23rd East Anglian Beer Festival

Last night I found myself at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds for the 23rd East Anglian Beer Festival.

The East Anglian Beer Festival runs until Saturday the 26th, with just over 90 ales and 15 ciders on offer over the four days. This is the third year on the trot I’ve made the festival and it’s quite a nice and relaxed affair, especially on opening night. The crowd ebbed and flowed a bit, but it never got particularly busy. We were able to get a seat at a table straight away and never had to queue to order a beer, which all made for a pretty stressless evening.

All the ales and ciders on offer are local, in that they’re all from East Anglian based producers. This can lead to a few that aren’t exactly that, erm, progressive, new wave, or interesting for a beer geek. I found asking for a taste of the beer I fancied indispensable, as it stopped me from having a couple that really weren’t to my liking at all.

Highlights had to be Crouch Vale Calypso, Adnams / Camden Town South Town, which slipped down very easily and of course Oakham Ales Green Devil IPA, which was a little less tropical and a bit more oniony on this occasion. I also tried Tydd Steam Golden Kiwi and Shortts Farm Indie Ale, both of which I’d probably pass over if in a pub, to my detriment it would appear. While both were pretty nice, I should probably have had them before the Green Jack Mahseer IPA, which I found to have an odd herbal tea kind of flavour running through it.

If you’re in the area, then it’s free entry for CAMRA members, so worth popping in for an evening. I’m not sure there’s really enough of interest to keep a committed beer geek there longer than a session though.

Craft Keg Arrives in Cambridge

I popped into the Cambridge Brew House at lunchtime, as I was dropping off a couple of bottles of homebrew for James, the head brewer of the Cambridge Brewing Company. As he was telling me about his future trip to a hop farm to pick up some green hops, my eye wandered to the back of the bar, where I noticed a load of keg fonts coming out of a keg attached to the wall. I’ll admit to suddenly blurting out “you have Thornbridge Jaipur on keg…!?!” and stopping James in his tracks; it’s not everyday you see that sort of thing round here.

So evidently the Cambridge Brew House have installed a few more keg lines and have some national and international craft keg on tap! Today there was Camden Pale Ale and Freedom Organic Lager on the main bar fonts, plus Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, Thornbridge Jaipur, Adnams Clump Sagin and Redhook Long Hammer IPA on the new keg fonts. If you can make out the prices on the photos above, you’ll notice that they’re craft keg prices, so a pint of the Jaipur would set you back £4.50. Which isn’t too steep if you’ve ever drank in Cask, Craft or The Euston Tap.

This is a definite step forward for pubs in Cambridge, especially as James told me that they had some Magic Rock stuff waiting to go on too. Which I’ll probably miss, due to being on holiday for the next three weeks, but those are the breaks. When I get back, I’m going to have to go down and see what they have on, fingers crossed for some Magic Rock

Fat Sprat

I’ll start this by saying that I’m not a big fan of mini casks, as drinking eight odd pints of the same beer one after the other, isn’t really my thing. I can see the attraction for a party though, especially if you have three or four of the things with different beers in them. Since Adnams were kind enough to send me this mini cask of Fat Sprat for review and I didn’t have any parties planned for the foreseeable future, I just had to man up and get on with it.

You’d have thought that with the eight and a half pints that I managed to squeeze out of the mini cask, I’d have had plenty of opportunity to study and analyse this beer and make copious notes. I should be able to regale you with exacting details of how it sits in the glass and how it tastes, but I didn’t take any notes. I was too busy knocking back pint after pint, with a massive cheesy smile on my face, as this isn’t a boring brown beer, this is a brilliant brown beer.

It’s ridiculously drinkable, with a lovely malt backbone that supports a fantastic level of bitterness. With bags and bags of flavour, that lingers long into the slightly drying after taste, it’s such a tasty beer. I urge you to hunt it out, evidently it was on at The Red Lion in Histon the other week and I imagine The Castle Inn will have some at some point. Or, you could just buy some from the Adnams online shop, you’ll be glad you did.

Native Britten

It turns out, that this year is the centenary of renowned composer Benjamin Britten. Evidently he was born and spent the majority of his life in Suffolk, so Adnams have produced a beer to commemorate the occasion. It’s billed as a golden wheat beer with banana and citrus flavours, a lightly herbal aroma and a sweet, dry finish and features both honey and thyme, along with all the usual beery ingredients, and features three different labels.

It certainly seemed like a tale of three bottles, but I suppose that was all about time and place more than anything else. The honey and thyme flavours in the first bottle were initially very subtle, but the thyme really dominated the more I drank. The second bottle wasn’t subtle and was just all thyme, while the third bottle had far more of the honey in the flavour and thus seemed better balanced.

They all poured a crystal clear, classic brown bitter colour, with a slightly off white head. There was nothing about the appearance that indicated that they were going to be so interestingly flavoured. I suppose the only comparable beer I’ve had was Saison du’Buff, which was like drinking a liquidised herb garden. These were more like drinking liquidised savoury thyme crackers. Different, and both too much, but strangely moreish at the same time.

My wife commented that the flavour reminded her of the coast and all the wild plants that grow along it. I’d quite like to know how Adnams do that, as I get a similar thing when I drink Spindrift. Anyway, this is a limited release beer, so you won’t find it in the supermarket, you’ll need to head to the Adnams online store if you fancy trying some.

Thanks to Adnams for sending me a few bottles to review.

Trooper

Iron Maiden's Trooper...

Number of the Yeast!

If I’m being honest, other than buying a case online, I didn’t think I’d ever get to try the Iron Maiden Trooper beer, brewed by Robinsons. So you can imagine my excitement when I was tagged in a tweet from Adam over at Pints and Pubs, that the Earl of Beaconsfield on Mill Road had taken delivery of some.

So yesterday lunchtime, under the guise of heading down Mill Rd to buy some coffee from Hot Numbers, I popped into the Earl of Beaconsfield for a swift half. It’s a pub I’ve always avoided, I’m not sure why, but there’s always been something about it that’s not connected with me. As usual though, I’m a fool. What a lovely little pub, nicely done up inside and the handful of people who were at the bar were all nice and friendly to boot. The beer selection might not be the kind to get a geeks heart racing, but I’ll have to pop in a bit more often when I’m down that part of town.

So what about the beer then? I must admit to being a bit skeptical, I just didn’t think it was going to be any good, as Robinsons aren’t exactly the kind of brewer I normally drink beer from. Stuff like their entry to the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt from the other year and the stories I’d heard about the Elbow beer they made, being boring, hadn’t helped matters.

However, the landlord of the Earl of Beaconsfield was telling me that he’d tried Trooper against Adnams Ghostship, Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Wells Bombadier and he thought it had edged it and come out on top. He was also keen to tell me that Bruce had spent six months working with Robinsons to get the beer right, he seemed quite taken with it, if I’m being honest.

Obviously I can’t speak about how good this beer is in the bottle, but I can say that the half I had from cask was lovely, it totally surpassed my expectations. It was really nicely balanced, with a sweet maltiness that had just a touch of biscuit about it, offsetting the subtly floral hop flavours. The aftertaste had some subtle citrus about it, think soft and subdued pithy marmalade and you won’t be far off. I really wish I’d bought a pint and that I was cycling, so I could have had another.

As I said, it totally surpassed my expectations, well made, beautifully balanced, well kept and served in a friendly pub. You couldn’t get a better combination. If you live in Cambridge and you like Iron Maiden, then I’d hot foot it down to the Earl of Beaconsfield and try some. I might have to buy a case online now…

As I was the first punter through the door to buy any Trooper, the landlord gave me his spare pump clip! I’m going to have to find a place for it in the brew shed…

Tainted

featured

I’m hoping to get a brew on later today, it’ll be the first time in about twenty months. So it’s probably about time I told the sorry tale of my first two all grain attempts. I’d come off the back of a run of about six malt extract brews and was ready to step up and finally have a go at doing it all properly. As I didn’t want to complicate things, I’d decided not to worry about any sort of water treatment for the first couple of brews, just so I could concentrate on the process. In hindsight this was a huge mistake.

I used the same recipe for both of these brews, unfortunately the exact recipe is lost in the mists of time, as it was on my old laptop which was stolen out of my car. I’m pretty sure that I’d used Simcoe and Amarillo in the boiler and Columbus as a dry hop, but my report of the first brew on Jim’s Home Brew Forum suggests that I used something similar to the recipe below:

Brew Length:
15 litres

Grain, aiming for OG of 1050:
95% Marris Otter (3312g)
5% CaraPils (174g)

90 min mash @ 65C

90 min boil with hops:
12g Cascade @ 90 mins
6g Simcoe @ 90 mins
21g Cascade @ 20 mins
10g Simcoe @ 20 mins
20g Cascade @ 0 mins for a 20 min steep
20g Simcoe @ 0 mins for a 20 min steep

Yeast:
Rogue Ales Pacman recovered from a bottle of Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale.

From looking at the LibreOffice files I created to print off labels for both of these batches, I can see that I actually dry hopped with a combination of Amarillo and Columbus, although I have no idea about the quantity used.

I knew both batches had issues, I’d missed target volumes and gravities, but I was sort of expecting that kind of thing to happen until I got used to all the different steps. There was also something about the taste that wasn’t quite right though and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just assumed that it was down to a failure in part of the process and would work itself out in future brews. As we were about to have an extension built, the brew kit was packed away in the loft, while the sheds were moved around the garden; I haven’t brewed since.

As it happened, my wife bought me an Adnams Brewery Tour for my birthday that year and when we went, I took a couple of bottles along and dropped them of for Fergus the head brewer. Imagine my horror a couple of week later, when I got a DM from Fergus telling me they were tainted with Chloramine, which manifests itself as a slightly antiseptic type taste. So when I got home that evening, I broke out the TCP and had a bit of a gargle, then I tried both batches of beer. I poured the few remaining bottles down the sink and emailed everyone I’d given any too to do the same; I was mortified that I hadn’t picked the taint out.

It turns out that my failure to do any sort of water treatment was the cause. Tap water has chlorine added to it, who knew, and if you don’t get rid of it before you mash, then you can end up with this kind of taint in your beer. There are a couple of ways to get rid of it; you an pre-boil your liquor the night before you brew, for around half an hour, or you can add half a crushed campden tablet per 25 litres of cold liquor and leave it for ten minutes before you heat it to strike temperature. It wouldn’t have taken much effort to do either of these and that’s a mistake I wont be making again, mainly as I’ve bought a tube of 50 campden tablets, which should last for a few brews.

Going forward, I’m still not going to concern myself with full on water treatment at the moment, at least not until I’ve got another couple of brews under my belt. I’ve already contacted Cambridge Water and received all the values I need to input into a water treatment calculator. I think I’ll save those for another blog though, as I need to get out to the shed and make make some tweaks to the brew fridge wiring in preparation for its first use.

The Cambridge Brew House

Herbs everywhere, I wonder how long that'll last...

I posted some Cambridge Pub News the other week and I’m pleased to say that one of the pubs mentioned has now opened.

The Cambridge Brew House is located on King St and has undergone a massive refit, which has included the installation of a micro brewery on the site. I’m not going to go into any details about the history of the place, as Adam over at Pints and Pubs has already produced a fantastic blog on the subject.

I managed to visit at lunchtime on their opening day last week and enjoyed a few halves of the beer on offer (they had two of their own on, Adnams Broadside, Black Bar Standing Talking Bitter, Lord Conrad’s Pheasants Rise and Nethergate Growler Bitter). I wandered around and took a few photos, which you can see below. I’m not the biggest fan of going to the pub on my own, even though I seem to do it quite a lot and since it was a flying visit, I think I’ll reserve judgement on the place until I’ve been in the evening with some friends. Having said that, there are a few things that I think they could improve on, but given that this was their opening day, this might sound a bit on the harsh side.

Of the six hand pumps mounted on the bar, three of them were dispensing bitter, two dispensing premium bitter / best bitter / ESB (call it what you like) and just the one pump dispensing anything remotely pale and hoppy, which from my personal perspective, doesn’t bode well. I’d liked to have seen a larger selection of beer styles on offer and while they are obviously keeping it local, which is all well and good, if the local produce on offer is all a bit samey and average, then maybe you need to look a bit further afield. Instead of a couple of those bitters, I’d rather have seen one or two beers from a few of the UK’s more progressive and new wave breweries (Thornbridge, DarkStar, MagicRock, Summer Wine to name but a few).

Of their in house brews (currently being brewed in Henley until their brew house is up and running next week) the King’s Parade was nice and balanced, but tending to the maltier side of things and in my view inferior to the Black Bar Standing Talking; mainly as the later had more bitterness. The Misty River was similarly nicely balanced, but this time slightly to the bitter side of things with a pleasant bitter tickle lingering in to after taste, it also had that smoothness you get from a bit of wheat in the grist and I would happily have another. While both were good solid beers, neither of them would get a beer geeks juice salivating though, but then I don’t think either are aimed at the beer geek, so will probably do very well for the kind of clientèle that the place seems designed to attract.

They do have plans for other beers though, with a US Pale ale already having been brewed. So hopefully with the micro brewery on site, we can only hope that there will be a range of more esoteric and interesting brews to go along with the core range.

I must admit to not paying too much attention to what was was available on keg, as there was nothing that instantly stood out as being different for the norm. I think they could easily give over a couple of keg lines to something interesting from the Bacchanalia or Beautiful Beers like some De Molen, Rogue or anything kegged from the afore mentioned progressive UK brewers; it appears to be working for Benson Blakes in Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge is crying out for somewhere to do some decent craft keg properly. It was a similar story with the bottles, I stopped looking when I saw they were stocking the triumph of marketing over taste, that is Innis & Gunn.

I can’t comment on the food, as I didn’t eat any while I was there, but it sounds positive from blogs like The Moving Foodie and what folks have been saying on twitter.

I’ve not really enjoyed trying to write this bolg, as I feel I’ve been ridiculously over critical for somewhere that had only been open for only for 30 minutes when I walked through the door. I wasn’t expecting a Cask Pub & Kitchen, or Craft Beer Co type place, even though Cambridge desperately needs one. It’s just frustrating walking into a new place and being uninspired by the beer choices on offer, especially when there are plenty of pubs opening around the country with impressive cask, keg and bottle ranges on the bar. I also realise that I’m probably not the target market for this place, there’s too much herbage on the tables for my liking for a start, but I just feel like it could have been so much more beer wise.

I’ll be going back though, I can’t say how often as I’m not the biggest pub visitor, but it certainly another option along with The Mitre and The Maypole, for a quick half on the way back to the office after a lunch break in town. I’m also looking forward seeing brewing return to the City for the first time in a few years and will definitely be paying a visit to try the new US Pale Ale when it hits the bar in a few weeks time.

The guys behind the venture obviously know what they are doing, as they’ve built a pub company before and then sold it to Greene King. This begs the question, are they in this because they love beer, or are they only in it for the money, what ever the answer to that question is, The Cambridge Brew House is certainly a welcome addition to the Cambridge pub scene and I look forward to seeing how it’s evolves over the next few months.

You Can’t Take It With You

In my last blog post I mentioned that I was going to spread my wings a bit and start trying more beer, rather than always going for the perceived best that a brewery makes. That would have been a smashing idea, if I actually had any money. Gone are the days where I could walk into the Bacchanalia and blow £70 – £100 a week on rare and expensive beer. I blame building an expensive extension to the house, the financial meltdown and the fact that everything seems to have got all expensive all of a sudden. Either way, I’m totally skint and the beer fridge is empty.

One thing I have done though, is lay down a load of bottles for a rainy day. As you can see from the photo, there’s quite a collection from various breweries. I’ve never really had a plan when it’s come to ageing stuff though, I’ve just chucked it in the cupboard and tried to forget about it. I’ve not really thought about how long things should be aged for and when they’ll be at their peak and ready for drinking. Some are pure experiments, like the Orval Project (more on that in a future blog post), but most have just been set aside for some unspecified point in the future.

"Death twitches my ear;
 'Live,' he says... 
 'I'm coming."
               ― Virgil

We’ve all seen Dead Poets Society and the numerous motivational quotes extolling us to Carpe diem, Seize the Day. So I’ve decided that it’s time to drink some of the stash, what rainy day am I waiting for? All those BrewDog Abstrakt bottles, why am I holding on to them when most of them are shite? I could drop dead tomorrow from an aneurysm, never knowing what that bottle of Marble Special 2009 tasted like. Unless I’m holding onto a beer for a very particular reason (that 750ml bottle of the original Hel & Verdoemenis 666 is for my 50th birthday for instance), it’s going to either get drunk, or have a date put on it for when it will be drunk.

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, 
 find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their 
 island of opportunities and look toward another land. There
 is no other land; there is no other life but this."
                                             ― Henry David Thoreau

Why wait for a rainy day that might never come…? You can’t take it with you.

Free Beer Politics on the Radical Road

Ah free beer, nothing tastes quite like it. The last couple of months has seen a bit of a storm on the subject, with various blogs venting their frustrations at the actions of others. The topic also came up at the recent European Beer Bloggers Conference and it was quite entertaining to read all the hand wringing tweets about if it was OK to accept and blog about free beer and what you should do if you thought the beer was poor or bad, especially in light of the majority of the atendees having taken the MolsonCoors Scholarship.

I don’t go out looking for free beer, as I’ve always felt that it would compromise my reviewing of it. I’ve also tried to indicate those beers I’ve been sent with their own category, so it’s easy to identify those reviews and thus apply a free beer filter when reading them. Having said that, I’ve not given every free beer I’ve had a glowing review, but then you have to remember that this is my personal opinion, it’s not fact.

Beer is like art, we don’t have to agree with others on what beer is good and which isn’t, it’s perfectly fine to have your own opinion that is diametrically opposite to everyone else. We don’t all have to like pop art or neo-expressionism anymore than we all have to like Rauchbier or Greene King IPA. What we should all agree on though, is that as beer bloggers, we don’t try to dupe our audience with unethical reviews where we laud false praise on mediocre beers in the hope that we’ll get more free beer in return. After all, the truth will out…

I’ve been meaning to write about this stuff for a while and was finally nudged into doing so by this tweet from Stewart Brewing yesterday:

I was offered a free bottle of Radical Road a while back and jumped at the opportunity. You don’t tend to see Stewart Brewing beers down this way and all those that I’ve tried have been during trips back home to visit my parents. The box also had a couple of their other beers in it, Coconut Porter and Cauld Reekie, neither of which I’d tried before. So a massive thanks to Stewart Brewing for sending me these.

I think I drank the Coconut Porter while it was a bit on the cold side, as I didn’t get any coconut, it was silky smooth for sure though. In my defence the fridge was set to eight degrees, but a faulty controller had it much, much colder; in fact it bottomed out at minus fourteen a few days later, I’d removed all the beer by that point though. The Cauld Reekie was a glorious glass of interesting roasted flavours and one I’ll be hunting down next time I’m home.

But what of Radical Road, their new 6.4% Triple Hopped Pale Ale? It poured a slightly hazy amber colour, that cleared as it warmed up slightly. The loose white head didn’t last and dropped to a few thin patches fairly quickly. I was expecting a bit more on the nose, there were slight marmalade notes, but I was expecting a bit more of a bouquet. It was really quite full bodied and filled the mouth with sweet, slightly marmalade, malt flavours. The slight carbonation stopped the sweetness from getting sticky and that coupled with the wonderful bitterness really balanced the beer well. The bitterness were never too much, but enough to prickle the insides of my cheeks and leave a long lingering juicy bitter marmalade aftertaste. I really, really enjoy this, just my kind of beer.

It sort of reminded me a bit of Adnams Innovation, but with slightly more bitterness. I’d love to try the two side by side, so I hope that they don’t wait too long before brewing it again…

What’s the Point of Lower Alcohol Beer…?

I’ve been meaning to write a post about 2.8% beers for ages, I’ve got a load of tasting notes and everything. Since I decided to stop doing reviews and had a break, I’ve been waiting for inspiration about how to write about these beers without being too derogatory. I like to go by the if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all maxim, but I think I’ve finally found a way to put a positive spin on them.

By and large all the ones I’ve tried have been pretty terrible, don’t take my word for it either, read Duty calls: lower alcohol beer taste test which was published on the Guardian word of mouth blog last week. From bottle or can, they’ve all been pretty thin and over carbonated, with varying levels of flavour. I’ve only managed to try one from cask, Adnams Sole Star which was really nice with oodles of flavour. I have a sneaking suspicion that this kind of beer is more suited to cask dispense then from a bottle or can, but I’d need to try a few more before stating this as fact.

So if they’re all pretty terrible for home drinking, what use can they possibly have? Well, if you’re a bit of a lard arse, like I was in January, weighing in at over 85Kg, you might want to go on a diet to loose a bit of weight. Beer isn’t exactly calorie free, especially the big imperial stouts and what not, even a bottle of Thornbridge Jaipur will set you back 275 calories. However, a bottle of 2.8% beer will probably set you back around 120 to 130 odd calories, or there abouts, quite a saving.

So if you’re calorie counting and you’re still wanting to have more than one beer in an evening, then a couple of bottles or cans of 2.8% beer might fit the bill. If you can stomach the taste…