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.


I was reading Boak and Bailey’s article Saison cracked? the other day and couldn’t believe where they’d put De Ranke’s XX Bitter on their wild / clean graph. I couldn’t remember it having any wild character, but it’s been a while since I’d had any, so I couldn’t actually remember. I’d recently had their Saison De Dottignies, which had loads and loads of wild character, so I thought that maybe they’d got the two beers confused.

When I was in the Bacchanalia yesterday, I decided to pick up a bottle of XX Bitter to remind myself what it tasted like and to see if it did actually have any wild character. It went in the fridge the moment I got home and stayed there for about three hours or so, until I was ready to drink it. Armed with a glass and bar blade I cracked the bottle open, only for the contents to do an impressive impersonation of a fountain.

By the time I managed to get the glass anywhere near the bottle, about half the contents had deposited themselves on the worktop. When I went to pour the remaining bottle contents into the glass, it foamed ridiculously and I had to leave it for ages to settle before I could get what remained in to it. I did manage to get a taste though and I think they were right, XX Bitter does have some wildness about it. Not as much as the Saison De Dottignies, but it’s there, at the back, as a platform for the rest of the beer to sit on.

For obvious reasons, I’m going to have to get another bottle or two so I can properly contemplate what’s going on. I could maybe even do a similar experiment to The Orval Project that I’m doing and see how the wildness changes over time.

The Orval Project: Six Months

Three months have past since I wrote my first blog about aging some bottles of Orval. For some reason this bottle sat in the fridge for over a week before I got round to drinking it, but drink it I did and here’s what I thought.

It poured a slightly hazy light amber brown, with a huge frothy creamy head, so no difference threre. The head just stayed at about a finger, after dropping from about double the size. The nose was massive, I could smell it as it was being poured and I certainly got some of the spicy, earthy notes that I didn’t get with the three month version.

It was much smoother than the three month version too, there wasn’t the same carbonation ripping through the mouth. The Brettanomyces yeast was much more noticeable, with definite barn yard flavours. However, those flavours only really came through towards the end of the swallow, but they did linger long into the after taste.

I was quite please to see that the carbonation had settled down, as it was a bit to much in the three month version. This was just more rounded, fruitier and with more wild character. Given the choice between the three and six month versions, I’d go with the six every time.

The Orval Project

I love Orval, in fact I’d go as far as to say it’s the best beer in the world. I didn’t like it the first time I tried it, but now I find it utterly beguiling and I suppose you could say that I’m now firmly under its spell. So much so, that if I was stuck on a desert island and allowed one beer to keep me company, it would be Orval.

I’ve seen mentions on Twitter and blogs about people drinking aged Orval bottles that are one to two years old. I’ve never seen an aged bottle before let alone drank one, I only ever buy it to drink and it never lasts long. I’ve always wondered what an aged bottle would taste like, so I bought a load of same date bottles in order to find out.

The idea is that I’ll open a bottle every three months and write down what I think it tastes like. When all the bottles are gone, I’ll look at the notes to see what the changes in the flavours have been. If I can find some three month old Orval to drink along side the aged bottles, then all the better.

So what is three month old Orval like? It poured a slightly cloudy light amber brown. The off white head was easy to form and consisted of really big bubbles, it dropped to a covering fairly quickly. To be honest, I didn’t get much on the nose, it was a bit too subtle for me. Evidently you’re supposed to get leather, spices and earthy components…

The initial mouth feel was very lively, with lots of carbonation ripping through the mouth and cleaning it out in preparation for the rest of the flavours. As ever, the hops and malt are perfectly balanced and really work together to give a massively tasty after taste. The Brettanomyces yeast is there, but it’s subtle and just around the edges, adding to the flavour sensation rather than dominating it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to the rest of the bottles I have stashed, even if others think I should just drink them:!/simonhjohnson/status/76793648225861632!/RecentlyDrunk/status/76794202004004864!/simonhjohnson/status/76794523786821633

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
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
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.

Cambridge Beer Festival

Chips, mayo and Orval. Perfection.

After being a punter at the beer festival on Monday night and Wednesday lunchtime, I was back on Thursday night and all day Saturday to work. Normally I would be behind the bar selling awesome British cask ale, but this year I decided to work the foreign beer bar instead. I worked the same bar at the winter beer festival, but it’s small change compared to the summer festival, so I knew I was in for some hard work.

Thursday night was pretty constant and not really knowing where anything was in the fridges, meant for a challenging first hour or so. Saturday was a different kettle of fish, it started out slow then peaked and troughed throughout the rest of the day. The peaks were manic at times with large groups of blokes looking for cooking lager substitutes and gaggles of girls unsure of what to have.

The thing I like best about working the beer festival is the chance to evangelise to the punters about beer and working the foreign bar means you get a different sort of punter to evangelise to. I spent most of my time telling people they needed a Dead Guy in their life, quite a few took the recommendation and we sold out early Saturday evening.

Another benefit of working the foreign bar is drinking the beer that you’re selling. Normally I’d be trying all sorts of British real ale, but this festival I was knocking back the lambic with gusto. I also managed to try some Orval with chips ‘n’ mayo, it goes really well but I didn’t take any notes, so I’ll have to repeat the pairing, which will be an immense hardship…

I crashed at my friend Toby’s house after both sessions, I got to bed earlier on the Saturday as we stayed up nattering and drinking beer on the Thursday. Toby opened a few corking beers, Liefmans Goudenband on the Thursday, a Cantillon Saint Lamvinus and a 1985 Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardys Ale on the Saturday. The Thomas Hardys Ale was spectacular, utterly, utterly amazing and a realisation that ageing beer can produce phenomenal results.

For my part I took along my open bottle of BrewDog’s Sink The Bismark! and some Williams Brothers Fraoch 20 on the Thursday. Saturday saw me take in a bottle of Montegioco La Mummia for The Lambic Monster to try. "A fucking good attempt" was his view, which happened to be shared by the other who tried it.

This was the first time I’ve taken beer to a beer festival, rather than just drinking what’s available. It was great to share awesome beer with other people who’re passionate about beer. I’ll definitely be taking some more to the next festival I work, I’ll also be sticking a few bottles away and forgetting about them for a decade or two, just to see what happens.

  • RateBeer Girardin
  • Gueuze (Black Label), 5%, 375ml

Other beers I drank after the festival closed:

  • RateBeer Montegioco
  • La Mummia Rifermentata, 4.8%, 1/2 pint
  • RateBeer Eldridge Pope
  • Thomas Hardys Ale, 11.7%, a sip or two…

Cantillon c’est Bon!

Cantillon Gueuze...I’ve decided that I need to find the perfect beer to go with chips and mayonnaise. Last time out it was Mikkeller It’s Alive! and I was bemoaning the fact that I really wanted a Cantillon Gauze. For lunch today, I managed somehow to arrange just that combination, chips and mayonnaise with Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio.

I would live to say they are a match made in haven, but they’re not. The Cantillon is too sour and kept swamping the chips and mayo. This could just be the fact that it’s been years since my last lambic, so the sourness was really noticeable. I’d try it again, but I think I’d rather try an Orval, or another It’s Alive! first.

It’s Alive!

I’m not particularly big on beer and food pairings to be honest, I doubt I’ll be writing many more. I have read with interest other peoples attempts, both successful and not quite so successful, to pair beer and food and always wished I had the taste buds to manage it myself. Mikkeller It's Alive! After spending a few hours driving to and from a pub lunch, all I wanted for dinner was a huge plate of chips, a healthy dollop of mayonnaise and a Cantillon Gauze.

We stopped off at a supermarket on the way home for some supplies, one of which was a bag of oven chips. I’d rather deep fry my own, but my wife wont have it for some reason, so I have to make do with either packet oven baked, or home made oven roasted. So I had some chips and I had some mayonnaise, the only thing I didn’t have was any Cantillon, but then I remembered that I had a big bottle of Mikkeller It’s Alive!, evidently it’s a tribute to Orval, so I thought I’d give that try.

I love chips and mayonnaise, it’s a match made in haven and from now on, I want a beer like Mikkeller‘s It’s Alive! when I eat them. It was awesome, It’s Alive! is quite similar to Orval, however, I found it to be a bit smoother, but just as palette cleansing. I was amazed at how well the chips, mayonnaise and beer worked together in perfect harmony, there might be something to this beer and food pairing for my taste buds after all.