Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Two New Guinness Beers (beer review)

Guinness. It’s an internationally recognised name, it’s seen in probably 90% of pubs and bars all across the world from London to San Francisco to Tokyo.

Guinness. The iconic adverts and two part pour. The shamrock that’s drawn in the tight, creamy head on the top of your pint.

Guinness is everywhere. Guinness is unmistakable.

I don’t think I really need to explain what Guinness is, but I will say that it is a beer I love to this very day, even in all of my beer geekdom. It’s reliable and delicious.

Guinness is owned by Diageo these days, one of the biggest alcoholic beverage companies in the world. They’ve decided to try and expand the Guinness brand by bringing out two new beers and I was lucky enough to be asked if I want to try them.

And of course, I jumped at the chance. In fact, I’m rather excited about trying them. They’re both modelled on recipes from many moons ago, but have been upgraded I suppose using modern brewing processes and a shiny brewery.

To start with, the labels are awesome. If you didn’t know anything about Guinness, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were brewed by your friendly neighbourhood brewery – they look antique and historic. Of course, many people will complain that the marketing people are trying to make it look like they’re from a small brewery but fuck ‘em.

First up we have Guinness Dublin Porter (3.8%). As promised by the fact sheet I was sent, it is like a lighter version of your everyday Guinness. It has caramel, chocolate, a little bit of coffee, brown sugar and some hoppiness at the end. It’s also a lot less dry than standard Guinness which makes it an even more enjoyable experience. It seems to have the right amount of everything that I want in a stout. I thought, and was hoping I’d enjoy it but it’s genuinely surprised me just how much I am enjoying it!

West Indies Porter (6%) pours thicker and darker. The head is a lot more desirable as it stays there. The aroma gives off a handful of hops with lots of burnt caramel. The flavour gives me full on strong, black nutmeg coffee, topped with chocolate sprinkles, there’s also a kind of sweet milky flavour that comes across in the aftertaste. The whole idea is that it’s a more accessible version of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and they’ve totally achieved that goal.

Overall: Both beers are brilliant to be honest. They’re both a step up from Guinness, bringing more flavour to the table and beers that I will definitely buy as they’re definitely the best stouts I’m going to be able to get from supermarkets.

Despite being Guinness/Diageo products, I urge you to pick them up and give them a shot. These are well brewed beers, with flavour and I am seriously impressed.


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Moosehead Lager & Pale Ale (beer review)

I'm not well versed in Canadian beer as it doesn't seem to make it to the UK often. Sure, I've drank a lot of Carling which originates from there and I remember spending a day in London years ago in the Maple Leaf pub in Covent Garden drinking multiple pints of Sleeman's IPA and Honey Brown lager, but I'd never had anything from Canada's oldest independent brewery.

What's interesting about Moosehead is that it was founded by a woman, Susannah Oland back in 1867 and is still operated by the same family. The fact that it was founded by a woman all of the way back then is great but people generally don't know this. People quite rightly celebrate the female brewers of today, but Moosehead is quite an important brewery, in Canada at least, so she deserves some recognition.

They've had quite a rocky history, changing names a couple of times and unfortunately two fires within 8 years but each time they recovered and got stronger. Also, its success in the USA can oddly be attributed to Michael J Fox as he gave it a big plug on the Jay Leno show.

Anyway, I was kindly sent Moosehead Lager & Pale Ale to write a few words about...

Moosehead Lager (5%) pours golden yellow with a small, sparse head that disappears rather quickly. On the nose you have a little sweetcorn, a few hops and some skunkiness. When you taste it, there is no corn but instead it's just a crisp almost lemony lager flavour with a little sweetness. We rather enjoyed it!

Moosehead Pale Ale (5%) pours an amber colour that's almost brown, and again it doesn't have much of a head. I was expecting something akin to an American style pale ale, but to my surprise I got an English style Pale Ale. Lots of caramel and brown sugar sweetness, with just a few hops and a bit of golden syrup. Again, it's an enjoyable beer.

Overall: Both pleasant and accessible beers. As a beer geek, they didn't make me run around flailing but they are very well made tasty beers that at the right pricepoint could quite happily be most people's first foray into craft beer.

Thanks to Louise from Pierhead Purchasing for sending me these to write about!


Friday, 5 September 2014

The Session #91 - My First Belgian

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community which was started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s nice archive page.

This months session is hosted by Belgian Smaak… and is all about your first Belgian Beer.

My first Belgian? What is this, a new Fisher Price toy?

My first Belgian beer was obviously Stella Artois. I’m not going to hide from that. Some people say that it doesn’t count, but of course it bloody does.

I remember when I was 12, a friends’ parents were out for the day so we decided we were going to drink beer. We made the conscious decision to get drunk. It was irresponsible. We were 12 years old… we wanted to experience it and find out why our parents drank alcohol.

I remember hating the feeling of being drunk… that initial hit of the alcohol, rushing through your blood into your brain. The dizziness, the blurry eyes. Well, I hated it at first, and then it was fun… it was hilarious. Why was it so hilarious to watch a rabbit yawn?

And then the vomit. I was quite violently sick. Disgusting, can’t deal with it.

Eventually, I got home and passed out.

And then the hangover.

I didn’t drink for about two or three years after that.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Tasting notes… what are you on about?

Obviously, as an amateur wannabe beer writer, I review beers and I read other people’s reviews of beers.

Right now I’m getting absolutely fucking sick of reading beer reviews, to be perfectly honest.

I see people write about aromas that make me gag just from the idea and flavours that really don’t make sense and make me want to vomit, and remember… I’m a seasoned beer drinker.

I’ve had beers that have encompassed all manner of flavours, but let’s be honest here… most tasting notes by beer reviewers are bullshit. They’re incredibly off putting and I wonder if some people come up with the most ridiculous tasting notes just as a test to see if someone else will call them out and say “What the fuck are you even on about?”

Even as someone who has drank so many different beers, I read reviews and I’m instantly put off.

You cannot write that a beer smells like damp field mushrooms covered in manure, tasting like spunk covered hedgerow and expect people to believe your conclusion that it was rather nice (this isn’t an exact review; it’s just bits that I’ve picked up from several reviews that I’ve read over the last few months from about 6 different people).

While I’m aware that everyone has a different palate and they taste/smell different things, I genuinely don’t believe that most people actually know what hedgerow or half the fucking things they describe beers as taste like.

I’m just finding it irritating, vomit inducing and just straight up bullshit. It’s not doing the industry any favours by writing such pretentious crap.

It seems that people are straight up taking the piss out of breweries by saying the most disgusting things. Hell, if I were a brewer I’d feel downright offended if someone gave my beer such nauseating tasting notes knowing full well that they’re just entering themselves into "Who can be the most pretentious?" competition.

One of the reasons I started doing this whole beer writing thing was to try and encourage people to drink more good beer, by displaying the massive array of delicious flavours that just four simple ingredients (and sometimes odd adjuncts) can create and I’m sure many others did too.

I’ve always firmly believed in tasting notes that are accessible, that someone not into beer will stumble across and be like “Well, that sounds delicious. Where can I buy it?” not “So this person says it’s nice… but it sounds disgusting. Definitely not worth the risk”

Simplify. Make the beers sound as delicious in your descriptions as you say they are at the end. Just cut the fucking crap already.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Evils of Beer Conversion

Nearly everywhere I look I see advocates of good beer talking about “converting” non-beer drinkers… from other blogs, to nationally recognised beer campaigns, to the drinks menus in Brewdog bars that suggest what beer to drink instead of their wines & spirits.

Conversion in this sense is an evil word as it’s all about changing people’s ideas and perceptions, much like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who knock on your door while you’re kicking back eating a fry-up on a Saturday morning… people telling you that everything you know is wrong and that you’re somewhat inferior if you don’t believe.

That’s what “Conversion” sounds like to me. It doesn’t sound like a gentle nudge saying “hey, why not try this beer? You might like it”, conversion sounds like you’re judgementally forcing someone to do something because it’s what you like and believe in even if they are quite happy doing what they enjoy.

“Conversion” doesn’t convey a welcoming sense of community, in fact it does quite the opposite. “Conversion” suggests that all of us beer drinkers are in our own little clique and that outsiders have to pass some kind of initiation in order to join us.

“Conversion” isn’t a friendly word, it’s alienating people who could potentially become fans of good beer if it wasn't for the pressure.

This isn’t to say that more people shouldn’t drink good beer, it’s saying “hey, would you like to try my beer” instead of rocking up at someone’s house when they’ve invited you and hijacking it with beer talk. It’s not forcing people to listen to “why they should drink beer” because to be perfectly honest nobody “should” do anything just because you want them to.

By all means recommend, but if they resist just leave it at that. It’s only a drink sothere shouldn't be any "conversion" process involved.


Monday, 18 August 2014

London Craft Beer Festival 2014 Review

On Sunday some friends and I decided to travel down to Oval Space in Hackney for London Craft Beer Festival. As I mentioned in my preview blog, it’s a festival whereby all of the beer is included in admission price as well as the breweries serving their own beer (or at least someone who knows about beer. Probably).

We got to the venue and collected our glass, bottle caps (third pint tokens) and program before heading up to the room of doom.

The Venue:

It was a small but comfortable venue with a decked area where food was, as well as a balcony area overlooking the old gas terminals. There were breweries all around the room and a stage in the middle for the performers.

Across the road there was also another venue that they were using to promote holidays in Flanders. We sampled some delicious cheese and whitebait.

The Food:

I would have liked to see some more reasonably priced food. There was a stand selling hot dogs in burger baps for £6.50 which seemed like a rip off, and the other option was onglet steak with veggies for £8. They did also have chips for £2, which were nice enough but the portions weren’t nearly big enough.

The People:

Along with Alec, Jay & Lee whom I travelled with, I bumped into some of my awesome beery twitter fam, Some of whom I’d never met before.

As for the brewers themselves... I don’t know whether it was because they were tired from a long weekend but the vast majority of them didn’t seem interested in talking to us normal people, aside from serving their beers. Too many times I’d ordered a beer and want to talk to brewers about them but before I got the chance they’d already turned their back to talk to the brewer next to them. It kind of defeats the point of this kind of festival set up.

The Beers:

I had a lot of beers, well it would have been rude not to since it was included in the ticket price. I’m not going to tell you about all of them but stand outs included:

Redemption Pale Ale w/ Mangos & Pink Peppercorns (3.8%) – You got the hoppiness of the pale ale, the sweet and juicy mango with a shower of spicy peppercorns. It was absolutely outstanding!

Weird Beard Little Things That Kill (A low ABV. Each batch changes) – I drank more of this beer than anything else. It’s a beer I already love and I just stood at the Weird Beard stand (the most friendly stand manned by Bryan & Chris) talking to Chris and constantly getting my glass topped up. So much fruitiness and body for such a low ABV beer.

Buxton Ace Edge (6.8%) – It’s a beer I’ve wanted to try for ages as I love the original Axe Edge and I am one of the rare people who LOVE Sorachi Ace Hops. I am so glad this was on (I may have had multiple drinks of this too).

Magic Rock Bourbon Barrel Bearded Lady (11%) – BIG chocolate and coffee followed by the oaky bourbon booziness. So fucking good.

My beer of the festival, though, was Alpha State Vanilla Mocha Shake (10%) – Jesus fuck! This was absolutely incredible... a coffee and chocolate filled mocha with a sprinkling of vanilla at the end. It really was like a silky smooth milkshake and I could have actually drank multiple pints. WANT MORE NOW.


It was a great festival, with a really cool concept. I like not having to worry about spending money once I go in, but they could have ditched the whole token system entirely since I don’t think I even saw the brewery stands take one. They didn’t take any from me, simply asked “Big pour or small pour?” I also think some of the brewers could have been more engaging and excited about talking about their beer. Maybe it was better during one of the previous sessions.

But it was a good experience and I reckon I will return next year!


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

White Horse, Chedgrave (Burger Review)

The other Sunday Emily and I were on our way back to her house in Gorleston, from mine in Norwich and we were hungry. Not regular hungry but superhuman hungry. We decided to go the long way back instead of the straight route down the A47 so we could find a pub to go to for lunch. After passing several that didn’t look too appealing, I said to Emily to turn down towards Chedgrave/Loddon way as I recall going through there once and noticing several pubs.

We decided to stop at the first one we saw, The White Horse, as it had a rustic look yet there was also something modern about it. It turned out to be a good decision.

We parked up and walked past the pub’s own bowls green and past the families who were just finishing up lunch, with the kids running around and screaming because obviously the sugar in dessert and the copious amounts of coca cola was too much for them to handle.

We walked into the pub and up to the bar – there were a few hand pumps with Young’s Bitter, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, Woodforde’s Wherry & Adnams Bitter… so not a varied selection by any means. And then I noticed Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, which is always a delight, and to my surprise it was served in a rather fetching branded glass! Standard reporting here and it was just the usual suspects on keg. Emily just had a coke as obviously she was driving.

We sat down outside in a quiet corner by the back door, away from the children (or so we thought – after a while we discovered that the kids were constantly running in and out of the pub being rather annoying) and after a while we were given menus. We’d decided upon what we wanted and a different server came to take our order.

When I asked for “the burger please” I got a look of confusion followed by “Just a plain burger?” to which I replied “Y’know, the one on the menu with onions and bacon and cheese?” at which point she was leaning right over my shoulder try to look at the menu before it clicked… “Oh, that burger”.

Emily ordered the breaded plaice fillets with chips, mushy peas & tartare sauce which she was happy with. We also split a side of onion rings.
It was a handmade beef burger with caramelised red onions, bacon, gruyere & salad on a brioche bun with a side of red cabbage coleslaw, onion rings and crispy skin on chips.

Now here’s the thing – as nice as presentation was, I don’t want my burger served on a chopping board with the chips stood up in a wire basket making it impossible to put salt on them, or cover them in favourite combination of ketchup and mayo.

The chips were absolutely brilliant though – crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and just delicious. I would have preferred to be able to add sauce to them and while it’s true that I could have put them on the chopping board, there was very little space with everything else on!

The onion rings were possibly the best I’ve ever had – they were massive, filled with tangy, sweet onion with delightfully crunchy batter that wasn’t ridiculously greasy.

The burger, as you can see, was rather massive! I figured there was no way I could actually eat it in the way that burgers were designed for, by picking it up and biting. It was just too… filled with stuff, which isn’t a bad thing. I decided cutting it in half would help – it didn’t. I ended up eating it with a knife and fork and loved every second of it.

The sweet bun… the salty bacon and burger, the fresh salad underneath it and the gooey melted gruyere cheese helping it get that little bit unhealthier. Each bite was a delight quite simply and I left feeling so full!

Emily enjoyed her plaice fillets too and I wish I would have snuck a bite from her, but it wouldn’t have been fair since being a vegetarian she couldn’t have a bite of my burger!

The cost of our mains, a side between us, a pint of real ale and a coca cola was around £30 so basically what you’d expect to pay really. It was definitely worth it anyway.

Aside from minor annoyances like kids running around, and the waitress not knowing the menu, it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal and I will certainly return here if the opportunity arises!