Monday, 31 December 2012

New year post. A happy new year from Rob's Beer Quest.

Well, it's been a big year. But 2012 is finally over.

For me the obvious highlight was becoming a dad for sure, yet plenty of other stuff happened. For a start we got IPA in keg, which was cool. Then the whole Panda Frog project kicked off (also very cool). Later there was a beer battle. We didn't win (but with regard to all those who put out formidable entries, arguably no one won) but for the record look out for Killswitch 51 next year. Then we were nominated for GBBF, again no trophies there but hey at least we were nominated.

Closer to home Alnwick had a food festival, it was good. Alnwick had a beer festival, it was better. Then we can't forget that new pub that opened. I met various brewers and tried some great beers. On a whole I'd say the entire North East brewing scene produced a good number of diverse and interesting beers.

This year I also realised the difference between a bar that serves a good range of bottled and kegged beer and a great pub with great beer. Not that I have anything against Brew Dog bars but for me real pubs just offer much more. Some random sporting events were on the TV that had no relevance to beer. Then straight out of the blue came the SIBA awards.

But hey it isn't all about winning, I myself tried to define craft beer and like many others failed miserably. That was before a great blogging legend from the past rose like a pheonix from the flames to use his great knowledge and wisdom to finally put the issue to rest with one of the greatest blog posts of all history. But hey I can't compete with that.

But for me, besides all the ups and downs, trials and trivulations this year was mainly about three things. In order of occurance these were;

Panda Frog rises

The bairn

Panda Frog award

And that about wraps it up.

Happy new year everyone.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The 11th Beer of Christmas

Old Dairy Brewery Snow Top

Another one coming from all the way down south. It seems my old Heriot Watt homie Ed Wray has been focusing his brewing activities on on what he likes best; old school British strong ales. He sure hasn't gone wrong here.

Snow Top comes in at 6% and is hopped with Challenger, Bramling Cross and East Kent Goldings hops although that isn't obvious in this porter-esque/old ale like brew. There's an alcohol warmth instantly, but it's countered by sweetness and not challenging at all. It's all rum and raisins, figs and smooth fruitcake with underpinnings of prunes and milk chocolate. Probably my favourite Old Dairy brew to date, well composed, delicious and nourishing.

Good work Ed.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The 10th Beer of Christmas

Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper

So it's Christmas day. Time to pull out the big guns. The big number ten this year comes from Denmark from the folks at Mikkeller, brewers of the delightful From via To (last years 9th beer of Christmas) and this year I'm reviewing their 10.5% barley wine/Belgian strong ale like thing Santa's Little Helper.

Been a while since I've been near this category of beer so I'm intrigued. The colour is deep, deep, deep crimson, the nose is very perfumed cherry with quite a few upfront volatile esters and fusel alcohols. In short this is one big sappy, juicy hit of warming rum soaked raisins,  coffee, cherry and chocolate. The viscous almost liqour like alcohol hit rips through a syrupy, sugary sweet backbone that seems to come back in the finish.

So at first I wasn't sure on this one, but it does grow on you. Rich enough to take on any christmas pudding Santa's Little Helper is a fine example of a high octane seasonal brew. From Rob's Beer Quest, a merry Christmas to one and all.   

Monday, 24 December 2012

The 9th Beer of Christmas

Batemans Rosey Nosey

So, finally made it to Christmas eve. And it's time for an old faithful. Year after year Rosey Nosey adorns the supermarket shelves as one of the better readily available seasonals. Same old bready, boozy malt heavy winter warmer. At 4.7% it gives you dark fruit and caramelised malt, you could almost call it a textbook British winter seasonal. I get it as a Christmas present most years. Not a bad beer at all.  

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The 8th Beer of Christmas

York Stocking Filler

Here's a nice 4.8% chocolatey, toasty, nutty brown ale-like seasonal for you  Lots of dark fruit and subtle spice in the finish. Always regarded York brewery highly for well-crafted session beers and this one goes down rather easily. Nice beer indeed..

Monday, 17 December 2012

The 7th Beer of Christmas

Thornbridge Alliance Strong Ale Reserve 2007

This ones from the reserved cupboard. As far as I know Alliance was brewed once as a collaboration between Thornbridge and Brooklyn brewery's Garrett Oliver. A big 11% beast of a strong ale/barley wine like thing. This version is unoaked, and considerably different to how I remembered it.

For a start the carbonation is way more exagerated. Fruity fleshy almonds and a central sherry, saccarin like sweetness is countered by spritzy carbonation. Warming restrained boozy alcohols and lingering caramel in the finish. No longer your straight forward barley wine with a slight almost Belgian-esque sort of feel.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Panda Frog Panda Clause the 6th Beer of Christmas

Mordue Brewery Panda Frog Panda Claus

Meet Panda Claus, the fourth instalment of the Panda Frog saga. Panda Claus fun, cuddly and sweet-natured. Amber hued and loaded with juicy almond, orange, cinnamon, vanilla and clove.

Interestingly Panda Claus had another life a long time back. The winter of 2010 was mighty cold for home brewing within the confines of Daleside Brewery, Harrogate. It got brewed twice. At the time I had no idea that I would ever upscale this to a ten barrel brew at Mordue Brewery. The distinct orange/deep gold like colour of the runoffs and aromas of oats and sweet cinnamon brought instant nostalgia.

The current version isn't an exact replica of the original (different water, yeast and brew kit) I would probably argue it's better. But like the other Panda Frog beers Panda Claus is an endangered species, this time only available on cask so hunt it out.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Rob's Beer Quest Celebrates Blog Post 300!

Well I finally made it to post 300. You could say for over four and a half years it's not a great number of posts. But hey I made the score and I'm still blogging, call me the Geoff Boycott of beer blogging. But I can tell you it's been quite a journey.

A lot has changed since the early days of beer blogging. Beer blogger numbers seemed to have multiplied several fold, and plenty of them have thrown in the towel. Subject matters have changed and the hype and fanfare the beer-blogging world used to have about it seems to have faded off a tad. Beer blogging it seems almost had its period of adolescence, a period of thriving. Back when it was all about the next new Brew Dog release, the next new Thornbridge brew. Collaborative brews. Beer and food FABPOW! Why CAMRA have got it all wrong, why the government has got it all wrong, why these Brew Dog gimmicks are getting so tiring. Why beer should be featured on more TV shows like Saturday Kitchen and hey it's Christmas what beer is the ultimate pairing for Christmas dinner? What are we brewing this week? Pete Brown knows the score, he reads between the lines (Wikio ranked number 1 undefeated champ and overall beer blogging messiah) BACK DOWN GOVERNMENT SCUM! Cask vs Keg, Wine vs Beer and that old time Punch and Judy like pantomime between Woolpacker Dave and the legend that is Cooking Lager.

Since then things seemed to calmed down. The UK seemed to have been swamped with such an array of new brewing ventures and new beers that it's hard to keep up. For most of the old pre-2009 bloggers it's all 'seen it before' or everything's similar to what's already gone before. What would once be a big boundary-breaking, innovative brew to capture the imagination of the beer blogging community now gets a fraction of the limelight a 'well that's interesting' and then we move on. But at the end of the day it was always about improving consumer choice. Recently I've seen a few veterans turning back to appreciate non-contemporary orthodox beers.

But aside from blogging things have changed massively since way back then in 2008. Back then I was a Heriot-Watt post grad with a notebook reviewing beers and taking head brewers autographs. Now I am the head brewer, and for a local brewery I have always been fond of with my own personalised side project in Panda Frog and a contingency plan in young future assistant brewer baby Susie (the brewing force is strong). The notepad and the autographs are no more (the ultimate turning point was getting my own autograph back in post 200) and I've grown to understand more and more that a head brewer does way more than just turn up, brew beer and go home. Over time I find myself thinking more and more like my old mentor Craig from Daleside (although when things go wrong there isn't stream of hot steam coming out of a bald patch at the back of me head).

My job is cool. Double brew day, 4:30am. Rain, ice, snow. The almost therapeutic influence of the brewing process. The nice warming effect of shovelling out hot spent grain from the mash tun. The office staff are great fun whilst the two brothers Matt and Gary make all the decisions. Although if both decisions are contradicting the lights go down, we go to deadlock and turn to the public vote.

Wash some casks, count some stock, fill some casks, empty another fermenter and oh look a film crew have randomly turned up. I once remember poking my head out from the mill area to find Matt introducing a crowd of 30-40 college students to me. All forty odd pairs of eyes staring up at me expectantly I was tempted to come out with "He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy!". It's all great fun and at the end of the day it's all about the beer.

Anyway, enough of that, back to the twelve (slightly more budget than previous years) beers of Christmas.

Friday, 7 December 2012

The 5th Beer Of Christmas

Wold Top 5 Wold Rings

A fitting name for the post I thought. And a good beer indeed.

Sweetish caramel, apple and lemon on the nose. Juicy malt on the palate overlapped by spicy resiny Northdown and Cascade hops. This beer has a bit of an edge to it and overall speaks pure smooth pale ale with resiny spice in the finish. A delicious, highly drinkable offering.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Glen Garioch Founders Reserve

The problem I've found with exploring whisky, wine or brandy is the price and availability. Whereas good beer these days is pretty easy to find and cheap by comparison. Because of this my exploration of whisky has been quite drawn out and at times expensive. 

Glen Garioch Founders Reserve is quite a sweet-natured yet warming speyside malt. You get aromas of sweet cinnamon spice, pepper and Elastoplast. Mouth filling sweet malt and spice open things up. Alcohol heat from the 48% abv lingers in the finish with nutmeg, apple and cereal notes. Founders reserve sure is a fine drop in its own way. There's a slight heaviness to it. Loads of smoothness, warmth and spice, to me at almost tastes like Christmas. I also found that it goes great with rum soaked Christmas cake.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The 4th Beer of Christmas

Harviestoun Mr Sno'balls

Mr Sno'balls is a 4.5% copper hued best bitter brewed with pale and crystal malts, roast barley, Challenger and Styrian goldings hops. A pretty straight forward affair here. Opens with some subtle leafy citrus hops and plum notes. Finish is dominated by bready biscuity crystal malts. More of a mellow best bitter than your typical seasonal. None the less a well composed, tasty beer from a good brewery.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The 3rd Beer of Christmas

Staffordshire Brewery Snowman's Meltdown.

Well, it sure is cold out. No snow just yet tho. Here's another beer from the south from a less well heard of brewery. Picked this one up from a little farm shop on the way back from a recent trip to Kent. Snowmans Meltdown is a 4.5% stout that opens with fullish sweet oily chocolate and toasty roast grain. The finish turns to coffee with a hint of liquorish and more roast grain. A nice all round stout.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Panda Frog Black Ops. Cask vs Keg at Lady Grays

It's not all that often that I get to try the beers of Mordue on trade. At work plenty of sampling goes on but hunting the stuff down on trade is something I would like to do more of. But this week one of the fine pubs of Newcastle, Lady Grey's has decided to take some Panda Frog Black Ops in both cask and key keg form and serve them on the bar at the same time.

This certainly demanded attention (since I had never tried the key keg version), so myself and Matt decided to head down for the purposes of quality control. For those that haven't tried Black Ops, well it's kind of like a Czech style dark lager with the hops switched to heavy dosages of German and New Zealand varieties. The cask version, in short is slightly more raw and uncomprimising. Leafy resiny hops and forest fruit with soft chocolatey-coffee malt in the finish. The keg version is definitely smoother, cleaner and closer to your typical dark lager with the flavours slightly more well composed.

From its inception I knew this beer would be well suited to keg and I'm very chuffed with the results. It might be harder to find but I would definitely advise hunting it out.   

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Cheeseboard

Cheese... Lovely cheese. Been a while since I blogged about it.

For me a good cheeseboard is like a little piece of heaven, and every pub or restaurant has a slightly different version of it though making your own is more fun. The number of cheeses can vary greatly. Three is the minimal number but four to seven is more ideal. More than seven and it gets a bit too much. But it's not all about the cheese, some garnish with apple chunks, others prefer grapes. Biscuits or crackers are good but not essential and chutney is always a bonus. But any great cheese board is in essence like a great football team, the elements shine individually but together provide the experience.

 The quality and variety of what's on the board is crucial. I stand by that five is the perfect number of cheeses. In order of preference here's how I would choose it:

1; the blue. (absolutely loads of great ones to choose from here but when in doubt you just can't go wrong with good old stilton)

2; the hard and nutty (Gruyere, one of my weaknesses)

3; the soft, ripe and creamy (Brie or Camenbert, still undecided on a favourite).

4; the cheddar (usually but not always, and not always a strong one)

5; the wildcard

My wildcard is normally something uber pungent like a munster but it can be goat's cheese or some odd ball French creation. Then again smoked cheeses are hard to turn down also, this is why two or three wildcards are usually better.

Obviously the cheeseboard has to be served with a beverage, which for me is normally a very cheese versatile beer. Barley wines, Big Belgian's, some IPA's, general strong ales or even premium bitters can do the job. Then there's the surprisingly under-rated option of Geuze. Wine or Port will also suffice.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The 2nd Beer Of Christmas

Hill island Christmas Light Ale

Hill Island is a nice little Durham micro that I've tried a few bottle beers from. Quite fitting to post this the same day the Alnwick Christmas lights go on.

Pours a bright pale golden straw in colour. Nice spicy herbal aromas with a grainy medium to light bodied palate. The drying finish is dominated by herbal, spicy hops. It's an easy going little number and at 4.1% probably a good one to warm up on early in the festive drinking session.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The 1st Beer of Christmas

On a bit of a budget this year.

Bear with me here it gets better. Every year the twelve beers are always a bit of a challenge, this year I have a bit less time and a baby to look after. But any how, here goes.

Those that know Greene King's Old Speckled Hen will know it for its rounded sweet fruit and caramel-toffee like malt front. Interestingly here the combination of more carbonation and cold serving temperature seems to counter the syrupy sticky sweet nature of the beer. All in all nothing fancy here, but if offered one again I wouldn't turn it down.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The definition of 'Craft' Beer

You hear a lot about craft beer on beer blogs, especially when it comes down to actually defining the term. The problem I have with it is when it comes to explaining the term to people who know very little about beer. This is where I normally end up struggling to put forward the jist of what the whole evolving, thriving craft beer scene of the UK is all about.

 For most beer enthusiasts, craft beer doesn't need a solid definition, they just get it. Wooly Dave did a video a while back that covers things well. We've also seen the debate on Indy Man Beer Con, which didn't really end in any conclusive definitions. The problem often seems that outside the world of beer geekism not that many people 'get it' and the term means very little if nothing at all.

To me there seems to be various perceptions of craft beer. Like the concept of it being only served on keg, or that it has to crammed with excessive quantities of pungent new world hops, or it's about putting more ingredients into a beer. Perhaps it has to be marketed a certain way with plenty of sneering at CAMRA being commonplace among the hardcore fans of craft beer elitism.

Take it or leave it, craft beer in the UK has evolved to be something quite different to the original 1980/90s blossoming craft beer scene in the US. Then again, take your average UK start up brewery that idolises and takes inspiration from the American craft beer market. They look around and feel like a fish out of water surrounded by masses of traditional 'real ale' brewers. So you can see where some of the attitudes and segregations in the UK industry have occurred. You have your 'real ale', your 'lowest common denominator' beer, fancy imported European beers then you have craft beer. Some people think the four things are completely different. Others (like me) realise there is a lot of overlap, especially between cask and craft beer.

So here at Rob's Beer Quest we have a definition. Feel free to argue with it. But to define it we have to put it in comparison to what is not craft beer. Here goes:

Craft beer:

Craft beer originates from a brewer/collective of individuals who brews beers to certain specifications to the flavours and aromas that desire. What constitutes as great beer to them is individual to them and is what they strive to produce and wish to represent their company.

Not craft beer:

Non craft beer originates from a brewer who brews to certain specifications usually set by a managing body that dictates over operations. What constitutes as great beer to them depends entirely on what they can sell in the greatest volumes, to the widest customer base, at the cheapest production costs for the biggest profit margins. They aren't always large companies, some exist to cash in on existing markets.

Problem is, in reality the majority of products on the market take ideals from both camps. So at the end of the day craft beer really comes down to what the drinker makes of it. The definition of craft beer is of something that has no definition.

Friday, 26 October 2012


Check it out here...

That's right, more SIBA awards. This time for Mordue IPA taking bronze in category and Panda Frog Pandazilla taking silver. For this I am immensely proud. And it was good going for those folks at Cullercoats Brewery with a silver from Jack the Devil. With all due respect, their brewing style is their own and together we did the region proud.


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Panda Frog round three; Black (H)-Ops

Behold the dark side of the frog, bringer of chaos and destruction

It's easy to get carried away with these themed brews. You wake up in the morning and loading up the toaster is like slotting in a 7.62mm bullet belt to a GPMG. Starting up the car is like firing up the rotors to your Apache attack helicopter, ready to cain your enemy's ass with hellfire missiles and 20mm cannon fire.

Anyway. The third installment of the Panda Frog series, Black (H)-Ops is a 4.9% (almost) black lager brewed with German and New Zealand hops. The brew day was an exciting experience, a new yeast strain and exotic hop varieties never used before at the brewery. Overall I'm fond of the hop forward forest fruit nuanced brew and can't wait to get it in key keg. Only a select few have tried it to date so any feedback is appreciated. Check it out soon.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


Busy times at Mordue Brewery recently, busy times indeed.

Some will remember last years Red Rye Riwaka. Well this year were on the Polish hops, or should we say mostly Polish hops. Lubelski (4.5%) is a blonde ale brewed with a frenzy of Euro hops and early tasting are pleasantly fruity. The hop variety Lubelski itself is a peculiar Polish version of Saaz with a touch of Bobek like sweetness, a pleasent noble hop. So look out for this one at your local Wetherspoons this october.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Old Dairy Brewery Fresh Hop

Lovely place is Kent, don't really see enough of it.

The county hosts a scenic landscape of hop fields, oast houses, southerner folk, gardens and stuff like that. It's also the brewing place of my former Heriot Watt homie Edd Wray, who for this particular brew drove his bald ass down to the local hop farm and back on the brew day to collect the hops for this brew. I myself have never brewed a fresh hop beer but have tried a few from the US. So on receiving this 4% bottle conditioned offering I decided to go straight for the opener with no waiting to let it settle.

The aroma wasn't quite what I expected, kind of grassy wet earth with subtle sweet stone fruit, not like sticking your head into a fresh bag of fuggles. Some nice flavours here though, lots of leafy grassy hops seem to dominate over a slightly sweet malt centre of subtle summer fruits before it kicks into the familiar raspy peppery, leafy bitter prickle of English hops. The fresh hop presence makes itself known with a damp and plush sort of feel.

Overall an interesting drinking experience, a straight forward session bitter played in a different key. To hunt this one down you'll need to head over to the Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight in Canterbury which takes place from 28th September till October 12th.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Alnwick Beer Festival 2012

It's that time of year again. The Alnwick Beer Festival has always been a highlight of the year for me. Every year The Alnwick Round Table make it slightly different and last year's Scottish beer theme was changed to a new brewery theme, celebrating the large range of new existing (and one non-existing) breweries springing up and around the region. Sadly this meant they would be cutting back on the old timers. No Durham beers this year, no Big Lamp and no Mordue. Those who remember last year's festival may recall Mordue Northumbrian Blonde selling out first, which lefrt me a little confused as to why it wasn't chosen this year.

But none the less a good set of beers was put forward, with the likes of Anarchy, Tyne Bank, Cullercoats and Coquetdale out in force. It was time to hunt out some new beers but for me Cullercoats' Jack the Devil is a beer that needs a second try to fully appreciate. Dark, lots of tart berry fruit with a kind of rugged traditional feel about it. Tyne Bank's Southern Star was juicy, with an aromatic New Zealand hop influence and Black Moss by High House Farm was pleasantly chocolatey and malt forward. There were plenty of old reliables to complement the new beers. Wylam Bitter, Jarrow Bitter, Auld Hemp and Allendale Wolf are all good to fall back on but for hop head beer geek types Wylam's vibrant single hopped Chinook was the most assertively hop forward beer in the building.

Baby Susie, first beer festival at 4 weeks old
Anarchy brewing Blonde Star was the first beer to sell out mid afternoon Saturday, and through it all the Alnwick Food Festival was up and running outside featuring bottled beers brought to you by Allendale Brewery and 3 Wise Monkeys. Like last year there were plenty of cheeses, pies, cup cakes, sauces and plenty of other local produce available plus an awesome range of teas available from festival newcomers Bari Tea. There was even some bread made with Mordue Geordie Pride (finding out that sold out quick was a kind of consolation prize) from Dough Works.

One of my favourite stalls, Allendale brewery brought a range of bottled beers
So all in all similar to most years the whole beer fest/food fest thing was about good beer, good company, familiar faces and the odd pie or two. A good show all round.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Stout. It's a strong word.

Stout. It's a strong word in craft brewing I tell you that. Dry, chocolatey, velvety, grainy, leather, vanilla, fruity, boozy, pithy, sweet, imperial, smooth, with oysters or just straight bitter. Stout is a world in itself and to the inventive minded brewer the basic stout recipe can be thought of as a platform for an almost endless number of tweaks, variations and speciality ingredients. As versatile as your plain bagel you could say, yet many of the greatest stouts I've ever tried have been just that.

In recent times the North East's reviving beer scene has had a good go at tinkering with the style, Tyne Bank's rich cherry oatmeal stout and Durham Brewery's rogue geuze meets imperial stout offering Diabolus are two examples. Yet even previous to that the region hosted a good number of quality stouts. Allendale Brewery's Tar Barl and McConnells from Jarrow are two quality straight down the middle dry Irish-style stouts. Mordue's All Hallows is a bit of an all rounder (look out for it this Autumn) and Durham's Black Velvet is pretty much self explanatory. Then you can't forget the charms of Big Lamp's Summerhill Stout.

Yet apart from Durham's Imperial 10%  Temptation the region has had little to offer in the way of real heavyweight stouts. However, since last week Anarchy Brew Co of Morpeth has released not just a heavyweight stout but a bold form of the style that has never been brewed in the region.
Sublime Chaos is a 7% Breakfast stout brewed with great quantities of oatmeal and coffee. My sample was taken from the brewery in the form of a take home bright bottle (being a new parent makes attending new beer launches a fair challenge).

The viscous black liquid was in short a big bold burly complex epic of a stout that's sublime but too well held together to call chaotic. Think silky, oily, viscous, full-on oats countering husky, bitter grain and liquorice. Some heavy hop resins and viscous alcohols erupt in the middle and build into dark winter fruit-like overtones whilst the coffee infusion creates a prolonged note of rich coffee that's almost a constant. I was surprised to hear from Simon how much coffee was used in making this and despite how obvious the coffee is it never seems to dominate but just add to the whole experience.

Being a big fan of oatmeal in brewing and more recently real coffee (very helpful to new parents) has probably made me all the more biased. Like a good mild ale, oatmeal stouts are a weakness of mine. My advice, seek this one out.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt

It just so happens that a university friend of the wife's now does PR for Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt which takes place this Autumn. She got in touch and asked if I wanted samples and my answer was yes.

So finally after all these years of beer blogging, all these years of watching the young upstart bloggers haul in crate after crate of free beery delights I finally get sent some free beer (OK, it's my own fault really for not making much effort with social networking, plus beer blogging for the soul purpose of getting free beer is very bad practice).

So anyhow, six beers, six different brewers, my unbiased opinion, here it goes.

Nethergate Lemon Head 4%

Nethergate is a brewery I have rated highly for a long time. Both Umbel ale and Old Growler are old favourites of mine so I was expecting the 4% Lemon Head to deliver something at least decent. In short it certainly delivers on the lemon front, with a fair bit of ginger in there as well giving a nice bite to it. The finish is almost tonic-like with very subtle biscuity malt undertones. Great as a straight forward palate cleanser or one to knock back in the summer.

Wadworth Horizon  4%

Very pale gold to straw in colour, dry, savoury and almost pilsner-esque with a very faint hint of citrus. Drinkable enough, but other than that, not much going on.

Batemans Mocha Beer 6%

Promised much with the general description and a big mocha chocolate aroma (lovely volumptuous chocolaty stout like thing here we come). Not quite. Opens with boozy burnt grain in a heavy malt palate of dark chocolate and espresso notes. The finish gets taken over by that distinct powdered hot chocolate note you got in the aroma. Somehow its not quite all tied together and comes across almost artificial at times. Still a pleasent enough beer.

Wye Valley Dorothy Goodbody's Blissful Brown Ale 4.6%

Light chestnut brown and laced with sweet nutty grain and a light creamy mouthfilling caramelised malt texture. Slight almond note in the finish and balanced with only a whisper of hops. Also subtle and tasting a fair bit lower than its 4.6%. A sound beer, yet worlds apart from the big coloured malt laden Brown ales of the North East region. None the less here is subtlty done well.

Williams Bros Prodical Sun 4.1%

Now here's a Scottish brewer with a fondness of the unothodox. They don't shout about it the way others do but Williams Bros brew in a style of their own using a fair number of odd-ball ingredients along the way. This beer is no exception, although by far not my favourite Williams Bros beer it doesn't fail to be interesting. The mid golden liquid offers a peculiar initially plush mix of strawberries and cream, grainy toffeeish chewy ovaltine and a lychee-like slightly hidden hop bite. Quite difficult to pull apart but the finish quickly tails off to airy dry spruce notes. It's certainly worth a try.

Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons 4.2%

In short a deep reddish black porter cross mild hybrid. Rich chocolaty dark fruit dominates over some yeasty notes, English hops and a bite of burnt grain in the finish that turns it a touch sharp. All in all very flavourful and well brewed.  

It's good to see the supermarkets promote new beers. So remember folks Sainsbury's is a wonderful place. Their own brand ketchup is the finest around and occasionally they change their bottled beer range.

Don't miss the Great British Beer Hunt. There are 20 beers in the final which will be sold at stores across the country. Ten of those will go through to a Grand Final on October 5 when one beer will be picked as the best, and will go on sale for six months across the UK.

Friday, 7 September 2012

We must honour and hold true to each other

"We must honour and hold true to each other" I Am A Craft Brewer 3:22

In 2008 Stone brewery's 'I Am A Craft Brewer' video summed up the unity and collaborative spirit of the craft beer industy in the US.

I've been working in the UK brewing scene for long enough now to realise that us micro, small and even regional brewers in general more than get along. We realise our market doesn't work the same as others where say market presence, brand image, customer loyalty and efficient production methods are the tools to achive market domination against rival companies (look at Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Ford, Kellogs etc). I';ve realised from experience that Greg Koch's message of unity within the craft beer sector doesn't always run 100% true (I'd call it 99%). Other brewers on one hand are (usually) our friends and each one works in a kind of symbiosis with the other. But on the other hand they are also market competitors.

Whether or not you see other brewers as friends or more as competitiors the unwritten constant between us is normally mutual respect. But when you hear of something like this happening to a local micro like Brew Star (now Anarchy Brew Co) you suddenly realise that not everyone in the industry sees things the way you do.

OK, so as a quick parody let's say us folk at Mordue discovered a brewery in a distant county called Cordue. Would we then feel our identity was being threatened adn be inclined to sue the balls off them? Perhaps Cordue was devised as a deliberate copycat company with copycat brands? Or perhaps it was the name of the head brewer's much loved pet hamster? Is it really a big enough deal to make a fuss over?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Pandazilla in bottle

So after a lot of manual work and a lot of waiting for labels to come through we finally have Panda Frog Pandazilla in bottles and released to the wider world. I myself have tried a few at home, though really wished I had stocked up for paternity leave because I honestly favour the bottle-conditioned version marginally over cask or keg. The carbonation, head, lacing and aroma are bang on what I was aiming for. Which is great considering that before we started the whole bottle conditioning kerfuffle we knew there would be variables we couldn't control.

I would advise serving on the cooler side of the textbook 10-12C, on its own or with oriental dishes such as duck chop suey. My food-pairing experiments so far have often pointed me in the direction of dishes featuring a mild sour element. Cider baked pork chops also work well. Alternatively try chocolate, especially dark chocolate based desserts (berry fruit thrown in optionally). But to take things to the next level I would try it with chicken balti (that one kicked my ass). In fact any medium spiced curry or Mexican dish is worth a try.

Saturday, 25 August 2012


No really. It's a girl look.
Baby Susie, Panda Frog progeny 10lb 11oz born 23/08/2012
It's been a long time coming too and with the poll results I can now confirm that those readers that thought it would be a Chestbuster, Hemaphrodite or a boy were wrong. Being a burly little thing, I could instantly see little Susie one day lobbing around sacks of malt and digging out spent grain from the mash tun (it might happen, you never know). But for the meantime I though it quite appropriate to open a beer, not just any beer though this one I had been saving for quite some time.
Yep, this one's come right from the back of the ageing cupboard, the oldest bottle of beer I own. The one that when I bought it, I didn't realise that this was probably from the last ever batch of Gale's Prize Old Ale ever brewed under an independant Gale's (before Fullers took it over and put on  500ml crown capped bottles). It's been with me through Christmas after Christmas, birthday after birthday, a graduation, my wedding even, another graduation and numerous 'Open It' events. It's one of the last of it's kind (given this was subjected to aging with the original microflora from the original brewer's wooden vats used to age POA since the 1920's and not the Fullers 'cleverly blended' version).
So what does it taste like? Could it by now have turned to flat vinegar? Or even explosive vinegar fobbing everywhere? Far from it. There's a lot of influence from organisms in the secondary here, you could call it almost Lambic-esque but without the sting. It opens creamy, with fleshy fruity boozy notes, sweet candy, mellow oak and cherries all lifted gracefully by a spritzy carbonation. The sweet cherry candy and oak notes then resonate in the slightly tart finish of subtle sherry-like alcoholic notes.There's almost a bit of Belgian sour red like character about it but the tartness isn't quite at that level.
In short this is pure fermented class. It's a beer thats developed over the years to become what it was meant to be. All it's rough edges and inbalances are gone. It's mellowed and fine tuned itself and stayed preserved to provide someone with an almost timeless moment. I probably won't ever get to try the same beer again. But it was worth it for the moment.   

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Hoptrix unleashed

So finally after its unofficial launch at Alnwicks 3 Wise Monkeys,  The Hoptrix has hit the toon and made it into two of my favourite Newcastle pubs, The Free Trade Inn and Lady Greys (both very different and both very complementary to Newcastle's thriving beer scene). As the second instalment of Mordue Brewery's Panda Frog project this Belgian pale cross blonde ale opens with a bold sweet tropical fruit almost pineapple character, herbal undertones and subtle resonating leafy hops before juicy banana late on. Like the last time it was a pleasure to develop. But don't just take it from me, hunt it out now.

Friday, 3 August 2012

IPA day

As many of you may know, yesterday was IPA day. At first I was a bit miffed at this. I mean what's it all about? Why isn't there a Stout day? Lambic day? Weizen day? Why IPA? Well all the information you need can be found on the Beer Wench's site and it seems the US craft beer scene event has found its way over the the UK with various venues around the country doing something for it.

Sadly I didn't get manage to get myself to Newcastle's The Free Trade Inn for their IPA showcase as I must remain in a constant state of standby (baby/chestbuster due to arrive any day now). So alternatively I decided to head to Coppers 8 till 8 to pick up just a few IPAs.

So to start things off we have Shipyard IPA, An American IPA brewed in the style of a classic British IPA (an increasingly rare style variant these days). The word fuggles on the label suggested that this would be the best one to start things off with. Pouring a pale gold in colour it sure has plenty of carbonation. Subtle caramelised malt, earthy yeast and hops open things up then the finish turns slightly astringent, sour and a tad cardboard like. It was obviously past its best.

Anyhow, moving we have the bad-ass beast that is Summer Wine Reaper Red IPA, even the name sounds bad-ass. Deep bronze. Aromas of pungent tropical, red fruit and lychee. This is more like it. It opens with a full on assault of resiny citric hop resins, berry fruit and heavy malt backbone before a another huge sappy snap of juicy hops hits you in the finish. A 7.4% no nonsense package of shock and awe that packs a lot in. The echos of the impact last long after the swallow.

So after the throat attack it was time to notch things up for the finale, Arbor Ales Down Deeper 10.4% monster promised much but surprisingly didn't come across as all that aggressive. It pours a pale gold with a slight haze from me accidentally pouring in some sediment. The aroma is straight forward citric hops with fruity esters (apples, pears) yet not as massively pungent as expected. The beer's overall feel is heavy, bold and boozy with lots of fruity viscous alcohols mingling with smooth grainy malt and resiny lime and citric hops. It finishes bittersweet with more tangy lime and citrus hop notes. Well hopped strong ale, yes. Double IPA... Maybe when it was younger.

So that was my contribution to IPA day, normally I would have preferred a more varied range but like I say I have stay on standby.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Panda Frog Meet the Artist

There's no doubt that when I first saw the the Pandazilla pump clip I was ten times more impressed than I thought I would be. There's no doubt it has caught a lot of attention.  The question is who is the artist behind this masterpiece?

Here Rob's Beer Quest reveals all about the unsung master of the canvas in a Beer Wench meets Beer Reviews Andy style interview.

Name: Dana Zhang

Occupation: Student/Freelance designer

1.       How did you get into Manga style artwork?

From a very early age I was interested in beautiful designs, and spent much of my time sketching and colouring – as long as I remember it is all that I have wanted to do. Manga-style is of course an Asian style of cartoon, and being from China it is natural that I would enjoy that style! I have since completed a Bachelors’ degree in Fine Art, and am currently studying for my Masters’ at Northumbria University in Graphic Design. I have quite a varied portfolio now, from paintings of Beijing Opera characters to portraits of friends, and even stop-motion animation (think Morph from Tony Hart’s Hartbeat ), so it is not exclusive to Manga-style art. However, Panda and Frog Brewery gives me more of an opportunity to showcase my talent in the UK, and is a particularly fun project as the concepts are quirky and fun!

2. How long have you been an artist/designer?

I completed my Bachelors degree in Fine Art back in China in 2009, but I have also done a lot of artwork in my free-time; some freelance work, but some just out of hobby

3. What is your favourite beer?

Well, I don’t really drink very much to be honest, but when I do I tend to stick to low volume drinks as I’m a bit of a lightweight!

4. Which do you prefer, frogs or pandas?
Haha, I prefer the colour of frogs because green is very cute, but with the Panda being a national symbol of my home country, China, I would have to say the Panda. If we’re talking more philosophically, I’d say that Pandas are a lot more powerful than frogs too, so have more control; frogs are little and helpless and too easy to be controlled, so again I’d have to empathise with the Panda, as I am quite a strong-minded individual!

5. What are your hobbies?

I watch a lot of movies – Leon is my favourite! Natalie Portman is one of my favourite actresses. I also watch a lot of TV shows, drama or comedy mostly. The Big Bang Theory is one of my favourites, but I’ve finished that now and have moved on to Two Broke Girls. I also like to travel in my spare time, and since living in Newcastle have travelled a little bit around the area: Durham, York, Sunderland, Edinburgh, and even went to a public bonfire up in Hexham, but I’m still yet to go to London!

6.  What inspires your designs?

I am inspired mainly by things that I find beautiful; these are the things that draw people’s attention the most, colours in particular. For example, the colour of the sky – in fact, colours from nature in general. Nature is a big inspiration to me. One of my favourite artists is a Chinese artist called Benjamin Zhang Bin, who is a famous graphic novel illustrator, and has even made covers for Marvel Comics. I think there are many things to learn from his use of vivid colours.

7. Who is your favourite ninja turtle?

Hmm, it has been so long since I watched it I can’t really remember, but I would have to say Donatello because purple is my favourite colour! Plus, anyone who can fight with just a stick rather than a sword or blade deserves more respect!

Some good answers there. Tho for that last question I would have said Leonardo. I would also like to add that although Pandas appears more powerful than the Frogs, Frogs can move around quite quickly. Thus if a Panda and a frog were ever to fight the frog could easily avert the the slow clumsy movements of the bear. Further more if the frog was a poisonous frog, then frog could indeed easily cain it's ass.

However, if the Panda was armed with some kind of makeshift weapon, a flamethrower say, then the Panda would win. As far as intellectual arguments go this is all open for debate.
Thanks ... your duty to Panda Frog will be recognised forever.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Credit for the old timer

It's come as a bit of a surprise to us Mordue folk. Our Workie Ticket seems to be getting attention around the blogging world recently, notably here, here and here. Not surprising for a former GBBF winner but surprising for a beer that's unapologetically old school and dare I say it... brown.

For me Workie Ticket has always been one of those classic beers of the region with an almost iconic status. To many it conjures up images of an industry-laden Tyneside with hordes of flat cap workers 'gannin doon the boozer'. To me the entire Workie Ticket experience, brewing and drinking, brings visions of a much younger Fawson brother slaving over a home brew kit, excitement for the new brewing venture, 1997, champion beer of Britain and traditional wood furnished country pubs serving steak and ale pie. Till now I have yet to find a beer that matches steak and ale pie better.

Bready biscuity sweet malt, almond, chocolate, underpinning late hops and that extra bit of depth. Yeah, thats Workie.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Behold; the next Panda Frog project

What is The Hoptrix? The answer is out there, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.
That's right, following the eventual bottling of Pandazilla we finally got round to brewing the next beer of the elusive Panda Frog series. The Hoptrix is a 5.3% new-world Belgian ale that veers somewhere between Belgian blonde, Belgian pale ale and American pale ale territories (that's more or less how it's currently developing). But unfortunately, no one can be told what the Hoptrix is. You have to find it for yourself. 

We will be launching The Hoptrix in approximately two weeks (date not yet set) and if you miss that the bottled version will soon follow. Keep your eye out for this one.

Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the hoptrix...

Graham W Robertson (twitter)

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Brooklyn Local 2 with Linquine Carbonara

Brooklyn Brewery is an outfit that's strengthened its presence in the UK in recent times. For me Brooklyn Lager was one of the first beers from the American craft beer scene I came across. Following this Brooklyn Brown Ale and East India Pale Ale became two beers I could never turn down. Bold but smooth is the house style from a brewmaster trained by a Yorkshire man who happens to be the brother of my former mentor at Daleside brewery. So yes myself and Garret Oliver have something in common, and his book 'The Brewmaster's Table' became a benchmark for beer and food literature that many a beer expert has turned to for inspiration.

Local 2 is a Belgian strong ale featuring raw wildflower honey. It's not quite bold or smooth but intriguing nonetheless. The deep russet, amber brew definitely smells distinctly Belgian, dominated by dark candy sugar and spice. It opens with sweet honey, chocolate and elderflower on the palate with a touch of almond-like fruit. The finish then turns racy, drying and full of prickly carbonation. Definitely well attenuated and very Belgian strong ale-esque.

Putting this beer with a dish such as Linquine Carbonara was not my own idea, but straight from the website. It sure is delicious and the pairing is mostly about the almost champagne-like carbonation of the beer lifting the creaminess of the sauce whilst the chocolate notes from the dark grain pick up on the pancetta. It was a good match up, even if not the best Garret Oliver inspired food-beer pairing it would be interesting to see how this dish works with something like a Weizen. Whether it works or not, the experience of good beer with good food is rarely unpleasant.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

28 today

That's right I am now officially in my late twenties. But it ain't so bad, after all 28 is the same age as Ryu was from the classic video game Super Street Fighter 2. Not that I now have the ability to shoot fireballs from the palms of my hands. But I thought it would be good to do something for my birthday and since I rarely get round to going out in Newcastle, and it has many good pubs, I thought that the night on the Toon was the way to go.

To start things off we ended up in the much tweeted about Brew Dog Newcastle. As my first time in a Brew Dog bar I found it to be more or less what I expected. Bright edgy fonts everywhere, uber trendy and not a single bar staff member looking over 16. If you're a Brew Dog fan you will love this place and I don't think I've ever seen a specialist beer bar try so hard with image. Besides this Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale proved to be an interesting twist on the original and Brew Dog Centennial Columbus IPA and Nogne Citra were both sound new world IPAs but for me seemed a bit overly chilled from the keg dispense.

Moving on it was time to hit the Broad Chare for burgers with some delicious Wylam Writer's Block which has enough attributes of an American pale ale to pull off that classic Pale ale/IPA-burger no brainer pairing. After this there was various options as the Toon is littered with great pubs, but with a heavily pregnant wife as our driver it was time to cut to the chase.

The Free Trade Inn is a classic geordie pub that I barely see enough of. It hosts a great range of beers and advocates new beer released around the region and further afield. So being in with what's current a Brew Star Anarchy was in order, along side a Mordue IPA for quality control purposes.

But after a not so long night it was time to head home. After all I am getting on being 28 and all. But the party wasn't completely over as birthday celebrations officially ended today (on my official birthday) with a beer dinner made by the wife.

To start things off smoked salmon, tomato, mozzarella and basil salad served with The Kernel India Pale Ale Stella. A beer chosen almost randomly that stangely seemed to work with the dish. The beer was mainly chosen because I have never tried any IPAs from The Kernel and because I'm unfamiliar with the hop variety Stella. It's a big naturally conditioned beer packed full of big resiny hops backed up by burly malt. The Stella hop seems moderately interesting, a tad like galaxy, a tad like centennial, a tad like various others but with a slight earthy, robust almost peppery character. A great beer.

Stepping down a notch with the hops it was time for some Mordue Nothumbrian Blonde (straight from the conditioning tank at work) served with a chicken stew derived from the cookbook Appetite for Ale by Fiona Beckett. Sierra Nevada Chicken was basically adapted to being Northumbrian Blonde chicken. Great stuff and very filling. But that just about sums up my twenty eighth birthday experience, my last birthday not being a dad.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

At last... The bottling.

One of the problems with bottle conditioning your own beers on site is time. You need to find the time, space and manpower to get through it. It's been a long time coming but this week the folks of Mordue Brewery have finally managed to get our limited edition Panda Frog Pandazilla beer bottled.

So after labelling up all three hundred plus bottles (like I say, limited edition) all there is left to do is hope my carefully calculated additions of priming sugar and yeast provide the bottled beer with just the right amount of condition. We did have the idea of encasing the bottles in dead rodents carcasses and selling them for £300 each but no, it has to have the classic Pandazilla label at the fore.

Of course, now Pandazilla is in bottled form it is free to be unleashed upon the world (or as far and wide as 300 bottles can go) and some select bloggers will receive some (the chosen ones). Additionally a few chosen pubs will also be harbouring the beast, not in bottled but key-kegged form. It will be interesting to see how it varies from the cask version. So there you have it, Pandazilla back for round 2 the sequel, you could call it 'Pandazilla 2, return of the black stuff'.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Brew Star Anarchy

Here's a newly released beer I came across recently at my local the 3 Wise Monkeys and decided to take one home. I already knew Brew Star for their beers of a well-refined, composed and balanced nature and this offering really takes that to the next level.

The very name Anarchy suggests nothing of what the beer is really like. The beer itself is an approachable yet sophisticated affair. A strong lager that's pale golden in colour, 7% abv, 20EBU and with upfront peachy fruit and hints of leafy noble hops in the aroma. The palate sings immediately with bold, smooth malt and with a well integrated tang of fruit. The finish is clean and the whole experience hides the 7% abv well, which does urge for a note of caution considering this beer's immense drinkability.

So the hat comes off to Brew Star, who when wanting to bring their first big beer to market decided to go against the currently traditional approach of 'let's throw a ton of hops at this and be like POW! Yeah! Awesome!' and instead decided to showcase professional brewing with something crafted as intricately and finely-tuned as a German sports car. I can see a lot of beer geeks loving it but more importantly I can see a lot people taking a step back to say "wow, did I really say I didn't like beer?".

Monday, 4 June 2012

Two Months!

Yes, thats approximately how long it is till I officially become a Dad. I can't say I'm not scared, it sure is daunting.

In preparation I've studied and questioned the activities of some other parents I know. I've watched them manage their bairns on a daily basis and I reckon I have it sussed. My concluding thoughts were that managing kids through a day is kind of like managing a fermentation, but a bit more intensive. The blighters will rise in the morning, then once log stage fermentation kicks in they're off. Without control the yeast/kids will inevitably do whatever they want, which is fine until they misbehave, which is why you need to keep checking on them. I know kids dont give off CO2 or alcohol but give them more sugar and they become more lively but eventually they tire themselves out. 

At the end of the day the time comes to stop your fermentation/put the kids to bed. If this is done too early your yeast/child will remain over active in the secondary/cask/bedroom. If this is done too late then... Well that's just asking for trouble.

I sense sauron is getting over attenuated.
 But it doesn't stop there. You could argue that managing a family is as tough as managing an entire brewery, but we'll not go into that. There's been lots of debate and preparations. Names, spare rooms, nurseries. Yet the very important matter of what to brew for the birth of the first born is not completely sorted.

At first I thought something low abv and fresh, like a golden ale, Belgian Wit or a mild ale would be fitting to symbolise youth and vitality. This would also be handy to have on draught in the house whilst on my two week paternity leave (baby in one arm pint in the other). My other obvious option was to go the complete opposite and brew some kind of insanely strong Barley wine or Imperial Stout to be kept over the years to commemorate the event. You never know, in 18 years time little Sauron might get to drink it him/herself.

In an ideal world I would like to brew both of these, but considering these days my opportunities at home brewing are few and far between I'm settling on a single brew. My current plan is to aim right down the middle with a 6-7% strong ale using two of my favourite hop varieties, Progress and Cascade and plenty of chunky crystal malt in the mix. The beer will be named after the baby, but that's still undecided (it's not going to be Sauron but it should be good), .