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.

Bottle Crates

My loft looks like a glass recycling plant, with various sizes of bottles spilling out of knackered cardboard boxes, left, right and centre. I needed to find a solution and since there was a small pile of wood in the garden, I thought I’d have a go at building a couple of prototype bottle crates.

The reason I say they’re prototype crates, is due to the wood, it was left over from a fence that was built in the garden the other year, so it quite thick. It’s not the kind of wood I’d use if I was making creates for real, but perfect for chopping up and screwing together to flush out any design flaws.

I started off my measuring the diameter of the various 500ml bottles that I have; ex Thornbridge, Oakham, Brewers & Union, Karg and Worthington’s White Shield. The White Shield bottles were easily the widest, so all the dimensions were based around creating a crate that could hold twenty four of them.

After deciding on the dimensions, it was just a case of lots of sawing, drilling pilot holes and screwing the bits together in the right order. It still took what felt like all afternoon and made me really wish I had better tools and a proper workshop. It was quite a chilly day and even with gloves on, my fingers were struggling by the end.

The finished crate, just waiting on the bottle divider...

As you can see from the photo above, the first prototype is a bit on the industrial side. It’s also full of ex Thornbridge bottles, which just goes to show how much extra space is required for those fat White Shield ones. All that is left to do is to make the internal dividers, so that the bottles don’t clink together; I have some spare lite-ply that should fit the bill.

I still need to build the second prototype, just to make sure that they will stack correctly, but I need to buy some more screws first as I’m pretty much all out. Ideally, I’d also buy one of those fancy circular mitre saws, so that all the cuts are perfect. One of those router dovetail jigs would be pretty sweet too, as then it could mostly go together with glue. But that’s all pie in the sky, if I had that kind of money to throw around, I’d be upgrading the homebrew kit…

AG #03: Binary Star – Galaxy Amarillo

I’ve not brewed for about twenty months, mainly as we were having an extension built, but then mainly due to being lax. After finally getting the brew fridge up and running the other week, which I’d been using as an excuse not to brew, it was time to finally pull the proverbial finger out and get a brew on. Fitting a brew in round a young family can be challenging though, as I’m not allowed to spend a whole weekend day on one of my hobbies and ignore the family.

It wasn’t so much of an issue when I was doing the extract/partial mash brews, as they could be all done and dusted in an evening. The initial plan was to take a Friday afternoon off work and brew into the night, although I just don’t have enough spare holiday this year to be doing that. This didn’t leave many options, but one that was suggested on Jims Homebrew Kit Forum, was to split the brew over two days; getting the mash done in the evening, then doing the boil early the following morning.

So that’s what I did at the weekend; mashed in on the Saturday evening while my wife was out and then got up at five o’clock on the Sunday morning and completed the boil and clean up. In fact, I actually started on Friday, as I needed to give all the containers a really good clean, they were quite manky from having sat unused in the shed. So I picked up some VWP at lunchtime and spent the evening up to my elbows with a cloth and shower head getting all the grime off.

Here’s the recipe I was working to, I was aiming for something pale and very hoppy, with an OG of 1040 and 50 IBUs. I wanted to keep the grist simple, as I had done in my first two all grain attempts, there’s plenty of time to experiment with other grains once I’ve got back into the swing of things. I have a load of hops that need used up, they were all bought a couple of months before I stopped brewing, as I thought I could fit in a few more brews before the extension was started, but I didn’t manage to fit any in. Wanting to use up as many as I can in each brew is the main reason why there is 150g of hops in the brew. The other 50g of Amarillo will go in the next brew, along with 100g of Simcoe, my fifth and sixth all grain brews will feature even more as I try to use them all up.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Pale Malt 5 EBC 3586 grams 92%
CaraPils 4 EBC 312 grams 8%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 90 9 40%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 20 6 15%
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% 15 11 15%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 10 10 15%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 5 18 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 80°C steep 30
2010 Amarillo Whole 15% 80°C steep 20
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% days 6 to 11 27
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% days 6 to 11 21
  Expected Actual
Volume 19 litres 12.3 litres
Mash 90 mins at 66°C 90 mins at 66.9°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.060
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.011
ABV 4.9% 7.1%
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C

I batch sparge, as while I have the kit to do fly sparging, the mash tun isn’t quite square enough and I’d rather not have to worry about getting water flow rates equalised when my mash tun tap is so crap. I don’t mind having to use a few hundred grams more grain to offset the loss in efficiency, as it makes life alot easier. Having said that, I didn’t actually do it properly on my first two brews, as I mashed in with both the mash liquor and the first batch top up liquor. Having read this article on batch sparging on Jim’s Beer Kit, I did it properly this time and used the right amount of water for the ninety minute mash.

I was aiming to mash at 66°C, but let the strike temperature of the water get a few points of a degree too high. I also didn’t recheck the temperature of the grain once it had gone into the preheated mash tun, so this all resulted in the temperature creeping up to 66.9°C. I wasn’t too bothered to be honest, as having a bit of extra body would theoretically help to carry the bitterness. When the ninety minutes was up, the mash had only lost about a degree and a half, which wasn’t too bad, although I’d still like to insulate the mash tun lid with some two part epoxy foam.

The first batch sparge went without incident. In a change from my previous brews, I made sure that I recirculated a decent amount of wort to enable the grain bed to settle and act like a filter. In the past I’ve just used a couple of 500ml jugs worth and felt that the wort in the boiler was a bit on the murky side. So I dug out an old 2.2 Litre jug from my old darkroom kit, that I had last used about nine years ago. After recirculating three jugs worth, the wort was much, much clearer and I let it run into the boiler. I was after 12.3 litre from each batch sparge and as you can see from the photos, I pretty much hit that on the button with the first batch.

For some reason, after filling up the mash tun with the second lot of sparge water, I left it to sit for about twenty minutes before starting the run off. This is what I did on the first two brews, but for the life of me I can’t remember why; I must have read it online somewhere. In a similar fashion to the first batch, I decided to recirculate three jugs of wort, before draining into the boiler. The first jug was cloudy, but the second was really, really clear and in hindsight, I should have just let it run into the boiler at that point.

To cut a long story short, I managed to get a stuck mash, twice. I managed to free up the grain bed with a bit of stirring, I just hope that hasn’t released too many off flavours from the grain, but I had no way of underletting to try and refloat the mash, so it was the only option. After recirculating another couple of jugs, I started to let it run into the boiler, but the mash stuck again with only about half of the required volume transferred. This time there was no recovering it and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get more than a few drops out of the tap. It was at this point I discovered that I’d also dislodged the copper grain filter, so I knew the game was up.

I was after 24 litres in the boiler, I got about 19, so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it did mean the wort was much stronger than anticipated. After tweaking the recipe in BeerEngine to account for the new OG and volume, the hop weights had only changed by a gram or two for the same IBUs, so I decided to stick with the original weights. I cleaned up as best I could and stumbled off to bed at around one o’clock.

When the alarm went off four hours later at five o’clock, I won’t lie, it was very tempting to just switch it off and turn over, but I didn’t. I got up, dressed and took the boiler out to the shed, where it was plugged in and on to full whack within ten minutes. After making myself a strong coffee, I got all the hops out of the freezer and started to get everything else I need out to the shed. It was at this point I realised that I’d not fitted the hop strainer to the boiler before the batch sparges, which meant having to plunge a rubber glove covered arm into 80°C wort to get it wedged into place.

I made a conscious decision to boil at a higher power than I have in the past. I’ve seen loads of photos of other peoples homebrew days and they all seem to have more hot break than I do, so I boiled harder to ensure I’d get a good hot break for a change. This had the side effect of increasing the expected boil off though and all the steam produced, also made the shed ceiling drip with liquid. I think I’m going to have to build some sort of extractor hood to fit over the top of the boiler, as it can’t be good for the shed to have that much hot moisture inside it.

Other than that, the boil was pretty uneventful, the hop additions all went in on time, as did half a protofloc tablet. I let the wort cool down to 80°C and then added a big load of hops to steep for twenty minutes to half an hour before getting the chiller on. I had a slight issue with the jubilee clips holding the rubber tubing to the chiller letting a tiny amount of water drip out and into the boiler. I need a better way of securing the tubing to the chiller, I’ll need to see if I can get some sort of John Guest fitting, or other compression fitting that I can secure onto the chiller ends.

Once the wort hit 23°C, I drained the boiler into the fermentation bucked, sprinkled a packed of Safale US-05 onto and gave it a quick mix with the mash paddle. Then the lid went on, the air lock was fitted and it was placed into the brew fridge, with the TC-10 set to 19°C with bounds of ±1°C. I then quickly emptied all the containers, quickly piled everything up and went back to join the family.

I was expecting to clean all the kit thoroughly in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, but I managed to fit it in while dinner was cooking. Over all, if I add up all the time taken, the split brew and clean up took nearly ten hours, my first two all grain attempts were both done and dusted in under eight. I know the stuck mashes didn’t help, but I think that I always slow down at the end and don’t get things cleaned up and put away as fast as I could, so there’s plenty of room to make this kind of split brew day go a lot faster.

Even though I know I’ve not brewed for a while and that my first five to ten all grain brews were all going to be about learning, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. I’m pretty sure that I caused the stuck mash and forgetting things like fitting the hop strainer to the boiler, which I’ve done before, is annoying to say the least. Mostly I’m annoyed at how little volume I ended up with, I was shooting for 19 litres, I ended up with a touch over 12. So I’m going to have to do some calculations to work out boil off and losses to hops etc and feed that back into the calculations for the next brew.

Having said that I’m disappointed, it’s really great to have finally brewed again after so long. The wort I tasted from the sample jar after taking a gravity reading, tasted really sweet and quite full bodied. While it was also really bitter, it wasn’t harsh or astringent like my previous attempts, so I’m hopeful the campden tablets have done their thing and that the hop combination will result in a really flavourful beer.

I’ll be updating this post with more details on the beer, like terminal gravity and theoretical ABV etc. There’ll also be more photos of things like the dry hopping and bottling and maybe even some tasting notes. In the meantime, here’s the photos from the brew day(s):

Update: 21/03/12
I popped out to the shed this morning and took a gravity reading. There was little point in correcting for temperature, as 0.0005 of degree doesn’t really have much impact on the actual reading of 1.020. So I’m toying with dry hopping it this evening, as I’m expecting it to finish higher than anticipated due to the higher mash temperature.

Update: 23/03/12
I should really have taken a gravity reading and dry hopped last night when I got home form work, but I was too tired. So once the family was all up and fed, I popped out to the shed to take the gravity reading and see if the beer was ready for dry hopping. Just like Thursday morning, the temperature correction wasn’t really worth worrying about, so I’ll take it as reading 1.012, it’s getting there.

I mixed up a fresh batch of StarSan, mainly as I didn’t want to start on the peracetic until the next brew. After spraying the food processor bowl, I weighed out the remaining Galaxy hops, and enough of the Amarillo to leave 50g for the next brew. Then after whizzing them up for a few minutes, it was back out to the shed to sprinkle them into the fermenting wort.

I’ll give them two to three days at 19°C, before crashing the temperature down to to just 2°C for another couple of days before bottling. The idea being to precipitate out as much of the dry hop, yeast and trub as possible. This would mean bottling on Thursday night after work however and as Thursday is my wife’s birthday, I think I’ll probably be waiting till Friday…

Update: 27/03/12
I popped out to the shed this morning before work, as I needed to fiddle with the brew fridge. First I gave the dry hops a gentle stir, which released loads of luscious aromas, can’t wait to actually try this brew. Then I switched the thermostat down to 2°C, I’ll find out when I get home if that’s actually worked or not. Finally I popped up into my loft and got down a box of bottles, which need to be soaked to remove their labels.

For some reason I thought that this Thursday was my wife’s birthday, it’s not, it’s next Thursday. I also forgot that it’s Easter weekend, so I have Friday off work. Due to this mind muddle, I’ll be bottling on Friday, when I have more free time, hence why I waited until this morning to turn the temperature on the fridge down.

Update: 30/03/12
The last update saw the brew fridge thermostat being set to 2°C, unfortunately when I got home that evening, the low level alarm was flashing. I couldn’t remember which setting was the one to adjust it and I couldn’t find the instructions (turns out they were in my bedside table), just as well it was really cold that night. The following morning, I changed the low level alarm setting from 16°C to 0°C and left the fridge to it.

As the weather was due to be really cold, I decided to take the bucket out of the fridge on the Thursday night. Mainly so that any disturbed trub would have time to settle out over night. I also soaked twenty three bottles in hot water, so that I could take their labels off. This worked wonderfully well, even with the Oakham Green Devil and Moor labels, which are quite hard to get off. This meant that on Friday I just needed to clean the new bucket and syphon tubing I’d bought and crack on with the bottling.

So on Friday morning, after I’d got back from the gym, I made up a priming solution of spray malt and water, cleaned the bucket and tubing, put the bottles through the dishwasher and headed out to the shed to crack on with it. The temperature corrected specific gravity was 1.011, which is pretty much exactly the 81% attenuation you’d expect from US-05. This means a rough ABV of around 7.1%, which is ever so slightly higher than the 4.9% that I was aiming for originally!

The filling went without hitch, although I should have filled all twenty 500ml bottles, before filling the three 660ml ones, as I was left with two and a half empty bottles. However, upon trying to put caps on the 660ml bottles, I managed to snap off the top of one and crack the other two. I didn’t realise that this type of 660ml bottle doesn’t have the required step at the bottom of the neck to engage the capper. So whatever you do, don’t use the new style Moor bottles, which are the same one’s that Oakham’s Green Devil comes in, without a bench capper.

In the end I managed to fill all twenty 500ml bottles and there was enough beer left in the 660ml bottles that I could have had at least another one, if not two 500ml bottles. So I’m a bit disappointed, but you live and learn. If I’d used the old style Moor bottles, the same ones that Punk IPA comes in, there wouldn’t have been a problem.

The beer is currently sitting in the brew fridge, which has been set back to 19°C. It’ll be in there for a week or two while it conditions. I’m looking forward to trying a bottle, as the taste out of the sample jar was quite nice. I’m not however, looking forward to sticking twenty odd labels on…

Update: 07/04/12
I stuck the labels on all the bottles yesterday, they’re now looking pretty cool. Definitely the best looking batch of beer I’ve made so far. While I won’t be opening any for another week, I’ve put a load into the kitchen fridge, as it gives me something to look at when I open the door. Nothing worse than an empty shelf which should be full of beer…

Update: 30/04/12
And then it was gone! Without even realising it, I drank the last bottle yesterday evening. I was quite sad when I discovered that I didn’t in fact, have another couple of bottle stashed in the cupboard upstairs. For an accident, it was a really tasty beer. Yes, it had lots of issues, not enough carbonation, a bit too cloudy, no head retention, but it had bags of flavour, a great bitterness and the best nose of any beer I’ve made.

I have to say that the combination of Galaxy and Amarillo hops worked really well, especially with the Galaxy to the fore. I’m definitely going to brew with Galaxy again, maybe even in a single hop beer, so I can full understand the flavour.

Now that’s What I Call Hops 2: Nelson Sauvin and Omnom

I was really quite impressed by the bottles of Mallinsons beer that I’ve had a few months ago. I was seriously impressed once I’d got to try some on cask at the Craft Beer Co. in London last week, so I was really looking forward to trying these bottles that I’d picked up from the Bacchanalia.

First up the Nelson Sauvin, which poured a slightly hazy, almost insipid piss coloured, golden yellow, with a large fluffy white head. The head solidified at about half a finger and lasted most of the way down the glass as it was being fed by a mass of tiny bubbles. The nose was lovely, chock full of elderflower notes, which I wasn’t expecting.

The body was very light, but while it felt a bit on the thin side, it wasn’t in anyway watery. Initially it was smooth and then the bitterness cut in and slowly built to a crescendo, before tapering off and leaving a prickly sensation lasting long into the after taste. It tasted unlike any other Nelson Sauvin beer I’ve had, with lots of lemon upfront, transitioning through peach and ending in a melody of the lemon, peach and gooseberry. It was all really nice, refreshing and dangerously drinkable.

  • RateBeer Mallinsons
  • Now That’s What I Call Hops 2: Nelson Sauvin, 3.9%, 500ml

I was really looking forward to the Omnon, as this is one of the beers I’d had in the Craft Beer Co. It poured a hazy pale dehydrated piss yellow, with a huge rocky white head. The head dropped to a finger and as it was being fed by an enormous stream of bubbles, stayed there all the way down. The nose smelt fresh, with subtle pineapple and mango notes.

It felt quite rough in the mouth, if anything it was a tad over carbonated, the cask version was far, far smoother. The bitterness was upfront and there was a real prickly spike at the front of the mouth, before a lingering bitter after taste. Unlike other Citra packed beers, thus one wasn’t full of cats piss and rotting mango, it was more like the Oakham Citra, but probably even more subtle. It was all very restrained, with mostly pineapple, rather than mango, sitting bellow all the bitterness and coating the mouth.

On this showing, I have to say the the Omnom from cask was much better, this bottle was just a bit too carbonated. Again though, I’m impressed with these two beers from Mallinsons, I really hope that the Bacchanalia can keep a regular supply of their beers.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2011 Round-up

I’ve now reviewed all the beers that are in the final of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2011. You can access all the reviews below:

What I think should win and what will win, are probably two different things. I’m sure the judges will have an eye, not just to how good the beer actually is, but on how well it will sell. I don’t see much point in Sainsbury’s listing a beer if it’s just going to languish on the shelves for six months. So what beer do I think will win a six month listing? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the two winners came from Golden Summer, Flying Dutchman, Bad King John, Golden Seahawk, Wye Not?, Worcester Sorcerer and Stronghart.

Spreading my bets with that selection I know, but I’m not one of the judges and I don’t know how they think. I just have a feeling that it’ll be a conservative choice, but I hope I’m wrong. I’d rather see Williams Brothers utterly lush Profanity Stout and Harviestoun’s hoptastic Wild Hop IPA as the two winners, as they were my favourites and the only two beers I bought more than one of.

The winners will be announced at an event on the 30th of September in London and I’ll be there! I’ve never been to this kind of thing before, so I thought I’d accept the invite, as it would be a good opportunity to see how this kind of event works first hand. Expect a blog about the final in early October.

Great British Beer Hunt: Flying Dutchman and Bishops Farewell

Two more beers from the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2011, first up, Caledonian Flying Dutchman.

It poured a crystal clear burnished amber, with a loose white head. The head dropped fairly quickly to a patchy covering, but had good legs. The nose was complex, but barely perceptible. The main aroma appeared to me to be that dry yeasty smell you get off some bottle conditioned beers, but which I think is actually due to the wheat. Expelling every ounce of air from lungs allowed me to detect faint, faint hints of orange and spice, but they were so, so faint.

The blurb on the back of the bottle said it had a light body, I found it surprisingly full bodied, but not in a bad way. It seemed to sooth and caress the inside of my mouth with subtle orange marmalade notes. There was also a spiciness around the back of the mouth and a general drying of the palette the more I drank.

To be honest, I thought I was going to be disappointed by this beer, there was no sediment to mix in for starters. However, I quite liked it, although, just like the Wold Top Golden Summer, maybe a few more hops and less palette drying wheat (I know it’s a wheat beer, but I’ve homebrewed a Balgian Wit and it wasn’t this drying), would have really done it for me.

Strangely, I’ve never had a pint of Oakham Bishops Farewell in the pub, mainly as I’ve never seen it. I’ve had the opportunity to buy it in bottles for a awhile now though, but something has always stopped me, normally it’s so I can buy more of their excellent Citra, so it was about time I tried one.

It poured a slightly hazy golden colour with a fluffy white head. The head took a bit of effort to get going, but once started, it nearly burst out of the glass. You could smell the aroma while pouring the beer, but once it was all in, it seemed to calm down and the pineapple cube notes were harder to pick out.

It was quite sprightly in the mouth, with an almost instant bitter prickle that built to a crescendo of citrus and pineapple. It all tailed off into the after taste, but I could still taste pineapple ages after a mouth full. Whilst it wasn’t as full on as their excellent Inferno, or as sinkable as their Citra, it was still a cracking, fuller bodied pale and hoppy beer.

Free Houses

I went out for dinner in Saffron Walden with my wife a few weeks back and we managed to squeeze in a quick pint in The Old English Gentleman before heading to Dish for some food. I’d never been to a pub in Saffron Walden before, so had to do a bit of googling to find somewhere that looked like it would server decent beer and was relatively near the restaurant. When we got inside I was disappointed to see that the beers on offer were, Adnams Bitter, Woodfordes Wherry, Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Exmoor Gold.

Personally I thought the selection of beer was ridiculously safe and boring, I could probably get the Adnams and Woodfordes beers in a number of other pubs in Saffron Walden (this is obviously conjecture as this is the only pub I’ve been to in the town, but hear me out), I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sheps Spitfire as well. One of the main issues I have was the diversity of the selection; Adnams Bitter is brown and 3.7%, Woodfordes Wherry is golden and 3.8%, Shepherd Neame Spitfire is brown and 4.2% and finally the Exmoor Gold is, unsurprisingly, golden and 4.5%.

There was no mild, no stout, nothing that was pale and hoppy and nothing that could be considered strong. Like I said, I thought it was a safe and boring selection and worryingly, it’s a trend I’ve seen in a number of other free houses near where I live.

The Black Bull in Balsham, is in the next village and generally has three cask ales on. I’ve been in there when the selection has all been sub four percent brown bitter, but similarly I’ve been in when they’ve had pale and hoppy beer from Oakham Ales on. However, every time I’ve been there, they’ve also had Greene King IPA on, even though there is a Greene King pub, The Bell, less then two hundred metres up the road.

Similarly, The Three Tuns in Great Abington, a 10 to 15 minute drive away, is a free house and while it’s food led, it’s still a locals pub as well. I was in there a few weekends ago picking up a take away, they do excellent Thai food and I noticed that they only had two cask ales on, instead of the normal three. Yet again, one of those ales was Greene King IPA, but I’ve seen the usual bitters from Adnams, Woodfordes et al when I’ve been in before.

I can sort of understand why these pubs have the beer they have, The Black Bull probably wants to temp drinkers from The Bell, so has their usual on tap all the time, just in case they fancy a change of scenery. The Three Tuns, being food led, probably doesn’t want anything outlandish to scare the diners, so sticks to what most people will know. I’m sure the cricket teams who frequent the bar after a match just want something to slake their thirst before heading home.

At the same time, in this kind of financial climate where hundreds of pus are closing all over the country, I really don’t understand it. Surely you want to differentiate yourself from your competition, so people will come to you because you offer something that those pubs around you don’t. I can get Greene King IPA in literally hundreds of local pubs, including my local, which is about fifty metres from my front door. Why would I want to travel to the next village, or further away, to drink the same beer in a different pub?

I’m not expecting every free house to be like The Euston Tap, or even The Cambridge Blue. So maybe someone could explain the rational behind free houses offering very similar beers and the same beers as tied pubs in the same locality, because I just don’t get it.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2011

Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt 2011

The 16 finalists of this years Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt should now available to buy in your local store and will be available to buy until the 27th of the month. The competition prize is a permanent listing in Sainsbury’s stores nationwide. The 16 beers available are:

Wild Hop IPA, Harviestoun Brewery
Caesar Augustus, Williams Brothers
Profanity Stout, Williams Brothers
Flying Dutchman, Caledonian Brewing Co
Ivanhoe, Ridgeway Brewing
Bad King John, Ridgeway Brewing
Stronghart, McMullen & Sons
Bishops Farewell, Oakham Ales
Wye Not, Wye Valley Brewery
Churchill Ale, Oxfordshire Ales Ltd
Golden Seahawk, Cotleigh Brewery
Full Bore, Hunter’s Brewery
Two Hoots, Joseph Holt
Golden Summer, Wold Top Brewery
Frederic’s Great British Ginger Beer, Frederic Robinson
Worcester Sorcerer, Sadler’s Ales

I’ve decided to buy each beer and review it, so I popped into my local store over lunch and managed to pick up 14 of them. Missing from my local store were the Wild Hop IPA and the Two Hoots Golden Ale, so I’m going to have to pop back and pick those up at some point. Not sure when I’ll get round to drinking them, but look out for reviews appearing on the site soon.

Update: I meant to say that these are all on special offer at the moment; 3 for £5.

The Golden Pints 2010

Originally I was going to do my own round up of the year, I didn’t do one last year as I felt that I’d not been blogging for long enough. This year I felt that I had drank enough to have some thoughts I wanted to share, but then Andy and Mark posted about The Golden Pints. So I decided to combine my thoughts and The Golden Pints categories for this post, hence why I’ve given my top three beers and then a few highly recommendeds.

Now, I don’t normally hold much truck with lists and stuff, they are very personal after all and never seem to align with my view of things. So take this lot with a rather large pinch of salt, it’s only my opinion at the end of the day.

Best UK Draught Beer
  1. Thornbridge Bracia
    I had this at the Euston Tap the day after they opened, it was truly magnificent and while I’ve only had a ½ pint, it stood head and shoulders above anything else I had this year.
  2. Thornbridge Seaforth
    Supposedly an all English version of Jaipur and on this tasting in January, better than its stable mate. Utterly sublime…
  3. Thornbridge Kipling
    Beer of the festival at the Cambridge CAMRA summer beer festival and just about as perfect a beer as you can get for an early summers evening in a crowded tent.
Honourable mentions
Hopshakle Resination, Oakham Chinook, Thornbridge Raven
Best UK Bottled Beer
  1. Thornbridge Halycon 2009
    It took me a while to get hold of, but once I did, I bought every bottle I could find. Only one other beer has come close all year, including foreign imports.
  2. Moor Fusion
    The only beer to render me utterly speechless this year. I couldn’t take notes, I was so blown away…
  3. Marble Dobber
    You can keep your Punk IPA and your Jaipur, this is now my "go to beer".
Honourable mentions
Hardknott Infra Red, Hardknott Æther Blæc, Moor JJJ IPA, Cambridge Moonshine Transforming Tomorrow
Best Overseas Draught Beer
  1. Birra del Borgo ReAle Extra
    Stole my heart when I was in Rome earlier in the year and when I went back recently, it was just as good.
  2. Mikkeller I Beat yoU
    To be honest, it could have been any one of about 10 Mikkeller beers in this slot, but this was the last beer I had in Rome recently and it was an absolute hop monster.
  3. Grassroots Broken Spoke Blackened IPA
    A massive US West coast style IPA, but black. It messed with my senses and tasted sublime. Could have been any of the three Grassroots beers I’ve tried this year though, all of them were spectacular, the Rye Union Porter especially.
Honourable mentions
Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout, De Molen Rasputin, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Bernard Unfiltered, Hornbeer Black Magic Woman, Birrificio del Ducato Bia IPA, Birrificio San Paolo Ipè (Extra Hop)
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
  1. De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666
    Possibly the best beer I’ve had this year. Along with the Thornbridge Halcyon, it stands head and shoulders above everything else.
  2. Stone Arrogant Bastard
    I waited 13 years to try it after first seeing an (empty) bottle, it was so worth the wait.
  3. Mikkeller Single Hop IPA Simcoe
    Like drinking liquidised lychees, I’d have drunk more if it wasn’t so expensive and hard to get hold of.
Honourable mentions
Birra del Borgo Duchessic, Saison Dupont, Jandrain Jandrenouille IV Saison, Odel IPA, Dogfish Head Paolo Santo Maron, Hornbeer Oak Aged Cranberry Bastard, Nøgne Ø Porter, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Rogue John John Dead Guy Ale
Best Overall Beer
So hard to choose between Thornbridge Halcyon 2009 and De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666. But if I really had to choose between the two, then only as I had more of it, Thornbridge Halcyon 2009.
Best Pumpclip or Label
Anything by Marble.
Best UK Brewery
  1. Thornbridge
    They’ve produced the best UK beer I’ve had this year.
  2. Marble
    Catching Thornbridge up fast, Dobber is sublime.
  3. Moor
    I just wish I could get a moor regular supply…
Honourable mentions
Hardknott, BrewDog, Adnams, Fuller’s
Best Overseas Brewery
  1. Mikkeller
  2. De Molen
  3. Birra del Borgo
Honourable mentions
Grassroots, Nøgne Ø, Rogue, Stone, Hornbeer, Amager
Pub/Bar of the Year
  1. Brasserie 4:20, Rome, Italy
    Possibly the best pub in the world and fantastic food too.
  2. Bir & Fud, Rome, Italy
    The best pizza I’ve ever had, all washed down with lots of amazing Italian craft beer.
  3. Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà, Rome, Italy
    Could also lay claim to being the best pub in the world, it certainly has the nicest landlord I have ever met.
Honourable mentions
The Euston Tap, London; Cask Pub & Kitchen, London; The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge
Beer Festival of the Year
  1. Cambridge CAMRA Summer beer festival
    Only as I’m now a fully paid up member of the foreign beer bar team…
  2. The Cambridge Blue Winter Festival
    Thornbridge Jaipur, Seaforth and Raven were all on sparkling form.
Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose
Independent Retailer of the Year
The Bacchanalia, Cambridge
Online Retailer of the Year
myBreweryTap and BEERMerchants
Best Beer Book or Magazine
Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher
Best Beer Blog or Website
  1. Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile
  2. The Reluctant Scooper
  3. Real Brewing at the Sharp End
Best Beer Twitterer
The HardKnott’s (@HardKnottDave and @HardKnottAnn); it’s like a Twitter soap opera…
Best Brewery Online
Adnams
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Orval with chips ‘n’ mayo
In 2011 I’d Most Like To…
Continue to try new and interesting beer and widen my horizons by trying new styles and retrying those styles I think I don’t like.
Open Category: Best Landlord
Manual from Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà
Within two minutes of meeting me was giving me free beer across the road in Bir & Fud. On subsequent visits, he opened things like Cantillon Zwanze 2009 and gave me bottles to bring home. The nicest beer person I’ve met all year.