Pigs Ear Beer Festival

Jurassic PorkJurassic Pork aka Pigs Ear Beer Festival, what do we think? The jury’s out. Everything that’s good about CAMRA, everything that’s bad about CAMRA, all in one (successful) festival.

Let’s start with the venue. The Round Chapel, or the former Clapton Park United Reformed Church is a magnificent building both inside and out, listed grade II it is now owned and restored by Hackney Historic Buildings Trust. Complete with pulpit, organ and balcony it is quite beautiful, and totally unsuitable for a beer festival in many respects.Pigs Ear2

The beer. This is a broadminded CAMRA branch and the beer is an excellently curated selection of local, rare and regional brewers. Not only that, they had two keg lines and a good selection of international bottles, they even advertised Westvleteren 12 ffs! But trying to find what is on where is a nightmare. On the basis that one cannot get close to trying all the beers I would prefer to see  a smaller range with a greater guarantee of finding the beer I want actually on.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I'm sure.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I’m sure.

The organisation, the crowds. Downstairs is a scrum, the balcony is lovely, the bars are downstairs. The toilets are portable toilets outside (Ed-had to be changed because I inadvertently used a trademarked name, so let’s have a big shout out for their competitors Britcab, Mobile Thrones and the like). The staff are generally well meaning but not awfully good, they are volunteers so we shouldn’t complain.

The food. It’s camp catering (Boy Scouts not Larry Grayson). The cheese stall is a good idea but it’s all pre-packed to take way, and not a scotch egg or pork pie in sight. So, buy a sub from one stall, some prepacked cheese from the other, enjoy with plastic knife but no butter or chutney. Picnic on the balcony.

If Heath Robinson did beer festivals this would be it. It’s a must to attend and marvel at but so easy to criticise. No scoring for this one, make your own mind up.

 

Brewdog, losing the plot?

brewdog-logo1Perhaps this is an easy target. I have never been a fan of Brewdog as company or as a brewer, nothing to do with the quality of their beer though. I have always been a tremendous fan of their bars which offer a great selection of good beer and great service. The Shepherds Bush bar is my local and is a lovely, open airy venue with a variety of seating and good pinball machines.

Recently though things have changed. It seems there is much more central buying. Neck Oil, Gamma Ray, Black Betty and Holy Cowbell are all good Beavertown beers but they are hardly cutting craft edge and having all four on at once seems excessive. Did they have to bulk buy to get the Lupuloids series? The remainder is also mainstream – Stone, Magic Rock, Weird Beard, BBNo all good but hey, we can get these anywhere. Camden Hells is the only non-Brewdog lager!

Staff have changed, service is slower, queues now exist at quiet times. More subtle things, I don’t see the manager having laid back team talks, staff aren’t interacting. (As a Chelsea supporter I notice these things.)

It may well be part of the corporate plan, Brewdog are an intensely commercial operation and the UK’s craft behemoth. Have they reached the limit of craft beer enthusiasts and to entice more mainstream customers in they have to offer names they have heard of like Beavertown etc. Become more like a normal pub? A pub for punks obviously.

Discuss.

Le Gothique – Reinvented

le goth 2015Lord Battersea does it again! The Wandsworth Common beer festivals are held at the wonderful Le Gothique inside the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. This building has a rich and varied past, re-inventing itself time and again and always successful. A bit like the Wandsworth Common beer festival.

The self-styled Lord Battersea can divide opinion and doesn’t shy away from controversy, the fact remains that he organises some of the best beer festivals in London. The beers are interesting and individually sourced, it’s not a simple phone call to a regional wholesaler. Always there are new releases and beers brewed especially for the festival.

Having first decried tank beer, then having a disastrous venture into keg beer a couple of years ago (it requires electricity apparently, more than you imagine) he returned this Halloween with the usual well sourced cask beers and a brand new ‘craft wall’. The meter had been well fed and everything ran like clockwork.

(Now we hear that the Clapham Brewmasters event this year (the substitute for Battersea while it the old town hall is going up and down and up) will feature 100 beers on the craft wall.)

The first night is always ‘preview night’, fixed price entry and free beer, definitely the night to be there. We probably didn’t make best use of it having already stopped at the just opened We Brought Beer Clapham (a properly curated offering) and then The Old School House (on a previous visit had Mikeller, now it was a single distributors faux craft, avoid). But this is stuff for another post.

At the Le Gothique my best in show was Strannik, a big Russian Imperial stout from Northern Monk. Low ABV beers were all the rage in the spring, a trifle late but Little Beer Corporation (yes, the one I do a bit of work for) launched Little & Often, a 3.0% crystal rye IPA, spicy and with 65 IBU of bitterness this certainly has a big initial flavour, would be great washing down a curry imho. Wimbledon Brewery were there with their well made but ordinary new beers backed by brewing royalty and city money. As usual Fuller’s had a special version, as usual, to my taste it wasn’t very nice, sour in a bad way. My notes went downhill after the Strannik.

Great venue, properly sourced beer, always moving forward, genial mein host – I like Le Gothique festivals.

Venue:                    8.5/10
Beer selection:       9/10
Beer quality:           8/10
Atmosphere:           8/10
A good night out:    8/10
Total score:            41.5/50, 83%

The Brewers Project, Chapter 3

Hop HouseNo personal cab, no mystery location but nevertheless a nice Christmas present, the latest chapter of the Brewers Project from Guinness, Hop House 13 Lager. The first things that have to be said are that the branding looks great and that this lager is not really aimed at me.

What do they say about it? “This double-hopped lager is the next chapter in that project. It’s decidedly modern and totally different. With more ingredients comes more character. 100% Irish-grown malted barley. The distinctive Guinness yeast. A mixture of Australian and American hops runs as an undercurrent through this incredibly deep beer, which is fresh at the surface and complex at the bottom. Our brewers set out to create something that would stimulate your palate and senses alike. From first sip to the lingering finish, this beer is surprising. Sample Guinness Hop House 13 and you’ll experience a lager made with so much more. More hops. More character. More taste. It’s a lively sip with accents of apricot and peach. The flavour deepens into subtle malt with a medium body. Combining our famous Guinness yeast with Irish-grown barley in a lager brewing process, our brewers changed the game.”

What does Rich say about it? That’s all a bit OTT above. What exactly does double-hopped mean? It has Topaz, Galaxy and Mosaic which is a nice mix of hops but there is no noticeable bitterness. Starts quite sweet and I did get the hint of apricot and peach, then a touch of malt and a slightly drier finish. 22 IBU apparently which doesn’t really add up to a crisp finish. The Guinness yeast, who knows?

Well what did you expect? This is a mass market lager, not a craft offering (lagered for 5 days apparently). It is definitely not different or surprising. I’m willing to believe that a lot of care has gone into this and it is not faulty in any way (and it comes in a brown bottle). It’s way cooler in terms of branding than the hideously outdated Fosters (who does drink this nowadays?)  which I’d guess is one of the closer competitors. I wish it well in its sector.

As a salesman of genuine craft keg though, I plead to publicans to put it on the ‘commercial’ lager lines and not use up one of your precious ‘craft keg’ lines for this. The crafterati will not be fooled.

What’s Brewing, October – November 2015 – Agony Column

Whats Brewing AugSep 15
Help for correspondents to What’s Brewing. Really, some of them need it.

In October craft beer gets a bit of respite with cider, Bill Tidy’s Keg Buster cartoon, Tesco and Welsh politics all taking some flak. Funniest comment surely has to go to HMcG of York who wants baby changing facilities in pubs and at beer festivals. Setting aside the fact that no self-respecting CAMRA member has ever changed a nappy if pubs and beer festivals are going to try and attract babies then I will not be going. Parenting skills surely don’t include this now do they?

DS of Chelmsford has a more or less regular spot on the letters page. This month he is banging on about one of his favourite themes, choice. Apparently choice only includes those beers one already knows. Discuss.

MC of Bury rails against CAMRA’s assertion that there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker. CAMRA correct, MC bonkers imho. Amongst his problems are that the Champion Beer of Britain has gone to a brewery established three ago which he is highly unlike to see in his local. Well, if his local is not an independent that carefully chooses it’s beers then yes, but then is it a good local. I was highly delighted that for the first time ever (?) the award had gone to a new beer, Tiny Rebel should be applauded. Some older beers were worthy winners but having won it should become ineligible (or else any new winner has to be demonstrably better). Certainly the case of Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, an old and ordinary beer rebadged made me stop voting. Next on his list is beers flavoured with chilli, chocolate, oyster and bourbon. Who’s to say, it’s your choice. Oyster stout is an old thing but doesn’t always contain oysters.

In November, the DS of Chelmsford letter is replying to someone wanting real ale in restaurants. Yes, it is a non-starter through turnover but not because DS thinks there are no bistros in housing estates and villages.

The Keg Buster cartoon is fast becoming the last stand of diehard CAMRA members. Letters for and against (it’s only a small f**king cartoon in a whole newspaper, don’t bother reading it if you don’t find it funny!) but perhaps the most telling is that from ET (no, not that one) of Bingham who suggests that maybe this is not the best way of attracting new readers.

In the paper itself is an article is an article ‘What if you couldn’t drink real ale?’, don’t bother becoming a member of CAMRA is my reply.

Under ‘stereotyped smashed’ is supposedly good news that women drink beer, from AB Inbev (Ed: Are they including Budweiser in that?). Sorry folks but to say that more women drink beer than a particular type of white wine produced only in a part of one Italian province does not convince me. Lots of women do agree that there are some sophisticated beers and this is a good time to try them but are they talking about real ale? I have my own idea on this.

Bite Size Reflections on #EBBC15, Belgium and Bloggers

EBBC15badgeSo the dust settles on another European Beer Bloggers Conference and once again the first place to start is with a massive thanks to all the sponsors and Zephyr Adventures for a brilliant few days of generous hospitality, high quality beers, stimulating discussion and much revelry. It really wouldn’t be possible without them and the conference represents astounding value for money.

Much has been written as a result and a good place to catch up is the Facebook page. For now I’d just like to add some bite size reflections…

Quaint – Before and after the conference I’ve started to follow the sponsor breweries on Twitter, as you do. Several have clearly joined just recently, it’s a long time since I started following a world famous brewer who had only tweeted about 20 times with a few hundred followers. I guess we’ll have to tell them about Facebook soon. Or are we wasting our time? They have been successful enough without it.

They are family

They are family

Family – The Belgian Family Brewers were a major sponsor. They are family, they care. No fast track entry scheme, 50 years it is. They will experiment, they will innovate – but not on you. Once they have got it right, then they will release it. Admirable imho. Some modern breweries make me feel like a guinea pig, they know some stuff won’t work, they don’t know which, are they real brewers?

Heritage – The Belgian Brewers are a more inclusive group as the name suggests but there is still a massive thing about heritage. Although diminished from the numbers in their heyday they know they brew some of the most famous and iconic beers in the world. Why would you want to change that? Belgian traditions and heritage are such that anything new is viewed with healthy suspicion. It might be good but experimental does not necessarily equal good and consistent quality is paramount.

Bloggers – Quite a lot of introspection here. The British blogging scene certainly represents a bit of a love-in sometimes. No surprise when a fair percentage are doing it partly as a reason to get free beer and ‘access all areas’ invitations – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The real writers are a slightly different kettle of wort, but again, there is not much constructive criticism. People trying to make a living (or a ligging) can’t afford to be too critical it seems.

Language – It was taken for granted that the whole conference was conducted solely in English. Yet the non-native speakers (viz, every Belgian brewer for starters) consistently had impeccable colloquial English. Bravo. I am ashamed of myself.

Belgian Beer & Food – Paul Walsh, the editor moderated several of the talks and Brendan Kearney (sorry for the omission of your crazy Irish accents). Proper journalism. Asking probing questions, not stopping until answers were given instead of lapping up the marketing PR along with the free samples. There is a big gap in the UK market for something like this in my humble opinion. If you are travelling to Belgium or just interested in keeping up to date with the Belgian beer scene this mag is indispensible.

Belgian beers – It’s all been said and it’s all good. I feel slightly sorry for Pilsner Urquell, they bought a lovely fresh tank of beer which we didn’t make a big enough dent in – all eager to go exploring and pub crawling Brussels.

Innovation – We saw dry hopped beers, we saw saison in cans, we saw Cantillon in disposable kegs, we saw a brewer encouraging us to blend his beers in the glass, we saw popular old beers that had been revived. We also saw history, tradition and the heritage of some of the world’s great beers, beers that people try to copy everywhere in the world. We didn’t see any experimental brews on sale that hadn’t been fully developed, or brewers with a ‘we’ve brewed it so we might as well sell it’ attitude.

The Wars – Don’t mention them. Older British brewers should feel incredibly lucky that their businesses and breweries and kit were not destroyed by invading armies. Mentioned several times this is clearly a big factor in the reduction of Belgian breweries and the renaissant state of the industry for the last 40 years.

Beer Tourism – Major sponsors included Visit Flanders and other Belgian tourist groups. They know what they’ve got. I’ve never seen any tourist board activity of this sort in the UK. Certainly in Surrey you can’t even get a brown road sign pointing to your brewery.

It’s going to be a hard act to follow.

I’ve sat on these thoughts so long that I’ve forgotten my other incisive comments. The end.