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.

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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.

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.

Meantime IPA

 

Meantime IPA

Meantime IPA

It’s become a habit of mine to wander over to the beer isle in every supermarket I visit. Why? Well because as much as I love going to wonderful little beer shops and great independent bars, it’s a sad fact of life that supermarkets are really, really cheap. Yes, they may not give the supplier a good deal, and yes, they are responsible for small independent traders struggling. But sometimes I just can’t afford to pay full whack for quality beer, so I have to swallow that feeling of guilt and go ahead and buy.

 

I’m telling you this, because on a recent visit to Sainsbury’s, I chanced across a deal on 750ml bottles on Meantime IP and Meantime London Porter. Two for £7. A bargain. So I bought them.

The back of the bottle of IPA said “enjoy with hot food and spicy friends, or vice versa”, so as my girlfriend and I got making a lovely butternut squash curry, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to break out the IPA. So I did.

A quick not on IPAs. If you buy, say, Green King IPA, or Deuchars, as nice as they can be, they’re not real traditional IPAs. Real IPAs were strong (this one clocks in at a respectable 7.5%) and full of hops. Why? Well because these India Pale Ales were, as the name suggests, going to India. The strong alcohol content and oodles of hops meant it had more chance of staying preserved on the long journey to our colonialist countrymen.

Now, most IPAs are drunk in England, so there is no need for all the extra stuff, but good brewers (and Meantime is a good brewer, they won the 2008 British Guild of Beer Writers Brewer of the year, so it’s official) still make proper IPAs because they’re just really, really good and that.

This one’s a treat. It smells of cloves, cardamon and banana, it pours a deep golden, almost copper colour. Like any beer worth its salt though, the taste is the real joy. The hops hit you full in the face, but not too strong, more like a sobering slap than a knockout punch (if you want a knockout punch try Brewdog’s Punk IPA).

The uncompromising hops are bitter, dry and refreshing – what you’d want in India, I guess – and underneath, those spicy, fruity flavours linger on, a treat after the initial attack. And then the finish is smooth and oakey.  You could almost believe it has spent the last few months in a barrel in the middle of the ocean.

And as for that butternut squash curry, that was a delight too, and the dry hops and spicy cardamon flavours worked a treat with it. I’ll be doing that again.

Read about Meantime here

Crown Brewery – Wheat Stout, Unpronouncable IPA – My Word, What A Brewery

Wheat Stout

Wheat Stout

Time to fess up. Were it not for the splendid Zak Avery at Beer Ritz I would probably never have heard of Crown. I was skulking around his shop looking for some choice Oktoberfest ales, and Crown’s Smokin Oktoberfest – despite being from Sheffield which, last I checked, is nowhere near Germany – was, so I was told the pick of the bunch.

I believed Zak (well, you have to believe someone who’s an award-winning beer writer, right?) and bought the beer. It’s still in my cellar (read: damp basement) now, waiting for the right time to be supped. But it that time, the aforementioned Avery shoved a bottle of their Wheat Stout in my hand, and also recommended the Unpronouncable IPA. I got both, drank my Wheat Stout last night and have an Unpronouncable IPA by my side right now.

And thank bloody god that I do. This is good stuff.

So who are Crown Brewery? It’s a microbrewery from Sheffield (as I’ve already told you) based in the cellar of the city’s Hillsborough Hotel.  It’s name comes from another brewery that once existed on the other side of the road in the 1930s.  It got a new lease of life in 2006 when new owners took over the pub and brewery, and since July 2007 they’ve employed the services of Stuart Ross, formerly of Acorn and Kelham Island breweries.

I’ll start with the Wheat Stout (because I’m still savouring the IPA now).  It starts promising, pouring out a rich, deep black, with a dark, creamy head.  It doesn’t take much for the nose to get impressed either – it comes out all powerful and surging with bitter coffee and dark chocolate forcing its way up the nostrils.

It promises for an impresive stout, and as its sips, it delivers as you would expect. The longest-lasting and most prominent flavour is liquorice, a whole heap of liquirice, but those chocolate and coffee notes kick in too, while the powerful, warming finish is biscuity – digestive biscuity to be precise.

The Unpronouncable is, I assumed so called because its a hefty – or,if you will, traditional 7%. That’s a little closer to what the original IPAs were meant to be (they had to be strong to surive the crossing to India, see). Certainly a great deal of words could become muddled, stumbled over and generally tough to say after a couple of bottles of this.

Just because it’s pretty strong doesn’t mean that this ain’t subtle. Have no doubt, this a clever beer. After appreciating the golden colour and lovely creamy head, the first thing you get is blackberries. Yep, blackberries. Thanks, so the brewery say to their Bramling Cross hops,  this is a gloriously fruity beer designed, in the brewery’s own words as “a nice adversary to the super-hopped US-style IPAs”. They succeed in doing so. Yep, this is nicely bitter – but not overly so.  And once you’ve got your head round those lovely fresh blackberry flavours (help, no doubt, by Crown’s insistence on bottle conditioning), you get a slight bitter apple finish. Is there a better combination of flavours for the autumn?

The best bit of all this (for me) is that I still have the Oktoberfest beer to try. I shall my thoughts on that when it’s opened.

Have a look at the brewery

BrewDog Punk Monk

BrewDog Punk Monk

BrewDog Punk Monk

Delving into the details of BrewDog barely seems worthwhile. Most people who read this blog (if any of you do, anyone?) will know what these two Scottish lads do by now. In short: two friends in Scotland, love for beer, good eye for marketing, set up brewery make some damn interesting experimental beers (and some damn good easier drinking ones too), get some hype around them, and have an award winning brewery.

In shorter, good on ’em, the boys done good.

Punk Monk is one of their newer brews (although it’s hard to keep up with the volume of beer [and column inches] they’re creating). It’s an IPA, brewed with Belgian yeast. An interesting proposal and yep, it’s pretty special.

It pours a sparkling shimmering gold,  pretty beautiful, really. As it cascades out of the bottle you can hardly help but smell it.  You get citrus (especially grapefruit),  melon, spice and a slight sugary sweetness. That great aroma punches stronger that the flavour – which isn’t to say it doesn’s taste great. Loads of fruit still, some yeast, maybe a bit of caramel too.  But it doesn’t hold long enough in the finish and let’s down a little at the end.  Yet what the finish lacks in deep flavours, it makes up for with a spicey, tingling send off that leaves you wanting more. And even that slight let down at the end is only because the initial promise seems so great.

Love ’em or loathe ’em (of just get a bit a wound up at their ability to stir up the beer-lovin’ blogosphere), this beer shows why everyone got worked up about BrewDog in the first place. Bloody good beer with an innovative, forward-thinking eye for flavours.

Buy this here

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?