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.

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Flying Dog Raging Bitch

Every beer blog worth it’s salt has written about the dreadfully named and dreadfully tasty Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA.

I’ve not got round to it yet, but I’m drinking a bottle for the first time right now, while watching the USA lose to Ghana.

It’s a bloody good beer. Not intensely bitter too the point where the toe-curling hop blast dominates, and beneath that dryness, it’s all tropical fruits and sweetness – like bubblegum, and those yellow and orange striped sweets you used to get.

It’s very good. Incase you haven’t tried it yet, make sure you do.

ReetGood Rides the Zeitgeist: Thornbridge’s Halcyon

Thornbridge's Halcyon

Thornbridge's Halcyon

My blog ain’t usually at the forefront for beer related news, or reviews of the newest concoctions, bottles or brewing methods. It’s more just me occasionally rambling about stuff I’ve drunk, when I get round to drinking it.

For example, I’ve not yet reviewed Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, when every other bugger has. I will drink it some time and review it then, but I’ve not got round to it yet.

But this time I’m writing about a beer only a matter of days since everyone else has. Which is novel. Zak Avery wrote about it here, Real Ale Reviews kind of did it here and HopZine did it here. Others have banged on about it too.

What is it (if you haven’t followed the link yet)? It’s Thornbridge Brewery‘s Halcyon. Why are people writing about it? Well, because 1) it tastes good, 2) it smells good, 3) it has a nice attractive bottle (look at my photo) and 4) it’s quite novel in terms of brewing.

Most beers dry hop (i.e. used dried hops for hop flavour/nose), while Halcyon is hopped with fresh hops (from Mr Capper’s farm, Hertfordshire, no less). This method probably does all kind of smart, chemically things to the beer to make it taste good, the main thing for me though, is that this beer tastes fresh, the hops taste ripe, vibrant and, because I can’t think of a better word, zingy. It’s dry, bitter and also has a long, lurking fruitiness that picks up on about every tropical fruit you could ever desire. Plus a lovely warm, refreshing pineyness.

Which is all very nice.

As Zak pointed out in his lovely video blog, this beer isn’t quite perfect, there’s quite a lot of, erm, “gunk” in it from the hops. But then I’m not a massively discerning individual. The gunk don’t bother me, and I can deal with it for making such a great tasting beer.

Finally, I should mention why I decided to pop this bottle open in such a timely manner. It’s not to be newsworthy, or interesting. It’s because I figured it’d be a lovely bottle of beer and, therefore, a bloody great way to celebrate LEEDS UNITED GETTING PROMOTED TO THE BLOODY CHAMPIONSHIP! HOORAH!

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.

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.

Book Review: Pete Brown’s ‘Hops & Glory’

Hops and Glory

Hops and Glory

I’ve been quite a fan of Pete Brown’s writing for sometime. A friend recommended that I buy Man Walks Into A Pub, so I did.  Before I’d finished that, I ordered Three Sheets To The Wind and halfway through that, I decided to go for the hattrick and order Hops & Glory before it sold out. It has now sold out.

Why do I like Brown’s writing? Easy. It’s funny. It’s informative. It’s chatty. It’s witty. He teaches you stuff about beer’s history, about drinking cultures throughout time and across the world, but it’s hardly ever dry, it’s never too tedious in its detail, but also never skims over things at such a pace that you feel you need to learn more to get at what he’s talking about.

Obviously as a beer writer and lover I’m pretty much the target audience of this book, but I believe that it could be appreciated by anyone who enjoys historic or travel books. I’ve never met Pete (although I have spoken to him over the phone before), but you can’t help but feel from his books that he’d be a great man to have a pint with. I bet everyone who reads his books feels the same way. That’s probably part of what he’s going for.

Oh yeah, in a book review you’re meant to say a  bit about what the book’s about, aren’t you? In short, it’s a travel book that sees Pete try to recreate an original IPA, down to the recipe and the journey it takes from Burton to India. It’s also a well-researched history of IPA and the East India Company. It’s also very entertaining, packed with great, well written characters, funny asides. It also makes you want to drink loads of IPAs (hence the recent IPA reviews on this blog, and the pile of bottles in my cellar).

I’d wager at least half the people who read this blog will own and will have read this book.  The other half of you should get it too. Although you’ll have to wait till it comes out in paperback in the summer.

Pete Brown‘s blog is here, and very good it is too.

Another IPA: Brooklyn East India Pale Ale

Brooklyn EIPA

I pinched this photo from the web. I hope that's ok!

Yep, that bloody Pete Brown fella is still making me thirsty for IPA. He’s currently engrossed in trawling through HSC facts and figures about alcohol consumption but I, personally, would like to see a graph showing number of copies of Hops & Glory sold, versus number of pints/bottles of IPA bought.

I know my local bars and ale emporiums will have seen a small spike since I started reading this damn book. It is a great book though and something about the way Brown describe drinks makes me thirsty for them in a way most other writers don’t quite manage. What is it about his writing? I don’t know. But it’s bloody good.

But the problem with such a good writer banging on about IPA, is that it makes it pretty pointless for me to give you some half-arsed, 100 word summary of IPA that’d just be pilfered from his book anyway. So, I’m not going to bang on anymore about the history of IPAs. So there.

So, this Brooklyn East India IPA. It’s brewed by those chaps at Brooklyn Brewery, who make reliably good, and often great beers. Their chocolate stout is a real standout stout, and their basic bogstandard bottled beer is actually anything but basic. It’s a treat.

It’s, unsurprisingly, inspired by the recipe for the beers that George Hodgson brewed to send across the world to India in the 1820s (that’s the history lesson done, kids) and uses British malt.

And this EIPA is pretty good. Yep, pretty good, but it fails to be quite great. Why? Well it kind of falls short of having real pizzaz when compared to other IPAS on the market, like Crown Brewery’s stunning Unpronounceable IPA (read more).

It pours a nice slightly golden bronze colour with a slight white head. The nose takes some real gulping before you get beyond them hops that you’d expect with an IPA then, lurking in the background is a slight caramel maltly sweetness.

Drinking though, it’s odd. First it’s hops and hops and hops, all pepper and spice, but perhaps not as many as you might expect (or want). It certainly does haven’t the attack that some other beers can boast. Underlying that, the sweetness on the nose comes back again, it’s deep and caramel and for some reason recalls a Belgian tripel for me. I think maybe my tongue was having an odd day.

Then, lurking somewhere deep down, I swear I could just get a hint of wood, maybe oak. Am I just making this up because real IPAs of the past will have spent ages in barrels? Quite possibly, perception is a funny old thing.

So what’s lacking? Maybe more hops? Maybe a more complex flavour? Or am I just getting so used to fancy experimental beers (I don’t like the term ‘extreme beers’) that I’m getting all snobby about simpler beers (but then I loved a couple of bottles of Kelham Island beers I had recently, and they weren’t odd in any way).

It’s a solid, tasty beer, but, given the choice between EIPA and some of the other IPAs out there in the big wide world, I’ll probably leave the EIPA on the shelf.