Sunday, 28 November 2010

Alnwick: November 27th, a winter wonderland.

I knew about the snow coming home from Harrogate last Friday, but didn't think it would be quite like this...

It's great time to be indoors. Especially with a big cheese board and some lovely Jacobite Ale. Full of rich malt and depth and spice, I almost forgot how awesome this beer was.

But I'm still not entirely sure how I will get to work tomorrow morning.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The second beer of Christmas

Erdinger Schneeweisse

By god it's cold out!

I'm not even going to try and pronounce it, but apparently the name means snow white in German. Wheat beers are not usually looked upon as typical for the festive season. Some disagree and argue they do tie in a bit with those spice influences and big rocky white heads of foam. But anyhow, it's Erdinger, and their speciality.

The beer itself is a subtle yet slightly voluptuous and easy drinking thing. A rounded soft wheat malt texture meets gentle spice and a touch of orange zest. Cinnamon is the only spice I can pick out for definite if I really concentrate. The finish is a little neutral and clean but still soft with gentle rolling spice. Overall I would give this one the thumbs up for great balance and drinkability, it won't hit you hard. In my opinion better than the original Erdinger with a fitting name given all the recent snow in the North East. 

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Something new for the beer drinkers of Alnwick?

Over a pint or two, a few Alnwick drinkers have agreed with me on this; looking for exciting bottled beer in Alnwick has always been a bit of a lost cause (unless you're in the John Bull). The supermarkets stock the 'usual suspects' range week in week out. Lidl has its value for money decent lagers, Sainsbury's have a few Fuller's beers and Brakespear Triple usually on offer but apart from that nothing much changes. More annoyingly I find the very same supermarkets in Harrogate and elsewhere offer a far better selection of bottled beer than those of Alnwick.

I have wondered, is this a perceived demand thing? Because retailers are convinced Alnwick just a town of lager swilling youth and John Smiths only working class oldies? These two stereotypes do seem in abundance but I have also met plenty of cask ale drinkers and one or two beer enthusiasts. But here's some evidence some one else out there recognises the same gap in the market as me now Threshers have diminished (not that they were that great anyway)

It seems Boutique wine of Alnwick is steadily developing a range of bottled beers to rival other local merchants. It started with a few Hadrian and Border offerings and Alnwick IPA but chap behind the counter has mentioned that the range will be expanding. The other advantage for these guys is that no local Alnwick supermarket sells a single local beer in bottled form (shame). So starting local seems a good place to start. I will be watching this space.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The first beer of Christmas

Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout

When I was first getting into beer, this was the first exceptional Imperial Stout I ever tried. It's a great entree to the style that balances intensity with drinkability...

Anyway, welcome to Rob's Beer Quest's 12 beers of Christmas. As many of you may have noticed, Christmas time is near. For me I would say Christmas starts from sometime mid November till the very early January the following year. It's about the build up just as much as the day itself and since last night the Christmas lights of Alnwick were officially switched on, I thought it must be the ideal time for the first beer of Christmas.

I know some might question my choice of an Imperial Stout for this but strong stouts are definatly for the season (tho not necessarily for Christmas). This claim is also backed by Delia Smith's Delia's Happy Christmas cook book (see page 23, a list of alcoholic beverages essential for Christmas). So there you have it, and you just can't diss the Smith.

But this beer wasn't chose because of some cookbook, I decided it would be a good opener to the series for two reasons. Firstly becase it brings back happy memories of a Christmas eve years back when I first tried this beer, and secondly to conduct a small experiment I have been meaning to try out for a while. You see in the past there has been much debate about some of the content written on the back Sam Smiths bottles, especially the 'serving suggestions' sections. For example this one it suggests you have your beer with:

Espresso coffee; Stilton and Walnuts, baked sultana and lemon cheesecake; steak au poivre; caviar; rich apricot glazed bread and butter pudding; chocolate baked alaska;coffee trifle with roasted almonds; champagne and Havana cigars.  

Nothing too specific then...

With a lot of it I see the point but would you really want to drink stout and coffee at the same time?? Caviar seems a bit odd too. But what about cigars? Well there's only one way to find out...

I have never tried pairing beer with cigars before so out of my small collection of different ones I had no idea which one to go for. In the end I used the old eeny, meeny, miny, mo technique, omitted the bigger/more expensive ones and settled for the Partagas. Short but fat in a nice gold, silver and red case. To be honest, this cigar was nicer than expected. Fine and mellow, like a Cohiba, but different. Part of me wished I'd saved it and not used it for the purposes of this blog post, especially since I learned the price difference between Cuban cigars in the UK and in Cuba (quite shocking). But what the hell. It might be cold and dark (wife's rules, no smoking indoors) but I have my delicious stout in Zak Avery style glassware and my Partagas.

But the big question is, do the two go together?? The umpires decision in this one is simply yes. The smokey flavours seem to complement the roast malts whilst not overpowering the silky smooth texture and bittersweet coffee-chocolate notes of the beer. If the cigar was a bit stronger it might not have worked but this one did.

So there you have it, a good end to the night. Have any other bloggers done a beer and cigar pairing? I don't think so. Who's the daddy? Ay??

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Orval with Salmon

Orval is probably one of the only beers you could say IS a style of it's own.

It would be a bit of an understatement to say Salmon and and Orval went well together. More accuratly you could say they go effortlessly great together, a pairing I have been meaning to try for a while now. This particular bottle was bottled April this year, so quite a young one. Check out the Beer Wench vertical tasting various aged Orval's here. A cool video. She's always a pleasure to watch.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Thornbridge: A short tribute

I have always thought of Thornbridge Brewery as the beer worlds equivalent to Dragonforce in the British metal music scene. Those who know Dragonforce will see the similarities.

Thornbridge: A British based team of elite super brewers intent on brewing beers packed with intense character.

Dragonforce: A British based team of elite super musicians intent on blasting out high octane power metal packed with super fast guitar and keyboard solos.

OK not everyone will agree with the analogy and Thornbridge are not that over the top. But some of the beers, like many Dragonforce tracks are built to be epic's. I have not tried all of the Thornbridge range yet but I know Jaipur IPA is a good addition to any beer festival. Bracia is bold, and superb. Halcyon is individual and stunning. Kipling is also a bouncy, hoppy little number. And let's not forget Alliance.

 In my opinion some ones got to push the boundaries a bit in British brewing, because if no one did, the brewing scene of this little island would be much more boring. Take the dozens of UK brewers still intent on knocking out several different brown low gravity bitters, each one similar to the last but with a different nondiscript name, complemented by a range of several more low gravity golden ales. The likes of Thornbridge and a few others) act as an important point of difference.

So to finish things off; I open this beer in a tribute to Thornbridge brewer Kelly Ryan, who is soon permanently throwing in his badge, to work back in  his home land of New Zealand.

Cheers (and lookout Zak Avery, your not the only one with the stem-ware)

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Operation 'Elizabeth': Filling her up

We still haven't got round to finding a permanent home for her yet but I'm happy as long as its somewhere quite stable in temperature and out of harms way (like not behind the caustic or hot liqor tank). For now she's on the racking station. The story of Elizabeth has gone well so far. The Old Ale brewed for her tastes strong, piquant, fruity, with a lot of alcohol burn. But given a couple of months it should mellow out.
As mentioned the fermentation was quick and aggressive at first until around 1030 was reached then the yeast started to die off. Tho I was originally after a more strong but steady fermentation this was not the major flaw of the operation. The main anomaly was discovered a few days after brew day when it was discovered that the digital scales used to weight the coloured malts were around 40% inaccurate. Shock!

This meant that the 4.5% black malt was closer to 7% black malt, the 9% crystal malt was closer to 12% crystal malt and the original gravity was 1092 instead of 1088 (and yes I did think it was a bit dark). Sadly this means that this exact brew, if it is a masterpiece, will be very difficult to re-create. But still worse could happen and at 8.6% alcohol the beer was finally transferred to the barrel and the last half gallon was squeezed into a demi-john for safe keeping and future top ups. A bit of seepage has occurred from the wooden shive and keystone (as you can see) but it seems to have stopped. I plan on leaving this baby till some point early next year, maybe February, so it should be good to drink some time around Christmas 2011.