Friday, 30 April 2010


Question: they opened the National Brewery Centre in Burton-on-Trent last night by offering guests a) beer in elegant stemmed glasses b) old fashioned dimpled halves of the new(ish) Red Shield or c) French champagne?

There are not enough expletives in the world to express how frustrated I am that the answer is C. 

Monday, 26 April 2010

Anchor's Away

To continue the nautical theme, news is leaking from the States that Anchor has been sold.

It would appear one of the people involved some of you might have met at BrewDog's Equity for Punks launch in London, Keith Greggor, who made his name in the drinks industry with Skyy Vodka and has invested heavily in the Fraserburgh-based brewery.

The issue that is causing some ill-ease is not so much the news, because it would appear that there is a commitment from both Greggor & his partner Tony Foglio to stay true to boutique brands, but how it was leaked, as the lovely Jay Brooks points out on his blog here.

However, it is also reported that Fritz Maytag has been made Chairman Emeritus of Anchor Brewers & Distillers, which means the man with the vision is still involved in the business and will continue to be until he drops I would imagine.

Either way I didn't pick up on this story early enough to make any calls to the States but I will be emailing Greggor at my earliest available opportunity to see whether he'll make any comment.

All in all I wouldn't suggest it's time to launch the lifeboats yet but the bizarre way in which the news was released has understandably worried a lot of the American beer writing press and beer fans.

Savour the Spears

God I love Spring in the UK - the trees are bent low with blossom, the cricket season starts and there's an air of expectation and optimism that is almost tangible.

I'm sure, partly, it's because it's such a great time for fresh produce that, when you eat it, you can almost feel it doing you good.

Some of my most longed-for treats finally come to fruition in April and May and there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that compares to English green asparagus - sorry, but I'm not brooking any argument here.

That Peruvian nonsense you get in Winter is pallid & flavourless, I don't know why it bothers to make the journey, and don't even get me started on that weird white stuff - shudder!

But a beer match can be tough, because with British asparagus's inherent bitterness you have to drink something with a little residual sweetness in it, which is a point well made by Zak Avery's tripel suggestions, but I thought I'd throw my penn'th worth in as his excellent v-blog nudged my memory about a sublime combination of prosciutto crudo-wrapped asparagus with the frothiest, lemoniest Hollandaise sauce, served up with a well-chilled Gouden Carolus.

First, I lightly steamed the asparagus before wrapping each stem in the prosciutto and pan frying it until the crudo was crispy. For the Hollandaise sauce I used Delia's recipe here but very carefully added some extra lemon juice and a little water and, using one of those otherwise useless milk foam thingies, gave it a right good frothing.

When paired with the asparagus and fruity prosciutto the Gouden Carolus becomes almost as herbal as Colomba, the Corsican unpasteurised wit beer made with herb de maquis, in fact it almost develops gin-like botanicals and then somehow combines with the hollandaise to develop an almost preserved lemon middle, with the bitterness of both the beer & the asparagus providing a long, but not aggressive, end to this symphonic oral episode.

Oh, and you must get in there with your fingers - asparagus should NOT be eaten with a knife & fork - it's a tactile, sensuous food that should flood your being with an overwhelming sense of naughty, indulgent enjoyment.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Not Just Women Who Get Patronising Marketing Then!

Boys, it's clearly unmanly to eat ice cream unless it's got beer in it - now I suggest you get your knuckles off the floor and go get some!

p.s. sorry Dave at Kelham Island, I love your beers but it's just how this story was written!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Wonder Women!

My love/hate relationship with the BitterSweet Partnership continues apace as they've just released some really good research that shows that a fifth of women are now opting for beer in pubs - so is it really necessary to produce a patronising clear beer for them - oh all right, I've already made my point about that so, let's have more of the good news stories - women are now more often opting for beer than a spirit & mixer! My full story below and then a link to the Sun's version below that - enjoy the difference!!!!

Good news for independent hosts, new research reveals nearly one in three women visit the pub at least once a fortnight, with 72% plumping for their local rather than a large or upmarket high-street chain.

The findings, released by the Molson Coors-operated Bittersweet Partnership, show excellent pub grub and atmosphere are nearly half the reason why they went to their local, with good value coming a close second  at 42%.  

In line with the recent figures showing cask ale is the only beer category in growth, the traditional female bar order of a gin and tonic or vodka and coke has finally been ditched in favour of beer, with a fifth of women opting for a beer over 19% choosing mixers. And range is clearly also important, with nearly one in 10 wanting a broad selection of beers to choose from.

However, many outlets are still making fundamental operating mistakes, with the biggest female bugbears proving to be lack of seating (18%), an un-friendly and often unwelcoming environment (26%), cleanliness (16%) and poor music choice (21%). 

The Sun's story here - - oh, and if a fortnightly trip to the pub makes women 'booze-guzzling' then I presume they advocate that someone like me should be committed, or arrested, or perhaps just socially 're-programmed'?!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Showing Coors a Clear Pair of Heels

In the interests of fair and impartial journalism (something I'm accused of on occasion) I'm not going to make any assumptions about the flavour of the new Coors Clear Beer product until I've tried it.

But I'll be very clear about one thing, I'm not impressed with how it's being portrayed in the press, it's designed to get women into beer? Oh please! 

Despite the long hair, addiction to hilariously high heels and obsession with big earrings I balance that out with other areas of my life; most of my mates are lads, I play cricket and go fishing for fun and, of course, I do that most unfeminine of things, I enjoy a pint!

God, my mother must be so ashamed of me - or would be if she didn't now drink beer herself, in the golf club and everything! The shame!

I mean, seriously, what the hell is wrong with this world? We seem to be going completely backwards in the journey to bring the sexes closer together - and I don't mean I think I'll ever be able to lift, punch or run as well as a bloke but I damn sure know I don't need a product that's been designed for my delicate little tastebuds!

And do you know what really riles me about the way it's focusing on the beer being in bottle & clear making it, allegedly, spike-proof? It paints women as victims that something just hasn't happened to yet.

Please don't get me wrong, I will not make light of drinks being spiked in a pub - it happened to me once in a club, it was terrifying and I had a lucky escape - but is this how you want to portray beer? That it has to be clear so you're safe? Christ, I may never leave the house again!

How about designing trouser pockets to be clear so we can check people aren't carrying knives? Or transparent backpacks so we can be sure no one's carrying a bomb? And perhaps we could all embrace our inner 80s and start wearing jelly shoes again for the good of society?!

I am not a victim, I am someone who is more than capable of finding my way around the range of products on offer out there and navigating whatever life throws at me with luck, and I don't spend every waking minute looking over my shoulder in case the boogie man is coming to get me - if I do that, someone might spike my drink when I'm not looking!

And I find it interesting/depressing this move appears to coincide with a very long-standing beer education programme & PR campaign coming to a close. What? Job done? I don't think so.

Do I think that the population as a whole could know more about beer? Yes I do.

Do I believe that women have been disenfranchised by the beer market? Indeed, so let's educate them.

Am I going to back a product that seeks to collectively pat women on the arse and tell them type up the minutes neatly? No I'm bloody well not.

I am inexpressibly furious with this launch - it's almost more insulting than Eve, which at least pins its colours to the mast and says it's a patronising piece of crap. Hell they haven't even got the guts to call it a malt-based beverage, for fear of scaring the living daylights out of us girlies!

This is a negative story and not one I'm thrilled the new group Dea Latis is associated with either - just to be clear, (no pun intended) my understanding of our group has always been about getting more women to enjoy the beers that are out there, to embrace the fabulous brewing and diversity of craft brews and heritage we already have, to stop patronisation and gender bias in the beer market.

This is not helping...

P.S. when I said high heels I don't mean the ones pictured, I just thought that, somehow, there was a correlation between the two products...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Chicago Blew Me Away!

I'm sorry about the cheesey headline, but if you've followed this blog long enough you'll know that I live for them - I'm kinda like people who collect sad things like china miniature poodles or commemorative spoons, in cabinets - one is just never enough!

Anyway, onto the point of this post and it's Chicago baby! What an awesome place! I had time to do exactly zero, nada, bupkiss research before I jumped on a plane with Fantastic Mr (Dan) Fox to this Illinois city that I'd never really given much thought to before, for which I feel I should apologise somehow (not that Chicago cares much either way I'd imagine).

Upon landing it was a pretty simple mission myself and Dan had in mind, get sorted and get out to try some Goose Island on its home turf, however, we ended up in Rock Bottom Brewpub, which I'd been to the Denver version of and really enjoyed, so no complaints there!

The food is pretty good, apart from the Titan Toothpicks (deep-fried full-size tortillas with mysterious meat and 'stuff' in them - truly awful and terrifying in one go) and the portions had us laughing like drains, particularly the onion rings as you can see from the picture!

The beer, which is brewed on site and all the RB beers are unique to each venue, was excellent. The pilsner they'd produced in association with the German Hop Growers was sensationally drinkable, and when we found ourselves unable to take another enormous-tasting beer, we reset ourselves with that and were off again! My personal favourite was Eric the Red, which was exactly as the beer list described it: "A dry-hopped American-style Red Ale brewed with dark crystal malt that lends a caramel and maple character to this deep ruby-colored brew. Copious amounts of Cascade and Centennial hops are addded into the fermenter to create an explosion of lemon and grapefruit flavors and aromas."

They were also kind enough to host a brunch as a judges' send-off the Sunday after the awards, which was really lovely of them and much needed by many, including the man previously believed to be indestructible - the gentle Cali giant Jeff Bagby of Pizza Port who spent a lot of his time staring at his pint with great suspicion! (I really hope this makes him laugh and not mad, seriously, he's huge!).

Also, the in-house brewmaster Chris Rafferty was still celebrating his win of a gold at the WBC for Dude, Where's My Vespa - his coffee beer - and as a result he was so high on life, it was utterly infectious.

Right, enough RB love, another must-visit when you're in town is Clark Street Ale House, it's a late-night venue so I'm not even going to venture a guess at what I was drinking other than it was all good and I'm pretty sure that Three Floyds beer was in there somewhere! I think it was Alpha King but I can't swear to it! And if you get to the point where a spirit seems like a plan then they've got an awesome whiskey selection, although my companions seemed to be avoiding the good stuff and drinking the eye-wateringly strong kind, why do I always end up with these kinds of dudes at four in the morning... in fact, don't answer that!

Moving swiftly on, at the opposite end of the scale is Publican which makes very pretty food, and really knows what to do with a pig! Their oysters were also absolutely magnificent but avoid the mussels, they were muddy and awful, and whilst it's not to my taste even Alex Barlow's weird pizza was good, squid & chorizo I believe it was, but very good nonetheless!

Having heard how good the food was I went with full intentions of creating myself a full beer & food fest that was to utterly die for but I got hooked on Lost Abbey's Framboise di Amarosa, a truly stunning and balanced sour raspberry beer that had me making all sorts of happy noises whilst drinking it, as far as I'm concerned that stuff goes with everything!!

And last, but not least, on my list of bars that should not be missed in Chicago is Piece. In fact, this was my favourite, it ticked all the boxes for me, friendly customers and staff, fantastic beers brewed on site and enormous thin-crust pizzas where you choose the toppings! Utter, utter perfection.

Owned by Bill Jacobs (below on the left of the pic), who is as deliciously entertaining as the bar itself, Piece has a great little multi-level thing going on, making the space feel much less sprawling than it could and also allowing for noise dissipation because I can attest you will need a set of lungs on you when it's busy!

It's also got a lot of pedigree in the industry's eyes as in 2006 it and its brewmaster Jonathan Cutler (who I sadly didn't get to meet) won the prestigious World Beer Cup Champion Small Brewpub and Brewmaster Award. I was, however, shown around the brewery, which is a miracle of mechanical ingenuity, an unwillingness to give up on a space and an awesome example of what you can do with some welding gear when you set your mind to it!

I spoke to Bill about how the whole thing came about, and I got a pretty neat story. After learning to bake from some New Jersey guys he decided to bring bagels to Chicago with his brothers, Andy & Pete, and built it up through openings and acquisitions to a chain of 17, which he sold to Big Apple Bagels in 1999.

The brewpub came about when he met the fabulous Matt Brynildson (now winning masses of awards with Firestone Walker and can be seen being tortured by me to eat weird stuff when he's in the UK) out in the park over, wait for it, ultimate frisbee! Yeah, I know, but given the shape both those boys are in I really am not going to mock how hilarious it sounds on paper! Besides, they didn't laugh at my tipsy cricket demonstration (in high heels) so I owe them that courtesy in return!

For the rest of the story, I'll let Bill tell you in his own words: "After a tournament Matt came up to me with beer, a wit beer, which he was carrying. He gave me some and said, 'we can make this'.

"At that point he set the wheels in motion as I'd always thought about bringing great thin-crust pizza to Chicago, the kind I grew up eating in New Haven. Great beer was the perfect compliment to great pizza and that's where it all started.

"Between 1997-1998 I worked with Matt (pictured above on the right) and several others constructing the business plan for Piece. Matt was going to be the brewer for Piece, but when the opportunity came in SLO Brewing Company in California, he seized it. Piece was still in its developmental stage, no lease secured at that point, and it was an opportunity Matt couldn't pass up.

"When it came to hiring a brewer for Piece in 2001, Matt encouraged me to hire Jonathan Cutler, our terrific brewer, who had brewed for him at Goose and was looking to move back to Chicago from Chico, CA, where he was brewing at Sierra. Matt worked with Jonathan initially creating a beer list based on the styles, but Jonathan has created the beers and the names for Piece."

Now, you might remember when I came back from Denver I was raving about how collegiate the beer scene is in the States and how it would be nice to see more of it over here? Well here's a great example of what I've been banging on about...

"Matt remains our closest friend and our reliable consultant/expert if Jonathan needs support. Reciprocally, Jonathan assisted Matt with his gold medal winning hefe, the same gold he won in 2006 when Piece won Champion Small Brewpub - which is great because Jonathan has won five medals for his Top Heavy Hefeweizen."

And, if all that doesn't convince you to get your butt over if you're ever in Chicago then maybe this will - one of the investors is Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen - if you can't place the band immediately you'll almost certainly know their anthem song, give it a listen and do what it says when it comes to Piece - Surrender!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Apologies and Small Update

Hello all, I must apologise for neglecting you so much, with going off to the AWESOME World Beer Cup and Craft Brewer's Conference in Chicago I haven't had time to blog at all.

Because I had an insane amount of work to get done before I went I was fried and it's partly for this reason I decided not to take my ailing/near terminally ill laptop with me because I wanted to give the week my focus - I did notice that a lot of the people tweeting & social mediaing like mad sometimes missed chatting to people, which for me is what it's all about, not a criticism just a small explanation of my view on it all! And besides, if I'd had my nose buried in my phone/laptop the whole time I would have missed out on a whole lot of hugs, which is always a bonus of going to US events!

Anyhow, in case you haven't already heard, the Brits made a pretty good showing, given that there were only a pitiful 51 beers entered, which I've got to be honest I'm really shocked about. I'm aware that times are hard in the industry but surely the world-wide benchmark competition is something you should always enter?

Anyway, two golds went to UK brewers, the first was a category that I judged (along with several other UK judges including the lovely Glenn Payne and the fabulous Mr Dan Fox from the White Horse) and it was the subject of some really lively debate, which was brilliant because only good beer provokes passionate responses - the upshot of this being that Rooster's took a one and two in this category with Leghorn and YPA respectively, so well done Sean, I'm thrilled for you and feel you've taken two well-deserved wins there.

The second gold medal winner was BrewDog for its new Hardcore IPA, which is utterly delicious and the type of beer I'd love to see this brewery do more of, they have such a flair for making drinkable beers that have a higher ABV than the norm without having to resort to publicity stunts - but that's enough of that, my views have been aired and Mr Watt looked so resplendent in his kilt I was inclined towards forgiveness! Just kidding James, I hear you've got enough crazed fans without me adding myself to the list!

Anyway, the UK beer I was most thrilled to see win on the evening was Bracia from Thornbridge - I've never made any bones about the fact I think this is one of the most delicious beers I've ever drunk in my life and think it's a undoubtedly a silver medal winner, I didn't get to try the gold which is from an utterly unpronounceable brewery in Lithuania, so goodness knows how amazing that is!

There's also a shamelessly selfish reason why I was rooting for Bracia as well, when I was introducing Kelly or Stef to people I kept on saying they'd entered this sublime beer and it really should medal - so at least I didn't end up with honeyed egg on my face there!

Also, congratulations have to go to Shepherd Neame for which took a bronze in the best bitter category, it's not one that I personally drink much of but for the people of Kent it's a positive institution and we should be owning that category anyway dammit! Bitter's ours!!!!

That's just the UK update, if you want to see all the winners then the link is here, I'll be giving you my assessment on the best of the rest once I've had a nap, I didn't sleep as well on the plane as I normally do due to a lack of alcoholic intake before take-off!!

So if there are grammaticals, spelling mistakes or anything else off-kilter with this post then I apologise but, stick a fork in me, I'm done!