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    Friday, 31 August 2007

    Michael Jackson - The Original Scooper And Rater

    Naturally, almost every single beer blogger has written a piece about Michael Jackson after his sad and untimely death late on Wednesday. All of us have been influenced by his love of beer and all of us own many of his books. The book that first got me hooked on beer was Michael's 1977 edition of The World Guide To Beer. Thirty years later this book is still captivating and essential reading. I also have The Beer Companion, and a few versions of his Pocket Beer Book. I cherish these books and will always do so.

    What Michael Jackson did for me and countless others is open eyes to different beer styles and beers from other countries. It made me want to seek out all of these beer styles and it gave me the knowledge to search for the best beers wherever in the World I might go. Michael was lucky enough to taste thousands upon thousands of beers, and it made me jealous. He wrote tasting notes on all these beers (or appeared to in the name of professionalism and journalism) and that was good because he was educating beer lovers like me.

    I guess my jealously of MJ and the fact that he had access to all these beers made me the person I am now - a scooper and a beer rater - for essentially that was what he was at heart. He was just able to do it at such a high standard and make a living out of it. He scooped beers and rated them far better than I can. There are many who suggest that you cannot accurately dissect beers from small samples but MJ could do it. His beer knowledge outweighed mine a hundredfold, and even though I never met him, he gave me the passion to be a beer lover and taught me a huge amount of things about the wonderful drink. The beer world will be forever in his debt but he leaves a large range of excellent educational literature for us all to learn from.

    Let's all raise a glass to Michael Jackson; the original scooper and rater, who of course was much more than that.

    Wednesday, 29 August 2007

    In Praise Of Eastern European Imports

    In a change of tack from the usual (and usually crap) Irish bars, a landlord in Edinburgh has opened a Polish bar complete with vodkas and beers. Apparently it is a pretty decent success and the local Scottish people are becoming as good customers as the Poles. I would certainly welcome such a venture in my town and there would definitely be enough interest.

    Of course since Poland and other Eastern European states joined the EU in 2004 the UK has seen a massive influx of migrants from these countries. We have seen a great many shops selling Eastern European foodstuffs, and luckily for those of us who will try any beer once: lots of new beers.

    I am sure this pub will concentrate on common national brands such as Lech and Tyskie, but in shops in Northampton where I live I have found such delights as Ciechanów Farskie Piwo Ciemne a very decent dunkel from Poland, Svyturys Degintas, another dark beer (possibly a dunkel) from Lithuania and Obolon Porter, a delightful Baltic Porter from Ukraine. I have obviously had tons of pretty poor pale lagers also, but at least they are new experiences. One thing that I have noticed is how cheap these shops sell the beers and that can only be a good thing.

    Just as an aside make sure you read all the smart alec comments at the bottom of the article. They should give you a giggle.

    Tuesday, 28 August 2007

    Tramp Juice

    A charity which supports homeless people in the UK is urging the British Government to raise the price of extra strong lagers and ciders. It seems a common occurence to spot a homeless person chugging on beers like Tennents Super Strong Lager or Skol Super or drinking such delightful ciders as White Lightning or White Ace. Of course the reason they drink these beers is because they are cheap and get you pissed quick. However one can contains more units of alcohol than the daily recommended amount for a man. (Admittedly these recommendations are over the top, but it does prove a point). Naturally with a lifestyle of drinking this type of beverage, poor diets and lack of suitable housing there is a real problem with premature deaths amongst the homeless.

    I do find it bizarre that such strong drinks are so inexpensive but then the ingredients are pretty cheap and nasty and they are obviously cheap to produce. So therefore rather than ripping off these poor unfortunates why can't these drinks have their ABV dropped? Even one or two percentage points would make a difference and should help in some way.

    All this talk of super strength beers and homelessness reminded me of a website I discovered a few years ago. Trampjuice is a wonderfully named site dedicated to these products. It has reviews of a lot of nasty beers and ciders as well as news of interest to drinkers. Interestingly there is a piece on there about the Government banning thse products. This article is from April 2006 and clearly nothing has happened since then, so these beers are set to stay. The reviews make interesting reading. It almost seems a case of the stronger the better. Amsterdam Maximator scores a not deserving 10/10. The funniest thing about the site though is that Rocheforte(sic) 10 gets a review. My favourite beer makes it to Trampjuice!! It doesn't score very well though, although that's partly due to its high price and the fact that you never see a tramp drinking trappist beer - Or do you?

    As Predicted - Just Crappy Fosters

    So I was right.

    As predicted on Sunday, the only beer at yesterday's party was Fosters. Needless to say I drank red wine, but even then there was only one bottle between two of us. It really is a poor show and perhaps an example of how people don't take our hobby seriously.

    Sunday, 26 August 2007

    Why Other People's Parties Are No Fun

    It's a Bank Holiday in England tomorrow which is usually a good excuse for a few beers. There tends to be plenty of pub festivals going on, and even if there's not one local it's always nice to go to the pub on a Monday when you would normally be at work.

    However there will be no pub or festival visit for me tomorrow. It's family party time, and we all know what that means. Crap beer!!. Yes I will be at a relative's house party drinking whatever they've bought in. It's funny how beer geeks like us who only have decent stuff in are happy to buy rubbish lagers for their non beer loving friends or family yet they are reticent to do the same. I could take my own and I often do, but really, why should I? They don't have to do so when they come to my house so why can't I be done the courtesy of having some decent beers in. Every supermarket round here sells Chimay or Duvel at good prices and everyone knows I like Belgian beer so why can't they be purchased?

    It's not gonna happen though. I can see myself either drinking Fosters or (as it's usually pretty safe) Red Wine.

    I may be shocked but I somehow doubt it I'd even be grateful for some Watney's party seven of you could still get it!. I'll report back for those who are interested.

    Saturday, 25 August 2007

    Another (Better) GBBF Stash

    After writing this post the other week regarding three beers I bought at GBBF, I was contacted by Craig from Scotland whom I had met at GBBF for the first time.

    Craig thought that my stash wasn't that special and drew my attention to his stash which is pictured left. And a pretty decent haul it is. There may be one or two more common beers, but I reckon I can count eight Kaggens, three Dark Horizons and three bottles of the latest wonderful lambic from 3 Fonteinen. This beer is known as Hommage and is made with 30% raspberries and 5% sour cherries from Payottenland. It has been produced as a dedication to Gaston Debelder the original blender from the 1950s. Early indications are that this is an excellent beer, every bit as good as Framboos which has sadly been discontinued which is a real shame as its average rating on RateBeer is 4.6 out of 5.

    I know Craig will be sharing some of these beers with friends who could not get to GBBF. They are in for some real treats.

    Thursday, 23 August 2007

    Peterborough BF - Warning Rant Within

    As I alluded to on Tuesday, I went today to the 30th Peterborough Beer Festival. I've gone most of the last ten years and always had a great time but this year things just weren't perfect. Don't get me wrong, I did still have a good time but there were little things which just annoyed me, and I'm not usually one to complain.

    To start with the positives. The cask beer list was good. A nice selection of new breweries, local breweries and national breweries. I had my first beer from Leeds Brewery which I wrote about the other month. It was Midnight Bell which was a very pleasant dark mild. I also had my first beers from Appleford, Grafton, Swaton, Tydd Steam and Hopdaemon. All the beers were in good condition, and served at a good temperature. Prices were not bad for this part of the World either. 4% beers came in at £2.20 a pint as a rule.

    Another positive (at least for me) was the family friendly policy of the festival. I took my two year old daughter along and she thoroughly enjoyed it. She was able to run around outside and in the music tent. There were rides for her to watch and plenty of other children to play with.

    On to the negatives though. Firstly one which annoyed hundreds of people - the queue at opening time. There was a CAMRA members queue and a non-members queue. Everybody was paying to get in; £5 for non-members and £1 for members, You got your money back if you left before 5pm. The non-members queue moved at lightning speed whereas our queue moved frighteningly slow. So much so that we still weren't in 20 minutes after opening time. There is no logical reason why we had two separate queues, and it really took away any benefit on the day of being a member.

    Another little gripe is the pedestrian foreign beer list. It's pretty much the same stuff every year, and crappy Huyghe fruit beers take pride of place. There are no decent German beers, and apart from a couple of Fantôme beers the other Belgian stuff is pretty common. So many festivals have great foreign lists now, and Peterborough could and should do so much better.

    My last gripe though is very personal, and I am probably the only person to experience this problem today. I asked a couple of weeks ago on their guest book about 1/3 pint glasses. These are a legal measure and are becoming increasingly common at beer festivals. I received no reply but took my glass anyway. My first two requests for thirds were met with charm and good service. My third request though saw me up against two jobsworths who just completely refused, on the grounds that they didn't have a price for thirds (£2.20 a pint, I offered them 80p) and that they couldn't account for it (what does that mean). They claimed that some would say a third is not a legal measure (yeah whatever) and that others shouldn't have served me thirds (well they had and they continued to). I realise these two guys were volunteers and I'm not proud of the fact I had a go at them but show a bit of sense and logic guys and don't lie to me.

    Anyway rant over and thanks for listening. I shall go back next year of course. Hopefully by then it will be CAMRA policy that all festivals will serve thirds.

    Tuesday, 21 August 2007

    Peterborough BF Starts Today

    The 30th Peterborough CAMRA Beer Festival began earlier today. After the Great British Beer Festival, Peterborough is the second biggest in the UK and it is, for many people, the best. In many ways the beerlist is superior to GBBF's in that restrictions don't apply as to the quantity of each beer a brewer can send, thus making the list more eclectic and featuring smaller breweries. We are promised 365 cask beers, 110 real ciders and perries and a selection of bottled beers from UK and beyond. For those that like music the entertainment planned for the evenings is pretty impressive with the highlights (or at least the most well known band) being The Counterfeit Stones.

    Peterborough is an excellent beer festival, but by no means perfect. Due to insufficient volunteers they are forced to close during Wednesday and Friday afternoons. This is a great shame and that is why I have chosen to go on Thursday - because it's open all day! I am meeting non beer geek friends there and taking my wife and daughter so it should be fairly relaxing, although that doesn't mean I won't be seeking out new breweries and quality beers. Nor does it mean I won't have a report for you later in the week.

    One thing the visitors to the festival and the organisers should be proud of is the vast amount of money raised over the years for the RNLI. Donations so far have been sufficient to buy three lifeboats. That is no mean achievement.

    Monday, 20 August 2007

    Tell Greene King What You Really Think.

    Everybody's favourite brewery wrecker Greede Kerching (aka Greene King) is inviting customers to text their opinions of each GK pint they drink. In what is humorously described as a "quality campaign", beer mats and posters will advertize a text number to which we are invited to answer whether we have had a good pint or not.

    It is many months since I have had a GK product in a pub, and many, many years since I've been in a GK tied pub, which I would bank money are the only pubs this is advertized in. I therefore won't legitimately be able to take place in this research. However I wouldn't dream of sending in bogus messages slagging off their dodgy mass produced poorly brewed IPA, nor would I suggest you do likewise!!

    Sunday, 19 August 2007

    Tonight, I Have Been Drinking Crap Cider

    Yes, I've just drank a bottle of Magners Original Irish Cider, and I didn't have it over ice. I'm not sure if the pixies might come and take me away, or if i might even be arrested, but I thought I would try it without any added frozen water. It was very very cold anyway and, as can be seen from the picture quite orange in colour. I was lucky to find one of the smaller bottles (330ml) on sale for £1. Can you believe this goes for nearly £3 for a 500ml bottle in pubs round here. Apart from its orangeness, the first thing that strikes you is the smell. Gosh it's artificial and bloody sweet. For every gram of apple there must be ten grams of chemicals. It's really offensive to the nose. I have to admit though that it gets better from then. Although the taste is sweet and it's heavily carbonated it's not too bad. It's quite smooth, no nasty harsh flavours at all, and the fruitiness is quite acceptable. In short, it's safe. It's a bit lowest common denominator, and I can see why it has such widespread appeal. Hell I might even be encouraged to drink this again on a very hot day, for it is refreshing.

    Apparently sales have decreased quite a lot this year. The horrendous weather has been blamed, and I can believe that would have had some effect, but I also think the "over ice cider" phenomenon was always likely to take a step backwards in much the same way alcopops did. I wonder what will be the next big thing?

    Saturday, 18 August 2007

    Scooping - Why The Criticism?

    When I first got into beer in the early 1990s, I presumed that all CAMRA members tried as many different beers as they could get their hands on. I thought that everybody bought the Good Beer Guide and ticked off each beer they had tried, and seek out all those they hadn't. I soon discovered that people who did this were called tickers or scoopers and that, in actual fact, not all CAMRA members did this at all. In fact the more I became interested in scooping I realised that some people have a pretty solid hatred of scoopers, failing to see sense in the hobby and accusing them of being no different from train spotters and other obsessive collectors.

    A lot of scoopers would probably agree that their hobby is an obsession and that they are collecting beers in their books or on their hard drive, but I ask what is the harm in that? Brewers make beer; we drink them. Drinking the same beer all the time is just like going to the same destination every year on holiday; it's boring and doesn't broaden your horizons in any way.

    Beer festivals should be an ideal ground for scoopers, after all nobody goes to a festival and drinks the same beer all night do they? Most punters don't have a clue what beers they are drinking at a festival will taste like, don't really care anyway, and will probably never see them again, so festivals could fill their lists with new beers. Yet some festivals discourage scoopers. I've read articles in festival programmes deriding them. I don't doubt some scoopers are a nuisance asking for beers that are not yet ready, but it is the customer's prerogative to ask and the staff's prerogative to refuse on the grounds of a beer not yet being ready, and that should be the end of it. Criticisms are made of scoopers bottling beer to take away, but so what, they've paid for it, and it's up to them how and when they drink their beer.

    I stopped scooping per se in 2000. I no longer had the desire or ability to travel to every beer festival in the vicinity , and in a fit of madness actually threw out the records of the 3000+ beers I had. I still drank new beers if I saw them on my pub visits but didn't keep a list. However since 2004 and finding RateBeer I have started scopping again. It is though scooping with a difference - i.e. I make tasting notes of all the beers I try, actually trying to understand each beer. And this is my sole criticism of scoopers. Too many don't dissect their beers, and seemingly don't care whether they are good or bad. However it's their money and therefore their choice. One thing is true to say though, despite any problem people have with scoopers they certainly spend enough money behind pub and festival bars, and therefore should be the licensee's friend.

    There are some excellent resources for scoopers on the net: Quaffale is a directory of all British Breweries; Beermad aims to list every beer known to have been brewed in the UK since 1986; Scoopergen is the personal website of infamous scooper Gazza Prescott and has more information on the hobby and its followers than you could ever need to know; Scoopgen is a yahoo group used for the sharing of information about beerlists in pubs and festivals as well as other gen. All these websites are highly recommended.

    Thursday, 16 August 2007

    An Old Brewery Stores

    I took the picture on the left today whilst walking around Kettering. The building was used as a stores for Hipwell and Company Brewery of Olney which is just over the county boundary in Buckinghamshire. Hipwell's had a number of tied houses in Kettering and this building was used to house beers destined for these hostelries. The brewery was founded in 1853 and the earliest recorded reference of a stores in Kettering was 1877. The huge Northampton brewer Phipps then took them over in 1920.

    It is likely that this signage dates back to the late 19th Century. Other pictures of the building on the internet and in the book mentioned here show the sign in less than perfect condition. However it is obvious that the building has had some external decoration, and it is to everybody's credit that the Hipwell's sign has been maintained, and almost certainly improved.

    Tuesday, 14 August 2007

    Here's Hoping That Hobsons Can Cope

    As this article states, production of Hobsons Mild is to be massively increased in the wake of its victory in the Champion Beer Of Britain Competition. Of course it stands to reason that demand is going to incresae rapidly; the same has happened year on year for the winner, and fully deserved it is. Hobsons Mild is a beer rarely seen far from its Cleobury Mortimer home and good landlords up and down the country will now be seeking it out for their pubs. Certainly the long queues at GBBF to try the beer are indicative of likely customer demand. Hobsons fortunately increased the size of their brewery earlier this year, so I hope they are capable of coping with demand.

    There is a worry that they cannot, because in previous years we have seen brewers contract out some production of their winner. Coniston had to contract out some of the production of Bluebird after winning and Kelham Island contracted some of the production of Pale Rider to Ridleys (whatever happened to them!!), as the pump clip to the left shows. No: I really hope success doesn't spoil things for Hobsons; I hope they can keep all production of mild in house, and that they continue to brew the others in their core range. After all, Hobsons Mild brewed by Hop Back or whoever, just wouldn't be the same beer.

    Monday, 13 August 2007

    Trust The Tabloids To Talk Crap

    Some time ago I commented on an article in The Observer which made some very simple errors when it came to describing certain beers. It is not just the quality papers though who cover beer and obviously the tabloids make similar stupid mistakes.

    The Sunday People is just as bad as can be seen here. Actually some of it is quite interesting and it does make good reading but there are some silly mistakes which can only lead to confirming common misconceptions the public already have about the drink we all love. I will highlight just a couple of stupid comments.

    "Beer is made from water, malt, hops and yeast." So what about unhopped beers? What about wheat, fruit, spices, vegetables etc. This is the UK not Isle Of Man or Germany you know.

    "Belgium has the most individual beer brands - boasting 400 types." What on Earth is this comment all about??

    "Americans accuse us of drinking warm beer because English bitter is usually served at a 12 degrees celsius - compared to all those ice cold Buds." Oh yeah because all they drink over there is Budweiser isn't it? It is amazing how many people actually believe there's no decent beer in USA and this will only feed that myth.

    I hope you have fun reading the article. There is a lot of truth in there, and having met a fair few Danish beer fans I can see that the comment about the vikings is certainly accurate!!

    Sunday, 12 August 2007

    My GBBF Stash

    I promised in my previous post that I would mention the beers I bought home from this year's Great British Beer Festival. As previously mentioned the selection of bottled beers from Scandinavia was extremely impressive. It was also very competitively priced, with the beers available for more money in their home country.

    There were five bottled beers I was desperate to try, and two of those Ølfabrikken Porter and Nils Oscar Imperial Stout were consumed at the festival, and excellent they both were.

    However the other three on my hitlist were purchased for home consumption. The first of these is the beer currently ranked number one in the World on RateBeer: Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter. The vintage available at GBBF was the 2006. Kaggen is a 10% Imperial Stout from Sweden which has heather honey in the mash and is aged on oak barrels. Out of 63 ratings the average score is 4.63 out of 5 which is an amazing achievement. Somehow GBBF managed to acquire 200 bottles of this beauty. I really hope everybody who paid £6 for 275 ml managed to appreciate it.

    The second on my must have list was the beer ranked number ten in the world, Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon First Edition. This is a massive 16% Imperial Stout from Norway and comes in a 500ml bottle in a presentation tin. Nøgne Ø is a consistently good brewery , and bearing in mind that I gave their regular 9% Imperial Stout 4.3 out of 5, I am hugely looking forward to it. This beer cost £8 which sounds pricy but I am led to believe by those who have tried it that it is well worth the cost.

    The third essential beer was Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast. This sits just outside the top 50 on RateBeer but is the third highest rated stout. It is an 7.5% ABV oatmeal stout from Denmark which has a good dash of coffee in it. The name suggests it would be a good beer to drink at breakfast time. I am not sure I will be doing that but I will savour it when I get round to drinking it. Mikkeller is another brewery I have a very high opinion of. This beer cost £4.90 for a 500ml bottle which is an absolute bargain.

    The trouble with beers like this is finding the right time to drink them. An occasion will crop up in the next few months and I look forward to reporting back.

    Saturday, 11 August 2007

    GBBF 2007 - A Few Comments

    This year was the 30th Great British Beer Festival, and was the second to be held at the larger venue of Earls Court. Last year there was a lot of criticism of the new venue. People described it as too dark and soulless and complained that toilet facilities were seriously lacking. Complaints were made about beer prices and that programmes cost £1 whereas they had always previously been free of charge. Apart from not agreeing with the programme charge I didn't accept the other arguments. Yes, there were queues for the toilets but there are queues at every beer festival and with the volume of visitors there will inevitably be queues at GBBF. The other annual complaint is that the British Beer range is unexciting; I do sympathise with that assessment but as the Foreign beer range is so good, I am not bothered.

    This year there have been far less complaints. There were allegedly more toilets and indeed the queues were far shorter. CAMRA members got their programmes for free, and the British beer range seemed more exciting with a larger amount of porters and stouts than we've seen for a number of years, as opposed to the large amount of brown bitters and golden ales which really have dominated the list recently. Even the choice of Champion Beer Of Britain seemed to be a more enterprising choice than in many years.

    Anyway, enough about complaints and criticisms. I always enjoy GBBF. It's a great opportunity to meet up with fellow beer lovers and this year I spent time with RateBeerians from England, Scotland, Canada, Finland and Denmark. I drank loads of superb beers. The bottled selection from Scandinavia was fantastically sourced, and the US cask beers were a treat especially after all the ups and downs about their arrival. The selection of ciders and perries was excellent, and there was a large enough range of real ales to keep anyone happy. The food was good and the entertainment was not intrusive. There's a lot of talk about GBBF being Londoncentric and I guess it would be nice if it wasn't in London every year, but that criticism could be aimed at numerous organizations. Of all the beers I tried the accolade of Beer Of The Festival goes to Nils Oscar Imperial Stout from Sweden with Ølfabrikken Porter from Denmark not far behind. However I bought some beers home which I expect to be even better but that will be another entry.

    Tuesday, 7 August 2007

    Hobsons Mild - Champion Beer Of Britain

    The Campaign For Real Ale has announced that Hobsons Mild is this year's Champion Beer Of Britain. This is a fantastic acheivement for the Shropshire based brewery which commenced brewing in 1993.

    The last time a mild won the award was in 2000 when Moorhouse's Black Cat won. Since that time the award has gone in each year to pale hoppy beers.

    Second this year was Mighty Oak Maldon Gold(a pale hoppy beer!!), and third was Green Jack Ripper, an 8.5% barley wine.

    It's been a fair few years since I've had Hobsons Mild but when I last did I had a fair few pints in The Castle Hotel in Bishops Castle at a ridiculously cheap price. I recall it to be a lovely flavoursome mild, especially bearing in mind its low ABV (3.2%). Recent ratings on RateBeer have been fairly positive and it will be interesting to look at ratings in the months following the award. My warmest congratulations go to Hobsons, and I am pleased that this year's judges went against the recent trend of golden ales. The full list of award winners can be found here.

    Monday, 6 August 2007

    A London RateBeer Get Together

    The Ratebeer pre-GBBF London get together took place on Saturday. Hosted graciously as ever by Chris and Ruth, Ratebeerians from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Scotland (via Doncaster) and USA as well as plenty from England converged together for a day of good old beer drinking, cheese eating and general conviviality. In total there were nineteen of us, and well over 100 beers.

    Of course some of the beers were pretty ordinary, or downright bad, such as Redds Red a decidedly dodgy Polish fruit beer, and Crown Lager, a label beer from Sainsbury's supermarket. But these poor beers were few and far between when compared with the magnificent beers available on the day. Clearly I cannot list all of the selection but some of the best were:

    Struise Pannepot Reserva Oak Aged and New Years Blonde
    Amager Hr. Frederiksen
    New Glarus Belgian Red
    Cantillon Blåbær Lambik and Tyrnilambic Baie dArgousier
    3 Fonteinen J & J Oude Geuze Blauw and Rose
    Three Floyds Fantabulous Resplendence
    De Molen Rasputin
    Grand Teton Black Cauldron Imperial Stout

    There were also beers from such great brewers as Ølfabrikken, Mikkeller and BrewDog. Numerous beers remained unopened at the end of the night in spite of our having all consumed a pretty decent belly full.

    Gatherings like this though are not all about the beer. The company of such like minded people is always an absolute pleasure. Non beer geek friends of mine cannot understand how I can drink and discuss beer non-stop for twelve hours, but in this type of company it's very easy, and I give thanks to all those who attended for making it such a great day.

    I did take a few pictures but the quality is rubbish compared to these taken by Phil, who also makes a mean homebrewed APA by the way.

    Thursday, 2 August 2007

    The Session #6 - My Fruity Experiences

    The noted stand up comedian Peter kay is known for his catchphrase "Garlic Bread? Garlic and Bread, together?" Some might say the same about fruit beer, fruit and beer together? A lot of people think it's a girly thing and indeed some beer festivals in the UK have a "girly bar" where fruit beers and lighter beers are served. However fruit beer certainly isn't a girly thing and indeed some beers made with fruit are amongst the most challenging things out there.

    My first experience that I can recall of a beer with added fruit was Liefmans Kriekbier, to many people this is a 'cherry beer' or as some might wrongly say a 'cherry lager', but it's much more than that. The cherries used to make this beer are harvested each July and then the beer is cellared for a whole year. This is no ordinary fruity girly beer. It has a sour edge, giving it a grown up feel, yet it still is easy to drink and appeals to all types. So after the kriek I wanted to try Liefmans Frambozenbier. This one is brewed with raspberries and is lighter in alcohol and sweeter in taste but it still has a sour edge, probably due to the base beer being the excellent Goudenband. I continued to try all the Belgian fruit beers I could get my hands on: Lindemans Kriek, Belle-Vue Kriek, Mort Subite Kriek, Timmermans Kriek, Timmermans Framboise, Mort-Subite Peche (peaches wow, that's another type of fruit), Timmermans Peche, Jacobins Kriek and so on. Unbeknownst to my knowledge of such things I was actually drinking lambics. Albeit they were very friendly and quite sweet lambics, but lambics all the same. Then I actually started to read about lambics, and particularly the fruit lambics of Boon, Cantillon and Hanssens. I read about these and naturally wanted to try them. Tim Webb and Michael Jackson said how good they were. I must like them surely?

    So on my first trip to 't Brugs Beertje I ordered myself a Cantillon Kriek. Some guy at the bar commented how I must know my stuff to be ordering Cantillon. I just smiled casually. That first Cantillon was sourer than any other beer I'd ever had but I drank it slowly and savoured its complexity. I was now hooked and wanted to try more and more of these crazy sour fruit beers, and other not so sour fruit beers.

    I've discovered more breweries who produce 'fruit beers' and over the years I have had such cracking beers as 3 Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek, De Cam Oude Kriek, New Glarus Belgian Red, De Ranke Kriek, Kriekdebie and others.

    I've had fruit beers brewed with Apples, Limes, Blackberries, Apricots, Grapefruits, Plums, Prunes and pretty much all other fruits. I've even had a fairly awful Rhubarb Beer.

    There is no doubt that fruit beers appeal to a massive cross section of beer drinkers and also those who would not normally drink beer. Whether they be sweet or whether they be sour, fruit beers are here to stay. One day you may even get a stand up comic calling out Fruit and Beer - TOGETHER?

    10000 Pints From One Brewery

    Wells & Young's Brewing Company are to send more than 10000 pints to next week's Great British Beer Festival. This vast amount of beer from one brewery is more than the total amount drank at many festivals in the UK. Although my personal preference is to drink small brewers' products, large festivals like GBBF do rely on the support of the large companies. Wells & Young's products are not the best in Britain but they are decent enough and I am sure that from the 60000 plus punters who come through the door they will sell pretty much all their beer. At least brewery bars like this should guarantee some beer is available on the Saturday afternoon, rather than CAMRA suffering the indignity of selling out. The festival also benefits from W&Y's sponsorship; they are this year's glasses sponsors. However even with the vast amount of money received in sponsorship beer prices and admission charges are pretty high.

    I won't be drinking any of their products next week, but I do see the need for their presence, and promise not to laugh at those drinking Young's Special while I am geeking out on Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast!

    Wednesday, 1 August 2007

    Beer Of The Month - July 2007

    July was a relatively calm month before the madness that is August. I went to two festivals, but spent a fair amount of time trying the best local pubs to see how the smoking ban had changed things. Without exception, all the pubs were nicer places to be, and custom on the whole was up. In total I tried 64 new beers which is below average.

    My first festival of the month was the German Beer Festival where I tried more non German beers over the day. The best German beer I had there was Hösl Stiflands Dunkler Bock, a decent full-bodied dark bock beer with sweetness and licquorice flavours. However the best beers of the day were the two Cantillon lambics: FouFoune and Iris, both of which have the trademark Cantillon sourness, but are oh so drinkable. Iris is my bottled beer of the month with FouFoune close behind. Honourable mention goes to de Hemel Nieuw Ligt Grand Cru, a deliciously fruity boozy Strong beer from Netherlands, and Valhalla Auld Rock a dark beer from Shetland.

    The second festival I went to was Derby where I had some great cask ales as can be seen from my write up. The clear winner on the day was BrewDog Riptide, a delicious Imperial Stout packed full of flavour. This beer wins best cask beer, non-English beer and new brewery beer of the month, and the big one of Best Overall Beer Of The Month. I had five more beers on the day which could easily have won a cask beer of the month award during any other month. They were BrewDog Punk IPA, Inveralmond Sunburst, Kelburn Cart Blanche,Williams Roisin and Saltaire Blonde.

    Other cask ales I enjoyed on my pub travels were few and far between. Millstone Tiger Rut, a lovely hoppy beer from Greater Manchester was a nice find, but other than that the only really decent cask ale was Buntingford RPA. This was another lovely Summery hoppy ale which I enjoyed in the Wig & Pen in Northampton. This beer comfortably wins best English beer of the month.

    August is going to be a beery month to say the least with a RateBeer gathering, two days at GBBF and a day at Peterborough to cope with. I fully expect to drink some absolute crackers during the month.