Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Hype Machine

Are things really kicking off for Birmingham beer fans?

Is it finally happening?

Yes, I think it is and they are.  [Remember to edit this sentence, it's rubbish.] [But isn't it deliberately rubbish? Isn't it slightly knowing?] [Yes, I suppose you're right, OK leave it.] [Thanks]

This issue of the Mediocre Hype Machine will give you cast-iron proof that things are on the turn:

i) Brewdog Birmingham
No visible sign of building work at their John Bright Street site yet, but we I believe they are still due to open sometime in August.  This will bring uber-trendy beer in bottles and on tap.  Plus, we should get new beers when they are new, rather than eons after the rest of the country.

ii) Purity's new Craft bar
Just round the corner from Brewdog, we now have news of a second new craft venue, which will be run by Purity team.  Twitter brings news that it will feature a range of craft beers, in tandem with a top-notch food offer.  This sounds good.

iii) Brumcraft
In July 2013, Birmingham will have it's first Craft beer festival, organised and delivered by Birmingham beer fans.  No longer prepared to wait for the very best new beers to make their way to our City, a small group of determined activist have raised their heads above the parakeet and are now in a position to deliver a new kind of beer event - one peppered with the very best flavour combinations, from the very best new brewers.  This will be a big one.

iv) Off licences flexing their muscles
I dare that say that both Stirchley Wines and Cotteridge Wines would rather that their competitor was located a bit further away; BUT given their close proximity, it's Birmingham beer fans who are reaping the benefits.  There is no doubt at all that Cotteridge and Stirchley are driving up each others' standards - bringing in more and more of the World's best beers to us, at an ever quickening pace.  The work of new and hitherto unseen breweries is arriving day by day, and the choice of so many great beers, means that personally I no longer feel like I have to live a compromised beer existence.  Dan in 2005: "What beer shall I sup at home tonight?  Samuel Smith? Freeminer? Erdinger? Marston?; Dan in 2012: "What beer shall I sup at home tonight? Mikkeller? De Molen? Kernel? Summer Wine?  No contest.  I may be asking too much, but I hope this level of competition continues, as it will surely breed a newer, larger audience for quality beer in Brum.

v) Better beer in existing pubs
Dare I hope?  Is genuinely high quality beer starting to become commonplace in venues like the Old Contemptibles, and the Wellington?  This may seem facetious, as these are two pubs in the City, already known for a premium beer choice; however.... they were are not always home to the very, very best brands.  But in recent weeks, we have seen Hawkshead and Moor at the OC's, Red Willow and Buxton at the Wellington and Tiny Rebel at the Post Office Vaults.  I accept that these are very small, isolated examples, but I am still taking them as a positive.  In fact, when I popped into the Welly on Friday, they had a mini-festival underway, featuring beers from a fistful of London's new breed of microbreweries - By the Horns, Hackney and the Botanist, in addition to Happy Valley from Macclesfield.  Now I'll leave aside the fact that the Wellington failed to publicise this via social media, which would have been helpful, but you can't have everything.  Pubs of Birmingham, we want these top beers, we want them regularly and we want to know when you have them.

vi) Cherry Reds
A tiny venue single-handedly taking on the apathetic giant, this Kings Heath venue are doing a great job with their range of great beers on offer and by hosting beer tasting events - to my knowledge they are the only venue really doing this at the moment.  This outfit are a model of independence and integrity.  More please.

vii) Beer Geek
6 months (or so) on from their launch, they are now an increasingly established local brand, available in loads of places across the region.  More please.  On a personal note, I would like them to brew a delicious beer in my honour, but I realise that does sound a bit grandiose and bit git-like, now I come to type it.

viii) Birmingham Post
Talented journalist/cum PR Manager Keith Gabriel neatly captured the gathering beer zeitgeist in the City, in this article.  It's clearly a great piece of writing and clearly mentions all the most important beer figures in the City - namely moi.  But seriously folks, when the Birmingham Post starts noticing that beer is on the up, beer really is on the up.  In actual fact, the article in question appears to have been heavily plagiarised (in theme and tone) by me, in this post, here.  Whoops.

So then, lots to be positive about.  Are there any more?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Drinking - My New Paradigm

It's time to finally admit.  I don't go the pub very much anymore.  I think I was sort of trying to make this point in a previous post, but it warrants a more explicit airing.

Much respected colleagues in the Birmingham Beer Twitterari have recently revisited a much noted point - that Birmingham still doesn't have a City Centre pub, which can consistently deliver, on tap, one or more hoppy, high quality beers.  Various location have their moments, but equally there have been many (boringly retold) occasions when I have ducked in and out of several boozers, during an attempted 'stolen crawl' only to find nothing to take my fancy.

This is one part of the problem.  Now this part may be fixed by the arrival of Brewdog, in fact I'm sure it will.  However, that will not correct part 2 of the problem, which is fiscal in nature, and could perhaps be described as 'quantitive diseasing' i.e. large corporations liberally pumping funds out of my bank account.

Brewdog won't be cheap, but then again, nowhere is that cheap anymore (except for the Black Country).

So shorn of my once frequent pub loitering, I have now moved fully to an off-licence driven pursuit of great beer.  Off licence addiction is now easier than ever to 'get into', as Birmingham now provides any number of places to grab some Eastern European lager, plus two premier destinations for all the very best beer brands - both located along the Pershore Road (Stirchley Wines and Cotteridge Wines).  Off licence shopping is clean, easy and oh so tempting; but it does lead to single-handed drinking, for [I am perhaps glad to report] my house is not usually filled with garrulous blokes standing at the bar necking boozes.

Yes, I now mainly drink alone, which simultaneously means I don't drink as much.  This is good for health reasons obviously, but it does lead to a stockpile in my beer cupboard.  Why is this?  Well during a proper session in the pub, I might manage to sample 4 or 5 different beers in an evening, but I'm unlikely to do this at home, as sitting on my sofa, watching Family Guy and getting mullered on fine beer is not exactly the height of spiritual rebirth and doesn't provide the most wholesome example to set for one's offspring.

So then, what I have right now, is a cupboard full of beer, and ever more chances, to purchase ever more delicious beers, from some of Birmingham's ever more brilliant off licences.  Good for the City, meh for my wallet, and confusing for my hectored brain.  How can I keep up?

In the long run, will it truly be possible to be the poster boy of Birmingham's craft beer revolution from my sofa?  Only time will tell, but it will require some ingenuity.

This post is dedicated to the_Bish - one of Birmingham's premier Ratebeer and Twitter correspondents.         

Two Lovely Black 'Ayes'

I love the idea of doing back to back tastings - typically this might consist of 2 or several beers by the same brewer, or of the same style.  Here's one I sort of did for Saisons; and here's one that CAMRGB organised for Double IPAs.

Here, today, is some details of one what I done the other night, and it was done on the theme of Milk Stout.  What is Milk Stout?  Well, in technical terms it's something to do with the use of milk sugar.  Nope that doesn't mean anything to me either, but Sheriff Mitchell gives a good overview here, which I recommend you read.

So Milk Stouts are a rather antiquated sounding beer style, but a good few examples have popped up recently, and in fact I've sampled 4 that I can think of over the last year (which were all very pleasant).  Below is some detail of the two which I supped this week.

Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout arrived courtesy of my brother Pete, a Bristol resident.  It's a jet black, sweetly perfumed, beguiling foxtrel.  Initial swigs revealed little in the way of flavour, but wait..... repeated sips rewarded my perseverance, by delivering super subtle, sweet milkshake choc, with a bit of gentle roastiness.  An attractive dark beer experience, which builds and builds.  Right this moment I am folding my arms, staring intently at you and whispering "compelling" (try to picture Christopher Lee, and you won't be far off).

So having done Bristol's effort, let's move onto a Milk Stout from Holmfirth.  Summer Wines' Mokko is another jet black beast, with a chocolateade scent. Marginally less dramatic than the previous beer, this is nonetheless a satisfying and subtle experience.  Choc-led, rather than roast-driven, this is filled with sweet nuances, and feels marvellous dans your gob.

If I had to pick a winner, it'd be the Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout, but both beers are recommended, and can be purchased from Stirchley Wines and Cotteridge Wines.

If you in the market for further Milk Stouts (and why wouldn't you be?) I also recommend Pin-Up's version and the version from American brewer Left Hand.  Both are excellent, especially latter.  Mackesons is also still doing the rounds, if you want to get in touch with your inner 'old git'.


Saturday, 14 July 2012

My ten favourite breweries that I forgot to put in my top ten favourite breweries

As is already tiresomely well established, I love top tens and indeed lists of any type.  They keep me off the street.

Now, in last week's issue I listed my top ten breweries and was happy to do so.  Unfortunately it seems that in the course of that top ten I a) took leave of my senses and b) have subsequently remembered some more breweries that I really like, but which I failed to include, but which I now want to pay homage to, in whatever cockeyed route is still available to me.  What an appalling opening to a blog post this has been so far.  Genuinely terrible.  >>>Fast forward>>>

So then, here are 10 more outstanding breweries, who I love for my own reasons, and who could quite easily have been interchanged with any of the previous top 10*.  These ones are in no particular order. 

i) Stone

Original Yank powerhouse brewery.  I tried Arrogant Bastard and Ruination in 2004 and was blown away.  More recently in 2011, Sublimely Self Righteous was the first good Black IPA I ever tried.

ii) Great Divide

Can't believe I didn't include this lot in the original list, not least because my two highest rated beers of all time, were both brewed by them - Hercules and Yeti.  Wowsers.

iii) Andechs

Fabulous Munich** brewery - great lagers and weisse beers.

iv) Oakham

Another headshaker.  Cannot believe that I forgot to include the people who gave me Citra and Bishops Farewell, in my original list.  Green Devil is a new favourite. 

v) Buxton

I just cannot resist Buxton.  Such a sweet hop blend in all their beers.  Their Black IPA is magnificent, and so is Axe Edge.

vi) Brodies

Wonderful London microbrewery.  So fresh and full of experimentation, and yet so weighted down with finesse and quality. 

vii) Everards

Yes, they are from Leicester, so they sneak in through the local connection, and through happy memories of childhood.  But, in all fairness, Tiger is a brilliant ruddy Bitter.

viii) Crouch Vale

They predate the 'craft revolution', but their attention to hops fits well into this new paradigm.  Brewers Gold was a classic back in 2003, and they continue to churn out hoppy golden treats. 

ix) Paulaner

A wide variety of German proficiency is available from this giant.  Their Hefe is a classic, but it's their Roggen which is, for me, a classic beer sadly absent from these shores, in recent times.

x) Dark Star/Marble/Bristol Beer Factory/Magic Rock/Moor

Lists are always unsatisfactory (and yet I love them).  There will always be breweries I'm not able to include, but whom I love.  Here are a fistful of massively brilliant UK names, who deserve to be namechecked in any list of top breweries. 

I may write shortly about the lovely story which featured in the Birmingham Post.

*perhaps. To be fair to the previous top 10, they deserved their exalted status.
**not actually based in Munich, but close-ish.


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My 10 Favourite Breweries (at the moment)

Pretty self explanatory this one.

Here then, in reverse order, are my 10 favourite giants of the brewing world.  I hasten to add, (or preamble) that this classification is temporal, 'of the now' and entirely personal in a way which means it is not based on any kind of established measurement or Worldwide score.  I reserve the right to change my mind next week. 

This is a bit of an leftfield choice, but I justify it thus: these Lithuanian macro lads provide a range of lager variants which are very consistent and which consistently offer refreshment, archetypal lager finesse and balance.  Plus they also offer an excellent wheat beer.  They are also cheap/good options in the face of the 'craft' onslaught.  Buy these products from Lithuanica and you will be pleasantly rewarded. 

Summer Wine
I just love these guys.  I never get to sample them on tap obviously (except when I go to Sheffield (once, ever)), but I still love them.  Great range of styles, great hops, accessible proficiency.  Cohort is a favourite.  Buy at Stirchley and Cotteridge.    

I was going to be controversial and leave them out, but then I remembered Dogma.  And 5AM Saint.  And IPA is Dead.  And their bars - where you can sample all of their wares.  Come August, come Birmingham and join their gang.  

Another obvious choice.  I don't love Jaipur as much as some people, but I do love Raven, St. Petersburg, Geminus.  And many more.  Solid and spectacular.  Consistent and highly productive also.  Try them on tap at the Victoria, Rose Villa Tavern, Waggon and Horses; try them via bottle at all the usual [good] Birmingham outlets.  And Tesco.    

Schneider Weisse
Schneider Original is the best Hefeweisse in the World, period.  Well, in my opinion anyway.  Aventinus is a classic Doppelbock.  Hopfenweisse is a delicious collaboration with Brooklyn and marries traditionally unyielding German style, with new World hops.  Tap X is another example of their delicious wheat credibility, but with an eye to the future.  These lot deserve their place on any list.  To be found at Post Office Vaults and Cotteridge and Stirchley (get used to me saying this). 

They only seem to do one style - Sour Flemish Ale.  Thankfully I love Sour Flemish Ale, and they make the best one (Grand Cru).  They also make a junior version, which is very pleasant.  Their retired Alexander is top of my list of retired beers, that I dream of sampling in Belgium.  See them at Post Office Vaults and our chums on the Pershore Road.   

I'm a fan of Lambic Fruit beers going way back, and Lindemans' Kriek and Pecheresse are among my very favourites.  That alone may not have been enough to warrant their place on my list, but recently I have sampled a couple of bottles of their Cuvee Rene Gueuze, which I ab-so-lutely love.  Give me a 3-pack of those aforementioned err 3 and I'll be happy, Mother.  Check them at Post Office Vaults and possibly Stirchley and Cotteridge.  

De Molen
New-ish, but more than just good-ish.  Very good in fact.  I love their hop aromas and their embracement of both British, continental and US styles.  Very good value (mostly) at the Post Office Vaults, too.

If I had written this post 2 weeks ago I might have left them out, as I was slightly jaded, from hearing about their delicious strong beers on tap in the best London bars, for £4.95 a half, knowing full well I had neither the money, nor opportunity to sample them.  Also, it had been a while since I'd tried one of their bottles which really knocked my socks off.  This week however I have been bowled over by both Wheat is the New Hops and Beer Hop Breakfast, which were both mindnumbingly good.  They are indeed prolific, innovative and worthy of the hype.  Available mostly at Stirchley Wines.   

Norway's finest; they offer a range of the most beautifully well constructed hoppy beers, with a great example of virtually every style you can think of.  Balanced, precise and magnificent.  Their consistency is first class - better than everyone else in fact.  Almost everyone.  (As seen at Stirchley and POV).   

The Kernel
The UK's best, just got bigger.  A bigger brewery that is.  I'll never forget my first Kernel - Simcoe IPA purchased from the Euston Tap.  It was an explosion of taste, with hopping hitherto unseen in a beer from the British Isles.  I try to relive that first encounter whenever I can.  I always love it.

Do you like?