Born to die?

brewdog-logo1Probably not, the ultra-slick commercial juggernaut that is BrewDog will continue to make more and more money. Oh sorry, you mean its latest marketing gimmick, I mean beer, Born To Die.

Look, we all know fresh beer is best, right? Especially if it is hoppy beer, like say Punk IPA, oh, no, maybe I’m wrong, that has one year best before on it. Born To Die, the new release from BrewDog has a short shelf life, it will be withdrawn from the shelves on a certain date.

Silly or yet another clever marketing ploy? I fear the latter, BrewDog know their market so well, and have so many shareholders, I mean punks, that they can brew just the right amount of this beer to nearly satisfy demand but as someone once said, ‘leave them wanting more’.

We have a lot to be grateful for. BrewDog really did help kick off the craft beer revolution in the UK. The marketing was designed to annoy some people and thus endear them to their target demographic. Right from the start, they knew their market and how to reach it effectively. Incidentally they brew great full flavoured beers to back it up.

The bars are pretty good and don’t only serve BrewDog beer though there is naturally a preference for those breweries they have invested in. The table service is a nice feature. My only gripe is that the only logo anywhere is BrewDog, no other brewery is promoted. Imagine the outcry if Carling monopolised the advertising in a pub in this way.

It’s all very slick, subliminal, highly commercial and certainly to date, successful marketing which, it could be argued, the beers don’t need. They are strong enough to stand on their own, certainly in the craft market. However I guess they want to have as many keg lines as Guinness and be a mass market beer, even more so than they are now.

Whatever your thoughts, it is certainly ludicrous to say you have only 30 days to drink Born To Die but your bottle of Punk is fine after 350 days. Bad BrewDog.

Subversion from within?

The quarterly ‘Beer’ magazine from CAMRA definitely comes under the ‘quite



interesting’ tag, Des de Moor is a regular contributor. I think he is a ‘sleeper’ slowly being bought to life to subvert CAMRA from within.

This month Des is talking about London’s bottle conditioned beers and with a nod to guards old (Fuller’s) and young (Kernel) he then goes on to mention to name five beers in different styles from Partizan, Pressure Drop, Brixton, Hammerton and Anspach & Hobday. Well known breweries to London beer enthusiasts but hardly breweries that are discussed in CAMRA publications at length.

I long for the day when Kernel proudly put the CAMRA Real Ale In a Bottle (RAIB) on their labels and Pressure Drop win awards at the GBBF.

Until then how many CAMRA members have heard of, let alone tried these breweries beers. Might they be lured in? Do they know that these breweries use carbon dioxide in industrial (as opposed to craft 😉 amounts? I think Des is a sleeper, quietly coming to life.

Des has a great website and it’s erudite stuff. I would encourage anyone to read it. How strange that it carries an advert for dating Russian women?

And one final thought, which demonstrates what bizarre tangents I go off on sometimes. If CAMRA was a fascist organisation with genocidal tendencies, would they use carbon dioxide in their gas chambers? I like to think they would.


Mild, what is it good for?

Thanks to JW in the April edition of What’s Brewing, this has been a hobby horse of mine for some time.

Notwithstanding the important part mild has played in our beer history and the millions whose thirst it has slaked over the years I think it is time to move on. Mild seems to have been on the verge of extinction for several decades now with campaigns regularly held to save it.

banksI well remember the decent beer desert that was the West Midlands in the 90’s. Banks’ Mild was extremely popular there but coming from the south I was severely disappointed. It was a style not often seen down south and I saw the reason why 😉

May is now fixed as ‘Mild Month’ by CAMRA, we are urged to get publicans to stock a mild and to try some milds. In my experience pubs stock beers they can sell and if they don’t regularly have a mild on then there is probably a good reason for it. Incidentally the list originally posted (currently down at time of writing) had only one mild in London listed, Clarkshaw’s in case you are interested.

It obliges me to point out, that among others in London, Hop Stuff Brewery has recentlyHSB Amarillo mild released an Amarillo Mild. Much though I love this brewery (being an investor also) and liked the sound of it the result is just a nicely made, unremarkable beer, not enough orangey Amarillo character for me. Perhaps I am missing the point of Mild? It’s happened before.

I like the idea of boosting the flavour with Amarillo of vanilla (East London Brewing in case you are wondering) but results consistently underwhelm.

As you can tell I am not a fan of mild, even more inventive modern ones. Tastes evolve, styles come in and out fashion, it’s normal. I believe beer drinkers have voted with their bellies. There will always be a place for mild but let’s stop flogging a dead horse and celebrate new beers instead.

The Brewers Project, Chapter 2

Guinness ST JAMES'S GATEPersonal cab, mystery location. Woot! I am still on the Guinness PR agency guest list for The Brewers Project. Regular readers might know that I enjoy the beers but positively gush over the marketing and event organisation from the ‘boys from the black stuff’ and the lovely ladies in their British PR firm.

It’s clearly an abandoned and long closed pub in a dodgy part of the East End. But no, enter and you find it has been cunningly transformed and used by those nice guys from The Disappearing Dining Club who provided the venue for the first launch of the porters. Excited hubbub downstairs as we revisit the porters we tasted last time (and the porter cocktails).

Then upstairs to a carefully lit room filled with the aroma of hops. And Condiment Junkie. These are the guys behind Heston Blumenthal’s Sounds of the Seashore and other sensory ways of changing our perceptions of food. Yes, our heads were going to be messed with.

At this point the cycnical amongst us might have thought this was going to be to mask any lack of substance in the beer itself. Mmm, maybe, but the touch was light and deft, everyone was there to be entertained and have a good time, not to be sold to.

We tasted the beer with selected foods with different sensory elements – green light/low frequency sounds to emphasise the hop bitterness, red light/high frequency sounds to emphasise the sweetness, sounds of the meadow to emphasise the hops (really?), an extremely malty (and lovely) dessert to emphasise the malt in the beer (dominate perhaps). Did it work? Well the green light/bitter thing worked for me but ultimately it was the food pairings that had more effect, as I guess they should. I would have liked to try the food and light combinations the ‘wrong way round’ to check.

Then back downstairs to try a cocktail made using the beer, Canadian rye, some maple syrup and citrus juice, topped with cream and a malty wafer. Sounds horrible doesn’t it? It was gorgeous as a ‘dessert cocktail’.

What was the beer Rich? Did you like it? So, this was the launch of Guinness Golden GUINNESS GOLDEN ALE BOTTLE [HI] halfAle. So far, so bad. I always think of golden ales as being insipid tasteless things designed by cask ale producers to compete with the lager market. So the good news is that this isn’t a golden ale imho. It’s made with ‘specially selected amber malt’ or ‘amber malt’ as the brewer put it. The hops are pelleted Celeia, one of the Styrian family used typically in English ales. A good bittering hop but not an awful lot else.

This isn’t a complex, micro batch, collaboration craft beer so let’s not overcomplicate the tasting notes. It’s malt rather hop led – Guinness sticking to what they know – and as such tastes like a good English pale ale or ‘ordinary’ bitter. Any sweetness seems to come from the malt flavour alone so it is not at all insipid.

Now I’ve had a few bottles at home I’ve decided that I really enjoy this beer on a simple level. Provides a nice balance with most food also. Will I be buying it? If I want a reliable session bottle at home then yes maybe. In a pub, only if they release it on draught.

I’m still slightly puzzled by the choice of Golden Ale though. Is it because Guinness believe this sector has lower competition in terms of both quality and quantity? Well, that is certainly true. Is it because ‘golden’ is a more aspirational word than ‘amber’? Also true.

Here’s a thought, what about an ‘Irish Amber’?

Full disclosure: I had a great free evening out and was given 6 bottles. The above article is unpaid and unsolicited.



Twickenham Fine Ales 10th Anniversary bash

twickenhamTwickenham Fine Ales have made it. From microbrewery roots 10 years ago they are now one half of the SW London duumvirate (Sambrook’s being the other) that has excellent distribution of cask ale, session beers throughout London. Both Twickenham and Sambrook’s have gone the cask ale, session beer route to create a sustainable, commercial business free of the vagaries of the latest trend to come out of Hackney. This doesn’t mean to say they make dull beer or uninventive beer. The main difference between the two is that Sambrook’s tend to be more malt based with English hops whereas Twickenham had American brewers early on and have always had more hop forward beers using more modern hop varieties. twickenham anniversaySo, ten years old, let’s have a party! Twickenham Brewery have a bar that is open on rugby matchdays but essentially this is an unglamorous working brewery on a small industrial estate. No matter. Good beer, good company and a great atmosphere with the added bonus of nice weather made for a most convivial day. I reviewed some of the core Twickenham beers a while ago at a meet the brewer event. Here I had the chance to try some of the more adventurous offerings. First up had to be Decade, brewed for this event, a beautiful 5% IPA showing that the style is not the preserve of craft keg brewers. Beers like this could make the pub drinker explore the whole world of new beers out there. Honey Dark was a monthly special in March, it is a strong mild [sic]. Whatever it is called or is, it works well, the honey adding a lovely, not overly sweet, body. Autumn Red I found a little ordinary, lacking the spiciness I was hoping for. Having said that I tried it after a bottle of Hill 60, one of a small series of beers aged in wood and for people who know me will know me this is right up my street. I believe I had the last bottle on sale so here goes with an inadequate description of a stonking beer. It is a blend of an aged dark ale and a fresh strong mild, at first sip the first thought is ‘slow down with bombarding me with all these different flavours!’. It is complex, boozy in an oloroso sherry type of way with the complexity of molasses and dark ale. Ending with a lovely sourness which leaves your heart wanting more and your head saying ‘hang on, this is 8% ABV’. Hill 60 may be gone but if you are quick then you might still be able to get hold of some Oud Bruin, a similarly inspired beer. The most striking thing though about all the beers was how good they were fresh. We all know fresh beer in perfect condition is so much more exciting (especially the more hop forward ones) but we often blame the beer and not the pub when we have a slightly dull one.

Date:                       Saturday, 13 September 2014
Venue:                    6.5/10
Beer selection:        7.5/10
Beer quality:            8/10
Atmosphere:            8/10
A good day out:       7.5/10
Total score:             37.5/50, 75%

Guinness Porter Review – brand new, old beers!

The SchtickGuinness ST JAMES'S GATE

The Brewers Project is a rather clever idea whichever way you look at it. Ostensibly it is a collaboration between the brewers and the archivist to recreate beers of long ago. However I am guessing that it was cleverly orchestrated by the marketing department who knew exactly the products they wanted – not that it is a bad thing at all. Full marks for identifying a gap in the market and using unique heritage to exploit it. It gives the brewers some fun times to play with real beer making in the pilot brewery instead of pressing buttons in the main brewhouse. It gives Guinness a chance to use their tremendous heritage and archive to best effect.

Porter and then ‘stout porter’ were the precursors of the stouts we know nowadays. After starting with ales, Guinness moved on to making porters. Early on there was a ‘town porter’ and a ‘country porter’. The country porter as its name suggests was the product shipped outside Dublin. It had more hops to preserve the beer over a longer time and, certainly once the products were exported, a higher alcoholic strength for the same reason.

To provide a counterpoint for this review, it’s also time to introduce Intoxicated Shep, he’s a brewer, so might be expected to know more about these things than me. But in his own words,
Intoxicated Shep says, having been asked to give my considered opinion on Guinness’s foray into, let’s call it the more artisan end of the beer drinking spectrum, I’ve thought back to what and how people are reviewing on various websites and social media. From “Nom, nom, nom” on Untappd, “A juicy banger” on Twitter and even recently “sexy sticky black and smells of vanilla laced treacle tart and patchouli oil”, which certainly isn’t on Mark Dredge’s crafty craft wheel of beer flavour or any wheel of beer flavour for that matter. As a child of the 80’s I have little idea what patchouli oil is, never mind what it tastes like (Can you drink patchouli oil? Ed: They will only serve it in thirds I believe). I know what sticky black is though, and what it tastes like. So this is going to be a straight down the line “say what you see” describing the organoleptic experience and maybe try to explain why, from a, dare I say, technical point of view.

The Beers

Dublin Porter , ABV 3.8%, available in bottles and keg.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER 2Intoxicated Rich says, I decided to compare the bottle with a bottle of Guinness Original, so far so sensible. Then I made the noob mistake of having them in the fridge too long. Both beers improved dramatically as they warmed up, below, say 10oC, they have little character. Immediately the difference is in the head. The Dublin Porter had large quickly dispersed bubbles, not a traditional Guinness head (which will hold some volatiles nicely). The mouthfeel also reflected a highly carbonated product. Quite sweet and more biscuit than really toasty, I found this a simple pleasant beer. ‘Guinness Lite’? By contrast the Guinness Original had a crisper initial flavour, much bigger mouthfeel and altogether a more satisfying mouthful.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER FOUNTNB: At the launch I also tried the keg version. A much better head and could see this as being a pleasant session porter in its own right. And it also makes a great adult cream soda when topped with a Guinness ice cream float!

Intoxicated Shep says, , pours frothy, loose head and has a faint aroma of roasted malt and very little else , if pushed, a little toffee. On taste, there’s very little sweetness, not much malt character, thin and leaves a drying astringency, I’m searching for more things to describe, to adjectivise, but I can’t.
In their press release, Guinness informed us that this beer was “fermented at a high temperature”, the dryness and lack of any roasty-toasty body is a symptom of this, the fermentation has been vigorous and probably too long, using up any residual sugar from the insufficient malt bill and giving birth to a beer that in the grand scheme of things is like a warm Diet Coke.

West Indies Porter, ABV 6.0% available in bottles only.

GUINNESS WEST INDIES PORTERIntoxicated Rich says, I compared this with two versions of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (FES), Dublin and Nigeria bottled versions. These weigh in at a hefty 7.5% ABV. They had a brief chill but they were much happier at room temperature than a few degrees below. All had a proper head, the WIP creamy and the FES more capuccino coloured. For aroma the Nigerian FES won hands down with great volatiles, but the head was quickest to dissipate. So, tasting the WIP it is a lovely smooth drink delivering toffee and slightly chocolate notes. All good until you try the Dublin FES, my favourite Guinness incarnation. A big boozy start, then bitter, then deep, complex and lingering – all in harmonious balance. Somewhat reminiscent of Nwankwo Kanu the Nigerian version flattered to deceive with it’s lovely aroma, proving to be altogether thinner and less complex – albeit still with the same boozy whack upfront.

Intoxicated Shep says, this seems a bit more serious, darker, thicker with a moussy head and a waft of dark fruit and chocolate. As expected, this is sweeter, (lactose sweet) and fuller than it’s poor cousin, the bitterness comes from the roasted malt, perhaps a hint of spice, smoke and a pleasant tangy linger. Not the travesty I thought it would be and for 6% in your local shops, not a bad fallback. Just for the record I had an FES too, …dark, boozy rum, molasses aroma. Very thick, lots of body, fruity sweet, coffee, chocolate, spice, a little bit of alcohol burn but smooth and delicious.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER AND WEST INDIES PORTER 2Was it fair to compare these porters with their stout brothers? Probably not. Both the style and the age of the recipe are the precursors to the stouts so the stouts certainly should be ‘better’ in some respects. But enough wittering from us for a moment,

What will they think of them?

Dublin Porter

The beer geek – doesn’t drink 3.8% session porters
The old bloke in the pub – the 3.8% will appeal, crisper than a mild, different from a bitter, not as full on as a Guinness, he might like the keg version.
The girls night out – my feeling (having never been on a girls night out) is that if they want Guinness, they’d order Guinness
The supermarket bottle drinker – a bit boring to sit with by yourself at home? Nice label though.
The ‘interested’ drinker – it’s the back story that attracts and would be a must on any comparative tasting

West Indies Porter

The beer geek – might have fun working out the differences between this and FES but will come with a dose of big brewery scepticism, will end up preferring the FES
The old bloke in the pub – doesn’t always want the volume, sat by the inglenook on a winter’s evening with a bottle of this, nice.
The girls night out – sharing cool looking bottles of this might appeal
The supermarket bottle drinker – want a stronger ‘sipping beer’? This hits the spot.
The ‘interested’ drinker – worth trying but probably a stepping stone to FES

And I haven’t talked about food pairing. Do try WIP with a sticky toffee pudding.

To sum up…

Unlike some new beers I can see a place and an appeal for these beers. They are not ‘me-too’ beers or for ‘me-too’ markets. They fit nicely with Guinness existing range and aren’t a knee jerk reaction to go off on a ‘crafty double IPA’ tangent that would be out of character (Greene King take note). There is no serious aim here to try for the ‘craft’/beer geek/Hackney Hipster market, what they want is pub goers and home drinkers to have a new alternative with a great story behind it.

Disclosure: I was invited to a launch of these beers and asked if I would write about them