Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Birmingham Beer Bash, which is a progressive beer festival

This is unusual.  In normal circumstances, when writing a blog post, I just sort of prat around and generally make rather a show of myself.

This time however, I want stroke a differing note.  This time I am reporting on something meaningful, concrete and above all - exciting.

The Birmingham Beer Bash is a festival which will take place on 26th and 27th July.  It has been in the pipeline for a while, but having settled upon a brilliant, city centre location, it now has no choice but to be real.  No longer will it exist only as an abstract possibility; but by sheer force of intent and raging desire, it hath forced itself skywards, screaming for life.

The main thing I'd like to say at this stage is/are theses:

1) Our festival will be a collective effort. 
The organising team are not hardened marketing gurus, or grizzled brewery tycoons - we are beer fans first and foremost.  We (and I include I in this) have sat back watching the craft beer scene bubble and fizz in cities around the UK, wondering when our turn would come.  In the end, we decided to make it happen for ourselves.  In putting this fest together, we are going to utilise hard work, passion and the spirit of cooperation.  We are reaching out to like minded, prospective partners: people who also want to deliver a shed load of the very best beers into the mouths of an expectant Birmingham audience.

2) We love great beer. 
Let's talk about quality.  It's a matter of opinion, certainly; but it's also something tangible and tantalising.  Our team shares an appreciation of what the UK's best brewers are creating right now: a scene stuffed with hops, flavour, wit and style.  We want to bring the very brightest British and World brewers under one roof, (located in a Birmingham postcode), to give the venerable folk of the Midlands, a chance to be a part of this revolution, which is now encroaching upon our beer drinking lives.

3) It won't be much of a festival without you.
 I mean that.  We mean that.  We are bringing the best beer to Brum, so that you can drink it.  We will try to drink it also, but we'll be busy serving you.  So please come. Bring your chums and sample some fantastic brews.  See what the fuss is all about.  Have a ball.

We will keep you up to date via Twitter and Facebook.  Our website will appear shortly.

I will, at some point, introduce you to the team behind the event; a team you can join as a volunteer (which is what we are also).

As for me, I have but a small part.  You may read my words promoting this event, but most of all I hope you will read my passion and excitement.

Until July then.  Let the days count down.   

Friday, 25 January 2013

Giving up drinking (for a bit)

(I was going to post this at the beginning of January and then do a comparative piece in February, but got sidetracked. I am awfully sorry, therefore, for the delay).

What is the point of giving up drinking?  Rehab is for quitters, blah blah, blah.

This January I decided to see if I could quit beer (and indeed alcohol generally) for one month.  Why?  Well that's an interesting question.  In part it was personal challenge - the sort of pointless masculine test of mental strength, by which Gamma males are supposed to define their faculties.  It was also a response to post-Christmas guilt.  Having done my bit to party hard during the festive season, I got to Boxing Day feeling portly and guilty at the levels of my excess.  In short: physically and mentally jaded.  In truth also, having reached my late 30's, I have all of a sudden become [slightly] aware of my own mortality.  Perhaps that is being overdramatic.  Oh well, I like being dramatic, darling.  At the very least I have become aware of my own ability to pile on the pounds.

In any case, I decided to have a month off.

Now this presents a number of challenges, which are summarised as follows:

One) I spend most of my waking life daydreaming about beer
Two) All my social life revolves around pubs
Three) In these days of marriage, parenting and responsibility, it also happens that most of my active friends, are people from within my interest/hobby group (e.g. beer)
Four) I am a beer blogger.  Not drinking beer may have a potential impact on my output*
Five) Beer defines me, it makes me the interesting*** person I am

OK, so for a whole month, I have to deal with these things.  In that 'dealing', I will run into these sorts of problems:

i) Twitter.  All the people I follow on Twitter are beer people.  They will all be talking about the delicious beers they are drinking and the marvellous pubs they are in. There will be photos also.
ii) There will be times, like this week, where I have a spare hour after work, when I would usually nip into Brewdog Brum for a quick snifter. No more.
iii) Every time I get pasta or teabags out of my kitchen cupboard, I will see this.  It will hurt me. 

iv) What will I do in the evenings?
v) What will be my reward for a hard day/week at work?  It'll have to be a Biscuit Boost or summat.

All of that is, of course, rather flippant.  It's also true BTW, but it is flippant.  The serious point underlying all of this, and yes there is one, is this: have I been drinking too much?  How much beer is too much?

Being a beer geek is brilliant. We all know that.  But isn't all this beer talk getting a bit much?  In terms of being part of the beer community, I sometimes feel pressure to keep up, pressure to try the latest beers, hit the latest pubs and collect enough fresh experiences, to fuel Twitter and Ratebeer conversations over the coming days/months.  Ratebeer urges me to try new beers and keep rating.  Twitter stokes the embers of beer desire, making me salivate via vicarious sampling.  Has anyone asked or dared to wonder whether we {me}are drinking too much?  It's different for every person (obviously) but for a fingersnap of time over Xmas, I felt perhaps I was over my limit.  So I decided to take a step back, a chance for reflection and a breath.

Yet darker thoughts also cloud my mind; namely, at what point does extreme beer geekery/obsessiveness become borderline alcoholism?  What do beer geeks think about alcoholism?  Do we turn a blind eye to this potential outcome, or do we refuse to let the possibility enter our jolly good world?  If we don't ever talk about the big AA, why not?  

Yes, there's a lot of bravado in beer and drinking generally.  There's also a lot of escapism and making merry.  I'm prepared to spend this empty month, making sure that beer is an accoutrement to my life rather than something which I'm using to fill a yawning chasm in my soul.      

What an effing downer.

*Who knows it may actually make it more** interesting***.
**Although 'more' is a very perjorative term
***Ditto for 'interesting'

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Superfluous Beer Photos

In a transparent attempt to put out a blog post which doesn't require much text, here are a few beer photographs (all taken by myself), which I have taken during the past few months.

1. The truly delicious Baltas from Svyturys.  This is a Lithuanian Hefeweizen, although actually, I think it sits stylistically, mid-way between a German Weisse and a Belgian Witbier.

 2. Castel from Ethiopia.  Pretty ropey Lager.

3. Phoenix from Mauritius.  Another pretty ropey Lager.

4. Coral from Madeira.  Another pretty ropey Lager.  (Is this getting boring yet?)

5. Oakham's AWESOME Green Devil IPA.  Justifiably considered one of the UK's greatest beers.  Pictured here in the lovely Bartons Arms. 

6. The highly delicious Schneider Hopfenweisse, a hoppy German Weizen Bock.  Yum. 

7. Leute Bokbier from Belgium, in the Post Office Vaults.  Note the extremely strange glass, which is egg-shaped, sitting on a wooden block, with concave gap.  (Sorry for rubbish photo).

8. Idiot [Imperial] IPA from Coronado.  A delicious assault on all the senses. 

9. The awe inspiring Beer Geek Breakfast from Mikkeller.  Truly one of the world's great beers. 

10. From the sublime to the ridiculous.  Saris from Slovakia - an average Lager. 

11. Volfas Engelman Stalo - a rather dignified and tasty Lithuanian Lager.  (n.b. the Tic Tacs were not mine, so I can't confirm whether they tasted as good as they looked). 

12. The Waggon and Horses, Halesowen.  Awesome boozer.

13. The Windsor Castle, Lye.  Imperious brewery tap for Sadlers, and inaugural winner of Mediocre Beer Adventures' Birmingham and Black Country Pub of the Year 2012.  

14. The rather ropey and duplicitous Zlata Praha from Ukraine, which masquerades as a Czech Lager.  For a few days after drinking this I rather thought it had given me the 'two-bob bits', but 'luckily' it turned out that I merely had Norovirus, so that was a relief.

16. And finally, always a pleasure - SCANNERS from Kernel, in collaboration with Brodies.  Because hey, you can't drink mediocre beer all the time. 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Festive Period. An exciting 'round up"

The onset of January, and indeed the onslaught of 2013, recently began in earnest.  Before that becomes a grinding inevitability, let's just take a minute to look back over an exciting December, which turned out to be a month.

As Birmingham residents will be only too gratefully aware, our branch of Brewdog finally opened it's doors on 11th December.  It's opening was met with a wave of people going in and buying beer and then tweeting about how nice it was[is].

I managed to hold back for a full half a day before peeking inside and buying my first ever {Birmingham-based} kegged Brewdog.  It was Movember, a Black IPA and it tasted, like, victory.

Since then I have popped in as often as my wife/wallet/boss/child/slim-fit jeans will allow and even during this short timescale, have already sampled some incredible draft beers, including Cocoa Psycho, Punk IPA, Jackhammer, Hoppy Xmas, Tokyo, Imperial Red Wheat and guest offerings from the likes of Mikkeller, Brodies and Rogue.  Fabulous.  A range which is blatantly of a different order to any other draft offering in the city.

Coincidentally, the opening of Brewdog Brum came just a few days after I visited their Nottingham sister, during a short, punchy crawl of that city.  Nottingham is somewhere that conjures fond memories of Selectadisc, Rock City and massive LCFC victories (cough).  I was pleased to see that its boozers are up to scratch, with King William IV, Kean's Head and BD all brilliant venues.  I supped Whim, Navigation, Brewdog, Castle Rock and Rodenbach; and almost missed my train.

<The second half of this post drags rather.  Thus, to brighten/spice things up, I have changed the text colour. Does this work as a technique?>

In other Brum news, the Christmas period offered the yearly chance to visit boozers whose doors I don't usually darken**:  

Sometimes this is because I am frightened to venture in - like i) the Crown, which I was delighted to find was a beautiful old pub, in great nick.  Terrible beer choice mind, but space to sit down and kegged Brew XI were a compromise worth taking.

Sometimes I assume a place doesn't serve beer and/or I'm not trendy enough to go in - like ii) the Island Bar, which I was delighted to find was a buzzing place, offering bottled Marstons Oyster Stout.

Aside from Brewdog, another regular stop-off during the party season was the Victoria, which boasted 3x handpulls of Thornbridge on the visit I can remember, including delicious (ever-delicious) Kipling.

I also popped into the Old Joint Stock and enjoyed a Fullers Past Masters Old Burton Extra, which was mellifluous malt indeed.

My final note is of brief stop-offs at two of the Shakespeares* in the centre: I quaffed Pilsner Urquell on Summer Row and succulent Jaipur at Lower Temple.  Both were delicious.

Happy NY.

* There is a third one in New Street station.  You have to have a train ticket to get to it and I certainly would not advise buying one for that specific purpose - it's not a good enough place.
** Because all of my usual haunts are rammed.
*** I also went to Leicester over the holiday.  Lots of Everards Tiger - yum yum.