USA! USA! North Bar’s American Beer Festival

Hey look. I’m writing a blog about beer and beers. There’s a novelty.

North Bar’s American beer fest ended yesterday. I wouldn’t be a proper beer enthusiast, or part time beer blogger, without going, or passing comment. So I went yesterday. And it was good.

Why was it good? Well, firstly I went with good, interesting friends, and we talked and chatted about all sorts. That was nice. Secondly, the beer was good.

American beer is, as any beer enthusiast will know, probably the most exciting kind of beer that there is. No, really. Get past all that crap mass-manufactured Budweiser crap and the Americans blow the socks off most of our beers. Their beers are just bigger, harder, faster, stronger, hoppier, mightier, weirder than ours. And that makes them exciting.

Most American double IPAs are designed to the point where, after one sip your taste buds are blasted and incapable of tasting anything but hop for at least three hours. Their stouts, porters and barley wines are big, strong, smokey and often around 10& abv. In short, their beers are interesting, experimental and often quite likely to surprise you.

Obviously I didn’t try anything like all the beers on sale at North Bar. If I did I’d be a) drunk and b) broke. See, American beers are generally a) quite strong and b) very expensive. They’re worth the abv and the £s though. And North Bar have been wise, The American stuff on tap was available in 1/3 pints. Perfect for a 9.6% £10 a pint beer. Let’s face it £3.30 is just about affordable, and if, you want to try something innovative, excititng and rare, well worth it.

So what did I have. Well, my I-am-socialising-so-therefore-won’t-make-tasting-notes-because-it-would-be-rude-anti-social-and-just-a-bit-weird rule meant I’m not entirely sure. I definitely have Sierra Nevada’s Big Foot barley wine. Just because I’ve never had it from keg before. Its very good on keg, smokey, not too sweet and treacley-thick. I also had a Hercules Double IPA, I’m not sure which brewery it’s from, but it was stunning IPA. Not strong enough to make your toes curl and face scrunch up, but balanced, beautifully drinkable and not tasting for a minute like it was over 10%.

I moved on to the fridges then. An Odell porter was surprisingly low in abv, and was a simple, no frills take on the style. Great, tasty and smokey, and not extreme at all, just balanced and tasty. Finally, I had Buckbean Orange Blossom Ale. Wow. It came in a can that made me look like an alcolohic tramp with special brew, but the flavour was stunning. The hops were prominent and dry, and the orange blossom gave it an amazing floral, citrus bitterness on top. A great way to finish the evening.

I’m afraid if you’re reading this now, you’ve missed North’s American beer festival, but it’s on at Further North RIGHT NOW. Go.

Do Molson Coors Make Better Beer Than Marble?

There was a bit of a furore on Twitter over the weekend.

No, not a furore, a heated debate.

No, not a heated debate, an exchange of opinions.

Ok, there was a discussion.

The tasting note maestro Baron_Orm aka The Ormskirk Baron decided to declare King Cobra, brewed by arch-beer villains Molson Coors (boo hiss!) as better than two beers by everyone’s favourite independents Marble Brewery and Thornbridge.

No really, he did, look here.

This upset a couple of people who couldn’t believe that a beer aficionado could prefer the product of  a big corporation to that of a small, independent company.

I’m falling on the Baron’s side here. While anyone can see the benefits of supporting a small independent company, surely good beer is good beer. I’ve not had King Cobra yet (feel free to send me some Molson Coors folk), but if I genuinely thought it was better than the likes of Raging Bitch or Jaipur, then I’d happily say so.

After all, while these big companies may sometimes be evil (driving others out of business, trying to dominate a marketplace) surely every brewery starts up wanting to be succesful and surely, brewing for these big companies are brewers with a passion and a talent for it – otherwise they’d never get a job making beer in the first place.

So, that’s about it. In summary, in my book good beer is good beer, regardless of where it’s come from.

NB – I should point out that both myself and The Baron do love the beers of Thornbridge and Marble, the point was merely raised because The Baron rated King Cobra 5/5 and some Marble and Thornbridge beers 4/5 (although he did give Jaipur the full 5/5)

A Blonde Barley Wine? Piraat

Piraat

Piraat - a beer to share

My lovely girlfriend picked us up a bottle of Piraat from Beer Ritz a few weeks back. It was on sale (probably because it passes its sell-by date this week, not that that really matters) and looked very appealing. A nice 750ml bottle, caged and corked and advertised as the closest that beer gets to white wine (I can’t quite remember what Zak’s actual wording was, but it was something like that).

We were planning a Friday night in, with food, talking and perhaps a couple of episodes of ‘Mad Men’, so we decided to crack open the Piraat – brewed by Van Steenberge – and see what it was like.

It’s very much a sharing beer, see. It weighs in at 10.5% and even half a bottle comes in at just under 3.9 units, which means that if you drink it, you officially become a dangerous drinker and will definitely assault someone and cost the NHS money. Or something like that.

The cork pops pleasingly as I remove it and it pours an amazingly vivid amber/gold colour with a vicious white head. You can smell it before your nose even gets that close. It’s a proper yeast funkiness that hits you, spiced and citrussy.

It’s described by some as a blonde barley wine, and you can see why. It’s as strong as a wine, its blonde and it has that vicious punch that is synonymous with the barley wine. It tastes bloody good too. It’s dry, it’s refreshing, it packs a real yeasty flavour that’s associated with Belgian beers, with loads of other flavours bubbling away underneath.

You get a bit of cereal flavours – almost a little bit like cornflakes, even, then that powerful punch from the level of alcohol. You stick on top of that some more wine-ish notes – grapes, lemon, orange, followed by more spice from the yeast. The finish even throws in some dried fruits, just as a pleasing farewell.

I’ll be popping open another one of these next time I’ve got an evening of beer sharing planned.

The cold’s come back: time for Gadds’ Oooks! Barley Wine

Gadds' Oooks! Barley Wine

Gadds' Oooks! Barley Wine

This Sunday just passed was bloody cold. It was lovely during the day as the sun beamed down upon us and we could get out and enjoy our weekend. But, as the great fiery ball began to set and the night drew in, we were cruelly reminded that it is, indeed, still winter (hell, it snowed in Manchester that day!). But the cold isn’t all bad. Yes, it nips at our toes and numbs our fingers, but it’s a fine excuse to break out those strong ‘winter warmers’.

Despite hankering for barley wine all winter long, I’ve not got round to drinking out yet this season, will not since a trip to North Bar where I found Sierra Nevada’s wonderful Big Foot (barrel-aged, no less!) on tap. That was back in September/October though.

Anyway, this preamble leads me to trying Gadds’ Oooks! (brewed by East Kent’s Ramsgate Brewery). I found this at Beer Ritz and since I was hankering for the barley wine I bought this bottle and a bottle of the same stuff barrel-aged. I’ll tell you about the barrel-aged stuff when I get round to supping it, but for now I’m on this stuff.

The first pour (in my fancy new glass from Alex at All Beer) looks promising. It’s rich and dark enough to be near, but not quite, black, with a nice (if slightly murky) head. Unfortunately, I think this bottle (or batch) may have been a bit spoiled [I notice Zak Avery feels similarly about his try of the barrel-aged stuff here, although he blames it on the barreling, so maybe I’m wrong – who knows?] the nose picks up a strong alcoholic kick and a sweet grapefruity note, but underlying it all is an unpleasant acidic tang.

The tang carries through on the taste a little afterwards. The lovely stuff you want from a barley wine is all there, that warm, mouth coating smoky thickness and almost creamy richness, but there’s an unpleasant tangy aftertaste lurking around waiting to spoil my fun. The bastard. Seeing past that though, that yummy caramel, malt and toffee flavours do just win out, it almosts tastes sticky.

Unfortunately that lingering bitterness means I can’t really fall for this beer. I’d give it another go, but it sounds like Beer Ritz’s got none left – what’s a boy to do? I do still, of course, have the barrel-aged cousin to try, but having read Zak’s post, I guess that’s set to upset me too. Damn.