Is Beer The New Wine? This One Is: Chardonnayle

Harry's Bar

Harry's Bar, pinched from BeerInTheEvening.Com, making the pub look more picturesque than it actually is

There have been mutterings on various blogs about whether beer is the new wine, can be the new wine, or even if it wants to be the new wine. No-one seems to have asked it yet, but I guess that it’s not too fussed either way. You can read bits of the debate on Woolpack Dave’s blog here and Pete Brown’s blog here.

I have more or less conclusive evidence that beer not only CAN be the new wine, but IS. I give you exhibit A – Chardonnayle.

You what?

Yep, Chardonnayle.

What’s Chardonnayle? Well, I can’t tell you too much. I ordered a half of it for my girlfriend at Harry’s Bar in Wakefield – an Ossett Brewery (leading the Real Ale Revolution, apparently) pub – and it seems to be one of the brewery’s own beers. However, internet research pulls up a few conflicting bits of information. It was, it seemed, brewed at the Red Lion brewery, Ossett, which later became Bob’s Brewery (FUN  BEER FACT: I used to live across the road from the titular Bob).

All this waffling and barely researched bollocks is introducing a truly interesting (although not necessarily truly good) beer – Chardonnayle.

It’s presented with a pump clip that looks like a fancy wine label. This 5.1% beer smells slightly of lavender and elderflower and the taste is really crisp, barely bitter at all and with loads of grape-ish fruity flavours. I didn’t really like it, my girlfriend was quite keen, but the woman next to me was drinking it pint after pint, so she liked it.

While most of my internet research on this subject has been sketchy to say the least, one thing I have found is the notes about this multi-award winning beer. They are from this rather odd Wakefield CAMRA website for Bob’s Brewery and they explain what’s gone into this beer. They say this:

“complex stylish strong pale ale with hints of lemongrass & fruits like Chardonnay wine, with Willamette hops for aroma”

Which explains not very much, really.

I don’t have much to add, apart from noting that Chardonnayle is actually a registered trademark, and is worth trying for interest, if nowt else.

Homebrew For Dummies

Home Brewery

Home Brewery (NB not Brian's kit)

My girlfriend gets regular mentions on here for buying me nice beer related gifts. One of (probably the) best has been homebrew course that I went on this weekend just gone.

Run by a nice Brummie chap called Brian, this homebrew course, in Hove Edge Brighouse, is run without any pretension. Brian is not an expert brewer. He has never brewed commercially, or industrially. What matters is that his homebrew beers, made in his kitchen using pretty basic equipment, are good (good but not exceptional).

The purpose of the course isn’t to set people up to make the extreme beers of Stone or Brewdog, nor the exceptional smart ones of Thornbridge or Sierra Nevada. The aim here is to get passed the scarily scientific language of homebrew books, instil years of experience into new homebrewers and, in essence, just to show you how to do a basic mash homebrew and get beyond those rather uninspiring cans.

It does pretty much exactly what you’d want. Brian talks you through the process from weighing the malt, to mashing the malt, to boiling, to the various ways of bottling and barrelling. We brewed a Moorhouse Pendle Witch and a darker, stronger off the top of our leader’s head. Obviously the time it takes to brew means that we didn’t get try the beers (they’re still brewing at the moment), but the samples of other Hove Edge beers, showed Brian to be a proficient brewer.

The company wasn’t bad either, a couple of brothers from down south, a pair of mates from Chester and, best of all, two very funny, very enthusiastic Irish vets, intent on giving up the business and setting up a brewery under the questionable name of ‘The Horny Brewers’. While I’m not sure about the moniker, their passion was great and their desire to create heavily Belgian influenced beers won my approval.

Has it worked with me? Well, yes. I’ve made one tin-based homebrew before and wasn’t too fussed by it. With the information from this course behind me, all I know need is £100 worth of equipment (which isn’t very much when you consider how cheap it makes brewing beer) and a free weekend. I’m on it, and I’ll share the results of my brews here when I get round to it.

You can find out about and book onto the very reasonably priced (£40 for two days) course here. On top of brewing lessons, over the two days, there’s loads of beers to try, lunch and an infinite supply of tea and coffee.

WOAH! The UK Launch of Dogfish Head.

Dogfish Head

Dogfish Head

This should be brief. Maybe it won’t end up being so, but it should be.

Last night was, as the post’s imaginative title suggests, The UK Launch of Dogfish Head. Maybe I’m lazy, but I can never be arsed telling you all about some exciting brewery. They’ve all got websites that will tell you more than I know. In the case of this Delaware brewery (see I told you a little) you can find out loads more here. That’s easy.

What I will tell you is that while it seems the US can’t get enough of DFH (technically the F shouldn’t be there, but it looks better), we’re stuck, well, not being able to get enough of it. Until very recently (yesterday) we’ve got dribs and drabs every now and then. It’s been very pricey and unreliable in its attendance behind bars and on shelves.

Lucky for us, the good folk at Leeds based beer importer Vertical Drinks (guys, if you ever need a new employee, I’m yer man) decided that enough was enough and they were bloody well going to get DFH over here. So now we have it. It was that easy.

So, folk in Leeds can buy their DFH at North Bar and Beer Ritz now. And probably some other places now. Do they want it though?

The evidence of last night suggests that bloody hell, yes they do. There were some 40-50 people paying the very reasonable £25 per head to be at the launch at The Cross Keys in Leeds, and try the beer with food as paired by The Cross Key’s bloody good chefs. I’ve posted the menu before here, it looks bloody tasty. And it was.

I’m not going to describe all the beers (they probably do that on the DFH website). I will give you the edited highlights though.

What We Drank: 60 & 90 min IPA, Raison D’Etre, India Brown Ale, Paolo Santa Marron and one special extra

Best Beer: India Brown Ale (hoppy and malty all at once, really rich, chewy and a little sweet)

Best Beer and Food Pairing: 60 Minute IPA and devilled sprats (that means spicy whitebait) – the spice and hops was perfect, and the crisp freshness of the IPA was refreshing and cleansing after them smelly fisheys.

Best Bit of The Evening: Well, we’d all worked out we were going to try Life & Limb long before we were actually told. But yeah, we got to try Life & Limb, the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and DFH. Unfortunately I got about 25mls of the stuff (we have 4 out of 12 bottles in the UK, so sharing was a must, and my pour was stingier than most). I’m not moaning, but after so much food, that wasn’t really enough to give it a proper judgement. Zak Avery is loads better at that than me. He tells you all you need to know here.

What I Learnt: I still love owt that’s packed full of hops, India Brown Ale is loads nicer than it sounds, I should take photos and make notes more, more girls come to beer tasting events than you’d think, sharing five bottles of beer (three per table of seven) still gets you nicely pissed if they range from 6-12%, Venision Faggots, despite having a name that can no-longer be said without a guilty titter, are well nice, Parkin is the best kind of cake there is.

Will I Be Buying DFH Now: Damn right I will. Especially the 90 Minute IPA and the India Brown Ale

Am I Going To Stop Writing This Now: Yes. Night.

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest; Four Months Too Late

Why haven’t I already drunk this? Erm, I don’t know.  I bought this beer at the start of October at the recommendation of Zak Avery at Beer Ritz (he told me it was the best Oktoberfest beer they had in, despite it being from Sheffield, and not Germany, which seemed like a good recommendation to you). I’d meant to drink it in October, surely the prime time to drink an Oktoberfest beer, but didn’t. Then November passed by, then December, and so on…

So, it’s sat in my cellar for months now, and Stu, the man behind Crown Brewery (which I’ve written and ranted and raved about before), warned me last week that it might not be over-conditioned and past it best.

It seemed only right that I crack it open as soon as I can. So I do.

And while I leave you awaiting the result, I’ll quickly mention that this isn’t an Oktoberfest beer in the ultra-pure, straight and drinkable Pilsner/lager way. This is an authentic marzen-style rauchbier. Apparently. I’d comment on how authentic it actually is, but I’ve no idea what a marzen-style rauchbier is. Read on and you’ll see what I think.

The opening is spectacular. Rob at Hopzine warned me that this beer was pretty lively way back in October when, like a sensible man, he drank it. To say that this bottle was lively would be something of an understatement.

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest 2009

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest 2009

I put my bottle opener to this in the middle of my kitchen. My arm now smells off Smokin’ Oktoberfest. My kitchen floor’s a bit sticky and smelly and my bottle, after pouring a nice little glass, is half empty (as you can see in this picture her). Yep. This was a true explosion. My sink and floor are a lucky pair of bastards.

Thankfully, none landed anywhere near my tea that this was designed to go with. I’d cooked up a butternut squash and chestnut risotto, and figured that the chestnuts would work well with this beer.

As the name suggests, this is smoky and chewy, full of rich, earthy roasty malt flavours. It’s got a bit of caramel there, and lovely long refreshing finish. And while the nose and first impression of the taste is prominently smoked (not unlike Bavarian ham) it’s not overwhelming. The plan with the meal was that surely roast flavours and chestnuts must work well together?

The good news was that it really bloody does. So much so that I don’t resent nearly half of it messing up my floor and bubbling merrily down my sink. Alas, I don’t think you can get any bottles of this anymore. Maybe they’ll make more for next Oktoberfest? If they do I’ll drink it in October. I promise.

An Aside That Want Awry: On Michael Jackson (the Beer Hunter, not the singer)

This was going to be a post about Crown Brewery’s Smokin’ Oktoberfest with a lengthy aside. Now the aside has become a ramble, so I’m going to give this a post of itself, and give you the beer notes later. Carry on.

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Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium

Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium

I’m going to start with an aside, maybe two, or even three. In short, I’m going to have a bit of a babble here. Why? Well because it’s my bloody blog and I don’t have to worry about reader numbers, sales and all that (apart from Wikio rankings, natch, check out my proud #65, right at the bottom of the pack).

I’ve recently been reading a lot of the great Michael Jackson’s (the drinker, not the singer) Great Beers of Belgium book, on top of that, I’ve been reading selected prose by Woody Allen. I know that Jackson is held in great regard, nay, reverence, by much of the beer writing community, but I’m not sure about this book.

Ok, so that’s quite a bold statement (tantamount to heresy for some, I’d wager). Sure, he was one of the first people to really write about and promote great beer, to talk extensively about food and beer pairings, and he may have introduced a lot of us to the wonders (for they are many) of Belgian beer. But, for a man with such a passion for that lovely stuff, this book doesn’t really display it.

The reason I mentioned Woody Allen before, is because his writing is vivid, lurid and flies along (and I was reading it on the bus just before I started writing). He’s a man with a love of words and language, and you can feel it, but The Great Beers of Belgium reads more like a text book with a few nice emotional touches than the words of a man filled with lust and desire for all the astounding delights available in Belgium. Sure, it’s a better text book than most, and still a pretty good read, but I just don’t feel any emotion from the man as I read it. And that’s what I wanted.

But maybe he’s not the one to blame. There are so many of us buggers writing about beer today that we’re spoilt for choice. When Jackson first wrote this book, I’d wager that tasting notes for beer were scant and seldom read. Now the internet’s full of the bloody things and only a few people with a pizazz for the writing of them can make them shine as thrilling works of journalism (NB I’m NOT including myself in this list), others, while very good and enjoyable, would not make a must read book if printed out, stapled together and sold with a nice cover.

Now I’m going to hold my hands up here and admit that I’ve not read any thing else by Jackson, yet. I have seen some of his ‘Beer Hunter’ TV series though and love that. Maybe elsewhere what I find lacking in this book may be apparent. Or maybe the world of beer writing has hurried along and left Jackon’s books a bit dated. Please tell me, recommend me pieces of his to read, I will happily retract the above if I just need to come in from a different angle on his work.

Anyway, enough upsetting of Jackson and every blogger who reads this, I’m off to write some tasting notes on Crown Brewery’s Smokin’ Oktoberfest, and yes, I know, I’m kinda contradicting my argument up there by running off and doing some tasting notes. But I don’t care. I like doing it.

MORE IPAs: Sierra Nevada Torpedo

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

I may have stopped reading Hops & Glory now (I gave it a review, of sorts, here, see) but I’m still blaming Pete Brown for all my IPAs. Him and the American craft brewers. And the increasing number of great UK brewers who keep making great IPAs. If you all keep making IPAs, I’ll keep reading about them, and keep wanting to try them, and before I know it I’ll have turned into a hop. Or at least sweat hoppy aromas. And that would just make me want to drink IPAs even more.

Yup, if any kind of beer can ever be en vogue it’s definitely the IPA, and the trend seems to be, the hoppier the better. There’s an increasing trend round serious beer drinkers to want hops, and nowt delivers hops like an IPA. The next beer on my incredible IPA adventure is Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, which isn’t just an IPA, it’s an EXTRA IPA. That’s an IPA-plus. What’s extra, I’m not certain, but I’m going to guess it’s hops.

This beer is just plain silly. I love it, but it’s silly. It’s just hops and hops and hops and hops and hops. And it’s great. And I wish that bottle I bought from Beer Ritz wasn’t the last bloody one. Hopefully they’ll get more in soon. I know them good folks at Vertical Drinks are trying to bring more and more American beer over here.

I guess it’s traditional for a beer review to say a little more that ‘OMG I LUV THIS! HOPS! LOL!’, which is kind of what I’ve done so far. So I’ll say some more.

This is a great beer. It’s awesomely hoppy (using whole-cone American hops) and most of the flavour you get in this beer is from the hops. Citrus, grass, pine, pineapple, maybe all hit your nose. And it’s a proper hit on your nose. You can smell it from across the room, nearly (well at least from 10cm away).

And then you drink it, and yep, that bitter piney hop flavour is all over, but, and this is the important bit, it’s well-balanced. There’s other stuff there. A sweet malty, a creamy texture, loads of grapefruit and the spicy bitter aftertaste that I swear I still got a bit of the next morning (despite my industrial flavour mouthwash). Needless to say, it’s a long finish.

By way of a disclaimer, of sorts, I kinda knew I would love this before I even tried it. Sierra Nevada are pretty reliably awesome. I love IPAs, this was, as I think I already mentioned an EXTRA!!!! IPA. What’s not to love. Maybe my preconceptions and hopes swayed me. Or maybe this is just a really great beer.

In conclusion. I love this beer, it’s dead hoppy. Which is what I like. The end.

German Attack: Paulaner, Erdinger & Franziskaner

Christmas really loaded me up with beers. Firstly, I bought loads of good stuff in for the season, which I didn’t actually finish all of, and then loads of lovely friends and family bought me plenty of booze too. Hoorah!

Here, we find a post covering three German beers which came in a box of assorted British ales and German beers of all types. Unfortunately much of the British stuff was drunk with a friend one evening, and, as I’ve said, I don’t like many notes when I’m socialising. It’s rude, and I like catchy up with my chums. So they may never get the Reet Good treatment. Pity them, dear reader.

What I have tried and noted down though are three of the Germans. I’ll do it in chronological order. And, sorry to keep making snide jokes about the current neo-prohibitionist trends, but anyone who’s worried about my drinking can rest assured that I drank these on three separate nights (not even consecutive ones) and I even shared one of them. I could be the poster boy for the new movement if they’d like (just don’t tell them that I spend Monday night judging a cocktail competition before trailing round a couple of Leeds’ best cocktail bars sampling their wares, ok?).

So yes, Germany. Famously home of the pilsner and also home of the Reinheitsgebout (aka German beer purity law) which specified that the only three ingedients allowed in beer were water, barley and hops (this was before people were smart enough to understand what yeast was and that it was, y’know, quite important to making beer. I love it that people used to call years godisgoode before they really understood what happened). So all these beers are going to be samey, crisp, refreshing and nowt else, right?

Paulaner Original Munchen Hell

Paulaner

Nope. My drinking did, however, start with a very traditional lager. The Paulaner Original Munchen Hell. Hell was the name given to pale lagers in Germany, original means first. So therefore this is a traditional German lager.

It’s bloody good, too. While it’s true that it lacks the intense flavours of most other beer styles, this is a properly light, refreshing, eminently drinkable lager. It’s straw coloured, the nose gives you citrus and honey and nice sweet things like this and to drink it’s just cool, crisp, refreshing with a little lingering hop bitterness. I’ll be having more of this in the summer, no doubt.

Erdinger Dunkel

Erdinger Dunkel

Moving on a few days later and it was a cold night and I decided to break out the Erdinger Dunkel. They used to have this on tap at North Bar permanently. Maybe they still do now, and before I really knew much about beer, this was always my drink of choice. I remember it being rich and malty and just the right bitterness.

Out of this bottle, though, something was not quite right. On the nose, it smelt disarmingly like my functionable, but otherwise utterly unexceptionable first batch of homebrew. Tasting it, it was better than my homebrew, but not much better. Now, I’m not trying to big up my homebrew here, this bottle was properly disappointing. It had a slight damp cardboardy taste and smell to it, other than that, there wasn’t much there. Had something gone wrong somewhere down the line, or is this a beer for drinking on tap only? I’d be interested in someone could enlighten me. Or, maybe, my homebrew’s just awesome. Or my taste for beer has changed so much that something I once loved not tastes limp. Who knows?

Franzikaner Weissbier Kristall Klar

Franzikaner Weissbier Kristall Klar

I seem to have accidentally saved the best for last. I’ve always enjoyed Franzikaner when I’ve bought it at a very reasonably price from Morrison’s. It was reliable, flavourful and refreshing. I’d never seen Franskinaer’s Weissbier Kristall Klar sister though. I was excited to try it.

So what is Kristall Klar? Well it seems to be the yeast-less, filtered, clear version of the original Franzikaner. It smells amazing, sweet and wheaty with hints of banana, clove, passion fruit and pineapple – loads of tropical fruit infact.

Drinking it, it proves just as sweet, perhaps even lacking in bite, if you’re going to be critical. It’s not a connoseuirs beer, I’ll give you that, but it’s refreshing and just very tasty and light. Almost dessert-ish, but crisp, not sticky, and nice long lager finish. It’s not complex, but just nice. Very nice. And that’s why I like it.