Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Royal Wedding Beers

The summer of 1981 was a big one for me. I was a 19 year old, fledgling beer drinker having matured from keg beers such as Ben Truman (you couldn't taste the hops) and Watney's Special (an oxymoron if ever there was one) onto Young's and Fuller's, great tasting real ales.

I had also just started my first job as a trainee accountant and I had sixty pounds a week (less tax) burning a hole in my pocket (context : beer was about 40p a pint). That summer also brought us a massive royal event, the wedding of Charles and Diana, a match supposedly made in heaven.

In 1977 a few breweries had made special beers to celebrate the Queen's silver jubilee. They were very popular and remarkably collectible with some rarer bottles changing hands for great sums. By 1981 everyone had climbed aboard and about 150 breweries brought out celebration wedding beers, distributed them in great numbers and though many were collected, they never really had the same scarcity or collectible value and even now only fetch about a pound a bottle.

I succumbed to the very English hobby of collecting and in a four to six week period in the lead up to July 1981 I collected over thirty of the special beers but was nowhere near finding a complete set and, once the wedding had come and gone, I had moved onto QPR programmes and the beers were stuck in a cupboard forever.

Last week we heard the announcement that the offspring of that coupling had announced his own nuptials and to mark that event I have decided to open all of my Royal Wedding beers in the lead up to William and Kate's wedding next April and talk about them each week on this blog.

There is, of course, a great difference between aged beers and old beers and I don't expect many of them (if any) to taste any good. Although some are quite strong, bottle conditioning was rare in those days and they would all have been brewery conditioned and mostly pasteurised. They have all seen enough light over decades to spoil each beer ten times over.

What will hopefully be more interesting though is that each bottle, or more specifically each brewery, will have its own story of the last thirty years.

From those companies that have grown most in that period, Marston's and Greene King, through those that they swallowed up such as Jennings, Ringwood, Belhaven and Morland to some hardy family independents like Hall/Woodhouse, Adnams and Fullers to some that disappeared completely as the industry consolidated such as Bruce's Brewery and Godson's, good London micros of their time.

As the wedding approaches on 29 April I am also hoping to find some new beers brewed for the occasion and this time I will be drinking and enjoying them rather than saving for posterity.

My wife will also be most delighted to get one of her cupboards back after all this time.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

World's Best Beers

One of my failings as a beer blogger is that I sometimes enjoy someone else's hospitality and then fail to tell them or tell the wider blog world how much I enjoyed it. It then nags and nags my conscience like a stone in my shoe. I am about to remove one of those stones.

Ages and ages ago I took my fill of beer at the launch of World's Best Beers by Ben McFarland. I then gratefully received a review copy of the book some weeks later. I am embarrassed to say that this was over a year ago.

I haven't been totally remiss though. About three months ago I wrote a long piece praising this book, edited and tweaked the copy, then with a click of the mouse it was gone - into the ether never to reappear. Fat finger syndrome that also is the curse of my Twitter account !

It is my honest opinion that this remains the best book of this style published recently. Although it is another compilation of 1,000 of the world's best beers populated with colour photographs and tasting notes, it is very much more than that.

The opening pages include a comprehensive guide to ingredients including an excellent section on hops (hip hops ?). The next section on beer styles strays away from the boring tried and tested and includes styles such as Vintage Ales, seeking to explain the recent trend in aged and collectible beers.

The beers are the main course and are split by country, from Britain and Ireland, through Europe to America(s), Australasia, Africa and the Middle East.

Breaking up the 1,000 beer tasting notes and descriptions there are other sections telling the stories of breweries such as Fullers, Thornbridge, Cantillon, Mikkeller etc, all written in an entertaining style that makes the book an enjoyable read rather than a reference or coffee table volume.

(Watch out for the story of coffee beans passed through the digestive tract of an Indonesian weasel before being used in the brew of the legendary Beer Geek Breakfast).

Finally it is the final section on Beer and Food that made this a prize winner at last years Guild of Beer Writers awards. The section includes a concise guide to beer and food matching and then goes onto suggest beers that work well with seafood, meat, chicken, cheese, desserts and spicy food and includes guest appearances from Rick Stein and Garrett Oliver, a genius who has achieved most in the realm of beer and food matching.

So there you have it, not a particularly lucid book review but an honest one and at least part of my conscience is satisfied.

It is my honest opinion that this is one of the best, most readable, beer books published in recent years and I give it my hearty recommendation.

Cover price is £25 but you should find it on Amazon for less than £15.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Passion of Thornbridge

There is a general love-in in blogworld today for Kelly Ryan of Thornbridge Brewery who has made the decision to return down-under to his homeland, New Zealand. The respect that the beer blogging world has for Kelly and his efforts to bring us good tasty beer as well as his clear passion, knowledge and skill is immense and he truly deserves this slap on the back to say farewell.

The inspiration for this post came from Jeff Cioletti, the editor of Beverage World magazine and the full editorial of the July edition can be seen here. I am just going to lift a few passages to illustrate the point that one of the unique selling points of craft and cask ale is its passion.

Jeff writes : "You don't need me to reiterate the obvious: craft beer's volume and dollar gains as the rest of the beer market declines, evolving consumer tastes, affordable luxury, etc. That's not news .......

What I believe is under-reported is the emotional component, the passion.

Craft beers don’t have consumers, they have fans. That’s one of their key distinguishing factors...... And they can be quite the passionate lot.

The passion of its fan-base is one of the visible elements that's been putting wind in craft beer’s sails (and sales), but it's actually rooted in the passion of the people behind the brands, many of whom left other stable careers to do what they truly love. And the fans feed off of that.

In this new era of engagement, consumers are looking for brands that are not only about the finished product, but the types of people behind it. Increasingly they don't want to buy from companies that see the product as just another widget or something that was created to fulfill someone's MBA requirements.

They want to put their hearts and souls behind brands created by individuals who put their own hearts and souls into, whether it's a craft beer, an organic ready-to-drink tea, an artisanal soda with its own unique story or what have you.

Passion begets passion and is the key ingredient in converting consumers to fans."

Kelly, you have played a major part in converting consumers of Thornbridge beers into fans. We have enjoyed your company, your enthusiasm, your knowledge and most of all your beers. We wish you well in the future and very much hope to get to try the juices of your heart, soul and passion in the future. Cheers !

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Egham United Services Beer Festival

Just a quick and lazy reminder that this event is on again this week - definitely recommend a visit. In particular I will be seeking out the very last drop of the London Brewers Allaince Collaboration Porter which has hopefully developed nicely over the last month or so.

Just a reminder that our next Egham Beer Festival will be open all day Thursday 4th thru Sunday 7th November (opens at 11am daily).

As before approx 50 beers with the emphasis on new breweries and new beers. Since the number of handpumps on the club bar were increased from 5 to 8 we’ll now be able to offer 36 beers at any one time!!!

There’ll also be some festival specials such as Ascot Chambord Imperial Stout and a special version of Havant Unwrapped plus 2 new beers from our local hobby brewer Blackaddler.

Some of the new brewers will be on hand for informal ‘meet the brewer’ sessions.

Prices will be keen as always.

For those who like some music with their beer we’ve booked Papa George for Friday evening.


Brainwave - Beer Tasting

I am more than happy to give a shout-out for anything that is beer related but I am delighted to be able to promote the following event as it also has an angle that can help others.

The children’s charity, Brainwave, is arranging an exclusive beer tasting at the Farmers’ Club on 30 November, where people can find out a little more about the complex world of beer, where the flavours come from and a little on the history of beer.

So not only can you have an entertaining and different evening and help a charity too.

The Farmers’ Club was founded in 1842 and is a private members' club not usually open to the public. The address is 3 Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EL; nearest tube: Embankment.

The tasting is being undertaken by Christine Cryne, who chaired CAMRA’s 2010 Champion of Britain and is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. (Christine also happens to be the charity's Chief Executive).

Tickets are £28, including a buffet. The doors open from 6pm with an introductory drink with the tasting starting at 6.30pm.

The event is being supported by Greene King and Fuller’s breweries and will feature their beers plus others from small craft breweries from around the country.

Tickets are available from Isobel Kerry: isobelkerry@brainwave.org.uk; 07872 548 450 or download an application form from www.brainwave.org.uk

I guess this is more of a general interest event rather than a tasting for the hard-core beer-geek. If you belong to the latter crowd, why not just bung them the price of a pint here.

Take a look also at this inspiring video at http://uk.youtube.com/BrainwaveCentre

Monday, 1 November 2010

Honey, I've Drunk the Beers

I think I used that header last year but you must forgive me as I have been laid low with man-flu for what seems like weeks. I am now self medicating on fine ales and am hoping that a visit to the Dark Star showcase at the Cask, Pimlico tonight will help me shake off the lurgy completely.

Back to last week when myself and two other hardy souls headed off to the National Honey Show in Weybridge to judge the honey beer category in their annual competition.

As you can see this was serious stuff and we made sure we looked the part among all of the other honey judges who were shining the lights into the jars and dipping in their tasting sticks. We joined in by sniffing, swirling and tasting the range of beers brewed with honey.

The winning beer was Fullers Organic Honey Dew. In the previous year this beer was a big disappointment with very little honey character and a slightly dirty aroma.

This year it was much improved and walked off with the gold medal for its delicate honey aroma backed up with a taste that had a perfect balance of honey and malt sweetness combined with a very low bitterness making it a very tasty beer.

Our runner up was Lovibond Wheat Wine. A completely different style of beer and very difficult to judge alongside the Fullers Honey Dew. This is a 7.3% wheat (like barley) wine brewed with a large amount of local honey to balance the use of wheat and create a beautifully tasting beer balancing the sweet honey with the complex spicy esters developed by using wheat and brewing out to over 7%.

It was a close run thing but the drinkability of the Fullers Honey Dew and the more obvious use of honey on the label gave Fullers the edge.

Another fun morning in good company in the interest of good beer. The other judges were John Porter (left) and Tim Hampson (right).