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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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.

A Taste of America at The Angel’s Share, Leeds

So, last night as part of my super-mega-great job as food and drink editor of Leeds Guide magazine, I went out for a review meal at The Angel’s Share in Chapel Allerton. I shall say more about that in a moment. First, I will quickly mention that pre-Angel’s Share I popped in for a couple at Further North.

There, I found Marble’s Port Stout, a rich, deep, coffee-esque stout and is denser and richer than any stout weighing in under 5% should be. In short, great. Then, there was a half of Sierra Nevada’s Unrivalled.

Unrivalled is a special beer. It was designed by Christian, owner of North Bar, at the Sierra Nevada brewery and that means that North and its associated drinkeries get a good few kegs of the stuff. It’s a great beer and while at £6.20 a pint it’s not cheap (“one pound per percent” said our barman, referencing its 6.2% ABV) is a lovely smoky dark rye beer.

Anyway, that was all for starters. What I was going to write about was Angel’s Share. I shall leave the food, meal and ambience stuff to one of Leeds Guide‘s great writers Rob Wright, who accompanied me. I’m going to mention, in brief, the beers.

See, Angel’s Share have recently relaunched their second floor bar-restaurant as an American Grill (loadsa steaks and that) and in tandem with that, they’ve got some special American beers to complement the food. Hooray!

Knowing, as I do, that the drinks at Angel’s Share are largely selected by Jake of Jake’s Bar fame (who’ve been selling Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn lager by the bottle for ages) and the ultra-knowledgeable Chris of Latitude Wine, I thought what they’d offer would be good, and it was.

Is American craft brewing going to slowly start dominating the imported beer market over here? I think it’s possible. Selling for between £3.20 and £3.60 at Angel’s Share was: Blue Moon (which I personally think is a really average Hoegaarden rip off and, anyway, as @Kingwishbone points out, is only masquerading as craft beer and is actually brewed by Miller), Goose Island Honkers Ale, Anchor’s Liberty Ale, Brooklyn Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. So, we settled down with our steaks and got through a good few bottles.

It seems to me that if more and more bars across the city (and other cities) start stocking a choice selection of quality American beers, it’s only a matter of time before they start to challenge yer Peronis and Staropramens as the import beer of choice.

Let’s hope so.

You can read the review, by the lovely Rob Wright, here: http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/food-review/the-angels-share/13263

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.

It’s Christmas so: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2009

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and my Christmas tree

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and my Christmas tree

As anyone who’s ever been in a pub, wandered into an off license, or glanced at booze in a supermarket before, knows, Christmas always means loads of special Christmas beers. They’re often slightly red in colour, regularly have a stupid picture of Father Christmas on the pump clip or label and are a godsend to out of work pun writers. They’re also, more often than note, a wee bit stronger than a typical ale (normally English Christmas brews hit somewhere between 5% and 6%).

In other country’s, Christmas beers are something truly spectacular. Give Belgium’s De Dolle brewer’s Stille Nacht a go, or, best of all Gouden Carlous’ Christmas ale, or Bush Noel. In fact, just try some Belgium Christmas ales. They tend to be over 10%, pretty much pitch black and rich, roasty and spicy.

I have a Stille Nacht and Gouden Carlous Christmas in my cellar. But they’re being saved for Christmas day. But, this bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration was looking very tempting one cold December evening when I needed a winter warmer.

It pours (as many other festive beers do) a ruby red colour, with a nice creamy head.  The smell, well, there’s loads of hops in there, but also something Christmassy, it’s hard to put your finger on at first, but yep, this smells of pine, it’s like a Christmas tree in a beer. And that’s a good thing.

At 6.2% it packs the punch you would expect, with the initial hoppy bitterness cleansing the palette and allowing, again, for those piney flavours to lurk in, along with hints of red berries too. It’s a great beer for these cold December evenings, but doesn’t pack those deliciously over-the-top flavours that some Belgian Christmas beers go for – but then this is a very different kind of beer.

Caldera Pale Ale

A can of Caldera Pale Ale

A can of Caldera Pale Ale

The first thing you notice about this beer is that it’s IN A CAN. Surely no good beers come in a can these days. Look at the shelves of any respectable beer merchant and it’s all bottles and bottles. No cans.

Cans have connotations of nasty, cheap lager, not quality, hand-crafted ales. Yet one craft brewery in Oregon is making the stand for the can. Why, well there reasons are that cans protect the beer from light and oxidation – thus keeping a better quality of product when it comes out of the can and hits your tongue. So far so valid. They also claim that the can is less easy to break than glass (more on that later) and is lighter and more likely to be allowed in beaches, sports arenas and the likes, where bottles have long been banned.

That claim of cans being harder to break is disputable. This blog post has come some seven days later than it should have done. Why? Well because the first 355ml of Caldera Pale Ale ended up all over the street outside my house when my box of beers fell to the floor, resulting in four breakages from the 10 beers bought. Surprisingly enough, the can was one of the victims. We didn’t see that coming.

Turns out our pavement had a bit of a treat with this one. While the can makes this beer look more like some cheap fruity soft drink than a quality pale ale, the flavour tells you something quite different. On pouring the beer looks fantastically golden and clouded, with a bitter hoppy nose with hints of citrus.

The can suggests that you “keep [it] cool, just like you”. I’m not so sure. While serving it nice and cool means it’s thoroughly refreshing, with a sharp, bitter, crisp front and an intriguing floral (sagey perhaps?) flavour comes through, it’s only as the drink gains some heat that it shows off its real class, with a rich, warm malty flavour hitting in at the end – the kind of strength you’d expect from a 5.5% ale.

The old adage “never judge a book by its cover” comes into good use here. This can may not look like much – it looks pretty crap, if we’re honest, but the beer inside puts a number of more well-known American Pale Ales to shame. By far the best beer I’ve ever had out of a can.

355ml, 5.5%, for more info see www.calderabrewing.com. This beer is available at Beer Ritz.

My first post: American beer

The North Bar American Beer Fest poster Ok, so blog post number one.

Something you should no about me before I begin is that I have no “b” key on my keyboard and have to paste in a previously copied “b” everytime I want to write that blasted letter. Which is pretty frustrating went you want to write about beer, but there you go.

So, the poster to your left is an advert for North Bar’s American Beer festival. Which, frustratingly enough for everyone reading this, either ended last night – if you read this on the day of publishing – or finished some time ago. So sorry for not starting to blog sooner.

The festival was pretty good – a load of good American bottled beers, four different Flying Dog beers on tap in the UK for the first time ever (possibly) and an amazing 7.5% stout called Johnny Cask – a tribute to Johnny Cash.

Beer fans will presumably have loved it. A whole host of beers they may never have tried before (getting hold of a lot of this stuff in the UK is night on impossible, apparently). But this really was one for the enthusiasts only. Why? Because of the price.

See, American beers are traditionally brewed in American, which is normally quite a long way away from us. This poses a problem: how do you get the beer over the Atlantic without making it go all rubbish. There are two solutions.

1) Pasteurise the beer – this is the cheapest solution, but it would damage the flavours of the beer, and them American craft brewers won’t want to do that – and understandably so.

2) Refrigerate the beer for the entire journey – this means the beer still tastes good. But as you might imagine, keeping something refrigerated as it crosses the Atlantic isn’t cheap.

So, the brewers used solution two and, as such, the beers in North all came in at over £3 per bottle (ranging up to over £8, but they were usually for imperial pints, which is a lot of beer) and between £6 and £8 for a pint. Now, I’m happy to pay those prices for a quality, interesting drink. But, let’s face it, I’m in a minority here, and most people will probably opt for something cheaper and just as good (or often better) from somewhere nearer by. Say, Germany or Belgium – and North stock a great range of beers from both countries.

Luckily, I have a few bottles of American beers at home – some Brooklyn stuff and some Victory stuff. If I’m in the mood, I might write about them when I try them. Watch this space.

For now though, I wager North still have a few of the American beers kicking around if you want to give them a go, an if not the amazing Beer Ritz in Headingley will have some, I’m sure. They may be pricey, but if beer’s your thing, give them a go. But maybe stick to halves?