A Night on the Black Stuff

It’s not exactly new news that Diageo wants a slice of the craft beer pie and their latest attempt is with a couple of new bottles that are interpretations of beers brewed by Guinness in the 1800s.

I was quite interested when I heared that there would be two new beers being added to the Guinness range, Dublin Porter at 3.8% and West Indies Porter at 6%. Especially as, at first glance, it looked like they might be historical recreations. It’s a shame then, that Diageo didn’t go the whole hog and give us a glimpse of what Guiness used to be like, but plumped for the safer, and dare I say more boring option, of mere interpretations. So we are still left to imagine what Guinness tasted like back in the day.

I’ve been meaning to write about these beers for over a month, but life sort of got in the way. They were on special offer in Morrisons at £1.50 a bottle, for a limited time period. The nearest Morrisons is a bit of a trek, and the first time I popped over, they were out of stock of the West Indies Porter (a bit unsurprising really given that you were getting 500ml of 6% ABV beer for £1.50). Guinness Original Going back the following week, I managed to procure bottles of both beers, but drank them with friends, so didn’t take any notes.

I finally managed to get back out to the local Morrisons the other week, only to find the promotion had finished and, again, there was no sign of any West Indies Porter and only a couple of bottles of the Dublin Porter left on the shelf, at an increased cost of £1.89. So I decided to buy some ordinary Guinness and as I had to swing by a Sainsbury a few days later, I also picked up a bottle of Foreign Extra Stout (FES) and decided to drink them all on one night (partially inspired by Boak and Bailey) to see how they differed.

I thought the Guinness Original was quite effervescent in the mouth, with the carbonation raking the insides of the cheeks. There wasn’t much in the way of body or flavour. I was expecting a touch more roasted malt, but it was all quite restrained and wishy washy. The aftertaste was initially sweet and watery, but started to dry out and leave a slightly sweet, roasted maltiness behind. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I was expecting, but I wouldn’t rush out and buy another.

It was interesting to sit down with a bottle of the Dublin Porter and actually think about what it was like. Guinness Dublin Porter The previous bottles had all been drunk in a social setting and we’d all thought that they weren’t bad. They had slipped down nicely and were relatively tasty, it’s interesting how the taste of a beer can change depending on what you’re doing when you drink it.

It felt pretty similar to the Guinness Original, but with less body and carbonation. It was slightly lighter in colour, with more of a red tinge to it. The flavour was milder, softer and longer lived. While it’s undoubtedly a brain off quaffing beer, it was much nicer to drink than the Original. The aftertaste had hints of treacle and wasn’t anywhere near as sweet or dry; it also lingered for longer.

  • RateBeer Diageo
  • Guinness Dublin Porter, 3.8%, 500ml

I was quite looking forward to trying the Foreign Extra Stout, as it has a good reputation. I’m not sure I’ve ever had it before, maybe I’ve had a bottle in the dim distant past, but it would have been so long ago that I’ve forgotten all about it.

It wasn’t as dark as I was expecting, you could see through it as it was being poured, I was expecting something pitch black. I was also expecting it to be thicker, more viscous, with legs that would coat the glass when it was swirled around to release the aromas. It was far more restrained than that, with not much on the nose, and only pleasant levels of treacle and molasses in the mouth. It did have a tickle of bitterness that was lacking in the other two though, which was nice.

The best thing about the Dublin Porter and the West Indies Porter was the price. You really couldn’t argue with £1.50 a bottle, especially for the West Indies Porter. According to the Morning Advertiser, they are going to retail at £3.65 for the Dublin Porter and £4.00 for the West Indies Porter, which is just bonkers. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Neither were good enough to justify that kind of price, especially when you consider the cost of a bottle of something like The Kernel Export India Porter, or Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout.

I was also seriously disappointed by the FES, I was just expecting something bigger and better. Again, I’m not sure why you’d buy one over the two beers I’ve just mentioned, other than for the fact that you can buy FES in a supermarket. I’m not going to say much about the Original, other than I baked a Chocolate Guinness Cake the other day, and used Fuller’s London Porter, as I actually wanted to enjoy the half of the bottle that didn’t go into the cake.

Will Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter survive more than a few months on the supermarket shelves at that price? Will new interpretations be forthcoming from this Guinness Brewers Project, or will it be swiftly and quietly discontinued? It will be interesting to see where Diageo take this.

Future Brews

Hops!

I’m always thinking about what I would like to brew next…

I’m off on holiday at the end of the week, and I’m really looking forward to the break. My holiday reading is mainly beer based, Principles of Brewing Science, Farmhouse Ales, Brewing with Wheat, Yeast and Designing Great Beers; although I have a load of classic kids stories to read too, well, to the kids. I’m also taking a couple of my bikes and am really looking forward to the beers at the end of what’s looking like, some rather steep rides.

I’ve written down what I’d like to brew when I get back, it’s not set in stone yet, but will be something along the lines of:

  • Voyager: Evin’s Triple Stout
  • Binary Star: Galaxy, Citra
  • Coronal Mass Ejection: Kohatu, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin
  • Voyager: No. 3 Export (1868), Wm. Younger
  • Binary Star: Nelson Sauvin, Citra
  • Nebula: Amarillo

Three are completely new beers to me and the other three are re-brews of existing recipes, but with different hops. Having said that, one of the things I want to do during the holiday, is tweak the grain bills for both Binary Star and Coronal Mass Ejection, so while they may look similar in the glass, they may be quite different in the mash tun. However they turn out though, I’m really looking forward to using some of the new season Kiwi hops, especially the Nelson Sauvin.

I’ve never brewed a stout before, so I’ve decided to go in at the deep end and have a bash at Evin’s Triple Stout recipe that was featured in Phil Lowry’s BEER magazine homebrewing column. I’m a massive fan of Evin’s beer, so I’m really, really looking forward to brewing this one.

In a similar vein, I’m also going to have a crack at brewing a historical recipe, namely William Younger’s No. 3 Export from 1868. The recipe is from Ron Pattinson’s excellent blog and while it’s not the No. 3 I remember drinking as a student in Aberdeen, it should be a nice introduction to both historical recipes and Double IPAs Scotch Ale.

Finally, I would like to brew a Wit beer and as I still have some Amarillo left over, I’m going to single hop it with some of those. I’m still undecided if it’s going to be a straight up Blanche de Louvain homage, or if it’ll take some inspiration from the US, only time will tell. It’s one of the reasons why I’m taking Brewing with Wheat with me, even though I’ve nearly finished reading it.

I’m really looking forward to getting back from holiday and getting on with brewing some of these beers.

Is Craft Beer Going Mainstream?

My Twitter timeline has been pretty full today, full of Iron Maiden and FHM; not exactly common bedfellows it has to be said. Evidently, this months FHM features a load of craft beer, as you can see from the image above. The double page spread appears to have beers from some of the bigger craft beer purveyors like Thornbridge and Dark Star, plus some from the newer, or less well known ones like Wild Beer Co. and Tiny Rebel. I’ve not actually seen the issue in question, as my local Tesco didn’t have any copies of FHM in stock when I popped in at lunch, Hopefully they’ll have some in at some point this week so I can have a proper look, as evidently, there is also a six page article featuring that Scottish brewery.

It makes me wonder though, what with events like Craft Beer Rising having just been, SIBA Beer X (with a cracking craft keg list) just about to kick off and the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo, Birmingham Beer Bash and Independant Manchester Beer Convention all still to come, are we at a tipping point? Now that lads mags like FHM are running craft beer articles, are we about to see craft beer going mainstream?

By mainstream, I mean not niche. We beer geeks live in a bit of a bubble, we’re pretty irrelevant in the big scheme of things, a tiny enclave in a world of industrial beer. I doubt that a few hipster beer festivals and lads mags articles are going to change the drinking habits of the majority of the beer drinking population, no matter how much we hope they will. However, I’m assuming the target audience for FHM is mainly late teens, early twenties, so they have the vast, vast majority of their drinking lives ahead of them. If even a few of them become curious due to articles like this and start asking for some of these beers in their chosen night time drinking establishments, then maybe, just maybe we might start to see a few places dabble with getting some more interesting beer in stock. That has to be a good thing, no…?

Update: here’s Hardknott Dave’s take on being one of the featured breweries

White Lady and Screech Owl

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

I think Cairngorm Brewery’s White Lady has an identity problem, as it claims to be a crystal wheat beer, which is a German style, yet it’s brewed with orange and coriander, which is definitely a Belgian style. Now Belgian Wit beers aren’t generally clear, they normally have a slight haze from all the proteins in the wheat and/or the yeast, so maybe they’re gunning for a new crossover Crystal Belgian Wit style. Personally, I’d rather have had a bit of yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottle, so that I could shake it up and add that extra dimension of flavour like you do with a normal Belgian Wit beer.

Anyway, it poured a lightly burnished copper colour, with a compact white head. The head was easily formed, but dropped pretty quickly to a patchy covering, before dissipating to a faint ring around the edge of the glass. There wasn’t much on the nose, just a fresh sensation and maybe a hint of some orangey malt. After a few mouthfuls it changed and any malt aromas had gone, leaving only the faint whiff of stale carbon dioxide.

It felt quite fizzy in the mouth, turning to bubbles when swished around over the tongue, although it wasn’t obviously over carbonated by looking at it. There was also a vague carbonic edge to it and a bit of mouth prickle which I can only attribute to overly forced carbonation. It was hard to tell how well balanced it was due to it turning to bubbles and the mouth prickle, but I’d say the body was fine, with a decent level of bitterness. After the carbonic mouth prickle had dissipated, the mouth was left with a slightly juicy, faint orange flavour, which was joined for a bit by some coriander seed spiciness.

Overall this was a really disappointing beer, as I know Cairngorm produce some fantastic multi-award winning brews, like Trade Winds and Black Gold. It would have been so much better if it hadn’t been force carbonated so heavily, that stale carbon dioxide thing that it had going on was really poor.

I wasn’t too sure about this Castle Rock Screech Owl from looking at the bottle, a "Strong IPA" is it? Well no, it’s only 5.5.%, that’s not strong! That’s not as strong as Thornbridge Jaipur IPA or Summer Wine Diablo IPA or any of The Kernel’s amazing India Pale Ales for instance.

As it turns out, I’ve actually had this beer on cask; my untappd comment just says Very Nice, which wasn’t very helpful in reminding me of what it looked or tasted like.

It poured a lovely copper colour, with a fluffy white head. The head was easily formed and dropped relatively slowly. The nose was really exciting, with an obvious hop presence; in fact it reeked of subtle pithy orange and grapefruit. While it wasn’t a patch on the aroma of some beers from some of the UK’s new wave and progressive brewers, any Kernel Pale Ale for instance, it was still pretty decent.

It felt quite full bodied in the mouth, with a bit of malt flavour to support the wave after wave of bitterness that swept through the mouth. The subtle pithy orange and grapefruit aromas of the nose, were also present in the taste, at least initially. Once the bitterness cut in, it pretty much swamped everything and by the time it settled, there wasn’t much left, other than a juicy mouth. Eventually though, the mouth dried out and a slightly yeasty, orange flavoured cardboard taste was left as a last reminder.

It was a beer the promised much and while it delivered most of it, was unltimately a bit of a let down. The bitterness wasn’t integrated well enough with the rest of the body and the aftertaste was non-existent. What should have been a long and lingering bitter orange and grapefruit flavoured taste sensation, was nothing more than some juicy cardboard. Initially I thought it was a good attempt, but the more I think about it and about most Kernel Pale Ale’s I’ve had, it becomes more and more of a let down.

Edinburgh Independents Beer Festival

There’s two reasons why I’m blogging about an event that happened nearly two months ago, but we’ll get to those reasons shortly. I wasn’t even supposed to be up in Scotland that weekend, but my Grandma died and the funeral was on the Saturday. As I had a few hours to myself on the Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, I decided to try and get to a few of the participating pubs and try some of the beer on offer.

Friday saw me charge from Waverly station up to Bow Bar, where I managed to sink a few halves and start an argument with the bar on Twitter. I’m still sure that Buxton Axe Edge tasted of garlic. Next stop was the Red Squirrel on Lothian Road, a pub I’ve never been in before, but it seemed nice and had a good selection of beer. It was just a shame there was so many suits in the place for their end of week after work pint. But that did mean there was the opportunity to try and steer a few of them off the San Miguel and onto some of The Kernel’s India Pale Ale Galaxy.

It was a short wander from there to The Cambridge Bar on Young Street, although I have to say I wandered right passed it and had to ask for directions in Rebus’ favorite pub The Ox. I was running short on time by this point, so after just a half of Kernel Pale Ale Amarillo, I hot footed it to The Stockbridge Tap and beer paradise. I’m a big fan of the Moor Beer Company and while I can get some of their bottles locally, we hardly ever see their beer on cask, with only the odd one popping up every now and then in The Mitre.

It looked like nearly all of The Stockbridge Tap’s hand pumps and keg lines had been given over to Moor Beer, it was an amazing selection. To be honest, I could have just gone straight there and drank Moor Beer all evening and left a very happy man. Even though there were beers there that I’d not had before, I had to have a JJJ IPA, especially as they no longer sell bottles of it in the UK any more, which was followed in short order by an Old Freddy Walker.

My final beer before having to head off was a Magic Rock Bourbon Barrel Aged Bearded Lady and it was as amazing as I’d hoped. While in The Stockbridge Tap, I had a quick chat with both Andy from Summer Wine and Rich from Magic Rock, although I’m not sure I made much sense; three halves of strong beer in forty five minutes on top of all the other beer and walking, had left me a bit squiffy…

I was back in Edinburgh relatively early on the Sunday morning, which was a mistake, as I’d forgotten all about the Scottish licensing laws. So I pitched up at The Caley Sample Room an hour too early for them to be able to serve me any beer. It was gutting looking at the pump clip for the Moor Crockle Grog and knowing I wouldn’t get to try any. Things didn’t get any better when I got to Cloisters as it was still shut, things were not looking good.

I decided to take a quick wander up Bruntsfield Place to see if an offie I’d been told about was open. As it happened Drinkmonger was open and they had bottles of Tempest Brave New World IPA nestled into a great selection of Scottish and international beer. With my bag slightly heavier than before, I wandered back to Cloisters and straight into the arms of a Bristol Beer Factory Southville Hop. I’ve never had any Bristol Beer Factory on cask before, so it was a real treat to be able to try a couple. I do wish they were more readily available around these parts.

My next stop was The Southern Bar, where I only had time for a half and had to make the agonising decision between a Summer Wine Dr Paracelsus’ Bombastic Indigo Elixir and a Kernel India Pale Ale Summit. Decision made and beer quaffed, I hot footed it around the corner to the Great Grog Shop to buy some more Scottish beer to bring home. I’m going to have to go back there next time I’m up the road, as it’s a fantastic place with a great selection of beer.

The wander down to Hollyrood 9A was a bit of a chore, as my bag was now rather heavy with all the beer, but the three beers I managed to try there made the sore shoulders worth while. Firstly Summer Wine Oregon, a fantastic American Pale Ale, secondly, Tempest Pale Ale on cask and keg, the cask just edged it for me. Finally Magic Rock’s Clown Juice, which meant I kept up my record of having tried every single beer they’ve made.

It nice to finally meet a load of people I only know via Twitter, BeerCast Rich and DanDanGlover to name two. It was also great to meet Summer Wine’s Andy (thanks for the first class train tickets!) and Magic Rock’s Rich again, both great guys. Finally, a massive shout out to both Bruce Gray and Chris Mair of Craft Centric for organising the whole thing. It was fantastic to see so many pubs coming together to celebrate some of the best beer that these Isles produce, they should all be applauded for making it happen. I’ll have to seriously consider “visiting my folks” if they do another one next year.

Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a long and rambling post, it was supposed to be short and to the point, so back to the two original reasons for it. Firstly, I’m going to review all the beer I brought down the road with me, while I don’t really enjoy doing reviews, the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt is upon us and I need the practice. So look out for three or four posts in the coming days.

Secondly, I won first prize in the Edinburgh Independents Beer Festival raffle, which is a brew day with Summer Wine!

To say I’m excited is an understatement…

Dedication’s What You Need…

I read Rob from HopZine’s latest blog about Quality Control and Compensation with quite a bit of interest, as I’ve had a lot of bad beer over the years, for all sorts of reasons. I’m as guilty as the next person to the British perversion of saying nothing and grumbling into my pint. I hate the uncertainty of taking a bad pint back, will the bar staff be open and apologetic and offer something else without argument, or I get the everyone else is drinking it and none of them have complained line from someone who doesn’t give a shit about the beer they’re selling or their reputation.

It can be doubly frustrating when you get a bad bottle though, as there’s no one to really take it back to and get a replacement there and then. I’ve had some disappointing beers that I’ve blogged and tweeted about and in a similar fashion to taking a pint back in a pub, I’ve had varying responses from those responsible for the beer in question.

In 2010 I drank a bottle of beer at home which had absolutely no condition, I blogged about it and a couple of days later there was a tweet from the brewer along the lines of, I’ve just had one and it was perfectly conditioned, I don’t understand why people are moaning. To be honest, I couldn’t care less if his bottle was perfectly conditioned, the bottles on sale in the Bacchanalia weren’t and I didn’t appreciate the inference that I was essentially a liar for claiming it was anything other than perfect. I wasn’t the only one who had a flat bottle either and that particular beer always comes up when I’m discussing that brewer with people.

Recently I tweeted about a beer I had from The Kernel that was just a touch on the lively side. I didn’t think much about it, these things happen, but Evin is obviously a man who cares deeply, not just about the beer he produces and the image of his brewery, but the satisfaction of his customers. I received a long email apologising for the bad bottle and explaining what the issue with it was, plus I received some beer in compensation. Not one or two bottles, not even three, but seven. Seven bottles of beer in unasked for compensation for one bad bottle.

Now ask yourself this; whose beer am I most likely to buy going forward? Beer from a brewery that’s calling into question what I’ve said and wont admit to a bad batch of bottles, or beer from a brewery that’s bent over backwards to apologise and make it up to me? It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I’ll be buying far more beer from The Kernel going forward, than from the double Champion Beer of Britain winner …

I’d just like to say a massive thank you to Evin and his team for their dedication to, not only producing the best beer they can, but to ensuring that their customers enjoy it in excellent condition. I look forward to trying many more beers from their new brewery in the future.

Paris

I was going to write a blow by blow account of my trip to Paris last December, but instead I’m just going to skim through everywhere we went. I’d written down most of what we go up to on the Friday, but to be honest, it was a load of crap. So here’s my thought on all the places we visited over the weekend of December 2nd to 4th:

The Eurostar
The main benefit of getting the Eurostar, is that you can take your own beer with you, as there’s not the same security restrictions as going by plane. I took a four pack of Punk IPA cans, packed carefully into a small cool bag along with an ice pack. If you don’t want to take your own beer, then you can always buy cold beer from Sourced Market in St Pancras. I bought some Camden Town bottles on the way back and should really have bought some of The Kernel bottles they had on the way out, as they’d gone by the Sunday afternoon.

If you don’t take your own beer and get thirsty on the train, it’s €5 for a can of Stella, you know taking your own makes sense…

The Frog & Rosbif, 116 Rue Saint-Denis
This was our first port of call, mainly as I’d heard varying reports about the quality of the beer and didn’t want to come here later on and be disappointed. At first glance, it looked pretty much like a British pub, but there was certain things that meant you could tell it was a pastiche. All the bumf on the tables and walls was in English, which was a bit weird and gave me the impression that this was a pub for foreigners, rather than locals.

I had a pint of the Maison Blanche, served with slice of lemon. I thought it was pretty forgettable and less interesting than Hoegaarden, which says a lot. Phil had a pint of Parislytic, which we both agreed was a nitro keg horror show. Neither of us noticed that they actually had a single hand pull in the midst of all the keg fonts, a pint of that might have been a better option. They had free wi-fi and we managed to sit next to a wall socket, so I could charge my phone.

HTB Hall’s Beer Tavern, 68 Rue Saint-Denis
The bar is on the right as you walk in, with a row of tables along the left hand wall, after a bit, it opens out into a back room full of tables. It reminded me a lot of those thin American bars you get in big cities. We plonked ourselves down opposite the bar, next to a plug socket, so I could continue charging my phone and pursued the beer menu. It was extensive, but contained nothing to quicken the heart, being comprised of major multinational brands and a load of Belgian stuff. Keg fonts for La Chouffe, Delirium Tremens and Chimay nested cheek and jowl with fonts for Carling Black Label, you get the idea.

I had a pint of La Chouffe, Phil had a pint of Chimay Triple, both were served in branded pint glasses, shame the brands were for different beer, think of a well known Irish stout brand. I’m assuming they keep the correct branded glasses for those drinking out of bottles. The main reason we didn’t drink from bottles was the cost, it was significantly cheaper to have a pint, than have two bottles. They also had free wi-fi, which was nice, but I didn’t really feel comfortable and welcome in the place and I can’t really put my finger on why.

La Cave à Bulles, 45 Rue Quincampoix
Just a quick note on this place, as I want to go into it a bit more in a separate blog post. One thing you’ll realise as you trawl all the Paris bars, is the lack of French beer, this shop practically redresses the balance all on its own. Run by a friendly and jovial chap called Simon, we ran all the places we were going to visit past him and he made a few suggestions. The main one being ditch the planned crawl and buy some tickets to a beer festival on a boat, so we did.

Au Trappiste, 4 Rue St Denis
With a name like Au Trappiste, you sort of know what kind of beer you’re going to get, before you cross the threshold. With 20 taps and an extensive bottle menu, this place majors in selling Belgian beer, in fact, I can’t remember if it sold anything else. Clad almost head to toe in wood, with matching wooden tables and chairs, it felt a bit like being in a wooden lodge, all be it, a cheap one with loads of cheap looking lighted colour panels on the walls.

We decided to eat here, but with a menu not exactly welcoming vegetarians, I plumped for a large plate of chips and a tub of mayonnaise, which went perfectly with my pint of Lindemans Gueuze, so that was me sorted. We ate upstairs, which felt a bit like eating in a wooden McBurger franchise, it was just a bit weirdly sterile for my tastes.

We ended coming back here later, so I had another pint of gueuze, this time instead of a nice dimpled mug, I got a branded pint glass, again the brand was for a well known Irish beverage. All the branded glassware looked like it was saved for those drinking from bottles, but just like Hall’s Beer Tavern, if you were having more than one, this worked out more expensive than a pint of draught.

The staff also seemed pretty incompetent when it came to change a keg, my gueuze ran out mid pour and it took nearly ten minutes of faffing and multiple members of staff to change it.

Les Soirées Maltées – Les Bières de Noël 2011, Bateau Six Huit, 33 Quai de Montebello
I’m only going to mention this briefly, as I want to cover it it in a separate blog post. However, it’s not often you get to go to a beer festival in a foreign country, let alone one on a boat in the shadow of Notre Dame.

Le Sous Bock Tavern, 49 Rue Saint-Honoré
We headed here after the beer festival for a nightcap before heading back to the hotel. This was one of the bars that Simon in La Cave à Bulles had said to avoid, so we approached with some trepidation. It wasn’t quite pitch black inside, but it wasn’t far off, with only some weird purple black light kind of things illuminating the interior. We walked along the bar to check out what beer they had, but to be honest, we just turned round and walked out. There was nothing on that we couldn’t have got from Hall’s Beer Tavern or Au Trappist and since both of them were slightly more welcoming, being properly illuminated and quiet, we left and headed back to Au Trappist. This place seems to get good reviews on all the rating sites, so your mileage may vary, but on this night we weren’t impressed.

La Gueuze, 19 Rue Soufflot
Saturday dawned all blustery and drizzly, so we headed to here to get some lunch and some gueuze. When we go there the door was locked, but after a quite shake, the proprietor came and opened up, it wasn’t like we were early or anything it being after their official opening time. The style of the place was a bit of a mish mash, with lots of wood like Au Trappist, but a similar layout to Hall’s Beer Tavern, with some seating at the front and down the side of the bar, before opening out into a large light and airy back room.

After perusing the menu, which was unsurprisingly pretty crap for vegetarians, we decided not to eat there, as it wasn’t very cheap and didn’t sound particularly great. I ordered a bottle of Mort Subite, which was pleasant enough and Phil had a bottle of Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus. The cork on Phil’s bottle didn’t come out cleanly and instead of using a cloth to get the bits out of the neck, he just stuck his finger in and wiped them off. We didn’t stay for a second drink…

Godjo, 8 Rue de l’École Polytechnique
I’m mentioning this very, very compact Ethiopian restaurant, not because we drank any beer, we didn’t, but because the food was sensational. We were originally going to come here for dinner on the Friday night, but got side tracked by the beer festival, I’m really glad we hunted it out and came for lunch on the Saturday. Ethiopian food is all about sharing, but since Phil eats dead animals, I wasn’t about to share a plate, so had one all to myself and I’m so glad I did, the lentils were to die for. If you’re going to go, I’d try and book a table (if you can), as there’s hardly enough room to swing a cat inside.

On the way there we passed an English theme pub called The Bombardier, which was selling what looked like keg Bombardier and Directors, we paused by on the other side of the road…

Brewberry, 18 Rue Pot de Fer
Our second last port of call was to this compact shop cum bar, which if I’m being honest, would have been our only port of call if we come to it first. Selling beer from all over the world, but majoring in European breweries, its main advantage over La Cave à Bulles, is that you can drink beer on the premises. It’s such a great wee place, that it will get a blog post all of its own.

After Brewberry, we headed back to La Cave à Bulles for a meet the brewer with La Brasserie du Mont Salève, which I’ll cover in a later blog. After that, we had to attend a black tie dinner on the Saturday evening and caught the Eurostar just after lunch on the Sunday, so there wasn’t really any further opportunity to explore.

I feel like we only scratched the surface of beer in Paris, but at the same time, I feel like we also hit the two most important places and if I went again, I probably wouldn’t go anywhere other than La Cave à Bulles and Brewberry. For my money, Paris is far too fixated on the major multinational brands and anything that comes out of Belgium. It could really do with a few more outlets for French craft beer, as that’s what I really wanted to drink and apart from Brewberry, we really didn’t get the chance, as none of the bars were stocking it. Don’t get me wrong, I like a Lambic or Trappist ale as much as the next man, but sometimes I just want to try the local beer and apart from Brewberry, nowhere could deliver on that simple need.

So if you’re heading to Paris and want to drink some French beer, head to Brewberry. If you want to bring back some French beer, then head to La Cave à Bulles as well. Until someone opens something like CASK Pub & Kitchen or The Craft Beer Co. in Paris, these two places are your best opportunity to try really good artisan French beer.

Adnams Brewery Tour

There seems to be a bit of a pattern with my blog posts. I do something, or go somewhere and then don’t bother blogging about it for months, if at all, then someone else comes along and blogs about the same thing, but infinitely better than I could ever do. It happened with Rome and now it’s happened with Adnams.

My gorgeous lovely wife, knowing how much I like beer, gave me an awesome presant for my birthday, an Adnams brewery tour. So at the end of October, the pair of us spend the weekend in Southwold, staying at The Swan Hotel and going round the brewery on the Sunday morning. I have to say that I was quite excited, as I really like Adnams beers and I’d never been to an all singling, all dancing modern brewery before.

My first brewery trip was with the Heriot-Watt University Brewing Society, way back in 1990 or 1991, I can’t remember exactly as it was so long ago. We visited the Harviestoun brewery, back when they were in a farm shed outside Dollar. It took two or three hours to wander up the shed and back down again, all the time being plyed with free beer. There was a bit of a sing song on the bus on the way back…

Since then I’ve been in the old Tolly Cobbold brewery in Ipswich, the Milton Brewery in, er, Milton and most recently The Kernel Brewery in London. I’ve not been to many, but apart from the historic Tolly brewery, they’ve all been small and manual affairs. Hence why I was excited to be going to Adnams, the thought of all that stainless…

The Adnams brewery is facinating, the complex is spread over multiple buildings and if you didn’t know what some of them contained, you’d think they were ordinary houses on a street. In fact, you start the tour by going through what looks like someones front door, only to end up in the cask and bottle filling hall. From there we were taken through the yard, I’ve never seen so many empty casks in my life and into the brewhouse.

This is where my jaw hit the floor, so many pipes, so much stainless, so much technology! I was like a kid in a sweet shop, I didn’t know where to look! I have no idea what the tour guide was saying at this point, I was too busy turning circles, my mouth agog, trying to take it all in. It’s amazing to think it’s all controlled from a computer screeen in Fergus’ office and can switch itself on at four in the morning and start a brew without anyone being there.

The fermentors are in another building acorss the street, so all the wort is pumped back and forth under the road. I’m not sure why, but after seeing the ultra modern brew house, I was expecting all the fermentors to be cylindro-conical affairs, they weren’t, they appeared to be all rectangular cuboids. The fermentation building felt very calm and chilled, as opposed to the industrialness of the brew house, a perfect place to be quiet and contemplative, while the yeast works its magic.

The tour finished up in the sample room, which is in yet another building, where we got to try a few different Adnams beers. I think our tour over ran by about 15 minutes, which unfortunately limited the time we had to sample the beer. It wasn’t all bad though, as I got to try the Green Bullet special they did for the Mitchells & Butlers pub chain (I’ve since been lucky to find it in a pub too; it’s a fantastic beer). I was really impressed by the Adnams brewery, it was great to finally see a large modern brewery, even if it wasn’t actually running on the Sunday morning that we were there.

There is a link in the first paragraph of this post that you should check out. Jeff Alworth of the Beervana blog recently toured a load of breweries in the UK and Europe and his article on Adnams is facinating. Like he says, "it’s as close as you’ll come to getting a brewery tour without going on one". Having said that, I’d have no hesitation in going for another tour, it’s the perfect excuse to stay overnight in Southwold and drink copious quantities of fresh Adnams beer in some cracking pubs.

Black IPA

One things that puzzles me about Cascadian Dark Ale, American-Style India Black Ale or Black IPAs, call them what you will, is that quite a few aren’t black. Take the Mike Hall Furry I had in The Mitre the other week, it was decidedly brown, all be it a dark brown, but still brown. I have a mental image in my head that anything calling itself black, should be, well, black.

The Brewers Association defines a Black IPA as:

American-Style India Black Ale (Page 12)
American-style India black ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavor.

Original Gravity (ºPlato) 1.056-1.075 (14-18.2 ºPlato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato) 1.012-1.018 (3-4.5 ºPlato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5-6% (6 -7.5%)
Bitterness (IBU) 50-70
Color SRM (EBC) 25+ (50+ EBC)

That pegs the colour at something a shade darker than this  . I’ve definitely had lighter beers that have called themselves a Black IPA. What about the taste though, as an American invention*, I have an expectation that it will be chock full of C hops, so get a bit disappointed when they’re not. If the beer’s not rammed full of piney, resinous, citrus and tropical flavours, shirley it’s then just a modern version of an India Export Porter.

Why am I bringing all this up now, when it’s been done to death plenty of times already. Well, I’m drinking a Hardknott Code Black, which proudly proclaims itself to be a Black IPA. It nearly looks black in the glass, but it’s really just a really deep, deep brown, you can see through it when it’s held up to a light. I didn’t really get much on the nose, but it felt good in the mouth, with a good level of bitterness. Taste wise, it seemed to be all about the roasted flavours, I certainly didn’t get much in the way of citrus hop flavours to contract all the roastedness.

I’ve been thinking about doing a homebrew Black IPA, which would essentially be one of my existing pale and hoppy recipes (like I have more than one at the moment) with some Carafa Special in it. This is a speciality malt, that is a de-husked barley malt that adds aroma, color and body, with a mild, smooth flavour. To me, a Black IPA shouldn’t be about roasted notes, it should be about the hops, essentially just an IPA that’s black; bitter, malty, with good hop flavour, but black.

Take The Kernel’s Black IPA, which I believe is a 21st Amendment recipe, or at least based on that recipe. It’s got far less of the roasted notes and far more piney resinous flavours. That’s the kind of Black IPA I’d like to brew, less of the roast, more of the massive C hop flavour. I know that doesn’t necessarily conform to the Brewers Association definition above, Code Black certainly does and it’s a nice beer, but if I’m going to brew one, I want to brew it to my tastes.

I suppose it’s all a bit of a nonsense really, Black IPA or India Export Porter, it’s just a name. Shirley it’s the quality of the beer that counts, rather than some style definition? After all, styles and their definitions change over time, just look at Mild. I’ll definitely be giving it a go at some point next year, maybe by then I’ll have tried a few more and decided exactly what I want in one. As for this Hardknott Code Black, while it’s nice, I think it could do with a few more flavour hops to combat all the roasted notes, but that’s just me.

* As we all know, thanks to Ron and Martyn, there is nothing new in brewing…

Breakfast Stout and India Pale Ale Double Black

Breakfast Stout poured an impenetrable black in the glass, with a small tan coloured head. The head took a bit of pouring to create and for a while, it looked like there would be no head at all. The small head that I did manage to coax, didn’t last long and dropped to a thing ring round the inside of the glass. In reality the beer is just a really, really dark brown, which you can only see at the edges when held up to a light. To me, the nose was all coffee, however, my wife thought there was some sweet vanilla notes in there to.

Unsurprisingly it was utterly huge in the mouth, with massive flavours running amok and coating every crevice. Initially smooth and sweet, it then had a mouth puckering moment, before running off into a bitter, roasted, warming alcoholic sweetness. The after taste lasted for what seemed an absolute age, with thick, oily, sweet flavours lingering and lingering. In fact I could still taste it after five minutes of not having any.

If I’m going to be picky, I’d say that I’d have preferred a bit more roasted coffee flavours and a little less sweetness, but that’s just me. A phenomenal beer.

Finally we get to the last beer of my Kernel week and what a beer it is. It poured a jet black in the glass, with a cracking, easily formed tan head. The head dropped relatively quickly to a patchy covering and eventually to a ring round the inside of the glass. The nose was awesome, with subtle roasted notes being pummelled by a full on thick pungent hop assault.

It was big in the mouth, with subtle roasted flavours and lots of alcohol. The bitterness was huge, with a massive full mouth prickle leading to a long lingering, prickly, warming after taste.

  • RateBeer The Kernel
  • India Pale Ale Double Black, 9.8%, 330ml

I’d have written more, but to be honest, I was too busy enjoying it. I think that with some beers, you just need to point people in the right direction and let them discover how awesome a beer is for themselves. This is one of those beers and the first thing you should do after reading this, is to go and hunt it down and buy a bottle. Hunt it down and buy it. Buy lots of it. Buy all you can afford. This is whithout doubt the best beer I’ve had for a while and I’ve had some awesome beer lately.