Tuesday, 24 April 2012

3 Wise Monkeys

I can tell Justin Pringle is a guy who's taken a look at all the competition around him then decided to do something completely different. This is admirable. He's a beer geek entrepreneur, and maverick completely fascinated by flavour and that's not just in beer.

3 Wise Monkeys is a fairly maverick operation to say the least. 50% of it speaks of a very individual character with an eye for a certain style, the other 50% says 'Alnwick beer scene, welcome to everything you're missing from the 21st century'. The inside comes across quickly as dark, shady and atmospheric. A mixture of various old ornate armchairs and stools provide seating. The walls set the tone in a kind of deep crimson making the place look slightly smaller, more intimate. Combined with the decor and low-level lighting I got a slightly sinister feel to the place. You could easily imagine Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker sat enjoying a few beers in the corner armchair. Yet at the same time it still doesn't fail to deliver a modern slightly European vibe (think more Italian craft beer bars) than anything close to a straight-forward pub.

Another thing you notice about the place is its more or less a work in progress. Most of the work  had just been done and all the draught beer is served by gravity from the large back bar area with the handpull situation not quite in place. Yet overall it has its own unique personality, worlds apart from anything else in this little old town of Alnwick.

Last Friday night was Cider tasting night with many offerings from the Thistly Cross Cider company on offer to sample. But behind the bar there's more than just cider in bottled form. Various bourbons, whiskys, liquors, mixers and artisan spirits, and not to mention bottled beers.

The cask beers available included three offerings, Blonde Star and Sinistar from Brew Star and the freshly tapped Mordue Panda Frog Pandazilla, the very first cask ever to enter Alnwick soil. Starting things off Brew Star Blonde Star was a beer worth checking out. Very clean textured, subtle citrus, quite elegant and quaffable.

Moving on I managed to get a try of some Tyne Bank Piccolo Black in bottled form for the first time. This literally black well-carbonated number offers roasty, grainy coffee and chocolate interluding into tropical citric hop notes over a fairly light-bodied frame. I can imagine this appealing to both fans of stouts and pale ales as a sort of hybrid style. Though despite all of Tyne Bank's more adventurous numbers, my favourite, Monument Bitter was still conditioning and due to replace the Blonde Star when it had finished.

Next up, a real curve ball of a beer. No, not Pandazilla. Tempest Unforgiven Ale (Oak Smoked Rye Juniper) is another 'upstairs downstairs mixup', like liquid smokey sausage straight from the fish and chip shop is what I got from the aroma. It's got sour notes, big smokey, peaty, grainy notes with rye spice, resiny hops and a juniper hit in the finish. I'm thinking, could this be a good beer for smoked blue Wensleydale? Now that would be a good experiment.

By the time I was ready to hit the Pandazilla, Justin had a certain trick up his sleeve he was ready to show me. This was a cocktail he had invented involving Pandazilla, stag cherry bourbon, illy coffee liquor and ice.

cocktail (left), Pandazilla (right)
As far as cocktails go I found it top notch and pretty interesting. Normally I only like cocktails that are either whisky or rum based, but this was both whisky and beer (my beer) which makes me even more biased. But really, it did rule. Try it alongside Pandazilla itself and it's a taste bud overload.

So for the rest of the night the discussion was mostly beer related, we handed out a few free Pandazilla samples and I even got to check out the home brew kit upstairs. I can tell any collaborative brew with this guy would yield fairly mental results. Macerated in 'X', matured with 'Y' then possibly even blended with something else. All in all it was a great night.

Some of the more reserved bottled offerings
In a nutshell 3 Wise Monkeys is about dark walls, ambient music pleasant company, knowledgeable staff and a great drinks selection. I for one will be there again without a doubt, and the Mrs seemed to enjoy herself as well - now that's even more reason to go back.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Newcastle beer festival 2012

It's that time of year again - beer festival time.

This year saw Newcastle Beer Festival enter its 36th year as faces from the entire region's beer scene gathered together at Northumbria University Students' Union. Everyone from the the brewers to the pub landlords to the bloggers, brewlab students, organisers, CAMRA folk, beer geeks and all those just coming along for the crack, they were all there. To get things going as the sponsors and industry people had just arrived, focus was turned to the conclusions from regional battle of the beers competition. Here brewers were invited to enter a brew between 4-5%, brewed with only a single malt as the only fermentable, no restrictions on hops. Looking at the entries and brewers involved it was looking like it could be tough battle.

Here Mordue's Killswitch 51 would go head-to-head against creations from the likes of Jarrow, Tyne Bank and Allendale in a brutal showdown so epic that it could only be comparable to that battle at the end of the Transformers movie between Optimus Prime, Megatron and all the other ones.

However, in the end the winning beer came as a shock to many. Hadrian and Border's Grainger Ale just went to show that among all those Munich malts and crazy hops it was a simple pale session beer that really did the business. But at the end of the day it was interesting trying the various entries and finally getting to meet and chat to the likes of Tyne Bank Joe and Allendale Neil. It's cool to chat about brewing stuff almost endlessly with those in a similar position as oneself and it seems recently the region is turning out a new generation of interesting and talented brewers.

What I imagined Allendale Neil to look like, but he didn't.
("If you take the green hops, lovely Allendale Pale Ale will emerge, but if you take the blue hops... Well that's just weird") 
Moving on at that point I thought it was time to move to the other bar which had all the beers from outside the region and despite most peoples surge for the Summer Wine, Red Willow or Thornbridge I was more curious about something else.

Ed is an old Heriot Watt uni mate of mine. I remember once encouraging him to work with me somewhere in the North East. But when he said he wouldn't for the main reason that its full of northern monkeys it became obvious he would stay in the south east. Never before have I come across his beers from Old Dairy brewery so here's what I made of them.

Old Dairy Spring Top was a soft-natured, mid-golden session bitter with subtle bitter sweet citrus, subtle peppery hops and jammy malt. All in all quite pleasant, and the Blue Top IPA, another easy going affair dominated by caramelised creamy malt over pear and citrus and more citric bitterness in the finish. Arguably unchallenging for the style but I could happily sink a few of these in an evening.

That's a thumbs up from me Ed, and after this it was time to mingle some more and hunt out more beers. A few Mild ales were in order (especially for that time of day) and the Brew Star Sinistar was an intriguing and individual offering of slightly oily, grainy deliciousness. But at the end of the day one of the main highlights for me was seeing my very own creation/baby go to market for the first time.

Everytime I try Pandazilla I get something slightly different. Even though I've tried it at least a thousand times now right from early in the fermentor to from the handpull. I think I've just about got my head round it.

This beer was never designed to be like any other black IPA, and it isn't. It makes only a vague reference to the style. This beer is all about the Prunes, molasses, coffee, liquorice, mature fruit, orange pith and whatever else you derive from it. The complex hopping regime mingles those six varieties into the finish. It comes in waves, one moment its doing one thing, something else the next. It's big yet at the same time integrated in a sort of layer upon layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of subtlety that on a whole doesn't smack you round the face like a Diablo, or a Ruination or Nuclear Penguin. It's almost like picking out the notes from a Michael Angelo Batio guitar solo. Often the first response is 'what the fuck happened there!'. Some are instantly drawn and intrigued into the whole Pandazilla experience, whereas others find it just oddball. Watching the reactions of those trying it is entertaining enough, especially from the brewers.

Even the bloke from Alnwic'ks new bar 3 Wise Monkeys thought it was propper bo.
I remember beer writer Randy Mosher once explaining how tasting a craft beer can be a bit like delving into the very soul and thought processes of the brewer from its creation. Pandazilla is a beer that reflects upon the more crazy egotistical side of my personality. Like me its completely nuts, complicated, takes a while to get your head round, yet friendly and approachable at the same time.

Mordue's Dave, AKA the wing man

The Mordue office crew. To the crew at Daleside brewery reading this, I'm not bragging here but but make note, zoom in and admire.  
So all in all it was a great day out. Lots of familiar faces and lots of new people to meet. Plenty of great beer and some decent scran for later on when things got a bit more blurry. From what I hear Pandazilla, Killswitch 51 and many other beers sold fairly quick. So for now we will have to say same time next year.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

St Peter's The Saints Whisky beer

A few posts ago I mentioned my quarrel with some oak aged beers but this time I'm trying something I've never tried before. A beer that's literally blended with whisky (as opposed to being matured in the oak cask that previously held whisky).

St Peter's The Saints Whisky Beer at 4.8% is brewed with peated malt and the beer is blended with English whisky from St George's distillery in Norfolk. It pours a pale golden in colour with plenty of initial carbonation driving off an upfront sweet peaty whisky aroma with a touch of biscuity malt. The palate brings straight up peaty malt interluding with sweet honeyed malt whisky and a lingering peaty warmth in the finish. My impressions are that this beer is showcasing the taste of the whisky more than the base beer, with the beer more or less adding new dimensions to the experience.

 All in all this beer has a lot of novelty factor behind it, yet its real strength is in its approachability (something any great beer should have) and how it possesses little to none of the challenging nature that people generally associate with whisky. Furthermore, this more of a fine-tuned sophisticated affair than many a bold, brash whisky barrel aged beer. All in all good stuff.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Some Panda Frog Pandazilla pre-launch coverage

Local tweeterr and beer enthusiast AKA Sheriffmitchell is a beerblogger who likes to roll out his beer reviews in quick succession. He has even been called 'the Des De Moor of Dunston' except this guy doesn't ramble on as much and obviously has a lot more tatoos.

Another thing I noticed about this fairly new local blogger/beer envangelist is that, like me, he totally loves the local beer scene and all it's become. So it was interesting hearing his impressions of our soon to be launched Panda Frog Pandazilla (the commercial not home-brewed version). Up to now only a few people have tried it (including one delivery man) so everyone else will have to wait till Wednesday.

Read the full review here. Twitter man Sheriffmitchell, Mordue, Panda Frog and Rob's Beer Quest salutes you!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Mordue brewery presents: Project Killswitch 51

Coming at ya like a tiger!
As I'm sure you're all aware, here at Mordue Brewery we have a few brewing projects underway this month. Our very own deathladon of a beer Pandazilla, the very much less-imposing Bunny Hop, and now, our second most brutal offering; Killswitch 51. What does the name mean? I hear you ask (51 meaning OG 51 and 51 IBU's).

Killswitch 51 is Mordue Brewery's entry to the Newcastle beer festival's battle of the malts competition. The rules of the competition are simple; brew a beer between 4 and 5% abv using a single malt as the only fermentable material. Our idea was also simple, aim for around 5% and use munich malt, the amber-hued grain that signatures the German bock style lagers. Then we used six different hops (ok maybe not so simple) including a dry hopping with Bravo, Apollo and Cascade varieties.

It's certainly an interesting creation and at the festival will compete against offerings from many of the region's most respectable brewers. Alongside Pandazilla, IPA and Radgie Gadgie, Killswich 51 will be representing the Mordue crew. This year the beer list looks immense, and strangely enough even some of Ed's beers are on there. So with less than a week to go, I sure am looking forward to it.

Like a TIIIIGGER!!!!!

This blog post was inspired partly by this video.