinburgh for the Autumn #Twissup and I'm sure Craig may bring a few interesting bottles from the back of his cupboard to share! 

For this event alone I consider my membership of rate beer a good thing and there's a whole hoist of other events regularly advertised that I may one day get along to (when I'm not stranded on a small island...). For those of you already on ratebeer, look me up either by clicking on the thingummy over there (points to the right) on my blog or searching for Stephanos on rate beer. Those of you who haven't yet looked at the site, go take a look its a great resource!


Exclusive: Hilden Brewery Beer Festival Beer list.

Happy Tuesday to one and all. As mentioned at the start of the month I was expecting to have a very beery month indeed, and what better way to finish it off than with a beer festival in my own back yard (almost). Hilden Brewery have been running a beer festival annually for a number of years now, providing a selection of British and Irish beers. Its this weekend (see flyer below) and I'm going along to work from Friday through to Sunday.

Today I was emailed the tasting notes for the beers that should be available. There is a good selection of both new beers and old favourites, with a range of styles to suit all palates. I have copied verbatim the tasting notes below:

Hophead ABV 3.8%
An extremely clean drinking pale golden ale with a strong floral aroma and elderflower notes from the cascade hops.

Summer Seasonal. A straw coloured bitter, light and refreshing

Sorachi Ale ABV: 4%
Lemony with a certain creamy character making for a highly distinctive, refreshing beer. Uses rare, single variety Sorachi Ace hops from Japan.

Summer Ale ABV 4.3%
A golden bitter with floral citric hop aroma. It has a hoppy predominate taste which is slightly sweet and fruity.

This pale ale is a tasty well hopped bitter, with a creative mix of summer fruit aroma hops. The subtle blend of flavoursome malts create a citrus and berry fruit finish.

Frothingham Best ABV 4.3%
A best bitter with a dark amber hue. Crystal malts provide a depth of flavour while bitterness is created by English Pilgrim Hops.

A genuine Hampshire pale ale, amber in colour, fruit gum aroma, complex bittersweet mixture of malt, hops and biter fruit.

Pale red bitter made with Amarillo hops and roasted rye malt to refresh and revive the palate.

Hand crafted blonde ale. Brewed with the choicest lager malt and specially imported lager hops. Very refreshing and easy drinking. The ideal drink for warm summer evenings.

Aspall Cyder ABV 5.5%
An off-dry cyder with a floral/apply aroma and delicate flavour of fresh pressed apples. Made from 100% pressed apple juice

Hilden Ale ABV 4.0%
A fine full drinking Irish ale, refreshingly clean on the palate. It has a pronounced hoppiness which arrives at the end of the taste.
Scullions Irish 4.6%
A bright amber ale, smooth initially with a slight taste of honey which is balanced by a long dry aftertaste which lingers on the palate.
Barney’s Brew 5.0%
Hilden Brewery’s take on a wheat beer brewed to commemorate the inventor of the “Belfast Penny Bap”, Bernard “Barney” Hughes (1808-1978). Made from wheat and barley, cardamom, coriander and a dash of black pepper, this spicy tipple is delicious and won’t “stick to your belly like lead”.
Champion’s Brew 5.0%
A deep red Irish ale smooth on the palate with a refreshing hoppy finish from dry hopping.

Headless Dog ABV 4.3%
A bright amber ale, smooth initially with a slight hint of the Munich malt coming through from the grist. This is complemented well by the stronger refreshing taste from this well hopped beer. Named after the unusual mural of a headless dog at the front door to the brewery.
Belfast Blonde ABV 4.3%
A wholly natural blonde beer with a clean and refreshing character, derived from the use of Lager Malt along with a small proportion of maize. The Mixture of continental and native varieties of late and early addition hops please both the nasal senses and the taste buds.

Dry Irish stout combining rich roasted malts with hints of coffee and dark fruit, balanced carefully with earthy hops.

Rebel Red ABV 4.3% RA
Amber ale with distinct caramel flavour from crystal malt with Challenger and Fuggles hops.

A malty, buttery stout with coffee sweetness and dry, hoppy finish.
First in a series, this ale has fruity notes on the nose, a biscuit malt base peaks in a zing of bitterness, rounded off with a subtle smoked finish.

American style pale ale, dark gold in colour with a delicate white head. Citrus and floral aromas lead into hop flavours characterised by grapefruit and mandarin produced by Cascade and Amarillo hops. A dry bitter finish makes this an eminently enjoyable beer.

Dark Arts ABV 4.4%
This porter is brewed using both black and chocolate malt to give its dark colour and roasty flavour, with hints of caramel and chocolate. It also has a clear bittering hop presence to preserve its balance.
Or. ABV ?%
A smooth a refreshing Golden Ale with subtle fruit flavours and a crisp finish. Brewed with two row Marris Otter and a combination of British and American hops.

Weiss ABV 4.5%
Bavarian style wheat beer with a banana and clove flavour with a citrus zing.
The Bruin ABV 5%
Belgian style brown ale with a hint of chocolate
Brunette ABV 5%
Dark lager with a roasty chocolate undertone.

Refreshing blonde ale –generously hopped to give bitterness with an aroma that packs a punch.

Hope to see some of you there, let me know if you're coming in the box below!


A few book reviews for a sunny Sunday

Until recently the only beer books in my collection were the stalwart CAMRA Good Beer Guide and a few other local guides. My beer book cupboard was bare and with that in mind I’ve picked up a few others in recent months. I've now been using them for a while; so thought I’d share my thoughts with you. Today I’m focussing on some reference style books, later I’ll cover books in the “beer story” genre.

Guides with titles along the lines of “(insert x number of beers here) beers you simply must try before you expire” are becoming more proliferate in the beer book marketplace. One of the best I’ve seen is Zak Avery’s “500 beers”. I like the format of this book: small and hardback meaning it is travel size and robust enough to pull out and flick through in a drinking establishment. There are also plenty of colourful photographs that help break up the text and it’s laid out according to style with a typical example given a slightly longer review. I also like that Zak has drunk all of the beers himself; so consistency of review is maintained. The decision to include suggested food pairings was inspired and I now have plenty of food matches to try (well those that I can veggie-tise).  It was also a decent price too (an important consideration if you’d rather be spending book funds on beer). I’d have liked an easier to navigate index, perhaps by country. I’m also worried I’ve become something of a ticker as I find myself counting up how many of the beers I’ve tried. Maybe its just my obsession with I-Spy books as a kid, but I’d love there to be tick boxes and maybe a few pages for notes. Aside from a couple of typographical errors and the odd confusing tasting note (“dusty hopsack” anyone?) the book is great and recommend you picking it up. [500 beers by Zak Avery, published by Apple Press (2010) http://amzn.to/qyifZa]
Another guide to tasty beers is “1001 beers you must try before you die”, but this time it’s a compilation of a variety of beer writers kept in check by Adrian Tierney Jones. It’s arranged by colour, which is a novel approach, then alphabetically by name. Unfortunately the decision not to include brewery name in all cases sometimes makes it difficult to look beers up. On the plus side it has an alphabetical index by both brewery and country, both of which are useful for different reasons. The country by country index was great for checking which beers were recommended for GBBF this year! Generally given a page per beer, with some historical notes and a separate tasting notes box, there’s certainly a lot more reading material in this than in Zak’s book, but I think only the obsessed would read every single entry in its entirety. [1001 beers you must try before you die edited by Adrian Tierney Jones, published by Cassell Illustrated (2010) http://amzn.to/qou3ZD]

There’s a place for both of these books in your collection and my aim is to try as many as possible, though not at the expense of trying other beers, because sometimes the best beers are ones you have never heard of and try on an off-chance. There is some overlap as you would expect so its probably about 1250 or so to try, I’m about a quarter of the way there so still plenty to seek out!
An area of beer culture that is getting more press recently is beer and food matching. This has long been practiced by those in the know and one of the masters is Garret Oliver. His book “The Brewmaster's Table” is an in depth look at the styles of the world, looking at some of the major players in producing that style then suggesting foods that would match with it. There’s a great introductory chapter that talks about the principles of food pairing (expanded on here by Mark Dredge) and a handy look-up table for finding matches for different food types. A selection of glossy photos acts as beer porn and gets you salivating to try some of the matches. [Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasure of Real Beer with Real Food by Garrett Oliver, published by Harper Perennial (2005) http://amzn.to/nD8BmM]


GBBF Roundup

The beer arrives
Lots of Mikkeller
New World fridge!
Last week I volunteered at GBBF on the Bieres SansFrontieres international bottled beer bar. I could easily make another mammoth post as I have been wont to do recently, but to spare my readers the agony I'm just going to make a summary of my highlights and lowlights of the week and point you in the direction of some other good reads.

The Good

The Bad
  • My wink ball video interview (warning large face alert!)
  • Far too humid in the room
  • Concrete floors and 12 hours on your feet 
  • Not enough time to try all the beers I would have liked to
  • End of an era at Earl's Court as it is to be demolished next year

Someone had too much Deus...
The Ugly
  • People dropping glasses on purpose to get a cheer going
  • Lack of sleep
  • The amount of money it costs to travel a few stops on the underground!

BSF staff relax on Saturday night
All in all an amazing week and I'm already looking forward to GBBF's return to its spiritual home of Olympia. I hope all of you who went along had a good time (if you didn't go, why ever not?!) and I look forward to meeting more of you next year. No doubt I'll be working on New World beers again.

Here's what some other bloggers thought of the event:

If you were all there than how come most of you bugger's didn't come to say hi?! If anyone else has any blogs about GBBF they'd like to be linked here then post a comment below.


CABPOM August: Flying Dog Cheese and Beer Pairing

NB: Sorry about the lack of photos, this fool forgot to take his camera and phone battery died. I’ve used some POS from the Flying Dog site.

Last Thursday saw me leaving the BSF bar partway through the day to amble on down to the White Horse at Parson's Green. I'd heard a lot about this pub, the fact that it is often referred to as the "Sloaney Pony" due to the drinking crowd it attracts, but not one to let other people's opinions cloud my judgement I thought I'd better check it out for myself. Why this particular night? Well besides being the first day of the annual American Beer Festival there was another event that had caught my eye: a cheese and beer pairing evening with Flying Dog. I was already toying with the idea when I heard about the beer; the cheese made it a no brainer!

Arriving at the pub around 6:30 I found it to be fairly full of a diverse clientele, with a number of people sat outside waiting for a BBQ. An astonishing array of beers awaited inside, both on keg and cask and after perusing my choices settled for a half of Sierra Nevada Kolsch, a beer I had no idea they brewed! I sat at a table where I was talked at by a fairly drunk office worker with socialist sympathies; so was glad to escape upstairs for the real event.

The tongue-tingling selection of beers
A stunning selection lay before me on the bar, four keg Flying Dog beers and three on cask. I also espied Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti which got my pulse racing too! The room had been decked out in brewery regalia and an American flag hung from the ceiling. Care had been taken to give every place a copy of the matching menu (see pic) and separate tasting notes were handed out to those needing them.

Once the 30 or so people had settled at their places Dom, the organiser of the event took the floor to welcome everyone and set the scene for the night. He then surrendered the floor to Matt Brophy. Not only were we lucky enough to try the Flying Dog beers but the Brewmaster had come along to guide us through it (he brought the CEO Jim Caruso along too). Through a mixture of talent and luck Matt has reached the position of Brewmaster at the tender age of 35. He gave us a brief biography, saying that he was inspired to begin home brewing at the age of 17 after listening to a radio interview with Charlie Papazian. His parents didn’t seem to mind that he was brewing beer four years before legally allowed to drink it! After that he managed to get a voluntary job at his local brewery then headed off to brewing school at the Siebel institute in Chicago. He worked at Great Divide before becoming head brewer at Flying Dog in 2003.

We were then given a delightful overview of the Flying Dog philosophy by Jim, who has been with the brewery for yonks and knows pretty much all there is to know about its inception and ethos, including the connection to Hunter S. Thompson and beer label artist Ralph Steadman. Jim could sense that we were eager to try the beers; so as the efficient and lovely bar staff filled our glasses Jim described the first beer: In Heat Wheat (4.7%) matched with Swiss Emmental. This beer had all the right characteristics for a weisse, banana and rich wheat on the nose, a big fluffy white head and cloves in the body. The beer definitely enhanced the flavour of the cheese but left a disagreeable metallic tang and vegetal finish.

Next up was the Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale (5.5%) pepper and cinnamon on the nose with Keen’s Farmhouse Cheddar cheese. Wow this was some amazing cheese! Luckily for me (unfortunately for him) the guy sat next to me had over indulged at dinner time and did not feel like eating so I got double helpings of this earthy, dry masterpiece. The slightly resinous and well carbonated beer really brought out the flavour in the cheese, ending on a not unpleasant slatey note. This beer was produced from a 90 minute boil and enhanced by dry hopping in the fermenter.

Midway through the evening and we face a monster: 10% Single Hop Centennial IIPA. Except it wasn’t single hop as Matt let on it had been dry hopped with two further varieties in the cask. That’s right, you read correctly, this beast of a beer was on cask and didn’t suffer for it! A rich nose of mangos and lemons, deep amber in colour with lots more mango in the body and a resinous finish. Coupled with the crushed peppercorns on the Monterey Jack melted on rye it really assaulted the taste buds in a delicious way. Matt told us that their cask beer is primed with Belgian Candy Sugar to ensure the all important secondary fermentation and that their beers are suitable for vegans as they use no fining.

I didn’t think the night could get any better but I was wrong...Two further beers in quick succession and Matt’s assertion from the start of the night that the initially quiet audience would liven up as the night wore on was becoming true. I found all manner of questions that I wanted answering, but luckily the guys were working the tables and knew their stuff; so I found out what I wanted and more. After the IIPA we were treated to Raging Bitch (8.3%), again on cask. This is their Belgian yeast IPA and my was it drinkable. No cheese match supplied with this one, but I reckon a good stinky washed rind could have worked well. An apple ester nose with a fairly dry, astringent and bitter body with hay character from the Brett. Matt tells us that a night on these beers can lead to a thumping hangover in the morning, which they refer to as being “Bitch-slapped”. It’s easy to see how this can happen as the alcohol is so well hidden.

Dog Schwartz (7.8%) is a beer with an identity crisis but doesn’t suffer for it. It’s a hybrid of a double Schwartz and a rauchbier and has the best of both styles. Smokey bacon and chocolate on the nose it has a creamy texture, gentle smoke and finishes on a golden syrup note. It uses cascade for the aroma hops and perle for bittering. They get their malt from Germany where it is beechwood smoked and around 50% of the total malt bill is the smoked stuff.

Dubious as to how the night could be bettered I was again proven wrong with the grand finale: Barrel aged Gonzo Imperial Porter with Toasted American Oak (9.2%) dry hopped in the cask with cascade and matched with room temperature Colston Basset Stilton. Wow. This beer was breathtaking and with the cheese simply sublime. Fruity, vanilla ice-cream, chocolate and boozy nose with coffee, resinous hops and even more chocolate in the luxuriantly thick body. The oak adding extra vanilla and the dry hops rounding out the beer. This is exponentially better than the bottled version, and that is already a great beer. This matched exceedingly well with the piquant fruity flavours of the stilton; so much so that I had to avail the tray on the bar of an additional two glasses worth. For a beer described as having “a shit-tonne of hops” they’re remarkably well hidden and the beer is very balanced. The thought of this pairing is still making me salivate; it’s a no brainer that this is the cheese and beer pairing of the month.

I finished on a half of the aforementioned great divide and was not disappointed, Matt’s former employers don’t seem to have suffered without him and half the pub agreed as I shared the beer around. After a very topical conversation on dispense and cask conditioned beers with Oz Clarke (whose best pint was a Batemans XXXB some years ago) and telling Roger Protz to try the Revelation Cat 3-yo Lambic Laphroaig Cask on BSF (he didn’t!) I called an end to the highlight of my week and returned to my hotel room and fell in a contented slumber, accompanied by the inevitable cheese-aided dreams.

I would like to say thank you to all of those involved in making this night memorable, to Dom for organising the whole thing, James Clay for getting the beers, the bar girls who were very smiley, friendly, efficient (not to mention pleasing to the eye) and quick to offer refills. Also to Matt and Jim who were an excellent double-act for the evening. I feel much more educated about so many things and they left me wanting to visit the brewery. Cheese and beer pairing is no new thing to Flying Dog, they host frequent beer dinners, something I’d love to see more of in the UK. Their beer leaflet also has a whole ream of pairing suggestions for each beer. I bumped into the guys again the following day at GBBF looking remarkably bright eyed and bushy tailed. The Hunter S. Thompson quote which Jim gave at the start of the night “good people drink good beer” can certainly be expanded to “great brewers brew great beer”.

PS sorry for all the apparent name dropping but I think they add to my account of the evening, and yes I am aware that all of my CABPOM’s so far have been with dark beer and usually blue cheese, I’ll try to mix things up a bit for next month but no promises!