Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The second Beer Of Christmas

Ridgeway Warm Welcome

Ridgeway Warm Welcome is a 6% seasonal brown ale that's more rich amber golden than brown. By the looks of it it was brewed for the US market. Its aromas are of sweet nutty malt and alcoholic fruit. The more I look at it the more I notice how pale it is for a brown ale (maybe if you drank it with the lights dimmed you wouldn't notice). The palate is a rich layering of honey and caramelised malt that quickly leads to hints of pepper, allspice and warming alcohols.

Nice enough beer, though I still don't get the brown ale bit. It reminds me more of a malt-balanced Belgian pale ale, though you do get some nutty malt influences. Slightly two-dimensional but pleasant enough. 

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The first beer of Christmas

Fullers 1845

Yep, it's that time of year again. Many readers may remember Rob's Beer Quest's twelve beers of Christmas from last year, and since last year a great number of seasonal/seasonally-suited beers didn't make it to the chosen twelve then... Here we go again.

Those familiar with the theme will know that the beers involved are kept a secret untill the next post is released (a bit like an advent calendar). Only a chosen few know what the next beer will be (usually just me) and those that do know won't be leaking anything to the press (don't want those national newspapers spoiling all the suspense for worldwide fans).  

Anyways. I remember last Christmas like it wasn't that long ago. The blogging world was alive with reviews of seasonal beers, recipies for seasonal foods and the big discussion of 'what beer will you be opening first on Christmas day morning?' seemed to never stop. We had Open It! Reviews of the year, the Golden Pint Awards and Baron Orm's set of video beer reviews.

Well it sure comes around quick and to open the twelve beers this year I bring you the classic English strong ale that is Fuller's 1845. An all so familar interplay of big fruity bready malt and goldings hops finishes with sherry-like warming alcohols. An ever reliable winter warmer that I don't manage to get hold of so much these days. I would advise trying it with cheese or hearty meat dishes. Great stuff.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Winter Tyne

I will always remember the first brew I invented as a commercial product. The very first batch of Daleside's Autumn Leaves was fermented in fermentation vessel 1 (or FV1). The fermentation was worryingly rapid so intermittent cooling was applied to calm her down. I remember my first taste of it in the early hours of a Monday morning before it was transferred to Daleside's holding tank 17 (they love to collect holding tanks).
Since then its been a bit of a rollercoaster ride of big forward orders, cleaning, more cleaning, learning more about process control and the practical side of brewing for a commercial venture (something home brewing experience and a brewing degree doesn't really teach you in the same way). It was always going to be exciting scaling up home-brewed experiments, but maintaining a level of discipline and integrity in what you do will always be more important.

I'm not saying I'm that disciplined, I'm just saying I'm with the Mr Miyagi mentality on this one. If only it was him teaching me how to clean casks on the cask washer all that time ago.

Cask on... Cask off... Cask on... Cask off... Cask on... Cask off... Cask on... Cask off... Cask on... Cask off... Cask on... Cask off...

 Anyway I digress.

As I mentioned in a previous post the management has given me the freedom to re-invent long-established Mordue Winter Tyne to however I see fit. The 3.9% abv had to stay the same, and I didn't want to change the amber brown colour too much. But using different malt combinations and getting new, never used before hop varieties ordered in is becoming a habit of mine. God I love Bramling Cross hops.Their woody, spicy notes marry perfectly with the dark winter fruits and subtle spicy notes from the complex grist.

The resultant beer is traditional at its core but packed with floral berry fruit hop notes interplaying in a symphonic harmony with subtle spice and a mellow, fruit cake like malt centre.  Being 3.9% it certainly is sessionable.

Just imagine you're in a forest, in winter, surrounded by trees covered in leaves that aren't actually leaves but bines of deliciously fragrant bramling cross hops. There are elves in the forest. Hundreds of little Geordie elves in Newcastle United football strips all drinking delicious Winter Tyne nectar singing and dancing merrily outside the local forest pub. Inside the local boozer the Penguin bar man hands you a brimming pint of Winter Tyne and escorts you to your chair by a roaring fireside. A group of Polar bears, also in Newcastle strips talk football by the bar whilst a badger suddenly starts up with 'Blaydon Races' on the pan pipes in the corner. Ahh the perfect setting.

Note to the Mordue Management: If this doesn't sell the stuff, I don't know what will.   

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Panda & Frog becomes Panda Frog

Well not exactly. What the title is acually implying is that where my home brew kit is called the Panda & Frog brewery, the commercial version (which is actually Mordue Brewery) is to be called Panda Frog. The beers are all my own (but thanks go to Matt Fawson for intitiating the thought process for one of them), but the concepts, ideology and pumpclips were all kind of a collaboration between myself, Matt, wingman Dave Kerr and a local artist.

Pandazilla, the first beer of the series, is to be released in April. Compared to the home brew/Panda & Frog tried on the twissup, the debut beer will cut back from 7% to 6.3%. other than that it will be kept mostly the same. Lots of Carafa and dark crystal malts with no fewer than 8 hop additons using five different hops (mostly Galina and Summit). IBUs push on about 70, so my craving for adding hops will be surely satisfied.  Basically Im just been given permission to go crazy.

The other three beers, to be released June, September and December, I will keep a secret for now. Mainly because the names and pump clip designs aren't finalised but I can tell you they won't all be on the hop forward side. Besides, Panda Frog isn't just about pushing boundaries, extremism or trying to copy whatever's trendy. It's a mix of unorthodox beers, some bold, some subtle, some a bit wierd. All are product of an overactive, slightly deranged imagination.

To tell the truth I've probably never been more excited (OK, my wedding day and Christmas at 8 years old compete strongly). All the beers are on paper waiting for me to brew and present Panda Frog to the world. Four single batch reserves, that's all it is so it will definitely be about quality not quantity. Basically I know what this bad-ass project is all about and at the end of the day I could feed you a load of ideologies about being rebels or re-inventing beer style,s but whatever you make of it,  is what you make of it. For now I'm going to have to wait until about March for brewing to begin, until then the unstoppable force that is the mighty Pandazilla will sit waiting for its resurrection. Long live Panda Frog.

Don't diss, I got a C in art man

Sunday, 13 November 2011

November 12th 2011, twissup in the toon.

I have to say the Newcastle twissup has been a lot different from the adventure in York last time. It started with a familar face. Since I was the first to arrive at Tynebank brewery for the brewery tour/talk I got chance to catch up with former Mordue brewer/current Tynebank brewer Mark McGarry before the twissup crowds arrived.

Mark gave everyone a talk, we got to sniff some hops and try free cask samples. Out of the beers available I remember eventually deciding on the deep amber golden Monument Bitter as my all round favourite with its biscuity malmalade and blackcurrant like hop notes. The cherry stout was a hit with the ladies and even though I thought it had a lot of richness Mark wasn't quite happy with it and wanted it richer. He also explaned that Castle Brown ale had in no way stolen any name ideas from the famous/over rated Newcastle Brown or Newky broon (as the locals say).

Many samples later it was time to head to the The Free Trade Inn to see how my Pandazilla cascadian dark ale tasted now that it was in the cask and free to try. It had plenty of takers and a lot of people seemed to give positive comments but even when the beer didn't, the pumpclip certainly caught a lot of attention.

Thanks again to assistant brewer Dave's mate for that, it's a shame I still haven't met the artist. The beer itself poured an almost jet black with just a touch of condition. The crazy thing about it was the obvious difference between with citrusy almost flowery nose and sappy, heavy sherbet-like sweet palate that's laced with berry fruit flavours and chocolate. Compared to the very alcohol-laiden samples that were tried at the brewery this sure had improved. I wanted it hard hitting (like a giant 200 foot tall Pandazilla monster trampling on buildings and destroying all in its path) but more than anything I was chuffed about its approachability.

Moving on I decided to go for the bottled offering from Stateside gypsy brewery Pretty Things. I'd been trying to hunt down Pretty Things since their UK Debut at Zak Avery's shop a short time back and it didn't dissapoint. Jack D'Or is a creation from ex-Daleside brewer Dan Paquette. Like I expected very Belgian farmhouse ale-esque, peach and pear like subtle fruit combine with savoury grain and yeasty flavours. Very balanced, a touch quirky, a touch familiar and finishing with a nice rounded malt sweetness. It drinks like an old world Belgian and I could imagine it being immensely versatlie with food, especially cheese. Loved it.

Covenant Aromatic Red from Summer wine brewery was another memorable number. Lots of floral Centennial like hop notes over a smooth but light malt background. A nice interlude of session beer before I ended up trying Woolpacker Dave's 11% monster Imperial stout Vitesse Noir. Infused with chocolate, coffee and vanilla it sure is a huge powerhouse of a beer. Great flavours especially when served with chocolate truffles. Its only downside was the slight lack a little carbonation.

Jeff laughs at Dave's headbanging
  Anyways... From recollection after that Mordue's Matt Fawson turned up on the scene and I got a free lift to the Cumberland Arms. I think the consumption of quite a few over 6% beers early in the day really hindered my stamina. I do remember Thornbridge Crux being loaded with upfront catty hop resins over smooth malt and Boggart Walnut Porter being deep brown, quite dry, biscuty and nutty. It was about half eight when I threw in the towel, maybe I'm getting old? But overall a great day out, and it was great to see the old twissup crew, Dredgy, Rob from Hopzine, Wooly Dave and this time even Olly Fozard turned up.  

Not sure what was going on here, I don't remember this being taken.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Panda & Frog brewery announcement

Early suggested pumpclip idea
You heard it first here, I'm being given my own beer range starting next year. Four single batch reserves, starting with Pandazilla, a cascadian dark ale, which will be brewed in limited quantities from January onwards. If my project is continued on for another year after that then I have plenty more ideas for crazy stuff.

That's right, it's going to straight kick ass, and from what I've heard a few ferkins of Pandazilla have already been sold so there's no turning back now. As you can tell this is something that's been planned for a while now, and it's not just this, loads of stuff is going on at Mordue brewery this winter. We'll have three seasonals on the way. I'm being given the privelege of completely re-inventing Winter Tyne (as long as the abv stays the same), and Ive also been been contemplating a few beers  to brew for Christmas on the Panda and Frog kit.

Just recently has been the long awaited transfer of the 7% Pandazilla cascadian dark ale. This trial batch
has been sent to the Free Trade Inn to be served this Saturday on the twissup. It didn't really attenuate out as much as I wanted, and the brew day was a bit of nightmare (technical problems with the copper) but the resulting beer was a little booze and malt heavy but nice enough. It should be interesting to try this from handpull on Saturday. Since my last twissup (which was awesome) I longed for the day it finally came to somewhere closer to home. Sadly no one seems to have blogged about it much this time. But I'm looking forward to getting a longer innings than I did in York.

See you all there.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The obvious divides in brewing

This is subject that's been blogged about a fair few times. Dredgy gave a good overview here and In my time I've realised that the brewing industry and the consumers supporting it are an opinionated bunch. I've heard plenty of old blokes go on about how beer was so much better back in the 1950s, and read plenty of hype supporting crazy new world inventions of the brewing revolution. I've seen plenty of new world IPAs cast aside as over hopped, over hyped or too extreme and plenty of old school brown bitters called just boring. Many people have been under the impression that I back one side or the other but really I'm not on the fence, but back both. Here's what I think;

In one corner: The old school brewing traditions.

Things I like about it;

It gave us classic best bitters, pale ales, Belgian strong ales, pilsners and Barley wines. The templates for virtually every beer in existance. Old school brewing doesn't try and re-invent itself, it's about quality, consistency and usually, simplicity. I love brewing simple beers. Daleside Bitter was always easy peasy and Mordue Workie Ticket is a bundle of joy. Crystal malt and English hops are as compatable as ham and pease pudding.

Things I dislike about it;

Ok, even though it sounds wrong I have to say it. Image is a bit of a problem here. Traditional old pump clips and a thousand and one products that all taste more or less the same triggers nothing but old fashioned perceptions of beer and a stagnating beer scene. It's been blogged about many a time but many small breweries have had the tendency to follow the heard.

That's not to say in twenty years' time when everyone's drinking high octane kegged IPAs and Imperial Porters the next big thing could be cask conditioned pint of mild.

I also have a grudge about a lot of supermarket bottled ales. A 3.8% traditional bitter can be delicious, but after it's been forced through a filter, pasturized and force carbonated it loses more than a lot of that subtle character and becomes something else. The word 'bland' comes to mind. These bottled products don't win the craft brewing industry any fans, even if the cask versions might.

In the other corner: The new wave radical brewers.

Things I like about it;

Big hops, oxmoronic beer, crazy ingredients, edgy fonts on labels, lets get some attention. The brewing revolution is more than just evolving existing beer styles. For the outside its about changing the perceptions and stigmas associated with beer. For the insider its about capturing the imagination and expanding product diversity. Basically radical brewing encaptures just about everything that's new and exciting in the beer world.

Things I dislike about it;

Dangerous territory here as a lot of bloggers reading this may disown me. But truthfully, I have pondered over the odd over hyped beer and thought I'd rather just be down the pub drinking bitter 'x' from brewery 'x'. Are extreme beer just too extreme? For me, sometimes, but the majority of double IPAs, imperial porters and oak aged barley wines are great in small doses.

On thing I have realised is that at times I have found the whole craft beer movement/revoultion in the UK to get a tad arrogant. This can be towards anything mainstream or traditional in the industry. Beer geeks who take this stance generally come across as beer snobs whose attitude ends up deterring people from trying new beers.

So there we have it, my take on it all. The question is can a happy medium be found between the two ideologies in the modern brewing industry? I would like to think so, and from what I've seen not many British brewers strictly back one side or the other. Most upstart brewers from the 80s and 90s started out with a range of traditional products but are now branching out to new ideas.