Monday, 16 August 2010

Beer from Croatia

At the end of one of my tastings at the Great British Beer Festival I was approached by a man who identified himself as Matt Hollingsworth, an American working in Croatia where he brews his own beer as the local offerings are not up to much.
He gave me a bottle of the dauntingly-named Caligula, an Imperial Stout brewed on the anniversary of the Roman Emperor's murder: he was the tyrant who made his horse a senator.
The beer is 8.5% alcohol and is brewed with Maris Otter pale malt, roasted barley, crystal malt, carafa 2 and chocolate malt, and hopped with Northdown for bitterness and Cascade and East Kent Goldings for aroma and flavour. When I raised a quizzical eyebrow at this impressive list of ingredients, Matt said he had no problem getting supplies sent to Croatia.
I've given my liver a week to recover from GBBF and drank Caligula (so to speak) last night. The cynics among you may hope it tasted like horse piss but it's an absolute delight, with great depth of flavour and rich notes of roasted grain, coffee, liquorice and peppery hops. It tastes as good as any commercial brew.
And -- sorry -- you can't compare notes because it's home brew. But I will happily pass on Matt's email address to anyone planning to visit Croatia.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Devil buys the King

De Koninck, the iconic Antwerp brewery, has been bought by Duvel Moortgat, best known for its strong golden ale, Duvel -- Devil in Flemish. De Koninck -- the name means the King -- has been struggling with a declining market share and has been looking for a business partner. There were rumours a few weeks ago that Heineken was interested in taking over De Koninck and the agreement with Duvel Moortgat of Breendonck will be met with a sigh of relief by beer lovers.
De Koninck is considered to brew the finest interpretation of pale ale in Belgium, a beer served in Antwerp in a legendary glass known as a Bolleke or little goblet. The arrangement with Duvel Moortgat is similar to the one reached between Palm, Belgium's biggest ale brewer, and Rodenbach, the producer of sour red beer. There were concerns at the time that the Rodenbach plant would close but Palm has invested large sums in the brewery at Roeselare, new brands have been introduced and pubs bought.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Top parliamentary award for Thornbridge

The innovative Thornbridge Brewery in Derbyshire won the coveted Brewer of the Year award from the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Club at the club's annual dinner in London on 14 July. The brewery was based at Thornbridge Hall but moved last year to a custom-built new site outside Bakewell, where it can produce 20,000 barrels a year. One year later, owner Jim Harrison is already planning to install two new fermenting vessels to keep up with demand.
Thornbridge is best known for its Jaipur IPA and St Petersburg imperial stout. The brewery has also been heavily involved in ageing beer in wood, including whisky and wine casks.
The parliamentary award was accepted by head brewer Stefano Cossi.
The Beer Club's Beer Drinker of the Year award went to John Grogan, the club's former chairman. Grogan was MP for Selby but stood down at the last election.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Oliver's perfect beer and cheese match

Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster, gourmand and globe-trotting beer proselytiser Garrett Oliver hosted a beer and cheese tasting on 13 June at the White Horse, Parson's Green, south-west London to a large and appreciative audience. Garrett argued that while he loved wine and often matches wine and food, he finds that beer, with its bigger ranger of styles and flavours, is a better companion for cheese.
He began with Rosary Goat's Cheese matched by his new Sorachi Ale (7.5%), a Belgian-style Saison that uses a Japanese hop called Sorachi. He finishes the beer with a Champagne yeast in the bottle and feels that the ale, with 45 units of bitterness, perfectly cuts the acidity of the goast's cheese.
This was followed by Brillat-Savarin cheese, made with milk and cream, and Local 1, a Belgian-style Tripel, 9% and 32 IBUs. The beer is bottle conditioned and has a fresh tobacco aroma with sweet fruit in the mouth. It perfectly balanced the rich, creamy texture of the cheese.
Hereford Hop has a hop leaf rind that gives a tart, tangy and herbal note to the cheese. This was accompanied by Brooklyn's flagship beer, Brooklyn Lager (5%), a Vienna Red style recreated from a pre-Prohibition recipe. It's brewed with caramalt and Munich malt as well as pale Pilsner malt and is dry hopped. The hops are Cascade, Hallertauer Mittelfruh and Vanguard, which create 30 IBUs. The spicy hop character of the beer went exceptionally well with the tangy cheese.
Two Brooklyn beers matched one cheese, Ossau Iraty from the Pyrenees, made with sheep's milk. Brooklyn Brown Ale (5.9%)has a high proportion of caramalt (15-20%), which gives a roasted grain, cherry fruit and chocolate character to the beer. The beer blended well with the aromatic cheese but the stand-out companion was Dark Matter (8%), a stronger version of Brooklyn Brown that is matured for nine months in casks bought from the bourbon and rye whiskey industries. This maturation produced oaky, woody, vanilla, coconut and ice cream notes in the beer that made it a brilliant blend with the cheese.
Garrett Oliver said it was hard to pick out just one English Cheddar as being the best, but he plumped for Montgomery's. He matched this with his 6.9% East India Pale Ale, with 55 IBUs created by East Kent Goldings. The beer has a peppery hop note, citrus fruit and sappy malt that cut perfectly the complex tangy cheese.
Finally, Colston Bassett Stilton proved that beer is a better companion than Port wine. Garrett admitted that his choice of Chocolate Stout (8.7%) was unusual and stemmed from a mix-up at a tasting he had conducted in the U.S. when the wrong beer was delivered. The stout is brewed with pale, caramalt, wheat malt, chocolate and black malts and is hopped with American Fuggles and Willamette. It has roasted grain, chocolate, spicy hops, vine fruits, espresso coffee and fudge notes that perfectly matched the creamy yet tart, slightly sour cheese.
An intriguing end to an invigorating evening.

Cain's axe Dark Mild

Cain's, the major independent brewery in Liverpool, has dropped Dark Mild from its regular beer portfolio. It will become a seasonal beer, brewed mainly in May each year to coincide with CAMRA's Make May a Mild Month promotion.
This is disappointing news, as sales of mild nationally are showing a small amount of growth and many craft brewers have examples of the styles in their ranges. It's especially disappointing, as Cain's Dark Mild is a beer of some historic importance. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Guinness stout sold on Merseyside, with its large Irish community, came from Dublin. In order to compete with Guinness and offer a cheaper alternative, brewers such as Cain's produced dark milds that had a roasted grain and bitter hop character that was radically different to the milds brewed elswehere in Britain.
Cain's Dark Mild will be replaced by Raisin Ale, which now becomes a regular member of the brewery's portfolio.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Lansley's good for a laugh

I'm amused -- bemused might be a better expression -- by new Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's plans to make us all healthier and less flabby. He wants drastically to reduce the previous government's programme of advice on healthy eating and is calling on the food and drinks industries to regulate themselves. Can we expect TV ads featuring Gary Lineker telling us that crisps make us fat? I hear an over-weight porker flying overhead...
Where drinks are concerned, will the manufacturers of carbonated soft drinks cut back on the high levels of sugar they use along with near-toxic amounts of carbon dioxide? More pertinently, will giant brewers cut back on rice grits, corn starch,chemical enzymes, foam stabilisers, anti-oxidants, giberellic acid and taurocholic acid and even formaldehyde to reduce costs, speed up fermentation and give their beers an artifically long shelf life? Don't hold your breath.
One chemical once widely used in mass-volume brewing is silicone anti-foam, which contains an active polymer called polydimethyl siloxane. Brewers were keen to use it to prevent a thick, yeasty head forming during fermentation. Cut down on the head, they argued, and you can get more liquid in the fermenting vessels. The problem was that traces of anti-foam were found in the beer following filtration. As a result most brewers stopped using it, but others didn't, as its use was not illegal.
In the 1970s in the United States, a number of brewers started to use cobalt sulphate in their beers to give them a lively head of foam. Unfortunately, more than 40 people died of heart attacks as a result of drinking beer with cobalt sulphate in it and the practice was outlawed.
Such additives in beer may not make us fat but they are bad for our health. The ingredients used in brewing are such a closely-guarded secret that it's impossible to say what additives are used today. But there's clearly something wrong with the way in which mass-volume beers are made. I'm neither a scientist nor a chemist, but I'm convinced that the after-effects caused by drinking some beers are due to modern manufacturing techniques.
Most global lager brands are not lager at all, in the traditional sense. Lager means "storage place" in German and implies that such beers should be stored at a low temperature for several months to allow a slow secondary fermentation to take place. Some years ago I remember a rivetting piece on the Radio 4 Food Programme in which Michael Jackson and Andrew Jefford discussed the production of Carling lager --Britain's biggest-selling beer brand -- at Burton-on-Trent. They were astonished to find that it takes seven days to ferment Carling, the same period as for traditional ale. Jackson, with his long experience of brewers throughout the world, rightly made the point that Carling was not a lager by any true understanding of the word.
Why has Stella Artois acquired the unpleasant nickname of "wife beater"? When I first drank Stella in Leuven in Belgium some 20 years ago I thought it was a good Pilsner-style beer. Now I wouldn't cross the road to drink it. More recently, when I visited the Zywiec Brewery in Poland owned by Heineken I found that the complete production cycle was 21 days, from mashing, through boiling, primary fermentation and storaqe [sic]. Precisely the same system is used by Carlsberg at its Baltika breweries in Russia. This rapid method means that beers are immature when they leave the breweries and retain unwanted rough alcohols that would normally be purged by a long, natural period of lagering. And it's the rough alcohols that give the headaches, the hang-overs and, apparently, the propensity for some male drinkers to behave like brutes.
One thing is certain: the global brewers aren't going to clean up their act,stop using cheap additives and fast fermentation because Andrew Lansley asks them to. Drinkers deserve full information about the ingredients used in brewing and the brewing methods themselves. But this information won't be delivered by a government that can only chunter about "beating back the nanny state". But I suppose that's preferable to beating up the nanny after eight pints of global chemicals.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Canadian beer swap

In case you were wondering, the beer swap between President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron at the G8 in Canada was 24 bottles of Goose Island 132 for 24 bottles of Wychwood Hobgoblin. Goose Island is based in Chicago, Obama's home base, while Wychwood is in Cameron's Witney constituency. Goose Island is a major step up for Obama, who infamously drank Bud Lite at the White House last year when he was sorting out a dispute between a Black American Professor and a white cop.